By Robert J Evered
Published in B&AFHS Journal - June 2002
The North Somerset “parish of Wraxall is very extensive, comprising with its limit not only a considerable part of the valley beneath the village, but stretching itself over the whole breadth of the hill behind it to its northern brow, which overlooks the Bristol Channel. On the southern side of the hill and eastward of the village stands Belmont House on the lower slopes of the hill. With fine woods in the background, cut out into beautiful walks; and the bare summit of the hill picturesquely rising above it. In front, a fine view to the south and south-west, and a gentle descent to the rich vale of Bourton.” So, beautifully described by the Rev. John Collinson, the Somerset historian in the eighteenth century.
The parish included the chapelries of Nailsea and Flax Bourton until 1811. Failand being in the eastern side of the parish, became a separate ecclesiastical parish in 1887.
The origin of the name Wraxall or Werocosale as it was known in earlier times is ‘Nook of land frequented by the buzzard or other bird of prey’. The name certainly is not unique as it is also shared with a village of that name situated to the south of Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Just north of Bath and over the border into Wiltshire we have a cluster of villages known as North Wraxall, Upper Wraxall and South Wraxall. Moving south to the county of Dorset we find another situated about five miles west of the famous Cerne Abbas giant known as Higher and Lower Wraxall; these are adjoining and almost as one, the latter being the dominant one and contains the charming little village church.
Wraxall Court was the oldest manor house, and it goes back to the Saxon times. After the Norman conquest, the manor belonged to the family of De Wrokeshale and in that name it continued until the time of King John, when it came by the marriage of an heiress of Richard de Wrokeshale to Eudo de MOREVILLE, whose descendant John de MOREVILLE in the reign of Henry III, left issue an only daughter and heir named Elena, married to Ralph the son of Ivo de GORGES, of Tamworth, Warwickshire. This Ralph de GORGES was a knight and great warrior; being one of those who in the year 1263 was confined with King Henry III in the city of Bristol by the disaffected citizens. In the time of the 1881 census, the FORD family were recorded at Wraxall Court. The fords were prosperous business people from Bristol. During the Second World War, Wraxall Court was taken over by the Admiralty. After the war, Bristol University used it as a Halls of Residence following the bomb damage to their Halls. Mr T. LUCAS founder of Dalgety Spillers Ltd., later purchased Wraxall Court.
The GORGES family derived its name from a hamlet in Lower Normandy. They also held other lands in Somerset, Devon and Dorset. Perhaps the most famous of that name was Fernando GORGES of Wraxall Court. IN 1606, King James I granted two patents one to a London company for the colonisation of Southern Virginia; the other to the merchants of Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth for the colonisation of that part of Virginia lying between 38o and 45o N. The chief organisers of the latter-known Plymouth Company were Chief Justice POPHAM and Sir Fernando GORGES. A certain Captain WEYMOUTH, returning from a voyage for the discovery of the North West Passage, brought home with him five Red Indians whom he had captured. Three of these he delivered to Sir Fernando, who taking them into his house and instructing them in the English language, obtained from them accurate information about their native country. Convinced of its advantages, he organised several expeditions for its colonisation, and after many futile attempts, continued through many years, at length obtained a charter from the Crown in 1637, constituting him Lord Palatine of the Province of New Somerset, now known as Maine.
The parish church of All Saints was built in the fifteenth century, with the tower, clock and bells being added in stages during following centuries. There were five bells here in the mid-eighteenth century according to Collinson’s History of Somerset. Another was added in 1875 and the last two possibly in time for Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee, including the largest, the tenor, weighing in at nearly 23 cwt (1158 kilos). In the chancel are the painted stone figures of Sir Edmond GORGES (died 1512) and Lady Anne lying-in-state, he in armour with a greyhound at his feet, she is lying in a red gown trimmed with ermine, her wedding ring is on her right hand. She is lying on her husband’s right to show her superior rank her father being John HOWARD, 1st duke of Norfolk and she was also great aunt to two queens, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, the second and fifth wives of Henry VIII.
There are many references from early times in the church to the GORGES and TYNTE families. The large churchyard is entered through the east side by a fine lych-gate. The nearby rectory was built early in the 17th century it was a great rambling house with forty-three rooms. Parish register (from 1562) and records are deposited at Somerset Records Office.
The TYNTE family gave its name to the present Tyntesfield Estate. As early as 1410 one Robert TYNTE of Wraxall granted John WALE and his heirs, lands in Portbury and Easton in Gordano. The last home of the family known as “Tyntes Place” of which no vestige remains. William GIBBS purchased Tyntesfield Estate in 1844 and set about enlarging the house; which also boasts its own fine chapel. He was born in Madrid in 1790 the second son of Antony GIBBS, a Spanish merchant. The family also have an estate in Clyst St George near Exeter in the county of Devon. The GIBBS family have been benefactors of Exeter Cathedral, Kebble College and its chapel in Oxford followed by Wraxall Girls School and the Battle Axes Hotel (named after the GIBBS family coat of arms).
Tyntesfield is an estate of about 2500 acres, surrounded by roads on all sides it boasts several lodges on its outer limits, it also owned most of the lands and farms etc. immediately adjoining the estate. It had its own water supply from a pumping station, which was situated by Watercress Farm, this utilised the natural local springs, pumping the spring water to the reservoir tank on the high ground near Failand. In earlier times Tyntesfield had also generated its own electricity from the “Engine Room” near Chaplin’s Lodge. IN 1927 Colonel George GIBBS, a widower married Ursula Mary LAWLEY, daughter of the 6th and last Baron of Wenlock. She was Maid of Honour to Queen Mary from 1912 to 1927. The following January Colonel George GIBBS was created the 1st Baron Wraxall. In July 2001, Sir Eustace GIBBS became the 3rd Baron Wraxall following the death of his brother Richard. Sadly at th time of writing the future looks uncertain for this great estate.
A school was recorded here as early as 1801 in a cottage , since pulled down, below the rectory. It was ran by an old dame who taught the children “criss-cross” and to “sit still”. In 1809, Richard VAUGHAN of Wraxall Court, built at his own costs, the school room in the churchyard for the cost of £300, this included the school cottage sitting below and just outside of the churchyard. This man’s generosity and foresight came some three score years before parliament passed the Elementary Education Act of 1870. Both of the following schools were erected by the GIBBS family, the boy’s school and the master’s house were erected in 1856, this was soon followed by the building of the girls’ school, the latter became a mixed school circa 1930 on the earlier closure of the boys school, and continues as such to this day. It is situated at the top of Wraxall “Score” (Hill) sitting across the road from the lower new churchyard.
Just across the road from the school towards Bristol, was the village Smithy, and no doubt on occasions we would cross the road with the words of Longfellow’s Village Blacksmith ringing in our ears.
“And children coming home from school look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge and hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly like chaff from a threshing floor.”
Here we would inspect the horses being shod in the forge by Mr WARRY the village smithy, or a cartwheel being repaired having a iron band heated in the furnace and shrunk to fit, the ringing sounds of the hammer striking red-hot metal against the anvil. Most farms then still had one or two cart horses and the occasional pony, plus the associated carts and traps that went with them. No ‘spreading chestnut tree’ here, but a few yards away on a raised stone-stepped plinth, at the junction of Wraxall Hill and the main Bristol Road, we had what was known as “The Cross Tree”. In earlier times a stone (village or market) cross had been here, along with the village whipping posts and stocks. This was also the site of an annual village six-day fair, which was held for centuries in Stumps Park. The tree that replaced the cross was in time a massive elm, which dominated this place for many decades, latterly with its hollow trunk, the result of at least two previous fires. It was so roomy that it could accommodate several small boys at a time. It was remarkable that every Spring it would burst into life! When at last considered unsafe it was cut down and nothing was here for many years. But now a proud young oak tree stands in its stead!
An area known as “The Rocks” stretches from the lower southern slopes, north to Failand Hill. The various quarries in these parts obviously a rich source of building material for the parish. Hannah MORE having spent much time in nearby Belmont, where she had become engaged, at the age of 22, to Mr William TURNER, of Belmont House. She gave up teaching, in order to prepare to become the wife of a rich landowner 20 years her senior. The marriage was not to be. Three times it was arranged and cancelled by Mr Turner; some say he was too frightened and was overshadowed by this lively clever young woman, There is no doubt Hannah was greatly affected by this disappointment. Her poem, The Bleeding Rock (circa 1773), about a rejected lover turned to stone (except for the heart which bled when struck) was based on rock strata in the Wraxall area with iron deposits, which appeared to bleed after rain had fallen on them.
“The guiltless steel assailed the mortal part.
And stabbed the vital, vulnerable heart.
The life-blood issuing from the wounded stone,
Blends with the crimson current of his own.”
Failand once had a chapel of ease until the handsome Victorian church of St Bartholomew was erected in the hamlet of Lower Failand in 1887, when a new ecclesiastical parish was created. Somerset Records Office keeps the registers of baptisms (1887 – 1937) and marriages (1920 – 1941). The present-day village of Failand on the Clevedon Road did not exist at that time. The church was built to hold 200 to cover the farms, cottages and two large houses – Failand House and Failand Hill House. The first house was the home for many years of a distinguished family, the FRY’s (not the ‘chocolate’ FRYs, although related to them).
In the early 1940’s the dowager Lady Wraxall handed over a large triangular piece of land that had been originally two fields, for the purpose of building an American Hospital. The building giant McAlpines built the camp, using their own workforce, working day and night, reinforced by others seconded from Tyntesfield Estate’s own workforce. The field was situated between Gable Farm and Belmont Farm on the Belmont side of the road, the northern limit being the drive that went up from the middle lodge to Tyntesfield House. The hospital was completed in short order and was known as Tynsesfield Camp. After the Second World War the camp, also known colloquially as ‘Tin Town’ was turned into a housing estate to meet local needs and a number of evacuees from London. The former wards being converted to two and three bedroom dwellings, four to each block. The front doors of those at each end of the block opened into a covered gang, so you could move about the camp with a fair degree of protection from the weather. I was a proper self-contained community with chapel, shop, club, cinema with film shows two or three times a week. It also had its own bus service to and from Bristol, which supplemented the existing Bristol to Nailsea and/or Clevedon services. Tyntesfield Camp supported a thriving community for the best part of twenty years.
As new houses were built families were slowly moved out, some locally to the new council houses that had been built in the Grove, just below the Battle Axes Hotel. Others moved further afield to Nailsea and beyond. But this run-down took many years. The 1951 census should show the camp at its height when it will be released in 2052! Meanwhile the only reminder of it now is an overgrown break in the reputed ‘longest’ holly hedge in the country; now closed by a five bar gate that still retains the merest outline of the original entrance to Tyntesfield Camp, which has long since been turned to a “Greenfield site”.
The parish had several other manors and places of note to its name, it is impossible to do other than name a few, Wraxall House, Birdcombe Court, Charlton House (the former home of Antony GIBBS – now a private boys School), Whelps Place (Kennels) and Wraxall Cottage (the former home of William Gibbs). The latter two were previously owned by Berkeley, the landed family.
It is perhaps surprising that many parts of the parish have remained little changed over the last one hundred or so years, except b y providing a busy route from Bristol to and from its neighbour Nailsea, which has grown into a dormitory town for Bristol and its expanding evermore eastwards like the toe of a giant boot into the Yeo valley towards Wraxall.
Collinsons History of Somerset
G.S. Master’s History of Wraxall
Arthur Mee’s Somerset
Oxford Book of Place Names
B.J. Greenhill, Local Historian 1960
Kathleen Neal re Failand
Burkes Peerage 2000
Hannah More’s Bleeding Rock (with special thanks to the University of Colorado at Boulder Libraries ) 2001
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