Minehead has a long history as a port with the current harbour incorporating a pier dating from 1616. Trade was primarily with Wales for cattle, sheep, wool, butter, fish and coal. These are commemorated in the town arms which include a woolpack and sailing ship.
In Victorian times tourism grew as an important industry.
It falls within the Bridgwater county constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament (MP) by the first past the post system of election. Following its review of parliamentary representation in Somerset, the Boundary Commission for England has finalised the proposals which expands the existing Bridgwater seat into a new Bridgwater and West Somerset division. The current MP is Ian Liddell-Grainger, a member of the Conservatives.
It is within the South West England (European Parliament constituency) which elects 7 MEPs using the d'Hondt method of party-list proportional representation.
The town has been a popular seaside resort since the 1850s, and tourism employs 60% of the local workforce. In 1990 much of Minehead's beach was washed away in a severe storm which also caused serious flooding in the town. A £12.6 million sea defence scheme by the Environment Agency was designed to reduce the risk of this erosion and flooding from happening again in the future. The Environment Agency built 1.7 km (1.1 miles) of new sea wall and rock or concrete stepped revetment between 1997 and 1998 and imported 320,000 tons of additional sand in 1999 to build a new beach. This beach sits between four rock groynes and has been built at a much higher level than the previous beach so that it breaks the waves before they reach the new sea wall. Any waves that do reach the new wall are turned back by its curved shape. The town's new sea defences were officially opened in 2001 by Sir John Harman.
The town's major tourist attraction is Butlins holiday camp. Other attractions include: the terminus of the West Somerset Railway; the town's main ornamental park, off Blenheim Road (Blenheim Gardens); and the Minehead & West Somerset Golf Club, Somerset's oldest golf club, established in 1882. There are a variety of sailing and wind surfing options, in addition to the usual beach activities. In addition, there are many amusement arcades and a variety of well-known high street stores (such as W H Smith and Woolworths) together with independent local shops. There is also Tesco supermarked situated on the outskirts of Minehead.
The town is the starting point of the South West Coast Path National Trail, the nation's longest long-distance countryside walking trail.
The town's location—sea to the north and Exmoor to the south—means that transport links are limited.
There was a small port at Minehead by 1380, but it was not until 1420 that money given by Lady Margaret Luttrell enabled improvements to be made and a jetty built. Vessels in the 15th century included the Trinite which traded between Ireland and Bristol, and others carrying salt and other cargo from La Rochelle in France. Other products included local wool and cloth which were traded for coal from south Wales. The harbour silted up and fell into disrepair so that in 1604 James I withdrew the towns charter. Control reverted to the Luttrells and a new harbour was built, at a cost of £5,000, further out to sea than the original, and this harbour is the one which can be seen today. Privateers based at Minehead were involved in the war with Spain and France during 1625-1630 and again during the War of the Spanish Succession from 1702–1713. The first cranes were installed after further improvements to the port in 1714. Trade continued with Ireland but Minehead vessels started to trade further afield in Virginia and the West Indies, but these dwindled by the 19th century and in 1894 control passed to a newly created Urban District Council. In the 20th century most trade transferred to larger ports, but pleasure steamers did call at the port. The pier was demolished during World War II as it obstructed the view from the gun battery on the quay head. The lifeboat house was established in 1901.
Minehead is located on the A39 road. The Minehead Railway was opened on 16 July 1874, linking the town to Taunton and beyond. It was closed on 4 January 1971 but has since been reopened as the West Somerset Railway. Minehead railway station is close to the beach.
The parish church of St. Michael dates from the 15th century and has been designated by English Heritage as a grade II* listed building. The tower used to display a beacon light for ships approaching the harbour.
The Catholic Church in Minehead is Sacred Heart, built in 1896. The parish, which includes a mass centre in Watchet, covers an area of .
Near the quay a cellar dating from 1628 was given by its owner Robert Quirke for prayers to be offered for those at sea, and dedicated a ship and its cargo to God's service after being in a violent storm at sea.
The wooded bluffs above Minehead feature as the Hermit's abode "in that wood which slopes down to the sea", in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The poet lived nearby, at Nether Stowey (between Bridgwater and Minehead). His statue can be seen at the nearby harbour at Watchet. He and Wordsworth (who lived nearby at Alfoxton House) would often roam the hills and coast on long night walks; leading to local gossip that they were 'spies' for the French. The Government sent an agent to investigate, but found they were, indeed, "mere poets".
A Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch set in Minehead, features a Mr Hilter (sic) as a 'national bocialist' (sic) candidate for mayor of Minehead and re-unification with Taunton. He is staying at a boarding house with his friends Ron Vibbentrop and Henrich Bimmler.
One popular ancient local tradition involves the Hobby Horse, or Obby Oss, which takes to the streets on the eve of the first of May each year, with accompanying musicians and rival horses, for four days. In fact there are two rival hobby horses, the Sailor's Horse and the Town Horse. They appear on May Eve (called "Show Night"), on May Day morning (when they salute the sunrise at a crossroads on the outskirts of town), 2 May and 3 May (when a ceremony called "The Bootie" takes place in the evening called "Bootie Night" at part of town called Cher). Each horse is made of a boat-shaped wooden frame, pointed and built up at each end, which is carried on the dancer's shoulders. As at Padstow, his face is hidden by a mask attached to a tall, pointed hat. The top surface of the horse is covered with ribbons and strips of fabric. A long fabric skirt, painted with rows of multicoloured roundels, hangs down to the ground all round. A long tail is attached to the back of the frame. Each horse is accompanied by a small group of musicians and attendants. The Town Horse is accompanied by "Gullivers", dressed similarly to the horse but without the large frame; as at Padstow, smaller, children's horses have sometimes been constructed. The horses' visits are (or were) believed to bring good luck. In the past there was also a similar hobby horse based at the nearby village of Dunster, which would sometimes visit Minehead. The first of May has been a festival day in Minehead since 1465.
Minehead F.C. were founded in 1889 and are the main local side.
At Alcombe, within the West Somerset Community College there is the Minehead Cricket Club, who have four men's teams and one women's team. In addition, there are training nights throughout the summer on Monday and Thursdays for Under 15s.
Shades of Coleridge and Blackmore embellish West Country destination; MINEHEAD: Peace, leisure, history, relaxation, environment combine with our literary heritage to provide a perfect holiday location.(Features)
Aug 10, 2002; IF you are looking for an active time with plenty of exercise, a relaxing break at the seaside or numerous historical sites,...