By Harry Mottram: Reports that contractors were at the former Axbridge Court Nursing Home have reminded residents of some of the huge changes that have taken place in the town in recent years. Beginning with the closure of the railway in 1963 and its conversion to the bypass for the A371 it has been seen as a curse and a blessing. Received wisdom today amongst most observers is the Beeching Cuts that closed branch lines was industrial vandalism since they devastated numerous rural economies and failed to see the future of traffic congestion and the huge demand for passenger rail services. On the other hand, it freed up the town of traffic and led to the creation of the Axbridge Pageant.

An early Axbridge Pageant

Another huge change was the axing of the Axbridge Rural District Council based in the town in 1974 by the Conservative administration of Edward Heath with the Local Government Act of 1972. The old council had been formed in 1894 and administered services in a wide area that included Banwell, Churchill, Blagdon, Wedmore and Congresbury providing employment in the council offices in Axbridge and continuing the town’s long history of being a key centre in Somerset. Axbridge Town Council was the successor authority in the town and continues today as an important administrator of services – increasingly so since the demise of Sedgemoor – as it looks after a number of aspects of the town from the footpaths and Furlong Field to the car parks and public toilets, and grit bins to the allotments and more besides. See

Axbridge retains its town council although since the 1974 local government changes it has lost many of its powers

Older residents will know that Peelers Court in Moorland Road once housed the local police – when the town was the centre of law enforcement complete with a Magistrates court in St Mary’s Street and later the Town Hall – both long gone along with the jobs they created. And the town as late as the 1960s was also one of Somerset’s largest meat processing centres with what is now Butcher’s Yard in Meadow Street housing even in the 1990s freezers and storage areas for meat – the slaughterhouse in the High Street a distant memory by then. It goes without saying that along with the last butcher in the High Street, Axbridge has lost most of its shops and indeed pubs since the turn of the century – a sad loss – but inevitable with the rise of the supermarkets and now online shopping.

Those new to the town may not be aware of another huge institution that dominated in more ways than one the town. The towering building of the Axbridge Union Workhouse off Houlgate Way is now flats – it had been converted with the social reforms of the 1930s to a geriatric hospital but finally closed in the 1980s and was converted into flats. St John’s Court was built in 1837 and housed 250 inmates – a collection of the poor, destitute, unwell, mentally ill, alcoholics and entire families – somewhat different in wealth terms  to today’s tenants.

The entrance to St Michael’s Cheshire Home

Axbridge Court Nursing Home has now closed but administrators of Almondsbury Care Limited who leased the building (and also owned three other care homes) after going bust owing hundreds of thousands of pounds in 2022 are as I understand still sorting out the accounts. A creditors meeting was held in the summer of 2023 with the administrators who are Turpin Barker Armstrong apparently still investigating the accounts before a final resolution takes place. The owners of the building will no doubt be considering their options now it it vacant. The staff were made redundant, and the residents moved leaving something of a social hole in the town as many people had links to the home. Likewise, the closure of St Michael’s Cheshire Home – now on the market – was another blow to the town due to the many jobs it created, orders for suppliers and a social dimension as many residents had friends and residents there. The Gothic Revival mansion was built in 1878 and was a convalescent home, a tuberculosis hospital and a care home for those with physical disabilities in its time – with a paupers graveyard in the grounds. Now the place is closed but you can rent a flat there in the meantime while a buyer or developer is found. Whether Covid had an affect on the fortunes of the nursing homes is open to conjecture but certainly with the hike in energy prices, heating large rambling Victorian buildings as required for care homes would have been a factor in their closure.

The town’s latest development

The housing development off Houlgate Way – stopped over the winter but now again under way has caused considerable anger amongst many residents since it is outside of the town boundary and opposed by the town council. Developers Bellway paused the work in the winter but have restarted plans to build 53 homes between Townsend Farm and Axbridge Surgery. It is a major development for the town – and will see more patients for the surgery and pupils for the school – plus trade for the shops and pubs. The development off Cheddar Road in Mendip View Gardens didn’t generate the same opposition – partly due to the numbers of affordable homes built and due to its support from Axbridge Town Council and local authorities. It was also seen as a fill-in development rather than purely as a green field one.

Mendip View Gardens under construction

The building of the reservoir, the loss of the strawberry market, the ending of the two dairy farms at either end of the town and umpteen other changes for good or ill – everything changes and moves on. The one thing to keep in mind is that every new home built in the town has seen the nature of Axbridge change. From Knightstone Close to Hippersley Drive and from Stars Close to Farthing Combe there have been questions raised – but even King John’s Hunting Lodge must have seen someone question its construction. Do we really need another high rise Tudor building when we have these lovely wattle and daub medieval homes already – may have been asked.

Axbridge News is edited by Harry Mottram and is published for the interest of himself and fellow residents.

Harry is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube etc