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The History of Weston-super-Mare

by Sue Johns, Mar 2019

Weston-super-Mare’s name comes from the Anglo-Saxon word west tun (settlement) and the latin phase super mare (above sea). It was known as Weston-juxta-Mare (settlement by the sea) prior to 1348, until Ralph of Shrewsbury, bishop of Bath and Wells, changed it. 

The oldest structure in Weston-super-Mare is Worlebury Camp, which can be found on (surprisingly) Worlebury Hill. It was built in the Iron Age of Great Britain, somewhere between 800 BC and 100 AD. 

The medieval church of St John was demolished in 1824 and rebuilt in the same location. Part of the original preaching cross remains to this day and the original rectory is a 17th century structure with additions. Despite the fact that it stands adjacent to the church, it has not been a parsonage house since the 19th century. It has now been divided up into flats.

Prior to and during the beginning of the 19th century, Weston-super-Mare was a small village of only around 30 houses. The local Lords of the Manor, the Pigott family, had residence in the Grove House. The village was located behind sand dunes, created as a sea wall after the Bristol Channel floods of 1607.

The villages growth into the size it is today can be attributed to tourism, specifically the Victorian tradition of seaside holidays. This led to the construction of hotels in the village, the first of which was started in 1808 and called Reeves. Today, it is known as Royal House. 

Weston-super-Mare obviously also benefitted heavily from its proximity to Bristol, Bath and South Wales. With the construction of the Bristol and Exeter railway in 1841, thousands began to visit the village from other cities and towns nearby, as well as the midlands for bank holidays and work outings. 

Large areas of the villages land were released for development in the 1850’s onwards. Large villas built on the southern slopes of Worlebury Hill gave way to a growing middle class. In 1885, the first transatlantic telegraph cable of the Commercial Cable Company was brought to the shores. In fact, Weston-super-Mare has a proud history of innovation with wireless communications. Guglielmo Macroni transmitted radio signals across the Bristol Channel from Penrath to Brean Down in 1897. 

During the 20th century, local traders were displeased with the fact that visitors were not coming as far as the town centre, so they decided to built a 1.5 mile long pier closer to the main streets in 1904. It was called the Grand Pier. More development in the town came after World War I, with the  construction of the Winter Gardens Pavillion in 1927, which included an open air swimming pool with an arched diving board.

Weston-super-Mare played a crucial role in World War II, accommodating at least 10,000 refugees. There were also war industries in the town, including aircraft and pump manufacturing. This made it a target on the return route from Bristol for Luftwaffe squadrons. Between 1940 and 1942, large parts of the town were destroyed. All in all, 110 civilians lost their lives through these bombings. US troops were billeted in the town during the war as well, however they were relocated closer to the D-day landings.

After World War II, the surrounding villages of Milton, Worle, Uphill, Oldmixon, West Wick and Wick St Lawrence were incorporated into Weston-super-Mare and in 1986, Weston General Hospital was opened on the edge of Uphill to replace Queen Alexandria Memorial Hospital. 

While Weston-super-Mare has continued to grow and grow, you can tell the town has never forgotten its humble beginnings as a seaside village and holds on dearly to its heritage.