Fishponds Local History Society

Publications by FLHS members

A Description of Fishponds in 1891

from The History of the Kingswood Forest by A.Braine (Bristol,1891)

Fishponds is, comparatively, a modern village. It takes its name from some ponds which were formerly near the railway station. Formerly it consisted of only a few huts or small cottages built near to some stone quarries, and inhabited by the quarrymen who were employed in that business. Fishponds has grown into a large and important neighbourhood. A small brook takes its rise on the western slope of Lodge Hill, at the head of a valley that runs on and deepens until it gets to Dog's Kennel, on the river Froom. Across this valley formerly two dams were thrown, forming it into a lake, or rather two sheets of water, near the old rabbit burrow. The main road, near the Full Moon Hotel passed between these two ponds. Dr. George Bompas partly filled up the upper pond; and it is now drained, and forms part of the grounds of Mr. A. Robinson. The lower pond also was filled up by order of the Duchess of Beaufort after a child had fallen in it and was drowned. From these Ponds Fishponds is generally believed to have received its name. There are others, however, who affirm that before any dams were constructed on the small stream above, considerable quantities of stone had been quarried in this place for building and other purposes during several centuries, which resulted in forming large open spaces or holes-convenient receptacles for surface drainage; these spaces afterwards filling with water, appeared as large lakes or ponds, and were formerly called the New Pools and later the fishing ponds This is the name found on all the ancient maps, and I have no doubt but that this was the origin of the name. The name is now applied not to a particular or definite spot, but to a large area, including within its area a number of other names of equally interesting, if not of greater significance.

We, therefore, resume our perambulations at the extreme end, near to Downend, and where it is said the neighbourhood of Fishponds begins. The first house of importance at this point is Overn Hill House for many years the residence of Miss Cox, but now of Dr. Skelton, a gentleman of growing reputation. Near to this was formerly a respectable school for young, gentlemen, conducted by Mr. A. Curtiss. Beyond these to the left, towards Frenchay, is a good substantial house, late in the occupation of Mr. John Croome; now, I believe, of Mr. Emmet. The neighbourhood in this place is exceedingly pretty, most suitable for persons of retiring habits, or invalids. Following the road which leads us through the village, we pass the nursery (Garaway's) on the left, and Overndale House, a compact abode on the right. The latter is the residence of Mrs. Pollock, a relative of Baron Pollock.

Turning again to the left, and on to the Staple Hill road, we pass a large building, formerly one of the many grist mills which abounded in this part of the country; it is now converted into a shoe factory. The old rabbit burrow, and a large tract of land belonging to the esteemed Bompasses family, bring us to an imposing looking building, the new Baptist Chapel. Built in the Gothic style, cruciform, and having the unusual appendage to a Baptist chapel, a bell turret. Certainly this is a proof that a taste for art, if no more, is reviving, even in the country, and is an evidence, I think, that the dips are intending to give more light in the future than they have hitherto been accustomed to do in the past. We next reach the Cross Hands Inn, where the two roads meet, and form a junction. Proceeding hence in a straight line, beneath the shade of a row of lofty elms, we see on our right the new Training College, a college intended for the training of schoolmistresses for the National Church. Near to this place, and within its own grounds and shrubbery formerly stood a large and commodious house known as Fishponds Lunatic Asylum, carried on for so many years under the kind care of the late Dr. Bompass. It is recorded that in the year 1746, the Town Clerk of Bristol, Mr. William Cann, and also his own clerk, and another, an under clerk, all went mad in the same week. Two of them were lodged in the above asylum, the other cut his throat. The asylum has now entirely disappeared, having been pulled down and all cleared away. Upon the site, however, have arisen many fashionable villas and new shops, giving the place quite a new and improved appearance. Not far from the latter place, and a little to the right we pass the Church and National Schools. The church of St. Mary's, Fishponds, was an additional church, capable of accommodating eight hundred people. It was consecrated by Bishop Kaye, of Bristol. Fishponds Church was built by a grant from the Church Building Society, added to a voluntary contribution, and a handsome legacy left some years since by a late incumbent of that parish. The present incumbent is the Rev. W. S. MacKean.

Near to the church is an old house, consisting of a school-room, a master's house (both empty), and an alms-house for four old women. A plot of ground also near, called the Common, being the play-ground of the above, and what was anciently the Free School of the village. The father of Hannah More was the schoolmaster of the village here, at the time of the birth of his daughter, Hannah, and lived in the old house now closed. The endowment goes to help support the National School of the village.

In the same direction, also, we come upon the residence of Mr. John Yalland, the great contractor, of local reputation. Beyond this again is the house of one of the esteemed and highly-educated family of the Monks - Mr. John Monks. The most interesting building, however, near to this place is that of the Old French Prison, so called from its having, been built and used during the war with France. So many hundreds of prisoners were confined in this place on one occasion that, it is said during the hot summer weather, the prisoners poked nearly all the tiles off the roof in order to get fresh air. The prisoners were allowed to make toys and other articles, a market being held in the week, in the court of the prison, for the sale of such things. Many of the prisoners were of the best class, and highly skilled of the artisans. Some of the old people in the neighbourhood were lately in possession of curious articles, beautifully worked in bone, purchased in the market. This building, is now used as the Bristol Union Workhouse. Not far from the Union is another old and historical house Oldbury Court, formerly the residence of Mr. Oliver Bigg; now of Mr. Vassall. This once fine old dwelling was standing in the year 1600, and is correctly marked on an old map of Stapleton of that date. The house of the benevolent Mr. T. Proctor is also near. This gentleman recently very kindly grave a large piece of land as a recreation ground for the use of the inhabitants. Here also resides Mr. Alfred Robinson, one of the firm of Messrs. E. S. and A. Robinson, the enterprising wholesale stationers of Redcliffe Street, Bristol; a gentleman worthy of the large share of the business he commands, and whose dwelling house and warehouse may justly be described as models.

The centre of Fishponds is rapidly changing its former appearance. Its proximity to Bristol and the railway accommodation has very visibly aroused the latent energies of this place into activity, the effects of which are seen in all directions. The old Full Moon Inn quiesees in the Full Moon Hotel. A new police station has also arisen, guarded right and left by still newer and large shops. Then there are the Wesleyan and Free Methodist Churches, both of which are costly buildings. The latter church is not yet finished. It is a commodious building, in the Gothic style, with a clock in front. Altogether, with it's many signs of activity, we should say that Fishponds is determined to keep pace with the times.

We now take leave of this growing place and proceed on our way to the next village. We do not proceed far before we reach the Causeway, an old road that anciently cut the Forest of Kingswood in a straight line, passing the Kingswood Lodge on the top of the hill. This road was formerly considered a very lonely way, and few persons apparently used it. This must not be confounded with the London road, or the Old Causeway. Very recently the Provincial Land Company have been letting land here in allotments for building purposes, and, as a consequence, there are now a large number of semi-detached villas and other houses built upon it forming a rising and most populous district. This is called the Mayfield and the Chester Parks.

We next pass a long row of houses, well-built villas and others, and reach Ridgeway House, another very ancient house, and which is mentioned in the perambulations made of Kingswood Forest in 1652, or during the Commonwealth. It has been variously used, sometimes as a school, sometimes as a private residence, and once as a lunatic asylum. In our way to this place we should have noticed that the ancient boundary of the Forest was a little behind the high road, on our right hand, all the way from Fishponds. Below Ridgeway House is erected a new parish church, and forming with it the new parish called Eastville.

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