First published in Local Reach
With the possibility of Covid 19 restrictions being eased, it’s interesting to know how people entertained themselves in the 19th century. Several factors contributed to the rise in leisure activities in Victorian times. The opening up of the railways meant that people could travel further and quicker, and when Axbridge station was opened in 1869 the line went from Yatton (with stops at Congresbury, Sandford, Winscombe, Axbridge,) to Cheddar, and was then extended in 1870 to go to Wells. In 1876 the Bristol and Exeter line was taken over by the Great Western and in 1878 the line was connected to the East Somerset line at Wells, providing trains through to Shepton Mallet and on to Frome on the GWR main line.
Changes in working practices with industrialisation such as set annual holidays and half day working on Saturday plus the introduction of statutory bank holidays in 1871 also boosted the tourist trade and the demand for cheap rail tickets. A look at the Weston Mercury of 5 June 1886 shows a wide array of adverts for excursion train tickets to London, as well as ones for day trips to Bristol and to Chepstow and Tintern.
The highlight for some was to be the availability of cheap excursion tickets from various stations so that they could attend the Sheep Shearing Match at Axbridge.
Travel by sea was also popular. There were adverts for special excursions to Cardiff from Weston aboard the fast Saloon Steamer “Lady Margaret” and for a steamer from Portishead to Lynmouth and Ilfracombe.
Other entertainments advertised were the Wrington Vale and Mendip Sheep Shearing Society annual dinner (with first class band), a performance by The Original Pepper’s Ghost and Spectral Opera company at Weston-super-Mare and more fun was promised at the Conservative Fete at Mendip Lodge where there would be “rural games and sports”, and dancing on the green. At dusk the grounds was to be illuminated by Chinese Lanterns with a firework display also promised.
The leisure and entertainment industry continued to thrive. People flocked to the Cheddar Caves which the Gough family opened to the public in the 1890’s, Weston-super Mare football team began in 1887 and so on.
Whatever you are doing or wherever you are going when restrictions end – enjoy!