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New discovery from original plan of the Pier

Recently we announced some exciting news to share….and since then we have discovered some even more interesting heritage interpretation news to share with you.  So here we go…..

In a recent posting – found on this link – archive volunteer and professional conservator, Helen explained how she had carefully gone about opening and unfolding precious but very fragile engineering drawings of the Pier from the 1860s.  All that hard work was so that archive and digitisation volunteer, Michael, could go about the difficult task of photographing the large document in 6 sections and then magically – well digitally! – stick them together back into one image. 

You can read more about Michael’s work on this link.  Below he tells us a little more about the technical ‘wizardry’ he used to photograph this large and very fragile document (owned and on loan from a private collector) so that an image can be held safely in the Pier Digital Archive for future reference and made available to the local community and wider public.  

Below is the image of the 1863 drawing submitted to the Board of Trade for approval to build a pier at Clevedon. 

The very fragile document measuring 99cm by 65cm is made of a delicate tracing paper type – material which Helen has used her conservator skills to flatten and store rolled between sheets of acid-free polyester film.  With over 150 years of storage, the plan has torn in places and has split on some of the folds. 

The photographing was done in a north-facing room to reduce ambient light giving with less shadows.  To create the composite digital image, the drawing was rolled out onto a flat surface, being very careful where the paper was more severely worn.    The camera was setup on a tripod with flash and light diffuser box to minimise flare and reflections.  The drawing and camera were positioned so that several overlapping shots of the plan could be taken with a piece of card under the plan to give a consistent background.  A selection of the overlapping photos were then loaded into the photo editing software.  Through a process of ‘trial and error’, the software merges the images into one single panoramic image.  The quality of the output is dependent on how well the images match for size, colour, contrast…  This means that photos need to be retaken and remerged to optimise the final image.  Over 60 photos were taken to find the best result.  The final image is very large at 386MB (or 267 of the 3.5inch floppy discs if you are old enough to remember them !!).  Luckily it condenses down to 13MB for viewing.

With the plan finally digitised to a high quality it was possible for the Pier’s archivists to have a closer look and zoom in for a closer look at interesting features.  There will be plenty of opportunity to do this in more detail but an immediate and fascinating little point of interest emerged to share.  It also led to a bit of Clevedon sea front sleuthing to find out an interesting bit of the story of building the Pier. On the plan can be seen the outline of a house, shown cross-hatched in the image below, near the shore end of the pier.  It has a little M written just to its right and a mark on a front face of the building.

This was intriguing and apparently unexplained until a note was found on the plan which says the following:

DATUM LINE for sections 100 Feet below stone door step of house at point marked thus M on Plan.  The said step being 1 2/5 Feet below the lower edge of half round moulding on stone side pillar of Doorway thus…….. followed by a cross sectional image of the foot of a pillar with a moulding sitting on a step.  

Of course, the burning question was…..could that all important feature that defines the Datum Line for sections drawn on the plan still be there?

Michael went down to the seafront and looked at the front of the building now known as Campbells Landing, opposite the Pier Tollhouse.

And sure enough he found the pillar, with its moulding sitting on a step in the doorway at the left of the building.

Unfortunately, this did not fully confirm the story as Michael had forgotten that the plan had specified a measurement of 1 and 2/5 feet from the underside of moulding to the step.  Not having a ruler showing fifths of a foot, he converted this to 42.7cm in C21 units.

Another trip armed with a tape measure finally tied up the story, to within 0.5cm, and confirmed…that this is the doorstep used as the surveyor’s datum line or reference point when drawing up plans for the Pier in the early 1860s.

Its intriguing to think what else we may learn from the old plans of Clevedon Pier as the work continues with flattening and digitising them so that all will be able to see them in the future. The plans have been stored for over 150 years and are in the hands of a private owner who has allowed the Pier Archive to digitise them to share with the community before they are returned.

If you’d like to find out more please contact archivist@clevedonpier.com who will be happy to help if they are able.

Clevedon Pier Archive is run by volunteers and funded through grant aid and donations. 

You can discover more about what collections the archive holds by following this link to find out more from the Clevedon Pier and Heritage Trust Archive catalogue held in The National Archive Discovery platform.   https://clevedonpierarchive.com/2020/10/08/find-out-about-the-archive-catalogue/

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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