Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset – A Land Reclaimed2 min read
During prehistory, the area which is now Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset, was actually under the sea! During the past few thousand years this land has been emerging and the land has been conditioned both by natural and artificial drainage patterns to reclaim it from the sea.
Burnham and neighboring Highbridge are vulnerable to the vagaries of rising waters, both from the sea and from nearby rivers. But for at least one thousand years, altering water flow by means of drainage cuts has been par for the course, and a gradual process of land reclamation has taken place.
South Burnham sows some evidence that prehistoric settlement took place, and both Highbridge and Alstone were occupied Iron Age settlements. These both continued to be settled, right up to Roman times. Most of these settlements were kept to the higher ground, inland from the sand dunes, and evidence of dressed stones has been found. This may suggest that a natural harbour and some sort of warehouse may have existed.
Under the Saxons, there is no evidence of any settlement activity and it is believed that perhaps control of the drainage system was lost. However Burnham-on-sea was definitely settled during the Domesday Book era, as records indicate that “Walter” himself, held it. In King Alfred’s will, land at Burnham was mentioned and this was in the late 9th century. Drainage patterns also changed during Medieval and post-medieval times.
Until the 19th century Burnham was definitely off the beaten track, but the building of the Glastonbury canal changed all this. Communications and travel improved and after Rev. Davies sold his private lighthouse, he used the funds to develop this sea-side town. He built a spa complex which received a steady flow of visitors and soon a settlement with elegant housing was available to holiday makers.
With the advent of railway communication Burnham really benefited, it way a clay area so brick and tile making became a prominent industry and a pier was constructed for trade purposes. This was also responsible for the expansion of Burnham as a holiday resort. Despite sever flooding in the early 20th century, holiday camps and other facilities grew, and after the construction of the M5, Burnham enjoyed their own heyday as a British seaside town.