Tag Archives: somerset

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES Feature: back in the day – the landlords and landladies of some of Bridgwater’s most celebrated pubs

Some of the regulars at the Mariners’ Arms on a day out

Looking back: memories of the Mariners’ Arms in Bridgwater. A feature written By Harry Mottram for the Bridgwater Mercury in April 2016.

THE series of stories about the pubs of Bridgwater Band district inspired by the researcher Jane Penfold has prompted Trevor Crook to write in with memories of the Mariners’ Arms in Northgate, Bridgwater.

He writes: “It was interesting to read the letter sent by Mike Taylor, who I know, about his parents’ times at the Golden Lion and Lime Kiln, in particular the dates he referred to. My step-father was Dennis Bell-Langford, whose mother, Mrs Maria Bell-Langford, was I believe, the last licencee of the Royal Oak in West Street when it closed in 1925.

“My grandparents Maria and Albert (Sam) moved to the Hope and Anchor on the riverside and from there to the Mariners Arms in Northgate. My father Dennis became landlord of the Mariners when they retired, until it closed. The licence was surrendered in 1962.”

Mr Crook said that the book Bridgwater Inns Past and Present by Dave Williams published in the 1980s there are photographs of the Hope and Anchor. One of them he said shows a picture of his grandfather with his father sitting on his lap with another picture showing his grandparents outside the Mariners Arms. He said the licence at the Hope and Anchor was surrendered in 1961 and the last tenant was G Pole.

Two of the regulars at the Mariners’ Arms in the 1960s (plus dog)

He continued: “When the Mariners Arms closed, there was a short break before my father took the licence at the Beaufort Arms in 1961, taking over, if I remember rightly from Tommy Hawkes. When we left in 1968 to take over at the Malt Shovel where we stayed until December 1974, the licence at the Beaufort went to Tony and Sylvia Prowse.

“The previous landlord of the Malt Shovel was Morny Washer and after my parents retired from the trade, there were a number of couples involved at different times running this pub, to name a few, John and Dorothy Tyler (former managers of the Harvest Moon), Trev and Jayne Watts and more recently Nora Lewis and her partner Neil Tucker.”

The Mercury has passed on this and other information to Jane Penfold who has continued her work and we welcome more memories of pubs in the area.

Whether your memories are from way back in time or in the last ten years then do write in with pictures if you have them by email at: harryfmottram@gmail.com to Harry Mottram.

For more features and news – and much else visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

Follow Harry on Facebook, Twitter as @harrythespiv, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES Feature: A guide to the railway line back in 1899 when Axbridge had Petty Sessions in the Court House and it cost 2/- to visit Cheddar Caves

Axbridge Square before the arrival of the motorcar

What was it like to visit the Strawberry Line in 1899? Using an 1899 guidebook Harry Mottram took a trip from Clevedon to Wells in a tweed Norfolk suit in search of Victorian Somerset.

Cyclists should dismount when descending Cheddar Gorge and Clevedon is not condusive to bathing but does have smart shops. These and other useful tops help to make up an 1899 copy of Black’s Guide Book sold for one shilling in Winscombe’s stationer of the same era. Edited by A R Hope Moncrieff the author notes in his preface that as may be expected in a pocket guide to the British Isles that “everything has not been said that might be said; but so far as our limits allow, we have tried to point out to strangers what is best worth seeing in this most attractive corner of England.” And so with guide in hand having first put on a very stiff and itchy Norfolk suit I set off in search of Victorian Somerset travelling from Clevedon to Wells – by bicycle. Traffic excepted and also the considerably greater number of houses built in the last 113 years there are surprisingly many things that haven’t changed a jot.

Judge for yourself with these notes:

Clevedon: “This town straggles roomily on and beneath heights overlooking the Bristol Channel, and has an agreeably informal aspect in its winding lines of villas and open terraces. To the right for the Pier, the smart shops, and the cliff quarter known as Walton, the Bristol end, where a sea walk leads along the edge to a nook called Ladye Bay.” It’s a description that wouldn’t be incorrect today of the town that’s “sheltered from cold winds by the bank of Dial Hill”. However the guide warns that bathing is not tempting due to the beach not being “very salt or sea-like,” but recommends Ladye Bay where “a good swim can be had when the tide is up.”

Somerset, Clevedon
Clevedon Bay back in the day

Yatton: “A thriving-like village, just outside of which on the east side stands a solid tower, capped by the uncommon feature of a truncate spire, marking the church, which contains a fine altar tomb and other monuments of the Newton Family.” Sadly there’s no record of the shops, blacksmith or pubs in the guide although it suggests a walk to Weston – now nicknamed Weston-super-Mare – because it’s a pretty town and quite lively. Presumably due to the vast numbers of Welsh miners who descended on the resort by paddle steamer and the day trippers from Bristol’s growing suburbs in search of fun and frolics on their high days and holidays.

When Yatton was just a small village

Congresbury: “A village graced with a fine church with a pleasant walk to wooded Wrington just four miles away.” The guide notes Congresbury is pronounced “Coomsbury.” The walk to Wrington warns of a ruined mill and a circuitous route along a river bank in order to approach the little town of 1,500 people noted for its connections with John Locke and Hannah More. It describes a path to Goblin Combe via The Golden Lion pub to “the savage glen, edged by Limestone cliffs and banks of screes.”

Winscombe station in 1905

Winscombe: For some reason the author glosses over Banwell and Sanford and arrives by train in Winscombe – no longer called Woodborough – which he describes as a scattered village. Like all good Victorians he heads to the church “with its fine yew” and “fine outlook”. He quickly embarks by trains for Axbridge through the tunnel from whence “we glimpse Brent Knoll; to the south swells the broken ground of Wedmore, and beyond an isolated hillock is seen the tower of Glastonbury Tor.”

Axbridge: “One the chief towns still having such dignity as petty sessions, a workhouse, and two banks can give but only 700 inhabitants.” He notes the “quaint old houses and stately church,” and claims to see the River Axe “below on the plain”.


Cheddar: “The station is about a mile from the entrance of the gorge, for which conveyances (4d) are usually in waiting. The Cliff Hotel, near the foot of the gorge is the goal of driving excursions.” The guide is clearly taken with Cheddar as it affords more space than anywhere else in the pocket book – even than Wells. It describes the fierce rivalry between the owners of both main caves, Gough’s and Cox’s – both charging 2/- entrance fee and both lit up to display their “stalactite wonders” for the “patronage of pilgrims.” We also get considerable description of the gorge and the surrounding country which clearly was the big draw for visitors seeking something of a lost wilderness that once covered England from end to end. He cautions cyclists to dismount once they arrive at the end of the wooded part of the top end of the gorge due to “not knowing what may be around each corner.” Something that some motorists should pay heed to today.

An early coloured postcard showing the road to the Gorge in Cheddar

Wedmore: Our guide instructs us to take a short four mile walk across the pastures to Wedmore, a village of 3,000 people with its “rambles pleasant by contrast to the environing flats.”

Wells: “A city of under 5,000 inhabitants, wears a look of quiet diginity.” He describes the Town hall and Council Chambers with its exhibition of portraits, the two stations within easy reach of the cathedral and reiterates the truism that nowhere is a city with so many buildings still being used for their original purpose.

Wells at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries

For more reviews, news and views on theatre and much else visit www.harrymottram.co.uk

Follow Harry on Facebook, Twitter as @harrythespiv, Instagram, YouTube and LinkedIn

Cheddar Reservoir: recent photographs of the magical scene at dawn in July as the waters greet the new day under the shadow of the Mendip Hills

Summer dawns on Somerset’s large strawberry shaped reservoir between Axbridge and Cheddar are often glorious affairs. Golden sunrises at around 5am are a particular feast as the 1930s reservoir acts as a mirror to the sky. Here a few images of the last few days in July 2019.

AXBRIDGE NEWS: the website for the 2020 Axbridge Pageant is now live

The new website for the 2020 Axbridge Pageant is up and running at

In 1963 the former Cheddar Valley Railway often called The Strawberry Line was closed after almost a century of use. A few years later the line above the town was turned into the bypass ending the traffic jams that had dogged the town for years. To celebrate a pageant was proposed to chart the town’s history in the square soon after.
It was a huge success prompting further pageants in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010. Each time the Square was turned into a vast arena and stage – to portray the long and extraordinary story of the town through drama, spectacle and pageantry. And so we gather once again in August 2020 to maintain this tradition – that in its own way has also become part of the town’s history. The website will carry news, views and features about the pageant and will carry photos of the past productions and updates on the next one on August bank holiday weekend in 2020.

Visit: axbridgepageant.com

Brilliant line-up for the next Axbridge Roxy Comedy Night on Friday, March 15th, book your tickets now!

Central Asia, Paignton, horrible children and Brexit are all on the agenda at the next Axbridge Roxy Comedy Night on Friday, March 15.

The line-up includes a return of the former Soviet Republic of Tajikstan resident Firuz Ozari with his take on the English chat up line and the Taliban’s HR department.

Poet and stand up Shelley Szender from Devon launched her career at the Roxy two years ago is back from her sell-out tour of New York.

And there’s the fabulous Rebecca Povall from Bristol and a thesaurus of long words along with the outrageous Jessie Nixon and all those impressions you’ve always wanted (not) to hear from James O’Donoghue.

A sparkling line up complete with the wonderful Juliet Maclay to welcome you and Axbridge’s newest stand-up Joe Williams who has travelled 30 yards to be with you on the night.

Your host the confused eccentric from another world Harry Mottram introduces the show. Don’t miss out – book your tickets now at the Roxy Cinema in Axbridge. http://www.axbridgeroxy.org.uk/

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES – FEATURE: memories of the Big Freeze in the winter of 1962/63 and when steam trains connected Wells and Banwell (and when naughty school boys could lark about in the compartment carriages)

A steam train emerges from Winscombe Tunnel

An article in the Strawberry Line Times magazine four years ago about the winter of 1962/63 triggered lots of memories from readers. Terry Watkins who now lives in Australia recalled how he used a jack hammer to break the ground when installing cables in trenches in the lawns of residents. He got married that year in Axbridge – but it was in October before the freeze took place just after Christmas. He said: “As for it being cold, I worked at HV Cable Jointing and we had to have a heater trained on the cable drums to warm the cables up before they could be put in the ground. When we installed cables services into houses we had to use a jack hammer to dig trenches across people’s front lawns where the frost had made the turf solid.”

Meanwhile Pam Avery of Winscombe was at school in Churchill. She wrote: “I remember the winter very well. It was my last winter at Churchill Comprehensive. Hilliers Lane was narrow then before the widening for the many coaches. The snow came up to the top of the hedges. My father worked for Somerset County Council at Shipham Quarry at the time and, as he could not get to work, he was asked to help with clearing the snow. I remember the snow had blown into some beautiful shapes.” The Big Freeze 50 years ago clearly had a lasting impression. George Branch of Cheddar was a Shipham school boy at the time and his mother took a snap of the milkman. George had lent his sledge to the milkman Mr Wells who along with his son Geoff managed to deliver the milk to the villagers despite the ice using the sledge. Mr Evans had an open sided Bedford van for the round based in Winscombe and George said Shipham’s school was closed for two months in that winter due to the pipes freezing.

1962/63 Big Freeze: delivering the milk with Mr Wells – photo from George Branch

Alex Duncan of Axbridge wrote in: “I found Hugh Alsop’s article on the Strawberry Line very interesting. In 1946 I lived in Banwell and gained a place at Wells Blue School. To get there I had to cycle over a mile to Sandford and Banwell Station, store my bike in an outhouse and board the train. It was a harsh winter back in 1946/47. I had a half size bike with no gears and toiling up through Towerhead on snowy roads was an arduous experience. There was no thermal clothing either in those days. Every schoolboy wore grey shorts, long socks, lace-up shoes and an inadequate gaberdine raincoat Can you imagine it, shorts during that winter! Oh! I forgot something. We also wore a school cap – not much comfort in that. Anyhow, what of the train itself?

“I recall the 0-6-0 pannier tanks with great affection. Bossy little engines that accelerated quickly on their small wheels and somehow personified the eccentricity of the Great Western Railway. I never got half the thrill from the lordly Kings and Castles whistling their way out of Temple Meads. I was always mildly disappointed when a conventional tank engine turned up but I did like the diesel cars. They looked like something designed for a Flash Gordon movie and if they didn’t work that well; did it matter? After all this was God’s Wonderful Railway being clever.”

“Railway carriages were not open-plan in those days. The compartments provided a degree of privacy. There was room for six people seated three each side or more if you squeezed up and a corridor along the side of the carriage linking them together and also leading to the toilets at either end. However, Hugh Alsop is right. Many carriages were of the non-corridor type which had room for eight people per compartment and no toilets. They were OK on short commuter routes but to a bunch of school kids they were a godsend. I will leave to your imagination what went on with us naughty boys during the trip through Shute Shelve tunnel.

Brrr: this gives a view of the crossroads at Cross during that winter when motorists attached chains to their cars to grip on the ice

“The school day in Wells finished half an hour before the train home and we were supposed to stay on the premises for some of that time. However, we soon learned from our elders that if we walked to the other station, the old Somerset and Dorset one, we could get the pick of the seats and also ‘enjoy’ what only this type of station could provide. Let me explain. The designer must have been a farmer at heart. The station building was basically a big barn with an arch at either end for the train to get in and out. Imagine it, an enclosed barn for a steam train! Of course, it always filled up with a choking cloud of steam and smoke – fun if you were 11 but would I enjoy it now? I doubt it.”

Send your memories to harryfmottram@gmail.com

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There are more stories from Harry at www.harrymottram.co.uk

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES – FEATURE: Liz Leyshon on the importance of keeping libraries open (as Somerset County Council tries to shut Cheddar Library)

Liz Leyshon. Pic: Ian Forsythe

Pic: Ian Forsythe

Why we must not close the book on the written word Liz Leyshon, the Liberal Democrat county councillor for Glastonbury and Street, discusses the importance of fighting for the future of the county’s libraries.

H e re ’s a Somerset quiz question for the future. What did a Quaker hot bed of Victorian education have in common with a village that was once home to one of the Romantic poets?

Future generations of Somerset residents may have to answer that both places, Street and Nether Stowey, lost their stock of the written word in the 2018 ‘re d e s i g n’ of the county’s library service. Cultural legacy is something that seems so obvious when we look back. Yet in the present day it’s so easy to take the wrong turning, to forget what will matter to the human beings that come after us, to take our eye off the heritage of our county when considering the targets for cost-cutting exercises.

We know that over 100 years ago women started on the long haul to something like equality and they did that through education, by learning and then teaching o t h e r s. The first thing they learned was to read and write, to put a pen or pencil on to paper and make marks that brought out meaning to them and to others. Then, to pass their knowledge on their sisters, they first had to pass on that ability to read the marks and to write what they felt and imagined and learned from others. That’s how it works.

It’s a cyclical thing, one of the joys of human life. Unless you are less fortunate in your life and you don’t meet the person who can inspire you to read others’ words and to write your own. Or you live in a family home that doesn’t have books with the written word as an everyday item. Where the cereal packet is not an opportunity to read more at the breakfast table, where journalism is not valued as the way to learn about the wider world, where a good book is not the last thing you see at night. The much-loved library can fill the gaps, the gaps where books and papers and now DVDs and computers are not the home-fellows that young people, and older people, need to make their lives more interesting, to provide that model for learning.

But the library needs to be within reach, not something that only others can access. It needs to be there, where you live, with an open door, a welcome, a warm environment where literacy skills are not something that Ofsted has as targets. It’s the home of words, of language, of free access to education. That’s how it should be. If you wish to blight a young p e r s o n’s life, if you wish to prevent a young woman taking her opportunities, if you wish to shackle an older person to a lifetime of embarrassment because they cannot read the piece of paper that is in their hand, you do it by depriving them of education.

So these libraries, how can they survive? They are going to need imaginative, driven people to direct their futures – the very people who have gained so much from their own experience with words and (mostly) free education. Have we really changed as human beings in the last few hundred years? When things get tough, we still gain comfort from the same things as our foremothers and fathers. We still tell stories, we still chat and drink warm concoctions from glasses and cups. We dig the earth and sow the seeds that will bring delight and colour in the summer. We still put food in a pan, place it on the fire and make something that brings people together round a table in the most basic form of nurturing. None of those things has changed, the only thing that changes is the environment in which we spend our years, our decades, our lives.

We have better healthcare, better dentists. We now have deodorants for when we work hard and sweat. The light comes on when we flick the switch. The water, fit to drink, comes out of the tap when we turn it on. We flush the loo and it goes away. We are fortunate, indeed we are often very fortunate. In order to make all those improvements to our lives, people had to be able to read and write. Instructions. Warnings. Guides. We need to ensure that the next generations have the same opportunities; we owe it to them as we sit back with a good book and a cup of tea or glass of something chilled. We cannot let them down. The libraries are essentials, not luxuries. We must work hard to ensure they are still here, in the villages that house poets and in the towns that house teachers. They will not forgive us if we fail, we must not close the book on the written word.

Liz Leyshon is a Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Glastonbury and Street and the former manager of Strode Theatre. This article first appeared in the Western Daily Press newspaper.

Her Twitter handle is @lizleyshon

For more Axbridge and Cheddar news visit http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/?page_id=23

There is a film on YouTube about Cheddar Library at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5bXAxaBQpI&t=54s

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES – NEWS (VIDEO): Behind the scenes with David Parkin – staging The Ladykillers in Axbridge – building a theatre, creating the house in Kings Cross and recycling the last set (all with the help of a chocolate biscuit or two)

Ladykillers low res DSC02387

The Ladykillers: a still taken from ACT’s stage play

When Axbridge Community Theatre staged The Ladykillers in the Town Hall in 2016 a team of talented folk worked behind the scenes to make it happen. This is the story of part of that team – the set designers and builders of Axbridge Community Theatre (ACT). The production was directed by Peter Honeyands and was adapted by Graham Linehan as a stage play in 2011 from the screen play written by William Rose for the 1955 film .


ACT’s next production is Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker directed by John Bailey. It will be staged in the town hall in Axbridge in Somerset on May 2-5, 2018.

Tickets will be on sale online from 23rd March 2018, and from Axbridge Chemists and Post Office from 1st April.

Observed by a lone, mystified Australian aboriginal , the convict ship arrives in Botany Bay in1788, crammed with England’s outcasts. Colony discipline in this vast and alien land is brutal. Three proposed public hangings incite an argument: how best to keep the criminals in line, the noose or a more civilised form of entertainment? The ambitious Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark steps forward with a play. But as the mostly illiterate cast rehearses, and a sense of common purpose begins to take hold, the young officer’s own transformation is as marked and poignant as that of his prisoners. The play is far from grim. Actually it’s mostly funny! “All people tend to become what society says they are! In performance the convicts challenge their definition.” 

For more films about ACT visit www.harrymottram and for the drama group see www.axbridgecommunitytheatre.org.uk

HARRY MOTTRAM FREELANCE – Humorous illustration for a quirky history of the Abbots of Glastonbury

illustration monk 001

Humorous illustration for the Somerset Times for a quirky history feature on the Abbots of Glastonbury. Pencil and water colour. Harry’s illustrations and cartoons have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers. If you would like more information contact him on harryfmottram@gmail.com

STRAWBERRY LINE TIMES – NEWS: Specially for foodies – the date of the Next Axbridge Progressive Supper is confirmed (and if you go please don’t fall in a water filled ditch) 

Axbridge Progressive Supper

Diners tuck in at the Axbridge Progressive Supper in 2016

This year’s annual fund raising Axbridge progressive supper will take place on Saturday, November 17. Last year the event attracted scores of couples from the town and nearby and raised £1,000 for the town’s pageant held every ten years.

The Progressive Supper involves a three course meal eaten at three different locations. Participants either provide one course at their home, or travellers who pay to dine and do not need to provide food and drink. Cash is raised by those taking part and also by a raffle with the prizes announced at the end of the evening. The evening begins with everyone drawing lots from a hat to discover where they will be dining meaning the evening is a total surprise to all.

The unexpected nature of the evening has led to a number of hilarious incidents over the years due to the nature of the meal – spread out across the town at various homes. Guests have got lost and ended up in the wrong house while on one occasion an unnamed woman fell in the rhyne (a water filled ditch by Moorland Farm) when looking for a house down on the moors. And for hosts it’s meant an annual spring clean of their homes for fear the guests will be shocked at the state of their loo or kitchen.

Each course is for a set time, at the end of which everyone gets up and scrambles, or staggers as the night wears on, to get to the next course – which could be anywhere in Axbridge.

The event is on Saturday 17 November. See the event’s Facebook site for further updates and information.

Or contact Harry on 07789 864769 or email harryfmottram@gmail.com for more details.