The history of the Downend and Bromley Heath Parish
Had we stood in the centre of the Parish Council area prior to the year 1894 we could have said:-
- In the County and Honour of Gloucestershire.
- In the diocese of Bristol
- In the Greater Division of Berkeley.
- In the Hundred of Barton Regis.
- In the Parish of Mangotsfield.
We could say standing in the same place today:-
- Late of the County of Gloucestershire.
- Late of the County of Avon.
- Late of Mangotsfield Urban District Council.
- Late of the Borough of Kingswood.
But now of:-
- South Gloucestershire Council.
- Downend & Bromley Heath Parish Council.
- In the Parish of Christ Church, Downend.
- Standing 222 ft above sea level.
The first recorded date of a building in the Parish area is a house in Reform Place, Downend, claiming to have been built in 1566, a map of 1575 which shows Downing. 17C maps show a scattered settlement within the Parish of Mangotsfield, with livestock being grazed on Downing or Downend Common, wolvers hill prior to the enclosure Act of 1788-89.
The whole area would have been in the boundary of Kingswood Forest, the Royal Hunting Forest under the jurisdiction of the Constable of Bristol Castle, all standing within the area known as Barton Regis. The Forest gradually succumbed to squatters and coal mines, but the Downend and Bromley Heath area remained mainly agricultural with some stone quarries, not coal mines.
A number of small farms worked the area mainly grazing livestock, with a small amount of arable land. Only three of these farm houses remain, Baugh Farm, Cleeve Hill Farm and Bromley Farm.
There were a few larger houses in the area. Cleeve Dale was demolished n the late 60s. Cleeve Hill House was owned by the Players, Bragges and Caves, and it was the Cave Family who bought up much of the land within the Parish Council area. The house was demolished in the 1930s, after the sale of the Estate in the 1920s, which saw the beginning of house building on a large scale in the area. Cleeve Lodge was converted into a Residential Home some years ago.
On Bromley Heath there was a Quaker Burial Ground dating from 1657, with the last Burial taking place in the late 1800s; it is now being used as a garden. Christchurch, Downend was built in 1831 as a Chapel of Ease to St James Church, Mangotsfield, in whose Parish Downend resided until Christchurch became a Parish Church in 1874, with a Chancel being added to the church in 1914. In the Church yard, many of Downend’s notables are buried such as members of the Grace family. There has been a Baptist Church here since 1786, originally an off shoot from the early Broadmead Baptist Church in Bristol. The Methodists had a place of Worship in Downend, prior to moving to North Street, and later to Staple Hill.
The Cave Family ran a small school near the Green Dragon Public House, but this was closed with the erection in 1841 of Downend National School, later to become Christchurch School. Other schools like Bromley Heath School were opened to meet the needs of post-war developments.
Downend can proudly boast the only Boy Scout War Memorial on public land in the Country, erected in 1921 in memory of members of the 1st Downend Scout Troop who lost their lives in the Great War of 1914-18.
The photograph above shows the war memorial, which was made by a local mason, J Dawson. For more information on the Scout War Memorial, please go to our page ‘The history of the War Memorial, Downend‘.
The two acres of cricket ground in the centre of Downend was used to play cricket from 1894, with the Downend Cricket Club purchasing the land in 1920 at the sale of the Cave Estate. The W G Grace memorial pavilion was opened in 1922. William Gilbert Grace, the great cricketer, was born in Downend House in 1848 and died in London in 1915, but is one of the Great Sons of Downend.
Since the second World War, Downend and Bromley Heath has grown from its rural beginnings to a large and thriving community area, now bounded by major roads, M4 and the ring road, but still retains much of its historic past. One of the old buildings is now put to vital community use. Lincombe Barn, once a farm building, possibly designed by Thomas Wright, is now Downend Folk House and received from His Royal Highness the Prince Charles the Gulbenkian Award for Community Building.
On 6 November 1957, Downend witnessed what was probably its most tragic event when a Britannia airliner crashed killing 15, pilot and crew, in woodland just off Overndale Road. To mark 50 years of this event, the Parish Council designated the wooded area where the aeroplane crashed as Britannia Wood, and unveiled a monument made of local pennant stone, together with a plaque.
(Photos from Past and Present Publications, www.pastandpresentpublications.com)