By Andrew Plaister
Published in B&AFHS Journal 157 June 2014
The parish of Wick & Abson – sometimes called Abson-cum-Wick – in south Gloucestershire is bounded by the parishes of Pucklechurch in the north, Doynton in the east, Bitton in the south, and Siston in the west. The parish consists of a small village of Abson, a large village of Wick and hamlets of Holbrook and Wick Rocks, and formerly consisted of another hamlet of Bridgeyate. The parish was originally a chapelry to Pucklechurch until it became a parish of its own. The western and eastern boundaries of the civil parish had been changed.
The name Abson is a corruption of Abbots Ton - a place belonging to the Abbot. This was the Abbot of Glastonbury, as the manor of Pucklechurch (including Abson and other surrounding villages) was given to the Abbot after the savage murder of a Saxon King Edmund at Pucklechurch in 946 AD. After King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, between 1536 and 1540, the manor of Wick & Abson fell into private hands. It was owned first by Sir John WINTOUR and then by the HAYNES family.
The village of Abson, which name was since shortened from Abston, is located on a minor road between the villages of Wick and Pucklechurch, and is a mainly nucleated in pattern with some additional outlying farms and settlements. The centre of the village is a small village green and the church, dedicated to St James the Great. The church is a listed building, as are the churchyard walls (with distinctive Bristol Black coping) and many of the graves. There are two fragments of carved knot work masonry, though hard to see, up on the chancel walls, as well as a Sheela na Gig carving of a male figure high on the outside of the east wall. They are believed to date from Saxon or early Norman times, and also suggested that a Saxon church once stood there. The church contains an early 17th-century pulpit with a sounding board and 18th-century woodwork. The bell tower contains six bells which are still rung by hand. The neighbouring farmhouses, stables and barn, now converted into homes, are all Grade II listed.
The other village of Wick, about a mile south of Abson, sits astride the river Boyd on the Golden Valley and is situated on the A420 road between Bristol and Chippenham. It is equidistant from Bristol and Bath – about seven miles in each direction. The word ‘wick’ is usually accepted as meaning a hamlet or homestead dependant on a place of greater importance. Just north of the village, the river has cut a deep gorge through the limestone and sandstone rocks. The Wick Gorge, a well-known beauty spot 200 years ago and a fine run out by horse and trap from Bath, get a mention in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. It was also visited by Bath’s Georgian Beau Nash. Both would have known the gabled Wick Court with its beautifully carved staircase and priest’s hole. On the summit of the northern cliff of the gorge is a Roman camp of oblong form, defended on three sides by a broad ditch and double vallum and containing about 12 acres of land. Adjacent to the east side of the gorge, formerly in the parish of Doynton, a historic Bury Manor dated back to the 13th century was re-built in Gothic Revival style in the early 19th century, and limestone quarries existing for centuries are still working.
Wick Court is generally believed to have been built around 1665 by Thomas Haynes whose family originally came from Westbury on Trym. The 17th century historian Robert Atkins wrote “Richard Haynes son of Thomas is Lord of the Manor of Wyck and Abson and keeps Court Leet. He has handsome seat at Wyck and a large estate”. Other historians believe that the house dating from much earlier around 1610 was constructed for Sir Edward Wintour’s son, John, as a wedding present. Church historian W.J. Robinson, writing in his West Country Manors in 1930, even suggests that it was erected around 1535, the same time as Siston Court by one of the Denys family of Dyrham. But one thing we do know is that the Haynes family lived at Wick Court for generations. The last member of the family, Richard, died in 1816. The exterior of the house is of interest because of its survival in an almost unaltered state, apart from the added late 17th century ‘sun room’ built on pillars over the old front door, which you can see from the footpath. Now a private residence, it was once used by the printers, Messrs PARTRIDGE and LOVE, who had a factory on the other side of the river Boyd.
A new church in Wick was built in 1846 and consecrated in 1850. At the time of the 1851 census, it was described as "Wick Chapel of Ease, St Bartholomew". The return was completed by Thomas CONEY, Curate of Wick & Abson, who lived at Pucklechurch Vicarage. He remarked that "the parish church of Abson being at so great a distance from the bulk of the population, a new church was needed". It was erected "by voluntary contributions & by a private benefaction”. Wick became a separate ecclesiastical parish in 1880. There were two other chapels in Wick - a United Reformed Church bears an inscription “Wick Tabernacle 1837” on its front wall, and a Wesleyan chapel converted to a different use. The first village school was built in 1874, a National School which opened with 49 pupils. It is now a dwelling house, keeping its original external appearance. Wick Village Hall was built at the end of the 19th century.
In Wick Gorge, the river Boyd provided the power for mills producing paper, flour, lead and iron, later converted into other industrial uses. A lake was created behind a weir, built to provide power for an iron rolling mill. The original iron works, the Wick Iron Company, was owned and operated by Richard Haynes of Wick Court. While iron was being mined at Wick Rocks deposits of yellow and red ochre were discovered. George PHIPPS, who was the manager of the iron rolling mill and forge, decided to exploit this mineral by adapting the mill to power the processing of ochre in 1892. By 1895, Messrs BURGESS and Co. took over and later made the Golden Valley Ochre and Oxide Company famous throughout the land. A light railway, worked by gravity, took the ore from the mine to the mill. In 1901, chemist Dr Charles BEAVIS joined the firm, later becoming, along with his brother Rowland, a director of the company. When Charles died his son took over the business. The family's fine Edwardian mansion – Naishcombe House which still stands today – was later used as offices by the company. At its peak the works employed some 200 people. Ochre pigment, natural and non-toxic, is used to make fine colours and oil paints which dry quickly and cover surfaces thoroughly. It is also used in the manufactures of varnishes, Fullers Earth as a filler in various processes including the manufacture of brown paper. Its most famous use, however, has been to colour the asphalt laid on The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace. As many as 180 colours were mixed and graded on site – everything from bright canary yellow to Turkish reds and deepest purples. The colours were mixed using linseed oil, turpentine and water. A red oxide called ruddle was used by farmers to mark their sheep. With the waste from the various processes running directly into the River Boyd, the waters were often deeply coloured. Although high quality ochre was later imported, the Golden Valley Works stayed at the forefront of technology. The works finally closed down in 1970 and the derelict buildings were later cleared away. Since 2005, Wick Gorge is now called Golden Valley Nature Reserve, cared for by a "Friends" group of local people.
Perhaps Wick’s most famous son was the pugilist John GULLY, born in 1783 at the Rose and Crown where his father was the landlord. In 1805, short of money, he fought Henry PEARCE a champion prize fighter nicknamed the “Game Chicken”. After an amazing 64 rounds Gully lost – but his performance was enthusiastically admired. After Pearce had retired from the ring, Gully fought two successful fights with Bob GREGSON, a giant of a man. After winning £400, Gully retired from the ring to become a racehorse owner – he won the Derby three times – and a Member of Parliament. He died, a wealthy man, in Durham, in 1863.
In Lodge Road between Abson and Bridgeyate, Blue Lodge, built on the site of a royal hunting lodge, was once the home of Anna SEWELL, the author of Black Beauty. The Sewell family lived there for six years from 1858 before moving away to Bath. Some of the fictional incidents in Black Beauty, it is said, can be traced back to things that Anna experienced while living there. Her mother Mary was a prolific writer of children’s poems and stories. A tear-jerking ballad, Mother’s Last Words, sold more than a million copies. And one of her poems, The Little Foresters, was set in the ancient Kingswood Forest. Mary started mothers’ meetings, a working-men’s club and a lending library in Wick, and Anna would ride there three nights a week to teach writing and natural history. Those gruelling trips in the dark no doubt inspired Anna’s description of coachman John Manley’s eight mile dash on Black Beauty to fetch a doctor. And it was while at Blue Lodge that Anna witnesses a groom exercising a lively horse that slipped on wet ground. Thrown under the wheels of a passing cart, the man was killed. This incident appears in print as the death of Reuben Smith, the drunken groom who cruelly rode Black Beauty along a stony road without shoes. The book came out in 1877 but within a few months Anna Sewell was dead, having contracted hepatitis, aged just 57. In the first year alone the book sold an amazing 100,000 copies. It went on to become one of the top five best sellers of all time.
In Bath Road from the east side of Wick, Tracy Park dates back to the 13th century, which estate remained in the hands of the TRACY family for 300 years before becoming home, in Victorian times, to the BUSH and DAVY families. It is thought to have been the inspiration for Birtwick Park which features in Black Beauty. The last private owners, the CLARKs sold the house and estate at auction in 1970 for it to be transformed into the present golf club. Many of the older people in Wick have fond memories of the Clark family – the thrill of walking to the door by lamplight at Christmas and being invited into the house for refreshments. The eastern half of the estate and the house are in the parish of Doynton. Greenway Farm, like many others in Wick, was originally part of the estate. The sale of the 39-acre farm in 1974, revealed more about its ancient history. Two ancient wells in the field are thought to link back to Roman times. There are also stories of a Roman pottery kiln and villa near the farm. In a field next to Coldharbour Farm, are two large stones, about five feet high, said to be the remains of Druidical monuments erected to British chiefs.
Further up that road, is Hangman’s Hill, often linked with strange paranormal activity. It is said that a highwayman who used to rob travellers coming into and out of Bath was caught and later hanged from a nearby tree. Perhaps he still haunts the area. In one instance, The Bristol Mercury newspaper dated 21st November 1840 states, “Highway Robbery – as Mr. William PERRY of Abson, was proceeding home from Bath, about 7 o’clock on Saturday last, he was stopped, on descending the Lansdown Hill, leading to Wick, by five men, who suddenly dragged him from his horse and stole from him about £4 being all he had with him. They turned the horse loose and tied Mr. Perry’s legs with cord in such a manner that he could not move until a lad happened to come by and extricate him. We are sorry to add that there it is as yet no clue to the discovery of the villains.”
On the western outskirts of Wick towards Bridgeyate, there are three interesting farmhouses. Highfield Lodge Farm was built in the 1500s. A third storey was added, the work being done by John Gully, the boxer. It was listed as part of “Thomas Kains Farm” and Highfield Farm as “Toogoods Farm” in the 1845 tithe map. My ancestor, Edward Baker EDDOLLS from Langley Burrell, Wiltshire, occupied Highfield Park Farm from 1769 to 1771 when he died. The parish boundary with Bitton runs through the farmhouse, which probably explains why he described himself as a yeoman of Highfield in the county of Gloucester, without specifying the parish. His two eldest daughters married into the PERROTT family, minor gentry who owned the farm and other lands in the parish. The Perrott’s wealth had been created through glass making in Bristol.
The hamlet of Bridgeyate, about a mile west of Wick, was a ribbon of cottages to the south of the Griffin public house. The rest was scattered farms around the common. The pub, in the parish of Siston next to the parish boundary, was built in the early 18th century as a farmhouse. A popular Wednesday market used to be held at the rear on the site of the existing car park. The road junction used to be a ‘turnpike crossroads’. There is some evidence that coal mining took place in Bridgeyate in the early 19th century, of which over time leases were granted by lords of the manor to miners including Richard HART of Hanham, John SUMMERHILL, Stephen and Samuel SUMMERELL and Henry STONE. The Ebenezer Chapel was built in 1810, the original trustees of which were all local men, namely TRUBODY, PEACOCK, JARRETT, ASHLEY, WILMOT, PARKER and JOHNSON, several gaining employment from the brassworks at Warmley. It is reputed that John Wesley and his fellow Methodists from Kingswood School would come out to Bridgeyate and preach on the common. Local traditions have it that he tethered his horse to the old chestnut tree. Prior to the building of the chapel, worship took place in nearby houses. John Trubody announced that he would let the congregation have a small plot of land above the common to build their chapel. It was later purchased by the United Free Methodists in 1855, and is now holiday cottages. The name Bridgeyate may be derived from the gate near St Bridget’s Well opposite Bridgeyate House on Homeapple Hill in the Wick direction. Alternatively, it may refer to a gate located on the edge of the forest adjoining fields known as “Breeches” and therefore known as “Breeches Gate”. The whole of Bridgeyate is now in the civil parish of Siston.
Holdings at Bristol Record Office for the parish of Wick & Abson include the parish register dating from 1687 (though the Bishop’s Transcripts commence in 1600), Apprenticeship (1772 to 1829), Bastardy orders (1808 to 1823) Overseers of the Poor (1742 to 1863), Removal Orders (1811 to 1850), Settlement papers (1809 to 1835), and also the Haynes family’s manorial records (under references of HA/E series).