Michael has spent lockdown finalising the massive project he undertook to digitise every single record of the original Clevedon Pier Company which built the pier. This near complete set of records has been held by the Elton family since the pier was taken over by the local council – Sir Arthur Elton was the chairman of the Clevedon Pier Company.
There are over 300 items from the Clevedon Pier Company business records already digitised but this doesn’t give a true extent of the work as some items are large ledgers with up to 100 pages – all of which have needed careful handling in order to create digital copies.
And the work doesn’t stop there. Images are taken of each document using a tripod, remote camera control and external lighting at a 20megapixel resolution. The best image is selected and then post processed which involves cropping the image, checking alignment, removing any marks and optimising the light balance to faithfully reflect the colours of the original document.
Below are just three digitised pages of an extremely old and frail document held in the Clevedon Pier Company collection. We can only reproduce compressed images here but the digital originals are very high quality and ‘zoomable’ to aid with reading and transcribing.
The original documents will be returned to the private collection that holds them but this exciting development means digital copies will be available for anyone to see, read, research and enjoy. We plan for this large project to come to fruition in 2021. Watch out for posting of more examples of Michael’s digitisation work on the Clevedon Pier Company records over the next few weeks.
Helen is a professional conservator who has been busy this year undertaking work for various archives and private clients, whilst many heritage projects have been put on hold due to Covid.
Despite her busy schedule, Helen has still found time to enjoy doing some very part-time, voluntary work for the pier archive – her most recent project has involved the slow and difficult task of unfolding and flattening a set of very fragile plans used by the Clevedon Pier Company in 1864 to obtain Department of Trade permissions to build Clevedon Pier and also to get quotations from builders to do the work. This has been an incredibly important task which means these plans can now be digitised. It’s good having someone like Helen on board to be able to do these conservation jobs for us. The plans are a real digitisation challenge and Helen helped with the preparation of a grant application that has been submitted to try and acquire the funds to have the plans professionally digitised on a large flat bed printer. Fingers crossed we are successful.
Watch this space for more information about Helen’s work on preparing the old drawings and what happens next with getting them digitised.
Bette has been busy trying to keep a weather eye on the archive from afar during the Covid crisis. Requests for information about the archive continue to arrive by email and need answering including requests to use images by people publishing books, for historical information about the pier for researchers and providing archival support for another heritage organisation hoping to save a structure in Essex built by George Double who also built the Pier Head and Landing Stage in 1893. Bette has been liaising with one of the Pier’s new trustees who has a particular interest in how the archive can be used for education and outreach – once restrictions are lifted – helped by archive volunteer Margaret, who has years of expertise in this activity from her job in a Dorset Museum. Finally, Bette started an MA in Archival Practice at the University of Plymouth in September and is enjoying expanding her professional archive knowledge as well as gaining expertise from several other archives in the southwest.
Margaret has taken on, during lockdown, a giant task to transcribe over 80 letters from the Clevedon Pier Company collection which are all handwritten and contain a wealth of information about the building and running of Clevedon Pier between 1864 and its handover to the Clevedon Board in 1891.
We have given this collection the pet name of ‘The Little Letters’ because they are all on notepaper no more than A5 in size. The cover a huge breadth of interests as the letters are written by builders, shareholders, trade suppliers, piermasters, auditors to name but a few. The handwriting is fascinating and, at times, challenging to read so having transcriptions of all of these letters will make them so much more accessible to the public in the future.
Margaret has been assisted in her task by the fact the 80 letters formed part of the Clevedon Pier Company digitisation project undertaken by Archive Volunteer Michael and so she is now able to view them online. For anyone transcribing old documents that ability to zoom in on them to read some of the more difficult handwriting is an absolute boon. It also means that when the original letters are returned to their owner the Pier Archive will hold not only a complete digital record to share with public users and researchers but also a complete transcription record of every letter.
We’ll be posting up more about Margaret’s transcription work over the next few weeks but for the moment here’s an interesting snippet that she has shared with us regarding one of the ‘little letters’ written on the 20th December, 1880. It is very seasonal being all about a Christmas bonus. Margaret tells us:
The bundle of ‘little letters’ includes a number of letters requesting the payment of an annual gratuity of £1 to ‘Feltham’ just before Christmas. The letter dated 20 December 1880, from A H Elton of Clevedon Court stated “ Feltham has been accustomed to receive £1 every Christmas for his service in the fishing season”. Intrigued to find out who ‘Feltham’ was I searched the 1881 Census on http://www.ancestry.com. Alfred Feltham, born Clevedon in 1844, was employed as ‘Pier Porter’. He lived at Fir Hill Cottage, Dial Hill with his wife Jane and their 6 children. I am sure his £1 bonus was much appreciated just before Christmas!
SS Waverley damaged on arrival at the Pier
In the summer of 1887 an incident occurred when steamship SS Waverley visited the pier as part of its summer programme of pleasure cruises. Following the visit a letter was sent to the Secretary of the Pier Company, dated 2 August 1887, from the charterer of the vessel, Mr Tucker of Bristol. He complained of the conduct of the Pier Master who had “thrown off the stern rope, placing the vessel, and the pier, in a very undesirable position”. Captain Greenway was refusing to visit Clevedon again and had been requested to survey the vessel and report on the damage incurred.
The owners of the Waverley, Messrs Campbell of Glasgow, were on board at the time and had witnessed the incident. Mr Tucker wrote that they were going to remove visits to Clevedon from their programme. In another letter sent on the 29th August Mr Tucker stated “ The Pier has been in a very shaky state for some time and quite unsuitable for a large vessel like ours to call at”. “It is highly dangerous, not only to the Pier, but to our vessel in the present state of the pier.”
Refs; E14.26.1 and E14.27.1
To find out more about what the Archive Volunteers have been up to during lockdown follow this link.
Jane is a well known, well loved and extremely knowledgeable local historian who is an indispensable volunteer to the Archive.
During lockdown Jane has been supporting Bette in dealing with enquiries as well as taking on the task of cataloguing the contents of Lady Margaret Elton’s ‘Book of Clevedon Pier,’ fondly known in the archive as The Big Scrapbook.
The scrapbook contains a vast array of material recording the story – warts and all – of trying to save and then rebuild the pier after the 1970 collapse. You can read more about the Scrapbook on this link: Save the Pier Scrapbook – Clevedon Pier Archive
Jane has been recording and listing every item, on every page of the scrapbook so that enquirers can, in future, either search to find out what is in the scrapbook or try to find particular information they are seeking. During this task Jane has been highlighting a few fascinating snippets and these will be appearing over the next few weeks. Here’s one just for starters…..
Sir, Having seen cars running around Clevedon with ‘Save our Pier’ posters stuck in read windows, prompts me to write again to console members of our community who want to retain our historic, antique pier.
Why not ask our councillors to seek the advice and help of the Army’s Royal Engineers. I am sure that much bigger gaps were bridged during the last war in many places such as Burma very quickly.
I am not sure whether such a venture would be permitted, but at least its worth a try.
An affordable ‘Save The Pier’ idea
This letter starts with the hopeful, Sir, Referring to the problem of “What to do about the Pier” I offer the following suggestion.
Read on to to learn more about the suggestion of a cable-car in the style of a ski-lift with four obvious advantages:
Chance to charge twice
Lady Margaret’s scrapbook will, when Jane has finished cataloguing, be digitised by Archive Volunteer Michael so that, when the original is returned to its owner, the public will be able to read and enjoy the contents of this treasure of a scrapbook. Watch out for more of Jane’s Lockdown work on Lady Margaret’s Scrapbook in the next few weeks.
During the restrictions that Covid has placed upon us all during 2020 the Volunteer Team who run the Clevedon Pier and Heritage Archive have been busy working away quietly on projects and activities to keep the archive work going. They haven’t been able to go to the archive but have had home-based projects to work on. As 2020 comes to a close we thought we’d share a little of what everyone has been up to and some of the interesting findings about the Pier’s heritage. Many of these projects will begin to become public during 2021. Below is a little snippet about each of our five volunteers who have been squirrelling away during Lockdown.
George Double was the builder appointed to rebuild the Pier Head and Landing Stage at Clevedon Pier in 1891. Recently, the pier archive team have had some interesting correspondence with people trying to save another George Double structure – a bridge in Boxted, Essex.
Below are a few titbits about the reopening of Clevedon Pierhead. Further on is some information about George Double, Boxted Bridge and links to Cleopatra’s Needle on the Embankment in London.
The new Clevedon Pier Head and Landing Stage was officially reopened in April 1893. The Pier Archive has some interesting images and newspaper reports on the event shown below.
George Double, Boxted Bridge and Cleopatra’s Needle
The Pier was contacted by the folks of Boxted in Essex who are campaigning to try and save their village bridge built by George Double. You can read all about their campaign and their pretty bridge on this link. They would be grateful for any support or interest in saving their bridge.
For Clevedon and the Pier it is intriguing to learn that George Double also had dealings with erecting the Egyptian obelisk, known as Cleopatra’s Needle, on the Embankment in London. The Boxted Save Our Bridge campaigner, Lucinda, sent us this interesting image and newspaper clippings to share. Clearly, George Double was a busy and well thought of builder in the 1890s and travelled all over the country to build fascinating structures.
Local Clevedon Historian and Archive Volunteer Jane Lilly recently rootled out another bit of the story of the pier. It involves new sweaters and a new flag – a perfect story for a dull November Friday. ……………
After the Clevedon Local Board of Health took over ownership of the pier in March 1891, they had a new pier head built, at a better angle to the tide for ships landing passengers. The pier and indeed the ships, had suffered damage previously as a result of the tide slamming the vessels against the landing stage.
In June 1894, the old flagstaff from the pier head was moved to the Green Beach and erected on the point that divided Little Harp Bay from the Long Beach – that’s the beach with the Marine Lake now at the western end. For many years this was called Flagstaff Point, and only ceased to exist after the storms of the 1990s, when the flagstaff finally fell, having been replaced with what would seem to be similar to a long scaffolding pole. It was not replaced following the storm, but Ralph Fryer rescued it and it now lives with the Pier Archive! Read the full story of the life of the pier flagstaff on this link.
However, more is added to the story in the Clevedon Mercury of the 7th July 1894, when it is revealed that the local authority was feeling extravagant. They not only purchased a new flag for the new flagstaff on the pier, but laid out good coin on new jerseys for their employees, the two pier porters, Mr James Sims and Mr William Hyett.
Photo provided by Jane Lilly.
Two men working for the pier.
Wearing the jerseys of the type worn by the pier porters.
These two men were both master mariners and both from Gloucestershire. After the railway had stolen trade from both the Stroudwater Canal and the ferry at Framilode, a number of mariners had moved down the coast to Clevedon and these two were among them. William Hyett also imported coal for his father-in-law George Thomas, who ran a coal dealership at Old Church Road West End, Clevedon, travelling regularly to Lydney and Newport in his 66 ton ship the Jane – probably a trow, a type of boat particular to the Severn and Bristol Channel. You can find out more about a Severn Trow, just like the Jane, on this link to the Royal Museums Greenwich.
James Sims came from Framilode, as did Captain John Gower Rowles, the pier master. When Sims was homeless with his wife and seven young children after a house fire in 1898, Captain Rowles started up a collection to help them rent another house. How fascinating that Clevedon didn’t seem able to supply its own mariners for these jobs, being a seaside town!
In April 1870, William Mants was appointed Pier Master by the Clevedon Pier Company. His contract of employment is a lovely handwritten document and makes a fascinating read. His salary was 12/6 a week with use of the Tollhouse to live in and provision of house gas and water. You can see the document and read its transcription on this link: https://clevedonpierarchive.com/2020/06/01/piermaster-mants-1872/
Recent investigations elsewhere into what were considered occupations for women worthy of inclusion in the Census at the end of the 19th century reminded your Archive Volunteers of the section in William Mants’ contract which says that he:
further undertakes and agrees that his said wife will assist daily in collecting the Rates and Tolls to the best of her powers and ability
Does Mrs. Mants’ daily job of collecting rates and tolls on the Pier translate into an official occupation in the Census? No doubt she worked hard at this role but the 1871 census tells us that the Beach Pier Toll House, Clevedon is occupied by:
Navel (sic) Pensioner and Pier Master
So Ann Mants has no occupation registered. The Report on the 1871 Census tells us a bit more about how women’s’ occupations are seen. It says:
As girls and women of all ages now constitute more than half of the population of England, their occupations are of vital importance. 3,948,527 are wives, and a large proportion of them are mothers. This is a noble and essential occupation, as on it as much as on the husband’s labour and watchfulness depend the existence and character of the English race. But …………. their employments are now becoming infinitely diversified; a married woman of industry and talent aids her husband in his special occupation, or she follows different lines of her own; even when she has children this is possible, for it is only in a few cases that the whole of a wife’s lifetime is filled up with childbearing, nursing, and housekeeping.
Apparently this somewhat flowery and imprecise language made it difficult for those collating census data to decide how to actually categorise and then tabulate women’s occupations. The Report on the 1881 Census aims to set this right and is much clearer. It states that women needed to be doing waged labour in one of the following categories to be listed with an occupation in the Census:
Nursing and similar offices
Laundry and other services
All other industries
So how did Ann Mants fare when the 1881 Census for the Beach Pier Toll House was taken? The transcription from that Census record shows:
Well, it seems that Ann still has no occupation recorded in the census so couldn’t even be counted in the catch-all category of ‘All other industries.’ Flora the General Servant is however listed as having an occupation.
When William Mants died in 1889, Ann wished to stay on living in the Tollhouse and working as the Pier Mistress. The Toll House is described, at this time, as being a 5 Roomed Dwelling so was probably a reasonably comfortable home. Ann’s son William writes a charming letter, now digitised and held in the Pier Archive (below). In it he asks the Clevedon Pier Company Directors to consider letting his mother stay on at the Pier. Clearly this is an issue requiring ‘man to man’ communications. Feltham – mentioned in the letter – was involved in building the Pier and in the 1871 and 1881 Census he is registered with the occupation of Pier Porter. So clearly a chap with a lot of experience and a good ‘right hand man’ for Ann.
The letter reads:
No doubt as Directors of the Pier you will shortly be considering the course to be taken consequent on my Father’s death you will therefore I trust excuse the liberty I take in writing you (in common with the other Directors) on behalf of my mother. She feels a great reluctance to leave Clevedon and hopes that, as the Pier matters are somewhat unsettled, you will in consideration of the long term of service of herself and my Father, allow her, at any rate until something definite as to the future of the Pier is settled, to remain here. She feels she could with the assistance of Feltham do all that is at present needed and that if the Directors consider a modified payment should be made for her services she would be prepared to meet them.
Trusting you will give this your kind consideration and that you will do what you can on her behalf.
I remain Sir
Yours very respectfully
W. P. Mants
Hurrah!. The letter seems to do the trick as by 1891, the census record for the occupants in the Tollhouse on the Pier, shows:
Living on Her Own Means
General Service Domestic
But…..Ann still has no occupation. She is recorded as living on her own means. This usually means that the individual had an annuity or a pension of some kind. Perhaps Ann is doing the Pier Master’s job in return for her husband’s pension from the Clevedon Pier Company and continued free accommodation in the tollhouse which, it appears, is now also providing a home for her two grandchildren as well as a servant.
Like most of these sorts of heritage interpretation investigations they end up posing more questions than answers:
Did Ann actually work for no pay?
What were her private means?
Where did grandson Henry work as a Cane Planter?
What was the 5 roomed Tollhouse like as a home?
For now we leave the story of Ann Mants having learnt that she lived and worked on Clevedon Pier for, at least, 20 years of her life during which she raised at least 1 son, at least 1 daughter and 2 grandchildren. But she was never recorded as having any kind of occupation.
Stop Press: Unpaid Pier Master’s Wife Unfair.
Nearly half a century later the issue of the Clevedon Pier Master’s salary and his wife’s contribution hit the local press. In January 1946, Nobby Clarke, a Plymouth man, ex-Royal Navy and qualified in pier building and road making was appointed Pier Master. There had been 51 applicants for the post, which had a salary of £182 per year, plus a War Bonus of £59 16s and free use of the Toll House. One of the unsuccessful applicants felt the pay was too low and the expectation of his wife’s contribution too high. He took to the press and his views were reported in the Clevedon Mercury on January 12th, 1946. The article says:
One of the other applicants wrote to the Clevedon Mercury to say of the job, ‘that the Piermaster’s post is underpaid. His wife is expected to work in the Toll House as an unpaid assistant. Working year for both is 351 days, during fourteen day holiday the one covers for the other. Duties start in the early morning and end at dusk. Wage is less than a labourer’s.
Watch this space….if we find out more we will share it on the Archive Website.
UPDATE 29th September 2020:
Thanks to Jane Lilly’s transcriptions of the Clevedon Pier Company Chairman’s personal diaries (made available from a private collection) we can see that the Chairman recorded William Mants appointment in his diary as follows:
Friday. Jan 14. Stormy, specially at night. Mants accepts appointment of Pier Master 12/6 a week – house gas water – assistance for wife at toll collecting when unusual number of excursionists & visitors on the Pier.”
Mant’s contract reads that he“undertakes and agrees that his said wife will assist daily in collecting the Rates and Tolls to the best of her powers and ability.”
As ever, trying to seek out historical accuracy requires careful research and interpretation of all the records available. Thanks to Jane Lilly.
If you have information to share please feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org
 Bette Baldwin, Jane Lilly, Michael Batchelor who put this blog together.