Frederick Henry (Harry) Burchell was born in Thornbury in 1873 and lived and worked all his life in the town. In 1948 he presented a talk to the Society of Thornbury Folk sharing his memories of the Town and its characters . Harry was a solicitor’s clerk – click here to read more about him and his family
I would ask you to come with me in thought and mind on a little tour of the town. We will start at the top of High Street at the Railway Station. The railway line from Yate to Thornbury was opened about the time I was born. I am informed that on the occasion when the line was opened free rides were given to schoolchildren and others on the railway to Yate and back again and we can understand it was a great day in the history of our town. The railway line proved of great service to the town and district for goods and passenger traffic but time passed on and motor buses and other forms of transport were introduced and therefore the railway line was closed for passenger traffic.
Very little change has taken place at the top part of High Street so we come lower down as far as the Picture House. I remember this as the Beaufort Arms Hotel. A little lower down was a baker’s shop occupied by Mr. George Witts. Mr. George Witts was a great character of his day. He devoted a good deal of time to his business but I don’t think he was ever absent from a game of cricket and he was also very keen on sports of all kinds. His house is gone and in its place is the house now occupied by Miss Trayhurn. Opposite, where Mr. Fred Sainsbury now lives, was the shop of Browns, the printers. That was the only printers business in this district for a very great number of years until another business was started. Next door to this shop was a butcher’s shop belonging to Mr. John Taylor who afterwards removed a little further down the street.
On the opposite side of the street where Miss Williams’ draper’s shop is at the present time, was the chemist’s shop carried on by a Mr. Edward Ellis. Just below, on the site of the shop which is now a tailor’s shop and which was rebuilt by the late Mr. G. B. Symes, there formerly stood a house occupied by Mr. George Lane, a plumber. He was called ‘Plum’ Lane, ‘Plum’ being short for plumber. The corner shop which is now Mr. Excell’s boot shop was formerly a solicitor’s office carried on by Messrs. Scarlett and Gwynn and that was were I started to learn to make my living. In 1891 that business was amalgamated with Messrs. Crossman & Lloyd.
Lower down the street in what we call the shopping centre there has been very little change as regards businesses as long as I can remember. A few of the old houses have been rebuilt – for instance the Westminster Bank was formerly an outfitters shop owned by Mr. John Hodges Williams. Next door to the bank was the shop of Mr. Samuel Collins, the well-known clock- maker. That shop was taken into Messrs. Councell’s premises and is now part of the Co-operative Society shop. I believe I am right in saying that at the present time there are a great many grandfather clocks made by Mr. Samuel Collins in this district and in good going order.
Some way lower down the street we come to Mr. Rugg’s chemist shop and the International Stores. They are fairly new and built on the position of two old houses. One of these houses was a grocer’s shop carried on by Mr. Buckley and I am told that this shop was formerly the Thornbury Bank before the present bank was built. The present bank was built on the site formerly the White Hart Inn.
I remember that the corner shop (Matthews’ Fish Shop) was a chemists shop carried on by Mr. James Vaughan. There were two chemists shops in Thornbury but very different from what they are at present. They sold very little in the way of ‘chemistry’ as far as I remember. Going back to my early days, the chief thing I remember they sold me was paraffin oil. I remember going to Vaughan’s shop as a lad on a good many occasions with a can to get the weekly supply of oil. I was always given a peppermint drop and after handling this oil you can realise we had a paraffin flavoured peppermint drop.
There hasn’t been very much change in Castle Street during my time except that in olden days there was a public house called The Black Lion where Lion House now is. When the Black Lion was closed it was bought by Mr. J. C. James, Veterinary Surgeon. The old house was demolished and a new house built – the house is still called Lion House and, although a different colour, the old Lion still sits on the top.
Lower down we come to the Chantry. For very many years the Chantry was unoccupied. It belonged to Dr. W. G. Salmon who at that time resided in Silver Street and in addition to carrying on a medical practice he did a bit of farming and farmed the land at the back of the Chantry and also some other land near the Poor Law Institution and in Eastland Road. After a time Dr. Salmon retired from his practice which was taken over by Dr. L. H. Williams and went to live at the Chantry where he carried on the farm almost up to the time of his death. The house known as ‘The Hatch’, now owned and occupied by Mr. C. P. Taylor was formerly Thornbury Grammar School and was used as such until 1880 when the new school was built.
I believe I am right in saying that in olden times one of the curates of the Church was Master of the Thornbury Grammar School. The Ecclesiastical Parish of Thornbury embraced Oldbury and Falfield as well as Thornbury and therefore the Vicar of Thornbury had the responsibility of seeing to the services of three churches, Thornbury, Oldbury and Falfield, and for that purpose he needed the help of two curates. One of these curates was responsible for the Thornbury Grammar School.
I can also remember the Wesley Chapel being built and that took the place of a chapel which is now the Cossham Hall. When the Wesleyans relinquished their use of the Cossham Hall, as it is now called, it was taken over by the Salvation Army and used as a Salvation Army barracks. It was a new move in Thornbury, this Salvation Army business, and it met with great deal of opposition from various sources. I remember that near the opening of their activities in Thornbury they organised a big ‘Day’ and the had contingents from Bristol and other districts and headed by a brass ban they paraded the town. At that time a lot of young bloods in Thornbury organised an attack on the procession and pelted them with rotten eggs and kinds of things. Their drum was slashed and an attack was made upon the barracks and every window in the front of the building was smashed. Eventually opposition to the Salvation Army eased.
The Cossham Hall was given to this town by Mr. Handel Cossham. Mr. Cossham was a native of Thornbury but I never remember him living here. He made a name for himself in the House of Commons. It was just about th time when the scheme for providing three acres and a cow was brought in, so that anybody who wanted three acres and a cow should be able to secure them.
At that time there was a paper called the ‘Magpie’ published in Bristol and circulated in this district and that paper often contained sly quips about local people here. There were one or two people in this district who were rather clever at writing bits about local celebrities and these were often published in this magazine. I remember there was a man living in this district called Thomas Hudson. He was a mason and his brother William lived at Falfield and carried on a builders business. Thomas was called ‘The Masher’ because he looked ‘very dressed up’ as you might say when he had on his Sunday suit and a big bow. Well, a little bit appeared in this magazine about ‘The Masher’. It went something like this:
As ‘The Masher’ and Kitty were seated one day
He thus to his love for a moment did say
‘I have just now discovered what a muff I have been
And my folly to others is plain to be seen.
Hard work I don’t like, I’ll admit it is true,
But I’ll scheme and contrive and my best I will do.
I will have my three acres, a calf and a cow
And I’ll then cease to work by the sweat of my brow’.
People thought that if only they could get a calf and cow then they would be able to live till the end of their life without doing very much work.
In ancient days the Mayor was a very important person and was responsible for law and order. Court cases, for instance, to recover debts and such like were brought before him to be settled and I have in my possession a copy of a Summons issued by the Bailiff of the Hundred of Thornbury against one Thomas Banes, and he was summoned to appear at the next Court to be held at the Swan Hotel to answer a summons at the suit of one Robert Burchell and this Robert Burchell sought to recovery from Mr. Thomas Banes the sum of few shillings for some old hens and a duck. This old document is dated 1815.
In my day the Mayor’s duties were to distribute the Parish Charities. One of those charities was what was known as The Mayor’s Gifts and these gifts were distributed just before Christmas Day. The gifts consisted of a soft felt hat and a coat for the men and a shawl and a gown for the women and on Christmas morning these recipients assembled outside the Swan Hotel in the High Street, headed by the Mayor in his robes of office and other officials, and they paraded to the Church for service at 11 o’clock and that was an interesting parade which attracted a good many people besides the recipients. The Parish Charities were eventually transferred to the Town Trust, I think somewhere about the year 1894 and therefore these processions ceased – and I think rightly so because it doesn’t seem right or nice in any case that recipients of charities should be paraded to the public view, although I don’t know that at any time any of these recipients objected to it. I believe, on the other hand, that they were rather proud to go and march to church in their new togs.
The last real Mayor was Dr. E. M. Grace but afterwards Mayors were elected at the Court Leet as well as other officers of the Hundred, Manor and Borough of Thornbury, but this was chiefly to keep up the old traditions.
There was another institution in Thornbury which was very important in the olden days – that was the Thornbury Mop. It was more or less a fair and the chief purpose of this mop or fair was the hiring of farm labourers and domestic servants. Those seeking employment would come decorated with ribbon as a token that they were seeking a situation and the farmers and others requiring servants would interview those whom they thought suitable and a contract of service would be entered into. The Mop or fair was held in the streets. There would be roundabouts on the Plain and stalls of all kinds spread around the Plain and part of the way up the High Street.
In the course of time some of the residents objected to the nuisance so the Mop was prohibited in the streets and after that for some years it was continued in the Royal George yard until eventually it ceased altogether. Not very long ago I was talking to an old man who has since died, by the name of Lewis Tandy. He told me that he had been hired at Thornbury Mop by a Mr. Edward Luce to work on his farm at Grovesend. Mr. Edward Luce was the grandfather of Mr. Roy Luce and besides being an auctioneer he carried on a farm at Grovesend and Tandy worked on the same farm under Mr. Edward Luce and for Mr. Percy Luce until the time he was obliged to give up work altogether.
Then there were the Club Days which held an important place in the town in olden days. These Clubs – the Foresters Society and the Rational Society – appointed certain days in the year on which they would walk. One would walk on the first Monday in June and the other on the second Monday in June and they would assemble in their regalia, headed by a band (the Foresters would have mounted figures like Robin Hood) and they would parade around the town, stopping at every pub to get a little refreshment, go as far as Mr. Maclaine’s at Kyneton House and then return to the Church for a service after which they would continue the procession round the town, finishing up at the Swan Hotel for dinner and later on adjourning to Ogborne’s Home Field (now belonging to Miss Parsons) where there would be sports, roundabouts and all the fun of the fair. It was a great day for these Societies, they looked forward to it and kept it up for a great many years.
Coming to celebrities of olden days, I have no hesitation in starting first of all with one who did more for Thornbury than anyone else ever has done. I mean Sir Stafford Howard who was for a time M.P. for this constituency. He was a great churchman and Christian gentleman, a keen sportsman – he founded the Thornbury Castle Cricket Club and provided a field free of cost, built a pavilion for the players, had the pitch relaid and paid all the expense in connection with this work. He could play a good game of cricket and I am sure he thoroughly enjoyed it as did everyone else who had the privilege of playing with him.
His benefactions to the town were numerous and if anything was required it was to Sir Stafford that everybody went. When the churchyard was closed and a new burial ground was required, Sir Stafford came to the rescue at once and provided what is now the cemetery free of cost and he gave the piece of land so that is should be used for a burial place for members of a denominations. One of Sir Stafford’s greatest interests was Temperance Reform and those who remember the conditions which prevailed fifty or sixty years ago can realise that something had to be done in this respect. In this connection Sir Stafford opened a Coffee Tavern in what is now the Church Institute, which proved a success but as more commodious premises were found to be necessary it was moved to High Street to the premises boot known as the Picture House where it flourished for many years. Sir Stafford was greatly supported by Lady Rachel Howard who also took a great interest in this work and I know of numerous cases where men were reformed and helped to become respectable one more. Sir Stafford did everything he possibly could for the benefit of this town and district.
The next gentleman who comes to my mind is Mr. William Osborn Maclaine who formerly resided at Kyneton House. He was the owner of the Close, now the Playing Fields, and permission was given by him for the town to play in there. It was no unusual thing to see three or four games of cricket going on there of a summer evening. Years ago the early closing day in Thornbury was Thursday but the shops closed at 5 p.m. and not mid-day. For many years Mr. Maclaine engaged the Tockington Band to play dance music in the Close every Thursday evening during the summer and a number of people generally attended there to indulge in a little bit of dancing. I think Mr. Maclaine made very good use of his money and the wealth which he possessed. When any special appeal was made to him for anything which was required in this town Mr. Maclaine used to say his share was 1/10th and I think that was what he generally contributed.
I must also mention Mr. Joseph Young Sturge, Land Surveyor and Surveyor of Highways under the old Highway Board before the District Councils were formed. He had an office in part of the house now occupied by Mr. Lydford. Mr. Sturge was a churchwarden for thirty years and I remember he claimed to be the Parish Grumbler and he always wanted something done – and what is more he usually got it done.
Then there were General Mundy and Mrs. Mundy who lived at Thornbury House. Excellent people who took a keen interest in all parochial affairs. Also Admiral St. John who lived at Stokefield, a typical Admiral of the Fleet, stern and unbending – not what we should call very sociable – but he was one who required a great deal of homage paid to him and I suppose this was only natural and in accordance with the rules of naval discipline.
Another important figure in Thornbury was Mr. Henry Hume Lloyd, Clerk to the Magistrates and Registrar of the County Court, sound in his judgment and anything undertaken by him was always done thoroughly well. He was also a churchwarden and a great pillar of the church. Then there was Mr. Obed Thurston, another lawyer and the founder of the firm Messrs. Thurston and Co.
Among the tradesmen were Mr. W. H. Councell, founder of the grocers business now carried on by the Co-operative Society; William Embley, saddler; Thos. Eddington, painter and decorator; Mark Savery, blacksmith; Charles Olds, bootmaker; Charles King, tinsmith; George Davis, George Mills, William Cullimore, George Stone, John Brooke, Henry Knight, shoemaker; and many other, all skilled men, all real artisans.
There is just one more I want to mention and that is a woman — Mrs. Rebecca Harvey. She used to carry on a little laundry business in Castle Street. She was also caretaker of the Church, that is, she was responsible for the cleaning of the church and for this purpose she used to send two or three laundrywomen to the church every week to do the necessary cleaning. In addition to that Mrs. Harvey was also an official of the church – known as the pew opener, and she used to sit just inside the church door and in the first seat and attended there twice a Sunday, morning and evening. She knew, of course, by sight all the regular worshippers but when a stranger or visitor came she spotted them at once and jumped up out of her seat, and, having made a nice curtsey, she led the way to a pew. She did that up to a short time before her death and since then there has not been a pew opener.
Many people were probably unaware of the existence of the Church Stable on the corner of Church Lane. In my younger days people used to drive to church in all kinds of vehicles because the roads were not in a fit state for walking any distance. In the wet weather there would be two or three inches of mud on the roads and people would ride from Morton, The Hackett, Kington and such places and the stable was then full of horses and others would be tied up by the railings adjoining the churchyard.
Note: These reminiscences of Thornbury in the closing years of the last century were given by Mr. F. H. Burchell in a talk to the Society of Thornbury Folk on January 19th, 1948.