The Victorian Society has just published a list of the top ten Victorian and Edwardian buildings ‘At Risk’ in this country and – surprise, surprise – Weston-super-Mare’s Birnbeck Island is number one!
As a local boy l knew it as the Old Pier. The one l used to get very excited about visiting if we were due a family trip on one of the Cambell steamers coming alongside the pier jetty to take us down to Ilfracombe.
My father was an engineer and loved taking me below deck to the engine room to watch well-oiled and ancient pistons doing their job of turning those giant paddle wheels.
There was a little port hole hull side so you could peer through and watch the wooden blades thrash the murky waters of the Bristol Channel as they cleared from Weston mud to Ilfracombe green.
The Old Pier was already running down when l was child.
I only had sepia coloured postcards to see it in its Victorian/Edward heyday.
A time when there was end of the pier shows and an amusement park with helter skelter and whirlygig perched above the pull of that fulsome tide.
Seaside entertainment at Weston moved further down the bay.
There was the Knightstone Theatre with Christmas pantos and the chlorine-rich smell of the Knightstone Baths.
Meanwhile, Vernon Adcock put down his pipe to conduct his orchestra and entertain the deckchair crowds at the Rozel nearby.
There was now a Grand Pier – further around the sand covered bay – and also the Open-Air Swimming Pool with a multi-diving board that made me giddy just looking up.
On blue-sky days we sat under the waters of the fountain at the shallow end of this deeply sloping lagoon – where cobalt coloured skies touched aqua-marine waters – and watched the brave grown-ups diving from the top board.
As an adult l remember compering the last Miss Modern Venus beauty contest at the Open Air Pool. The annual event that drew a big deck-chair jam of a crowd and numbered Swindon’s Diana Dors (Diana Fluck as she was) amongst it’s runner-ups.
All things must pass but it will be a shame if Weston turns its back on Birnbeck.
An iron-columned deck above the waves that also supported the nets local fishermen used to catch the sprats my grandmother enjoyed frying up for us – filling the kitchen with odours that took days to disappear.
Why can’t Parliament introduce a law that compels owners of neglected property to either make efforts to repair or sell.
If they don’t – the property is taken from them.
This also applies here in Bath to historic buildings like the Old King Edward’s School in Broad Street and the Corn Exchange and old cattle market site.
On behalf of some wonderful remnants of social history – let’s raise a roar!