Severn Beach

by Derek Morrison

2nd Severn Crossing from Severn Beach
1. Second Severn Crossing viewed from Severn Beach village.
Attribution: Matt Buck [CC-BY-SA-3.0]
Click to view larger image.
Severn Beach has history
Once Blackpool of the West
Only ghostly echoes now remain
As commuters build their nest
Shirley’s Cafe near the shore
Mug of coffee from an urn
Silent juke-box in the corner
The turntable doesn’t turn
Giant slab of fruit cake
Adds to energy store
At value-for-money prices
That tempts you into more
Then visit near empty promenade
See Severn Bridges in the sky
Then listen to the whisper
Of past’s fast-fading cry.

[To listen to this verse select below]


Non-UK readers may not be aware of the gentle satire intended by the musical introduction. The waves, gulls and background music would – at least for people of a certain age – evoke almost redolent memories of childhood visits to British seaside resorts of varying attractiveness. More specifically, the organ music I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside was an old British music hall song composed in 1907. The tune is now usually delivered at fast tempo as part of an organ medley and became most closely associated with the northern British resort of Blackpool where it is was routinely played in its famous Tower Ballroom; a factoid of relevance to this verse.

Severn Beach village was one of the micro ‘beach’ resorts that sprung up in the early 20th century to provide accessible venues for the British working class to spend their holidays or weekends. A local railway station would boost such developments and so, perhaps anticipating the extension of the railway from Avonmouth docks in 1924, what had once been no more than a farm on the muddy banks of the Severn Estuary was, in 1922, transformed into a ‘seaside’ resort complete with the Blue Lagoon swimming pool, boating lake, amusements (image 2), less restrictive alcohol licensing laws than nearby Bristol- oh – and a strip club. Some wit of the past, apparently with an inclination for hyperbole, dubbed it the Blackpool of the West.

Severn Beach - Carousel
2. Severn Beach- Carousel (Attribution: Severn Beach Local History Group). Click to view larger image.

Today nearly all of the artefacts of that bygone age have disappeared and Severn Beach is now a very quiet commuter village with no pub, Shirley’s Cafe, and one (rather good) bakery/micro cafe. The ‘seaside’ is actually muddy banks when the tide is out, but this area of the Severn Estuary is also a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and an important haven for wildlife. I quite like the pathos it engenders when standing on its near silent promenade from which you can view the busier and noisier world in the distance, represented by the two Severn Crossings and Avonmouth, whilst imagining the sights and sounds of its more rumbustious past.

On a good weather day Severn Beach makes a worthy destination and, while I have made the trip on many occasions, my latest sojourn (25 May 2017) was as part of a small cohort from Bath Cycling Club. The photograph taken on the day shows the second Severn Crossing as the backdrop (image 3).

Bath CC at Severn Beach 27 May 2017
Bath Cycling Club cohort on the promenade at Severn Beach village 27 May 2017. [Attribution: Dag Martensson] Click to view larger image.
I normally cycle a circular 54 mile route to the village along National Cycling Network route 41 (Ingst Road) just after the village of Olveston towards Ingst and Pilning. This connects to the B4055 where it’s a turn left and then a right  on to Northwick Road which connects with a tarmac cycle path (just past the pub) that goes under the M4 and eventually loops on to New Passage Road and back over the M4. A quick right turn at the roundabout and its then a quick descent of Green Lane and into Severn Beach (see image 4).

Severn Beach route map
4. Severn Beach route map via Olveston and Tockington. Click to view larger image.


Further reading

Severn Beach, A Forgotten Landscape

Pilning and Severn Beach History Group


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