Brislington, formerly in Somerset, lies about two miles from Bristol on the road to Bath. The area around the church is still called “the Village” but in antiquity, there were hamlets at “the Rock”, “West Town” and “Sandy” and these names are still preserved. Even relatively recently, the majority of us Brislingtononians were either market gardeners or nouveau riche from
We have been here since Roman times, and a bit of our Villa, the mosaic floor, can still be seen, once a year, on “Doors Open Day” at Lawrence Weston Villa! Go if you can, stand on it, and marvel! [Note: you can now visit the Kings Weston Roman Villa site by collecting the key (£10 refundable deposit) from the Blaise Castle Museum – details here] The descendants of those left behind when the legions departed perhaps inter-married with the clan of “Bristle”, a Saxon, who made his “ton” or homestead here. Nothing is left of him, except his name, which survived in many variations before becoming standardised as Brislington. Our first documented appearance is after the Conquest in 1087 when William Rufus gave the manor of Brislington to his cousin Robert FITZHAMON. It continued in the hands of various minor royals until 1207 when it was awarded to John LA WARRE, a knight, in exchange for service to the king. The few lesser mortals known from this time are notable, alas, because they had moved out. Adam de BRISTLETON witnessed a land transaction at St Mary Redcliffe in 1216, and Walter de BRISTLETON was a chaplain at Wells about 1237. A crime wave in 1242, saw Robert, the son of William the SMITH and Agnes, his wife, taking sanctuary at Keynsham church, accused of theft by Brislington parishioners, Adam, the FORESTER, was suspected of sheep rustling and worst of all Simon of BRISTLETON, was scalded to death, a murder which is still unsolved. In 1286m Robert de BRISLINGTON, was murdered by his wife, Alice de BLAKEFORD. She was burnt at the stake. (This horrific penalty for the “petty treason” of husband murder remained until the middle of the 18th century!)
Later in the 13th century, John and Roger LA WARRE were embroiled in tedious land disputes with Abbot Robert of Keynsham, but local attention was diverted by reports of visions of St Anne, Our Lady’s mother, allegedly seen by a well in the wood. It is said that such holy wells are pagan in origin and that the name “St Anne” is a convenient sound-alike for Wotan. Perhaps so, but Roger LA WARRE devised a way of poking the Abbot in the eye, and in 1276, built an imposing cathedral-like chapel on the spot. The place ever since has been called St Anne’s, and in the Middle Ages, was a notable place of pilgrimage.
Twenty-eight (male) poll tax payers were assessed in 1327, from the Lord of the Manor at 21d, down to Simon DANIEL and Thomas MEAD at 6d each. How many of these would perish in the “Great Mortality” of 1348 is not known, but it is certain the plague freed our (unlisted) slaves who survived. By 1370, our church on the hill, dedicated to St Luke, had been built, but no priest is named until Sir PHILIP in 1449. Two little figures set in the tower are said to be John and Agnes LA WARRE.
Thomas LA WARRE, a priest succeeded his brother John in 1398. When he died in 1426, the male LA WARRE line died out and passed to Reginald WEST. Son of Thomas’s half-sister Joan. He adopted the name Baron DE LA WARRE. The DE LA WARRES, who would later give their name to the state of Delaware in the USA, solidly Lancastrian throughout the Wars of the Roses, were generously rewarded with grants of lands when Henry VII succeeded to the throne. In 1486, Thomas, the grandson of Reginald, was at the king’s side when he came on a pilgrimage to the shrine at St Anne’s. The king enjoyed it so much, and he came again in 1502. Then came the Reformation and between 1536 and 1540, the chapel of St Anne was suppressed and pillaged. At the Manor House, the childless Thomas DE WARRE, adopted William WEST, his nephew, as his heir. This impatient young man attempted to poison his uncle and was disbarred from the inheritance. Though he later distinguished himself through army service overseas and was eventually pardoned, it was too late. Uncle Thomas, who died in 1554, had divided the manor between his sisters who sold it to the LACY family from Oxfordshire. The LACYS provided us with a Manor Court Book from 1595, in which they catalogued their tenants, so, among many others, we know that John MAYNARD was mining coals, likewise John GRAY, William TIBBOTT and Robert WOODROFFE. The bailiff collected a herriott after the death of Robert WHIPPY. Agnes KING, a widow, was allowed to turn over her portion to her son John, and so on.
A famous tomb in the churchyard dated 1542, is inscribed “Thomas NEWMAN aged 153”. I think a local prankster carved an extra digit! Another famously long-lived person arrived in 1556, the vicar, Richard PHILPOT. He made the first entry in the parish register on 2nd September 1566, the baptism of John, son of John MACY. The registers have been kept continuously ever since apart from a hiatus during the interregnum. PHILPOT was relieved by Oliver CHIVERS in 1631, when by my reckoning he would have been 97. His death is not recorded at Brislington and I imagine him still living quietly in some country parsonage!
Brislington Church and Village – Samuel Jackson 1823
Now a sad tale of blighted love. In 1606, William HALL began courting Jane WALTER but her brother Alexander intervened having discovered William already had a wife. “A wicked lie”, said William and demanded Alexander be taken to court for slander. But William was a newcomer and Alexander a local lad was able to get a string of cronies, among them several DANIELs with John HEDGES, John POPE, Willi PAIN, to swear to his good name. Perhaps William and Jane eloped but more likely she remained with her brother as his unpaid housekeeper.
A minor scandal erupted in 1616 when a gentlewoman, Jane SEWARD, claimed she had been pushed off her seat in church, with “great violence” by Joan PHILPOT, the vicar’s wife. She was “much bruised and waxed sorely ill”. The Bishop of Bath & Wells “admonished” Joan, who was required to make a public apology to the injured party. The SEWARDs rubbed it in by bringing their infant Bartholomew to be christened at the same time. Also that year, Thomas IFIELD’s wife Sarah spotted her husband and John GREENE’s wife Mary acting suspiciously under a hayrick and reported them to the Bishop. Thomas protested his innocence with “great vehemence”. They were “discussing the penning of sheep,” he declared. The Bishop ordered Thomas to keep away from Mary in future. Was marital harmony ever restored? IFIELDs (sometimes masquerading as ITHELLS) are found in the parish for many years to come. Youthful indiscretions long in the past, Thomas IFIELD was churchwarden in 1639 and a taxpayer in 1641 when Charles I needed money for his Scottish wars. Those taxed included two women, both widows, Susan SEWARD and Eleanor GLISTON, nee WICKHAM. The GLISTONs also called GLESON or GLISSON were an armorial family from Suffolk, some of whom were doing well for themselves in Bristol.
During the Civil War and Commonwealth, some Brislington people embraced Puritanism with heart and soul. A Quaker, Robert WASTFIELD was the noisiest, and accused the vicar Thomas CODRINGTON of seducing the people and harangued him “in the name of God to leave off your false worship”. The WASTFIELDs were potters and part of a proto-industrial revolution when potteries sprung up along the river Avon at St Anne’s. Examples of Brislington ware can be seen in the Bristol Museum.
At the Restoration in 1606 many clung to their Puritan beliefs, some like William ITHELL and Rebecca COWLING married 1673, were imprisoned for their faith. A Quaker burial ground in the vicinity of Flower’s Hill dates from at least 1699. Baptists met clandestinely on Brislington Common and were cruelly persecuted by the establishment. Mr YOUNG, then Vicar, left in protest in 1683, joined the Baptists, was flung into prison and may have died in Gloucester gaol. On the other hand, John BOUCHER, an old soldier, “now a very poor man who faithfully served the King in the late wars”, received a pension.
Many of our Brislington non-conformists must have been tempted to join the Rebellion of 1685 but luckily for us, Monmouth turned aside at Keynsham and departed for Sedgemoor and doom. Only one cryptic note in the churchwarden’s book links our parish to the tragedy: “to going to Harptree to answer a warrant concerning the rebels, 6s 4d.” At Keynsham, eleven rebels were hanged, drawn and quartered. As an awful warning, the heads and quarters were boiled in salt and tarred and distributed around the neighbouring villages of which we can be sure Brislington was one.
In 1667 a Bristol merchant Ezekiel LANGTON, purchased the Manor from Rowland LACY. The LANGTONs settled in Brislington and began a long incumbency. Part of a gentleman’s responsibility was to settle petty disputes, for instance, James EVANS and Morgan DAVY, two Welshmen, came for “Harvest worke at five shillings a week apiece, wet or dry, for two weeks”, for a farmer called George BRICE in 1696. Note the word “apiece”. EVANS got his money but the farmer refused to pay DAVY. Neither workman could speak English. Who translated I wonder? Thomas LANGTON’s judgement has not survived so we’ll never know whether poor Morgan was paid.
In 1702, John HAWKINS, the Mayor of Bristol, whose country residence was in our parish, welcomed Queen Anne to the City and was knighted on the spot. The Queen had intended to come through the village but heavy rain had turned the road into a quagmire and the royal party proceeded up the Avon by boat.
In 1719, a mercer, Joshua WHARTON, retired here. He kept an “Account Book” which also served as an occasional diary. IN 1735 his daughter Betty was taken ill and over the next three years we glimpse her terrible suffering, as much from what ailed her as from the ministrations of doctors. “Blister plaisters” are applied to her shoulders and legs. There are frequent “bleedings” which in turn lead to “an epilocktick fitt” for which she is bled again. Rendered speechless, the poor woman is confined, in the three weeks before her death, to the back chamber where she receives purges more bleedings and “took several vomits”. On St Stephen’s Day 1738 she brought up a vast quantity of blood and died soon after. Joshua said she made “a very faire corps”. The funeral cost him the enormous sun of £78 4s 3d.
William REEVE, a flamboyant Quaker businessman, built Arno’s Court, now a hotel, in 1766 complete with bathhouse, colonnade and the odd gothic “Black Castle” which survives as a restaurant. The great gate which he transported from Old Market Street in Bristol, is still here too, lately having its statuary restored. William, I regret to say, owned slaves in Grenada in 1772, 111 of them, all named. He eventually went bankrupt, although Arno’s Court continued in various hands, including those of the inventor Sarah GUPPY, one of whose designs was used by BRUNEL for the Suspension Bridge and later as a convent at the turn of the 20th century.
In 1778 Brislington Common was enclosed. It was hoped that robberies by footpads and highwaymen who had long infested the area would stop but these continued unabated. IN 1785 two Irishmen William JONES and Bartholomew O’NEIL were sentenced to death for robbing Job BENNETT on the Common. The multiple hanging at Ilchester was disgracefully botched. AS the cart drew away the halter slipped from JONES’s neck and he fell on the ground taking with him Thomas STILL a horse thief. O’NEIL then fell too. STILL and O’NEIL were taken up again but JONES remained on the ground a full fifteen minutes, “a shocking spectator of his fellow sufferers before he too was executed.
Towards the end of the century, the LANGTON family became GORE-LANGTON but now divided their time between us and Newton-St-Loe. Langton Court was demolished in 1902 but the pub on the spot has parts dated from 1590. Other families who had “come up in the world” intermarried and became CLATFIELD-IRELAND and COOKE-HURLE. George Weare BRAIKENRIDGE arrived. His legacy is a fine collection of drawings and watercolours commissioned from local artists and includes the delightful “Two Boys on the Stile at Brislington Brook” by Samuel Jackson 1824.
In 1805, Dr Edward FOX, a Quaker and pioneer in the humane treatment of the insane, opened Brislington House as an asylum. His ideas were enlightened and in place of the straightjacket, he ordered as little restraint as possible as well as occupational therapy. However, the lunatics were divided by class, the pauper patients acting as servants for the gentry, some of whom, if their names are anything to go by, were very grand indeed; like Louis Jerome de GOUJOB de THURSY, Commander of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, who died aged 75 in 1824. Brislington House continued until the establishment of the National Health Service and until recently was an elderly persons’ home.
In the Napoleonic wars, some of our men did their share in the “Home Guard” of the time, the Bristol Volunteers. In 1809, our Colonel GORE marched at the head of a procession 800 strong, colours flying, band playing, to celebrate the Jubilee of George III. In 1813, with Napoleon exiled to Elba, the war was thought to be over and Bristol celebrated in fine style. A local lady, Frances de la MOLIERE went to town to see the lights. In her absence, Sarah OVENS, her lover George LONG and her maid ransacked the house. They were caught and executed at Ilchester the following year.
William CONYBEARE, a distinguished palaeontologist was curate 1819-27. He was succeeded by his brother-in-law, Charles RANKEN who perhaps found that CONYBEARE spent more time fossil hunting than ministering so that there was serious backsliding amongst the more lowly of the parishioners. RANKEN’s notebook provides the most illuminating of our lists. One family he visited was at “Nelson’s Glory”. “Henry PILLINGER, aged between 60-70, cannot read, does not go to church, works for himself, in club. Sarah his wife, about 40, has a Bible, goes to church very seldom, in club, 5 children, 2 at home: Charles, 10, in [Mr] TAYLOR’s school, James, 2. They owned their own house. Ann SHEPHERD, (lodger0, 22, can read, has a Prayer Book”. Their house in School Road is still inhabited and bears the legend “Let ev’ry Englishmen do his Duty” carved into a little square below the roof. RANKEN was succeeded in 1839 by George CARTWRIGHT, his brother in law. To have three vicars in a row who were brothers in law must be an unusual record!
Our lives were changed totally when the coming of the railways put travel with our grasp. The Great Western Railway constructed a cutting in St Anne’s and a tunnel under Broomhill. In 1838 William TOVEY and Thomas MOCKRIDGE were killed when working on this enterprise. Easier access to town increased when the Bristol Tramway Company expanded and opened a depot in Sandy Park Road in 1900. Some travelled far afield like Walter BROWN who left Brislington to seek his fortune in Australia. He acquired a fine Georgian house at Paramatta in 1857 and called it – Brislington! For ninety-five years three generations of Browns practised medicine there and it is preserved today as an historic building.
In the 19th century, with improved social conditions, the population which had for many years remained static at just over 1000 people, expanded rapidly which led to the building of “New Brislington” at St Anne’s and Sandy park Road. In turn, new churches were built, St Anne’s, 1896 and St Cuthbert’s, 1920’s. The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, dated 1885, was demolished in 1910 but flourishes at the top of School Road in a new building. The original Congregational church was founded in 1796 and the present church was built in 1901. Our great cemetery of Arnos Vale, which opened in 1837, has recently been seldom out of the news and hopefully will be bought by Bristol City Council. As well as churches, the new population needed schools and work. The National School opened in 1859 and among the infants at Holywood Road in 1913 there is a black child. May I hope that her descendants will contact me for inclusion in my book “Black Bristolians”? Industrial building began in 1904 with the CWS butter factory and the Trading Estate commenced in 1927 occupying many of the green fields which had once been farms and market gardens. One of these belonging to the COGGINS family at the Rock was here when my family came in 1972. A rank of houses now occupies the site.
War, like poverty, is a blight of mankind. One who left us in February 1900 was Lt. John COOKE-HURLE. A farewell dinner was given for him at the White Hart “previous to his departure for South Africa” and the Boer War. One of his kinsmen, W.A. COOKE-HURLE appears on the saddest of all our lists, the War Memorial in the church, among the 108 of our men who died in the First World War, 1914 – 1918. The senior COOK-HURLE’s donated Victory Park to Brislington in 1921 to celebrate the peace. Also on the War Memorial are the names of the 21 men who died in the Second World War, 1939-45. Civilian casualties from air raids included 13 people killed in December 1940 when Rock Villa was bombed. King George VI visited us to see for himself. In 1944, the Yanks arrived and set up camp in what became Clayfield Road. Eleven of our girls married at Luke’s were GI brides. However, the persistent rumour that former US Secretary of State Caspar WEINBERGER was billeted at West Town Lane and helped Eisenhower to plan D-Day at the Co-op in Whitby Road was firmly scotched by Mr Weinberger when I wrote to him for information!
Though we are so close to town, we are on the edge of the country. Farmer DANCE’s cows still graze across School Road and there are horses in the next field a minute from my house. From the top filed at Broomhill, looking west where the sun sets, a panorama of Bristol unfolds. Old Bristle, the Saxon, must have thought it was as good a place as any to settle and so it is.
[The above is just a tiny part of the daily life of the parish (family history and gossip) to be found in my books “Brislington Bulletins” 1-5, covering 1066 – 1799, I am currently working on 6 & 7 1800 – 1849 and I hope to continue to the present day. I can be contacted for further information.]
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