“Weston’s oldest Native passes”
So read the headline in the issue of the Weston Mercury and Somersetshire Herald dated Saturday April 26th 1930.
Born in 1843 George DYER “claimed to be the oldest Weston born resident in the town”. With a life spanning the years between the early 1840s up to 1930 he could rightly be regarded as “ one of the few remaining links between the Weston Super Mare of today and the little fishing hamlet of some fourscore years ago “
In the early 1800s Weston was a small windswept village, consisting of about 30 houses located behind the sand hills which fronted the sea with a population of about 100. Sea bathing was now fashionable and Weston was the nearest coastal resort within easy each of a road for the residents of Bristol and Bath. Initially visitors would rent rooms or even a whole house from local people. The first hotel opened in 1810 and the first guide book for visitors was published in 1822, by which time the population had grown to 735.
With the opening of a station in Weston in 1841 (part of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Bristol and Exeter railway), Weston was set to become one of the centres for the now popular Victorian seaside holiday with thousands of visitors coming from Bristol and the Midlands for works outings and Bank holidays. The population of the town grew to nearly 20,000 by the end of the 1800s.
The Improvement and Market Act of 1842 saw 18 local commissioners appointed with extensive powers to improve the town. From then on no new dwelling could have a thatched roof, front doors must open inwards and gutters and downpipes were made compulsory so that passers by did not get drenched. Local entrepreneurs were quick to grasp the opportunity for growth and prosperity in Weston and George’s life was spent against this background.
George DYER was born on 9th April 1843 at Emmanuel Cottage Oxford Street to James (“a man of property” Buckets and Spades Nov 2006) and his wife Mary Anne nee BOOTH. George was baptised in the parish church of St John on 14th May 1843 and later attended the National School.
He became a carpenter and joiner, apprenticed to Joseph JAMES in May 1857, at age 14, joining the Carpenters and Joiners’ Union in 1873, and was later associated with the local builder John HANDO. George participated “in the building of many landmarks such as the Congregational Church, Brean Down fort in 1866, the old Worle Brewery and Banwell Castle” and “recalled being present as a lad of 12 at the foundation stone laying ceremony in connection with Christ Church in 1855”.
Weston, like George, continued to prosper. In 1867 the completion of Birnbeck Pier brought families from South Wales by steamer to the town and gave visitors further space to walk and take the air. The town continued to grow with villas, estates and boulevards.
In the 1880s the Seafront Improvement Scheme was implemented providing the sea walls and 2 mile promenade still in use today.
Weston also played its part in the 1st World War, having the distinction of employing the first female tram drivers in the country. Many soldiers were billeted in Weston for training prior to being posted, the beach being used as an exercise ground for trench digging.
The notice of George’s wife Elizabeth’s death in 1918, after over 52 years of marriage, is followed by the Roll of Honour list of Weston men killed in action on the 8th, 9th and 11th August. These were, Private H EDWARDS aged 19, Trooper Arthur FOWLER aged 26, Private R THOMAS, and Lance Corporal W WAGNER aged 18 years and 11 months. George was not alone in his grief.
A staunch churchman, he was a member of Holy Trinity choir under the organist William Chinnock DYER ( no relation ) and “was one of the original members of Weston’s first Town Band, known as Walker’s Band”. George later became bandmaster of the West Somerset Yeomanry and B company Prince Albert’s Somerset Light Infantry which was to become Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert’s) in 1920. It seems he was very active musically as he also held similar positions with the local Artillery company and local Engineers.
The obituary tells us “he was ever a most interesting conversationalist, but never more so than when he could be persuaded to indulge in reminiscences of the Weston of his childhood…. for he invariably painted his early day recollections with a quaint touch of humour which gave them double interest and piquancy” “and was“ a local encyclopaedia in regard to old local families, buildings and customs”.
George spent all his 87 years in Weston and, according to his obituary “possessed that kindly disposition which precluded his ever making an enemy, and in a variety of ways it may be said of him he made his full contribution to the development and attractiveness of the greater Weston- Super- Mare which he had been spared to see”.
George certainly led a long and interesting life, set against the background of the growth of Weston from small village to large town. He sounds quite a character and I should like to have been able to talk to him.
Editor: If anyone can identify the uniform that George is wearing in the second photograph, Mo Retford would be very grateful for any information.