Highbridge Podcast Ep5 -John Strickland local historian

A chance to catch up with Local historian John Strickland talking about his memories and research into Highbridge and Burnham-On-Sea

Intro Jingle  0:10  
You're listening to the Highbridge podcast celebrating the people, places and history of the Highbridge area in Sedgemoor.

This season is funded by seed which is a consortium of community organizations in Sedgemoor comprising of Bridgewater senior citizens forum Bridgewater Town Council, Community Council for Somerset homes in central Somerset film and young Somerset, which is funded and supported by Arts Council England, creative people in places lottery funding and the Arts Council.

Mell T  0:50  
Today I'm speaking to local historian John Strickland. Now, although he focuses on Burnham on Sea history, as we all know, Highbridge and Burnham overlap, and that there is lots of bits of history that that do appear in sort of both areas. And as John John's tried to keep record of these facts amongst his main focus, so welcome along, John. 

John Strickland  1:11  
Hello there.

Mell T  1:12  
And I want to start off with John what, what are your What are your memories of old Highbridge when when you were younger? What do you remember about Highbridge? 

John Strickland  1:22  
Well, it's yeah, it was a very, very interesting place from my, from the childhood point of view. I was very lucky in so far that my neighbor in Burnham, he worked at the brick and tile works where Apex Park is, is now of a weekend, he often had to go in and do a bit of overtime, what they call pulling tiles that they were on, on that the the drying room, the air drying room, and they had to just pull them forward slightly, apparently, otherwise, the little pips on the end would break off. So when he did that, he knew I was interested in fishing. And he used to take me along to fish in the pits out there. And I did that for quite a long, long time. Weekends wise, it was very interesting, because one, I remember the first time he took me the pit, it was a lot further on than where the apex pits are now. And I think that must have been the apex of brickwork pond. But then in later days, they started actually moving there was a allotment all by the side of where the garage is now, and a little Lane through the side where you could cycle that through. And they started filling in this big pit that was there. And there were all cars everywhere. And we'd go and sit on the roofs of these old cars half-submerged, and do our fishing, it was it was really good times really, really good times.

Mell T  2:49  
So what sort of decade are we talking about there?

John Strickland  2:51  
It's probably in the very early 60s, the Brickworks they must have been running down at that stage. But yeah, around about the 60s.

Mell T  3:02  
What I found interesting is that you sent me through an old newspaper clipping so I'll just summarise it by saying, mammal bones dating back to Neolithic times were discovered when work was being carried out at Apex Park pond in Highbridge. And newspaper clipping from August of 1966 explained that the bones and carbon dating along with pollen samples from the peat around the bones, indicated it dated back to 1200 BC now that that's some history for Highbridge to be able to claim

John Strickland  3:35  
It's fantastic. It really really is. And it was so interesting. And when I left King Alfred school at by then I was actually August that was that was my holiday from the Bridgwater College. But I knew my dad was involved with it. And of course, I went along with spade and it was really, really what we were finding. I mean, it was very fortunate so far that dad knew Tom Cornish who was a manager at the site there. And they agreed they found these bones initially. And they agreed to pump out an awful lot more water so that we can actually dig further down and you'll be digging longer and it was just thick mud. I mean literally, they talk about peat samples in this article, but it was thick mud and very, very heavy. And you saw it go down carefully we use pay and also you hit something hard. And I mean, I've never had the confirmation of anything but we found bones there they reckon it was ox bones and there was reindeer antler and things like that. And of course when you go back in times, a lot of the area rain there it was it was flooded by water. The thought was from some of these people who went and looked at this was probably a huge great freshwater pond or pool and animals used to come drink. And then of course they they were prayed to these other creatures. Really, really interesting.

Mell T  5:06  
You obviously were a keen fisherman in the younger days. So you also mentioned a bit too Coalhurst and Simmons pond.

John Strickland  5:13  
Well, that's right. Well, it's known as Apex up there now. But that whole area that the the Apex ponds was that was in fact Coalhurst and Simmons, there were there were two companies there. And a very, very busy I mean, quite large. I think. If you go back in time, there was more than 10% of the local population were actually employed there. Which is of course, in those days it was Burnham and Highbridge combined there was there was there was no split as it were from from the council point of view, the more you look at that area there, of course, the railway came right close to it there. And a lot of the places now you walk along, you connect your walk along the old railway line. And there was actually two because it was so busy in going back in those days. There were actually two sidings from the railway in there, where they could, they could load the trucks and then obviously, it was much easier to transport because before then, it was horse and cart. Of course, Highbridge wharf was very, very busy. And they used to then have to horse and cart it down to Highbridge wharf. And then they load it onto boats to go all the way around. And it's really, really interesting because it although it was it was called the brick works. It was the it was the brick and tileworks. And there was one tile made locally, I'm not sure in all fairness if it was done, but it was made from the the top silt of mud, and it was called a bath brick. And it was used for cleaning. And it's really interesting because if you if you go on searches now on the internet, a lot of these wrecks they're finding now even as far as India and around like that. And the thought is that a lot of the reject stuff that came from the brick works, they used it as ballast, and then a finding bricks, round India and further apart. So with Coalhurst and Simmons or Apex markings on them.

Mell T  7:18  
Your general interest in history is, as you've always been, there is something that's sort of that you've just grown into, or is it something that you've stumbled upon?

John Strickland  7:27  
I was born in Burnham, and I've lived in Burnham all my life. And it was my father, really, my father passed. And when we were tidying at my mom's house, in the attic, we were going through all these boxes as people do, you tend to put stuff up in the attic, and you go through it. And I looked at one I thought cor thats quite interesting, ill put that to one side. And it got me interested in and since I've been a man of leisure retired, and I got into it in a really really big way. And it's so so interesting and fascinating as to as to our local history here that it Yeah, it's it's my big project, I must admit and hobby.

Mell T  8:06  
So what I find fascinating as well is, is the term Highbridge and Burnham on Sea or Burnham and Highbridge and the seems to be, I always find it interesting where exactly one begins and the other one ends

John Strickland  8:19  
Thats a very moot point, actually, I mean, going back to that some people might remember that the mini roundabout that is near the garage there on on Burnham road, the startup of Burnham Road and Highbridge Road. Just passed King Alfred's going down through if you want to turn into into Marine Drive and past Apex that that house there on the corner was called halfway house, simply because that was halfway between Burnham and Highbridge.

Mell T  8:51  
So we do have some kind of marketing.

John Strickland  8:53  
Well, that's from a historical point of view. And it's it's really interesting with some of my work now because I hope you don't mind me saying but we've got this website, no capture Burnham and there's also a capture Highbridge, but I don't run that one. But capture Burnham now we've actually started putting things in, we've got this demarcation line of a halfway house if you know the main where it can go into either website. But we've actually I did a talk all about the brick works. And there was some people came there fascinating. And their great great granddad lived in that house and was part of the brickwork. So it's interesting how the stories grow.

Mell T  9:33  
It must be quite fascinating when you when you go out and give these talks and when people come to you and give you bits more of information that you didn't have.

John Strickland  9:41  
It's very rarely when I give a talk that there's not something new I don't come away with if you're not I mean it's an it's it's the enthusiasm of people and I think my aim really is to try and get it so that some of the local schools are involved with it as well.

Mell T  9:59  
Absolutely, its about keeping the history alive, and then the memories of people being passed down?

John Strickland  9:59  
I actually, several years ago, I gave a talk to the junior school in Highbridge. And I took along some old railway lamps and was talking about things and whatever. And at that stage, the old wharf was actually still there, not being built on them. And I happen to mention that there was some very big ships used to come into the wharf. And a couple of the adults I looked at me as if to say, Where on earth are you talking about? So it just shows there's still an awful lot of gaps and trying to get the youngsters because if, if they've got it in their mind, then it's it's going to carry on, isn't it?

It is yeah it is and, you know, I, I've always had a fascination with railways. I grew up in Burnham right next to the railway. So we used to cross the railway line and go into the field, opposite this now, obviously, housing, but that was lovely. And then of course, you'd see the signal drop down, and you run up and I've got a photo of me and a group of my mates. I'm talking to the engine driver. They're on Burnham station, Burnham platform. And it's it's just so interesting. My dad got to know Charlie King, who was one of the engine drivers he lived. He lived there on Highbridge Road, just just the other side of halfway house. And only once did I ever travel on the train as a very young lad, I must have been about nine or so at the time. And we caught a train from Highbridge the old S&D station, all the way to Glastonbury. And it was so fascinating to look out the window and see all these peat workings going on. And it was just open fields and lovely and you know, quiet times and no traffic and things like that. But I was really jealous of my dad because Charlie King happened to be the engine driver. And of course in those days, there was limited health and safety as it were and my dad took the journey on the footplate.

And I can remember asking Charlie Kane, oh, can John comes? No, sorry. He's a bit young. He's a bit young for that. And he travelled all the way to Glastonbury on the footplate. And I thought that was really jealous, and it was only later years talking to some of my mates. What didn't he ever give you a ride around when he was turning around in Burnham? No. And so you know, it's it's a fascination, that all that, that that was there and how life is changed. And I have to say, I think has got a lot easier for people. I mean, we had an old back boiler, and it used coke. So I'm talking about, you know, junior school age. And in those days, the the coal trucks used to come into the coal, the coal yard in Burnham, where the car park is there, just off Marine Drive. And I could remember going up with my go kart over Saturday morning, to collect the cat the sack of coke for the backboard. And then after when that started closing, I had to go to where Liddls are now. And that was that was Burnham's gas works. And they had coke for sale there. So yeah, it's fascinating, but I mean, Highbridge itself. I mean, if you go back in time, Highbridge was much much more important than Burnham ever was. And there was a lot more industry there. It was, it was a real hive of industry, I can remember my dad and again going back to my early childhood he used to love pigs trotters so that's the that's the end foot part of the leg, if you know what I mean. Yes. And in those days, there was Highbridge bacon factory there. They had a shop, it was between the line gates in Church Street and and the station road. I've got the name of the station road going down through and he used to go there and buy these things trotters but you have to queue to go and get them. It was so popular.

Mell T  14:18  
It was almost seen as a delicacy.

John Strickland  14:20  
Yeah, it was. I mean, I've tried it. And I must admit, it was a lovely flavor.

Mell T  14:26  
So you mentioned the wharf and that. Can you give us an idea of how big the wharf area is? Or was?

John Strickland  14:33  
I mean, well, it was all part of me. There's always been some form of wharf. They say back to even sort of like the the very early times. I mean, there's there's there's mention of some of the wood coming in there for Wells cathedral when they were doing some repairs. Oh, yeah, it's it's been a long time in some form. Market Street that was a street I'd forgotten that the name off. And Market Street. I mean, there was one time two wharfs said there was West Wharf. And that's if you go over the bridge now going towards Huntspill that was over on the right where it's all housing on there now, but that was huge. I mean, there's, there's Oh, they used to being wood and also timber in from Scandinavia and Russia. And it was again, it was very good, it was all manual work. And a lot of it early days was set as sailing vessels. So you can imagine coming up through past Burnham and all the way up through the winding Brue there to get into the wharf.

Mell T  15:42  
So what I also find interesting is that when people talk about the various markets that were known for Highbridge, so you got like sort of the general market, and then you went, the sort of, as you mentioned, about the bacon and that going on there. And then they also have a cheese market that was renowned.

John Strickland  15:59  
Yeah, at one stage, I think that was the biggest cheese Mark market, certainly in the southwest. And probably even further, most of that most of the farms around used to make cheese. And the amazing thing was, it was exported. I mean, I've got a photo of of the the, the board that shows the price you had to pay if you're importing certain things, or if you're exporting things, and it was really, really surprising just what sort of things were brought in and shipped out. And cheese was amongst them. And of course, when the railway was coming, they have to bring in the the rails from South Wales. And they used to ship out cheese back back to the miners. And you'll never guess but it was Caerphilly cheese.

Mell T  16:47  
Wow, and we exported from Highbridge to Caerphilly.

John Strickland  16:51  
Yeah we did. Which is apparently I'm talking I've been talking to people. And it was it was it was the cheese was actually made almost from the whey it was like the poor milk constituent. And course that suited everybody find down here. And because there was so much grass area and good good feeding for the animals. Apparently, it lasted longer and had a much better flavor than that what the what the Welsh people could make.

Mell T  17:20  
I'm gonna have to come back to you at some later point and have an update on some more of your fantastic bits of memory. And you said to me, you didn't think you knew a lot and I'm already discovering things I'm going well, I didn't know that one. And I didn't know that one. So I think you know more, perhaps than you actually sometimes think that, you know, amongst the memories of growing up and and just generally speaking with people. What, what if anybody wants to find out more information or contact you? Is it a particular website or an email address where people can sort of touch base with you or pass on it bits of information?

Oh, yes, please. Yes, please. They can do it via capture Burnham, it's the whole address is capturedburnham.co.uk. But if you actually put in Capture Burnam all one word, or one word in the search engine, it'll come up and there's all sorts there were were, I have to say it's quite a comprehensive website now. And it does cover certain certain parts of Highbridge. But it's also now we've started doing a little bit about Berrow and Brean and Brean down. And again, there's fascinating histories to go on. All the way around here all the way around. I mean, when you when you think about going back, there's very little about Burnham and Highbridge in the Domesday Book, because if you go back further, of course, it was all underwater the sea came in. There's the story of the river Siger and the story of Joseph of Arimathea coming through on the river Siger and then traveling all the wetlands across an ending up at Glastonbury and we've got the Glastonbury Thorn that he allegedly put this is stake in and it grew. So it's yeah, it's really really, really interesting. And, of course, there's paradise in Burnham as well, a whole area that was called Paradise and Berrow Road if you go back in time, Berrow Road was actually called Paradise Road, which is somewhat fascinating. But yeah, capture Burnham and that will that will take you through, but if you want to know more much, much more about Highbridge there's also capturehighbridge.co.uk Which which is exclusively for Highbridge, and it does contain an awful lot more information about Highbridge,

Thank you very much for your time, John, and I do wish you every success in gathering even more information as you go go through life and talk to more people.

Unknown Speaker  19:46  
Okay, thank you. Bye bye.

Mell T  19:49  
The Highbridge Podcast available on many popular podcast directories distributed as the Highbridge podcast on Apple iTunes, Spotify podcast, Google With Amazon music and TuneIn.com It can also be found at Sedgemoormedia.com And he's hosted and found at Highbridge podcast.transistor.fm also available on your smart speakers just say the wake word to the speaker and say clearly play the Highbridge podcast.


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