As with other seaside towns, when the fashion for sea bathing started, following the Prince Regent’s example, Weston-super-Mare changed from a very small fishing hamlet at one end of Glentworth Bay on the Somerset coast, to a place visitors came to enjoy the fine sandy beaches and maybe a dip in the sea. At first it was mainly day trippers from around the area, and some from Bristol, but as the idea of holidays took off, and with Bath which was not thirty miles away becoming a tourist destination with its hot waters and spa and fashionable and elegant architecture, the development began. The first hotel The Royal, was opened in 1808, and Dr Edward Long Fox created his therapeutic spa with a range of hot, cold and chemical baths just over en years later, however, it was when the railway made it to Weston, the first trains being drawn in by horses as some townsfolk objected to the noise of the engine, that Weston really took off as a popular seaside resort.
We moved to Weston when I was sixteen because my dad’s work moved; the Low Temperature Research Station in Cambridge, split into two, the food research section moved to Norwich, the meat research, and us, moved West. It may have been the first time we ever visited, but I remember the family driving into the town and the main road was lined with blossom trees, a magnificent display of gorgeous pink in brilliant sunshine. It made quite an impact on me, but strangely I forgot it until recently when someone mentioned them – they are still there and look lovely again this year. Another thing which impresses me now, but made little impression on me then – at sixteen you notice and look for other things – is the Beach Lawns.
The Beach Lawns are nearly ¾ mile long, running from the Grand Pier to what is now the Royal Sands apartment complex but was the Sanitorium, and are separated from the beach by Marine Parade and then the sea wall. The sea wall which runs the length of this part of the beach, and right round what was Glentworth and is now Weston Bay, is some feat of engineering. It was built in the 1880’s as part of the sea front improvement scheme which included the wide promenade. The west side of the Beach Lawns has been slightly raised and there is a retaining wall, topped by the sort of plants and shrubs which will withstand the rigors of life by the sea and on-shore winds.
The north end or top section of the Beach Lawns is described as “a late Victorian esplanade garden, now planted in a formal style,” built in the 1880s and opened to the public in 1910; it is now a municipal park with a fountain for general public use. Down at the south or bottom end there used to be a miniature golf area and round the lawns themselves was a miniature railway operated by steam and diesel locomotives, which closed in 2012.
Here’s a description from www.parksandgardens.org
The sea walls, terraces, bastions and steps along Marine Parade are built on the natural rock of limestone rubble walls with sandstone coping. The Department of the Environment’s List of Buildings describes the area as follows: ‘The existing promenade was created in the 1880s (1883-85) when a new sea wall was built together with Beach Lawns and the sea front buildings’. It is a fine example of a Victorian esplanade devoted to seaside recreational pursuits. The planting was originally more general and informal. This can be seen on the Ordnance Survey map of 1886. On the 19th century map the present putting green in Victoria Square was rounded on both ends with a path across the centre. It was part of the Beach Lawns group of grassed areas.
… and something from Historic England:
Sadly I have no image of the beach lawns, something I must remedy!