The origins of Bishopston - the council district and associated parish, lie in the much earlier established parish of Horfield.
It has been suggested that the name Horfield came from Hore, or Horu, possibly the name of a chief killed in a fight between the Saxons and the Romano-British, and buried in one of the two tumuli which were originally close to Horfield common. ‘Hore’ may also be descriptive of the clayey, dirty, or muddy subsoil. There was almost certainly a settlement in Horfield in Saxon times. The Domesday Book of 1086 mentions Horfield. In 1140 Robert Fitzharding, Lord Berkeley, a wealthy and powerful Lord, whose estates included the Manor of Horfield, founded St. Augustine’s Abbey and gave the Manor to the Abbey in whose possession it remained for the next 400 years.
When monastic holdings were confiscated by Henry V111, instead of selling the Manor, as he did with the local Ashley Estate, he gave it to the newly formed Bishopric of Bristol, a clever move that helped ensure the Bishop’s loyalty. The manor was not under the control of the Church of England but of the Bishop himself who then leased it to what was known as a Lord Farmer.
These arrangements continued until Cromwell in turn confiscated the Manor and sold it. However within a few years Charles 11 was crowned King and ordered the return of confiscated lands. The Bishop was soon back in control and the Manor was again leased for a period of three lives. This meant that the lease holder, the Lord Farmer, could pass on the title in his will and the next person could do the same but on their death the lease would revert back to the Bishop unless it was renewed.
All went smoothly, until in the 1830s, the Church Commissioners and Bishop Allen on realising that the last life of the Manor, John Shadwell, was an old man, are said to have agreed not to renew the lease when he died. Thus the Manor could revert to the Church by default. The Commissioners wanted the estate to help them support other Cathedrals and Churches. Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister, was said to have urged Bishop Allen not to renew, although this was later denied.
In 1836 Bishop Allen was sent to Ely and Bishop Monk was appointed. He took a very different view. He was not prepared to let the lease lapse and saw no reason why the Manor and Parish of Horfield should be lost. The Church Commissioners said he had an obligation not to renew the lease but Bishop Monk said he had no such obligation. Eventually the Bishop offered the Commissioners the Manor for £11,000, £6000 for himself and the rest in trust for the Parish.
The deal was never struck and so the Bishop realised part of the estate and leased the remainder to his secretary and other trustees of the Trust he set up for the Parish. John Shadwell died in 1849 and the new arrangements came into effect but not without much controversy. After 700 years the Manor of Horfield was finally broken up, this time never to be re-established.
Clearly Bishop Monk was seen as a local hero. The new Parish seems to be named after him, Bishops Ton (the Bishops small place). Later roads such as Bishop, Monk, Shadwell and Melbourne along with Berkeley and Manor acknowledge Bishopston’s history.
Horfield in the mid 19th century was a country village on the highway from Bristol to Gloucester, lying two miles north of the medieval city boundary. The first recorded use of the name 'Bishopston' appeared in 1862, describing a new ecclesiastical district, 'The Consolidated Chapelry of St Michael and All Angels Bishopston'. This land was carved mostly out of the ancient Gloucestershire manor and parish of Horfield. (St Michael’s Church stood on the east side of Gloucester Road on Pigsty Hill but fell into disrepair in the 1990’s and was finally demolished in 1997). The new district name entered popular usage gradually, some time between a reference in Matthew's Bristol Directory of 1863 and the name ‘Bishopston’ being printed across the site in the Ordnance Survey of 1903.
Within the ‘township’ of Horfield one farmstead identified as ‘Horfield Cottage’ lay almost a mile south of the church. That isolated farmstead and neighbouring fields was sold in 1852 for the development of Berkeley and Egerton Roads. Bristol was expanding rapidly at this time and within 40 years, much of Bishopston had been developed, with the remaining land being swallowed by the 1930s.
Although Bishopston itself may be a recent creation it is steeped in history and has a wealth of fine buildings, open spaces such as St. Andrews Park, street furniture and classic shop fronts.
Local community groups continue to add to knowledge of the area.
We would like to thank local historian, David Cemlyn for providing much of this information.
The suburban development of Bishopston from the break-up of estate land and the role played by the Freehold Land Society movement in the mid-19th century is explored in a fascinating article by local historian Denis Wright. “The Origins of Bishopston within Horfield Manor and the Development of a Freehold Land Society Estate on Berkeley and Egerton Roads” was originally published in the journal Bristol and Avon Archaeology.
The Bishopston, Horfield and Ashley Down Local History Society was formed in 1988 to further interest in, and knowledge of, the history of the local area.
The Society holds open meetings on the third Tuesday of each month from January to June and from September to November at the Horfield Friends’ Meeting House at 300, Gloucester Road. Meetings commence at 7.30 pm and are open to full-time members who have paid the annual subscription of £12 and also to visitors who pay a fee of £3 on the night. Regular outings are arranged, such as the recent trips to the Forest of Dean Leisure Centre, Laycock Abbey and the Railway Museum in Swindon.
Talks planned for 2014, the 25th anniversary year of the Society, will include, The History of Horfield, Victorian Pleasures and Pastimes and the Bristol Riots of 1831.
A very interesting interactive website run by Bristol City Council which allows you to explore the history of Bishopston (and other areas in Bristol) using old maps can be found at: