The History of Knightstone Island

Knightstone Island History

In its natural state Knightstone was a barren island reached only at low tide. It was a good fishing spot, a salmon of 30lbs once was landed there. The causeway, bath house and swimming pool were among the first features developed to create the health and holiday resort of Weston-super-Mare.island150

The name was spelt Knightstone as long as 1758 but often as Nightstone or Nitestone, presumably a reference to the black appearance of the sea-drenched rock.(A small islet at the mouth of the River Axe at the south end of the bay is called Black Rock) When excavations for the first baths were made in May 1820 bones of a human skeleton and a pottery urn were found,  now thought to be of Iron Age date. The name was then settled as Knightstone, as people thought it was the burial place of a Roman Knight; there is a figure on the façade of the 1902 swimming pool of a knight in medieval armour!

Since 1696 the island was part of the Pigott estate. In the early 19th century it changed hands a few times until bought by Mr John Howe of Bristol for £200. He was a partner with Charles Taylor, a Yatton carpenter, in an umbrella and parasol factory in Dolphin Street, Bristol.

July 1820  Howe’s Baths opened. They comprised hot and cold salt water baths and a two-storey house, part used as lodgings for invalids, the other part for public tea and coffee rooms and a reading room. The baths were rented to Benjamin Atwell. Price of a hot bath 3 shillings(15p), cold bath 1 shilling(5p) Knightstone was still an island at high water when bathers were ferried over by Aaron Fisher. Coal boats unloaded in the shelter of the Island. The rock excavated in the 1820’s, a dark veined limestone, was known as ‘Weston marble’ and when polished was used for chimney pieces.Dr Fox 100

1833-4 The causeway was heightened using granite from a quarry near Falmouth which has belonged to Dr E.L.Fox’s father, Dr Joseph Fox, and was carried round Lands end in ships belonging to a cousin G.K.Fox. Granite was also used for the characteristic Cornish bastions protecting the island from the sea.
Contemporary reports state that Dr Fox spent £20,000 or more on the island.

Dec 1824 Rev Thomas Pruen took over and built a low causeway and an outside swimming pool replenished by the tides on the shore facing Glentworth.

1825 Upper House or West Turret was added to the original house.

1826-7 East Turret or Arthur’s Tower added at the side nearest the mainland.

1827-8 Advertised for sale. Included Baths establishment with residents adjoining, Centre House, West Turret, Arthur’s Tower, coach house and stable, and ground adjoining for the Wharf (Bristol Mirror 26 July 1828)

Sept 1830 Purchased by Dr Edward Long Fox (1761-1835) a prominent Quaker physician in Bristol and pioneer in the humane treatment of the insane. He gave up the management of Brislington House (an asylum founded by him in 1804) in 1829. Thus, although nearly 70, he was seen as a cure for physical and mental disorders and Dr Fox’s Bristol patients came from both categories, staying in ther lodging houses. They travelled in the  ‘rumble’ a kind of horse brake said to have been invented by Dr E.L.Fox.

April 1831 “Many workman are now engaged in the levelling in the surface of the rock in order to make a courtyard or a place of exercise for the patients.” ( Skinner’s Diary)

Aug 1832 “ Dr Fox of Brislington is engaged in erecting a spacious building on one Knightstone rock, at this place, for the purpose of introducing fresh and salt water,hot and cold vapour and shower, sulphur and every description of medicated baths” (Bristol Mirror 11 August 1832) This elegant building survives as the present day sauna baths.

1833-4 The causeway was heightened using granite from a quarry near Falmouth which hasd belonged to Dr E.L.Fox’s father, Dr Joseph Fox, and was carried round Lands end in ships belonging to a cousin G.K.Fox. Granite was also used for the characteristic Cornish bastions protecting the island from the sea.
Contemporary reports state that Dr Fox spent £20,000 or more on the island.

Apr 1844 A fire destroyed Centre House, the earliest lodging house. The fire engine from Banwell arrived too late to be much use. The house was later rebuilt as before.

1845 Advertisement: “ Every kind of Bath will be found here including a ‘plunging bath’ formed on a shelving rock with a small breakwater. The ladies and gentleman’s baths are apart, each having their dressing room and toilette.” Another advertisement (1840) states that there were also hot and cold shower baths, dry hot and vapour baths, either medicated with sulphur, iodine, chlorine or otherwise, with apparatus for the administration of the douche. “ There is a reading room overlooking the sea where the terms for the bathing will be found and where the London and other papers as wel as periodicals may be seen.”

1850 The Island and all it’s buildings were advertised for sale.

1860 Auctioned in Chancery and bought by a Weston consortium headed by Joseph James, a Town Commissioner.

C1880/1882  Sold to Mr Griffiths who spent £9,000 enlarging the open air men’s swimming pool and building a covered pool for ladies which (extended) is still in use to-day as the teaching pool. The former open air pool became a settling tank.

1891 Bought by a limited company with the intentions of developing the commercial use of the wharf (20,000 tons of coal were imported here, each year in the late 1880’s) Coal was brought in from South Wales and Limestone taken away. The only alteration to the baths was an extension of 15 feet (4.5 meters) to the ladies pool.

1894 Change was afoot. Arthur’s Tower and the lodgings houses were demolished. Discussions on the future of Knightstone went on for many years. Weston Urban District Council (newly formed in 1894) saw the importance of the island and it’s potential for much needed new holiday amenities and decided to purchase it for £13,482.Part of the island was extended by building girders over an earlier swimming pool, thus providing more space for a larger pavilion.

13 May 1902 The new swimming pool and pavilion pool were opened. The 20th century have seen a great deal of activity on the island. As a direct result of the excellent baths, Weston Swimming Club grew into one of the finest in the country. It’s most famous member was Paul Radmilovic,an Olympic swimmer from 1904-1928

Until 1925 There was no filtration plant and the water in the bathing pools lasted only 3 days before becoming too dirty for further use. A pair of stokers worked 12- hour shifts and the pools were cleaned and re-filled overnight.
1925 The old open air pool (beside Dr Fox’s bath house)was filled in and covered by a new boiler house. Filtration plant was installed and the old empty and fill system ceased. Modern treatment methods were introduced.

1975 Dr Fox’s bath house was converted into a sauna.

1978 The pool was thoroughly  modernised.

The Pavilion
In the early years it was regularly filled with audiences for the first class touring companies. With the opening of the Winter Gardens Pavilion in 1927, it’s name was changed to Knightstone Theatre. After the opening of the Playhouse in 1969, it’s role as a theatre was doomed and assorted activities have been pursued over the past decade. It is now called the Knightstone Centre.

The Marine Lake
1928 The causeway was completed. By 1932 a colonnade was completed around the enclosed bay, and a bandstand  built at Rozel.

13 Dec 1981 A great storm damaged the sea wall, which led (in 1982) to the demolition of the colonnade and the old Rozel bandstand.

The information is, I believe, from the Woodspring Museum, Weston-super-Mare local history leaflet, it was given to me by a visitor to Dr Fox’s tearoom, thank you.