Other diversions

The image above was provided by Brian Marchent who believes it to be  a Children’s Fancy Dress Christmas party in the 1950’s at St Andrew’s Church Hall, possibly organised by the local Conservatives.


  1. Fives
  2. Penny Readings & Lectures and Clubs
  3. Guy Fawkes Celebrations
  4. Magicians
  5. The Circus
  6. Concert Parties
  7. Town Hall Events
  8. The Regatta
  9. Burnham YMCA
  10. Aeronauts
  11. Model Boating
  12. Crosses Pen
  13. Typical 1960’s Entertainments
  14. Victorian Week


There is some evidence that the St  Andrew’s church yard may have been used for playing the game of ‘Fives’ during the 18th century. This was a hand-ball game similar to the Basque game of pelote, played against a wall with buttresses, hence the use of the wall of a church tower. Historically it was popular in this form in the West Country and accounts from elsewhere indicate that shutters were hung to protect the church windows:

From East Pennard Church website.

Sam Nash discovered an entry in the St Andrew’s Church accounts for 1769 of a payment “for making the Shut at the Fives Place”:

Sam Nash file card. (held at the Somerset Heritage Centre, Taunton)

The detail on the card above refers to land adjacent to the Chew Magna Church used for Fives, the St Giles’ Fair and other recreations, and an attempt by an opponent of such  gatherings to prevent them taking place on this land.

There is quite a drop from the path to the foot of St Andrews tower on the south side which would make playing fives there difficult.  There is  Perhaps it was dug out for that reason!  There is also a very old memorial or dedication stone on that side which might also suggest it would not have been used.  The north side of the church has been  altered by building done in the 19th century, which would probably have obscured any signs of climbing aids if they ever existed.
(Research: Alan Wheway & Francis Farr-Cox)



One of the earliest forms of public entertainment recorded in Burnham was ‘Penny Readings’.

Notice from the Western Gazette inDecember 1865:

In January 1868 however, the same newspaper reported that: “On Thursday, the fourth of a series of readings , &c, was held in the National School-room, and was presided over by the vicar of the parish, who had, several times during the evening, to call the juvenile part of the assembly to order. It is to be hoped that, on another occasion, they will be less noisy and more orderly, as their unbecoming conduct manifestly militated against the success of the evening. It is impossible for anyone to do justice to his vocal or elocutionary powers, if frequently disturbed while in the exercise of the same.”

By the fifth of the series the behaviour was better: “The vocal part of the entertainment was well sustained by Mrs Brice, Mrs Chadwick and Mr Exley, the organist, who, in company with the above ladies, sang a song entitled the ‘Shepherd’s Home,” which deservedly received an encore.”

Lectures and similar events were put on at the Literary Institute, the notice below is from February 1869. The event  is described as a ‘conversazione’ which is  a discussion about subjects of artistic or literary interest.

As a precursor to later similar initiatives in the Lighthouse Temperance Cafe, the Adult School and the Burnham Institute a reading room was set up by the Burnham Coffee and Cocoa House in Albert St (High St), as reported in a Parochial Magazine of  1880:

The same source reports a juvenile version as an adjunct to an early boys club in the same year.



A clipping found in the Dupuis Diaries:

Report from unknown newspaper.

From the Western Gazette November 1866:

Mrs Dupuis also records events of the night of the Guy Fawkes celebrations in 1869 in her retrospective ‘diary’:

“In 69 Eliza & ‘Car’ & the children came to stay some time with Theodore on the 5th of Nov. They all went out to see a very high tide. They all fell into a hole on the open ground where the infant school now stands. This was running back from the water splashing over. On this night Walter refused to go to the Brices to supper & see the “beastly works” he said (fireworks).”


From the Western Gazette July 1885:

Mr Burnette’s optical illusion “Thauma” may have been a  thaumatrope, popular in the 19th century: a spinning disc produces moving or changing pictures as a result of ‘persistence of vision’.



Menageries (such as Bostock’s) and Circuses were regular callers to the town, sometimes resulting in mass truancy from school.

A 1902 Local Press cutting:

From the Dupuis Diaries.

Here is an advert for Sangers Circus in 1916


Bronco Bill’s Circus was another visitor to the town as described in an article from the Burnham Gazette in April 1928:

As will be seen by the advertisement in another column, the Original Bronco Bill’s “Western” Circus will visit Coronation Field, Burnham-in Sea, on Friday, April 13th. For this tour the management have brought together a wonderful array of talent. To convey some idea of the variety and attractiveness of the programme there will be the Dorris Troupe of triple-somersault acrobats, the Four Bangalls (Continental Jugglers), the Five Wulfrunas (exciting football match on bicycles), Brittanicus (cannon ball manipulator), Ponderous Performing Elephants, Male and Female Equestrians, Hair-raising Aerial Gymnasts, Perfectly trained Horses and Ponies, and the World’s Funniest Clowns and Mimes, Bronco Bill’s Famous Band will be in attendanceThere will be two exhibitions daily at 3 and 8 p.m. and every arrangement has been made for the convenience and comfort of visitors.



Numerous parties of ‘pierrots’ and other variety entertainers were to be found at venues including the Pavilion, the Town Hall and Manor gardens throughout the season.

Scan courtesy of Bob & June Thomas.

Notice in Burnham Gazette 22nd Aug 1914


From Burnham Gazette 1918

During the 1920s the Burnham Advertising and Attractions Association, a voluntary organisation with a paid manager, was responsible for bringing many concert parties to the town and also the madame Smith Thomas Orchestra.

Photos courtesy of Bob & June Thomas.



(see also  Beach activities)

On their beach stage.
On the Manor Gardens outdoor stage. Photo courtesy of Bob & June Thomas.



Scan courtesy of Bob & June Thomas.


1904 brought an event a little out of the ordinary:


Sometimes fund-raising events were held at the Town Hall, such as the Bazaar  below in 1906

And the one reported here from 1909, with an interesting Swiss Village theme,  in aid of the fund for a Church Hall:


From the Bridgwater Mercury 26th August 1857:

The programme below was discovered amongst the Dupuis Diaries

As well as the boating events numerous beach activities were organised. Photo below from 1906.

Any other photos of the Regatta would be gratefully received.

9. Burnham YMCA

Below is a  Burnham YMCA Annual Report from 1909 (from the Dupuis Diaries). We do not have any other information about the YMCA in Burnham as yet.



B.C. Hucks was an up and coming pilot who joined aircraft designer Robert Blackburn at Filey during 1910-11 to fly his newly developed models. He was a popular attraction at aviation shows and may have been the first English pilot to fly upside down.He is also believed to have been the first pilot to fly across the Bristol Channel and back. The postcard below may well have been a record of this event.


Footage of a flying boat visit to Burnham in 1935 can be found at 7’30 in the Youtube video below:


The article accompanying this photograph in the Western Daily Press states that the airship passed over Burnham at 8.15 pm having crossed from Wales. It adds that she was watched by thousands of holiday-makers and that passengers aboard could clearly be seen. She proceeded on to the South coast where she was later seen over Brighton, Worthing & Folkestone.



Photo courtesy of Bob & June Thomas.

We do not have any information about the history of model boating in Burnham. In recent years this has taken place at the Apex park, however this picture appears to pre-date the creation of the  Apex lakes. The paddling pool on the beach was used for casual model boating but perhaps these enthusiasts had another venue?


We do not have any information about when this area next to The Manor Gardens was first laid out for public amusements. The first picture appears to be from the 1940’s or 1950’s and shows both miniature golf and tennis courts.

Above it can be seen that the children’s playground has been added. There was also a crazy golf course on the South Esplanade during the 1970’s.



See also 1960 Summer Carnival Programme.


For a brief time during the late 1980’s an annual ‘Victorian Week’ was put on. Traders dressed up in Victorian attire and also dressed their shop windows in Victorian style. In 1988 Boots put on a window display of old pharmaceutical equipment; the gas show room displayed a history of gas in the West Country; GH Cycles displayed old bicycles whilst GH Motors showed a tribute to Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This programme from 1988:

Burnham on Sea Motor Company window painting, Oxford St. Courtesy of Des Parsons
Town Crier Fred Smith. Photos courtesy of Ann Popham.
Costume competition.

The only thing missing from the programme is Penny Readings!.

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