Case Study Site 23 – Minehead to Clevedon

Case Study Site 23 – Minehead to Clevedon

1.         Location


2.         Why was the Case Study Site selected?

This extensive section of the north Somerset coast contains eroding, natural clifflines, small harbours, estuaries and flourishing seaside resorts.  The study site provides the opportunity to illustrate the potential uses for historical artworks in support of coastal heritage management at a wide range of sites.  The coastal maritime heritage of north Somerset is very rich and has been described comprehensively (Webb, 20101). 

3.         Summary of the Geology, Geomorphology & Coastal Processes

The coastline is dominated by mudstones and siltstones of the Mercia and Penarth Groups of Triassic age, from Minehead to Watchet in the west and south of Weston-Super-Mare to Clevedon in the north.  The section of coast between Watchet in the west to Brean Down comprises mudstones and limestones of the early Jurassic Lias Group.  Despite the more sheltered waters of the Bristol Channel, the undefended sections of the coastline are prone to coastal erosion, with flooding being another significant risk.  Coastal defences and harbour walls provide protection for the main settlements along this frontage.  

4.         Risks to Heritage Assets along the Case Study Frontage

The towns of Minehead and Watchet both contain Conservation Areas and these may be at risk from flooding.  Scheduled monument sites between Minehead and Hinkley Point are also likely to be affected increasingly by flooding in the future.  The Conservation Area at Burnham-on-Sea is also susceptible to flooding, including several Grade II Listed buildings.  Weston-Super-Mare is also a designated Conservation Area which is susceptible to flooding; there are also seven Scheduled Monuments located on low-lying ground that are at risk from erosion.  There are numerous Grade II Listed buildings and sites of archaeological importance that may be susceptible to flooding increasingly in the future (Halcrow, 20092). 

Some sites along this coast have been affected by erosion for a considerable period of time.  For example, Daw’s Castle is located on the edge of the cliffs approximately 2km to the west of Watchet.  A large part of this site has been eroded in the past and with the policy of ‘no active intervention’, further losses here can be expected.  Along much of this coastline, the shoreline management plan (Halcrow, 20092) has identified a potential loss of a number of non-designated archaeological sites where coastal erosion is likely to continue. 

5.         How can historical Imagery inform heritage risk management?

Through this case study the opportunities and limitations provided by artworks in terms of supporting heritage risk management are illustrated.  For some heritage sites, including those at risk, few images have been found.  These mainly relate to archaeological sites on the open coast.  More images are available for the settlements and developing coastal towns and resorts, which were visited by many artists during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Certain artists, such as Edward William Cooke RA, produced detailed oil paintings of the coastal scenery which are so precise that they could support not just qualitative but quantitative assessments of coastal change along specific frontages (Munday, 19963).  A further aspect illustrated by this case study is the detailed depiction of developing seaside resorts during the Victorian period in particular, and this is particularly well illustrated through images of Weston-Super-Mare and Clevedon. 

6.         Key Issues – What can be learnt from this site?

The elegant Victorian architecture of these important seaside towns is particularly well described through the artworks in this case study and shows the progressive development of these resorts and the buildings now included in their Conservation Areas.  Artistic works along this coastline include some highly detailed images, which are supported by literature accounts (e.g. Munday 19963), which can allow analysis of the rate of coastal change since the 1860s.  For specific heritage sites photography remains the best choice of medium for research.   

Figure 23.1: East Myne Camp (MS07577) near Minehead is located on North Hill between Minehead and Selworthy Beacon. Drawing by J. Burrow 1924.

Figure 23.2: A highly detailed geological painting of ‘Blue Anchor Bay’ by Edward William Cooke RA.  Oil on canvas.  Cooke painted a series of views along the Somerset coast in 1862 painting also Minehead and Dunster from Blue Anchor, and Porlock.

Image courtesy of the Guildhall Art Gallery, London.

Figure 23.3: The view by A. R. Quinton painted in watercolour, c.1920 shows the Esplanade and North Hill at Minehead.

Image courtesy of J. Salmon Limited of Sevenoaks.

Figure 23.4: A further fine watercolour by A. R. Quinton, c.1920, this time looking south-eastwards over Minehead towards Dunster.

Image courtesy of J. Salmon Limited of Sevenoaks.

Figure 23.5: ‘Daw’s Castle near Watchet’ drawn by J. Burrow, c.1924.  Lying 2km west of Watchet the originally extensive camp has been dramatically reduced in size by coastal erosion.

Figure 23.6: This fine oil painting by William Henry Hopkins painted in 1856 looks north along the coastal frontage of Burnham-on-Sea.  One of the three lighthouses built here can be seen on the right.

Image courtesy of North Somerset Council/Somerset Heritage Service.

Figure 23.7: An early view of Weston-Super-Mare in 1815 showing the Inn and Brean Down well before the development of the resort.

Image courtesy © Bristol Culture (Bristol Museum & Art Gallery).

Figure 23.8 (top) and 23.9 (bottom) show the developing resort of Weston-Super-Mare in the 1840s-1850s.  The medium, lithography, allowed fine detail to be achieved with this technique.  The view (left) was by the prolific illustrator George Rowe who depicted many of Devon’s and Somerset’s coastal towns and villages.

The view below is taken from the Knightstone Baths.

Figure 23.10: This fine lithograph shows the elegant properties lining the seafront of Weston-Super-Mare in about 1855.  Such images, of which there are many for most coastal towns, allow us to trace changes to Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas through the rapid development in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Figure 23.11: The Birnbeck Pier, a Listed (Grade II*) structure, was built in 1867 and is the only pier in Britain that links the shore to an island.  The pier would have been built about forty years before A. R. Quinton painted this watercolour.

Image courtesy of J. Salmon Limited of Sevenoaks.

Figure 23.12: A view over Weston-Super-Mare by A. R. Quinton painted in about 1920.  This view shows the Grand Pier.

Image courtesy of J. Salmon Limited of Sevenoaks.

Figure 23.13: This oil painting by William Henry Hopkins, c.1860, shows the nature of the beach, seawall and Esplanade at Weston-Super-Mare at that time.  Taken at Low Water the extensive sandy shore is visible.

Image courtesy of North Somerset Council/Somerset Heritage Service.

Figures 23.14 (top) and 23.15 (bottom) are two views of the elegant resort of Clevedon, which marks the northern end of this Case Study.  Lithographed from drawings by Lady Elton they show the developing town in 1838.  Like the views of Weston-Super-Mare such accurate drawings plot the history of the principal buildings through the nineteenth century and beyond.

7.         References

  1. Webb, A. J. (Ed.), 2010.  ‘A Maritime History of Somerset’.  Vols. 1 & 2, Somerset Archaeological & Natural History Society.  ISBN: 978-0-902152-21-2.
  2. Halcrow, 2009.  ‘Hartland Point to Anchor Head SMP2’.
  3. Munday, J. 1996.  ‘E. W. Cooke – A Man of His Time’.  Antique Collector’s Club.  ISBN: 1-85149-222-4.