Articles of a similar nature were written for the newspaper about many of Bristol’s surrounding villages during this period of the First World War.
BRISTOL TIMES & MIRROR, SATURDAY, MARCH 4, 1916
SOMERSET VILLAGES & THE WAR
PILL and EASTON-IN-GORDANO
Unquestionably, the village of Pill, within the civil parish of Easton-in-Gordano, or St. George, is one of the most curiously-constructed and quaintly fashioned places in the neighbourhood of Bristol. Most people, I suppose, are familiar with or know by repute of the existence of this quiet but noted little place tucked away on the bank of the River Avon. From the Gloucestershire side of the river at Shirehampton the best view of Pill may be obtained, and looking across from there, owing to its unique situation, one may see a picturesque cluster of old houses hugging the side of the hill, narrow streets, and a number of cutters, skiffs, and other boats closely packed together in the pill or pool below, which runs up from the river and gives the name to the place.
The mariners of England are made up of many types, and among the hardy seafaring men who “go down to the sea in ships and occupy their business in great waters”, the pilots of Pill have become a noted race from time immemorial. Little, however, is known of these strong, hospitable men whose business it is to get out in all weathers and bring into port the ships that supply our needs. It is not at all necessary to be a seafaring man to be received as a friend by the people of Pill, and from my own experience I can only say that those I visited I found both friendly and courteous. The inhabitants are nearly all employed in some way in nautical occupations. They lead a free and easy life, and are open and free in disposition, and there exists a kindly and neighbourly feeling among them.
If a stranger could be suddenly transported into the older portion of Pill he would probably come to the conclusion that he had been spirited into a little Continental town so quaint are some of what I was about to call streets, but for a better term will describe as cobbled highways and byways. Crockerne Pill is no mushroom place, as may be seen at a glance, for the irregularity of its houses and the steep winding and narrow lanes, which resemble, in some instances, nothing better than courts, are all certain indications of its antiquity. On a less pretentious scale, Pill may be compared somewhat to Clovelly or Appledore for, if in the last-named places there are to be seen many old weather-beaten buildings and weather-beaten sailors, there is certainly no lack of the former and not a few of the latter in Pill.
The ancient history of Pill is entirely the history of Easton-in-Gordano, which is referred to later, but it might be mentioned that at Crockerne Pill, on the south-east side of the village and not far from where the present Ham Green Hospital stands, was in early days a chapel, the spot where it stood being still known as Chapel Pill.
Ham Green Hospital was formerly a mansion occupied by Richard Bright, father of Henry Bright, a Member of Parliament for Bristol in 1826. It was afterwards the residence of Mr. William Miles, who died there, and after passing to Sir George Edwards was purchased by the Corporation of Bristol for a hospital.
The oldest portions of Pill are the Watch House, so named from the old Custom House, and consists of a few residences clustered together; Marine Parade, where are a number of old-fashioned houses facing the river, inhabited at one time by the pilots; and Myrtle Hill, which is about the most unsuitable name it could have had given it, consisting of a cobbled roadway leading straight to the ferry, and flanked by what appears to be mostly the backs of dingy ochre-coloured dwellings. This was once the chief thoroughfare. The principal oldest house in Pill is the vicarage. It is a substantial and pleasant residence, in Queen Anne style, and was formerly known as Heywood Hall and owned by members of the Gute-Langton family. Originally the house and premises were much larger, the site of the old stables of which is now occupied by the Railway Inn. Pill church is quite a modern building built about 60 years ago, and is a chapel-of-ease to St. George’s, the mother church at Easton-in-Gordano. The Vicar of Pill is F.L.P. Lock who is at once courteous and kind, and deserves all the prayers his parishioners bestow upon him.
A SPIRAL STAIR
There are still several very ancient houses remaining in Pill. Mowbray, the residence of Mrs. Powell, and formerly known as Mowbray Castle, is perhaps one of the oldest, and is certainly one of the most interesting. Originally it was an inn, and is situated at the Watch House, called in former times the Green. In the early stages of its history the house was gabled and though it has lost much of its picturesqueness it still retains a good deal that is of interest. It dates from about 1569, for when a new range was put in the fine old kitchen, with its great beams, the large oak beam which supported the original fireplace caught fire, and when removed the name “Wat Morgan” and the date 1569 were found cut in it. The spiral staircase is one of those rarities which is composed of solid blocks of oak and hard as stone, and is supported by a pole reaching to the top. Possibly this is one of the finest staircases of its kind in the neighbourhood. In the house have been found Portuguese coins, old English pennies, and one French penny of the time of Charles V. Mrs. Powell, who has resided in the house for 41 years, told me that it was an inn at the time of the great South Sea Bubble, when in contradistinction to the “village blacksmith” much was attempted and nothing done. Mowbray Castle was supposed to have provided refreshment for the sailors passing up or down the river, who were enabled to reach the premises by a subterranean passage, stated to have once existed under the staircase.
Pill was at one time noted for the number of its public-houses, but the reason given is that the soldiers going across to Ireland walked from Bristol to Pill, where they were billeted. The old Pass House, now done away with, which stood near the bottom of Lawford’s Lane, was where the soldiers were passed on to Ireland.
The Star Coffee House, in Victoria Park, is one of the remaining ancient houses in Pill; in fact, this house, Mowbray Castle Inn, and another old house now a butcher’s shop but formerly a farmhouse, almost composed the village at one time. The fine schools were built in 1854 on an orchard given by Mr. G. Adam Gordon, and a considerable portion of the cost of erection was defrayed by Mr. Vaughan, father of the present rector of Wraxall. The head master is Mr. Roberts.
The pride of Pill lies in the fact that it is the home of the Bristol pilots, whose fathers and grandfathers before them have followed the same calling, when the Lively, the Lark, the Pet or other fanciful names were given to their trim cutters. Many of the older members of the fraternity who are now past work have vivid recollections of their experiences, and the yarns they can spin are quite equal to the best angler’s stories.
A PILOT’S YARN
Mr. J. Parfitt tells how his grandfather and four others when out piloting were seized and put on the Victory with Lord Nelson, and that he died of wounds received in the battle of Trafalgar as he was going into Plymouth. As to gales, Mr. Parfitt has seen the ship Joseph Cunard under close-reefed main topsails under the rocks at Hungroad, has seen six vessels jammed together on the Swash at the entrance to the river, and has seen a large American barque with main and mizzen masts cut away to save the ship struggling into port. He remembers seeing, as a boy, beds washed up in which had been wrapped the bodies of men who had died of plague on board ship and who had been buried in the river bank. He was one who helped to shift the famous yacht America called then the Camilia, the owner of which was taking her to Swan River, and which afterwards won the America Cup. As to smuggling escapades he tells of the smack, St. George, going to France and bringing back ballast, and while the ballast was being removed, tubs of brandy were discovered which were seized by Customs, but not before a goodly number of Pill men had had the time of their lives.
During a voyage to Philadelphia, Mr. Parfitt found the following lines in an old newspaper which were written in connection with the American War, as probably as they have never appeared in English print and the old sores between our country and America have long since healed, it may be of interest to give as recited by him.
Who were the men Jeff Davis sent
On board the English steamer Trent,
To land on British shore intent
Sniddall and Mason.
Who was it then athwart their way,
As they across the ocean stray,
And captured them without delay,
The Sanjansintoe. (spelling?)
Who was it looked and talked so wise,
With crowded deck and wretched eyes,
Who was it then began to roar,
Just like the bear whose head was sore,
And bellowed forth from shore to shore,
If England should want any more
Of just such scamps to grace her shore,
She need not threaten us with war,
For she shall have them.
If you really want to “draw” a Pill pilot, just get him on the subject concerned with his rights and he will tell you of instances when those who have been bold enough to venture on such a hazardous proceeding have woefully come to grief. On one occasion the offender was hauled ashore in his boat, and dragged by men, women and children to St. George’s where he was ignominiously thrown into a pond. Great indignation occurred when the first steam tug appeared, and it is said that half Pill turned out and pulled the tug ashore and tied it to a walnut tree, whence the owners had to fetch it.
It must not be supposed that the whole of Pill presents the quaint appearance so significant of sailor life, for in the upper part, known as Pill field, the residences, with few exceptions, display and incongruous town-like aspect, and are chiefly only interesting to those who reside in them. This portion of Pill is quite out of harmony with the lower part, which contains such a strange medley of dwellings, and the former homes of the stalwart race of men whose intrepid ancestors sailed down the Avon with Cabot in the good ship Matthew over 400 years ago.
ITS WAR EFFORT
Both Pill and Easton-in-Gordano have answered the call to arms in a most gratifying manner, and practically all available men have joined the forces. Two working parties have also been busily engaged at Pill since the war began in various ways. One working party, under Miss Lock has done, and is still doing, excellent work for the men employed on the mine-sweepers, to whom large quantities of clothing have been sent. Also a great number of sandbags have been made and dispatched to the authorities.
Mrs. Evans’ working party was the first started in the district for the soldiers’ and sailors’ families and was called the S. and S.F. Association, founded by Queen Alexandra during the Boer War. Mrs. Evans and her many willing helpers have twice during the winter rendered material assistant to the families of the men of Pill serving in the Army or Navy, and have also done good work for the men of the parish on active service, who from time to time have received many parcels. In November last 156lbs of warm clothing were sent to British prisoners in Germany, and large parcels were dispatched to British seamen interned. Mrs. Evans has also sent a large parcel to Lady Elton at Clevedon Court, and since then 65 parcels of acceptable presents have been forwarded to the men of Pill serving. Another large parcel has lately been sent to Lady Bellairs at Clevedon. An entertainment was given last week by members of the Dickens Society, who kindly volunteered their services for the benefit of the Easton-in-Gordano men on active service. The ladies of Pill are still actively engaged in their patriotic labours, and must be congratulated on the excellence of their work, and on the substantial and gratifying results attained.
Easton-in-Gordano, commonly called St. George, from the heroic Saint to whom its church is dedicated, in early times was known by the single name of Estone. Though the parish is now ecclesiastically severed from the adjoining populace village of Pill, St. George’s churchyard provides the last resting place for the two parishes and many of the older inhabitants of Pill still remain a great affection for their ancient mother church.
Ten minutes’ walk across a couple of fields on the western side of Pill will bring one to the village of St. George, which will be found to be a secluded little place consisting of a few pleasant residences, some queer old houses, a fair number of picturesque cottage homes, and some good farmsteads. After the Norman Conquest the manor became the property of Bishop of Coutances, and was afterwards held successively by the Berkeleys, the Earls of Gloucester, the Clare family , the Earls of March, the Yonge family, of whom John Yonge was knighted by Edward IV, and the Mallets of Enmore. Richard Mallet and Joan his wife in the reign of Henry VIII, sold the manor, including all the land, together with two pounds of pepper and one cask of clove wine to Richard Morgan and his heirs. It remained with this family until the 18thcentury, when it was passed to Thomas Wilkins, who assumed the name of Morgan.
The church, standing on the side of a pleasant old thoroughfare, forms a picturesque object from the eastern end of the road, and a nearer approach soon reveals the fact that it is a hansom structure of modern date, with the exception of the tower, the lower stages of which date from the 13th and the upper part from the 16th century. The tower has seen four churches arise beneath it. The first is only recognised by the foundation arches of the tower, the second was built about 1570, the third, described as “almost hopelessly” miserable as to both structure and fittings, was erected in 1827, and only stood 44 years, and was succeeded by the present building in 1872. The existing building is chiefly remarkable for its memorial stained-glass windows and fine reredos. The list of vicars and rectors dates back from 1229. The present rector is Rev. W.E. Palmer Bath, and man of kindly disposition, whose efforts for the good of his parish have made him highly esteemed. He is to be congratulated on the happy situation of his pleasant home among the pines and in such a delightful position.
ANCIENT MANOR HOUSE
The old manor house, now a farmhouse occupied by Mr. Sweet, and formerly occupied for 43 years by Mr. W. Nash, is nearly opposite the parish church. Originally it was a large and important mansion, the residence of the former lords of the manor. It dates from about 1550, but the only remaining portions are two bedrooms, a sitting-room, and a part of what was originally the servants’ quarters. The eastern portion of this once fine old residence has entirely disappeared with the exception of a not very elegant chimney stack. The present farmhouse has six entrances, and which of these forms the main entrance is apparently even a little doubtful to the present inmates. On the west side is the ancient kitchen, with fine old fireplace. From the kitchen a door leads into a room on the left, which previously was the chapel, judging by a priscina in the wall at the east end. A door in the chapel leads into the kitchen, now in ordinary use, with old massive oak beams, and remarkably ancient door, and beyond is the cosy little sitting room, where one could fully appreciate the comfort in such weather as experienced of late. What may be termed the main entrance on the east side leads into a hall, on the right of which is the dairy, formerly the justice room, where no doubt, in place of the spotless tins and cans, filled with cream and milk, many a poor wretch has stood. With manacles on his wrist to check any muscular energy on his part, he must have had a most unpleasant time of it, waiting for the fateful sentence by the stern Justice of the Peace, who had the power to punish lawbreakers, and authority to quell the turbulent spirits of the age. The Justice Room has some quaint and curious windows on the north and east sides. It has also some ancient arches, and an interesting fireplace. For such an old house the bedrooms are unusually large and pleasant, and contain good windows. The house was at one time the residence of the Morgan family who in the 17th century were the leading family in the place, and to whose memory there are several monuments in the church. After the Court ceased to be the residence of the lords of the manor it fell, more or less, into decay, and was used for a time as a school for boys, and subsequently the major portion was pulled down.
The principal residence in the parish is known as St. George’s Hall. This admirably situated house, standing on rising ground with its fine grounds and imposing appearance is the property of Mrs. Evans, widow of the late Captain Evans, and was built by the late Rev. H. Mirehouse, a former rector of Easton, and a well-known magistrate in the neighbourhood. Another interesting old house which looks the embodiment of peace and quietude is Vicarage House, formerly the old vicarage, but now the residence of Mr. W. Gould who has two sons serving in the forces. Tregarthen is a pretty cottage home in the village, and nearby is a substantial and red brick residence in Queen Anne style, known as Wyndham, lately occupied by Mr. Giles but at present awaiting the arrival of new tenants.
Some of the old farmsteads have been converted into cottages, but there are still several important farmhouses in addition to the afore-mentioned Manor Farm. Parsonage Farmhouse is quite an imposing and modern residence, the home of Mr. P. Jones. Court House Farm is another nice old place occupied by Mr. A Hardwick, and Lodway Farm is in the occupation of Mr. W. Hunt.
The schools are modern, well built, and picturesque, standing on the side of a hill. Miss Price is the headmistress, who in her daily task of administering mental food to her flock is assisted by Miss Hunt and Miss Sturgis.
The Rev. George Bull, who was afterwards Bishop of St. David’s, in the latter part of the 17th century, was at one time vicar of Easton-in-Gordano. The parish at the time appeared to have swarmed with schismatics, whom he either convinced or silenced, and he is stated to have wrought more on his hearers than generally befalls the lot of a clergyman who has to oppose both ignorance and insolence.
Captain Sturmey, who wrote the first book in English on navigation, lived in the parish of Easton. He was born in 1635. His book was entitled “The Mariner’s Guide to Knowledge” and he left a copy to the churchwardens with instructions that it should be lent to mariners of Pill on condition that two guineas be deposited with the said churchwardens to ensure its return. The book, however, was lost, the borrower probably thinking “The Mariners Guide to Knowledge” worth the money deposited.
The inhabitants of the parish have shown their loyalty and patriotism many ways since the commencement of the war, and in addition to the large number of men from Pill and Easton-in-Gordano who have offered their services to their country, there is a large working party under Mrs. Bath which is affiliated to the British Red Cross Society.
Saturday, March 4th, 1916