Brean Down is a promontory off the coast of Somerset standing 320 feet high and extending 1.5 miles into the Bristol Channel at the eastern end of Bridgwater Bay between Weston-super-Mare and Burnham-on-Sea. Made of carboniferous limestone, it is a continuation of the Mendip Hills, and two further continuations are the small islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm.
There is evidence of a pagan shrine at Brean Down dating from pre-Roman times which was re-established as a Romano-Celtic style temple in the mid-4th century and probably succeeded by a small late-4th century Christian oratory. Several Roman finds including gold coins of Augustus, Nero, and Drusus, two silver denarii of Vespasian and a Roman cornelian ring were found at the site during quarrying.
There is also evidence of an Iron age hill fort and prehistoric barrows and field systems.
Brean Down Fort was built on the headland between 1864 and 1871 on the recommendations of the 1859 Royal Commission. It was the most southerly of a chain of defences across the Bristol Channel, protecting the access to Bristol and Cardiff. On the outbreak of World War II the fort was rearmed with two 6" ex-naval guns and machine gun posts were built on the Down. During WWII the site was also used as a test launch site for rockets and experimental weapons, and a large concrete arrow was constructed on the Down to direct bombers to the practice range.
In the 1860s plans were laid for a deep water harbour on the northern shore of Brean Down. The foundation stones of the pier were laid, but the project was later abandoned after a large storm destroyed the foundations. In 1897, following wireless transmissions from Lavernock Point in Wales and Flat Holm, Guglielmo Marconi moved his equipment to Brean Down and set a new distance record for wireless transmission over open sea.
Brean Down from the sea photograph by Steinsky
The concrete arrow photograph by Hywel Williams
Brean and Steep Holm photograph by Martin Southwood