Burnham-on-Sea

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Burnham-on-Sea is a town in Somerset, England, at the mouth of the River Parrett and Bridgwater Bay. Burnham was a small village until the late 18th century, when it began to grow because of its popularity as a seaside resort. It forms part of the parish of Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge. According to the 2001 census the population of the parish was 18,401.

The position of the town on the edge of the Somerset Levels, where they meet the Bristol Channel, has resulted in a history dominated by land reclamation and sea defences since Roman times. Burnham was seriously affected by the Bristol Channel floods of 1607, and various flood defences have been installed since then. In 1911, a concrete sea wall was built, and after the Second World War further additions to the defences were made, using the remains of a Mulberry harbour. The present curved concrete wall was completed in 1988. There have been many shipwrecks on the Gore Sands, which lie just offshore and can be exposed at low tides. The need to protect shipping using the channel has also led to the development of the lighthouses, which are prominent landmarks. The original lighthouse, known as the Round Tower, was built to replace the light on the top of the 14th-century tower of St Andrews Church. The four-storey round tower was taken over and improved by Trinity House in 1815, and was operational until 1832. The top two storeys were later removed, to prevent confusion with the new lighthouse. The 110 feet (34 m) pillar or High Lighthouse and the low wooden pile lighthouse or Lighthouse on legs on the beach were built to replace it. The town’s first lifeboat was provided in 1836 by the Corporation of Bridgwater.

A stone pier was built in 1858 by the Somerset Central Railway. Soon afterwards, in 1860, a steamer service to Wales was inaugurated, but it was never a commercial success, and ended in 1888. Burnham-on-Sea railway station was the terminus of the Burnham branch of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway. It opened in 1858, closed to scheduled passenger traffic in 1951, and stopped being used for excursions in 1962. The former Great Western Railway station is now known as Highbridge and Burnham. A second pier, built of concrete between 1911 and 1914, is claimed to be the shortest pier in Britain. The town has number of educational, religious and cultural buildings, and sporting clubs.

The name Burnham is derived from Burnhamm, as it was called in the will of King Alfred, made up from the Old English words Burna meaning stream and Hamm for enclosure. On-Sea was added later as there are several other towns of the same name in England.

The history of Burnham-on-Sea is the history of the reclamation of the Somerset Levels from the River Severn and the Bristol Channel. The Romans were the first peoples to try to reclaim the Somerset levels, and it was their people who were probably the first settlers in the high sand dunes behind the River Parrett. This could have been in part to maintain navigational systems, to aid ships entering the River Parrett and what is now Highbridge. When the Romans left, the system of drainage they installed was not maintained, and the areas reverted to become a tidal salt flat during the Anglo Saxon period.

It is likely that at the time of the Norman Domesday book, settlements existed at Burnham and Huntspill, their common boundary running along what is now the Westhill Rhyne. The church at Burnham and its lands were given to Gloucester Abbey in the 12th century, later transferred to the Wells Cathedral along with up to 50 houses surrounding the church.

Burnham was part of the hundred of Bempstone.

One of the earliest recorded incidents to affect the town was the Bristol Channel floods of 1607, since when various flood defences have been installed. In 1911 a concrete wall was built. After the Second World War, further additions to the defences against the sea were added by bringing part of the remains of a Mulberry harbour used for the Normandy Landings, and burying them in the sand. Today the town is defended from flooding by a large curved concrete wall, completed in 1988 following serious flooding in 1981. The wall runs along the Esplanade, and serves as the canvas for a wide variety of graffiti and street art.

The USS Aulick was a Clemson-class destroyer in the United States Navy built in 1918 to 1919. In 1940 she was transferred to the British under the agreement with the United Kingdom exchanging American destroyers for bases in the Atlantic. She transferred to the Royal Navy where she served as HMS Burnham (H82) during the Second World War. In 1942, Burnham was formally adopted by Burnham-on-Sea. In 1944, she was used on aircraft training duties in the Western Approaches Command, which allowed a contingent from the ship to visit the town and march through its streets. Burnham was reduced to reserve at Milford Haven, Wales, in November 1944. She was ultimately scrapped at Pembroke, in December 1948.

There have been many shipwrecks on the Gore Sands. The first lifeboat was sent to Burnham by the Bridgwater Corporation in 1836, and a replacement boat in 1847. The first Royal National Lifeboat was funded by the town of Cheltenham, and arrived in 1866. The lifeboat was removed in 1930 because of the difficulty in getting a full crew, and because the launching arrangements were not suitable for a powered boat. The current Burnham-on-Sea Lifeboat Station is the base for Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) search and rescue operations. The present station was opened in 2003. It operates two inshore lifeboats (ILBs), a B Class rigid-hulled boat and a inflatable D Class.

The Burnham-on-Sea Area Rescue Boat (BARB) was set up in 1992 to fund and operate rescue craft in the Bridgwater Bay area. BARB’s boat house on the sea front was built in 1994 by the Challenge Anneka TV show. In 2002, Lelaina Hall, a five-year-old girl from Worcester, died on the mud flats before help could reach her. The outcry over her death prompted a Western Daily Press campaign to fund an inshore hovercraft. BARB currently operates the Spirit of Lelaina alongside her sister hovercraft the Light of Elizabeth, which is named after Lelaina’s sister.

Burnham-on-Sea is notable for its beach and mudflats, the danger they pose to individuals and shipping, and the efforts to which locals have gone in defending their town and preventing loss of life. Burnham is close to the estuary of the River Parrett where it flows into the Bristol Channel, which has the second highest tidal range in the world. At 15 metres (49 ft), it is second only to the Bay of Fundy in Eastern Canada. Burnham’s extensive mud flats are characteristic of Bridgwater Bay and the rest of the Bristol Channel, where the tide can recede for over 1.5 miles (2.4 km). Bridgwater Bay consists of large areas of mud flats, saltmarsh, sandflats and shingle ridges, some of which are vegetated. It has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1989, and is designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Apex Leisure and Wildlife Park, in the south-west corner of Burnham-on-Sea, north of the River Brue, occupies an area of more than 42 acres (17 ha). The park was created from excavated clay pits, which were flooded, and the lakes are now home to many types of wildlife and leisure activities.

Hinkley Point is a headland extending into Bridgwater Bay 5 miles (8.0 km) west of Burnham-on-Sea, close to the mouth of the River Parrett. The landscape of Hinkley Point is dominated by two nuclear power stations: Hinkley Point A – Magnox (now closed) and Hinkley Point B – AGR. A third, twin-unit European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) reactor is planned, and will become Hinkley Point C.

The civil parish of Burnham-on-Sea and Highbridge has responsibility for local issues. Burnham-on-Sea urban district was created in 1894. In 1933 it annexed Highbridge urban district. This combined urban district became a civil parish in 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972. The town now falls within the non-metropolitan district of Sedgemoor, which was formed under the same legislation. Burnham is also part of Somerset County Council.

It falls within the Wells county constituency which elects one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons. It is also within the South West England of the European Parliament.

Because of its position near the mouth of the River Parrett, and the constantly shifting sands of the Bristol Channel, there has always been a significant risk to shipping in the area. As a result, several lighthouses, have been built.

The original lighthouse, known as the Round Tower, was built after the local vicar, either John Goulden in 1764 or Walter Harris in 1799, raised a subscription amongst the local population to replace the light on the top of St Andrews Church tower. The four-storey Round Tower was built next to the church. It was taken over and improved by Trinity House in 1815, and operated until 1832, following which the top two storeys were removed.

The 110-foot (34 m) pillar or High Lighthouse was designed and built by Joseph Nelson for Trinity House in 1830, and equipped with a paraffin lamp. The ground floor was 5 metres (16 ft) in diameter and the top room 3 metres (9.8 ft). It was automated in 1920. In 1992, it was sold to a member of the Rothschild family, who owned it until 1996, when it was bought at auction by Patrick O’Hagan. Conversion for residential use included the removal of the 6th floor and the construction of stairs where there had previously only been ladders. A Grade II listed building, it is now available for holiday lets.

The low wooden pile lighthouse or “Lighthouse on legs”, was built two years later, also by Joseph Nelson, to complement the High Lighthouse. It is a total of 36 feet (11 m) high, with the light being at 23 feet (7.0 m) above the sand. It stands on nine wooden piers, some with plate metal reinforcement. The structure is whitewashed with a vertical red stripe on the sea side. The lights were inactive between 1969 and 1993, but were recommissioned when the High Lighthouse lights were permanently deactivated. They have a focal plane of 7 metres (23 ft) and provide a white flash every 7.5 seconds, plus a directional light (white, red, or green depending on direction) at a focal plane of 4 metres (13 ft).

A 900-foot (274 m) stone pier was constructed in 1858 by the Somerset Central Railway. Soon afterwards, in 1860, a steamer service to Wales was inaugurated, but it was never a commercial success, and ended in 1888. The pier retains its railway lines under a surface coating of concrete.

The concrete pier, built in 1911–1914, is claimed to be the shortest pier in Britain. In 2008, it was rated amongst the top five piers in Britain by the Daily Express.

The Esplanade along the sea front contains several listed buildings from the early 19th century, including number 44, which is also known as Steart House, and numbers 46 and 47.

On Berrow Road, near the High Lighthouse, numbers 4, 6 and 8 were part of a terrace built between 1838 and 1841. Number 31 was previously a lodge. On the corner of Berrow Road and Sea View is a drinking fountain from 1897 with a single dressed stone pier and moulded plinth, topped by a cast iron urn. Each side has the lions head design with those on the north and south sides giving water into a Purbeck Marble bowl.

Burnham-on-Sea railway station was the terminus of the Burnham branch of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway, but the tracks continued onto the jetty, where ferry services to South Wales could be boarded. The station opened in 1858 as Burnham, and was renamed Burnham-on-Sea in 1920. It closed to scheduled passenger traffic in 1951 and stopped being used for excursions in 1962. It finally closed to goods traffic in 1963.

The former Great Western Railway station is now known as Highbridge and Burnham. The station was opened as “Highbridge” on 14 June 1841, when the Bristol and Exeter Railway opened its broad gauge line as far as Bridgwater. A road crossed the line at the north end of the platforms, and a goods shed was provided beyond this on the west side of the line. The Bristol and Exeter Railway amalgamated with the Great Western Railway on 1 January 1876.

The parish church, St. Andrew’s, is a Grade I listed building dating from the 14th century. It has a 78-foot (24 m) high tower, which leans significantly from the vertical, caused by its poor foundations. During the 18th century, a light was placed on the tower to guide fishing boats into the harbour. The church contains a number of marble carvings designed by Sir Christopher Wren for the private chapel in the Palace of Westminster.

Note: this page is partly based on a Wikipedia page. Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. Where possible, text is being updated to original, fully referenced research. ‘Our photos’ means we took the photographs. The Street View and street map visuals are courtesy of Google.

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