Stoke Gifford

By Wendy Stannard

Published in B&AFHS Journal 121 September 2005

The south Gloucestershire parish of Stoke Gifford, bounded by the ancient parishes of Almondsbury, Winterbourne, Stapleton, Horfield and Filton, and consists of the main village; the former hamlets of Great Stoke, Little Stoke and Harry Stoke; the former landscaped Stoke Park estate; and the southern part of the new housing estate of recently called Bradley Stoke.

The first mention of Stoke Gifford in historical records is in the Domesday Book of 1086. "Duns, a thane, held Stoche in Ledbury hundred in the reign of Edward the Confessor. It was taxed at 5 hides, there were 12 plow-tillages, whereof 8 were in demean (drive cattle). It paid a yearly rent of £6 in King Edwards reign." The parish then goes back at least to Saxon times i.e. before 1066. The Domesday Book also records "that in Saxon times, Stoche had one priest and it is legitimate to conclude form this that there was probably a church in the parish." Yet earlier than this, a Roman settlement with hearths, ovens, nails, coins etc. and two skeletons were revealed during the 1970s and 1980s excavations of the area between Hatchet Lane and the railway line. A Saxon spear and other artefacts were found in Bradley Stoke.

After the Norman invasion of 1066, Stoche was given by William the Conqueror to one of his able lieutenants, Osborne GIFFORD, as a reward for services rendered during the short campaign against the English and so Stoke Gifford received its present name. Stoche means property - the modern word ‘stake’ is still used in the phrase 'to have a stake in', meaning to have a right to the property. After the death of John GIFFORD, the manor of Stoke Gifford passed into the hands of Maurice de BERKLEY. He became the founder of the Stoke Gifford branch of the BERKELEY family who lived in the Elizabethan mansion in Stoke Park.

The first entry of parish register for St Michael’s Church (built in the 14th century) was made in 1588 for baptisms, 1556 for marriages and 1557 for burials. The Churchwardens' and Overseers' Accounts Book gives a fund of interesting information of administration, including Poor Law Relief from 1657 to 1789. In 1663 there appears a statement of a monthly rate levied upon certain parishioners. The list begins with Sir Richard and Lady Berkeley's monthly contribution of 18s 6d and contains about forty names whose contributions varied between 1s 8d and 3s 10d. This bought in a monthly income of £6 16s 6d. Examples of money paid out by Churchwardens in relief for the poor include payments in 1664 and 1665, to John MAULING, the Apothecary, for powder and purging ointment for Joan PALMER and her son Henry. Help was also given in the careers of the young, as shown by the payment of £6 10s to Joseph PALMER as a bound apprentice. The parish register and churchwardens accounts (1869-1954) are kept at Bristol Record Office, and all other records along with a parish terrier of 1757 at Gloucestershire Record Office [ref: D2700].

In September 1765, John PLAYER drew up a census of the 50 families, counting 111 adults, 86 children and 53 servants. Evidence of longevity was provided by 8 men whose ages totalled 573 (average 71 years) and 8 women whose ages totalled 617 years (average 77 years). In 1825, the vicar Edward PARKER, wrote that Stoke Gifford was a healthy place, whose inhabitants were remarkable for their longevity, giving examples of Silas PHILLIPS and his father who between them held the office of clerk for 110 years and the farmers, Daniel and Abraham WEBB who family's average span of life was 85 years.

The BERKLEY family held the manor for four centuries. Their home was Stoke Park, (sometimes called Stoke House) which was rebuilt in 1760 by Norborne BERKELEY, Lord Botetourt, the last of the Stoke Gifford Berkeleys. He became the Governor of Virginia and after his death in Williamsburg in 1770, the manor of Stoke Gifford passed onto his sister Elizabeth who married Charles Noel SOMERSET, the fourth Duke of Beaufort. The estate then passed into the BEAUFORT family and was used as a home for the Dowager Duchesses, hence its present name ‘The Dower House’.

In 1878, the Duke of Beaufort leased Stoke Park to Admiral CLOSE, a dynamic and controversial war veteran, who with his wife became much involved with the church and villagers. In 1907 the Duke sold it to Rev. Harold Nelson BURDEN and his first wife Katherine who were great philanthropists and founded Stoke Park Colony for children in need of “Care and Control”. In November 1915, the rest of the Beaufort estate in Stoke Gifford, eight dairy farms, several small holdings, barns, cottages and other properties, were sold by auction at the Grand Hotel in Bristol, many being purchased by sitting tenants.

The village of Stoke Gifford lies on a slight hill north from the railway line, and used to be owned by the BEAUFORT family. The large village school of 1863 at the side of the small green, bears the Beaufort arms. Also a large pair of semi-detached houses next to it bear a ducal coronet. The church is curious, with an arch to the south porch and a south aisle separated from the nave by rectangular fluted piers. The vestry was originally a private room with a fireplace, where Lady BEAUFORT could attend the service in comfort.

Stoke Gifford remained entirely rural until the coming of the railway in 1903. The Great Western Railway built the new direct London & South Wales mainline cut through the parish, and compensated the village by constructing the New Road, once called Mile Straight. There was a railway marshalling yard, one of the biggest in the South West, now the site of Bristol Parkway railway station built in the 1970s with a large car park, handy for the motorways.

To the south from the railway line, Filton High School and a college on the west side of New Road are on land where there was a lime kiln using marl, limestone and sandstone from the area. On other side of the road, Sun Life’s modern offices and Sainsbury’s food supermarket have been built on the fields. Behind them, the former hamlet of Harry Stoke was just a few houses but down by the A4174 (the Avon Ring Road) was a site of Harry Stoke Colliery, hopefully opened after the war and sadly closed in 1963. East of this is the University of West of England (formerly Bristol Polytechnic), a large motel and the DuPont and other buildings are on Coldharbour Farm’s land, west is a new retail park and a new Ministry of Defence’s Abbeywood complex, and south is Hewlett Packard which sensitively restored the Wallscourt with its model farm.

As the 21st century dawned, Stoke Park is still there. From the M32 motorway, the Dower House can be seen in noble splendour looking down on the Star Hill monument and the Duchess’s Pond surround by grazing sheep in a truly pastoral setting.And still stands St Michael’s Church by Parkway Station and The Green, having survived storm and tempest, but held in reverence and affection by so many generations – past, present and future.

Sources and further reading:

A short history of Stoke Gifford, by Dr Evans A.K.C., B.D., 1958

Stoke Gifford – A Village History, by Ros Broomhead

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