(reviewed by the editor May 2017 – minor amendments)
The parish of Horfield, formerly in south Gloucestershire, originally extended over what are now the Bristol suburbs of Bishopston, Golden Hill, Lockleaze, and part of Ashley Down. This is where I spent my formative years. Although I was not born in Bristol, my father was a Bristolian and moved the family back here when I was four years of age, as a child the Common was my playground and I also did my courting there! I went to Horfield Church School and was married in Horfield Church fifty-one years ago, and I still live fairly close by.
According to the Concise English Dictionary of Place Names, Horfield means a muddy stretch of land surrounded by woodland. From Old English Horu meaning filth or dirt, and Feld meaning open country. There was certainly woodland all around and it is thought there may have been a Roman tumulus there. It’s a very high area with views all around from Horfield Common and, on a clear day, Kelston Tump near Bath to the east and the Black Mountains of Wales to the west can be seen. The ground is lush and verdant and there were many farms, part of it is called Golden Hill because of the buttercups, which proliferated there. Gradually trackways appeared across the Common, from the town of Bristol to Gloucester running south to north and from Stapleton to Westbury-on-Trym running east to west.
The Parish Church of Holy Trinity & St. Andrew was built in the 13th century at the junction of these tracks as a chapel of ease, which came under the jurisdiction of the church at Olveston in the See of Gloucester, part of the possession of the Abbey of St. Augustine, and part of the Manor of Berkeley. Around the chapel a circular hedge was planted to frighten away evil spirits, this is still there today one of the few circular hedges still in existence and one of the oldest in the area. In the 15th century, the chapel of ease was extended and became a parish church. Parish registers (from 1543) and records are kept at Bristol Record Office.
When the reformation came and Henry VIII created the Diocese of Bristol, the land in Horfield was leased to a layman who held the title of Lord Farmer and who was responsible for the Horfield rural community, which stretched from the edge of Bristol to the village of Filton, from Stapleton to Westbury-on-Trym. It is thought the first Lord Farmer was a Mr JACKSON of Sneyd Park, but the next was the MITCHELL family who held this post for many years. Eventually, in the 18th century, Isabella Mitchell married John SHADWELL who inherited the title and was succeeded by his son John and then his younger son Richard. There is a Shadwell Road in Horfield, which commemorates them. In the parish records, there is a most interesting account of the funeral of John SHADWELL. He was buried at 11 o’clock at night by the light of flaming torches – this was the custom of the time for the “posh” families, the more affluent you were the later in the day you were buried.
By the eighteenth century, as Horfield is about three miles north from the city of Bristol, and at the time was a sparsely populated village, most of the entries in Horfield Parish Register of the century are the members of ORGAN family of Court Farm. The area continued as a farming community with the church at its centre until early Victorian times when a few large houses began to appear and their owners “commuted” into Bristol. One owner who was a magistrate with grandiose ideas named his house Horfield Castle and built large turrets either side of his gate!
It was in 1831 that there were political riots in Bristol and the “new” Bristol Gaol was burnt down. It was decided to build another gaol in the outlying area away from the centre of the city. A site in Horfield was chosen, there had been pleasure gardens outside the city but these had failed to pay their way for a few years so the owner sold the land for the gaol. Horfield Prison was subsequently built and today is a high-security prison. Also on the Gloucester Road was Horfield Barracks. These were built for the “Glorious Gloucesters”, the Gloucestershire Regiment and opened in 1847 by the Duke of Wellington – hence the Wellington pub, Wellington Hill and Wellington Hill West. These barracks were demolished after World War II, and the building that replaced them has now been pulled down and houses are going up. The Barracks Chapel is still there, which is a listed building. The chapel was not licensed for burials so any soldier dying while stationed at the barracks was buried in Horfield Churchyard. When the barracks opened, the church had to be enlarged to accommodate the soldiers who had to attend compulsory church parade.
During the mid 19th century Bristol expanded rapidly and houses began to be built on either side of the Gloucester Road and to spread outwards across the green fields. So much so that in 1859 the parish of Bishopston was carved out of the southern part of Horfield, and St. Michael’s & All Angels Church was built and dedicated.
There are some interesting graves in Horfield churchyard. Here is the last resting place of John FROST, the late Mayor of Newport, Monmouthshire, and who was a Chartist Leader in South Wales who was captured and tried at Monmouth and transported to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), but subsequently came back to this part of the world after he had served his term of transportation. In the church, there is a plaque dedicated to “The Boy Hero” Archibald WALTERS who died saving the life of his friend on Horfield Common on October 23rd 1874. The two boys had come up from Bristol bowling their hoops but had lost their way. As night fell they cuddled down under a hedge to sleep. The younger boy became very cold and frightened so the elder one took off his coat to wrap around his friend. The following morning a farm worker on his way to work found them numb with cold, took them to the nearest farm. The younger one survived but Archibald died the following day.
A famous resident was William Joseph SLIM (1891-1970) born in Bishopston. He later became Field Marshall the Viscount Slim of Yarralumla and Bishopston. There is a plaque on the wall of his house which reads “A great military commander, he led the fourteenth army in the victorious Burma campaign during the second world war, was chief of the Imperial General Staff 1948-1952 and Governor-General of Australia 1953-1960.”
As the area grew, Gloucester Road became an important shopping area. Horfield was eventually absorbed into the city of Bristol, which boundary then extended out as far as Filton. Schools were built, non-conformist churches, St. Bonaventure’s Catholic Church (1906), Bristol North Baths, then in later years, cinemas; now, of course, most of the cinema sites are supermarkets! There is also a leisure centre, which is to have a new swimming pool. St. Edmund’s Trust School was built on Gloucester Road in 1860; it remained a school until 1905 when it became the Church of St. Edmund, King and Martyr. The children were moved to the “new” school next to Horfield Church on the Common, and St. Edmund’s became a daughter church of Horfield Parish but closed in 1978. There is now a St. Edmund’s Chapel in Horfield Church. St. Gregory’s Church was built on the Gloucester Road near the Filton boundary in 1911. In September 1921 just off the main Gloucester Road on Filton Avenue, the Memorial Ground (named to commemorate the soldiers who died in the First World War) was officially opened by the Lord Mayor – this was and still is the Bristol Rugby Club’s ground and now shared equally by Bristol Rovers Football Club.
In the north-east part of Horfield parish is Lockleaze now a parish in its own right, but clearly shown as a large open unpopulated area on the Horfield Tithe Map of 1843 joining the parishes of Filton, Stoke Gifford and Stapleton. In the 1920s, Filton Avenue and Muller Road were built across it and semi-detached houses sprung up on either side but in the main, it remained open country. After the Second World War, the council built a large housing estate there, complete with places of worship, schools, library, local shops, and community and health centres. Some distance from Horfield Common a large high space has been left open for recreation, and the views around from there are amazing.
But the highest point in Horfield is the Common and in some old pictures there are sheep grazing! It is a large green area, which has common rights so is a place for people to relax and enjoy. The thriving church still stands on the original crossroads, but there are tennis courts, a bowling green, putting and two children’s play areas – as well as Tesco! Overlooking the common is a row of neat late Victorian houses where Horfield’s most famous son was born. In 1904 Archibald Alec LEACH made his appearance in Hughendon Road, he was later to become known as the film star Cary Grant.
Horfield has a very varied history!
In the B&AFHS Research Room at the Bristol Records Office, there is a typed transcription of Horfield Parish church Baptisms & Burials 1770 – 1812.
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