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The Pier Master's Cottage - the Early Years

The Pier Master's Cottage, sometimes referred to as the Pier Master's House, at Birnbeck Pier in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, was built between 1864 and 1867. The following lithographic image was published in the Illustrated London News on 15th June 1867, and appears to be more of an artist's impression rather than an absolutely correct representation. Whilst it does confirm the general layout, it fails to depict any chimneys, incorrectly records the visible window arrangements and adds an additional section to the roof.

PMC1867litho

© Phil Johnson Collection

The best available (scanned and cropped) early photograph of the cottage currently available is this one, taken in 1887. Not seen here at the right of this image is the remainder of the single-storey ground floor extending northwards, this contained the kitchen, roofed outbuildings and a small central gated yard area.

PMC188701

© Phil Johnson Collection and Francis Frith & Co

...as can be seen in this section of a map dated 1886.

PMC1886map

© Landmark Information Group Ltd

The following four images are all crops of various early photographs which have been made available to us, and all show various aspects of the roof detail. Unfortunately, no one image yet located shows the building as seen from the landward side in its entirety. The order of date here is 1867, 1870, 1872 and then back to 1868.

PMC186701

© Phil Johnson Collection

Evident in these pictures is the lower roof above the kitchen area, as well as the handrail at the top of the set of steps that led down directly to the Pier Master's Cottage, no longer there.

PMC187001

© Phil Johnson Collection

The detail of the top of the yard walling can be seen here, it is not entirely apparent that the outbuildings on the west side of the yard had a inwardly sloping roof.

PMC187201

© Somerset Record Office

The slope of the outbuilding roof is much more obvious in this next image. Plainly the top of the wall here was a popular spot for seagulls to perch!

PMC186801

© Weston-super-Mare Library

A number of other pictures do exist which show the cottage as photographed from the seaward side, mainly, although not exclusively, taken from Birnbeck Pier itself. The first two images are successively enlarged crops from 1867 (the year of the pier's opening), 1869, 1883 and 1912. By this time a separate building had been constructed (in 1889?) directly to the north of the existing structure. This is believed to have been used as a flagstaff store, the original one, located on Birnbeck Island, having been superseded by the construction of the switchback railway there, and is visible in the last two images shown here.

PMC186202

© Phil Johnson Collection

The area of land on the hillside above the entrance to the pier had always been a publicly accessible space. A map dated 1853 (not shown here) indicated that this land was "not to be built on". It was known from early times as "Flagstaff Hill", reflecting the fact that one had been positioned here, being used mainly to inform the coastguards when various activities and emergencies were taking place on the coastline. Part of the hillside was laid out as formal gardens in memory of Queen Victoria's Prince Albert following his death in December 1861. On June 2nd 1862 Bristol's Western Daily Press reported:

Flagstaff Hill Improvements. —These improvements are fast progressing, and begin to give a very ornamental appearance to the hill. The fountain is completed, and the orchestra for the band is nearly finished.

Thereafter this plot of land became known as Prince Consort Gardens and could only be entered upon after payment of a small sum of money. The entirety of the package of land was handed over by its then-owner, Cecil Hugh Smyth-Pigott, for free use by the general public in 1883.

PMC186702furthercrop

© Phil Johnson Collection

The image below, dated 1869, better shown the pathways above the Pier Master's Cottage. Also becoming more evident are the large timber-framed advertising hoardings which were increasingly more prevalent adjacent to the pier's entrance. They may have served a second purpose, becoming a barrier against falling rocks from the recently quarried rockface.

PMC186901

© Weston-super-Mare Library

By 1883 the steeply-stepped approach to the pier had been replaced by a longer and more gentle approach, zig-zagging down from the north. Birkett Road was constructed above this soon afterwards, when the lower reaches of Prince Consort Gardens were levelled and terraced into the form they remain in to this day.

PMC188301

© Phil Johnson Collection

This image from 1912 clearly shows Birkett Road as well as the addition of new flagstaff store, which was separated from the main structure of the cottage by a narrow gated walkway.

PMC191201

© Phil Johnson Collection

This enlargement and crop of an aerial photo, taken in 1920, although fairly grainy, also shows the layout of the Birnbeck landside structures at that time quite well.

PMC192001

© Britain From Above (Crown Copyright)

The final images on this page are two diagrams of the early internal layout of the Pier Master's Cottage. Although not to perfect scale, they are fairly self-explanatory and give a good indication of the Pier Master and his family's living arrangements.

PMC First Floor Layout

PMC Ground Floor Layout

NOTES:

1/. The hinging arrangements of doors in some doorways cannot presently be precisely determined - these doorways have been drawn centrally without detail above.

2/. In more modern times the doorway arrangement of the office has been changed. A new doorway has been created between here and what was formally the living room, and the doorway between this office and the pier entry office has been (breeze) blocked up.

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