Our Blue Plaque Journey
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Weston-super-Mare’s history is long and varied and people from the town and those who visited have left a lasting legacy.
We already have a few commemorative blue plaques around Weston highlighting Earl Alexander of Hillsborough (Churchill’s wartime First Lord of the Admiralty born George Street), Capt George Fiott Day VC (Crimean hero lived Claremont Crescent) and Mary Webb (novelist lived Landeman Circus) along with different style plaques such as that commemorating Professor Sir Arthur Eddington (astrophysicist lived Walliscote Road) and Kathleen Thomas who, aged twenty-one, was the first person to swim across the channel from Penarth to Weston in a seven and a half-hour slog back in the late summer of 1927. In addition, Jill’s Garden in Grove Park commemorates Jill Dando, the television presenter and journalist.
Weston Town Council decided to put more blue plaques around the town and are joined by Weston Civic Society who also contribute half the cost for of the plaques.
Residents were asked to vote who deserved a blue plaque via the Weston Mercury. Thirteen plaques were agreed upon.
Where? Olea restaurant in South Parade
Who is Paulo Radmilovic and what is his connection to Weston-super-Mare?
Paulo Radmilovic is one of Great Britain’s most successful Olympians. He is seventh on the list for gold medals won – behind the likes of Chris Hoy and Steve Redgrave and he won more gold medals than any other British swimmer.
He moved to Weston-super-Mare in 1904, and all his Olympic successes came while he lived in the town.
He ran the once called Imperial Hotel (Now Olea), in South Parade, for many years and was still swimming at the age of 78. He died in 1968, and was buried in Milton Road cemetery. The seafront bar Raddy’s still bears his name.
Henry Butt (1861-1944)
Where? The old hospital – now a residential development aptly named Henry Butt House
Born the son of a Langport coal merchant, Henry was sent to Weston-super-Mare aged 18 to manage a branch of the Somerset Trading Company, though soon decided to set up his own competing business.
He was an astute operator, eventually taking ownership of Milton Quarry and, with oodles of cash and his own stone to hand, purchased numerous middle-class hillside houses which he converted into flats, all of which still bear his brand name – ‘Mansions’.
Being something of a rough diamond and self-publicist Butt climbed the social ladder with difficulty.
When snooty members of Weston Golf Club rejected his membership application Butt simply founded an alternative venue – Worlebury Golf Club.
He helped fund the Winter and Italian Gardens projects and almost single-handedly raised £60,000 (£3.5million today) to build a new hospital in the Boulevard.
Butt became Weston’s first Mayor in 1937 and died at his home – Langport House in Eastfield Park. He was buried with his wife, who tragically died during their mayoral year, in Milton Road Cemetery.
Blue plaque Henry Butt House (former hospital) Boulevard by Weston Town Council & Weston Civic Society
Dr Edward Long Fox
Where? Dr Fox’s Bath House Knightstone Island
Edward Long Fox lived in a time when people with mental illness were simply locked away in asylums, partly for their own safety, partly for public safety and partly to save family embarrassment.
He pioneered a more humane, holistic approach with exercise, fresh air and activity in place of straightjackets, and believed ‘moral treatment’ would help recovery.
His work began at Brislington House, a private Bristol asylum, in 1801 and moved to Weston-super-Mare in 1830 when, in twilight years, he established a therapeutic spa with hot and cold seawater bathing treatments and accommodation on Knightstone Island.
His approach led the way to what is now normal practice in mental health care.
Weston General Hospital’s mental health unit is named after Dr Long Fox and a Blue Plaque in his memory has been affixed to the wall of his Georgian bath house at Knightstone.
Blue plaque Dr Fox’s Bath House by Weston Town Council & Weston Civic Society
Where? St Peter’s School closed in 1970 and was demolished. Today the site is covered with houses in St Peter’s Avenue and St Matthew’s Close.
It’s generally thought that childhood experiences leave an indelible mark throughout life and if this is true then Roald Dahl’s popularity as a writer must surely hark back to his formative years spent in Weston-super-Mare.
He is one of Britain’s most well-known, and best-loved, writers and his works still feature prominently in the classroom, library and in film.
In 1925 nine-year old Roald was sent from Wales by paddle steamer to join eighty other boarders at St Peter’s, a private prep’ school on Weston’s hillside. He thought the town ‘slightly seedy’ and said the school resembled a ‘private lunatic asylum’.
A furtive imagination soon became Roald’s soulmate and, though only here for four years, many of his finest literary characters emerge from within those comfortless school walls.
He wrote 19 novels, including Matilda in which the giant headmaster and ogre matron at Crunchem Hall are clearly based on St Peter’s
Dahl abandoned formal education in 1934, worked for Shell Petroleum, served in the RAF during the Second World War, then became a diplomat before embarking on a full-time literary career.
St Peter’s closed in 1970 and the site is now occupied by modern houses in St Peter’s Avenue and St Matthew’s Close
Blue plaque 2 St Peter’s Avenue by Weston Town Council & Weston Civic Society
Where? The former School of Science and Art, in Lower Church Road, which is owned by Weston College.
Without doubt Hans Fowler Price is the one architect, above all others, whose high quality mark has been left indelibly upon Weston-super-Mare.
Born in nearby Langford, Hans set up practice in Waterloo Street after studying under Thomas Barry in Liverpool.
His stone was local, his style eclectic: Gothic, Classical, Moorish, Flemish, Baroque, Elizabethan, Jacobean and examples abound throughout Weston’s ‘stone town’.
Many roads belong almost entirely to him including the Boulevard, Waterloo Street, High Street north and Wooler Road.
He designed the following churches: Wadham Street Baptist (Blakehay Theatre), Bristol Road Baptist, St John’s and Christ Church extensions.
His schools include Walliscote, Locking Road and UCW’s School of Science & Art, along with Alfred Street Dispensary and the Royal Hospital.
He redesigned the Town Hall, built the Library, and from his practice sprang forth our current Museum. Price died in the Art Nouveau home of his own design, 7 Trewartha Park and lies buried over the garden wall in Milton Road Cemetery
Blue plaque Weston College Conference Centre (School of Science & Art) Lower Church Road by Weston Town Council & Weston Civic Society
Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (1867-1954)
Where? The gate pillar next to Lewisham House, 80 Bristol Road Lower
Emmeline Pethick’s father, who owned the Weston Gazette, was a Town Commissioner (councillor) and a ‘natural born rebel’. She and younger sister Dorothy embraced the same attitude.
When very young Emmeline had moved with her family from Bristol to Trewartha, a large house set in substantial grounds on the hillside at Weston-super-Mare.
She always wanted more from life than settling down and marrying, and so moved to London to help working-class women.
She married Fred Lawrence in 1901 and, as a sign of equality, both adopted each other’s name and so became the Pethick-Lawrences.
In 1906 she was introduced to suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst and soon became treasurer of the Women’s Social and Political Union where her organisational and financial skills brought in many thousands of pounds for the cause
She started the tradition of luncheons for women released from prison (having herself been imprisoned in 1912), organised the vast march on Hyde Park, and with husband Fred founded ‘Votes For Women’, the union’s widely circulating newspaper. She also created the suffragette colours of purple, green and white which quickly became the movement’s visual hallmark and founded the Women’s International League for Peace.
A falling out with the Pankhursts left Emmeline and Fred ostracised from the movement, but she never stopped campaigning for electoral equality.
Fred became a Labour MP, Secretary-of-State for India, and on entering the Lords his wife became Baroness Pethick-Lawrence. Emmeline’s younger sister, Dorothy Pethick, was also a noted suffragette activist.
Blue plaque Lewisham House (formerly Trewartha) 80 Bristol Road lower by Weston Town Council & Weston Civic Society
Alfred Leete (1882-1933)
Where? Addington Court, in Madeira Road, where the hotel his parents ran used to be.
Leete’s work is known the world over for that truly iconic poster: Your Country Needs You.
His parents moved from farming in Northamptonshire to the seaside where they took ownership of the Addington Hotel (now flats next to Rozel House). Young Alfred studied at Kingsholme School in Arundell Road where he excelled in art before moving to a graphic apprenticeship in Bristol but a timely move to London brought recognition with commissions from magazines like Punch and Tatler.
Soon his Bovril, Guinness and London Underground posters were appearing everywhere.
Alfred enlisted with the Artists’ Rifles in the First World War but his skills were soon diverted to the pressing needs of military and government propaganda. His famous Lord Kitchener poster hit the magazine stalls on September 5 1915.
Observation and a keen eye for design aided by a lampooning sense of humour have given the world many first-rate Leete cartoons, a fair number of which are in Weston Museum’s collection.
Though dying in London he decreed Weston should be his final resting place and so he lies buried in Milton Road Cemetery in a grave which bears his own trademark lettering.
Blue plaque Addington House Madeira Road by Weston Town Council
Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer CBE (1921-2007) : Actress
When Deborah Kerr first stepped onto the stage at Weston-super-Mare’s Knightstone Pavilion in 1937, could she have ever dreamed it would lead to roles in star-studded films and six Academy Award nominations?
And yet, following on from one of her first performances in Weston, young Deborah built a career out of spectacular performances in films and on TV.
Deborah was born in Scotland in 1921. Her family moved to Elmsleigh Road, Weston-super-Mare in 1938 when she became a pupil at Rossholme School.
She studied drama and ballet and, with her aunt’s help, became a radio actress and got her first taste of the big stage in the play ‘Harlequin And Columbine’, at Knightstone Pavilion.
Her big break came in 1939 when she was spotted by a talent scout at an open air theatre in Regent’s Park, London.
She was cast in George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara and became a star of British cinema before Hollywood came calling.
In 1957, Deborah was named ‘the world’s most famous actress’ by Photoplay magazine.
Ivy Millicent James
Ivy was born at 1 Atlantic Villas Weston-super-Mare to an artistic family and attended the new School of Science and Art in Lower Church Road in 1895.
Alongside her older sister Maud, who had studied at the Slade School of Art, she set about publishing Christmas cards, postcards and calendars.
Their works became highly prized and are nowadays very collectable.
Ivy was a keen suffragette and designed the banner for the Weston-super-Mare branch of the Women’s Social and Political Union.
The two sisters were inseparable and after living in London during the 1920s Ivy moved back to Weston when Maud died in 1930.
She lived at 9 Grove Park Road for the ensuing 35 years and whilst there was a frequent visitor at St Margaret’s, the then-children’s home at the junction with Upper Church Road.
Though born in London Leslie Townes Hope hales from a West Country stonemasonry family. His grandfather helped build Weston’s new seafront wall in 1883 and then crossed the Atlantic to join stone carvers on the Statue of Liberty, little realising his own offspring would become one of that country’s best loved entertainers.
The Hope family lived for a short time in Orchard Street and at 14 Lindley Terrace Weston-super-Mare before moving to Bristol. In 1907 they emigrated to America where schoolboy Leslie later adopted his new name of Bob Hope.
Hope’s performing career began in Vaudeville shows and Broadway productions. His first film contract was with Educational Pictures in 1930, and he was later signed by Paramount Pictures. For a number of years he was one of the most popular stars in the world.
During the Korean and Vietnam Wars he spent a lot of time entertaining the troops.
Although never nominated for an Academy Award he was given five honorary awards for his services to film and the Queen made him an honorary knight in 1976
John Hugh Smyth-Pigott
Where? Grove House Grove Park
Though many in the family were quite bonkers, John had vision. He inherited the manorial lordship of Weston-super-Mare on Christmas Day 1823, following the death of the Rev. Wadham Pigott.
The energetic young squire encouraged village children to plant trees on the hillside, initially to create a private game reserve but, once trees began to mature, he threw this woodland open to public wandering.
Two of his original gate lodges are still with us, one in private occupation in Worlebury Hill Road and the other serving food in castellated splendour at the Kewstoke end of the Toll Road.
He replaced the crumbling Medieval St John’s with a new parish church and greatly enlarged his manorial residence at Grove House most of which was subsequently destroyed during the Second World War.
With assistance from far-sighted agents he, along with a new breed of local entrepreneurs, began to change Weston from a sleepy village of little consequence into a town of rising middle-class pretention and expectation. It was the dawning of tourism
Blue plaque Mayor’s Parlour Grove House (former manor house) by Weston Town Council & Weston Civic Society
Where? Tropicana building
Weston-super-Mare Town Council have teamed up with Fairfield House in Bath, to remember Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974.
In a double celebration a Blue Plaque was be unveiled on the Tropicana building in Weston by his grandson Prince Micheal Mekonnen, who then travelled to Bath to unveil a blue plaque at Fairfield House on the same day.
Ras Tafari became the Lion of Judah and King of Kings on succeeding to the Ethiopian crown in 1930. His lineage claimed direct descent from King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. He travelled throughout Europe and while keen to modernise his own country, remained wary of European imperialism, insisting all businesses should retain elements of local ownership. Mussolini’s fascist Italian regime invaded Ethiopia in 1935 and resistance against superior arms proved pointless. The Royal Navy sent HMS Capetown to rescue the Imperial Family and they settled in Fairfield House, Bath, for the duration of the Second World War.
While in Bath, Haile Selassie enjoyed visiting Weston-super-Mare and would happily swim in the Open Air Pool (later Tropicana). Always resisting invitations to queue-jump, he would happily chat with other visitors. When the war ended he returned home but was deposed in the 1974 Soviet-backed revolution. He died a prisoner the following year. Today he is worshipped as God incarnate by the Rastafarian movement which has its origins in 1930s Jamaica.
Blue plaque Tropicana Marine Parade by Weston Town Council & Weston Civic Society unveiled by the Emperor’s son HIH Prince Michael Mekonnen
Dwight D Eisenhower
Dwight D Eisenhower is the only American President to have set foot in Weston-super-Mare.
As Supreme Allied Commander Europe he arrived in Weston towards the close of World War Two and stayed one night in 1944, en-route to the D-Day landings.
The town was filled with American servicemen. Officers were billeted in hotels whilst other ranks slept under canvass in Ellenborough Park.
Far from throwing around his status ‘Ike’ opted to sleep in a caravan parked near the water tower in Weston Woods, in the midst of military vehicles huddled under tree cover and along the Toll Road
Following the war, Eisenhower became NATO’s first Supreme Commander and then President of the United States from 1953 until 1961.
A gentle stroll through Weston Woods to where an American president once slept under the stars will enable us all to share this fleeting moment of world history
Blue plaque Weston Woods water tower by Weston Town Council & Weston Civic Society
Capt George Fiott Day VC
Where? The Anchor Head Hotel Claremont Cres
After a distinguished career in the Royal Navy poor health forced the 47-year old Crimean War hero to retire to Weston-super-Mare where he and his wife Mary settled in fashionable Claremont Crescent. After a long illness Captain Day died aged 56 and was buried in Milton Road Cemetery.
His determination, courage and devotion to duty wading alone through several miles of swampy coastland to reconnoitre enemy batteries on the Arabat Spit in 1855, thereby saving countless British lives, earned him the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest gallantry award. Two years later and in command of a British warship he intercepted and arrested two slavers off the West African coast and freed their human cargo. He was made a Companion of the Order of The Bath in 1875. Captain Day was truly one of the “bravest of the brave”.
Sadly, with the passing of time, George Day had become somewhat forgotten in Weston’s history and lay in an unmarked grave in Milton Road Cemetery until 1982, when a memorial headstone was installed affording this hero a touch of belated dignity.
Blue plaque Anchor Head Hotel Claremont Crescent by Weston Town Council & Alan Rider
Where? Worle Village Primary School
Located next door to the ancient parish church of St Martin in Worle, this Victorian village school has been here for over 700 years, though for most of its life was the barn in which the ‘tithe’ tax (one-tenth of local farm produce) was stored for church and parochial use. The ruinous medieval barn was converted into a ‘National School’ in 1865 by architect John Norton. National Schools were Church of England facilities established before the state became involved in education following the 1870 ‘Foster’ Education Act. John Norton was a Bristol architect of considerable note whose practice extended to London and is probably best known for creating Tyntesfield near Wraxall.
Education for all
Prior to 1800 most children received little formal education with the poorest taught rudimentary lessons in charity or ‘dame’ schools.
The National Society, established in 1811, saw the Church of England build countless schools – usually next door to parish churches – and from 1833 the state began paying annual grants to maintain these denominational schools. The Foster Act created non-denominational ‘Board Schools’, financed from local rates, but with an eye to their own pockets Weston and Worle ratepayers kept them at bay for two decades until Walliscote Board School eventually opened in 1897.
Weston’s national school – later known as St John’s School – opened 20 years earlier than Worle’s in 1845 on a site now occupied by Weston College’s Knightstone Campus.
Blue plaque Worle Village Primary School by Weston Town Council & Worle History Society
Earl Alexander of Hillsborough KG CH PC (1885-1965)
Where? 33 George Street
Albert Alexander was born in George Street and lived in Weston until 1921. He worked as a clerk in Somerset’s education department and became a Baptist lay preacher, NALGO secretary and vice-president of Weston’s Co-operative Society.
He was a powerful, intelligent orator and a true humanitarian. During the First World War he served in the Artists’ Rifles. Politics was in the blood and in 1922 he became Co-op/Labour MP for Sheffield Hillsborough but at the outbreak of the Second Worle War Churchill invited him into the coalition cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty where he gained the reputation of being ‘Churchill’s favourite socialist’. He was thrice First Lord and subsequently Attlee’s Minister of Defence.
Weston granted him Freedom of the Borough in 1940. In 1950 he entered the Lords as Viscount Alexander of Hillsborough and was raised to the hereditary earldom and created Baron Weston-super-Mare in 1963.
He’s the only Westonian to have been made a Knight of the Garter and Companion of Honour. At his death the Garter Banner was removed from St George’s Chapel Windsor and now hangs in Weston Town Hall. His name is immortalised in Hillsborough House on the Bournville Estate.
He and his wife are buried in Milton Road Cemetery. The title is now extinct.
Blue plaque 33 George Street
Mary Webb (1881-1927)
Where? 8 Landemann Circus
Born Mary Gladys Meredith she was raised in Shropshire and became famous as an early 20th century English romantic novelist and poet whose work is set chiefly in her home county’s countryside.
In 1912 she married school teacher Henry Webb and they chose to live in Landemann Circus Weston-super-Mare. After a couple of years they moved back to Shropshire and worked as market gardeners before Henry returned to teaching. Publication of ‘The Golden Arrow’ established her as a rising literary star but poor health and a failing marriage brought terminal decline and she died in loneliness at St Leonards-on-Sea and is buried in her beloved Shropshire.
She had won the ‘Prix Femina Vie Heureuse’ for ‘Precious Bane’ but, after Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin referred to Mary as a neglected genius in 1928, her works became more widely appreciated.
Blue plaque 8 Landemann Circus by Woodspring Museum Service & Mary Webb Society
Professor Sir Arthur Eddington OM FRS (1882-1944)
Where? 42 Walliscote Road
Following his father’s sudden death in the typhoid epidemic of 1884 Arthur’s family moved to Varzin, a house near the Town Hall in Walliscote Road. He was educated at home and at a Weston prep’ school but after winning scholarships to Manchester and Cambridge secured work at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich followed by Directorship of the Cambridge Observatory and Fellowship of the Royal Society
Eddington’s work in astrophysics was ground breaking. He was the first scientist to investigate evolution of stars and remains ‘one of the greatest astronomers of all time’.
Bronze plaque Varzin, 42 Walliscote Road
Kathleen Thomas (1906-1987)
Where? Anchor Head seawall
Born in South Africa Kathleen’s family fled the Boer War to settle in south Wales. Always the keen sportswoman Kathleen became determined to try a spectacular swim: one that had defeated men for so long: crossing the Bristol Channel.
On the chilly morning of 5th September 1927 twenty-one year old Kathleen entered the water at Penarth. Seven hours 20 minutes later she emerged in England – at Anchor Head in Weston-super-Mare.
Kathleen then moved to London where she taught pupils at the City of London School to swim, a move which barred her from competing in the 1928 Olympics because those in authority deemed her to be professional.
She married the journalist Frederick Day in 1931 and bore four children. When she died her ashes were appropriately cast into the Bristol Channel
Granite plaque Anchor Head seawall by Weston Town Council