Watchet (/ˈwɒtʃɪt/) is a harbour town, civil parish and electoral
ward in the English county of Somerset, with a population of 3,785.
It is situated 15 miles (24 km) west of Bridgwater, 15 miles
(24 km) north-west of Taunton, and 9 miles (14 km) east of
Minehead. The parish includes the hamlet of Beggearn Huish. The town
lies at the mouth of the
Washford River on
Bridgwater Bay, part of the
Bristol Channel, and on the edge of
Exmoor National Park.
The original settlement may have been at the
Iron Age fort Daw's
Castle. It then moved to the mouth of the river and a small harbour
developed, named by the celts as "Gwo Coed" meaning Under the Wood.
After the Saxon conquest of the area the town developed and was known
as Weced or Waeced  and was attacked by
Vikings in the 10th
century. Trade using the harbour gradually grew, despite damage during
several severe storms, with import and exports of goods including
Wansbrough Paper Mill
Wansbrough Paper Mill until the 19th century when it
increased with the export of iron ore, brought from the Brendon Hills
via the West
Somerset Mineral Railway, mainly to Newport for onward
transportation to the
Ebbw Vale Steelworks. The West
also served the town and port bringing goods and people from the
Bristol and Exeter Railway. The iron ore trade reduced and ceased in
the early-20th century. The port continued a smaller commercial trade
until 2000 when it was converted into a marina.
The church is dedicated to
Saint Decuman who is thought to have died
here around 706. An early church was built near
Daw's Castle and a new
church was erected in the 15th century. It has several tombs and
monuments to Sir John Wyndham and his family who were the lords of the
manor. Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
which was written in the area is commemorated by a statue on the
7 Religious sites
10 External links
Daw's Castle (Dart's Castle or Dane's Castle) is an
Iron Age sea cliff
hill fort about 0.5 miles (0.80 km) to the west of the town. It
was built and fortified, on the site of an earlier settlement, as a
burh by Alfred the Great, as part of his defences against Viking raids
Bristol Channel around 878 AD. It is situated on an
east-west cliff about 80 metres (260 ft) above the sea, on a
tapering spur of land bounded by the
Washford River to the south. Its
ramparts would have formed a semicircle backing on to the sheer
cliffs, but only about 300 metres (980 ft) are visible today.
A Saxon mint was established here in 1035, probably within the
fort. It is a scheduled monument.
There is no sign of Roman occupation, but the Anglo-Saxons took
Watchet from the native Britons around AD 680. Under Alfred the Great
Watchet became an important port, and coins minted here
have been found as far away as
Copenhagen and Stockholm. The
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the early port being plundered by Danes
led by Earl
Ottir and a 'Hroald' (possibly Ottir's king Ragnall) in
987 and 997.
Wansbrough Paper Mill
Watchet is believed to be the place where
Saint Decuman was killed
around 706 and its parish church is dedicated to him. At the time of
Watchet was part of the estate held by William de
Moyon. The parish of
Watchet was in the
Williton and Freemanners
Hundred in the Middle Ages. T
With access to wood from the Quantock Hills, records show that paper
making was established by 1652. In the 15th century, a flour mill
was established by the Fulford and Hadley families near the mouth of
Washford River. By 1587 the Wyndham estate had established a
fulling and grist mill to the south west. By 1652, the mill had
started to produce paper. In 1846 business partners James
Date, William Peach and John Wansbrough bought the business and
introduced mechanised-production using a water wheel-powered pulley
system. In the 1860s, the factory was converted to steam power
and the local harbour was used to import raw materials and export
finished goods. Most of the mill was destroyed by fire in 1889
but it was rebuilt and less than ten years later five paper making
machines were operating. The mill became the largest manufacturer of
paper bags in the UK. In 1896, the business became the
Wansbrough Paper Company, a limited liability company and is now known
as the Wansbrough Paper Mill. With an annual capacity of 180,000
tonnes of product and employing 100 people, it is the UK's largest
manufacturer of coreboard, and also produces containerboard, recycled
envelope, bag and kraft papers. In December 2015 the paper mill ceased
production and closed.
Commercial shipping in the harbour in 1973
Watchet developed as a town thanks to its closeness to the minerals
within the Brendon Hills, and its access to the
River Severn for
onward shipping. Aside from local ships plying trade across the river,
from 1564 onwards the port was used for import of salt and wine from
France. In 1643 during the English Civil War, a Royalist ship was
Watchet to reinforce for the siege of
Parliamentarian (Roundhead) Captain Popham ordered his troops into the
sea with the tide on the ebb, and with the ship unable to move,
attacked the ship with fire from their carbines. Taken by surprise and
under heavy attack, the Royalist commander surrendered the ship,
resulting in a ship technically at sea being captured by troops on
The primitive jetty was damaged in a storm of 1659, so that in 1708
leading local wool merchant Sir William Wyndham built a new harbour
costing £1,000, with a stronger pier. The main export at this
time was kelp, made by burning seaweed for use in glass making. In
the 19th century trade increased with the export of iron ore from the
Brendon Hills mainly to Newport for onward transportation to the Ebbw
Vale Steelworks, paper, flour and gypsum. In 1843 the
esplanade was built by George Wyndham, 4th Earl of Egremont, and in
1855 a new harbour was commissioned to cope with increased iron ore
trade. The existing harbour was damaged and several vessels wrecked by
Royal Charter Storm
Royal Charter Storm on 26 October 1859. A new east pier and
wharf was completed in 1861−62 by James Abernethy. This allowed
shipping movement to reach a peak, with over 1,100 ship movements per
Harbour trade was aided by the coming of the railway, with
two independent railways terminating at
Watchet from the mid 1860s.
Somerset Mineral Railway ran down from the iron mines on the
Brendon Hills, and the West
Somerset Railway came up from the Bristol
and Exeter Railway at Norton Fitzwarren. At the peak in the trade
during the late 19th century 40,000 tons of ore were exported
The modern marina
In 1862, the cast-iron
Harbour Lighthouse was built by Hennet,
Spinks and Else of Bridgwater. In September 2012, Princess Anne
unveiled a plaque to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the
lighthouse. The mines and West
Somerset Mineral Railway closed in
1898. The West
Somerset Railway, extended from
1874, survived as part of
British Rail until 1971. Reopened as a
heritage railway, it still operates today. In 1900 and 1903 a series
of gales breached the breakwater and East Pier with the loss of
several vessels each time and subsequent repairs.
After World War I, the Cardiff Scrap and Salvage company Ltd. took a
lease on part of the harbour, from 1920-1923. In Autumn 1923, the
company scrapped the second class protected cruiser HMS Fox of the
Astraea-class of the Royal Navy, which at 320 feet (98 m) is
still the largest vessel still ever to enter the harbour. Before
World War II, a gunnery range was established for various army units
to practice anti-aircraft gunnery at a site between
Doniford. Unmanned target aircraft were towed by planes from RAF
Weston Zoyland and later were fired from catapults over the sea.
Little of the camp buildings survive and it is now the site of a
The port remained open to service the papermills, importing wood pulp
and esparto grass from
Russia and Scandinavia, using mainly East
European registered vessels after World War II. Requiring a return
load, the result was that
Watchet became a leading UK port for the
export of car parts, tractors and other industrial goods. However,
with the replacement of coal with oil from the mid-1960s, the port
traffic began to terminally decline. The harbour was in commercial use
until 2000, the harbour has now been converted into a marina for
pleasure boats. It is surrounded by renovated quaysides and narrow
streets. The commercial esplanade has been refurbished with new
shelters, information points, and the provision of new paving in some
areas, as well as railings, lamps, curved benches, planters and new
tree plantings. There are several museums in the town, including the
Market House Museum, which explores the history of the town and its
harbour. The building was constructed in 1820 on the site of the
previous market house which had been demolished in 1805. It was
converted into a museum in 1979. It houses a collection of
exhibits about the natural history of
Watchet and the surrounding
area. The focus is on nautical and maritime history of the port.
Artefacts include those relating to: Archaeology, Coins and Medals,
Land Transport, Maritime, Natural Sciences, Science and Technology and
Social History. At the rear of the museum building is the old town
lock-up for the temporary detention of people, often drunks who were
usually released the next day or to hold people being brought before
the local magistrate. The
Watchet Boat Museum, which is housed in the
Victorian architecture former railway goods shed, displays the
unusual local flatner boats and associated artefacts.
The former lifeboat station which is now the library.
Royal National Lifeboat Institution
Royal National Lifeboat Institution stationed a lifeboat at
Watchet in 1875. The station was closed in 1944 by which time the
nearby station at
Minehead had been equipped with a motor lifeboat
that could cover the area around Watchet. The boat was launched
from the slipway at the western corner of the harbour, but the boat
house was at the southern corner near the railway station and the boat
was taken along the quay on a carriage. Since closure the boat house
has been converted into a library.
The civil parish of
Watchet is governed by a town council, having
Watchet Urban District. Administratively, the
civil parish falls within the West
Somerset local government district
Somerset shire county. Administrative tasks are shared between
county, district and town councils. In 2011, the parish had a
population of 3,785.
Watchet forms part of the
Bridgwater and West
constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of
the United Kingdom. It elects one
Member of parliament (MP) by the
First-past-the-post system of election. The current MP is Ian
Liddell-Grainger, a member of the Conservatives. Residents of
Watchet also form part of the electorate for the South West England
constituency for elections to the European Parliament.
A statue of the Ancient Mariner at
Watchet Harbour, unveiled in
September 2003 as a tribute to Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The foreshore at
Watchet is rocky, with a high 6 metres (20 ft)
tidal range. The cliffs between
Blue Anchor show a
distinct pale, greenish blue colour, resulting from the coloured
alabaster found there. The name "Watchet" or "
Watchet Blue" was used
in the 16th century to denote this colour. A fragment of a
lower jaw from a
Phytosaur longirostrine archosaur has been described
Kentsford Bridge is a packhorse bridge over the
Washford River. It
existed before the Reformation, possibly being a route to Cleeve Abbey
and was repaired in 1613. The bridge is 54 inches (1,400 mm) wide
and has a total span of 16 feet (4.9 m).
Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner was
written in 1797 whilst travelling through
Watchet and the surrounding
area. He lived at
Coleridge Cottage in
Nether Stowey and while living
there he wrote This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison, part of Christabel,
Frost at Midnight
Frost at Midnight and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
It is claimed that the sight of harbour, from St. Decuman’s Church,
was the primary inspiration for Coleridge to start the poem, having
walked over the Quantock Hills, from his home in Nether Stowey, with
friends William and Dorothy Wordsworth. In September 2003, a
commemorative statue, by Alan B Herriot of Penicuik, Scotland, was
unveiled at the harbour.
Local traditions include Lantern Night, which was held on 16 September
and involved children in the town with candle lanterns made from
hollowed out root vegetables such as
Mangelwurzel or swede. It was the
last remaining reminder of the
Watchet Fair (also known as St
Decuman's Fair). Another tradition is Queen Caturn's Day on the
last Saturday of November.
Watchet was famous for its blue dye and
Queen Caturn was so impressed she bestowed the town's folk with cider
and cakes as a reward for this. The tradition is carried on with
costumes and celebrations.
Adjacent to the harbour is
Watchet station. This is now an
intermediate stop on the West
Somerset Railway, a largely
steam-operated heritage railway that links Bishops Lydeard, near
Taunton, with Minehead. The station was first opened on 31 March 1862
when the West
Somerset Railway was opened from Norton Junction. The
station was built as a terminus, as part of the commercial aim of the
WSR was to provide a wider and cheaper distribution route for goods
from the then major port of Watchet. On 16 July 1874 the line was
extended westwards by the
Minehead Railway Company, with an industrial
railway siding provided at the same time into the Wansbrough Paper
Mill. The GWR undertook many projects to increase the capacity of
the line in the 1930s.
Nationalisation in 1948 saw the GWR become the
Western Region of British Railways. Freight traffic was withdrawn on 6
July 1964 and passenger trains on 4 January 1971. The station was
reopened by the new West
Somerset Railway on 28 August 1976.
No.34007 Wadebridge, a former-SR
West Country class 4-6-2 Pacific,
Watchet railway station
Watchet railway station from Minehead, heading a
passenger train on the heritage West
The harbour was also linked, with a separate station, to the
Somerset Mineral Railway, that ran to iron ore mines
Brendon Hills south west of the town. From
Watchet the ore was
carried across the
Bristol Channel by ship to Newport and thence to
Ebbw Vale for smelting to extract the iron. The line was ready for
Roadwater by April 1857, Although the
outward terminal of the line was to be the quay at Watchet, the pier
had been practically unusable for some considerable time, and boats
were beached and loaded direct from carts brought on to the
foreshore. After considerable public pressure, the
Act was passed in 1857, placing it under the control of Commissioners;
they built a new east pier and rebuilt the west pier; the work was
finished in 1862, and 500 ton vessels could enter the
harbour. Passenger services were also provided from Watchet,
however these werre not financially successful and with the declining
output from the
Iron ore mines the line closed in 1898. Iy
briefly reopened in the early 20th century.
The trackbed of the old West
Somerset Mineral Railway now forms a
path, which can be followed from the harbour at
Watchet to Washford
station, also on the West
Knights Templar Church of England/Methodist Community School in
Liddymore Road was built in 1990. It takes its name from the land on
which it was built which was owned by the Knights Templar. Middle
and an upper schools are available in
Somerset Community College, which provides education for 1298
students between the ages of 13 and 18.
The medieval parish church of
Watchet is dedicated to St Decuman
The Anglican St Decuman's church is probably on an ancient
pre-Christian site, on a hill top between
Watchet and Williton. An
earlier church was situated by the sea at
Daw's Castle (probably the
original site of Watchet) but was abandoned because of sea erosion.
When the church was rebuilt in the 12th century it appears that the
bones of St
Decuman were moved. The chancel of the present church is
unusually wide and may have housed the tomb of St Decuman. The
"Translation of Saint Decuman" used to be celebrated. The 15th
century, Grade I listed, Church of St
Decuman is dedicated to him.
The Norman church was rebuilt in the 15th and 16th centuries when the
central tower was demolished and the present one built at the west
end. It was restored and reseated by
James Piers St Aubyn
James Piers St Aubyn in
1886-1891, with further internal alterations being made in 1896 when
Caen stone reredos was erected.
The church was described by
Francis Carolus Eeles ("St Decuman's
Church") in 1932. He highlighted a fine geometrical east window with
original tracery dating from the end of the 13th century and the
perpendicular window tracery in the south isle. The series of wagon
roofs with rich carving are above the rood screen in nave and south
aisle. The Wyndham Chapel occupies the east end of the north aisle and
is dedicated to the Wyndham family of nearby
Orchard Wyndham House,
former lords of the manor. Included is a memorial to Sir John Wyndham
(1558–1645), who played an important role in the establishment of
defence organisation in the
West Country against the threat of the
Spanish Armada. Next to his monument is one to his parents, and the
chest tomb of his grandparents, with monumental brasses, serves to
separate the chapel from the chancel. A mural monument exists with
kneeling effigies of two of Sir John's sons, Henry and George, as well
as other monuments to the later family of Wyndham. The organ was
presented to the church in 1933 by W. Wyndham.
St Decuman's well is below the church. It is a 19th-century
reconstruction of the earlier well on the site which dates from the
Middle Ages. In addition to the Church of St Decumen there is also
a Methodist church in Watchet. It was built as a Wesleyan chapel in
Baptist church was built in 1824. Cleeve Abbey, one
of the best preserved medieval monasteries in England, lies about 2
miles (3.2 km) west of Watchet, in the village of Washford.
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