Church Institure croppedThis is the building which appears on the left in this photograph.  According to various reports this distinctive building was built in the 17th Century.  It is a four gabled house with porch bearing the date 1679.  The wooden pillars on the porch are true copies of the original oak pillars carved by local carpenter and builder, Charley Davis about 1979.

The old building has played several important and well documented roles in the life of Thornbury.  However its earlier history back to the date of 1679 shown on the pillars had been difficult to trace and we had been unable to explain the inclusion of the initials ‘B M’ within the inscription of the date (see image below).  However in 2012 we finally got round to transcribing some old documents which we had photographed at Gloucestershire Archives in 2009.  These documents were difficult to read in their entirety but they have enabled us to trace more of the history from 1679 onwards.

Porch 1679The earliest indenture is dated 8th May 1679.  It refers to the purchase by Brice Mansfield of the property from John Hallings a yeoman of Morton and his wife, Joane.  They had acquired the property from Joane’s brother, Edward Long.  Brice Mansfield is described as a victualler of Thornbury and an indenture of 23rd June 1680 shows he was living in the property and he is described as an innholder.  It is possible therefore that Brice used the property as an inn.  It is also interesting to note that on 10th May 1685 Brice sold the property then described as ‘his erected and new built messuage or tenement‘.  We assume this must indicate that Brice had re-built the property in 1679, hence the date of the pillars and the use of his initials (B. M.) on the porch.

Brice’s wife was Margaret Mansfield.  It is worth noting, because the name of ‘Mansfield’ is rare in this part of the country, that the most recent indenture referred to Brice as ‘Brice Mansell’.  We don’t know which of these names is correct, but we do know of the existence of a Brice Mansell in Rangeworthy in the late 1500’s and that there were several members of the Mansell family living in Thornbury during the 1700’s.

The next owner was Edward Wallington the Younger, a mercer from Wotton Under Edge who purchased the property from Brice Mansfield in 1685.  He doesn’t appear to have kept it long as on 27th November 1686 the property was acquired by Edmund Hughes, a cooper of Thornbury.  A document dated 3rd November 1688 referred to a building at 13 St Mary Street as being ‘a messuage of one Edmond Hughes on the northward side thereof‘.  We don’t know anything about Edmond except that he was buried on 15th August 1714 at Thornbury.

A document dated 4th October 1717 suggests that the property is then owned by Samuel White and his wife, Ann.  The indenture describes Samuel as being a victualler of Morton and shows Samuel and his wife Ann had borrowed £90 from Edward Hill of Long Ashton using their property at 11 St Mary Street and the one at 7 High Street as security.  Samuel and Ann agreed to sell these two properties to Edward Hill for a further £14.  The property at 11 St Mary Street was described as:

All that erected or new built messuage house or tenement with appurts and one garden and backside thereunto belonging situate lying and being in the Burrough of Thornbury in a street there called St Mary Street on or nigh the West side thereof between the lands heretofore of Joane Patche and now of William Hobbs on or nigh the East? part thereof and the garden of Henry Earl of Stafford on or nigh the North side thereof and which said messuage or tenement and premises were heretofore purchased in fee simple by one Brice Mansell of and from one John Hallings and Joane his wife to him his heirs and assigns forever and afterwards purchased by one Anne Pritchard of and from the said Brice Mansell and Margaret his wife to hold to her and her assigns for the term of 500 years and after that the said .. was assigned over by the said Anne Pritchard unto one Edward Wallington and his assigns and since that by the said Edward Wallington unto one Edmund Hughes and since assigned by Edmund Hughes unto the said Samuel White and his assigns for the remainder of the said term of 500 years then to come and unexpired‘.

The next reference dated 14th September 1737 in the deeds of 13 St Mary Street refers to the property as: ‘a messuage late of one Edmund Hughes and afterwards of one Edward Hill since that of one ….. Hill his son and now of William West on the northwards side thereof‘.

As regards to William West we know that a William West was baptising children in Thornbury from about 1716 through to 1730.  The baptism of his daughter, Ann on 4th March 1730, shows that William was living in Grovesend at the time of the baptism.

We are indebted to Meg Wise of Thornbury Museum for the information that the building was mentioned in a speech made by Handel Cossham in 1888 which was reported in a local newspaper.  In this speech he said that the famous John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church used to stay with Ralph Grove in the ‘now’ Coffee Tavern building in St Mary Street.  We know that in 1880 the Coffee Tavern was the name used for the building now known as The Church Institute, but was also known as 11 St Mary Street when house numbering was introduced in the 1950’s.  We have also been told that Wesley last came to Thornbury in 1789 and 1790, so it appears that the building was then the home of Ralph Grove.  The land tax records of 1831 and 1832 also show the ‘late R. Grove’ as being the owner of Attwells School.

Attwells Free School – we believe the building was used as a school under the name of ‘Attwells Free School’ from the early 1700’s to 1879.  Click here to read more

1882 advert for Castle Coffee TavernThe Castle Coffee Tavern – Sir Stafford Howard of Thornbury Castle was a strong believer in the Temperance Movement as an M.P. and as an individual.  In 1880 he and his wife Lady Rachel Howard convened a meeting of the Church of England Temperance Society at the Castle and that year they opened a coffee house in the recently vacated Attwells school building in St Mary Street.  This proved to be a successful venture and soon needed larger premises, so when the Beaufort Inn closed in the High Street in 1889 the coffee house moved there and opened as the Castle Coffee House and Temperance Hotel.  Sir Stafford Howard took a keen interest in his temperance work, even employing reformed drunkards so that he could keep and eye on them.  This was in contrast to his father, Henry Howard, in 1875 who was one of the employers who supplemented his staffs wages with beer.  The Temperance Hotel remained in existence until 1919 by which time the Temperance Movement having met its more moderate aspirations gradually petered out and the building was replaced by the cinema called ‘The Picture House’.

As regards to the premises in St Mary Street, the ‘Attwells Free School’ was put up for sale by the Charity Commissioners on 10th July 1880 at a price of £325.  The premises were already occupied by the Coffee Tavern at a annual rent rent of £10 8 shillings.  The 1880 rate book shows that it was owned by Anna Maria Churchill.  The 1881 census also shows the building as unoccupied which presumably indicates no-one was living there.

An article in the Bristol Mercury on 1st August 1881 reported on the official opening of the Coffee Tavern by Sir Wilfred Lawson, M.P.  According to Wikipedia, Sir Wilfrid the second Baronet of Brayton was an English Temperance campaigner and a radical anti-imperialist Liberal Party member.  The article shows that the property had been purchased by ‘Misses Churchill’ of The Park, Thornbury who had been persuaded by Sir Stafford Howard and the vicar Rev Thomas Waters to do something for good of the town.  The accounts of Thornbury Grammar School indicate that Miss Churchill paid £325 for it.  She had the old school building adapted for its new purpose and Stafford Howard had paid for the furnishings at an expense of over £200.  The article said that “adjoining the bar is a large general coffee room and there are separate rooms for women and boys.  On the first floor there is a well furnished reading room with smoking room adjoining.”  It is interesting that the description begin with the phrase “adjoining the bar”.  Although we believe that the house may have been a hotel with a bar originally, it had then been a school for about 170 years.  We cannot account for the use of the word “bar”.  The necessary alterations had been made by local builders, the Burchells.  The architect was Mr Joseph Young Sturge.

An indenture dated 5th April 1882 shows that the property is now called the ‘Castle Coffee Tavern’ owned by Anna Maria Churchill of Thornbury Park, spinster.  The indenture refers to the issue of light – apparently Miss Churchill had made several openings in the north wall of her premises which overlooked the adjoining garden land owned by the Trustees of Sir John Stafford.  These openings consisted of a small aperture for ventilation and light into the Pantry adjoining the Coffee Room and a window in the Bar and a small aperture covered with grating for ventilation on the ground floor.  These openings had been made with the consent of the Trustees but the indenture made it clear that it gave the Coffee House no ‘absolute’ right to light.  Presumably this meant that that the Trustees were free to build a building which blocked the light to the Coffee House if they wished.

Anna Maria Churchill died on 8th July 1886 and her property was passed to Catherine Dorinda Carbonell, the wife of Francis Rohde Carbonell who was a Clerk of Holy Orders living at Kington Vicarage neat Taunton.  Catherine sold the property on 29th September 1887 to John Crowther Gwynn of Thornbury Gentleman for £332.

The Church Institute – we are not sure yet how the property was transferred from John Crowther Gwynn to the use of the Church, but from the 1890 rate book onwards the building became known as ‘The Church Institute’, a name by which it is still known.  The first mention we have found in newspapers of a Church Institute in Thornbury was October 10th 1888 when an advertisement appeared in the Morning Post by a gentleman seeking a post as an under-footman.  His address was given as care of the Church Institute.  We have also seen one unconfirmed reference which suggests that the property was let to the Vicar for four shillings per week.  The rate books confirm that the property continued to be owned by John Crowther Gwynn until at least 1910.  There must have been some proper transfer of ownership to the church as in 1967 when the property was acquired by the District Council they bought it from the Parochial Church Council.

We assume that the big room, previously used as a schoolroom and then coffee room, was used for church functions and those of the general community of the Town.  We note that in 1892 a ‘Working Men’s Club’ was opened there which provided a reading room and various kinds of recreations including a bagatelle board’.  On the occasion being reported a debate took place over the benefit of international disarmament which resulted in nine votes in favour and 15 against.

The Prewetts Trade Directory of 1914 also indicates that the C.E.M.S. had a bible class there every Tuesday during the winter months.  This organisation was the Church of England Men’s Society.  According to Wikipedia it was founded in 1899 by Archbishop Frederick Temple to bring men together to socialize in a Christian environment.

In more recent times, locals remembers that it was used by various community groups such as the Mothers Union, Women’s Institute, Guides and Brownies, and Ballet Club, baby and special vaccination clinics, and for special parties at Christmas and other times.  There were also regular bingo nights and it was available for hiring by the public for parties and receptions.  A list of the organisations using the premises at the time it was closed include the following other groups:

Society of Thornbury Folk
Thornbury Horticultural Society
Gillingstool Ladies club
Miss Olive for dancing instruction
O. A. P. area meetings
Towns Women Guild
Loyal Order of Moose
Women’s British Legion

For a few years from 1941 onwards it was used by the Roman Catholic Church who held services there each Sunday.  This continued for a few years after the RC Church acquired the property next door where they held a daily service in a small chapel made in one of the front rooms of the house until a larger chapel was built in the back garden in 1952.

The rest of the Church Institute appears to have been used as accommodation for the caretaker and their families. These included:

Charles Turner – the 1885 rate book shows the house is occupied by Charles Turner.  He seems to have been the manager of the Castle Coffee Tavern as in 1885 he applied to the Petty Sessional Court for a licence to allow billiards to be played there.

Thomas Maslen – the 1887 rate book shows the tenant as ‘Mrs Maslin’.  The 1890 rate book and the 1891 census shows that the building was occupied by Thomas Maslen, a baker aged 52 and his wife, Martha aged 58 and their son, Harry a gardener aged 25, all of whom were born in Wells.

Alfred Phelps – the 1894 rate book shows the house was occupied by Alfred Phelps.  There was only one Alfred Phelps in Thornbury at that time, although we can’t be certain that it was the same person.  By 1899 he was living with his family in the property that became 3 Silver Street.

John Luce – the 1899 rate book and 1901 census show the building is occupied by John Luce, a blacksmith aged 58 living there with his wife, Mary Ann aged 56.  John born in 1841 and baptised 25th January 1843.  He was the son of John Luce, an agricultural labourer and his wife, Ellen (nee Sanigar).  Click here to read about  the Luces

John married Mary Ann between 1891 and 1901 although we haven’t found the marriage record.  They continued to live at the Church Institute until John died in 1911 aged 70.  Mary Ann is still shown as living there in the 1911 census and the 1918 and 1921 electoral register.  She died on 7th November 1921 aged 77.

Elizabeth Rugman – the 1921 electoral register shows Elizabeth was living there.

Sarah Ann Brake Ball – Sarah is listed as living here in the 1926 rate book and the electoral registers from 1927 to 1938 show that Sarah Ann was living there with her daughter, Elsie.  Sarah Ann Brake was born in Nailsea on 1st August 1868 the daughter of John Winmill, a market gardener.  He was working at Kyneton House when Sarah Ann was married on 26th August 1893.  Her husband was Samuel John Ball, a groom who was born in North Nibley about 1868.  Samuel was the son of John Ball who was a labourer at Kyneton House.  The 1901 census shows Samuel and Sarah Ann were living in Mill House in Kington with their sons, Walter aged 7 and John aged 4.  John’s twin sister, Elsie (born on 21st January 1897), was away from home.  She was living in 18 Upper Maudlin Street with her grandmother, Sarah Ann Winmill and her aunts, Lily Clark and Martha Winmill.

Edith Faulkes

Edith Faulkes

Samuel died on 22nd September 1913 aged 45.  By the time their youngest son, John, died on 2nd February 1916, Sarah Ann’s address was the Church Institute.  John had been serving in France with the 12th Battalion, Gloucester Regiment and he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.  He was aged 19.  Elsie became a teacher at the Council School and then on 8th June 1937 she married Frederick George Ford, the licensee of the Barrel Inn.  Sarah Ann was still listed as living in the Church Institute in the register compiled in 1939 in preparation for the war.  She died on 11th December 1941 aged 73.

Edith Maud Faulkes (shown in the photo on the right) – the electoral register shows Edith was living there in 1938.  Edith was a teacher at the Council School from 1937 to 1943.  She was born in Newport, Monmouth in 1886.

Percy W and Alice G Davis – the electoral registers from 1946 to 1954 shows that Percy and Alice Davis were living there.  We understand they had 3 children including Judith and Tony.

William (Bill) and Georgina Excell – the electoral registers show that Bill and Georgina were living there from 1958 to 1965.  We understand that they had 2 children: Donald and Lynda.

On 13th April 1973 there was an exchange of property between the Thornbury Parochial Church Council and Thornbury Rural District Council as part of the re-development of the town centre.  In exchange for 11 St Mary Street the Church Council was given a piece of land in Eastbury Close on which they built their new hall, now known as St Mary Church Hall.  Since then 11 St Mary Street was used by Compleat Cookshop for about 25 years.  In 2007 it was converted into an upmarket restaurant trading under the name of Ronnie’s.