By Andrew Plaster
Published in B&AFHS Journal 139 March 2010
Historically, the southern Gloucestershire parish of Winterbourne was in the hundred of Langley and Swineshead and comprised the tithings of Winterbourne and Hambrook, which were divided by the Bradley Brook. This included the ecclesiastical parishes of Winterbourne, Winterbourne Down and Frenchay. The hamlets of Watley's End, Hicks Common, Pye Corner and Whiteshill are also all within the civil parish, bounded on the north by the parishes of Almondsbury and Frampton Cotterell, the River Frome on the east with Westerleigh and Mangotsfield, on the south by Stapleton and the west by Stoke Gifford.
The name Winterbourne is believed to have derived from a burn, in this case Bradley Brook, which used to dry up in the summer. According to the Domesday Book of 1086, King William himself held the Manor of Winterbourne; it was a ‘member’ of the Royal Manor of Bitton. Under Edward the Confessor “Algar held Hambroc and could go where he pleased” but William gave the Manor of Hambrook to Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, in Normandy, who came over with him in 1066. The Manor of Sturden included some portions of the tithings of Winterbourne and Hambrook and is mentioned in 1257. Rudder remarks that Westminster Abbey held lands in this manor in “49 Ed.3” (i.e. 1376). Frenchay is in the south of Hambrook tithing and is a corruption of the name of Froomshaw, “shaw” being a small wood. St. Mark’s Hospital in Bristol held land at Frenchay in 1250 (‘the vill of Frompshahe’) and again in 1277.
The parish church in Winterbourne dates from the 12th century and is dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel. It contains the oldest brass in the county dating from 1370 and the stone effigies are most likely of the BRADESTON family who were the Lords of the Manor. There is a fine mural monument of James BUCK, a Lord of the Manor (died in1611) who had one son killed in the siege of Bristol and was himself ruined by the heavy fines imposed on him by Parliament for having supported the King. The tower stands in an unusual position, over the south transept. The spire was struck by lightning in 1583, again in 1827, and was rebuilt as a folly with an icehouse underneath in the orchard of Hambrook House. A few years later, in 1853, the church spire was found to be unsafe; it was taken down to within a few courses of the tower and re-built. In the north aisle is the effigy of a knight who is popularly supposed to be Hugo de Sturden. Many stories have been woven round this man. One story says that, after being ex-communicated for his sins, he was buried half inside and half outside the church. He may well have been the model for Hickory Stern, the hero knight of Richard Pearsall’s famous song, “O who will o’er the Downs so free!”.
Next to the church, Winterbourne Court was built in 1881 on the site of the older house destroyed by fire and on the same site as the earlier Manor House which was held from 1337 onwards by Thomas BRADESTON. His descendants occupied it until 1601 when the Manor was conveyed to the BUCK family and later passed to a series of owners. In the garden is a large old dove-cote, used in the days when beasts not required for ploughing were killed and the meat stored, after salting, for winter use by the Lord of the Manor. Large numbers of pigeons were also kept there to supplement his supply of "fresh food". Its tithe barn, built in 1342, is one of England’s great medieval barns and a Grade II listed building. The Manor of Hambrook became merged in that of Winterbourne at an early date and there have been many subsequent owners. The manor house here can also be recognised by its name, Hambrook Court, which stands on the site of the original. It appears that Sturden Court Cottages in Pye Corner was the original manor house of Sturden.
In very early days there were two quite small communities, one around the church and a second at Hambrook. The village around the church was later abandoned and the people went to live on the higher ground which is now the High Street of modern day Winterbourne. The place became important in 1393 when the King granted to Blanche BRADESTON, Lady of the Manor, the right to hold a market every week and two fairs annually. Mills had flourished along the River Frome, grinding the local wheat. During the 16th century much of the land in the parish changed hands from manorial lords to Bristol merchants. The quarrying of the pennant grit began in the 17th century. Frenchay saw more activity than other parts of the parish; the steep slopes down to the River Frome were scoured of trees and pitted with quarrying. The hovels of the workers were dotted haphazardly amongst the cottages of the villagers. Winterbourne Down was a settlement almost entirely of quarrymen and their families, a poor community.
There are several old houses and farms in Winterbourne. The first Poorhouse consisted of the six cottages in High Street, near to Church Lane. Later, the house now known as ‘Elmcroft’ in Dragon Road was erected for the purpose and continued to be so used until 1836 when the system of Poor Law Unions was introduced. A temporary school was held in the club room of The George & Dragon Inn in 1813 until the erection, in 1815, of the parish’s National School which is now the house known as ‘Bourne House’. It continued to be used until 1868 when a new school was provided. The Perry Almhouses in Dragon Road were built in 1851 for ten men and women, with certain conditions as to age, residence and attendance at Church.
In 1654, the first Quakers came to Bristol, sent by their founder George FOX of the Religious Society of Friends. John AUDLAND and John CAM held meetings with congregations of 3-4,000 people in the orchard of Robert COLE in Winterbourne. From that time meetings were held for many years in a building belonging to Hezekiah COLE near the site of the present Winterbourne House. So the Friends Meeting House in Frenchay was built in 1673 and rebuilt in 1809.
Even in this quiet place they were not left alone. In ‘A Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers’, there is a passage “ In this year, 1677, John MEREDITH, Justice of the Peace, signalised himself by fiercely persecuting the Quakers. He beat William BENNET and William WADE unmercifully with his two hands; he took John SILCOCK by the hair of his head and pluckt him out of the meeting house at French-Hay into the yard, and then drew his knife, and said he would mark him, but was prevented by the interposition of his clerk and others. He pluckt John BAWN out of a meeting by the hair of his head: he also caused the forms and benches to be cut to pieces, and his staff broke five glass windows to pieces, not leaving one whole quarry”.
The rich Quaker and Unitarian merchants and businessmen were beginning to move out of Bristol to make their homes in Frenchay near their places of worship. This migration from the increasingly polluted city was facilitated by road improvements through nearby Stapleton to Hambrook with its turnpiking in 1727. These large houses also provided employment for local people. Fromeshawe House was the home of the prominent Unitarian Onesiphorus TYNDALL and Riverwood was the home of the Quaker J.S. FRY, principal of the chocolate and cocoa manufacturers J.S. FRY & Sons. The Manor House was built in about 1736 for wealthy Quaker merchant Joseph BECK and bought in 1800 by Philip Debell TUCKETT, another prominent Quaker leather merchant and zealous supporter of the anti-slavery movement. Of his five sons, Frank TUCKETT mapped out much of Italian Alps and Frederick TUCKETT founded the city of Dunedin in New Zealand. Malmains, demolished in the 1930s, was the home of the HARFORD family, Quaker bankers who entertained William Wilberforce and Hannah More here. William PENN, who in 1696 married a local girl Hannah CALLOWHILL from Frenchay Lodge, was granted land in America by King Charles II in settlement for monies owed to his father. Thus, Pennsylvania was founded as a “Holy Experiment” to run on Quaker principles.
On one edge of Frenchay Common is a Unitarian chapel standing in its burial ground. The congregation, then Presbyterian by persuasion, dates from the 1620s. The chapel seems to have been built in 1691 and the bell-tower added later. On top is the weather-vane presumed to commemorate the spectacular visit of Halley’s comet in 1759. In the graveyard is the ‘anti-bodysnatcher’ stone, an enormous block of pennant stone which was placed over a newly dug grave to foil the ‘resurrectionists’ exhuming and selling corpses to doctors for anatomical study. Eight of my ancestors were buried here - Mary MARSH (1818), Charlotte MARSH (1829), Isaac WILLIAMS (1853) and his wife Susannah (1848), Enoch ORGAN (1901) and his wife Elizabeth (1895) and George ROGERS (1934) and his wife Isabella (1921). Some of them were sextons of the chapel. Susannah WILLIAMS (nee OWEN) and her brother Isaac OWEN originated from Filton and had changed their faith to Unitarianism. Many of Isaac’s descendants were baptised and buried here and the name OWEN appears more than any other on the gravestones of the chapel. Nearby Clarendon House was the home of Michael MAURICE, minister here and father of John Frederick Denison MAURICE, a leading theologian of his time and well-known as a founder of the Christian Socialist movement.
Many of the mills on the River Frome suffered a change of purpose in the 18th century, partly due to changes in farming practice. Not all the mills were converted however for, in 1761, at the bottom of Frenchay Hill a mill was built for making iron into agricultural implements. They would have used the water as a source of power to blow air into the furnaces and to cut and shape the metal. It is probable that the iron used came from the mines at Frampton Cotterell. Another mill further up river at the next bridge was converted in 1798 and, in 1810, the two combined to form the Frenchay Iron Company which enjoyed a fair degree of importance both in Britain and the Colonies. One interesting item produced by the company was the giant hoe, shipped to the West Indies for use in the cotton plantations.
Another of the local industries was the making of felt and beaver hats. Christy’s of Stockport set up a factory at Frampton Cotterell and there were others in Watley’s End where the names of PULLIN, BRYANT, PARSLEY and VAUGHAN occur. Many individuals also made hats in their own houses. It is believed that the circular building in the garden of The Cottage, in Winterbourne Down, was used for steaming hats as part of the process. This industry flourished from about 1770 but, having had a life of roughly 130 years, did not survive the introduction of cheaper French silk hats.
Of five other Non-Conformist chapels built, only two now exist but not in religious use.
(1) Salem Methodist Chapel in Watley’s End in 1796 which foundation stone was laid by John Wesley himself.
(2) Whiteshill Congregational Chapel in 1816 which building was added in 1861 for use as a day school known as a ‘British School’ which continued until 1911 when the Council School was built on Whiteshill Common.
(3) Ebenezer Chapel in Watley’s End in 1868, to rival Salem nearby, at the other end of Factory Road, named after a hat factory (no longer a chapel).
(4) United Methodist Chapel in Winterbourne Down in 1878.
(5) Free Methodist Chapel in Frenchay in 1887 (now converted to a house).
Frenchay became a prosperous area but not without its fair share of the poor. The quarries were still active and on the whole the landscape was one of grand mansions, elegant country houses and neat prosperous cottages. Down the Frenchay Hill were clustered the many village enterprises - Post Office at the top, the cordwainer or shoemaker, the grocers, the carpenters and the carriers. Near the bottom of the Hill, there is a big house called The Grove, originally a farmhouse and popularly known as the ‘highwayman house’. Here a notorious highwayman named HIGGINS, who had escaped from America where he had been transported, settled in 1763 under the assumed name of HICKSON. He lived there in splendid style until the gallows finally claimed him!
The 19th century saw changes to Frenchay Common with the building of a new church. George Worrall of Frenchay Park conveyed a portion of the Common and, by 1834, the church dedicated to St. John the Baptist had been completed. It is surrounded on three sides by a ha-ha, which was built in the early 18th century to keep out stock without interrupting the open vista. He also donated a nearby portion of the Common for the building of a school in 1840. Frenchay already had a school founded in 1829 on Pearce’s Hill, but this was just a cottage and far too small. The new school was much larger with accommodation for the headmaster. There were also a large number of small private schools run by Non-Conformists throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Frenchay became popular as a beauty spot for visitors with local people providing tea gardens and boating on the river. On sunny summer days they must often have strolled over the neat Frenchay Common to watch cricket played by the club reputed to be the first in the county, established in 1846. It was seemingly well-supported by the GRACE family from Downend, for it was in this club that W.G. GRACE played for many years. (My grandfather Ted PLASTER was the captain in 1929 and 1932). The White Lion public house by the common stands on the site of the original inn and was built in 1899; the fine stalls of the original stabling have been retained.
Another church was built of local stone in 1858 and dedicated to All Saints, around which the village of Winterbourne Down grew. All this was due to the Rev. GREENSTREET who, in 1854, became assistant curate of Frenchay. He took a deep interest in the inhabitants of the village, many of whom he said in a letter were “…… squatters had from time to time taken possession and built poor cottages with or without legal title. Some were hatters, a trade which has gradually dyed out; …. by far the greater part of the inhabitants were colliers, the pits of Coalpit Heath being within easy distance. The place had a rather bad name for manners and morality”. The Great Western Railway built the new direct London & South Wales main line alongside the north of the village between 1901 and 1902 and a railway station named ‘Winterbourne’ was built here. The base of the eleven huge arches of the railway viaduct rising 30 metres from the river was built with stone from Huckford Quarry. This provided additional employment for much of the local population.
The Bristol Directories gave an indication of the type of community although they only contained the names and occupations of the electorate. Between 1870 and 1889 the following industries in the parish can be seen - William PEARCE Flour Mills, HOBBS Iron Works, M. EXLEY Millpuff Manufacturer, William PERRY & Co. Woolstaplers, and the MITCHELL & WILKES Edge Tool Works. All these presumably used local products such as Frampton Cotterell iron, Cotswold wool and the local wheat, whilst the quarry afforded materials for the stonemason George PRITCHARD.
The Bristol City boundary had been extended to Stapleton’s boundary with Frenchay in 1897. During the 20th century, the TUCKETT family of The Old House, Frenchay, donated their land for the building of Frenchay Village Hall and also other land, now known as Tuckett Field, to the parish. The War Memorial Cross was erected on Whiteshill Common. Frenchay Park House became a sanatorium and later an American War Hospital during the Second World War. The wards in its former grounds and parkland were built to house wounded servicemen and today form the backbone of a National Health Service hospital. A number of grand houses such as Newlands, Cliff Court and Malmains were demolished to make way for modern housing estates. Many of the larger houses were converted to new uses such as nursing homes and residential apartments while others had new development within their grounds. Winterbourne village expanded onto the hamlets of Hicks Common and Watley’s End and sprawled to Winterbourne Down. Despite the M4 motorway having been built through Hambrook, the village itself with Whiteshill and Pye Corner did not change much. Hambrook Village Hospital, founded by Dr. Edward CROSSMAN in 1867, was closed in 1951 and converted to apartments. Frenchay is now a Conservation Area in recognition of its unique architectural and historic character and appearance, with its historic buildings, attractive setting, Common, open spaces and adjoining wooded river valley.
Frenchay Village Museum opens on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and public holiday Monday afternoons (except in December). It is located in West Lodge at the gates of the hospital grounds. The museum, manned by the Frenchay Tuckett Society, gives an insight into an unusual village that, from the 17th century, was a community made up largely of Quakers and Unitarians. The Society publishes various books on the parish history and also has re-printed C.H.B. Elliott’s book “Winterbourne, Gloucestershire” first published in 1936. The museum has a large collection of historic photographs of the parish. Local records are held in copy form and are available to visitors. They include Anglican registers of Winterbourne (from 1600), Frenchay (from 1834) and Winterbourne Down (from 1861), Non-Conformists’ registers (including Unitarian records which I transcribed), monumental inscriptions, local censuses 1841-91, school registers and logbooks, cricket club scorebooks and parish magazines from 1889. Most of these can be seen in full at Winterbourne Family History online (www.frenchaymuseumarchives.co.uk).
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