Taken from the Minehead guide – 1902
During the Summer months steamers run daily from the new Pier in Minehead, ( which was opened on 25th of May 1901) to Lynmouth and Ilfracombe to Barry in Wales, and vice versa, in connection with the Barry Co.’s trains, thus affording a quick and cheap route between the place mentioned and Cardiff, Pontypridd, Treherbert, Bridgend and intermediate places. Passengers are allowed to take the same weight of luggage on the steamer as in the train, and the transfer is made at Barry Pier free of charge. Cheap daily, fortnightly, and two monthly return tickets are issued.
For further information apply to Mr.W.Guf, 70a Bute Street, Cardiff.
Minehead of Long ago: In early days there are records of the attacks of the Danes upon Porlock and Watchet, and it is unlikely that Minehead should have escaped their ravages. But its harassing by the Cymri in 1265, under William of Berkley, is the earliest account of any invasion. The town was then defended by the Constable of Dunster, and its assailants defeated.
After the Luttrells bought the De Mohun property in 1376, Minehead was transferred with the Dunster lands. With the exception of a few years in the reign of James I., from 1558, when Elizabeth made the town a Borough, until 1832, when it was disenfranchised by the Reform Bill, Minehead was continuously represented in Parliament by two members. In 1642 the Royalist Marquis of Hereford, after being forced to retire from Wells and Sherborne, made the town the headquarters for his unsuccessful attack on Dunster Castle. The inhabitants were during the time of the Civil War enthusiastically with the Parliament, and the Church-book, mentioned by Savage in his ‘History of Carhampton Hundred contains many records of the ringing of the bells in joyful commemoration of various Parliamentary victories.
In the 17th century the trade of the place was considerable, Minehead, indeed, ranking only second to Bristol as a western port. It is still the safest harbour on the coast after Bristol.
Minehead of the present day (1902)
At the very time that its prosperity as a place of trade diminished, the popularity of Minehead as a seaside resort began. Its inhabitants at the last census numbered 2,779, but this resident population is, of course, largely increased by the influx of visitors. Nor do these come only in summer for the bathing and the sea breezes. The mild winters that prevail have led Bath and Bristol physicians to send their patients here for the winter months, and many are the cases of great benefit being derived from such visits. There are, of course, two climates – that of the shore and that of the hill; and one or the other can be chosen for residence according to the nature of the illness. During a period of three years in which a series of records was kept by D.Clarke, a former medical officer of health of the town, the mean average temperature of the five winter months was 46.9, and the average nightly temperature 38.7.
The formation of the gas and water companies was due to the late Thomas Ponsford esq., formerly steward of and legal adviser to the estate. The supply of water from the reservoir on the North Hill is practically inexhaustible, and its excellence and softness at once strikes every one who uses it. To Mr Ponsford was also owing the inception of the coaching service, the building of the Town Hall, and various other enterprises. It is just twenty-six years since the Great Western Railway made the line to the town, and since that event its development has, of course, proceeded with increased rapidity.
The sea-front of Minehead is remarkable for one feature at least in its fine elms, standing on a fair sized triangular piece of grass occupying the space between the railway station and the Hotel Metropole. There is a solidly constructed sea wall, with a broad asphalted esplanade extending along the whole of the sea front, a great boon to visitors, affording opportunity for a clean, level, and dry-footed constitutional , no matter what the weather may be like. Here extensive fortification and drainage works are carried on by bare-footed and short-petticoated engineers. The sand extends, firm, level, and dry, for some hundreds acres. No wonder that horse-racing upon it was at one time a common sight. Amore glorious place for a gallop cannot be conceived, and the hunters from the adjoining stables are exercised upon it daily.
A new Middle Town has grown up where once the old ‘Watery Lane’ gave access to the sea. Its former course is now marked by The Avenue -a set of semi-detached villas, mostly lodging houses. By lodging-houses, one generally conjures up that fearfully monotonous flat-fronted form of house to be seen at most seaside towns where building was carried out forty of fifty years ago. The Avenue cannot be classed with these at all, for although the houses are slate roofed their general design is pleasing, and the gardens are unusually large and well kept, and are filled with a luxurious abundance of roses and sweet English flowers, that fills the air with fragrance.
A double line of vigorous young trees makes the name of the road appropriate, and the pavements shady.
Looking over the town from the railway station there are the modern houses of The Avenue, with two or three very new roads running out of it into the level green fields, close at hand. Immediately outside the station is the excellent Beach Hotel; a few yards farther off, close up to the margin of the sea, is the Hotel Metropole, a modern building of good architecture, and standing in its own ample grounds; while the background is filled with the great rounded extremity of the North Hill, dropping precipitously into the sea. At the foot of this wooded acclivity nestles the Quay Town, its little cream washed houses showing up against the dark green background of the hill. Out into the waves runs the protecting arm of the little quay, holding in its friendly embrace the few craft which still do business in these waters.
If one leaves the station and walks up The Avenue away from the sea, the first public building passed on the right is the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. It is a pleasing building of red sandstone, overgrown in part with creepers. A few steps farther brings one in front of the Town Hall, also of good design.
On the left-hand side of the road, shaded by some dark evergreen bushes, is a building, quaint, low and gabled, used as the Manor Offices and as a furniture warehouse. It is the only really ancient structure in the long stretch of the modern town from Wellington Square to the seaward end of The Avenue. The walls are strongly buttressed, and the tracery and mullions of the window frames are of carved oak. Permission to enter can be obtained by application to one of the men in the furniture warehouse, for in one of the upper rooms there are the faintly discernible remains of some frescoes. It is difficult to glean any authoritative information regarding this fine old relic of the middle ages.
Neither Savage nor any other local historians deign to mention it. Situated as it is in the centre of the town, it will perhaps some day be more worthily cared for. Might we suggest to the local authorities that it would be a capital place for a museum of West Somerset Antiquities?
A little farther up towards Wellington Square, on the same side as the Town Hall, there stands the exceedingly picturesque little Market Houses. Its massive Ionic pillars and pilasters, its heavy growth of ivy, its delightful little bell turret set corner wise on the roof ridge, and its general aspect of sober stateliness at once carry the imagination back to the days of ‘Cranford’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Its charm is so unmistakable that it is with great regret that one hears of its possible demolition at no distant date, but perhaps it is not too late yet to pause and reflect.
With the exception of its ancient cottages Minehead boasts very few buildings which have seen eighty years and that this conspicuously attractive one should be replaced by some modern erection is altogether to be deprecated.
Close by in Market House Lane, a narrow turning occupied chiefly by the Almshouses. Facing one at the opposite end is the shaft of an octagonal cross, which, says Mr John Page in his ‘Exploration of Exmoor’ was and probably still is a boundary cross marking the confines of the Charity land. On a hurried glance it may seem as though the cross had been removed, for it is washed over with the ochre colour used on the surrounding almshouses, and even the base corresponds to the cottages in its coat of tar. The little bell in the turret on one of the gable ends was for some time rung at six 0’clock in the morning to rouse the men for work; it is now only rung on occasions of rejoicing.
(I always thought it was the ships bell from Robert Quirkes ship)
Perhaps the most interesting feature of these low and humble-looking almshouses is the antique brass plate let into the wall at a convenient height for reading. It runs:
||Robert Quirke was caught in a terrific storm at sea and made a promise to God to help the poor if his ship and crew managed to get safely into port, which is why he built the almshouses.
Wellington Square is little more than a wider space of roadway between The Avenue and The Parade. On one side stands ‘The Plume of Feathers’ an establishment well known to those who visit Minehead during the hunting season. Carefully preserved in the hotel is a chair, ingeniously constructed entirely from deer’s antlers.
On the other side of the square there is the modern but not unpleasing St. Andrew’s Church, flanked by the Wellington Hotel, head quarters of the Minehead and West Somerset Club. An alabaster statue of Queen Anne, in a massive architectural canopy, stands against the churchyard wall. An inscription states that it was presented to the town in 1719 by Sir Jacob Bancks, who, though a Swede, was an officer in the British Navy, and for sixteen years was member of Parliament for Minehead. The statue was the work of Bird the scultor. Its fellow is familiar to all Londoners; ‘turning its stone back upon St.Paul’s, it faces the coaches struggling up Ludgate Hill,’ wrote Thackeray in ‘Esmond.’
The tradition is that it was placed in some public building, afterwards being removed to the chancel of the church according to the following entries in the church books. It was moved to its present position in 1893.
Walking towards the North Hill you pass the immaculate little coastguards’ station, and a few paces farther enter the humble street of the Quay Town. Thatched and slated cottages are on both sides of the narrow roadway until you are abreast of the harbour, where the houses are built right against the foot of the sheer cliff, and on the opposite side of the way there is only a low wall between you and the masts and rigging of the fishing craft lying in the harbour. The dark green hill rising perpendicularly above the cream washed cottage, with their large projecting chimney-stacks, their leaded windows, their creeper-covered walls, and the bronzed seafarers smoking in picturesque groups on the Quay, are features which should be an endless attraction to the least educated in matters of art.
The very solidly constructed stone quay forming the harbour has a whitewashed rampart on the seaward side contrasting well against the many coloured stones forming the surface of the pier.
The new Pier was completed early in 1901, and serves a useful purpose in opening up communication with the Welsh coast, and affording an opportunity for the Bristol steamers to stop at all states of the tide in their progress up and down the Channel. It is a light, strong structure, resembling in the distance a spider’s web spun in the shelter of the Quay, which effectually hides it from the sea front; it runs out into deep water, and emerging as it does from the shelter of the North Hill, it makes an excellent promenade, affording bracing breezes at the extremity. A little trolly runs on a rail up the centre for carrying luggage to and from the steamers, and the landing-stage would, we should think, form a useful coign of vantage for sea fishermen.
The view from the breezy pier head, with the magnificent green mass of the North hill looming overhead and the distant country to the eastward, is beautiful and interesting.