12th April 2016
'Old Stations & Halts of Bristol & North Somerset' 
by Mike Oakley.

The ticket office at Farrington Gurney halt in the side of the former Miner's Arms

'Old Stations and Halts of Bristol and North Somerset' was the subject of Clutton History Group's April meeting, with a slide presentation by Mike Oakley. Mr Oakley was employed for many years in Bristol's town and country planning department and has had an interest in the history and architecture of old stations for many years. He has previously written and published books covering, not only Bristol and Somerset but also Wiltshire, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Devon and Cornwall as well. Together with his wife they covered 850 sites over ten years. In 2010/11 Mr Oakley revisited the 180 station sites in Somerset to see what remained and published a new book with many 'Then and Now' photographs.

The development of the railway network in Somerset began around 1840 with steady expansion into the 1900's. As Mr Oakley pointed out, the coming of the railway was life changing. People were now able to travel much farther afield than ever before when previously most folk would maybe only travel as far as the next parish either on foot or by horse. Excursions to seaside resorts became very popular.

There was of course no organised development of the railway network by any government department in the early years. Each railway started out as a private company which needed an act of parliament to enable the line to be built. This led to many different styles of architecture in the station buildings, signal boxes and station master's houses.

 Clutton was the starting point for the Bristol and North Somerset Railway and it's station building was virtually identical to those at Brislington, Pensford and Hallatrow, all designed by architect William Clarke. These stone built buildings contrasted greatly to that of the timber built structure of the Great Western Railway at Frome. Station buildings on the so called 'Strawberry Line', from Yatton to Cheddar, also had their own distinctive style, built with local stone and with typical Victorian detail in the elaborate barge boards.

Weston-super-Mare station has had an interesting history, originally built in 1841 at the end of a spur line, it was situated where the floral clock now stands. The second station was then rebuilt on the site now occupied by the Tesco supermarket and then finally in 1884 the third station was built, where it now stands, when a loop line was built off of the main line.

 At Farrington Gurney there was a single platform halt with a small shelter but unusually it's ticket office was a window in the side wall of the former Miner's Arms, now an Indian restaurant.

By the 1960's the railways were losing money mainly due to competition from road transport and over staffing. In 1963 Dr Richard Beeching produced his plan for the reshaping of the railway network and proposed closing 2,363 stations and over 5000 miles of track. Despite many protests the closures went ahead and the process of lifting tracks and demolishing buildings took place. Many station buildings were however saved and converted to domestic dwellings but many short sections of line have been preserved as Heritage Railways by enthusiastic volunteers. Miles of track beds have been maintained as cycle ways and remains of platforms and some associated railway buildings have been preserved. Locally the Somerset and Dorset Railway Heritage Trust have restored the Midsomer Norton South station and rebuilt the signal box. At Sandford the station building has been beautifully restored, and the goods shed converted into a restaurant, as part of the recently built retirement complex. 

In today's climate of ever increasing traffic congestion some old lines are being brought back in to use again, but regrettably too many have been built over and cuttings infilled so will be left for nature to colonise in its own way.

July 2016
‘Surveying, Measuring and Mapping Gentlemen’s Estates in North Somerset’.
By speaker Colin Budge 

It was important in the 15th and 16th centuries that gentlemen of means had their estates surveyed to establish their worth and to oversee the broad scope of agricultural production on a manor. The numbers of trees in any woodlands or forests was recorded and the surveyor was expected to value each parcel of arable, meadow, pasture, and woodland by classifying it as superior, mediocre, or inferior and by assigning a monetary value. In most cases the surveyor would produce a hand drawn map of the estate incorporating field names and buildings, usually shown in plan view. The maps were generally in colour and some included illustrations.

The survey sometimes took the form of a ‘Terrier’, a long hand written, document without a map. One such document that Mr Budge came across was a 1569 Terrier for Camely. The surveyor came from Romsey and he recorded that he took from 28th December until 4th January to complete his task. The Terrier was verified by a local man, and two church wardens. This document was the first to mention the Elizabethan Manor House which was next to Camely church but long since demolished.

It was in the latter years of the 16th century that the foundation of surveying, as we know it today, was established and became more technical. Surveying equipment had gradually improved and the use of theodolites and surveying plane tables came into being and the familiar measure of the ‘chain’ was established. A chain being 22 yards long, as most cricketers will know is the length of the pitch. Surveyors used the ‘Triangulation method’ to measure and plot field sizes, a method used as far back as Roman times. A 1693 map of Newlyn had an illustration of a surveyor using a theodolite and two assistants with the measuring chain. A 1718 map in Chew Stoke, of Walter Webb’s estate, showed a surveyor using the plane table on which the theodolite was placed and the triangulation points recorded. This map was produced in monochrome which was a trend that became more prevalent in the 18th century. At this time surveyors became more than just surveyors as many became architects as well.

Throughout his talk Mr Budge showed many of the maps that his research had revealed, including John Strachey’s map of Somerset in 1736 which showed the coal works around Clutton, Pensford and Bishop Sutton and others

A 1570 map of Compton Martin was in full colour with four hand written panels incorporated in it.

In 1793 William Brown’s map of Wedmore was the first to show shading delineating the graduation of the hills.

The importance of maps became more apparent in the 18th century particularly after the Jacobite rising in 1746 and in 1791 the Ordnance Survey was established commissioned in the reign of King George II. Originally a Military organisation it has since become a government organisation as Ordnance Survey Ltd.

October 2016
‘When Weston was a village’ by speaker Pat Hase

Pat Hase has been a resident of Weston-super-Mare for many years and has done a lot of research into its history. 

It is hard to believe now that Weston-super-Mare was once a small coastal village. The 1801 census recorded just 35 buildings with 105 people living there. Around this time a local artist painted portraits of some of the inhabitants, of which Mrs Hase has copies of 41 of them. An 1829 coloured etching showed the sandy beach with bathing huts and just a few buildings. At that time men and women bathed naked in separate areas. On one occasion a man was seen to be bathing in the wrong area and came up before the magistrate. The man had been reported by the magistrate’s daughter and was fined with the magistrate adding that had his daughter’s eyesight been better the fine would have been greater.

In the 14th century there were so many settlements named Weston, meaning West Town, that the Bishop of Bath and Wells decided there should be a better designation to avoid confusion. It was his humble clerk who suggested that the town should be called Weston-super-Mare. Even today the town gets confused with Weston in Bath and in fact Mrs Hase found several Weston-s-Mare documents in the archives that were incorrectly filed under Weston in Bath.

The medieval church of St. John was built on the hills above the sea front and was whitewashed to aid sailing ships on the channel. The church was demolished in 1824 and a new one built on the same foundations. The church and most early buildings were mainly built from local stone from quarries close to the town.

The principal occupation in the town was fishing. Nets were erected at Birnbeck that trapped fish as the tide receded. It was then just a matter of collecting the fish as the tide went out. It was recorded that one Samuel Norvill (jnr) once caught a 32lb salmon there.

The first hotel was built in 1811 but closed through lack of business in 1814. This was probably due to the fact that there was no regular stage coach service to the town. The building eventually became the Royal Hotel when Richard Fry invested in the hotel. He also financed the rebuilding of the medieval church.

In 1841 the railway came to Weston, via a branch line, but they were not allowed to bring steam engines into the town so the carriages were horse drawn. The station then, was built where the former floral clock was situated. A station was built on the present site in 1866. The railway was instrumental in attracting more visitors to the town, especially from Bristol, Bath and the Midlands, which eventually led to an increase in facilities and population. In 1842 Weston was granted its charter to officially become a town and a market was set up. Victorian villas for the gentry were built on the hills above the town, most of which today have been converted into flats.

A causeway was built to Knightstone Island where ,in 1830, Dr Edward Long Fox of Brislington had a new elegant bathhouse built for patients from his mental home. They could also sea bathe which was being promoted as beneficial to health, made popular by King George III at Weymouth.

In 1845 there was a proposal to build a suspension bridge to Birnbeck but this scheme was scrapped and a pier was eventually built which was opened in 1867. The amusement arcades, tea rooms, amusement rides and photographic studio became a great attraction.

Many people came by steamer from Wales to Weston on Sundays mainly because alcohol was not allowed to be sold in Wales on the Sabbath.

The Grand Pier was built in 1904 and the beach lawns were added in 1913.

November 2016
John Wood the Younger’s Royal Crescent.

Of all of Bath’s beautiful buildings the most iconic must be the majestic elliptical sweep of John Wood the Younger’s Royal Crescent. Built between 1767 and 1774 it is a wonderful example of Georgian Palladian style architecture. At it’s eastern end sits No 1, the first house to be built, which was advertised for leasing in 1772 and in 1777 it was leased by a former Irish MP named Henry Sandford, the first occupant. Sandford was the main subject of a digital presentation given by Victoria Barwell, to Clutton History Group at the November meeting, entitled ‘The Georgian Gentleman at Home’. Ms Barwell is curator at No 1, now a Bath Preservation Society museum, and her talk was well illustrated and of great interest.

In 1769 John Wood added an extension to No1 and which was later linked to the main house becoming the servant’s quarters and kitchens. In 1968 the extension was separated from the main house and became No 1a, a separate dwelling, when Major Bernard Cayzer purchased the main house, No 1, with the sole intention of supporting its restoration and providing a headquarters for the Bath Preservation Trust. The house was opened as a museum in 1970. In 2006 however the Brownsword Charitable Foundation purchased No 1a and leased it to the trust to enable it to link the house once again and bring it back to its original size.

The first occupant of No1, Henry Sandford, was MP for County Roscommon for 19 years then later County Kildare and County Carrick. He married Sarah Moore, the daughter of 1st Viscount Mountcashel, in 1750 and they had five children. It is believed that Henry’s income came from land rentals on the various estates that he owned and although not rich he was comfortably well off. Sadly Henry’s wife Sarah died in 1764 and it is believed that ill health brought him to Bath to recuperate. There is not a lot known about Henry’s life in Bath but much has been gleaned from his Commonplace book, a form of scrapbook, popular at the time, where notes and newspaper cuttings etc. were collected. From his entries it appears that he engaged with local trades people more so than some of the well-to-do people of the city. In one entry Sandford recorded seeing a Carp that was 2ft. 1inch long, 1ft 7½ins round and weighed 9lbs at Mr Gill’s shop, ‘purveyor of soups, pies and polonies of the highest perfection’.

He was a member of several local societies, such as the Bath and West Agricultural Society and a subscription library. His reading included books by Captain Cook and Daniel Defoe and he was also interested in Classical History, Roman, Greek and Egyptian. He had a great interest in new farming techniques and in animal husbandry and was also interested in modern technology. It is known that he purchased an electric machine. At the time it was believed that passing a safe electric current through the body was beneficial to health. A replica machine can be seen in the museum. He appeared to be an avid reader of ‘The Gentlemen’s Magazine’, a popular publication at the time which published all the latest information in science, agriculture and industry.

Sandford was known to travel quite extensively in Northern England and Scotland and also in Northern Europe, in Holland, Germany and Belgium.

He was also a collector and had a display cabinet to show off his curiosities from many different countries.

Hentry Sandford died at home in No 1 in 1786 and was described as ‘a gentleman of the most benevolent disposition’.

December 2016
The Lost Caves Of Hutton By Alan Gray

Mr Gray has been a caving enthusiast for many years and has been caving in Thailand and Malaysia as well as on home soil. He has also been a guide to the Redcliffe Caves in Bristol for 20 years and is a stalwart member of the Axbridge Caving Group (ACG). Being on the doorstep, the Mendip Hills offer a huge number of caves where local caving groups explore and new workings are continually being found, but the ACG has concentrated their efforts in the caves near Hutton.

Hutton village lies in the shadow of the Mendip Hills near Weston-super-Mare and it is in these hills that several caves have been found. In the 1700’s the caves were explored for ochre and iron ore and then were either filled in or collapsed. In 1757 the Rev. Alexander Catcott entered the Hutton cave and found many bones of animals more associated with Africa than the British Isles. Among them were the skulls of lion, tiger, horse and wolf, a complete skeleton of a crocodile and many others. Catcott wondered why these bones were here and his theory was that when Noah’s flood subsided the bones were deposited in the caves. In 1761 he wrote his ‘Treatise of the Deluge’ explaining his ideas, all of which are now known to be wrong. Not surprising really in an age when scientists of the day believed that the earth was only 6000 years old.

In 1828 the ‘lost’ cave was again found and opened up by the vicar of Bleadon, the Rev. David Williams who recovered more bones, but once again the cave became lost and forgotten. In the 1970’s the ACG decided to try and find the lost cave of Hutton, in what was a very mined area and were successful in finding a few small cave entrances. Bleadon cavern had already been found and speculation was that this could be the lost cave of Hutton. However in 2005, near these initial diggings, Upper Canada Cave was found which was then 77metres long, but there appeared to be no way forward. Advances were made in 2007 when the main passages of the system were discovered and in 2010, with the help of a 12 ton digger, May Tree Cave, Primrose Cave and Well Shaft Cave were opened up. In 2015 further extensions followed, after studying old documents and surveys, extending the system to 103 metres. From the old documented evidence and study of the cave system it then became clear that Bleadon Cavern was in fact the ‘Lost Cave of Hutton’.

During their excavations, apart from the animal bones, other finds were of great interest, such as Stromatolites, the very first organisms believed to be 300 million years old. On the wall of one cave the initials HG and BG 1764 were found, which research proved to be the sons of William Gleason an ochre miner. The Catcott collection of bones were once held by the museum in Bristol but sadly were destroyed during the air raid of the 24th November 1940.

The Hutton caves are part of a very fractured strata and Mr Gray has and his fellow cavers continually face the dangers of roof collapse or falling stone and have had several near misses in pursuit of their hobby.

At the end of his talk Mr Gray showed a short film showing a fly-over of the Mendip Hills which showed how the whole area is riddled with caves.

The meeting ended with festive food and drink and a raffle in aid of the Childrens Hospice South West which raised £125.

January 2017
Dennis Chedgy, from Radstock Museum
A Miner’s daughter growing up in Radstock in the 1930’s

Audrey’s house was the second one from the right

In the 1930’s life in Radstock was a far cry from what it is today. Radstock was at the virtual heart of the Somerset coal fields with several collieries in or near the town centre. The town’s prosperity was founded on winning the ‘black gold’, profitable for the owners but for the miners themselves it was a very hard life.

Audrey’s father, who left school at 14, was a miner at Ludlow’s Colliery and they lived in one of the rented cottages at 29 Waterloo Road where most of the residents were miners and their families. Rents were taken directly from the miner’s wages. Although the house was small it provided warmth and shelter but had no running water inside. This had to be collected from an outside tap and waste water carried out and disposed of in the drains. The toilets and communal wash house were also outside at the end of the rank of houses, and Audrey told how scary it was for a child to visit the toilet in the dark with only a candle for light. The only source of heating and cooking was from a black leaded cooking range which was coal fired using Audrey’s father’s concessionary coal, which was part of his wages. When Audrey’s father came home from the pit every utensil was used to heat water for his bath, the bath being a rather small galvanised one that was kept on a hook on the house wall outside. Bathing had to be done in stages and there was little privacy other that a cloth draped over the family clothes horse. When the pit head baths were installed it was a great improvement as the miners could go to work in decent clothes which gave them all a better sense of well being.

To avoid storing coal in the house Audrey’s father built a coal shed in the small front garden as did many of his neighbours. At the back of the house there was a long garden stretching up the hill to Waldegrave Terrace where Audrey’s father grew vegetables to supplement the family’s food supply. He also had an allotment about a mile away at Ham where he also kept chickens and later on in the war years, rabbits to supplement the meat ration.

Waterloo Road was at the time quite narrow and opposite the front of Audrey’s house was a 6 foot high wall behind which was the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway and nearby station. There was a shunting yard where the trucks of coal from Ludlows and Writhlington pits were assembled ready for distribution on the main line. As Audrey said the area was inevitably noisy and dirty but everyone got used to it. Both goods and passenger trains worked the line, most notably the Pines Express that worked between Manchester and Bournemouth. The Pines Express was said to be so punctual that people set their clocks by it. During the war troop trains were seen and Audrey tells that as children they were always excited whenever a train of American soldiers was held at a signal opposite their homes when they would be the recipients of chewing gum and ‘candies’ thrown by the soldiers.

Wash day was an event and the ladies had a strict rota of when to do their washing. It was a sense of pride for them to hang beautifully clean white sheets on the line after the hard work of washing them with hard soap on a washing board. The following day meant ironing where the irons were heated on a rack attached to the fire bars of the grate. Later on the houses were supplied with gas lights and a gas ring, the gas being paid for by a coin-in-the slot meter. Sometime later the tenants were offered three electric lights and one power point which meant eventually that Audrey’s mother acquired an electric iron operated from a light socket with an adaptor.

Saturdays were special days when the Market Hall (now the Radstock Museum) was very busy with all sorts of goods on offer and outside the hall there were various stalls as well. The town was well served by various traders, most notably the Co-operative Society. There was a Co-op bakery in the town who delivered bread on a daily basis all around the area as was the milk. They also delivered meat, oil and hardware.

Audrey attended the local school and then went to grammar school before attending Nottingham University for her degree. It was here that she met her husband who was a mining engineer so the coal industry has always been a part of her life.

February 2017
William Evans - ‘Bishop Monk and the Horfield Question' 

Bishop John Henry Monk

Horfield is a large district at the northern edge of the City of Bristol and marks part of the boundary of the city with South Gloucestershire. The 1840’s tithe map shows an area of mainly agricultural land, scattered farm buildings and a simple church. However all that was about to change.

The manor of Horfield was part of the endowment of Bristol’s St Augustine’s Abbey and as such income from the manor went to the bishopric. The income however was small as it came only from the lessee of the manor to whom it had been farmed out. The lease was for the longest of three lives, and in the early 19th century the bishop of Bristol, William Mansel, leased the estate to a George Lempriere for the lives of three people, namely Dr John Shadwell, his son and his brother. It was Lampriere who realised the potential of the Horfield estate if it were to be developed and in 1822 drafted an outline of an Act of Parliament for improving Horfield. However his scheme came to nothing but it raised awareness to the bishop of how valuable the estate was and this was passed down to successor bishops.

In 1828 Henry Richards was appointed by Dr Shadwell to be the perpetual curate of Holy Trinity church in Horfield. Richards already held 136 acres of the manor estate as a copyholder. By 1848 of the three lives on bishop Mansel’s lease only Dr Shadwell was still living and he was not in good health. Richards was keen to obtain ownership of the Horfield manor estate so that he could further his interests in his freeholds and to make money from selling them. Alternatively he wanted to persuade the bishop to grant him an overriding head lease of the estate and then to remove Dr Shadwell’s interest by buying him out. But he reckoned without the newly appointed bishop James Henry Monk who had ideas of his own. In 1848 their dispute ended up in front of the house of commons select committee in which bishop Monk was accused of acting improperly to improve his own financial position.

Monk was very well educated having attended Charterhouse school and Trinity College Cambridge where in 1805 he was elected a fellow of Trinity. He excelled in mathematics and classics and became regius professor of Greek. He was ordained deacon in 1809 and priest a year later and in 1822 was appointed dean of Peterborough. Whilst at Trinity the college had to decide how to spend £12,000 that had been donated to it. Monk and another fellow persuaded the college to use the money to augment the livings of parishes under the college’s jurisdiction. Monk was very aware of the poor income that some of the incumbents were faced with and this was a concern that he carried with him throughout his life including his time in Horfield. Monk was very anti democracy, was pompous and quick to take offence and was lampooned by the satirist Sydney Smith. Monk’s success at Peterborough, where he raised over £6000 to restore the cathedral, led to him being appointed canon of Westminster in 1830. In 1836 Monk became the first bishop of both Gloucester and Bristol when the two bishoprics were merged and when he was appointed to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (EC). As bishop of Bristol Monk now received the total income from the Horfield estate.

It became obvious that Monk and Richards distrusted each other and in Richards’ case, it was believed, that it went as far as him recruiting the help of the MP Edward Horsman, a renowned critic of the EC and bishops in general, to bring Monk’s dealings with the EC into the public domain. Horsman cleverly elicited information from Charles Murray, the secretary of the EC, that showed Monk in a bad light. In the event neither man came out of the enquiry without criticism. Ironically neither man hoped to gain financially themselves but to use the funds to further their own pet projects. Richards wanted to enhance the parish church and increase the wealth of the parish and Monk wished to set up a trust to augment the livings of the poor incumbents of the diocese as he had proposed in his time at Cambridge.

During his time as bishop of Bristol Monk built a new Bishop’s Palace at the top of Bell Hill in Stapleton, now part of Colston’s Boys School, after the original palace was burnt down in the Bristol Riots. He also built the Bishop’s College at the top of Park Street and in both cases used much of his own money. In today’s Horfield street and place names reflect Monk’s legacy, namely Bishopston, Bishop Manor Road, Bishop Road, Monk Road, Monk’s Park School etc. Dr Shadwell is also commemorated in Shadwell Road but Henry Richards is without recognition. Monk died in 1856 and as a canon of Westminster is interred in the abbey.

March 2017
Clive Burlton who gave an excellent film presentation entitled
‘A Pot-pourri of Bristol Archive Film’

William Friese-Green

Clive Burlton who gave an excellent film presentation entitled ‘A Pot-pourri of Bristol Archive Film’. Mr Burlton has been working, with colleague John Penny, at the Bristol Record Office on digitising collections of old film footage obtained from the BBC Bristol archives and other sources, which will eventually be made available for public viewing. Most of the short film clips were taken from BBC Bristol’s news programmes that showed topics of interest of the times. Messrs Burlton and Penny have now assembled many of the film clips into a programme that made for an interesting hour long evening’s entertainment.

Prior to the commencement of the main programme Mr Burlton asked what the connection was between Clutton and the birth of cinematography? William Friese-Green recognised for his work in motion pictures, was born in Bristol but both his mother and grand mother were born and lived in Clutton. During the time of his experiments in motion pictures he persuaded his grand mother, Hannah Sage, to pose for him, although she was not keen, and being a dedicated Weslyan, insisted on having the bible on her lap while he filmed her.

The first of the films in Mr Burlton’s main programme was a 1929 promotional film for Fry’s at Somerdale. The film’s story line was of a young brother and sister who drifted down river in a punt and ended up on the riverbank at Fry’s factory. Meeting with a Fry’s employee they were taken on a tour of the factory and were shown how the chocolate was made from the bean to the finished product. The film showed how very mechanised the processes were for the time but also showed how unguarded a lot of the machinery was in those days; a health and safety nightmare by today’s standards. At the end of the film the children were collected by their father in a chauffeur driven open topped car which caused a degree of amusement amongst the audience.

The next film to be shown was of the last trams in Bristol. The opening sequence showed the trams in their hay day at various points in the city but ended with their sad demise after the Luftwaffe’s Good Friday raid on Bristol, when the power cables were severed at Counterslip bringing an abrupt end to trams on the streets of Bristol. The trams were all towed to the Kingswood depot for scrapping and the film showed the metal being removed and the bodies being burnt.

The following films were mainly short clips of news items of the day. In 1946 the first bananas after the war arrived in Avonmouth to be greeted by the Lord Mayor at the time, Gilbert Sydney James, with young children experiencing their very first banana. The film also showed the bananas being unloaded and transferred to railway wagons for distribution all over the country.

In 1961 the first parking meters were installed in the city centre and first time users were interviewed and questioned as to whether sixpence (2.1/2p) an hour was acceptable. Most drivers thought it was.

A 1962 film showed Barton Hill undergoing redevelopment with many of the old streets razed to the ground and the high rise tower blocks taking their place.

On the 17th of December 1963 the last hanging took place at Horfield Prison, that of Russell
Pascoe who was accused of murder while committing a burglary. The public interviewed at the gates of the prison seemed to indicate as many pro hanging as against.

An amusing item from 1966 was a tongue-in-cheek travelogue of Severn Beach being promoted as an ideal sea side resort.

Bristol’s first cash point was made available by the National Westminster Bank in 1967 and a youthful Jeremy Carrad demonstrated how the cash point operated using a pre punched card to obtain £10.

July 1968 saw the flooding that occurred in Bedminster, now a thing of the past since Bristol’s major storm water scheme was built.

Bristol’s first sex supermarket opened in 1970 with mixed reception, and a 1971 film showed Broadmead shopping area with traffic able to drive through and park outside the shops, the area today now pedestrianised.

A film clip on15th February 1971 showed the reaction to the introduction of decimal coinage which generally went very well. In 1972 Bristol’s Parkway station opened another event covered by the BBC news team. Finally the last clip from 1974 had people on the street being offered cooked snails which to all accounts were very tasty.

May 2017
The Somersetshire Coal Canal
A talk by Roger Halse

  • Illustration of the Caisson Lock
    Illustration of the Caisson Lock
  • The Weigh Station at Midford
    The Weigh Station at Midford
Illustration of the Caisson Lock
Illustration of the Caisson Lock

In the late 1700’s there were many small collieries in the High Littleton, Paulton and Timsbury areas who needed to get their coals to the markets of Bristol and Bath. At that time their only option was to use horse and cart. However this was to change with the building of the Somersetshire Coal Canal (SCC). Mr Halse has spent many years researching the SCC and has accumulated a very large collection of photographs which he has published in a book. A lot of the photographs were from the Dafnis collection. In the 1900’s George Love Dafnis toured the villages and countryside around Bath by bicycle taking pictures of anything interesting. He then produced prints which he sold to the local community. His legacy was a unique collection of photographs now held mostly by Bath in Time.

The SCC was authorised by an act of parliament in 1794 after being surveyed by John Rennie and William Smith (the Father of English Geology) and the canal was opened in 1905. The idea behind the construction of the canal was to link the collieries in the Paulton and Radstock areas to the Kennett and Avon Canal at Dundas, thereby giving access mainly to the markets in Wiltshire as well as Bristol and Bath. The first branch was the Dunkerton Line running through the Midford and Cam valley to Paulton and Timsbury where two basins were constructed. The collieries in High
Littleton, Paulton and Timsbury were linked by tramway to the basins where the coal was transferred to the barges. The Paulton basin was of particular interest as it had a very large dry dock in which three barges could be worked on at the same time. The Paulton route was very successful and was in continual use for almost 100 years conveying huge tonnages of coal..

The second line to Radstock ran along the Wellow valley and met up with the Dunkerton line at Midford. This route however was never commercially successful and was replaced by a tramway in 1815.

At Combe Hay on the Dunkerton route there was a height difference of 135 feet (41m) which had to be overcome. An initial proposal was to use a revolutionary design of lock. Known as the Caisson lock, it was built with a chamber 80ft (24m) long, which was always full of water and had a rise or fall of 46 ft (14 m). A barge would be floated into a closed wooden box, with doors at each end, which would then be raised or lowered. The door at one end of the box would be opened for the barge to continue its journey. The main advantage of the design was that there was no water loss as with a conventional lock. However the lock was never successful as the engineering problems at the time were insurmountable. The proposed use of three Caisson locks was replaced by the construction of 22 conventional locks and a pumping station to overcome the problem.

Another interesting feature of the canal was a weighing station at Midford. This consisted of a one ended lock into which the boats would be floated. With the lock gate closed the water would be drained from the lock leaving the boat supported by a cradle. The cradle was attached by angled rods to a beam which took the weight of the boat. To balance the beam, one pound weights were added to a pan, with one pound equivalent to one hundredweight. When balance was obtained the weight was recorded and the boat was refloated. Boats were weighed empty before being loaded, and again when loaded, to obtain the total weight being carried.

In 1854 the Bristol & North Somerset Railway was opened and immediately took traffic away from the Radstock Tramway which fell into decline. The Radstock Tramway was eventually sold to the Somerset & Dorset Railway, over which they built the Evercreech to Bath line.

Gradually the Somerset collieries began to decline as output dropped, and when the pumping station at Dunkerton failed in 1898, and there were no funds available for repair, the canal lost its main supply of water. A few boats continued to use the canal but the last one was recorded in May 1899. In 1904 the canal was abandoned by Act of Parliament and was sold to the Great Western Railway who built the Limpley Stoke to Camerton line. The line had a chequered career, it opened in 1910, was closed during WW1, reopened after the war but only ran for passengers until the 1920’s. It was closed to all traffic in 1950 and was finally used in the filming of the Ealing Comedy ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’.

Today a quarter-mile stretch at Brassknocker Basin where the SCC joins the Kennett & Avon is now a marina. Work on the Paulton Basin was started in 2013 and is continuing. There are still fragments of the canal along its route that are still visible but much is on private land. Some of the locks have been excavated and stonework revealed.

June 2017
The founder member of the Community Archaeology on the Mendip Plateau (CAMP)
Pip Nabb-Osborne

It was while she was on a leisurely walk one day, in Chewton Mendip, that Pip Nabb-Osborne made a discovery that was to come to dominate her interest in a part of Mendip archaeology. A field close by the parish church attracted her attention and following permission from the owners was able to start excavating what has now become one of the most important archaeological sites in the country.

Pip was the founder member of the Community Archaeology on the Mendip Plateau (CAMP) which was established in 2009 with the main purpose being to explore and research the landscape in the parishes of the Chewton area from both an archaeological and an historical viewpoint.

In 2011 CAMP members started their investigation following a resistivity survey, and opened up a trench in the middle of the field. The first stonework was revealed when the turf and topsoil was taken off and rubble removed. It became clear that a wall of a substantial building had been found.

Chewton has been an important site since Saxon times, in that it was the head of an administrative hundred. In its pre Norman times it was responsible for chapels in outlying settlements and as such may have origins as a Minster church. Could this be what CAMP archaeologists had found?

Evidence of a curvilinear boundary has been found, made up of a bank and ditch, and the excavations are sited within this boundary. Excavations of the site have been carried out twice a year since 2011 and it has now revealed the walls of a building 35metres long by 7.8metres wide. It has now been found, from documentary sources, that Chewton became a minster, or mother church, to surrounding settlements sometime during the Saxon period. Soon after 1066 and the Norman conquest, Chewton was in a position of considerable importance and wealth being granted to the Abbey of Jumieges in Normandy.

There have been many interesting finds during the excavations including a wrought iron horseshoe found in the very first excavation and many horseshoe nails. Other metal finds included a copper alloy dress pin and a corroded iron buckle.

Many pottery sherds turn up and are cleaned and dated by the pottery group who meet once a week. A 13th century Bristol jug was painstakingly put together from sherds. Many of the sherds are of a certain type of pottery not known elsewhere. As a consequence these have been named as Chewton Mendip Pottery Type series to aid identification. The vast majority of the pottery finds are medieval courseware which would be cookware, storage jars and possibly chamber pots. Some 13th century Ham Green ware has also been found.

A small pottery crucible caused excitement when found for when it was viewed through a microscope was found to have gold fragments embedded in its surface.

Much animal bone has been uncovered and from the lower levels have been carbon dated to AD665 – AD772. However no human bone has been found.

Glass fragments also appear from bottles and windows but there have been smaller finds of glass beads probably for jewellery decoration.

At the present time the building is now thought to be a multipurpose priest house for the church. It is believed that representatives from the Abbey at Jumieges would have come from Normandy to run the church and collect the tithes. There is no doubt however that the site has important significance and there is still much to be discovered.

July 2017
The Roman Baths

Probably at the top of the list for tourists visiting the city of Bath would be The Roman Baths, as the site attracts over a million visitors a year. The baths have been through several periods of rebuilding since the first shrine was built by the Celts and dedicated to the goddess Sulis. The Romans probably made the greatest impact adding to the site over a 300 year period. When the Romans left in the fifth century the site became silted up and flooded. Over time the site was gradually restored and today the spring is housed in 18th century buildings designed by the renowned Bath architects, father and son, John Wood the Elder and John Wood the Younger. The Victorians expanded the site even further but kept the style of architecture adopted by the Woods.

In the museum today the displays are interpreted in a very modern way, utilising 21st century technology, giving the visitor a real insight into the Roman way of life. There are many artefacts on display in the museum but they have much more kept in store and Clutton History Group were privileged to be given a fascinating guided tour behind the scenes of the complex, in parts that the general public usually never see. The, mainly, underground store rooms stretch from under the entrance to the Primark store in Stall Street almost up to the tourist information office on Kingston Parade.

The tour takes a convoluted path through the various rooms, most of them quite small with vaulted roofs. Several rooms contain standardised cardboard boxes containing archaeological finds such as pottery, animal and human bones and other objects. The major finds are kept in controlled conditions of temperature and humidity. Finds come from the wider areas around Bath not just the city itself and all are logged in detail. The Victorians however were not very good at recording where things were found, not like today’s conservators who consider where artefacts are found almost as important as identifying the object itself. At one point the remains of a Roman wall could be seen and at another, part of a Roman drain, which is still in use today. Through one window the only piece of in situ Roman mosaic could be seen. The largest room in the underground complex is a stone store which contains several large pieces of masonry from some of Bath’s old demolished buildings. Some pieces have been identified on buildings from old photographs. Amongst the collection were the tops and bases from Roman columns and pieces from decorated archways.

One of the more interesting parts of the tour was being able to see some of the smaller finds. A metal stylus, used by the Romans for writing on wax tablets, was in remarkable condition considering it’s age and size, approximately 3mm diameter and 75mm long. A metal sole from a Roman shoe, a small piece of Roman glass, a small piece of well preserved leather and a small decorated hook, probably from a garment were also part of the collection. Probably the most interesting object was a juvenile dinosaur tooth which was covered in quite deep striations all over it’s surface and not smooth as one would expect. This was a thoroughly interedsting tour and was greatly enjoyed.

September 2017
The Bath Record's Office.
An enlightening talk from Colin Johnston

The Bath Record Office (BRO) is situated in the basement of the Guild Hall and it’s senior archivist Colin Johnston has been in the job for over thirty years. 

This year the BRO celebrates it’s fiftieth anniversary and has organised several events with local societies in and around Bath.

The BRO collects anything to do with the City of Bath and the oldest record in the collection dates back to 1189. Many documents enable researchers to establish what every day life was like in the City for any period. At present the BRO has approximately 3km of shelving full of records, and it continues to grow. As well as paper records the BRO has embraced the digital age and today will accept digital information. A recent digital acquisition was 140,000 records of the project to stabilise the Combe Down Stone Mines.

Almost all the archive has been donated to the BRO and only a very few records have had to be purchased. The BRO continually receives donated documents and one of the more difficult aspects of Mr Johnston’s job is to decide what to keep and what to discard but he admitted that he tends to keep more than he discards. The BRO rarely goes out to seek any artefacts but if an opportunity comes along they will react. A few years ago the well known Bath trader Duck Son and Pinker suddenly shut up shop and everything on the premises went for auction. The BRO managed to get the ledgers and customers’ accounts books withdrawn from sale and were able to acquire them for the archive.

Some years ago the BRO was approached by the BBC when they were putting together a programme about Mary Berry’s life story. Mary visited the BRO and was shown the records of her medical history when she had contracted polio in her teenage years.

On another occasion the BBC contacted the BRO when they produced a ‘Who do You Think You Are’ programme about Tony Robinson, of Blackadder fame. The programme was not for transmission but was presented to Tony at the WDYTYA fair in London much to his surprise. The BRO produced records of Tony’s ancestor, a physician, who went bankrupt in London, moved to Bath and became bankrupt again. It was a story of ‘riches to rags’.

Some of the records can be quite amusing, including one letter of complaint, to the council, from a Georgian gentleman who was not amused to find his wigs, that were left on top of his dustbin to dry, had been collected with the rubbish.

Another set of interesting documents related to one of the magnificent chandeliers in the Assembly Rooms which fell from it’s attachment in the ceiling. The letters referred to the dispute between the Council and the manufacturer which was eventually resolved. All of the chandeliers were removed during WWII for safety reasons. This was a wise decision as the Assembly Rooms suffered a direct hit during one of the raids on Bath.

The BRO is open to the public and is free. It has valuable resources for anyone researching their family history, with computer access to both Ancestry and Find My Past websites and the British Newspaper Archive free of charge. The Bath Burial Index is a compilation of records for over 50 of Bath’s cemeteries and graveyards and there are over 30,000 images of surviving memorials. Parish records are another useful source for family historians as they contain information especially before 1837 when the system of registering births, marriages and deaths was introduced.

Mr Thornton had brought along a collection of some of the artefacts from the collections, which the group were able to examine after the talk.

October 2017
Charles II the story of his escape.
Given by Chris Billingshurst

At the end of the English Civil War, King Charles 1st was executed by Oliver Cromwell at Whitehall on 30th January 1649, effectively making England a republic in all but name. In Scotland however the Scottish Parliament proclaimed Charles’ son, Charles II as king. In 1651 Charles II and his Royalist followers fought Cromwell’s Parliamentarians at the battle of Worcester on the 3rd September 1651, and suffered a heavy defeat in which at least 2000 Scotsmen were killed. Charles was forced to flee and seek refuge in France but his journey was to be far from easy.

Charles II’s protracted journey from Worcester to Shoreham Harbour took six weeks with several close encounters with Parliamentary forces. As an enthusiastic walker our speaker, Chris, has walked all of the route piecemeal, but it took her eight years, walking sometimes with friends and sometimes alone. Her only close encounter being a pair of mute swans.

The record of the journey taken by Charles was well documented, as the King himself told the story to none other than Samuel Pepys. The King with several of his closest supporters managed to escape Worcester through the northern gate and headed north. It was decided that the King would be better off travelling almost alone so the party split and went different ways. Lord Derby and most of the group left the King but were captured by the Parliamentary forces and Derby was beheaded. Charles continued northwards and eventually found shelter and safety in a sympathetic Catholic household at Whiteladies Priory, home of the Giffard family. Charles was an imposing figure standing at 6ft 2ins (1.88m) and had long hair. The average height of most men at the time was 5ft 10ins (1.78m). It was obvious that he would be recognised unless he changed his appearance. He changed clothes to look like a woodsman, had his hair cut and his face and hands stained with walnut juice. The King accompanied by Richard Penderell headed for Wales in the hope of finding an escape via the River Severn but all crossings were well guarded. They returned to the Boscobel area where the King and Major Carlis, a Royalist soldier had to spend a whole day in an oak tree while Parliamentary forces searched the woodland around them. The following day the King travelled to Moseley Old Hall where he was fed and had a change of clothes. From there he sought refuge in the home of Colonel Lane at Bentley Hall. The Colonel had a daughter, Jane Lane, who was planning to visit her sister at Abbots Leigh, near Bristol, who was about to give birth. At that time a travel permit was required which Jane had obtained, so it was decided that Charles would travel with her disguised as her servant. They reached Abbots Leigh on the 12th September where Charles had to stay locked in his room as one of the staff had served in his regiment and so would have been able to recognise him. The Welsh ports were being watched by the government so hopes of a ship out of Bristol was abandoned. Jane still accompanied the King to provide a convincing cover story. Next they ended up in Trent, near Sherborne, at Royalist Officer Colonel Francis Wyndham’s home at Trent Manor. Wyndham and another Royalist, Wilmott, went to Lyme and arranged for a boat to sail from Charmouth but unfortunately the boat never turned up. Charles returned to Trent Manor where he stayed for a couple of weeks while his supporters looked for a boat. On the 6th of October the King left for Heale House near Amesbury, the home of a Royalist lady Mrs Amphillis Hyde where he stayed for five days. From here Charles left for Sussex where a boat had been arranged. He spent his last night in the little village of Bramber and then travelled to Shoreham Harbour on Wednesday 15th October where he boarded a ship named ‘The Surprise’ at 4am and sailed to France where he was to spend the next nine years. Cromwell died in 1658 and Charles was returned to the throne in 1660 where he reigned until his death in 1685.