Beach activities


  1.  Children’s Corner
  2. Donkey Rides
  3. Bathing Huts
  4. Entertainers
  5. Sand Yachting
  6. Paddling Pool & Sand Castles
  7. Fishing
  8. Wartime


The area of beach in front of the Reed Arms, in the angle of the jetty and esplanade, has over the years been the spot upon which children’s amusements have been set up. This is probably due to ease of access from the jetty and also that this is the area  last covered by the tide.
Does anyone know when this area first became known as ‘children’s corner’? It is identified as such on the second coloured postcard below but the date of that card is presently unknown.

1903 .

1911-1912: Pavilion completed but new sea wall is not complete and south shelter not updated.

Mrs Gratton001

Date unknown.  The variety of  amusements appears to have increased. Note Gratton Bros. name on left hand set of ‘American Parkswings’. Farthings also ran a set of swingboats here.

A busy day, date unknown.

The area seems to have been the main focus of beach stalls . In the picture below what appear to be vendors can be seen though produce not much in evidence, possibly due to state of tide. A figure in the centre could be an artist with easel but more likely a photographer. The new south shelter dates this as after 1912.

A closer view above of a more substantial beach stall, run by Bessie Farthing . Below is Antonio’s Ice Cream cart under the north shelter before 1912.

beach-PCPS 1923
Attributed to 1923

Swing boats
Date unknown. The green roofed structure is possibly a refreshment stall (see below)

Date unknown but later. The structure on the beach, similar in design to the green roofed one above but in a different position, is identified as a cafe. Note that the shelter on the Esplanade has now been extended.

beach 1961                                                     Attributed to 1961

Beach 1970s?
Judging by the car this would have been in the late 1970’s or 1980’s

Paul Wynn 1904
A picture attributed to 1904 taken from almost the same spot. Note the absence of the Pavilion and children’s amusements.



The Parochial Magazine of August 1880 reports on a donkey judging as an adjunct to the ‘Cottage Flower Show and Needlework Exhibition’:

The Western Gazette Friday August 21st 1885:

‘ANNUAL DONKEY SHOW.  –  The annual exhibition of sand and other donkeys was held at Burnham on Tuesday afternoon last, in brilliant weather. The spectators were more numerous than last year, and the donkeys also made a better show…….It was expressly laid down that all the animals intended for a prize should be well fed, well cared for, and free from marks of cruel use. We are pleased to be able to state that no animal was disqualified on these grounds…….Two bare-backed donkey races were afterwards arranged on the ground, and caused almost endless amusement…… Much credit is due to Mrs M.B. White, the hon. sec., for her kind and humane efforts on behalf of the formerly ill-used sand donkeys of Burnham.’

1907 (AJ)
Attributed to 1907: note the bandstand in the background where the Pavilion now stands, opposite the gable ends of the old school building. These are identified as Thomas’s Donkeys.

Di Westcott083
Attributed to 1912

Paul Wynns relative001
Photo kindly supplied by Paul Wynn. Paul tells us that the man in charge of the donkeys was a relative of his grandparents who lived in Victoria Cottages, Victoria St,  and stabled the donkeys opposite the Cottages where the shelter is now.

Another long-standing donkey operator was C.W. Butt who ceased operating after 40 years in 1959, due to ill health. He had been working the sands since the age of 13.

Later decorative carriages  added to the attraction. Postcards below probably from 1950’s or 60’s.

Postcards courtesy of Ann Popham.



Predates building of Pavilion in 1911. Note bell type changing tents on wheels.

After 1911. The tents have been replaced with wooden huts on wheels. The one at the front has an advertisement on the side for Bellringer & Watts, Sanitary Engineers & Plumbers, Princess St.

Paul Wynn012
Closer picture from around the same time.

Post Card dated 1915
Postcard dated 1915. The hut on the far right has an advert on the side for ‘Ye Old Curiosity Shop’ at 85 Oxford St.

Lifeguards: judging by the crowds this must have been a life saving display, date unknown



Capt Milles' Educated Dogs

This appears, from the dress, to be Edwardian.  Any information about this remarkable entertainment would be most welcome.

The picture above appears to be of a small Pierrot Troupe between 1902 & 1911.

Paul Pelman:

Paul Pelman let

Paul Pelman pic 1

Paul Pelman pic2
Above : Pelman’s Punch and Judy, 1953

Below: from Burnham on Sea Guide c. 1950. Entertainer not specified.


Freddie Fay’s Frolics


Freddie Fay was a professional entertainer who put on family entertainments on the beach after the Second World War. His wife, daughter  and son-in-law  were all included in the cast. His daughter Erin afterwards became a projectionist at the Highbridge Picture House and at the Ritz Cinema in Burnham. (ref. Winston & Robert Thomas, 2011)

Well known local man Bill Puddy is quoted in the Weekly News of 18/10/1991:

“As a child I was always pleased and delighted to go down to the beach to watch these Pierrots. I always had a few pennies for the collecting box and I can still remember that Freddie gave three shows a day, at eleven, three and seven o’clock. His shows were always very popular and we children knew every word of every song and joke. As soon as Freddie started to tell a joke we would all wait with great excitement until he got  to the climax and then we would bawl out the punch line.”

Listen to the memories of Delia Temlett and Sheila Brooks taking about their memories of Freddie Fay’s performances:

A earlier Pierrot show, before 1911.

Horse Racing on the beach, 1892 .

Below is a photo of ‘The Daily Mirror Eight’ promotional team (though oddly only 7 appear)

Some footage of beach entertainments from 1935 can be found at 5’15 in the Youtube video below:

I’m not sure whether this exactly counts as entertainment, even in 1907, but here is a picture of the Children’s Mission conducting a service on the beach.


Then and now(ish)

Above: `ocal man Archy Howard at the wheel of his land yacht. Photos courtesy of Bob & June Thomas.



Below is a photo of north sands before the building of the paddling & model boat pool.

Paul Wynn010

The paddling pool was constructed in 1921 (centre below)  at the expense of Joseph Bevan Braithwaite to commemorate the safe return of his 5 sons from world war I. A plaque on the new sea wall commemorates this.

And of course we mustn’t forget sand castles

Central Bandstand



The grown up version of paddling was to go out with a skimming net after shrimps or flat fish. Beach casting was for those who did not wish to get their feet wet.

Photo courtesy of Bob & June Thomas.

Talking to Ivor Punnett of the Burnham & Highbridge Weekly News in 1991 Stan Wynn recalled : “I went net fishing along Burnham and Berrow beach. Quite often I would find lots of bamboo poles thrown over from the timber boats going up to Highbridge and I used these to make a triangle from which was hung a net. Then I would wad knee deep along the edge of the sea, pushing the net over the sand. It was nothing to catch 14 pounds of fish, dabs and flatfish, in one afternoon.”



Poles on beach to deter German Planes landing WW2 (AJ)
Poles on beach to prevent landing of enemy aircraft during World War II.

on 31st December 1945 a B17 bomber ran out of fuel after having been diverted due to weather and crash landed on Burnham beach.



Donkeys 1904

Could this be the reason?

“During the summer months of those years which followed the end of the First World War hundreds of people from the one time slum areas of Bristol were daily brought by char-a-banc to Burnham to enjoy an inexpensive visit to the seaside. It was not unusual on such occasions for whole families, mother father and children together with grandparents uncles and aunts to come on these trips. After one or two glasses of the local brew had rid the women folk of any inhibitions, they often took to dancing their own particular version of the can-can on the pavement or in the street, outside whichever public house they happened to be visiting, to the accompaniment of the inevitable concertina, with occasionally that of a barrel organ for good measure” -from The Book of Burnham on Sea’ by Winston and Robert Thomas

3 thoughts on “Beach activities”

  1. p.s. Freddie Fays Frolics were on the beach at Burnham in the thirties, I left Brent Knoll during the war and have only recently returned. Doreen

  2. I was looking for Freddy Fay, his concert party was my first introduction to theatre, how I loved those afternoons one penny to sit on the cobbles or 3d. for a deck chair, often he asked for children to come and perform, II loved reciting and won one or two small prizes for getting the most applause, now in my 94th year I am back in Burnham and enjoying the beach, I ride my electric buggy along the prom and remember happy childhood days

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *