Strange but True - Weston-super-Mare Stories
One occupation that was vital to the early development of Weston-super-Mare was Gull Yelling (i.e. a person paid to scream loudly at sea gulls.) Long before Birnbeck pier was built, a causeway linked the island to the mainland during low tides. The local fishermen would set up nets on the causeway at low tide. When the tide came in, fish would be caught in the nets. In theory, the fishermen could wait for the next low tide and retrieve their catch. Unfortunately, there was a problem. Sea gulls can fly but fishermen cannot walk on water. As the tide started to reveal the nets, the sea gulls had time to eat the catch and disappear before the fishermen could cross the causeway. Various remedies were found but the most effective solution was to shout at the gulls whenever they tried to land on the nets. Two people were employed to remain on Birnbeck throughout the tide and to scare the birds away before they ate the catch. Contemporary reports record that one Gull Yeller was so skilled that he could be heard from 6 miles away.
Before the new General Hospital was built in Uphill, the towns main hospital was the Royal Hospital located at the far end of Marine Parade overlooking the beach. There have been several reports of the beach donkeys being used to ferry people with minor injuries to the hospital - the building was so close to the beach that casualties could arrive at the hospital before there was time to call an ambulance.
Brean Down Transatlantic Ferry Port
A company called the Brean Down Harbour Company decided to build a harbour at Brean Down for ocean going ships and steamers plying a trade to Wales. It would have been a good investment if they had understood the powerful tidal forces caused by this pinacle of land. On 5th November 1864, the foundation stone was attached to a marker buoy and lowered into the sea, amongst much pomp and ceremony. In the late evening, the festivities climaxed on the site where the Winter Gardens is today. The next morning, the marker buoy was sighted off Steep Holm - it was still attatched to the foundation stone. The harbour company made several attempts to restart construction but they eventually realised that when the power second highest tidal rise and fall is concentrated by the long promentry of Brean Down, you get currents strong enough to carry most building materials out to sea.
No Trains Stop at This Station
When Brunel built the railway from Bristol to Bridgwater, he had serious problems negotiating with the locals who wanted high prices for their land and made unreasonable demands. The only way Brunel could run the railway across one piece of land was to agree to build a station in a convenient location for the land owner. As agreed, the station was built but Brunel had the last laugh because the railway company ensured that no trains ever stopped at this station. The land owner started legal proceedings but the agreement was to build a station, nothing had been said about using the station.
Only walk on red planks
After Birnbeck Island was closed to the public, the condition of the pier continued to deteriorate and the wooden planks became extremely unsafe. The lifeboat station could not move from the island because this is the only place with acces to the sea at low tide. At the planks rotted away, the lifeboat crew had to risk falling through the pier walkway when attending every call-out. The RNLI wanted their crew to be safe but were reluctant to renovate the privately owned pier. The compromise was to only renew a narrow strip of planks running the length of the pier. This strip of planks was painted red and anyone who strayed off the red area did so at their own risk. The RNLI still launch from Birnbeck Island and you can still see a "safe" walkway running the entire length of the ailing pier.
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