Weston-super-Mare is an English seaside resort town in North Somerset, population 65,000 (1991 estimate). It is situated on the Bristol Channel approximately 18 miles (28km) south west of Bristol. The town has spread along the coast between the bounding high ground of Worlebury Hill and Brean Down. It is well known for its sandy beaches, although at low tide the sea can be over a mile from the beachfront. Weston comes from the Anglo-Saxon for the west tun or settlement. The descriptive part of its name is unusual because it remains in mediaeval Latin, meaning literally "on sea". It is pronounced mair rather than mahrey, however.
Weston owes its growth and prosperity to the Victorian era boom in seaside holidays. Along with nearby Burnham-on-Sea, it benefited from proximity to Bristol, Bath and South Wales. With the coming of the railways, thousands of visitors came to the town, on works outings and Bank Holidays -- many mining families coming directly by steamer from Wales. To cater for them, Birnbeck Pier was completed in 1867, offering in its heyday amusement arcades , tea rooms, funfair rides and a photographic studio.
Local traders, unhappy that visitors were not coming as far as the centre of the town, began the construction of a new pier closer to the main streets. Opened in 1904, and known as the Grand Pier, it was originally planned to be 1.5 miles (2.4km) long. It still stands in truncated form today, although amusements and cafes have replaced the original music-hall theatre it supported. Further development occurred after World War I, with the Winter Gardens and Pavilion, the Open Air Pool and an airfield all dating from the inter-war period.
During World War II many evacuees were accommodated in the town. Weston suffered several bombing raids, damaging parts of the town centre.
In the post-war period Weston suffered a large decline in popularity, like virtually all British seaside resorts. The advent of cheap foreign holidays and the break-up of large industries like mining contributed, as working communities became less likely to holiday together. The town had become a centre of industries such as aircraft production. Road transport links were improved with the M5 motorway running closely by, and the town now supports several light industries and distribution depots, and functions partly as a dormitory town for Bristol.
The tourist traffic has never completely vanished and Weston nowadays could be considered to be weathering hard times moderately well. It has a shopping centre, helicopter museum, a sea life centre and miniature railway.
Well-known former residents of the town include John Cleese, Jeffrey Archer, Ritchie Blackmore,Rupert Graves and Jill Dando. The writer Bill Bryson has a wet time visiting, recounted in Notes from a Small Island .
There is something engagingly pretentious about Weston-super-Mare's name. Latin for "Weston on sea" there is no reason why these three words should (a) be separated by hyphens nor (b) why "mare" should begin with a capital letter. As there is very little sea to be seen at Weston super mare, it could be claimed that the town's title is a misnomer.
Last updated: 05-07-2005 11:14:15
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04