Down the Rabbit Hole
Returning to Bristol in the summer of 2019, I set about trying to answer the many unanswered questions regarding the history of a property I used to live in. This turned into something of a “project”. What started off as a timeline and an attempt to explain one or two architectural features turned into a house history running to several pages and shooting off into many historical strands. The history that was revealed of the house, and of Leigh Woods, places I had assumed I knew well, turned out to be far more complicated, and far more interesting than I had expected.
This site tells the story of a Victorian property on the outskirts of Bristol (Woodleigh, North Road, Leigh Woods – hereafter largely referred to as “the property” or “the house”) from the earliest recorded use of the land through to the 1950s. Before this project, the property had only the deeds and a few anecdotal (and often inaccurate) historical details attached to it.
Although it started as an assessment of one property, it now tells the story much of the Leigh Woods area and pockets of Bristol and Somerset history, which is the main reason for putting it online. This was a research intensive and primary source-heavy project and, as a former resident, a personal one for me.
Some of this work ended up in my 2022 book, Know Bristol, available online and in independent stockists in the city. It was also covered by the Bristol Post in the same year.
The story of this house reflects both the changing fortunes of the local area and the wider forces at work in the country. The Norman Conquest, the dissolution of the monasteries, the building of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the rise and fall of the Ashton Court estate as well as the impact of two World Wars are all evidenced in this history.
Like many other house histories, it is a small window into a world that had largely been forgotten. Much like the house at the centre of the Bristol episodes of “A House Through Time”, 10 Guinea Street, the property’s known history really only existed as a series of deeds to begin with. These proved to be invaluable but everything else has been compiled piece by piece through a mix of primary and secondary sources.
As is so often the case with local history, there proved to be many different versions of the truth, often with limited evidence available for any particular interpretation of the past. Myths needed to be dispelled, even at the expense of more exciting versions of the past that might have been. It also became apparent that histories had been compiled for this area in some detail but had been lost or never made publicly available, the people who wrote them having sadly now passed away. It seemed sensible that a version might go online in order to aid others with their research.
During the course of this research key discoveries included:
– The proximity of a long-lost and largely forgotten Iron Age hillfort
– The use of a room as a place for boxing matches with gypsies (previously assumed to be a billiards room)
– The names of the people who worked at the property
– The ownership of the land before the deeds
– The historic use of the full extent of the grounds
– The lives, occupations and hobbies of the owners, including the people who built it
– Connections with historic Bristol estates Brentry House (now Repton Hall/Royal Victoria Park) and Ashton Court
– Evidence of canting heraldry and the reason for its placement on a staircase
If you need any further assistance with this, please get in touch.
Ashley Coates 2020 (and updated subsequently).
Burwalls area: The area in the early indentures given to mean the site of the Iron Age hill fort remains and surrounds. Before the construction of the property “the land” or “this area” generally refers to this zone at large unless otherwise specified.
Leigh Down: Another old term for the Burwalls area but encompassing more of the Leigh Woods district. It has several spellings in the pre-Leigh Woods Land Company indentures.
Stokeleigh Slade: An old name for Nightingale Valley
Page citation: Coates, Ashley. “A History of a Bristol House – Exploring the Past through the Windows of a Single Property.” A History of a Bristol House, ahousehistory.com, 2020, https://ahousehistory.com/.