The main developments which gave shape and chronology to the emergence of the North Esplanade in its present form were: the Royal Clarence Hotel; the Spa development and the Round Tower lighthouse; the churchyard walkway which later became Marine Cove Gardens; the Customs House and Steam Packet Inn, and finally the Reed Arms and the residential terraces such as Kinver, Catherine and Julia, which linked and bracketed the older sites.
The earliest known deeds of the Royal Clarence Hotel date from 1792. This was the period when the future King William IV was still the popular Duke of Clarence. The Hotel was originally built at the head of a causeway which extended from the sands to the brink of the river. It was more than once swept away by floods during its construction.
When Steart House was built as part of the Spa project from 1822 there were no doors constructed at the seaward side of the building. At the time of its construction only sand dunes existed here with the sand frequently blown onto this area.
As part of his Spa development The Rev Davies buttressed the dunes west and northward of the church yard with an inclined stone wall along the top of which was placed iron railings. The dunes had been levelled and grassed to provide an elevated walk. Davies allowed the public to promenade here and this continued until 1846 when it was closed possibly due to some abuse. Numerous indignant letters were written by people assuming it was public land. Part was later built on (Vicarage Terrace) the rest eventually became Marine Cove.
The Customs House on the Esplanade (currently a Fish and chips Bar) was erected in 1846 according to J Salisbury’s 1859 ‘Handbook of Burnham’. This guide tells us that “Here all vessels entering the port of Bridgwater are examined by Her Majesty’s Customs, and the dues assessed. At present all vessels approaching the coast to discharge a cargo at any point between Bridgwater and Berrow pay dues to the former corporation.”
The ‘Steam Packet’ Inn (now York House) was standing by the time of the Peachey Williams survey of 1838 but it is likely it was a private residence of some importance at that time, as it is one of only two listed as ‘House and lawn’ rather than ‘House and garden’ suggesting the owners were of the leisured class. The first reference to it as an Inn’ is in 1861. Throughout the 1860’s it provided commercial accommodation and some stabling facilities. Next door to the Customs House, it was a popular rendezvous for the seafaring community.
Kinver Terrace was built around 1843 for seaside holiday makers and known then as Prew’s or Pruen’s Terrace. It was the first of the sea front terraces to be built as Burnham expanded in the late 19th century. There was still at that time no Esplanade in the sense that we know it today, just the sand dunes; and it is said that when Prew’s Terrace was first built its drains went through the sea wall and straight on to the beach.
The Esplanade as we see it today really started to take shape during the 1840’s & 1850’s, but it extended only the width of the road in front of the new terraces, and the beach lay immediately beyond, causing the properties to be lashed by water at stormy high tides.
In 1855 the ‘National School’ establishment, later to become St Andrew’s school, was erected on the Esplanade at the expense of George Reed, who gave a site described as a sand warren, on the sea front at the top of what is now College Street, for education of children “of labouring, manufacturing and other poorer classes”. The school was opened in 1857. Due to its exposed position the school incurred gale damage and initially the only heating was from coal fire which smoked badly in a west wind.
George Reed was also responsible for the erection of the two fine terraces at the north end of the North Esplanade which are named after his daughter Catherine and Granddaughter Julia. Prior to this time there was only a large area of sand dunes and warren extending southward from the Poplar road area to the church.
Details of the building of these terraces are not clear. Some sources indicate that they were in planning from the 1850’s and construction may have begin before the end of that decade. Another source tells us that Catherine Terrace (the south crescent in Sea View Road) was built in 1861. The north crescent, Julia Terrace, was described by Vicar Dupuis as still a carcass in 1867. The interior was not finished until several years after the building. The plaza area which now exists between the properties and the sea was built as part of the new sea defences after the floods of December 1981.
The picture above was taken in the 1960’s
The J. Salisbury ‘Handbook of Burnham’, 1859, describes the Esplanade thus:
In 1901-2 it was decided to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII by construction of a bandstand & 2 public shelters, each being supported on cast iron columns outside the line of the Esplanade. In the picture below the bandstand can be seen at far left and the sloping sea wall is clearly visible.
The Esplanade was widened between 1911 and 1914. A new promenade supported on concrete pillars was built out over the old sea wall. Two new shelters replaced the old ones and a short pier was incorporated into the design to support the Pavilion. In the next picture the new esplanade extension can be clearly seen, including the metal grids on the landward side to allow venting of water upwards in rough conditions. Many people will remember these metal covers being thrown out of their holes by the water pressure.
The picture below shows the extended esplanade and one of the shelters in more recent times, not long before its demolition and the building of the new sea defences.
Advert below from Burnham on Sea Guide 1950