We have been fascinated by the place in Thornbury called Raglan Castle (or Ragland Castle as it appears in some sources). People have told us it was the name of an old beerhouse or farm. We have found no evidence to confirm these claims. The earliest reference we have found to the name was the 1851 census enumerator’s route description which calls John Smith’s place ‘Raglan Castle’.
Raglan Castle was located on the southern edge of Thornbury, very close to where the railway station was built in 1872. When the property was advertised for sale in the Bristol Mercury on 20th February 1886, it was described in 1886 as ‘Ragland Castle – all those two messuages with the large garden and ruinous cottage, cart shed and outbuildings belonging thereto, formerly called ‘Townsend’ but now known as ‘Ragland Castle’ and situate in Upper Bath Road’. The property was being sold with the lane adjoining the property ‘leading to Vilner’. Potential buyers were made aware of that it was well adapted for building purposes. The advert shows that the owner was John Smith.
We have failed to find any decent photos of the property and we would be delighted to hear from anyone who might help. Meanwhile we were delighted to be given an aerial photo showing the two buildings. They can be seen clearly on the left of the lane in the top left of the above photo opposite the old council depot.
The names of Raglan Castle and Ragland Castle both were used widely for the property. They were also used later to describe the section of Upper Bath Road between Chapel Street and the Railway Station.
We don’t know when the buildings were erected.
A Court Roll entry for 18th March 1852 referred to the property as ‘All that customary messuage or tenement formerly called ‘Townsend’ wherein William Lippiatt Tyler formerly dwelt (late in two messuages wherein Hannah Mills and James Bedggood did there dwell) with the backside garden orchard and lane thereto belonging …’.
In the 1840 Tithe Survey the property was Plot 331 a house and garden and Plot 466, a lane. The accompanying detail shows the plots being owned and occupied by John Smith. Since 1840, Raglan Castle seems to have been owned by the descendants of that John Smith.
John Smith – the 1841 census shows that John was a coal merchant. He was living here with his wife, Sarah and their children: John, James and Selia. John died on 28th January 1851 and was buried on 31st January 1851 aged 76 years. In his will dated 9th July 1942 John left his property to his wife, Sarah and after her decease he instructed his trustee, Daniel Pitcher to sell the property, to give his son, John £40 and to divide the rest equally between his sons John and James and daughters, Harriett (the wife of William Gough), Matilda Nelmes and Celia.
The 1851 census shows Sarah was aged 76 years living in one household in what was called Back Street, (but we believe this to the same property at Raglan Castle). She was living there with her son, James Smith, an agricultural labourer aged 34 and her widowed daughter, Harriett Gough and her children.
Sarah Smith’s other son, John, seems to be living in another household, presumably in another part of Raglan Castle. John was an agricultural labourer aged 43. He was living there with his wife, Alice (nee Trayhurn) aged 32 and their children: John aged 7, Henry aged 5 and Alice aged 3 and Alice’s mother, Alice Trayhurn who a pauper aged 68 and was blind.
Sarah died on 5th May 1860 aged 84 years and was buried on 10th May 1860. By the 1861 census James had moved away and the property was occupied by one of John and Sarah’ other sons, John Smith, an agricultural labourer aged 52, his wife, Alice an upholstress aged 41 and their children: John Junior and Henry, both agricultural labourers aged 18 and 15 respectively, Alice aged 13, and Edwin aged 9. Harriett Gough seemed to be occupying the other part of the property – she was described as a laundress aged 50 and she was living with her children: William a railway labourer aged 30, Celia, a house servant aged 20 and Elizabeth aged 16.
The 1871 census actually records the name of the house as ‘Raglands Castle’. John and Alice were still there with their sons, John and Edwin. Harriet Gough and her daughter, Elizabeth were not living at Ragland Castle because they were in service at Heathend in Cromhall. Harriett was a cook and Elizabeth was a housemaid. There was also a footman living in the household, Thomas Rickards whom Elizabeth was to marry shortly after.
We suspect that John and Alice’s son, John Smith, married Jane Skuse in 1874 – click here to read about them
In 1881 John and Alice are living there with their son, Edwin. John’s sister, Harriett Gough, was back sharing Raglan Castle – she was there with her daughter, Elizabeth Rickards aged 39 and her children: William aged 4 born in Tewksbury and Albert aged 3 born in Thornbury. Harriett Gough died aged 78 in 1884 and her sister-in-law, Alice Smith died aged 67 in 1885. In 1886, John put up the property at auction and on 2nd June 1886 it was sold to George Hopkins for £220.
George Hopkins – George Robinson Hopkins was baptised on 7th February 1844, the son of William Hopkins and his wife Eliza (nee Robinson) who lived in Kington. In 1851 the Hopkins family were living next to Churnmead Farm. In 1861 they were living on the Kington Road, near Churngate Farm. George was one of seven children and he was working as an agricultural labourer like his father.
In 1866 George married Alice Smith. The marriage was registered in Bristol, but it seems very likely that Alice was the daughter of John Smith who had been living in Raglan Castle. The 1871 census shows that Alice was born in Thornbury and following their marriage they had settled in a house opposite Raglan Castle at the house which later became 12 Upper Bath Road. By the time of the census they had a daughter, Alice aged four and a son, Henry aged three months. The 1881 census shows George and Alice still living in 12 Upper Bath Road. George was a labourer aged 35, Alice a dressmaker aged 32, living with children: Alice aged 14, Lilly aged eight, Henry aged six, Walwyn aged five and Laura aged seven months.
On 2nd June 1886 George bought the Ragland Castle property for £220. The 1890 rate book, George had taken over Raglan Castle following the death of Alice’s father, John Smith. The 1891 census shows George Hopkins was a general labourer aged 45, his wife, Alice was aged 43 with children: Harry a hotel porter aged 17, Austin aged six, Laura aged 14, Charley and George, twin sons aged three. It appears that Alice’s brother Edwin continues to live in the second house on this site. It is interesting to note that he is recorded under the name of Edwin in earlier censuses when his parents were alive, but in 1891 and 1901 (when he is also sharing the house) what appears to be the same person is referred to by the name of Edward Smith. The 1890, 1894 and 1899 rate books also refer to him as Edward and show him to be occupying this part of Raglan Castle. By 1905 Edward had moved away.
Hannah Woodward – Hannah appears to have replaced Edward Smith in the second house on the site. The Western Daily Press of 8th December 1905 reported on an inquest held into the death of Hannah Woodward, a widow of Raglan Castle Road aged 65. She had died of burns caused by her upsetting a lamp and the flames catching her clothes. The court’s verdict was accidental death and the jury gave their fees to the family of the deceased. Hannah had been married to Thomas Woodward, a farmer at Hill. He had died in 1903 aged 64.
The Hopkins family remained at Raglan Castle until the place was acquired by the Council for re-development of Streamleaze Council Estate of Council houses. The 1901 census shows George as being a farm labourer aged 54 living with Alice aged 50, and sons: Austin, a page boy aged 17 and Charles and George, both errand boys aged 13. The 1911 census describes George as a farm labourer and shows that he and Alice were living there with their son, George, who was a labourer aged 23. George’s obituary says he had worked at Vilner Farm until he had an accident in 1915 which cut short his working life.
Alice died of bronchitis on 5th January 1917 aged 69 years. George carried on living in Raglan Castle with his son, George and his wife, Mary (nee Bennett) whom he had married in 1915. Mary was baptised on 18th November 1890, the daughter of Mary Ann Bennett of Hill. We know they had two children: the birth of Lewis G. H. Hopkins was registered in March qtr 1916 and Mary Alice Hopkins was born on 11th September 1916. Mary gained a free scholarship to the Grammar School in 1927 and is remembered by Gwen Billett (nee Collins), who lived nearby, as being her ‘nursemaid’ when a young child.
During the First World War, George jnr applied for exemption from military service on the grounds that ‘my father who is 73 had an accident in July 1915 and is incapacitated and my mother is also a permanent invalid and unable to get about. They have a small pension but are otherwise dependent on me. I am married with one child‘. We do not know if this application was successful or for how long. However we do know that George eventually served in the War and afterwards did a lot of work for the British Legion. George’s brother, Charles, was serving with A. S. C in France in 1917 when his mother died. George was living at home at this time.
On 7th December 1922 George senior sold the property to his son, George junior for £205. George (Senior) died on 14th June 1929 aged 85. According to George’s obituary, he had lost his son, Walwyn, a couple of months earlier. Walwyn was an eminent horticulturist in Woking in Surrey. George (Junior) worked as a postman for over thirty years. He and Mary carried on living at Raglan Castle until George died on 16th July 1937 aged 49. Following a storm which dislodged a tile on his roof, George used a ladder to climb on to the roof and replace the tile. On the way down his foot slipped on a wet rung and he fell to the ground. He fractured his skull and was taken to the Bristol Royal Infirmary by the Bristol City and Marine Ambulance. He died the following morning. The funeral service at Thornbury Baptist Church was so well attended that many people were unable to get in the church.
During the Second World War, Mary took in a family of Dutch evacuees, Bernard and Gesiena Louisa Cavanagh and their 2 sons. Mary’s daughter, Mary Alice, married one of the sons, George Cavanagh, who was working at the aircraft engine factory at Patchway. They then moved to 12 North Road before emigrating to Canada. Bernard and Gesiena moved to live in Woodbine Cottage with Mrs Excell and then moved to live in Sibland House and then in Eastland Avenue. Following Bernard’s death in May 1957, Gesiena moved to Stafford Crescent. Gesiena died at Ham Green Hospital in February 1971 aged 81. She was cremated, but she and Bernard were remembered on George Hopkins’ gravestone in Thornbury Cemetery.
Mary carried on until the houses were required for the Streamleaze development. On 5th March 1959 Mary sold the property to Thornbury Rural District Council for £467. Mary was living in Buckingham Parade at the time of the sale. It is interesting to note that when Austin Hopkins, (Mary’s brother-in-law) died in Thornbury Hospital on 11th March 1958 his address was given as 9 Upper Bath Road which was what Raglan Castle was known as at this time. He was aged 75 at the time of his death. Mary died in 1973 aged 82.
When all signs of the Raglan Castle were removed, the Council named one of the streets in nearby estate ‘Raglan Place’.