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 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.

Archive Volunteer Michael

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. 

Archive Vol Michael doing a great digitisation job in challenging circumstances.

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.

An exciting discovery through digitisation of the original pier engineering plans from 1864……….on this link.

In Lockdown Michael has also, along with Bette, been getting training from the National Archive Sector Development Team in how to get our growing digital collection online – linked into our online catalogue which can be found at  Browse records of Clevedon Pier Catalogue | The National Archives  We’re delighted to report that Michael has been accepted on the joint National Archive/Digital Preservation Coalition online course ‘NoviceTo KnowHow’ – part of the National Archive’s Plugged In Powered Up Strategy which is supporting the archive sector with training in digital preservation.

Read a bit more about Digital Preservation of two lovely items on this link.

Archive Volunteer Helen

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. 

Conservation and Preservation Work Postings……No. 1

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.

Conservation Work Posting No. 2

Archive Volunteer Bette

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.

Archive Volunteer Margaret

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  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!

Ref: E14.99.1

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

Another Little Letter story. Click on the link right to read the ‘Summons a Meeting’ Letter

To find out more about what the Archive Volunteers have been up to during lockdown follow this link.

The Archive in Lockdown

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.

Archive Volunteer Jane
Archive Volunteer Helen
Archive Volunteer Bette
Archive Volunteer Michael
Archive Volunteer Margaret