A coastal village near Bristol is marking its centenary.
It is 100 years since the first train brought thousands of people to the Severn estuary resort once described as the ‘Blackpool of the South West’.
It was all thanks to a passenger station opening which people living there said 'changed everything' as it helped make it a location for holiday makers.
Rewind to Seven Beach’s heyday between the 1930s and 1960s, and there would have been hundreds leaving the station and heading to their chalets.
Back then, there was also a large hotel, an outdoor swimming pool, a boating lake, fairground, cinema, casino and numerous cafes and shops.
Most surprising of all, perhaps, is the fact there used to be a strip club called The Beachcomber. In fact, it’s the strip club that seems to still be the talk of the village when you meet locals.
Gordon Humphries, 86, has lived in Severn Beach all his life. Gordon worked at the ICI chemical plant at Severn Beach, which was one of the village’s main employers at the time, and his brother was the local butcher.
Gordon can still remember the heyday of Severn Beach, not least The Beachcomber strip club. He can even recall the name of the main attraction back then.
“When we finished working at the plant, we’d go to the strip club, sometimes on a Friday lunchtime if they shut us down early for the weekend. The main stripper was a local girl we called ‘Big Julie’, but I’m not sure what happened to her.
“The club was owned by a chap called Jack who also ran the pub, the amusements and the fish and chip shop. It’s all gone now.”
The Severn Beach village hall was next to the children’s playground. Built in 1975, the hall has a packed programme of classes and events throughout the week, including bingo, yoga, zumba, badminton and the Korean martial art tang soo do.
Jim Chamberlain, 86, has lived in Severn Beach since the 1960s, when he moved his family from Eastville in Bristol.
“We had a child who was very asthmatic so we came down here for the fresh air,” says Jim, who has seen many changes in the village, which gradually went into decline as a seaside destination when more people started to go on foreign package holidays in the 1960s and 1970s. And he’s proud to claim that he was one of the last people in the resort’s legendary outdoor swimming pool, which was demolished in the early 1980s.
“I’d been to The Beachcomber club with a mate of mine who came down from Bristol. We’d had a few pints, came out of the club and ran across to the pool.
“We climbed over the fence, stripped off and went skinny dipping as quietly as we could just in case somebody called the police. The place closed down completely soon after and was derelict for ages - we lost the pub soon after.”
If The Beachcomber club brings back happy memories for older residents, so too does the Severn Salmon pub near the railway station. Previously a hotel, it closed in the late 1990s and Severn Beach hasn’t had a pub since.
“If people want a pint now, they have to go to Pilning which is the next village,” says Jim. “There are still a couple of pubs there but you can’t really walk there.”
After 60 years, Jim still loves living in the village. He’s so proud of the place that he even goes around keeping the streets tidy.
“Me and my wife often walk our dog and take our litter picker and clear up. It’s sad that people just throw cans and packets into hedges or into the bus shelter, but I want the place to be tidy because I live here.
“We’ve still got a good community here. A lot of the younger people who have moved here work in Bristol which at least keeps the train service going - the buses aren’t very reliable though.
“What we do need is a car park because a lot of people from surrounding villages park in the streets here before getting their train. Our local MP, Jack Lopresti, says he’s looking into it as there’s a piece of wasteland near the station which could be used.”
Denise Roberts, who organises the line dancing clubs at the village hall, has lived in Severn Beach since the late 1950s. She also says she still enjoys life in the village and has lots of memories from its heyday.
“I remember going to the fun fair, and going to the Blue Lagoon. There was also a shop on Beach Road selling everything from household goods to beach balls for the kids.
“I still like living here, there’s still a strong community feel and nice walks. There are lots of things going on at the village hall, which is still the hub really.”
The other hub in Severn Beach is Shirley’s Cafe, which has been run by the same family since 1940, at the height of the resort’s popularity, and is still as busy as ever.
Pat MacGregor has worked in the cafe for the past five years and says that apart from the delicious homemade cakes and freshly cooked food ('especially the real homemade chips'), people still flock there because of its long history.
“A lot of people who come back used to come here years ago when there were funfairs, shops and seven cafes. We get a lot of walkers, cyclists and train enthusiasts down here now.”
Apart from a branch of McColl’s, the last food shop on Beach Road is Down’s Bakery. In between serving hot bacon rolls and pasties, shop assistant Bridget Chataway says the customer base has changed a lot in recent years but business is still good.
“We’re busy not just because of the locals and the walkers but because of the workmen and people working in the warehouses and industrial areas between here and Avonmouth - it keeps us all in a job."
Severn Beach’s golden age as a seaside resort may as distant a memory as its boating lake and strip club, but it’s clearly a village with a different future.
As it marks 100 years since the first train full of holiday makers arrived, the locals are sure to celebrate in style over the coming weeks.