Watchet Esplanade, Somerset
Watchet is a harbour town, in the English county of Somerset, with a population of approx. 4,000 It is situated 15 miles (24 km) west of Bridgwater, 15 miles (24 km) north-west of Taunton, and 9 miles (14 km) east of Minehead. The town lies at the mouth of the Washford River on Bridgwater Bay, part of the Bristol Channel, and on the edge of Exmoor National Park.
Watchet developed as a town thanks to its closeness to the minerals within the Brendon Hills, and its access to the River Severn for onward shipping. Aside from local ships plying trade (Kelp, paper, flour, gypsum) across the river, from 1564 onwards the port was used for the import of salt and wine from France.
In 1643 during the English Civil War, a Royalist ship was sent to Watchet as reinforcement for the siege of Dunster Castle. Politician (Roundhead) Captain Popham ordered his troops into the sea with a receding tide, and with the ship unable to move was forced to surrender from the attack of carbines.
Damaged by a storm in 1659, the harbour was rebuilt in 1708 at a costly sum of £1,000 thus enabling localised export of kelp used in glassware. The expansion into Iron Ore from the local Brendon Hill’s saw further growth and in 1862 the new East Pier and Wharf were constructed seeing the shipping program reach its peak with over 1,100 movements a year.
The port remained open to service the papermills, (Wansbrough Paper Mill was the UK's largest manufacturer of coreboard), importing wood pulp and esparto grass from Russia and Scandinavia, the result was that Watchet became also became a leading UK port for the export of car parts, tractors and other industrial goods. However, with the replacement of coal with oil from the mid-1960s, the port traffic began to terminally decline. The harbour was in commercial use until 2000, the harbour has now been converted into a marina for pleasure boats.
In 2006 West Somerset Council secured European Regional Development funding worth £138,380 for the enhancement and regeneration of Watchet Esplanade. The council wanted to repurpose the area to include the farmers market, stalls holders and an area for live performances to incorporate retractable power/AV, shelter and a new information point. Further enhancements include new paving, railings lamps planters and 8 new urban trees providing all to be enjoyed whilst relaxing on the new curved seating whilst overlooking the beautiful marina reminiscing on what was once a thriving gateway.Pete Vallance – Market town regeneration officer said:-
It’s fantastic that the council’s bid for external funding has been secured to enhance the esplanade, it will attract people to the town which can only be good for local business.
GreenBlue were of course delighted to assist with the design of the full 8 ArborSystem tree pits that housed the Quercus ilex (Evergreen Oak) trees that would thrive in this salt air open setting. Installation in 2007 included the first ever soil cell - RootCell that enable uncompacted soil along with the protection of roots using RootDirectors for this multi-purpose area. Aeration provided by the RootRain Precinct and irrigation as given by the RootRain Urban help facilitate healthy soil providing the additional nutrients needed especially in those critical establishment years. Being a shared space, above ground safeguarding was critical, the newly planted trees have benefited from the addition of the Derwent Tree Guard and Yare Tree Grille have provided the young trees with potential damage due to vehicle overrun.
Having visited the site in 2010, 2013, 2018 and 2020 the results speak for themselves a wonderful, attractive, yet tranquil setting that no doubt buzzes with activity on market day and during localised events. Having set the scene for revival, nearby coastal promenades have since followed suit, 14 years in these trees are thriving and will continue to do so for future generations setting the scene for the memories of those that live work and play here over the careful watchful eye of Yankee Jack (John Short) the father of sea shanties – be sure to #lovewatchet if you are to pay a visit!