Not all of the research fitted into the chronological format of the “chapters” on this site. These are instead listed below as notes.
Next Door’s Timeline (1874-1955)
2nd October 1874 – Leigh Woods Land Company indenture to a David MacIver
12th April 1878 – Stuart Coleman purchases from David MacIver and a Dr John Watson keeps the plot next door.
3rd June 1878 – Stuart Coleman buys Dr John Watson’s plot (plot 23).
16th October 1883 – Rev Thomas Hincks FRS purchases house
Hincks was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1872 for noteworthy contributions to natural history. Hincks named 24 families, 52 genera and 360 species and subspecies of invertebrates. His important bryozoan and hydroid collections are in the Natural History Museum, London. At least six genera and 13 species of invertebrates are named in his honour.
25th January 1899 – Rev Thomas Hincks dies, leaving the house to his wife, Elizabeth.
8th January 1916 – Elizabeth Hincks dies
23rd February 1916 – John Kenrick Champion (and a Charles Muller) becomes owner via probate
17th May 1916 – William Ernest Fursier purchases the house
He dies on 5th February 1940 and it appears the property ends up in probate to William Leonard Samuel Vassall. He assents for the property to go to a Nellie Blair Fursier. William Fursier was a “warehouseman”?
5th February 1940 – W E Fursier died at Northwoods, Bristol
27th May 1953 – Nellie Fursier purchases the grass verge in front of the house from the Leigh Woods Land Company
21st March 1955 – N B Fursier dies at the property.
1955 – John Esmond Cyril Clarke purchases house
Master (1956), Treasurer (1969–1982) of the Merchant Venturers
Legacies of Slavery
This seems like the appropriate juncture to address the property’s, and the local area’s connections with the triangular trade. Bristol was one of Britain’s three principle cities involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Many of its residents were also involved in the plantations where the slaves worked, and the many businesses connected with them or benefitting from the wealth derived from these enterprises. Individual families links to slavery are often quite complex but its importance to the city’s economy in the 18th and early 19th century cannot be underestimated.
Rather than continually refer back to these legacies in the text whenever land purchases, gifts, property improvements or any other developments are concerned, they are mentioned here instead.
While many properties in the city can be very directly linked to the proceeds of industries that used slave labour, the connections of the house we are concerned with is less obvious. This is doubtless the case with many other properties and institutions in the city, which are more likely to have “invisible” or less easily discerned connections than the property’s listed on the UCL database as having a documented link with plantations – just over 200 in and around Bristol at the time of writing.
It is also worth providing the context in which this history is currently being written. The National Trust has very recently completed a reassessment of its property’s links with colonialism. The Bristol History Commission has been set up by Bristol City Council to examine how the city’s past is presented today, and the University of Bristol is working on a similar project. Oddly this period of reassessment is being challenged by those who consider re-examining the history of our institutions to be “woke” and a challenge to patriotism of modern day Britons. That is not what is intended here. This short section of the house history solely aims to clearly set out where the more direct linkages with slavery are for the benefit of the historical record.
Way/Smyth – Arthur Edward Gregory Way lived in the property 1880-1919. He lived off income from the Ashton Court estate and was able to purchase the property due to an inheritance that was, in all probability, in large part comprised of funds derived from the estate. The Smyth family, which the Ways married into at least twice, owned the land pre-build from 1605 to 1874. In Historic England’s “Slavery and the English Country House” (2013), Madge Dresser highlights the following:
The renovation of Ashton Court near Bristol came after the marriage in 1757 of John Hugh Smyth to the Jamaican heiress Rebecca Woolnough. The marriage settlement of £40,000 comprised properties in England and Jamaica (including the Spring plantation in Jamaica) and substantially improved the fortunes of the Smyth estate. Indeed it was estimated by one local historian that the profits made by Sir John Hugh Smyth from the Spring plantation and the sale of its sugar amounted to some £17,000 over the period 1762–1802.
However, subsequent research suggests that the family’s association with the Atlantic slave economy pre-dates this marriage, as Sir Hugh Smyth’s father, Jarrit Smith, a Bristol solicitor, was also a member of the Bristol Society of Merchant Venturers – the elite body which actively lobbied on behalf of Bristol participants in the African, American and West Indian trades.
Cave – Ada Louisa Cave married Arthur E G Way and lived in the property 1888-1936. After her husband’s death in 1919, she owned the house for another 17 years making her the longest standing occupant of the house. The Caves were a very wealthy Bristol family, with interests in banking, glass manufacturing and shipping. Her grandfather, John Cave of Brentry (1765-1842), is listed by UCL as a “claimant or beneficiary” of the scheme that compensated slave owners following abolition.
His first wife was Penelope Oliver, the daughter of Thomas Oliver, whose family owned the Friar’s Hill plantation on Antigua and derived a considerable income from it. In November 1835, a compensation claim against the Friar’s Hill plantation (137 enslaved) netted six members of the family, including Ada’s grandfather, John, £1,984. Other sources suggest that Friar’s had 206 enslaved peoples working on the plantation in previous years. It is worth noting, if it is not already obvious, that although the database provides a figure strictly for the compensation payout, similar figures do not exist for the less tangible but potentially more profitable ways in which the Caves will have benefitted from plantation ownership.
Thomas Oliver’s former home (Elmwood House) is itself undergoing a historic reassessment at the time of writing. It was originally built for Oliver during his time as the last Royal Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay and would go on to house a succession of notable residents including an American Vice-President and a man who would give his signature to the American Declaration of Independence. The house that stands today was once part of a 100-acre estate but more recently was donated to Harvard University and is now used as the residence of its incumbent president.
Thomas himself would end up in Bristol having supported the British side in the American War of Independence. He is buried at St Pauls.
John Cave was also a founding partner of Cave, Ames and Co, or “the Bristol New Bank”, which would later become a constituent part of NatWest. Two other partners, Thomas Daniel and Richard Bright of Ham Green were involved in the triangular trade. John’s portrait hangs at the National Trust’s Basildon Park site, where he is depicted wearing his uniform from the “Bristol Troop of Gentlemen and Yeomanry Cavalry”. This is not due to a direct connection with the family and Basildon and its owners to the best of my knowledge but the result of a bequest to the trust from the Caves in the 1970s.
Wills – The Wills family never owned the property or lived there but were important in the development (or not-too-extensive development) of the local area. Their former houses (Bracken Hill House and Burwalls House) as well as donations of land to the National Trust are mentioned throughout this text without referring to the use of slave labour by the tobacco industry so it is noted here instead. This short summary from Bristol Museum (Tayo Lewin-Turner, Madge Dresser, Sue Giles) provides a helpful overview:
The Wills family grew rich off the tobacco industry in the nineteenth century from their family company, W.D & H.D Wills. Although much of the Wills’ wealth would come after the British abolished the slave trade in 1807 and slavery itself in 1833, and although members of the family supported the pro-emancipation MP for Bristol in 1830, the family had long-standing ties with and profited greatly from the enslavement of Africans.
Henry Overton Wills III used slave-produced tobacco from the USA to supply his business. This source of revenue was not abolished until the loss of the Confederate States in the American Civil War in 1865. The Wills’ use of slave-produced tobacco allowed the family to become the great philanthropists for which they are now remembered.
In the Leigh Woods context this philanthropy specifically involves: the 1909 donation of 80 acres of land to the National Trust (Nightingale Valley and Burwalls Forest) by George Alfred Wills and the 1936 donation of 60 acres by Walter Alfred Wills.
The Lost House of North Road
In researching this history it became apparent that there was at least one additional large property on North Road in the late 1800s. The area now occupied by Robert Court and the Ardmore flats was formally the site of a single house called Ardmore. Its story is yet to be written but given the extraordinary characters that lived around this site it was undoubtedly an interesting place.
In the 1881, 1891 and 1901 census it was occupied by a Professor James Rowley, an Irish historian who specialised in English History at what is now the University of Bristol. In marked contrast to the neighbouring houses, it appears that Rowley lived with only the one servant, and his wife, Marianne. He is responsible for the following works:
The Settlement of the Constitution 1689-1784 (1878) (external scan)
A Smaller History of English Literature (1885) (external scan)
Rise of the People and Growth of Parliament: From the Great Charter to the Accession of Henry VII (1887)
By 1911, the house was owned by John George Russell Harvey, of John Harvey & Sons, better known as Harveys or Harveys Bristol Cream. He occupied the house with his wife Eleanor Mary, his daughter and his son. John George was Chairman of the firm from 1910-1919. His brother, Richard Prentice Harvey, died fighting in WWI and is one of the names in the lychgate at St Mary’s Church (as R P Harvey). Richard was also a Leigh Woods resident, having previously lived at (what was then called Glenside) on North Road as the son of John Harvey senior, he married Eleanor Frances Watson at St Mary’s Church (Leigh Woods) in 1904.
He is buried at Ploegsteert, Arrondissement de Mouscron, Hainaut, Belgium.
How Ardmore came to be demolished is not completely clear but it is likely that it fell into disrepair after WWII.
A Smelly Present from the University of Bristol
Walter Melville Wills built what is arguably the area’s most distinctive property, Bracken Hill House, in 1886 and, along with Burwalls House near the bridge, the family gave the property and its grounds to the University of Bristol. From 1959 to the early 2000s, Bracken Hill House was the site of the university’s botanical garden (now in Stoke Bishop).
One legacy of this era still quite literally lives on at the main property we are concerned with. In 2003, a dead horse arum appeared and flowered. This is a large and dramatic flower which is not native to the UK and lures in flies by raising its own temperature and mimicking the smell of dead carrion.
I confirmed the university’s staff that the arum had almost certainly come from the Bracken Hill site as they had cultivated specimens there. Prior to 2003, the house had a gardener from the university so it was determined that the seeds had made their way to the house from compost at Bracken Hill. At the time of writing, a dead horse arum still appears every year.