Heritage Interpretation

The Piermaster’s Wife

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:

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[1] 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:

1871 CensusAgeRelationOccupation
William Mants54HeadNavel (sic) Pensioner and Pier Master
Ann Mants49Wife
William Mants16Son

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:

  • Teaching
  • Nursing and similar offices
  • Lodging-house keeping
  • Domestic service
  • Laundry and other services
  • Agricultural labour
  • Textile manufactures
  • Dressmaking
  • 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:

1881 CensusAgeRelationOccupation
William Mants65HeadPier Master
Ann Mants58Wife
Flora Browning18ServantGeneral Servant

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:

1891 CensusAgeRelationOccupation
Ann Mants61HeadLiving on Her Own Means
Maude Mants10Grand ChildScholar
Henry White19Grand ChildCane Planter
Selina Parsons27ServantGeneral 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

[1] Bette Baldwin, Jane Lilly, Michael Batchelor who put this blog together.

Heritage Interpretation History of the Pier

3 Captains (and counting)

We love a Captain at the Clevedon Pier Archive and there are a few of them around in our collections which help bring the history and the heritage of the Pier to life. Here are three of our favourites…….enjoy!

Captain Clevedon

Captain Boyton

Captain Campbell

Captain Clevedon is the town’s very own comic hero and was heavily involved in saving the Pier back in the day. Thank you Captain Clevedon. The Archive is a proud possessor of one of the original comics thanks to the Captain’s creator, artist Kev F Sutherland. We won’t share the entire Captain Clevedon comic here online but here’s another page as a little teasing taster……

Kev F Sutherland Photo: North Somerset Times

And if you’d like to get your own copy, get in touch with artist Kev F Sutherland or follow Captain Clevedon on Facebook – just wing your way over to and find out all the news. Captain Clevedon is still busy!

One of favourite Captains is Captain Boyton a larger than life figure who invented the rubber life saving dress. This advertising bill comes from August 1875 when, the global phenomena known as, Captain Boyton demonstrated his rubber life saving dress off of Clevedon Pier. It is a favourite item in the archive’s collection of ephemera. The bill is printed on very thin newsprint by George Caple, Machine Printer, in the Clevedon Mercury and Courier newspaper offices and it is one of the few – perhaps only – surviving examples of this advertising bill many of which would have been printed and posted up and around the town of Clevedon.

The bill shows an image of Captain Boyton in his life saving ‘dress’ (sic) and text states that:

“Captain Boynton will exhibit off the Clevedon Pier the life saving vest in which he recently crossed the Channel from France to England.  Excursions will run. The gallant Captain will be in the water from Three to Four and from Seven to Eight pm”

In 1875, the pier was still owned by the Clevedon Pier Company and other records held in the Pier’s Business Archive show that Captain Boyton was charged £10 for the privilege of exhibiting his suit off Clevedon Pier, the equivalent in today’s terms of just over £1,000.

This video clip gives more on the history of the rubber lifesaving suit and Captain Boyton’s role in developing and proving its worth.

Captain Alexander Campbell was part of the successful Campbell family who built and sailed paddlesteamers up and down the British coast in the 19th and 20th centuries. What an extraordinarily well-loved paddlesteamer captain Alexander Campbell was. So much so that his grateful customers presented him with this beautiful, gilded citation at the end of 1891 season. When found it was in a parlous state and its safe resurrection and inclusion in the Pier Archive Collections is down to many people.

Here are just three. Above left, Archive Volunteer Digitiser, above centre, Archive Volunteer Conservator and above right the Captain’s very own descendant who funded the work to restore the citation.

You can find out much more about Captain Campbell and his citation on this link.

Heritage Interpretation

Piers and Public Health

For centuries the British coastline, and piers like our own at Clevedon, have been seen as important economic, social and health resources and nowadays, the pleasure of enjoying a nostalgic, heritage experience is added into that mix.   

Image: Wikipedia

Richard Russell, an 18th century physician, (photo above) is generally attributed with promoting the idea of sea water and the seaside as being ‘good’ for us.  George III, bathed at Weymouth and his son George IV favoured Brighton and fashionable society followed their lead. The idea that a trip to the seaside was good for public health put down deep roots in the national consciousness.   Seaside towns and villages capitalized on this.  They advertised that coming to the seaside and having a walk on a pier, if they had one, was good for you as well as being fun and, if you were one of the lucky Victorians with enough cash, you could go further afield by taking a boat trip from the pier.  Clevedon Pier was built with precisely this in mind.  In 1834, Clevedon was advertising itself as “an unrivalled watering place” (Bristol Mirror) and by the late 19th century was a buzzing hub for swimming, boating and taking healthy walks along the pier. (Images below:Private Collection).

However, the link between piers and public health hasn’t always been a rosy one.  John Hassan in his study ‘The Seaside, Health and The Environment in England and Wales since 1800’ discusses the impact of early epidemics and how seaside resorts became seen has part of the problem as well as the solution.  He says,  “…resorts had given the impression that they radiated good health, but in the aftermath of cholera epidemics in the 1830s and 1840s Devon resorts were driven to consider the implementation of costly public health improvements…..”   Going to the seaside, bathing, boating and walking on the pier ironically became both a good thing and a not so good thing. 

Now, in May 2020, the world is caught up in the Covid-19 epidemic and people are being asked to do two things and the irony for Clevedon Pier is back. Firstly, the population is asked to stay indoors and practice ‘social isolation’ and secondly, to get at least one hours exercise a day out of doors and in the fresh air to maintain good health.  During the Covid-19 epidemic, just when people would love to take their one hour of exercise having a health-giving walk on Clevedon Pier, the pier has had to take its public health duties seriously and shut down during one of the biggest public health crisis ever faced in the United Kingdom.  It is, as we write, quiet, closed and empty and, sadly, at risk. A risk you might be able to help with.

The Clevedon Pier and Heritage Trust is looking to raise £10k per month to help plug the c£70,000 loss in visitor income it would normally have expected during the April – June period. The Archive is full of photos, documents and business records which show how over the 150 plus years the pier has been in existence the challenge of keeping such a fragile and beautiful piece of architecture maintained and repaired is never ending and expensive. Even though the pier is closed during the 2020 ‘Lockdown’ the weather isn’t and the damage caused by the tides, storms and sea air is always with us. Thanks to peoples’ hard work and generosity the pier has always come through its trials. The ‘call-to-action’ to save the pier in 2020 is the…..

Clevedon Pier Needs You Campaign

Click On or follow this link to find out how you can help


Heritage Interpretation

Erecting a Pier – Early Days

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. 

Citation: British Newspaper Archive

The advertisement reads: 

To Surveyors

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.’

Citation: British Newspaper Archive

A ‘subscriber’ to a new enterprise, such as building a pier, is defined by 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:

To Surveyors

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.

Citation: British Newspaper Archive

The 17th January 1829 advert in the Bristol Mirror states:

Clevedon Pier

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.

Citation: British Newspaper Archive

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.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-6-blog-5-cps-image-1835.1-b-invoice.jpg
Citation: Bristol Records Office

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 destroyedFrom 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.