Portishead, Somerset

Portishead, Somerset

infobox UK place
country= England
latitude= 51.4840
longitude= -2.7626
official_name= Portishead
population= 17,130 (2001 Census [ [http://neighbourhood.statistics.gov.uk/dissemination/LeadTableView.do?a=3&b=791589&c=Portishead&d=16&e=15&g=399956&i=1001x1003x1004&o=1&m=0&enc=1&dsFamilyId=779 Neighbourhood Statistics ] ]
civil_parish= Portishead and North Weston
unitary_england= North Somerset
region= South West England
constituency_westminster= Woodspring
post_town= BRISTOL
postcode_district= BS20
postcode_area= BS
dial_code= 01275
os_grid_reference= ST470764

Portishead (pronEng|pɔːtɪsˈhɛd) is a coastal town in North Somerset, England, with a population of 21,000 (Local council update July 24, 2007).

Portishead’s history dates back to Roman times. Its name derives from the ‘port at the head of the river’, having been called Portshead and Portschute at times in its history and Portesheve in the Domesday Book, and was locally known as Posset.cite book |title=Somerset Harbours |last=Farr |first=Grahame |authorlink= |coauthors= |year=1954 |publisher=Christopher Johnson |location=London |isbn= |pages=49 ] The town was built on the mouth of a small tributary; the High Street once met the water at the top of the river. Iron rings, evidence of where the old fishing boats used to moor can still be seen today on the street’s stone walls.

The dominant architecture is early Victorian with some buildings maintaining their original features.

Portishead's dock and railway lines

Portishead dock

The act governing the enclosure of Portishead was passed in 1814 and stipulated the right to a public wharf, although there is historical evidence of the nautical connections dating back to The Patent Rolls of 1331. Around the 1860s at the height of the iron and steel era, a pier and a deep-water dock were built by the Bristol & Portishead Pier and Railway to accommodate the large ships that had difficulty in reaching Bristol Harbour.Awdry] Smith] They brought valuable cargoes from across the globe and exported local products overseas. Ships carrying coal were commonplace in Portishead Docks.Winter]

In the 1880s Portishead Dock was acquired by Bristol Corporation, [ [http://visitbristol.co.uk/harbourside/harbourside-history Visit Bristol website] ] and was managed as part of the Port of Bristol until it closed.

Portishead power stations

The Portishead power stations were coal-fed power stations built adjacent to the dock. Construction work started on Portishead "A" power station in 1926. It began generating electricity in 1929 for the Bristol Corporation's Electricity Department.Crowhurst] In 1937 its original six short chimney stacks were replaced by a 350 ft high stack. A second 350 ft stack was added when this power station was expanded in 1948.

Portishead "B" power station was started in 1949 and began generating in 1955.

After 1949, the power stations became part of the nationalised electricity industry; and were operated in turn by the British Electricity Authority, the Central Electricity Authority and the CEGB. They used some local coal produced in the Somerset coalfield which was delivered by train along the Portishead branch of the Great Western Railway (GWR). The line had opened on 12 April 1867 as the Bristol and Portishead Pier and Railway Company; it opened to the dock on 5 July 1879.

The main supply of coal was imported from South Wales, from Newport and Ely, by boat into the dock; it was carried by Osborn & Wallis Ltd of Bristol.

Railway stations

Portishead had two passenger stations on the GWR's Portishead branch line. The main station was sited near the centre of the village of Portishead, as it was then; and the other sited at the Pier. The construction of Portishead "B" power station caused the original railway station to be demolished and a replacement station was opened in the High Street on 2 January 1954. The new station closed on 7 September 1964.

The majority of the line was reopened in 2002, to transport freight from the Royal Portbury Dock. A new junction was created, 3 miles from Portishead station, and a new freight line built from there to the Royal Portbury Dock. There is a campaign group [ [http://www.portisheadrailwaygroup.org Portishead Railway Group - campaign to reopen the railway ] ] and a petition [ [http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/portisheadrail/ Petition to: build a railway station in portishead bristol ] ] aimed at reopening the station and the short stretch of unopened line.

The Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Railway

Portishead also had a second, short-lived, railway line: the Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Railway. It ran between Weston-super-Mare and Clevedon as a standard railway line; and between Clevedon and Portishead as a light railway. The Clevedon to Portishead extension opened on 7 August 1907. The line closed on 19 May 1940; and was then dismantled by the GWR.

Albright and Wilson

In 1951 Albright and Wilson built a chemical works on the opposite side of the dock from the power stations. The chemical works produced white phosphorus from phosphate rock imported, through the docks, into the UK. Phosphate rock was stored in concrete silos on the dockside until it was required. The chemical works used electricity, provided by the power stations, to power six 7.5 megawatt electric arc furnaces (45 megawatts, total), to reduce the phosphate rock. The phosphorus was then moved by sealed railway tanks to Oldbury and to Kirkby.

Closure of the dock and associated facilities

The onset of new generating capacity at Pembroke (oil-fired) and Didcot (coal-fired) in the mid-1970s brought about the closure of the older, less efficient 'A' Station. One generator (500MW) of four at each of the new power stations had almost the same output of both Portishead Stations combined ('A' Station 200MW, 'B' Station 360MW). The newer of the two power stations ('B' Station) was converted to burn oil when the Somerset coalfields closed. The two Radstock pits ceased production in September 1973 and the last train load of coal departed on 16 November 1973. The price of oil rose steeply in the 1970s (see 1973 oil crisis and 1979 oil crisis) and the two power stations were little used after these events.

Portishead A power station was closed in 1976; and the first of its two chimney stacks, a prominent local landmark, was demolished in September 1981, followed by the second in August 1982. Portishead B power station closed in 1982 and both of its 383 ft stacks were demolished in October 1992.

Industrial activities ceased in the dock with the closure of the power stations. The Port of Bristol Authority finally closed the dock in 1992. [ [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/Acts/localact1992/ukla_19920021_en_1 City of Bristol (Portishead Docks) Act 1992] ]

Redevelopment of the docks

The harbour area has been developed to provide a marina. The area of the town formerly occupied by the two power stations has also been redeveloped to provide a wide range of housing, from social housing to grand apartments. Development is also under way on the 'ashlands' to the east of the harbour, so-called because they were the dumping ground for power station waste, extending further the area of the town towards Portbury.

Portishead today

Portishead is primarily a dormitory town for Bristol and its environs. Local employers include the Avon and Somerset Constabulary, which has its headquarters on the western edge of the town, Gordano School, and numerous care homes for the elderly, as well as a major retail complex. The town has retained a 'local shop identity' - despite some larger DIY chains and supermarkets being built in recent years.

The 'marina' area continues to undergo housing redevelopment, with accommodation and commercial premises being constructed.

Transportation links to Bristol and beyond have been a concern for some residents of the town. Despite representations from town groups and local politicians, plans to reopen a disused train line to Bristol have been dismissed as uneconomical. The main A369 road (known as The Portbury Hundred) to the nearby M5 motorway is often congested, especially during rush hours.

Major traffic-flow modifications have caused much controversy because they are widely seen as having caused queuing where none existed before. More than 2,000 residents signed a petition to North Somerset Council expressing concern at the development, and in early 2006, more than 1,000 residents joined a protest march through the town centre calling for the development to be scrapped. The organiser of the petition and march was subsequently elected to the District Council as a Conservative member in the local elections of 2006. The issue has died down in recent months and a further protest march was poorly attended with less than 200 people turning out.

The Portishead coastline is of environmental and geological interest. The Lake Grounds area, built in the early 20th century around an artificial lake, is the town's main park area. One of the UK's last surviving outdoor swimming pools is situated on the shore next to the Lake Grounds and is open during the summer months. Above the Lake grounds is Battery Point, where guns were placed to protect the Severn Estuary from invasion fleets.

The Bristol-based trip hop group Portishead took their name from the town, despite claiming to hate the place. [http://kotinetti.suomi.net/heikki.hietala/Articles/New%20Faces%20-%20Portishead.htm]

Portishead is also home to clubs and societies, ranging from sports to musical societies. Most notable of these is the Portishead Choral Society and Portishead Town Band.


Further reading

* Awdry, Christopher, (1990). "Encyclopaedia of British Railway Companies". London: Guild Publishing.
* Crowhurst, Ken, (2001). "Images of England: Portishead", Stroud: Tempus Publishing. ISBN 0-7524-2240-5.
* Smith, Martin, (1992). "The Railways of Bristol & Somerset", Sherton: Ian Allan Ltd. ISBN 0-7110-2063-9.
* Winter, Michael T., (2005). "The Portishead Coal Boats: A History of Osborn & Wallis Ltd, Bristol". Lydney: Black Dwarf Publications. ISBN 1-903599-13-X.

External links

* [http://www.wcandpr.org.uk Weston, Clevedon & Portishead Railway]
* [http://www.portishead-lifeboat.org.uk Portishead and Bristol Lifeboat]

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