I’ve shared parts of this previously, but here are some thoughts on Weston Bay, around which grew up the town of Weston-super-Mare. Once not much more than a small group of fishermen’s cottages and a few outlying farms, now it has a population of almost 80,000. Weston Bay… it was originally Glentworth Bay…
If you visit Weston-super-Mare, you may very well decide to take a stroll along the promenade and you might walk round the bay, now Weston Bay, once Glentworth Bay. If you do you will reach Marine Lake which is actually not much of a lake really, just a small pool created by a barrier and a causeway which traps the sea and makes a shallow paddling and swimming area. You might stroll along to Dr Fox’s Tea-room for a nice coffee, or the Stones Coffee Bar. You might notice some elegant old buildings which are just shells now and contain modern flats and apartments.
If someone mentions that this is Knightstone Island, you might be surprised because it doesn’t look like an island… but yes, it once was. At high tide it was separated from the mainland and a local fisherman, aptly named Fisher, would row passengers back and forth. People visited the island because a Mr Howe’s built a suite of baths in response to the demand, a result of the Prince Regent setting the fashion for bathing. He also had lodgings were built to accommodate invalids who came to take the waters; there was also a refreshment room and a reading room.
Dr Edward Fox, after whom the tea-room is now named, bought Knightstone in September 1830. He was an extraordinary man, and a pioneer in the humane treatment of the mentally afflicted. He planned and had built further development on the island, including an exercise courtyard for patients and a new elegant bath house. As well as the tea-room, he is also remembered in a suite of rooms at the new hospital especially for the support and treatment of people with mental health issues.
As you might see, the sea in Weston is not exactly enticing… but it is actually very clean, the grey colour is from the silt which flows into the Bristol Channel from the various rivers flowing from England and Wales.
Many holiday makers and day-trippers coming to Weston-super-Mare look forward to seeing the famous donkeys on the beach. They are brought each morning in horse boxes which drive down onto the sand and then they are unloaded with bales of hay and buckets of water for the children to come for rides. Some donkeys, and ponies, pull little carts and carriages; in the summer if you’re going into town early or on some other mission, it is quite common to be slowed down behind a donkey or pony and carriage, trotting down to the beach.
Donkeys have been here on the beach of Glentworth Bay, for over two hundred years. They weren’t always just for riding, in early times they would leave the beach with their carriages and take visitors on a ride round the burgeoning town of Weston and out to the local villages. In the past, donkeys were valuable animals, and used as pack beasts when they weren’t on the beach. Some were taken to the coast of south Somerset and Devon to carry seaweed harvested from the beaches.
Donkeys appeared on the beach round Glentworth Bay decades before the first railways came to Weston in 1841; the first trains on that railway left their engines outside the town and the carriages were pulled in by horses as the townsfolk objected to the noise!
No apart from the name of a few businesses and properties, the name Glentworth is largely forgotten… we often retire to a nice seafront café called the Bay to write and talk about writing. And every time, as I walk towards the Bay, I look out across Glentworth Bay and wonder if the little café should change its name