13th January 2015

Aspects of Somerset Maritime History

Adrian Webb is a trustee of SANHS and editor of the intriguing publication Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries. His visit to WANHS however was as editor of the ongoing series of publications "A Maritime History of Somerset".

Two Volumes have been published so far and each contains a selection of papers discussing various aspects of Somerset's History. In the first part of Adrian's talk we were treated to a summary of the items covered in the first two volumes whilst in the second part we were granted a sneak preview of what is to come in Volume 3.

There appears to have been little previous work on this theme and the reason is probably to do with the fact that there is no major seaport west of Bristol. But as these excellent volumes demonstrate, there is actually no shortage of activity to describe. Until comparatively recently commercial trade along the coast and across the estuary were a major feature of economic life in Somerset. Livestock, timber, coal, building materials and of course human traffic was abundant and fish was landed from boats and hauled out of the many traps set up along the shore.

Efforts to get maximum benefit out of the unpromising coastline resulted in some serious engineering work at places such as Minehead, Bridgewater and Watchet. Burnham and Brean Down even had transatlantic aspirations, which sadly came to naught. The difficult tidal conditions necessarily gave rise to some highly involved early hydrographic surveys and the development of tourism introduced a new dimension to the traditional exploitation of the coast. The chapter by local historian Brian Austin will be of particular interest to Westonians, with his customary emphasis on the human dimension of local history. Sue Berry also has much to reveal about the impact of tourism.

Adrian's talk dwelled in some detail on the illustrations from the books and with good reason, for they are amply illustrated with maps and charts, photos old and new and a wealth of nicely printed early illustrations.

We look forward to the third Volume in the series, particularly as it promises to include an article about sightings of various features used as navigational aids as seen from the seas off Weston.

Our thanks to SANHS for publishing the series and to Adrian as author and editor.

Peter Johnson