Nailsea, North Somerset, UK Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Nailsea, North Somerset, UK

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The story of Nailsea is a long and tragic one, going back to the mists of time. No-one knows exactly when or why the first settlement was founded on what would have been a bit of raised land among the marshes of the Somerset coast. The epic poets that travelled around the dormitory towns of Bristol singing for cider spoke of a giant dragon, a beautiful maiden and an indomitable hero, but now this is impossible to verify. What is quite likely is that the town was founded by someone called Nigel. Hence the name of the town - Nigel's island or 'Niall's See' - Nailsea.

The History

The earliest remaining evidence of settlements in the area is an Iron Age fort on a hill to the north of the town, now called Cadbury Camp. You can still see the remains of the fortifications, a double ring of earth mounds enclosing a few acres.

By 1086 the Domesday Book describes a hamlet of 28 subsistence farmers living off what they could grow. And for the next 700 years, agriculture was the way that people earned their money, with gradually increasing amounts of marshland being drained to make way for fields. The causeway, an old road to the north of the town, is one of the few existing reminders that a lot of the land around the town would have been flooded for most of the year. Judging by the number of imposing farmhouses dotted around the outskirts of the town, the agricultural business must have been quite profitable. One example, Nailsea Court, the manor house, dates from the Jacobean period. As early as the 14th Century the community was large enough to need a church and Holy Trinity (now in the west of the town) was built.

The next big thing in Nailsea's history was the discovery of coal in the 18th Century. The accessibility of coal made glass blowing feasible as an industry and in 1788 a man called John Lucas set up a glass-making business. This proved a great success and lasted until 1874.

By all accounts, in its coal and glass era, Nailsea was a fairly rough place. Hannah More, the noted Victorian social reformer passed through at one point and was shocked by the level of depravity and lack of education, even by the standards of the time.

The glass that was produced is still very collectable, particularly the fancy pieces that the glass blowers made in their own time. There is some more information on this website. You can still see Nailsea glass windows in the town, as well as winding houses1 from the coal pits, (one is in the park next to the Scotch Horn leisure centre) but no glass making cones2.

Nailsea Now

After the decline of the glass blowing industry, the population of the village stagnated at about 1500 people. It stayed that way until the 1970s when local planners, figuring that it was an ideal commuting distance from Bristol, made it a target for expansion. This rapid development has left it with about 18,000 residents, an extremely ugly concrete shopping centre and a large collection of indentikit estates. These generally have names like Greenslade Gardens, or Causeway View, to remind people of what used to be there before a few hundred houses were built on top.

The level of construction on green field sites shows no sign of slowing and Nailsea has now become a sprawl, outgrowing its facilities and the winding roads that surround it. It's generally losing its country soul.

So What is There to Do?

Well there is a good range of pubs in which you can try a proper cider, the traditional drink of Somerset. While you're there, raise a glass to Adge Cutler, the inspiration behind the band The Wurzels, famous for songs such as 'Drink Up Ye Zider' and 'I've Got a Brand New Combine Harvester'. They recorded their first album in Nailsea and Adge is buried in a churchyard in the centre of town. Some of the pubs in the centre can only be recommended if you're not actually old enough to legally drink and some others are well described on another website as 'what happens when cousins marry'. In addition, the town centre can get a bit violent on a Friday night after chucking out time and there is little police cover to deal with it.

However, there are a number of decent pubs where you can have a quiet drink. In the western end of the town The White Lion and the Ring o' Bells are both decent boozers - the latter even has a petanque court which is good in the summer. In the east of Nailsea, The Barn is a good option and has a garden. The best choice in the centre of town is The Friendship, in a building dating from the glass blowing era.

Some of the pubs and social clubs have skittle alleys. Skittles is another traditional West Country leisure pursuit and is the ancestor of 10 pin bowling. A game or two is highly recommended, particularly when combined with the aforementioned cider.

If you like folk music, there is a good folk club on Friday nights upstairs in the Royal Oak. Whatever your taste in music, don't bother looking for a venue open past closing time - there isn't one. You can also scratch from your list a cinema - you will have to go to Clevedon for that. There isn't a swimming pool either (the nearest one is in Backwell). Nailsea has, however, got a medal-winning croquet club, if you fancy yourself with a mallet.

It's also very well supplied with churches running the full gamut of Christian belief, from full on evangelical to traditional Anglican. The town is not particularly multicultural and this is reflected in the absence of synagogues, mosques and temples.

Err... Other Good Points?

It's well located - eight miles west of Bristol, three miles east of the coast (the Bristol Channel at Clevedon).

There's plenty of work, particularly in the banking and insurance businesses based in and around Bristol. Unemployment is at 1.5% in the region.

Although you have to walk further and further to get to it past the sprawling housing estates, Nailsea is surrounded by some very nice countryside to walk and cycle in. You can head out north of the town to the charmingly named church of St Quiricus and Julietta (named after Roman martyrs) and up the hill to the Iron Age hill fort. You could go west towards the sea, along the ancient drove road and past sleepy country pubs. You could go south to Backwell lake and have a picnic.

Nailsea seems to be a mecca for local skateboarders. Web community skaters talk in awe about the few individuals who have managed to jump the steps by the chemist without removing all the skin from their hands and knees. It is quite a long way to jump down, so if you fancy giving it a go, you will no doubt be glad to know that Nailsea has its own ambulance station.

Finally, if you're still not convinced by what Nailsea has to offer you can do what a lot of kids that grew up in the town do - and leave. If nothing else, Nailsea has done a very good job in convincing generations of adolescents that it might be a good idea to pass some exams and go to university. The bus stop is in the centre of town, the train station is just outside. In this case, the grass (or what is left of it) is quite probably greener elsewhere...

1Winding houses are the towers above the pit that would contain the equipment necessary to lift men and coal out of the mine.2Glass making cones are the cones in which they fired the furnaces to make the glass.

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