The south Gloucestershire parish of Alveston which includes the hamlets of Rudgeway and Earthcott (or Herdicot) as it was once known is situated around the Ridgeway (from which Rudgeway gets its name), on the old Bristol to Gloucester Turnpike road; this was the Roman road from Sea Mills to Gloucester. There are extensive views of the River Severn and the Vale from this high point 325ft above sea level. Part of Rudgeway was originally in Olveston parish, but boundary changes over the years have given Grovesend to Thornbury and allocated all of Rudgeway now to Alveston, plus the housing developments along the Stroud, which include Lime Grove, and Wolfridge. The boundary between Olveston and Alveston in the Saxon Charter was Wolfridge Lane.
Despite different spellings over the years Alveston and the adjoining village of Olveston now have very similar names, Alveston may have been named after Alwih’s stone, perhaps one of the stones that stood on Oldown, of which the ‘Kissing Stone’ is the only one remaining. The remains of a large Roman villa under Tockington Park farm were excavated in the late 19th century (this is on private land), and other Roman remains were found during excavations for the M4 motorway. There are also the remains of tumuli, and a camp at Grovesend, which is divided by the A38 road, also two stone coffins found near the camp in 1670, according to Ralph Bigland’s manuscript.
At the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086, Earl Harold held Alveston, King William seized all the land belonging to Harold, the other owner being the Abbey of Bath. William Rufus is reputed to have been hunting here when he was taken ill and carried back to Gloucester, where he hastily appointed a new Archbishop of Canterbury, whose dues he had been collecting. When the Kingswood Forest was cleared, a 15 mile area around Alveston was reserved for King Henry III.
The old church at Rudgeway was a ‘Chapel of Ease’ of Olveston church until 1846 when Alveston became a separate ecclesiastical parish. The earliest record of a church was in 1106, built possibly on a pagan site as the original churchyard was roughly circular. A book by Hobart Bird ‘Old Gloucestershire Churches’ describes possible Saxon and Norman work, and in his ‘Mural Paintings’ he notes scrollwork in bold black lines on white on the east wall of the nave, plus a border of red on yellow. There were also the drawings of two ships in the porch which were identified by the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in 1949 from photographs, as being of a type dating between 1620 and 1700. Did they have a particular meaning; this was the time of the King’s flight to France with Colonel Thomas Veel, and of their return? Pictures may have meant more to the local people than the written word.
The condition of the church at Rudgeway had been causing concern despite attempts to repair it, and with the agreement of the parishioners, it was decided to build a new church on land given by the WILLOUGHBY family, nearer the new developments. In 1885, a new church was built at a cost of £3875; the chief subscribers Thomas and Edward BUSH paid two-thirds of that, a public subscription list contributed the rest. Both churches were dedicated to St. Helen, the mother of Constantine, the first of the Roman Emperors to embrace the Christian religion. There was no vicarage; the incumbent of the time rented various houses in the parish, Grovesend House, The Firs, and also a house in Lower Hazel in 1887 a vicarage was built next to the church, this again was replaced by a modern house in the 1970s even nearer the church. The font from the old church was relocated, to the new and unfortunately cleaned so well that it lost much of its historic value. Two of the bells were also moved, together with a hatchment board, and in 1956 before the roof of the old church was removed, two of the bells were sold to Winterbourne Parish Church.
Over the years the FITZWARRENS and various later relations, have held the Manor through the CORBETS, DENYS, SHEPHERD and WEBBS until it was purchased by Nicholas VEEL, in about 1580. Above the door of the present Church Farm at Rudgeway is the VEEL coat of arms, and a date of 1634. We presume that this building is what remains of the former manor house. Thomas VEEL, the eldest son of Nicholas, was a staunch Royalist, during the Civil War he was in charge of provisioning Berkeley Castle, and fled with the King to France, returning in 1660, he died at Upton, Bitton in 1663 and was buried in the middle of the chancel of the old church at Rudgeway, together with Nicholas VEEL who died in 1703. In 1960 the house and the old churchyard were acquired by Bristol Siddeley, and then Rolls Royce plc. as a guest house for their overseas visitors. The VEEL tombstone can still be read in the churchyard, although permission should be sought of Rolls Royce.
The VEEL family also leased Symond’s Hall, Wotton-under-Edge from the Berkeley family to whom they were related, this became the family home for the eldest sons. Both Thomas & Nicholas were awarded the office of making and registering Assurances in the Royal Exchange’ in 1661-2. Thomas VEEL was forced to sell the Conygre Farm to pay a fine imposed on him for supporting the Royalist side in the Civil War. Susanna VEEL (Veil) daughter of Thomas held “A moiety of the Tithes of the Lordship of Tockington” which she sold to an attorney named PARMITER in 1688. He was said to be acting for Richard HAWKESWORTH, this caused some controversy as HAWKESWORTH was known to be a Quaker, benefiting therefore from tithes which Quakers objected to.
Controversy has arisen over the years about the ‘Abbey Lands’ between Alveston and Grovesend. There were no buildings actually on this land, they were open commons, Bristol Record Office has a list of properties and land extending from Hayward’s Farm formerly Shellies, in Shellard’s Lane, to Street Farm, the Street, (formerly Hallow Street), and then down David’s Lane to Lower Hazel, these were all returned to the church by Henry VIII in 1542, having been previously owned by St. Peter’s of Bath. These lands and houses were leased by the Dean and Chapter of Bristol to the Lords of the Manor and later to various Bristol dignitaries, who in turn leased them to tenants.
Alveston was considered to be a good place to build, at over 300 feet above sea level it enjoys a good climate, and there was plenty of stone for building in its many quarries. From the late 18th century, houses were built for the wealthy businessmen of Bristol to retire away from the industrialised centre of the city.
Henry KING, a saddler and ironmonger of St. Augustines, Bristol, bought Alveston Old House and was probably responsible for the new front imposed upon it. Henry died in 1792, and his son Richard, who was Rector of Worthen in Shropshire, came to live there when his duties allowed. Richard’s daughter Amelia married Rev. John COLLINSON at Alveston church in 1802 and her sister Julia married the Rev. BAKER. Henry KING Jnr didn’t marry and he left his estate to his two nieces. Henry Snr’s wife was the daughter of Paul MOON, one of the Quaker following who first established their meetinghouse in Thornbury. Throughout her life she continued to attend the Quaker meetings there. In 1813 the house had been rented by John Leonard KNAPP and his wife, KNAPP had been in the Navy but then in his 50s he retired to the country to pursue his interest in natural history. He wrote several anonymous pieces before his book ‘The Alveston Naturalist’ was printed in 1828. In the original copy, there is a woodcut of the Alveston oak which stood outside Shellies or Hayward Farm which shows the farmhouse with a thatched roof. Later pictures show the roof with tiles but the same window placement, a new front was added to the farm in Victorian times. The COLLINSONS eventually sold Alveston Old House to William Oliver CHAMBERS in about 1860. The house has now been divided into two parts, and the old stables have also been converted into a house.
At Grovesend, Nathaniel STEPHENS (1699-1776) owned Grovesend House; he was appointed Deputy Commissioner of Customs at Bristol by his father in 1727. The house was leased to the CROWTHER family until Nathaniel died, when it was inherited first by Nathaniel’s brother, and when he died by a distant relation Henry Hannes WILLIS who in 1802 changed his name to STEPHENS in order to inherit the Chavenage Estate.
Another old house at Grovesend is the farm on the opposite side of the road; Christopher PURNELL made his will here in 1694. The Bigland manuscript mentions a memorial to PURNELL in Thornbury churchyard, a later member of the family Reverend Dr. PARNELL was Warden of New College Oxford, and he paid for the monuments to be refurbished. The next owners were probably the HARWOOD family, John HARWOOD died at Grovesend in 1758 aged 82, the family continued to own the house into the 20th century with several generations of the LUCE family as tenants. The HARWOOD family meanwhile went to Bristol, and also to Woodhouse where Basil HARWOOD, the musician and composer was born. The family were also Thornbury bankers. Olveston Parish Historical Society has published a book on ‘Basil HARWOOD of Woodhouse’.
Land between Grovesend and The Ship Inn was also purchased by naval men, Owen WATKINS was one of the copyholders with William SMYTH, Owen was reported lost on the Arabella last sighted off the coast of Africa in 1764 he may have survived as an Owen WATKINS is named again by the Merchant Venturers in 1791 saying 77 year old WATKINS had lost the use of his limbs. In his will dated 1796 William SMYTH of the Parish of St. Elizabeth in the island of Jamaica says ‘it is desired by me that my black man named Nathaniel BALEY should be left singly to my son John SMYTH and no other except it be agreeable to the above John SMYTH’. In fact John SMYTH predeceased William dying in 1795, his sister Mary EVANS inherited, it is a corruption of her name pointing to ‘Merryheaven’ on the A38 road sign, to some buildings between Thornbury and Alveston behind the Leisure Centre, all that remains now of the cottage they owned.
The Ship Inn at the top of the hill from Thornbury, has buildings dating from the 16th century. This was also a farm both owned by the DOWARD family from 1783 when Edward DOWARD married a former owner Elizabeth COX. It continued in the same family until 1912 when the Inn was purchased by Trust Houses. In the 1780s Edward JENNER and his friend Dr. FEWSTER of Thornbury were members of a ‘Convivio Medico’ Club who met to discuss the latest developments in the medical world. Alveston held grand dinners here when for example they celebrated the Jubilee of Queen Victoria and the gift to the village of the Jubilee Hall by Edward BUSH. A tent 100ft long was erected in the yard, and after a church service, all proceeded to the Ship following the Alveston Band. At 1pm a free dinner to every parishioner over the age of 13, at 3.30pm a free tea to every child in the parish and at 4.30pm free tea to every adult in the parish, 475 adults accepted the invitation to the dinner and 682 to the tea. The quantity of beef ordered 500lbs, plum pudding 200lbs, and 200lbs of cake.
The field next to the Ship is still the home of the Thornbury Cricket Club, Dr. E.M. GRACE brother of W.G. helped roll out the pitch in 1861. There were still farm buildings around the field in these early years and they caused some controversy when the ball hit a roof and was deflected. The wall of the shed was also a sight screen, and the ball bounced back into the field of play and was caught by a fielder. The batsman to his surprise was given out, when he queried this decision he was told that W.G. GRACE had caught a ball off the roof in 1886, he said it were out, and out it has been ever since.
John SALMON, Mayor of Thornbury died at the house now known as The Firs in 1800. At this time the house next door, the Forecastle (so named as it housed staff members from The Ship) together with The Firs were all part of ‘the Old Farmhouse’. John SALMON grandson of the Mayor lived here with his wife and daughter until the mid 1840s when after his wife’s death he returned to Jamaica to live with his son. His daughter Frances married Edward BUSH of the Grove. Later occupants of the house were the STUTCHBURY family who owned the Greenhill Quarry from 1890 to 1930.
At the crossroads where the traffic lights are now installed, stood the old Alveston Post Office. It was demolished in 1933 when a new road was cut through to avoid the detour around the Ship Inn, and to improve the junction with The Street, which had apparently caused many accidents in the past.
Alveston House on the opposite corner was built at the end of the 18th century by Edward WATKINS, a banker. Its Georgian frontage makes it look very similar to Alveston Old House in The Street. Edward died in 1812, but the house stayed in the family for many years. In 1813 it was leased by Thomas HELSTONE, a Professor of Mathematics from Cornwall, who established a Boarding and Day School here. There were 45 acres of land with 8 acres reserved for the boys, several of whom were disabled in some way. The brochure advertised the ‘mild discipline’ and the ‘salubrity of the air’. In 1843, Mr HELSTONE advertised in the Bristol Mercury that “In consequence of the Launch of the Great Britain Mr. H. has been induced to postpone the assembling of his Bristol pupils to Wednesday evening the 19th when Conveyances will leave the Moon Hotel at 6 o’clock.”
Earthcott is on the south-eastern end of the parish and has several 16th century farm houses, there was a toll gate on the Iron Acton road just after the crossroads, which caused some angry letters to the newspaper in the 1840s as another toll existed just outside Rudgeway church. This meant that a journey from Iron Acton to Alveston could mean paying two sets of tolls, over a distance of not more than a mile. There was also a school for the smaller children, to save them walking to school at Rudgeway; built in 1877 it is now a private house. The 1834 school on the A38 road at Rudgeway has also been converted into two houses.
There were three chapels in the parish – one at Rudgeway, one on Greenhill and one on the Down. James LACKINGTON a London bookseller, originally from Somerset, married Dorcas TURTON in 1776 she died in 1795, and he married his wife’s cousin Mary TURTON at Alveston in June 1795. He bought two estates in Alveston and came to live on one of them. At this time a staunch Methodist he built a small tin-roofed chapel on the Down, as he felt the inhabitants were badly in need of spiritual help, and also a chapel in Thornbury. The site of the chapel on the Down is now a small graveyard with five burials of the HIGGINS and HADRELL families, these being some of the builders of the replacement chapel built in 1870 on the opposite side of the road.
During the 19th century, Alveston village still consisted of small groups of houses. Several large houses had been built from the late 18th century. After the 1840 Enclosure Act building plots became available around the parish, houses were built along the Down towards the Ship Inn, and in Rudgeway and Woodhouse Down, also in the area now known as The Square, many included workshops for dressmaking, coachbuilding, shoemaking. In 1959 a planning decision was made to develop a new centre to the village around Bodyces Farm. The population then was around 600, and by 1987 it was 6000 plus. As well as houses, there are half a dozen shops and a new primary school. A new secondary school is just on the edge of the parish boundary. Where the fields have given way to houses the old names have been remembered as road names – Greenhill, Wolfridge, Beanhill, Bannets Tree (Walnut tree) and Stoneystile. Many inhabitants of the village now commute into Bristol. Despite the many changes that have taken place over the centuries, the parish of Alveston still manages to retain its separate identity.
The parish register dates from 1742, bishop’s transcripts from 1674 and other records are kept at Bristol Record Office.
If you wish to see more photographs of Alveston, my book “Alveston through time” is available from Amberley Press, or Amazon pub.2009.
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