Posted in Highbridge on Monday 28th July 2008 at 7:12pm
By the time I got into work today, a little later than usual, the clouds of smoke had all but dissipated and there was almost nothing left of Weston's Grand Pier. It was interesting to watch reactions to a fire which affected the community in a similar - perhaps more dramatic - way to our own conflagration at the Highbridge Hotel. Early on, the conspiracy theories started - the pier had recently been taken over by new owners who'd had to do lots of improvement work, perhaps they'd bitten off more than they could chew? An insurance job, after all the cash they'd spent, surely not? And so it rolled on, with claims both plausible and outlandish aired in the absence of hard fact.
The simple truth is we've lost another key piece of our heritage, and Weston has suffered a bigger blow. The town is in a kind of binary state just now, flip-flopping between family seaside holiday destination and a town built around stag- and hen-night debauchery. This fire may just have tipped the balance. Not today of course, as trainloads of day-trippers arrived to watch the fire or it's smoky aftermath. Roads closed and traffic chaos as rubberneckers attempted to get a glimpse. Was the west tower still standing? Isn't that where the deep fat fryers were? Are they saying that's what started it? A colleague pointed out that the tide would soon be washing away any evidence that had fallen through the superstructure. We decided not go and look today, it didn't seem right.
But there are key differences to Highbridge's situation. Within hours the owners of the site had said that despite this monumental setback, they would rebuild the pier. Local councillors were offering 'moral support' straight away (no cash, naturally) and people seemed to be getting behind the unlucky owners and supporting their local heritage. Suddenly it seemed OK to express a sense of loss, of childhood memories burned. Having lived in Weston for a few less than happy years, I was amazed at this sudden outburst of community spirit, in what has been a centre-less, disjointed and divided town for years.
Perhaps we could never have excited the local population here about a pub, particularly one which was declining in popularity and had seen better days in many senses. However, our tiny group of supporters remain committed to finding out what happened, and more importantly to doing all we can to secure a future for the Highbridge Hotel. We simply can't afford to lose any more of our heritage, our links with a quite recent past which seems impossibly distant to those who live in the town in 2008. As the people of Weston will discover tomorrow and beyond, once the strange gut-twisting thrill and disbelief of seeing flames leaping from a building has gone, a strange sense of loss sets in.
Posted in Highbridge on Saturday 31st May 2008 at 11:23am
In an effort to support the Friends of the Highbridge campaign which has started on burnham-on-sea.com, I've taken a few pictures of the current state of the Highbridge Hotel. It's frankly not pretty, and with a week of fairly inclement weather the building is beginning to suffer from neglect and remains easily accessible by vandals. The pictures are here.
Posted in Highbridge on Thursday 1st May 2008 at 9:21pm
Passing the Highbridge Hotel earlier in the week, I was struck by it's haunted and forlorn aspect. After much debate about how to manage it's precarious condition, the powers that be seemed to do nothing, and a little fencing to stop the public straying into it's immediate environs are all that is preventing further disaster. As you approach from the south, it's windows gape - black and empty. The very part of the building which is listed - which should inspire us with it's endurance - looks like some house of horror caricature of a building. It doesn't feel nice to walk past - and strangely, even though the pavement is open on both sides of the road, and I'm sure the onlooker could get a better view into the blackened rooms from the other footpath, at night we are all walking on the eastern side of Huntspill Road.
So, with all this still fresh in my mind I found myself agitated and distracted by tonight's meeting. I attended the Annual Town Council meeting last night and heard the Police say how they'd been unable to attend to a variety of crimes in the area last weekend because their resources were committed at the Hotel, guarding the private property which had become a public nuisance. Tonight, Derek Mead - the developer himself was the main act. Defiant and bluff, he affected a warm openness at the start of the meeting which soon collapsed, as from a room of sixty or so souls - some of them not young by any means - a collective spirit of Highbridge's own defiance rose. Again and again, the developer pressed the blame back on the community - our young people couldn't be trusted. Finally, and in a dignified and heartfelt speech, Janet Keen spoke of the people of Highbridge being good, respectful and decent in the majority and applause filled the room. A turning point, and from here on in, Mr Mead was less tactful, more combative. Perhaps now we were talking his language?
The meeting took a circular path - much was said about youth facilities, policing and the much misunderstood Section 106 process. The prospective Liberal Democrat candidate managed to make a fairly blatant election broadcast, whilst our local councillor - one of her own party - struck a much more dignified and communitarian tone. There were arguments, a face-off between Mead and a local simply wanting to tell him about metal security shutters, an older lady who asked the simply truthful question "was the hotel in your way?" menaced. As the meeting found its feet and began to challenge, Mead fell back on foul language and counter-accusation. It was the Police - they didn't guard the property, or it was the Council. Hamstrung by Mr Meads' constant references to another authority - my employer - I stayed as calm as I could and found myself frustrated and feeling worthless. The bellicose atmosphere fuelled by Mead's increasingly surly tone and repeated refusal to acknowledge that the building's security lay at his mercy. To claim indeed, that there was no electricity on the premises is absurd. The lights have been on for weeks, and someone has been at home.
So Highbridge found a voice, but naturally it's been hard for people to report how the meeting felt, and the soundbites are as carefully shored-up as the hotel with legally couched promises and pledges. A few of us chatted after, revealing our web-forum identities to each other, comparing notes on what we knew but couldn't say. Interestingly, it is the internet which has fanned the flames of this debate from the start - and Mr Mead let it been known that he hates the internet. Probably because it can't be controlled, bullied or jostled into order. It's hard to know quite where things will head next, but there are storms ahead I suspect.
Posted in Highbridge on Friday 25th April 2008 at 7:09am
A public meeting is to be held on Thursday 1st May at 5:30pm to discuss the future of the former Highbridge Hotel. The developer of the site, local MP and councillors and the Police have been invited to attend. The meeting will take place at the Community Hall on Market Street.
It's hard to know how this particular site can be rescued from the mess it's become. However, the truly encouraging thing is that the future of Highbridge is now a subject for serious discussion and not idle assumptions about what the town is, or has been in the past. I hope the meeting is well-supported, and that the invited local officials do take the opportunity to come along.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.