We tend to think about the decade 1970 to 1980 as the one where the Pier was saved for Clevedon. But a hundred years earlier in 1889 and 1890 the ratepayers of the town were busy trying to save the Pier. The story is found in a large scrapbook, containing newspaper reports and other printed material about the Pier, which is currently on loan to the Pier Archive to be digitised and catalogued before returning to its private owner. It includes two pages from a report in the August 1890 Clevedon Mercury and Courier newspaper about the ‘Great Meeting’ of ‘Ratepayers’ on the topic of ‘The Pier Question’ when 400 ratepayers attended the local board meeting where it was unanimously agreed that the pier should be acquired by the local board for the town. The two pages from the Clevedon Mercury and Courier had been stuck into the scrapbook and have now been transcribed to be easily read. You can find the transcription below. Some of it is tricky to read and there are a few missing words shown as (????) – but the rest makes a fascinating read. We love how the Reporter shares (in brackets) what is going on amongst the attendees so that we learn that at different times the 400 ratepayers (cheered) or shouted (hear, hear) or that there was (laughter) and (renewed laughter) and (applause). It is a slightly longish read but may perhaps provide a few minutes of local history fun during the seasonal festivities. And the role of sprats in saving the pier will be revealed! Enjoy.
THE CLEVEDON MERCURY AND COURIER
SATURDAY, AUGUST 16, 1890
THE PIER QUESTION.
GREAT MEETING OF RATEPAYERS AT THE SKATING RINK.
UNANIMOUS RECEPTION OF THE PROPOSAL TO ACQUIRE THE PIER FOR THE TOWN.
A TOWN’S ACT RESOLVED UPON.
On Monday evening a meeting of ratepayers of Clevedon, convened by the Pier Committee, was held at the Skating Rink, Linden Road, for the purposes of receiving a report from the committee appointed July 25th, last year; to consider a proposal for the pier to be acquired by the Local Board, with the view of its being worked for the benefit of the town; and to pass a resolution, if considered necessary, requesting the Local Board to apply for a Town’s Act for Clevedon, which should embody not only the taking over of the pier, but also other matters, such as providing the electric light, to licence porters, to levy tolls on hawkers, to construct bathing accommodation, boating slips etc. The Vicar of Clevedon (Rev. O. Marson) presided, and was supported by the Rev. R. Lawson (Vicar of St John’s), Rev. F. B. Cowl, Mr Eustace Button (chairman of the Pier Committee), Mr J. B. Dawson-Thomas, Mr W. F. Langworthy, Mr S. A. Hayman, Mr F. J. Saunders (hon. secretary Pier Committee), etc. Amongst those present were Messrs S. Dawes, J. Palmer, and J. Dilke, members of the Pier Committee: E. Bonham (chairman Townmen’s Association), etc., and about 400 ratepayers, comprising tradesmen, lodging-house keepers, private residents, and others interested in the welfare of Clevedon.
………..The Chairman, in opening the proceedings, said the question to be brought before them was the fate of their poor old pier. They would remember that a committee was appointed 12 months ago to consider the matter, and the first thing to be done was to call on the secretary to read the report. A resolution would then be submitted in favour of authorising the Local board to apply for a Town’s Act for Clevedon to enable them to treat for the purchase of the pier and effect other improvements, and those present would have an opportunity of voting upon it. Anyone wishing to move an amendment, would be welcome to come forward and express it. Speaking for himself, he should be sorry indeed to see the pier carted away as old iron, and his friends and neighbours left without it. If the pier was worth setting up – (hear, hear) – and if the ratepayers allowed it to dwindle away they would be placed in a very unenviable position. “To build and not to finish” was folly indeed but worse folly would it be to build a house and not be able to keep it fit for habitation. Well, there was the poor old pier, and every watering place of any importance also had a pier. Some ladies deplored the existence of the pier, and looked back [????] of the times when they had no pier. He should be glad to recall those times, if it were possible; but houses were continually being erected and blotting out the picturesque spots which once existed, and Clevedon was altogether progressing to such an extent, that he thought they ought to have a pier. (Cheers.) It was true that of late the pier had not been frequented as it ought, and he was reminded of the old saying of the Roman poet regarding Virtue, “When she’s present we don’t like her; when she dies, we are all sorry to lose her.” (Laughter.) He had many times enjoyed a walk on the pier, when he had been the only person on it; and had never been disappointed. (Renewed laughter.) But he hoped the day would come when a solitary walk on the pier would not be possible. (Cheers.) He should like to see a sort of harbour constructed whereby large steamers might bring passengers to or take them off from the pier, for it was not creditable to the town to allow things to remain as they were. (Hear, hear.) The report of the Pier Committee had been 12 months in elaboration – (laughter) – and he trusted it would be a wise one. He would now call upon the honorary secretary of the Pier Committee to read his report. (Applause.)
……..MR SAUNDERS said since the ratepayers’ meeting held at the Public Hall on the 25th July last year, when a committee was formed, several meetings had been held and several letters written and received. The first meeting was on July 27th, two days after the meeting of the ratepayers, when he was requested to write to Sir E. H. Elton, as chairman of the Pier Company, asking him the present terms on which the company was prepared to hand over the pier and property to the Local Board. The next meeting was held on Thursday, January 30th, when a letter was read from Mr Rivers, dated January 28th, regretting that he was unable to attend the meeting owing to ill-health, and stating that, as he (Mr Saunders) was no doubt aware, he was not able to report progress since the last meeting. Sir E. H. Elton’s reply to his inquiry in connection with the pier was enclosed, as follows:-
“Clevedon Court, Somerset, August 7th, 1889. Dear Mr Rivers, – In reply to your question as to the terms upon which the Pier Company would be prepared to part with their property to the town, the first point to ascertain upon what terms they legally can part with it, and I am in correspondence with Mr Vassall on the subject. You shall shortly hear again from me with regard to this matter. – Yours sincerely, E. H. Elton.”
He, (Mr Saunders) was again requested to write to Sir Edmund referring him to his letter of August 7th, and asking him if he could now inform the committee if the directors were prepared to part with the pier and its belongings, and, if so, for what amount. The next meeting was held on February 6th, when he stated having written to Sir Edmund as requested, and had also seen him on the subject, but he had received no reply. He was requested to write again, which he did, and at the next meeting, held February 20th, he received the following letter:-
“Clevedon Court, Somerset, February 8th 1890. Dear Sir, – In reply to yours of the 7th inst., the only legal method as regards the pier is to wind up the company and sell the property for what it will fetch. It could not be bought by the board as a going concern, and would have to be carted away unless a new Provisional Order were obtained. This the board must be prepared to apply for, should they think of taking over the pier. The matter shall be brought before the directors at the next pier meeting. – Yours faithfully, E. H. Elton.”
That pier meeting should have been held last May, but would not now take place until September. He was then requested to thank Sir Edmund for his letter, and to ask him to ascertain as speedily as possible the views of the directors as to whether they were prepared to wind up the Pier Company, as the public were expressing great anxiety for the report of the committee. This was on the 20th February last. He received no reply to that letter, and again wrote to Sir Edmund on 17th March, when on March 24th he received the following letter from Mr Fry, secretary to the Pier Company:-
“Clevedon Pier Company, Clevedon, 21st March, 1890. Dear Sir, – Sir E. H. Elton has handed me your letters of the 21st February and 17th inst., and desires me to say he much regrets the delay in replying to them, but absence from home has prevented his earlier attention to the matter. With regard to winding up the company, the directors are in favour of its being done, but it must be borne in mind that if the concern is put up for sale at the present time, the Local Board, as representing the town have no power to purchase it – neither could they receive it as a gift – the pier would, therefore, be sold to the highest bidder, and probably taken away. It is stated that a feeling exists in the place that the pier should belong to the town, and as I believe your committee was appointed by the ratepayers, would it not be well to ascertain their views on the question, as to whether a Provisional Order should be obtained by the Local Board to enable them to deal with the matter. You will see, I think, that to wind up the concern now would be to give the Local Board a chance whatever of acquiring the property and there would seem to be a desire that the town should possess it, the subject should be taken in hand at once, as to obtain a Provisional Order would necessarily take some considerable time. – Yours faithfully HY. C. FRY, secretary. F. J. Saunders, Esq. [????]dale House.”
He was then requested to arrange a meeting with the directors, to endeavour to ascertain from them the price at which they were prepared to part with the pier, but he received no reply from them. Later on, Mr S. Dawes and himself waited on Sir Edmund Elton, and he expressed his willingness to assist in any way to further the scheme, but unfortunately the death of the their late lamented and well respected fellow-townsman, Mr John Maynard, who was a debenture holder in the pier, again delayed the committee taking steps in the matter. The next meeting was held July 31st, when he was again requested to write to Sir Edmund asking him if the steps had been taken towards winding up the Pier Company by liquidation, as it was the wish of the committee to give the town some particulars as to where the matter stood. In reply, he received the following letter, which was read at a meeting called at his house, when it was resolved to call that public meeting:-
“Clevedon Court, August 2nd, 1890. Mr F. J. Saunders, – Dear Sir,- with regard to the[????] your committee will see by the Clevedon Mercury that a meeting of shareholders is called for September [????] with a view to having the company registered. It is the first preliminary towards a voluntary winding up of the concern. We have put off the matter from time to time, with the expectation that your committee would have taken some steps to ascertain the feeling of the town, and to arouse popular attention. I have myself, on more than one occasion, spoken to members of your committee, also to other interested parties, and have proposed that the town should be canvassed. I have explained that the directors cannot legally name a price, but that the pier must be sold at auction. This will now be done as possible, but it can not be sold with the power of taking tolls. If the town takes the pier, they must obtain a new Provisional Order, the cost of which will be about £150, and must by applied for before the end of October. I should myself advise a Town Act instead – it would cost more, but would be [????] in the end for a growing town like ours – it would enable us to do anything we may possibly request in the future without fresh expense, not to [????] various smaller things which cannot now be [????] without extra powers, such as appointing [????] porters and imposing tolls on street hawkers. If your committee decide that it is advisable for the town to acquire the pier, they should lose no time in organising public opinion and presenting a [????] to the board. In any case the pier will shortly be sold by public auction. Your committee are already aware that the debenture holders are prepared to give to the town their share of the sum realised, with the exception of Mr Maynard’s trustees, who [????] with their debentures at a nominal price, I understand. – Yours faithfully, E. H. Elton.” [????].
He thought that had now explained the work the committee had been doing since their appointment last year, and hoped that meeting would be [????] in requesting the Local board to apply for a Town Act to enable them to take over the pier, and to carry out such alterations and improvements as is necessary, and thus benefit the town at large.
……….Mr EUSTACE BUTTON, in moving a resolution on the subject, said the report they had just [????] they had followed the dates, showed that the [????] abuse heaped upon the Pier committee was [????] deserved. (Hear, hear.) Such abuse was [????] them; they had been asking repeatedly for [????] and that had not been given, through some [????] standing he took it, until Sir Edmund’s [????]. Otherwise there had been no reason to [????] together. There was also nothing to [????] them until they knew whether the debenters were prepared to relinquish their interest in [????]. He had heard various rumours as to the [????] which holders valued their debentures, [????] not know what amount they wanted for [????] taking. Had they wanted £5,000 form it the [????] would have called them together, and he [????] well what the result of that meeting would [????]. It appeared that Sir Edmund wanted these [????] out information, but this they were [????] until they knew what the debenture holders were going to do. They knew by the handbills which had been circulated that resolutions would be [????] asking the board to take steps to acquire the pier, also obtain a Town’s Act for this [????] and also carry out, if considered desirable, other improvements. To this in mind it would [????] to take the first step without the second, and a word or two was necessary in explanation. Some people called the proposal an “Omnibus” Bill, because it gave general powers to the Local Board to carry out certain improvements at any time, so that in future they would not have to go to Parliament for fresh powers. So he considered it would be greater economy in the long run to spend £300 in a Town’s Act than to obtain a Provisional Order to acquire the pier at a cost of £150. (Cheers.) If they voted for a Town’s Act, let them bear in mind they were not voting for the electric light, or for the construction of bathing accommodation or boating slips, or for the licence of porters and the levying of tolls on street hawkers – these improvements would depend on the future action of the members of the Local Board, whom they themselves elected. All that the Bill gave us was sanction for the Local Board to act without further Parliamentary powers. It therefore gave him, much pleasure in moving “That this meeting requests and authorises then Local Board to apply for a Town’s Act for Clevedon, to enable them to treat for the purchase of the pier, provide bathing accommodation, boating slips, and to make other improvements for the benefit of the town.” (Cheers.) Those things which they were asked to sanction were merely put in to show what was possible to be done, though they were by no means committed to them. Nothing had been said as to terms of purchase, but he trusted the members of the Local Board would not go extravagantly to work and give an unfair price for the pier. (Hear, hear.) Twelve months ago, he must tell them, he held a very different view of the pier question to what he did to-day; he had been thoroughly Tory in his ideas with regard to it – (laughter and cheers.) – and believed that the old state of things was better than the new. But there was the pier – unpainted, rotten, and even dangerous. He felt they should not allow any private man to buy it, and possibly work it in a way to utterly vulgarise the town. (Hear, hear.) No gentleman had come forward to purchase the pier on behalf of a syndicate; but there were those who were prepared to buy it as old iron and cart it away, a proceeding which he felt would be a terrible eyesore and a terrible shame for Clevedon. (Cheers.) Therefore, he saw no other course open to them but that of asking the Local Board to secure the pier and to put it in a proper state of repair. In view of this being done, the Pier committee had ascertained the probable cost, and prepared a few figures relative to the working of the undertaking. Such figures were guesswork, but they calculated that if the pier could be obtained for a few hundred pounds, it would cost on the whole some £5,000 to make a new pier head and otherwise improve the structure, in order to enable steamers to embark and disembark passengers. Supposing the work could be done for £5,000, this outlay would involve an expense of £300 per year for some 30 years. Supposing again that they were out of pocket by the transaction, it would involve a 3d rate. The working expenses were about £150 a year. But the Local Board would have power to take tolls, and they would be in receipt of income. The question was asked, what would that income amount to? Well in the early days of the pier he was told the receipts amounted to about £400 a year. Since then Clevedon had nearly doubled in population, and there had arisen a development of great business in the Channel traffic, for which splendid steamers were now engaged. Therefore, this source of revenue would be enormously increased compared with what it was in the old times. Supposing the worst came to the worst, they would [????] have to pay a halfpenny rate. (Cheers.) That for a few years would not be a serious matter, and they would possess advantages in having the pier in proper order for steamers, and shelters provided in which visitors might sit with some degree of comfort to enjoy the strains of the band. (Cheers.) The [????] he had quoted were not an absolute calculation, but the committee had talked the matter over, and that was the best view of the case they could give them. The interest and working expenses would be more than covered if only the pier enjoyed the popularity it formerly did, and they might fairly expect that the results would be more satisfactory, seeing the greater population they had and the excellent [????] [????] the pier would provide. (Cheers.) For this reason they were asked to sanction the pier being taken over by the Local Board. As he had said before, they did not pledge themselves to slips [????] [????] and that sort of thing, but simply to ask the Local Board to acquire the pier and to use their [????] – and they were prudent in the spending of [????] (Laughter.) – in arranging terms of purchase, [????] [????] in fear of their not doing so, and believed they could make the best terms they could for the [????] of the ratepayers. In conclusion, he said the terms he had given were what might fairly be XXX (Cheers.)
………Mr LANGWORTHY said he had much pleasure in [????] [????] the resolution which had been so ably put [????] [????] by Mr Bolton, and he would give them [????] [????] for doing so in a very few words. In the [????] [????] he considered it would be a great pity [????] [????] [????] lose the pier – (hear, hear) – and if it could be purchased at a nominal price and a sufficient [????] [????] [????] in improving it, instead of proving [????] [????] to the rates it would be found to be [????] [????] [????]. (Cheers.) Another reason why he seconded the resolution was because he believed it to be the wish of the majority of the ratepayers that the management of the pier should be vested in the Local Board. He had mentioned the matter to a great many ratepayers, and they appeared to be unanimous in favour of money being spent upon the pier. With regard to the proposed Town’s Act, it would be a good thing for Clevedon if it could be now obtained, and although some of its provisions might not be needed for some time, there would be no additional expense when they were required. (Cheers.)
………The Rev. R. LAWSON, in supporting the resolution, said there was one point in the speech of the seconder with which he could not agree; and although he supported the resolution most cordially, he could not approach the proposed acquisition of the pier by the Local Board as a paying matter. He did not think they would gain directly from the pier being taken over by the town, but they would indirectly. A half penny or penny rate would have to be taken into consideration, and very likely; it would be more but he considered it would be wise to pay this extra rate, because of the benefits which would be received indirectly. (Cheers.) He believed in a Town’s Act being applied for, and that the Local Board be asked to acquire the pier on the best terms they could. Even if they spent £5,000 on the pier, it would be a great advantage to the town and bring people here. It seemed to him the pier was cared for more by the visitors than by the residents. The acquisition of the pier would not benefit him personally, it would only increase his rates; but at the same time it would benefit the whole town. Certain points might be embodied in the Town’s Act, which could not at present be dealt with by the Local Board, and ought not to be allowed to exist. (Cheers.) For instance, the board had no power to charge people who came in from the country districts to hawk their goods in Clevedon. Let them come by all means, but let them pay for a licence for so doing, which might go towards lessening the rates -(cheers)- and this would put them on all-fours with the tradesmen. At present they were not paying for the use of the roads or in any other way contributing to the rates. Therefore, he should say pass a Town’s Act in order to enable the Local Board, amongst other things, to charge for a licence. There was another matter he should like to mention, which might be of some uses during the winter. A certain number of men in Clevedon were dependent on the fisheries for a livelihood during the winter months, and he considered it would be a great hardship if they were not allowed to set foot on the pier in order to carry on this industry. (Her, hear.) He believed, however, if it were represented to the pier authorities, either through the medium of the ‘press’ or in some other way, the desirability of allowing any men calling themselves fishermen to pass to and fro free of charge during the ensuing winter, the object in view would very likely be granted, and greatly benefit those concerned. The attractions of Clevedon were always being put forward, yet they could hardly imagine Clevedon without sprats. (Laughter.) Without fish they would be unable to attract visitors; and what would Clevedon be without sprats if the supply was cut off? (Laughter and cheers.) There was only one other thing he should like to mention, which was deserving the support of the townsman. They must not fail to recognise the fact that they were face to face with a very important matter in applying for a Town’s Act, and very important business was likely to occupy the attention of the Local Board during the ensuing winter. The board at present were short of several members, and there would be no election until next Easter. At the same time the board had the right to appoint other gentlemen to fill the vacancies, if they chose; and he felt that if a strong expression of opinion went forth from that meeting that the vacancies should be filled up, the board would in all probability comply with their request. He would not say the position of member of the Local Board was an altogether enviable one; in fact, he knew it involved a good deal of trouble. The suggestion, however, he was but to make was that they should request the Local Board to kindly ask their present chairman and Mr Button (who worked so hard in regard to the pier) to join them till the election of tickets for admission, and took a walk on the pier once or twice a day. So invigorating was [?????] daily walk and so much good did it do him that the late piermaster said to him one day “What a difference there appears to be in you.” “Yes.” I replied, “the pier has done it” – (laughter)- and was convinced regular visits to the pier were [????] means of giving a foundation to his present good state of health, and he was thankful there was a pier, even though no better than it was. (Cheers.) A pier was necessary to attract visitors; they not only liked [????]get their money, but should endeavour to give th[????] as much as possible for their money. He was convinced a new pier would mean money in their pockets (Hear, hear.) He had watched the growth of Weston-Super-Mare and Clevedon for more than 40 years; [????]used to drive between the two places so he knew something about it. He recently had a conversation with a Weston man about the improvements carried out in that town and the consequent heavy rates. [????] was admitted that those improvements cost a lot of money, but his friend said the difference to business was so great that if they had to pay another such [????] extra addition to the rates would not mind, for [????] would be sure to get his money back again be means of the increased number of people visiting the town. (Hear, hear.) That man who had spoken thus was connected with the provision trade of Weston-Super-Mare. That town had now got over the difficulties with which they at Clevedon had now begun to contend with. The Local Board were like the dog chained up. When they talked of providing additional bathing accommodation they found they had no powers – no Town’s Act – and could not do what they desire. If they neglected this opportunity, therefore, those who got their bread from the place would be sorry for it. Why should not Clevedon grow larger that Weston-Super-Mare? Weston was not to be compared with Clevedon in any of its beauties (Cheers.) Let them look at the soil of Weston-Super-mare. He suffered from his eyes, and he could not live at Weston for this reason. But he could live at Clevedon because of the beautiful green by which it was surrounded. (Hear, hear.) Let them b[????] men on this great question, and let any narrowness of feeling go. When they called on tradesmen they were frequently told the times were bad and that money was scarce, but let them do what they could to carry through this pier question vigorously, and times would improve. And when an inspector came down from London to hold an inquiry as to borrowing money for the pier, let him see that they were all unanimous on the point, because if there were any objectors he would probably come down again, and they (the ratepayers) would have to pay for it. They had an inspector down on a previous occasion before a certain scheme could be carried through, and they well knew the nature of the process. From a conversation he had had with a boatman on the state of the pier, he gathered that, with the exception of its legs being corroded, the structure was in a very good state of preservation indeed. The tides of the past 20 years had somewhat loosened the legs at the foundation, and so the pier vibrated, which would not again occur if the legs were re-fastened. In concluding, he said the board should now be asked to obtain a Town’s Act to take over the pier, and may they all live to see the work carried out and enjoy a walk on it. (Cheers.)
………..Mr LAWSON: Have we any definite agreement that the debenture-holders will give up their interest in the undertaking for nothing?
…………Mr SAUNDERS (handing letter); Yes
…………Mr JAMES PARSONS said he was one of those who assisted in the erection of the pier, and he, therefore knew a little about its formation. No one had yet made an examination of the pier to let the rate payers know the actual condition. There had been a “great cry and little wool”, for the pier was not so bad as it had been represented to be. He had dived to the foundation, and found that 3ft. of the 8ft. 6in. of solid matter into which the legs were originally screwed had been washed away, and this now left (Article ends here)