Wherever you live, there’s treasure to be discovered! Not just gold and gems, but stories of buildings, locations and people.
Our heritage is a great wealth… and it’s all around us.
Sometimes standing proud in the open air, sometimes hidden behind some bushes.
To help find it, we asked for your help and to become Heritage Heroes.
Kingswood is a busy town, three miles east of Bristol and it’s full of great heritage hotspots.
History of Kingswood
In Saxon times, the ‘King’s Wood’ was a royal hunting estate which surrounded Bristol, extending as far as Filwood in South Bristol.
From early days the Constable of Bristol Castle, the king’s officer in the area, was also the Chief Ranger of the Kingswood Forest.
At the edge of the forest, to the north of the River Frome, lay the little hamlet of Stapleton, the name of which is Saxon in origin, meaning “The farm, homestead or croft – by or near the Stapol, post or pillar.“
Different industries help shape a community and become part of their heritage and at one time Kingswood was the third largest bootmaker in the UK. In the early 20th century, three million pairs of shoes and boots were made each year in Kingswood. That’s three times more than the famous Clarks in Somerset!
Most towns and villages had their own boot factory.
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One interesting fact is that after a hard day down the mines, Victorian miners would go home to make shoes.
Coal mining was a huge part of the town’s heritage with coal fields in nearby Easton, Coalpit Heath and Yate.
Sadly, a legacy of this can be seen to this day as gardens sometimes open up because of the mines below. Mining carried on right up until 1963 and whilst coal was king, the mines also turned up ochre, celestine, iron and lead.
Bristol and Bath Railway Path
The Bristol and Bath Railway Path is 13 miles long and runs between Bristol and Bath. The line transported coal to the Bath Gasworks.
At Warmley there is an old station and signal box that opened in 1918.
At Bitton find an old station and the Avon Valley Railway with working steam engines.
The path also features a variety of sculptures including a drinking giant!
Here’s what you told us about the path and how the railways changed towns…
- “I’m going to talk about the railway path. It used to be a train track to Bristol to Bath but now you can walk or cycle around. I like it because I like walking along the cycle track and I like to see the old railway signs and platform. I like the old steam trains at Avon Valley as well. I remember one when my dad, my sister and my brother were all riding down the rail track.“
- “Railways helped people to travel further distances for work or to go on holiday. It was a lot quicker than coach and horses or the canal. I think it would have been as exciting for Victorian people as us using the internet today. We can see more of the world and it gives us more ideas for our lives.“
Did you know there used to be a chocolate factory in nearby Keynsham?
What you told us…
- “There used to be a chocolate factory in Keynsham which is a nearby town. Lots of people used to work there. My mum said her nan worked there and they were allowed to eat whatever they wanted from the factory but they weren’t allowed to take it home. She said people used to eat loads at first but then couldn’t face eating it after a while! There were playing fields for the workers and the factory had its own power station and railway.“
Another cool fact about the factory is that the remains of a small Roman villa, about 50 feet square, are in the grounds. They were discovered during the construction of the factory in 1922 along with two stone coffins.
The clock tower on Regent Street was built in 1897 for Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. It was made by the Kemp Brothers’ clock-makers of Union Street Bristol and still works today.
Many towns have clock towers. Have you ever thought why?
We take telling the time for granted today, often just using our mobile phones or smart watches to keep us on time. In the past pocket watches would have been quite a luxury and so public clocks were not just a grand thing to have, they were also very useful.
Now we’ve heard that mining is a big part of our past in Kingswood and we can see some remains around the area, but do you know much about coal mining?
Over to you…
- “Coal mining was first mentioned on 1228. The Lords of the Land called their own space, liberties, after themselves. In 1564, the Barton Regas sold to the Crown. Kingswood was not a very safe place to live as the Cock Road Gang used to rob people at the same time of the mining industry. There was mining in Kingswood until 1936. Children used to go down the mines to work and they were as young as three years old. If they weren’t small enough to go in the mines they’d be sent on the farms.“
So as we’ve heard, there’s been coal mining around here since the 13th century. The local ‘Lords’ carved up the area between themselves, calling these lands ‘Liberties’ after themselves.Embed from Getty Images
A report to Parliament in 1841 included the details about a 13 year old boy called John Harvey who was a carter in the Crown Pit.
With another boy, he would draw 50 kilograms or 220lbs of coal up from the mine. The report added that he ate ‘whatever he can catch’ and didn’t go to Sunday School because he has no clothes other than those he worked in.
For all his hard work, he earned just 6 pence a day, although he could earn a further 6 pence if he worked the nightshift.
Would you have liked to work in a mine? What do you think it would have been like?
The mines brought work to the area but with a large influx of workers came trouble. John Wesley was a famous cleric who once came to the area to preach to keep them on the straight and narrow.
We’ll be hearing more about him later but first let’s hear more about Kingswoods own “Peaky Blinders”.
Cock Road Gang
They were called the Cock Road Gang. They lived around here between 1750 and 1850 and as the name suggests they came from Cock Road and the surrounding villages.
They terrorised the area. They were highway men robbing people who travelled along the roads and also demanded protection money from local people, to stop them being robbed by other people!
After a while, the local population got a little fed up with the gang and set up the ‘Kingswood Association for the prosecution of thieves, housebreakers, etc.’ and a group of vigilantes called the ‘Bitton Troup’. In 1815, 25 members of the gang were arrested and sent to prison or a penal colony!
Now that doesn’t sound fun.
Let’s move one from rogues to railways… or an early type of railway – a DRAMWAY!
Do you know what a dramway is?
It was an early type of railway, comprising of a single track with passing loops, with wagons pulled by strong horses who walked between the rails. There was a driver walking beside the wagons to operate the brakes.
It was built in 1828 to help move goods from the area’s factories and coal.
Most were closed in 1865, although the very last part didn’t close until 1904.
Here’s some dramway remains:
The Beacon on Hanham Mount
Let’s head to the Beacon on Hanham Mount, which commemorates the persecution of the Baptist community in the 1600s and the open air preaching of famous clerics John Wesley and George Whitfield. It started here in 1730s, founding a branch of Christianity known as Methodism.
As we’ve heard, the area was well known for trouble and crime and Wesley and his followers were determined to change things for the better.Embed from Getty Images
Hanham was one of the first places that they preached in the open air.
John Wesley’s younger brother, Charles, lived in Bristol and was also a preacher as well as a prolific hymn-writer.
A fun fact is that Charles’ best-known works include the words that became the carol, ‘Hark! The Herald-angels sing‘.
Kingswood Heritage Museum
Now, whilst heritage is all around us, a great place to find out more is often at a museum and Kingswood Heritage Museum is no exception.
The museum is on the site of William Champion’s brass mill, so heritage is really all around you here! Champion built a house with ornate grottos and gardens where guests could enjoy themselves on the grounds. He also built houses for his workers.
Here’s some heritage hot picks about the brass works…
The factory was built in 1743 to make pots, pans, pins, vats and wire. It had 15 copper furnaces, 12 brass furnaces, 4 zinc furnaces and a small mill for kettles. It was the largest works of its kind in the country.
The water-wheels that powered the mills were powered by water from a nearby 13-acre lake. The lake served an ornamental as well as functional purpose, with an impressive 25-feet-tall statue of Neptune at its centre.
By 1748, 800 people worked at the Warmley site was in full production. There was also a windmill, complete with revolving cap and sails, and one of the largest ice houses in the country, both of which you can still see today, as well as a model of the workers houses in the museum.
What you found in the museum…
- “People had to build air raid shelters as sirens would often go off to signal that airplanes from other places were about to drop a bomb. These bombs were about 250 kilograms each. People had to use morse code to send messages to keep their conversations private. It’s very dark and small. It’s crowded, dark and I could imagine it being very eerie when you’re in there all alone.“
It’s almost unimaginable to think that many families spent many chilly dark nights inside Anderson Shelters such as these, wondering if their homes would still be standing when they came out.
Learning about our past can make us appreciate how life would have been very difficult for older generations and lead us to better understand the differences between generations.
This is what Heritage Hero, Connor said….
- “I’m going to talk about the Douglas Engineering. It was started in 1882 by William and Edwin Douglas. They were brothers. They made aeroplane motors for the World War One. They made motorcycles for the World War One as well.”
The brothers were both blacksmiths but after the company established a foundry, they began to make motorcycles in the early 20th century.
The company also made airplane engines, tractors, Vespa scooters, trucks and cars.Embed from Getty Images
During the First World War, Douglas won an army contract and produced an incredible 25,000 machines for dispatch riders on the Frontline in France and at one stage the Douglas motorcycle factory was the biggest in the world!
Douglas tried designing a car but, for some reason, only six were ever made and the idea was dropped.
Motorcycle production continued into World War 2 and was extended to generators and parts for fighter planes.
The 1955 350 cc Douglas Dragonfly was the last model produced and production of Douglas Motorcycles ended in 1957.Embed from Getty Images
Douglas continued to import Vespa scooters and parts. They assembled them at Kingswood and later imported and assembled Gilera motorcycles.
We had a great time exploring Kingswood. Thank you for joining us!
There’s plenty more to explore here and across the country – wherever you live.
Don’t forget to go online to find out more about how to explore and record heritage in your area and of course, download your Heritage Hero certificate here.
Join us again to explore some more local heritage highlights and hotspots.