ArchiveInFive: Erecting a Pier in Clevedon – Early Days
This week’s ArchiveInFive will plot, in five postings, the early history of trying to build a pier in Clevedon by combining primary source material from the British Newspaper Archives with local historian Jane Lilly’s unique knowledge and heritage interpretation skills. It starts in 1828.
Part 1. Ten Guineas for a plan, specification and estimate 1828
An advert is posted in the Bristol Mirror on Saturday November 8th 1828 to catch the attention of Surveyors who might be interested in designing a pier for Clevedon. It seems a bit of a tight timescale as the proposals had to be in by New Years Day January, 1829.
The advertisement reads:
Ten Guineas will be given for the most approved Plan, Specification and Estimate for building a PIER at CLEVEDON to be delivered on or before the 1st day of January 1829. For further particulars apply Mr HOLLYMAN, Clevedon.
Clevedon Historian and Heritage Interpretation Advisor to the Pier Archive, Jane Lilly, tells us that Mr Hollyman was Manager of the Clevedon Court Estate and was acting on behalf of Abraham Elton.
The same advert appeared at least two more times in the Bristol Mirror on the 29th November, 1828 and the 20th December, 1828.
Part 2. Who Decides on the Design
The December 20th, 1828 posting of the advert for a surveyor to plan, specify and estimate for the building of a pier at Clevedon has an additional line added to it indicating the subscribers will decide on the ‘merits of the tenders.’
A ‘subscriber’ to a new enterprise, such as building a pier, is defined by businessdictionary.com as ‘A party that signs a memorandum of association of a new firm and pledges to buy the number of shares written against its name.’ These subscribers would have had a considerable interest in what was going on and held considerable weight in decision making.
That advertisement reads:
Ten Guineas will be given for the most approved Plan, Specification and Estimate for building a PIER at CLEVEDON to be delivered on or before the 1st day of January 1829. The Subscribers to the Undertaking will attend at the Hotel on that date at 12 o’clock for the purpose of deciding on the merits of the Tenders. For further particulars apply Mr HOLLYMAN, Clevedon.
The hotel in question, Jane Lilly explains, would have been the old Royal Hotel, formerly on the site of the Friary in Hill Road, and more often known in these advertisements as Stokes’s Hotel. The final decision on the design for the Pier would be with the ‘subscribers’ to this project – a heavy responsibility indeed.
How we would love to find those plans, specification and costs prepared for decision making on January 1st, 1829 – can anyone help with that?
Part 3. Raising the money
The newspaper sources tell us that having already got ‘subscribers’ – people who have committed to buying shares in the Clevedon Pier Project – the search for more ‘shareholders’ was clearly under way by the 17th of January, 1829. One can only imagine what an imperative was the need to raise money for such a big building project. This advert also assures us there were plans and specifications to be seen.
The 17th January 1829 advert in the Bristol Mirror states:
Any person wishing to become Shareholders of the Pier, about to be erected at Clevedon, will be pleased to apply to Mr T STROUD, Wine Street, Bristol where the Plans and Specifications may be seen.
This advertisement was repeated at least three times but there then seems to be a bit of a gap in the newspaper record as to what happened next. Our search strategy for finding primary newspaper sources about the Pier is, for the moment, confined to the British Newspaper Archive online search facility. However, it may well be that records of subscribers and shareholders may well be somewhere else – perhaps in a private collection. For the moment we can’t say exactly who ‘bought into’ the 1830 pier project and in fact there seems to be a bit of lull in the newspaper records until 1834.
Just to say: fortunately we do have access to the full records, including shareholders, of the Clevedon Pier Company which succeeded in building and opening Clevedon Pier thirty years later in 1863. Those records (held in a private collection) are currently being digitised by the Pier Trust’s volunteer archive team so that, in the future, the Pier Trust can share them with the public.
Part 4. A lull and then interest re-starts in 1834
Initial research into newspapers as a primary source of information indicates a bit of a gap from the end of the 1820s decade until 1834. There may, of course, be more newspaper reports elsewhere which are currently not listed on the British Newspaper Archive. However the reports that can be found are to do with postings about meetings to discuss the building of a pier at Clevedon which are planned and adjourned and delayed and re-planned, right up to December 1834. Here’s just one example of an ADJOURNED MEETING (sic) to be held at Stokes’s Hotel.
Just as a reminder from this week’s ArchiveInFive Part 2 – ‘the hotel would have been the old Royal Hotel, formerly on the site of the Friary in Hill Road, and more often known in these advertisements as Stokes’s Hotel.’
Another advertisement for shareholders posted in the Bristol Mercury on the 27th September 1834 indicates money is being raised through the sale of shares and Jane Lilly’s transcript tells us what that advert says:
Clevedon, on the Bristol Channel, 12 miles from Bristol. The numerous visitors frequenting this unrivalled watering place, and its inhabitants, are respectfully requested to attend a meeting which will be held at the Hotel, Clevedon, on Wednesday the 8th of October next at ten o’clock, to name a surveyor to prepare plans, specifications and estimate and fixing the situation for erecting a PIER for the use of the Steam Packets* etc. As a large sum is already subscribed, it is requested that all parties inclined to take shares of £16 each to attend to sign their name to propositions which will then be produced. Sir A Elton Bart is to requested to preside. Information is to be obtained from Mr W Hollyman at Clevedon. If by post to be post paid.
* Keep an eye out in Part 5 tomorrow for more on Steam Packets.
And a month later, a similar advertisement is posted which encourages shareholders to invest in a pier at Clevedon by plugging the ‘facilities and attractions of this rapidly rising watering place.’ Image below.
Part 5. Seven Years On – there’s good news and bad news
We will end this ArchiveInFive story about the early days of trying to get a pier built at Clevedon by looking at what was happening in 1835 – a scant seven years on from the first newspaper record looked at from 1828. One artefact, held in the Bristol Records Office and not a newspaper, is exciting as it looks like progress may be being made. It is the account submitted by Mr Robe, Bristol Harbourmaster in January 1835, for his expenses for going to Clevedon, along with a couple of Bristol Pilots, to ‘inspect the spot upon which the intended pier is to be erected’. This document shows that Mr Robe invoiced £1.13.0 for travel, £1.5.0 for refreshments and the Pilots were paid a Guinea, £1.1.0, for their ‘attendance.’ The report on their findings isn’t in the Records Office – what an interesting read that would be.
Two other items are, however, less encouraging. They are advertisements and sailing times for the Steam Packet Eagle from Bristol to Portishead and Clevedon which were published in the first half of 1835. The March 1835 advertisements shows the steam packet season is ready to kick off and Clevedon is clearly on the advertised route. However, by the 12th of June 1835 there’s sad news when the Steam Packet Eagle notifies customers that it will no longer be landing at Clevedon because it is too dangerous.
Meetings continue to be advertised through 1835 for shareholders but things aren’t looking good and, finally, a report in The Times newspaper, tells us that considerable storms in the Channel caused a pier ‘erecting’ at Clevedon to be entirely destroyed. From the late 1839s/1840 there are several newspaper reports positing the idea of a pier at Portbury. Perhaps attention shifted for a while? For the moment our attention will shift away from the early days of building a pier at Clevedon. But before we leave here’s a little dip into what was happening in the 1860s.
Nearly 25 years later, the memory of the early attempts to build a pier at Clevedon came up during evidence being taken for the 1863 public inquiry which looked to establish who owned the Clevedon foreshore. The National Archive holds those records and one testimony is from a local man, Thomas Lilly, who was then renting the foreshore fishing and bathing machine rights. Mr Lilly is recorded as saying, ‘Mr Hollyman, the Steward (from Clevedon Court) made a landing place near Rock House, where I have seen passengers landed from a steamer. I recollect seeing two passengers a lady and a gentleman landed. They did not make much of a landing place as it was soon knocked down again. It was set up very slight with loose stones. It was swept away by the tide, the Pier was paid for by a collection made by the inhabitants of Clevedon and they complained when it was knocked down.’
Proof, if proof were needed, of the value of keeping careful hold on our history and heritage.