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History of the Pier

Clevedon Pier: From Private to Public Ownership

Between 1848 and 1894, the equivalent of today’s Local Authority was the Local Board of Health.  They originated from government-led efforts to stop cholera epidemics and had a variety of duties related to sewers, clean streets, supply of clean water and later their responsibilities included fire prevention, control of public places and removing dangerous buildings.  The Clevedon Local Board of Health (LBH) began in 1853 and the minutes of the LBH meetings can be found in Somerset Record Offices (part of the South West Heritage Trust) where complete records are held.  Some information is available online (Photo 1) but the contents are yet to be digitised so a visit to Taunton is required to read the Clevedon LBH minutes. 

Photo 1: Somerset Records Office online record of Clevedon Local Board of Health Minutes. Link: https://swheritage.org.uk/

Luckily for the Archive, Miss Daisy Shutler of the Clevedon Civic Society made a record of over 10 years worth of the Clevedon Local Board of Health minutes from 1881 to 1894.  This was the period when Clevedon Pier moved from private ownership by the Clevedon Pier Company into public ownership by the Local Health Board.  Miss Shutler compiled her records in a delightful little book called As We Were – 1882 – 1894 A thumbnail sketch from records of the period. Photo 2.   A copy of Miss Shutler’s book has been donated to the Archive by Jane and Derek Lilly along with a very helpful digitised transcription made by Derek.

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Photo 2: Miss Shutlers Book ‘As We Were’ 1882 – 1894
Source: Lilly Donation Image: J Lilly

The first record in Miss Shutler’s book indicating there were moves underway to take Clevedon Pier into public ownership comes from September, 1890.

Clevedon LBH Minutes  3rd September 1890

The Chairman read a copy of a resolution he had received from a meeting of ratepayers, requesting the Health Board to apply for a Towns Act to enable them to treat for the purchase of the Pier and other purposes and improvements for the benefit of Clevedon.

Things seemed to move fast after the Local Board of Health meeting on the 3rd September, 1890.  The minutes record that the LBH wrote to Mr Abernathy – ‘a gentleman well acquainted with piers and harbours’ – to enquire what his charge would be to look into Clevedon Pier.  A special meeting was convened 2 days later to consider his reply and Mr Abernathy was appointed to undertake the necessary work.  At another special meeting, held on the 8th of October, 1890 the minutes record his findings:

Clevedon LBH Minutes 8th October, 1890

Mr Abernathy….had examined the pier and found the pier head unfit for passenger traffic on account of its not being strong enough.  He would suggest an extension of the present head with a timber landing stage end in connection with the ironwork.  Mr Abernathy did not think the pier would be worth buying unless it was bought cheap.  The Chairman asked Mr Abernathy to give an estimate for the minimum amount of work to be carried out and one for a more elaborate Pier Head. 

Another special meeting of the Local Board of Health was called for the 15th October, 1890 and advertised in the Clevedon Mercury.  The topic was to promote a Bill in Parliament enabling the town of Clevedon to purchase and improve the pier.  The minutes record:

Clevedon LBH Minutes 15th October, 1890

It was resolved that the resolution be published in the Clevedon Mercury twice in pursuance of Section 4 of the Municipal Corporations Act 1872.  Mr Langworthy attended and handed the following list of powers which he suggested should be embodied in the proposed Bill:

1) to purchase the pier and to extend widen and improve the same

2) to appoint a Piermaster and other officers

3) to make Bye Laws and Regulations for controlling traffic and to levy tolls

4) control and regulate the foreshore, beach and parade

Special meetings of the Clevedon Local Board of Health carried on apace through October and November 1890 discussing the purchase of the pier, the costs for rebuilding and improving it and drawing up the Bill to put before Parliament to make it all happen.  A special LBH meeting was called at the beginning of November which comprised the ‘requisite’ 24 ratepayers and owner/residents to vote on the plans and the minutes show:

Clevedon LBH Minutes 7th November, 1890

‘That this meeting of overseers and ratepayers of the district of Clevedon, duly convened, consent to the promotion of a Bill in Parliament in the session of 1891, to enable them to obtain power to purchase and acquire and carry on the undertaking of the Clevedon Pier Company; extension of the Pier, landing stage, moorings etc to the buildings on the pier …..including the appointment of a Pier Master and dissolution and winding up of the (Clevedon Pier) Company.’

So, the change of ownership of the pier was under way and the handover happened in March as shown in these LBH minutes:

Clevedon LBH Minutes 11th March, 1891

‘……the Directors of the (Clevedon) Pier Company had met and decided to offer the pier undertaking of the company to the (Local) Board (of Health) at the sum of £700.  A provisional agreement had been drawn up and approved by the Directors.  It was moved, seconded and carried that the offer of the Pier Directors be accepted and that the seal of the Board be affixed.’

What was this all going to cost?  Well the minutes of the LBH now begin to record many references to the tenders being submitted to get the works done on the pier and, Reader, you won’t be surprised that they had a nasty habit of rising and rising.  By October, 1891 the minutes show concerns that the costs are going to exceed what the Clevedon Local Board of Health will be able to borrow and advertisements for fresh tenders are advised.  By December 1891, the local residents of Clevedon are getting restless and, having got Christmas out the way, the minutes show:

Clevedon LBH Minutes 6th January, 1892

‘A deputation of ratepayers attended before the Board on the subject of the Pier and to urge upon the Board the importance of pushing the matter forward.  Several members of the deputation having given their views, the Chairman expressed his pleasure at seeing them and stated that their ideas on the subject were shared by the Board.  The Board had done and were doing their best to get the business completed and would use every endeavour to get the work carried out as cheaply and quickly as possible.’ 

It sounds like the Local Board of Health are a bit stung by the deputation of ratepayers’ criticism but clearly the Board cracked on with it, got more tenders in, agreed to borrow £10,000 to carry out the pier works at a rate of 3 ½% interest rate and work began.

The LBH minutes now record that the work to rebuild the pier got going, applicants for PierMaster were received, the contract was completed earlier than expected and discussions begin to appear about celebrations for when the pier was to be opened – or perhaps one might say, re-opened. 

A special meeting of the LBH on the 23rd March, 1893 resolved to open the Pier to the public on that day at a charge of 1d per head but no children were allowed without their parents until the safety netting was erected.  The grand celebratory opening in April is recorded in the minutes, as is the gift of a barometer to be fixed near the entrance. 

Having taken over responsibility for Clevedon Pier, the minutes of the Local Board of Health record the day to day challenges involved in running such a structure – setting the rates for admission, dealing with complaints and repair problems, as well as applications for making use of the Pier for ‘entertainments’.  The final examples from the LBH minutes, shared below, help to illustrate the point.

Clevedon LBH Minutes 3rd May, 1893

It was decided that the annual season tickets for the pier should be:

One person for one year from the date of issue      5/- each

Two persons  etc                                                            4/6 each

Three persons etc                                                          4/- each

Clevedon LBH Minutes 5th July, 1893

A letter was read from the owners of the (paddlesteamer) Lorna Doone stating that the piles on the pier head were not strong enough.  A reply was sent that since the opening of the pier large boats had continually been calling sometimes in very rough weather and none of the other Captains had made a complaint.

Clevedon LBH Minutes 4th April, 1894

The surveyor reported he had examined the legs of the bridge part of the pier at low water and found them in very bad condition.

Clevedon LBH Minutes 2nd May, 1894

Application was received from S A Hybert for permission to exhibit stereoscopic views (viewers?) and give open air entertainments on the beach or pier. It was moved and seconded and carried that the stereoscopic views should not be allowed but permission be given for open air entertainments. 

This story of pier heritage, which covers its changeover from public ownership to being run by the Local Board of Health, is being posted as Clevedon, the UK and indeed the world, is in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic.  With this in mind, the Clevedon Local Board of Health minutes from February 1892, record something of particular interest.  It reads:

Clevedon LBH Minutes 3rd February, 1892

A letter was read from the Local Government Board on the subject of precautions to be taken against the Epidemic Influenza.  It was moved, seconded and carried that 100 posters contained extracts from the memorandum be obtained and posted in the District.

Thankyou to Miss Shutler, to Jane Lilly for donating her book to the Archive, to Derek Lily for his transcripts and Somerset Record Offices who hold the primary sources for these Clevedon Local Board of Health minutes.

In these days of spring 2020, when the country/the world is coping with the Covid-19 virus, the Pier has had to close and needs your help. Read more on: https://clevedonpier.co.uk/

By Clevedon Pier Archive

Stories that tell the history and heritage of Clevedon Pier and town using the collections held in the Clevedon Pier and Heritage Trust Archive

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