Compton Greenfield

By Janet Hiscocks

Published in B&AFHS Journal 135 March 2009

The Parish church of All Saints, Compton Greenfield stands in Farm Lane, surrounded by fields and is of some age having celebrated its octo-centenary in 1970/1. The Church itself is small accommodating a maximum congregation of 83 seated in the pews. The Nave and the Chancel date from the twelfth century and the tower from two hundred years later. The tower houses two bells, a tenor dated 1736 and one small bell. The finest feature of the building is the doorway in the South Porch, a Norman arch of “great architectural merit”. In former times the Church was dedicated in St Nicholas. The Parish is bounded by the larger parishes of Henbury, Almondsbury and Pilning.


All Saints Compton Greenfield

The church has lived through three restorations, the last of which also saw an extension added. The Victorians plastered the walls, painted them pink and installed deal pews washed green. In 1892 when the ancient west door was reopened, the remains of an old font were discovered. Parts of this original font were used for the upped portion of the sundial pedestal in “first” Churchyard extension. Old tombstones under the floor were revealed and recorded. During the greater part on the twentieth century Sir Stanley WHITE of Hollywood Tower was the generous benefactor who enabled the 1925/26 restoration and extension. The pink plaster was removed, revealing the stone walls. The new pews were of oak and the main timbers of the old tower were re-instated. Suitable stone tiles replaced the common double Roman tiles of the roof. The burial ground was enlarged with a new wall enclosing both the old and new burial grounds. The addition of choir vestry, the moving of the pulpit to the South of the Chancel arch and the extending of the small opening from the organ chamber to the floor of the Chancel completed the internal changes. Apparently the cost amounted to approximately £4,500 and much of this was generously donated by Sir Stanley.


Interior of All saints

The modern stained glass windows on the South wall are severally dedicated to Dame Lucy Ellen DAVIS, to the four Cruddas children and to William Hope DIXON priest, a former Rector. The East window in the Chance is a triple light erected by Lucy Ellen Davis to her husband and son. The West window is a memorial to those who gave their lives in the two world wars. There are several tablets to the Davis family in the Nave. The Davis’s were Baronets living in Hollywood Tower in the nineteenth century.

The Rev. F BROWNSON, who was Rector from 1892 – 1927, and his wife established a branch of the “movement” Art Industry, which hoped to provide income for a rural population at a time when workers were flocking to larger towns to obtain better paid work. Classes were formed for Brass and Copper Repoussé work and Wood Carving where proceeds were paid directly to the members after expenses had been deducted. It seems that the plan to add spinning and weaving skills were realised as some altar linen was made in the parish spun on spinning wheels and woven on a loom set up in the Rectory. The oak linenfold was constructed on an oak frame by the parish wheelwright.


Wheelwrights in Easter Compton

The early history of the parish involves the Grenvilles, a Bideford family, as Lords of the Manor in the thirteenth and fourteenth century. Ownership then passed to the Berkeleys in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and later to the Canns. Robert CANN was Mayor of Bristol in the 1660s. He lived at Manor Farm, Holly Hill off Cribbs Causeway and was probably responsible for the appointment of Samuel CROSSMAN as Rector. The Rev. Crossman was the writer of “My song is love unknown”. The Canns were later allied by marriage to the Lippincotts of the Elizabethan mansion of Over Court (now demolished) in the hamlet of Over.

It is possible that there was a medieval village around the Church but there are no visible remains to prove this. The only building close to the Church, in fact next door to it, is Church farm which was in existence by 1851 as the census enumerator mentions it by name. However the 1841 census for Compton Greenfield parish is confusing. Many “families” are recorded, crossed out and recorded again in different tithings in Almondsbury and Henbury. It is possible to pick out the Rectory, called the parsonage, with the Rector of the time named. This building of Georgian style is in the hamlet of Compton Greenfield across the fields to the west of the Church. The only building mentioned to the east of the Church is Washingpool Farm. No longer a farmhouse it is still in what is now the village of Easter Compton. Compton Greenfield was a predominately agricultural parish of 650 acres. In an 1897 directory the soil is described as “marl and alluvial clay with a clay subsoil” growing “wheat, roots and beans and some land in pasturage.” The parish extended from Holly Hill to the banks of the Severn where Seawall or Sea Bank Farm could be found. Even in 1851 and 1861, apart from the hamlet of Compton Greenfield, the parish as presently constituted appears part in Henbury and part in Almondsbury and it is there, in the village now called Easter Compton, the population has grown.

The parishioners listed on the census are predominantly employed in agriculture and associated occupations. Other trades such as shopkeeper, shoemaker and dressmaker also make an appearance. In 1861 there is the very first mention of those employed at Cattybrook brick works in Over and on the railway. The early railway was updated by the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway and this brought first construction workers and later railway operating staff to the surrounding villages and when the Great Western Railway decided to build the Severn tunnel using bricks from the brickworks the villages’ population were further enhanced. It must have been an amazing sight to see the development of this engineering feat though, of course, the most part was not visible above ground. The tunnel is one of the longest underwater in the world being over 4 miles long with two and a quarter miles under the river. Progress was slow because modern machinery was not available. Work was started in 1873 and suffered a terrible set back in 1879 when water gushed from a freshwater spring which had been pierced. The pumps could not cope with the extra water and the whole shaft, on the Welsh side, was flooded but no worker was lost.

In 1851 the enumeration of Compton Greenfield parish comprises three and a half pages but over subsequent years more properties and areas seem to be included. In 1871 the separate hamlet of Compton in Almondsbury parish has a population of approximately 200 souls. The hamlet stretches from Washingpool Farm nearest Pilning to Cribbs Causeway. Only three properties are named including the Fox Inn which is named for the first time. The hamlet appears to consist of a main street, Passage Road, with no lanes leading off that road. Compton was on the route leading to crossings of the River Severn at Aust, Old Passage and New Passage. More men are employed in the brickworks coinciding with the commencement of the Severn Tunnel. Enumeration in 1881 is still in Almondsbury parish and, after Compton Greenfield itself with five farms and one cottage; the enumerator began his journey at the top of Blackhorse Hill at Cribb’s Lodge and thence to “New” Passage Road finishing once more at Washingpool Farm. In 1891 the village is referred to as East Compton. Several more properties are named and occupations are more varied though agriculture is still occupying many of the inhabitants. Finally in 1901 and East Compton has six farmers and many employed in associated occupations. The brickyard is recorded as employment by at least fourteen parishioners and included are several terra cotta workers.

Schools and school teachers are mentioned over the census years. In 1841 Amelia JONES aged 53 is running a day school probably in Compton hamlet. Interestingly in 1851 Amelia LONG aged 62 is described as “keeper of School”. Her husband William is Parish Clerk, they are enumerated in Compton and there are several Jones stepchildren living with them. In 1861 Mary Ann ROSSER daughter of Mark, a blacksmith employing two men, is keeper of the school assisted by her wonderfully named sister Christaballah. They are aged 19 and 17 respectively. Jane Hopkins aged 22, unmarried, is described as “teacher (school)” in 1871 in addition to the Rosser sisters. In 1881 Christabel Rosser aged 32 along with her younger sister Henrietta is in the village teaching. 1891 and 1901 provide interesting entries as Marianne Rosser and her two sisters Christabel and Henrietta are keeping a private boarding school in East Compton, seven scholars living with them in the earlier census and five in the later. There is another school mistress and an assistant teacher also in the village. The village school building, now the Village Hall, was provided and maintained by Mrs Cann-Lippincott until her death when it was bequeathed to the Rector and Church wardens of Compton Greenfield as Trustees. Eventually after much negotiation Gloucestershire County Council took over responsibility and it remained a local authority school until its closure. There is no doubt that there was some sort of education available in the area through the census years.


Easter Compton School in the 1930s

Many names recorded in the census are to be found in the Churchyard and Methodist burial ground. The gravestones have been recorded and are found in the Society monumental inscription index. In the near future we hope that the recorded gravestones will appear on the Society website. The parish registers commence in 1693 and are deposited in the Bristol Record Office as are many other Church papers. These include the details of the duties to be performed by the Verger, Sexton and cleaner of the church. The Verger’s duties run to eighteen items including opening the church before each service and making ready for same. The church is to be open between the hours of 8 am and half an hour after sunset each day. He has to attend to the lighting and maintenance of the furnace, candles and lamps and ring the bell for services. He must put out the communion vessels, be present at all baptisms answer responses at weddings baptisms and funeral. He has to dispose of the collection “as directed” and lastly to wear the Verger’s gown at all Church services. The Sexton’s duties are concentrated in the church yard keeping all neat and tidy. He must dig graves and clean the grave stones with caustic soda. He has to toll the passing bell and the funeral bell. Lastly he must keep roof gutters free from leaves and other deposits. The cleaner has to tidy the church after all ceremonies and keep the brass, pewter metal work and Communion plate clean and also the windows. Finally he must keep the Church and Vestry tidy.

Much has changed in the last 45 years since I have lived in the village. Cribbs Causeway has developed from a country lane which my family cycled up to blackberry on Dyer’s Common and the motorway has arrived. The shopping Mall produces much traffic causing villagers not a little trouble in leaving the Blackhorse Hill. Street lighting and a pavement on the west side of the road are developments in the village itself. Several extra small housing developments have been built and there has also been infilling. Despite the fact that the village has changed we are still surrounded by green fields and have a farmer living and working among us.

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