Thank-you and Good-bye.

We have arrived at the end of this exciting project ‘Windmills Of Time’ funded by the Heritage Lottery. We’ve created four trails for you to discover, in and around the City Farm. The final trail, the ‘Play Trail’ leaflet is available click here:- Play-Trail. The leaflets will be free, and available in reception, from next week.



The Garden Friends Trail.



The Golden Cabbage Trail.



The Story Trail


As part of the ‘Play Trail’ this week, we have yarn bombed some lamp-posts! We have also built a withy archway and cleared some spaces – so you can go in and play there.






Thank you to artists Maya Wolfe and Thomas MacCallum who have worked hard on this final trail, it’s been fantastic working with you both. Thank you also to Sarah Callan from ‘Parents for Play’, for you playful input. 🙂

Thank you once again, to all you lovely people at the farm, I’ve very much enjoyed working here again. I am always inspired by the spontaneity and joy of life in the community, that surrounds the farm.

Wishing you all a fantastic summer, enjoying the trails and all the amazing events planned by the farm team.

Anita MacCallum

Let’s Play

The final trail we are working on is the ‘Play Trail’, can you find our treasure wall? We have hidden fifteen sheep and ten cows in it. There is also a queue of people waiting to use the toilet, a couple of people waiting to use the phone and a workman drilling a big hole. Have you got a small person or animal you would like to add to the treasure wall?

We have cleared a space under some trees near this post:-


A place to play

A spot to stop

Behind the trees

Who can you be?


Next week we are building a withy tunnel near this post:



This is the place

To set up a den

Travel through tunnels

And come back again

We are off to find some materials for den making, more updates soon. 🙂

Discover more local history

Bedminster is a rich bed of history and amazing characters, I found so much material while researching. Here is a small sample for you to carry on exploring.

1. John James
John James - Broadmead Radio

2. Demon Barber
Stuntman Charlie Stephens

3. Princess Caraboo

4. Poets’ Corner
Collard butchers, Bedminster, Bristol

5. For One Night Only
Old Bedminster Characters

6. Mines children in the mine – Children in the mines

7. Tobacco / Wills factories

1930s working for W.D. & H.O. Wills, Bedminster

8. Leprosy

9. Church of the Vow / John Hare

10. John Horwood – Skin Book

Here’s another history walk you may like to explore.

History walking trail by Ramblers Society and Bristol City Council.

For further local history information:-

Bedminster DVD

Malago local history society – highly recommended.

I would like to give particular thanks to Anton Bantock who has been extremely generous with his knowledge and time. Also to the Malago society as a whole, who regularly produce a fantastic history magazine. Thank-you to the Ramblers Society and Bristol City Council; teachers at Holy Cross school for their ideas and support of this project. Silva Carrus who illustrated this project so beautifully, Thomas MacCallum who has done the graphic design. Thank you to Amanda Wood for her support with the text.

Launching of the Trails

Yesterday was such a wonderful day, ‘The Golden Cabbage Trail’ and ‘The Story Trail’ were launched at the ‘Farms and Garden’s Discovery Day.’ In the reception area you can now see a map of the farm and the trails available. The two booklets, ‘Brass Rubbing’ booklet and ‘Golden Cabbage Trail’ are available for £1 each, these will be sold in the cafe mainly. You can check where they will be on sale by looking at the trails sign in the reception area.



The ‘Golden Cabbage Trail’ was extremely successful,  Anita MacCallum and Sam Von-Romberg told ten local history stories from Bedminster. They also performed ‘Rats With A Pinch of Magic’, which was written by Anita as part of the ‘Farm Tales’ project funded by the Heritage Lottery last year. It’s a children’s story re-imagining Windmill Hill City Farms history and how it has changed from a wasteland, to the place of celebration it is today. Some of the feedback we had:

‘Thank you. Very entertaining and a great introduction to local history.’

‘I couldn’t believe the stories were true, especially the Princess Carraboo one. ‘

‘Can’t wait to go and look at the the skin book in the M-Shed now!’

‘Loved  the story ‘The Rats with a Pinch of Magic.’ Be great for local schools too.’

‘I had big wide eyes to find all the cabbages, I was good at looking for them.’

‘Brilliant. When are you doing it again!’




Susan also re-launched ‘The Brass Rubbing’Trail,’ along with some gorgeous butterflies from invisible circus. Photos up soon.

The new ‘Story Trail’ leaflet is now available and is free. It’s for families with pre-school children, a trail of creative discovery. Come down and have a go 🙂

StoryTrail_Page_1 StoryTrail_Page_2

We are very excited to be planning our next trail together with ‘Parents For Play.’ We will be looking for places at the farm that we’d like to build dens in and have fun. We have already started a treasure wall, have you seen it? At the moment there are three tiny, tiny little dogs on it. Look out for more treasure appearing soon. 🙂


The Golden Cabbage Trail.

Now the ‘Garden Friends’ trail has been completed at Windmill Hill City farm, I am busy working on the golden cabbage trail. I have made not one, not two but TEN golden cabbages to create a trail around the farm; taking you to places that you have never been before. Here they are waiting for their place around the trail:-


I have dug up ten local history stories, there are so many stories to choose from this has taken quite some time. I will share the first story with you but you will have to come to the farm for the other nine; as they are a bit more gruesome.


These golden cabbages are in honour of John James, a local businessman. In 1976 he offered to give Windmill City Farm £1000 for a cabbage to help get the project off the ground. He promised to continue the offer in subsequent years, his reward was a lovely cabbage grown at Windmill Hill City Farm. He also knew he was supporting a fantastic community resource.

John James, who was born in Bristol in 1906 at 96 Philip Street, Bedminster and died in the city in 1996; originally made his fortune from a string of TV and radio shops. During his lifetime, in his struggle to reach the top, John never forgot his roots. He used his money to help lots of local people, not just Windmill Hill City Farm. To this day, there is the ‘John James Bristol Foundation’ that gives grants to local people for community projects.

We can all help each other in small ways every day, spreading a bit of kindness around Bristol. What kind things can you do today? Maybe give someone else a smile? Or help out a friend by listening?

There is a blue plaque in remembrance of John James’ generosity on Philip Street.

The stories will be available as a trail booklet on 7th June as part of the ‘Farm and Gardens discovery day’ a free event.


I would like to give particular thanks to Anton Bantock who has been extremely generous with his knowledge and time. Also to the Malago society as a whole, who regularly produce a fantastic history magazine. Thank-you to the Ramblers Society and Bristol City Council; teachers at Holy Cross school for their ideas and support of this project.  Silva Carrus who illustrated this project so beautifully, Thomas MacCallum who has done the graphic design. Thank you to Amanda Wood for her support with the text.

Brass Rubbing Trail

We had a wonderful day at our ‘Wild Outdoors’ day 6th April, loads of children and families completed the brass rubbing trail.The booklet and crayons are available for £1 from the farm cafe; or you can download it here. On the day, children received a special animal stamp for completing the trail; we had a few little colourful chicks to help us too, you can see them below.
The trail is permanent and open all year round so come on down and have a go 🙂

Here is some feedback we had from the families that took part:

‘What a wonderful family activity, we loved having something our older children could do.’

‘We have had a great time thank you, we have been to parts of the farm that we had never seen before, we really enjoyed it.’

‘What a high quality trail you have produced! We are impressed and are off to tell our friends.’

‘I Iiked following the trail and getting all the creatures in my book, I love it and it was easy to do the colouring.’

‘The quality of the paper you have got is perfect, we’ll be able to keep this with the information in to look back on.’

‘Thanks we learnt loads.’

ImageImageImageImageImageImage ImageImageImageImage


Thank you to Susan Rogers – Community Gardens Manager, Windmill Hill City Farm

Sara Venn – Professional horticulturist

Thomas MacCallum – Artist, designer, graphic design.


Spring Is Here!

Spring has sprung, the evidence is all over Windmill Hill City Farm. Below is a picture Susan took of the farms pond. It’s amazing 🙂 The pond has now got loads of frog spawn in it, I can’t wait to see the tadpoles and little frogs.


Exciting news, we now have brass rubbing plates of our top eight garden friends. These will be marking out our garden friends trail. Here are our top garden creatures.

1. House Sparrow.

2. Ladybird.

3. Butterfly.

4. Centipede.

5. frog.

6. Hoverfly.

7. Worm.

8. Bumble Bee.

These will be in place around the farm ready for our ‘Wild Outdoors’ event 6th April. We have a leaflet to accompany the trail,  for all you curious fledgling gardeners out there, with lots of brilliant info about these interesting creatures.
If you want to down-load and print off a booklet to keep your rubbings in, you can do that here rubbings book, Or you can buy one at the cafe for £1.

This is what they look like:



Susan Rogers, the farms community gardens manager, has also planted around the sites of the brass rubbing posts. This is to increase the habitat for the insects and creatures on the brass plaques. You can see by the butterfly plaque there is a whole avenue of pollinator plants and a beautiful buddleia that decided to grow right in that spot all by itself. As Susan has worked so hard planting these plants and supporting the habitat, as a visitor you will have increased opportunity of seeing the creatures on the plaques for real . We hope you come and visit us soon and enjoy the ‘Garden Friends’ trail.

Bedminster’s Backstreets – part 3

I have managed to track down six copies of ‘Malago’ containing stories and articles about ‘Bedminster’s Backstreets’. With the generous help from MarieJo Coutanche, who looks after the Malago Societies publications, I have number 25 – 30, published 1991- 94. I have copy typed an extract giving a background history of the Bedminster area and in particular, the area where Windmill Hill City Farm, now stands.

From the publication MALAGO No.27 produced by the Malago society.

With much thanks to all members of Malago society, for kind permission to reproduce this article.

Around Philip Street.


It is just over a hundred years ago that the report in the last issue was write. It would be difficult to recognise the same district today. The worst courts and alleys: Waters Place, sergeant Street, Street, St.John’s Buildings, etc. were demolished in the 1930’s. Bombing in the second world war left gaps in the rows of terraced houses. A landmine descending on a parachute in broad daylight in 1941 wiped out Wilway Street, killing 40 people. Massive slum clearance and redevelopment in the 1950’s transferred most of the population to new suburbs.

When the Malago society and Windmill Hill City Farm began to search for survivors of ‘East Bedminster,’ the following were located:

Sam Bollom –              born in Fraser Street but the family moved to Whitehouse Lane. He was brought up by his grandmother in Phillip Street and was the sole survivor of three brothers: Fred, Bert and Sam.

The Thorne family –  shoemakers of 48 Philip Street. Out of 9 children there survived at that time 5 sisters: Elsie Maud, Rosalind Edna, Dorothy Rose, Kathleen Irene and Margaret Bessie. (the two eldest have since died).

Frank Marks – formerly of 56 Philip Street and, when this was bombed, of 20 Whitehouse Lane.

Fred and Madge Stenner – of King Street.

Margery Pepperell – born 61 Philip Street.

Doreen Hicks – born 12 Philip Street.

Stanley Hynam – born 9 Philip Street.

James and Nelly White – of 76 Philip Street.

Ivy Herwig – whose father was licensee of the ‘Maltsters’ Public house, c:1905.

Eunice and Iris Thwaites – landladies of ‘The Barley Mow’ since 1929.

The colective memories of these people (some of the latter group have been meeting on Thursday afternoons up to record them) go back to the days before the first world war and reveal that much of the poverty and the strong community spirit that go with it, which was recorded in the report in 1886, survived well into the 20th century. They speak with real nostalgia for those days. The atmosphere of Philip Street was electric, said one of them. ‘It was like a village. Everybody knew each other, and helped their neighbours through hardships.’ They spoke of long families, sleeping head to toe, 4 to a bed: they spoke of the centre of life: Baptist Chapel, the ‘Band of Hope’ and ‘Christian Endeavour’; the friendly family pubs and corner shops, especially the cooked meat shop in Philip Street where you could buy udder, cow heel, tripe and ‘muggots’ (intestines) fresh from the slaughterhouse in Boot lane. Maregery  Peppernell remembers a cow on the way to the slaughterhouse coming into her mother’s front door and falling down 14 steps into the back kitchen, from which it was eventually extricated with ropes, with great difficulty.

There were several fish and shops: Dean’s where you could get a bag of ‘scrumps’ (old batter) for nothing if you brought newspapers; and Prater’s where the daughter had to live next door because she worked in Wills’ and would lose her job if she turned up for work stinking of fish. (In those days, girls applying for work at Wills’ had to supply a piece of needlework, or embroidery, and a ‘character’ from Chapel, Sunday School and School, and submit their fingernails for inspection).

A great favourite was the Alway shop, a little general store which sold everything and had the words ‘LIVE AND LET LIVE’ painted over the window. There was Grandpa Ben Young who sold fruit, sweets, cigarettes and second hand clothes in his front room; and the man who went around with a pony and trap selling fish. Over all hung the familiar smells of tanneries and slaughterhouses, compounded from time to time with the very special odours from the ‘Jelly factory’ (glue), Wills’ tobacco, the malt house in Stillhouse Lane, and river sewage from the New Cut.

James and Nelly White told us that their mother, Alice, was the ‘Bedminster Barrow Girl’ ‘She had a hard life’ said Nelly. She worked every day in all weathers until she was 70, and thought nothing of humping hundredweight sacks of potatoes of coal.’ She never had a holiday and yet she always had time for others. Battered wives with black eyes and bruises, thrown out by their husbands, could always find a refuge at 76 Philip street. ‘They were always put in MY bed.’ said Nelly.

Ivy Herwig and her neice, Winifred Harris, remember three well-loved characters in the Philip Street community:George Sanders (whose photograph is below),granny Maria (pronounced Mar-I-al!), and Lizzie walker.

George Sanders in the invalid chair which he designed for himself, and which apparently was copied by others.

George Sanders (1860-1928) lived all his life in Stillhouse Lane, a turning off Philip Street. His mother, Rebecca, had six children and was left a widow at an early age. Little seems to have been remembered about her husband, who was always referred to as ‘Gran’s Husband’. ‘The family consisted of four girls: Susie, Agnes, Elizabeth (my grandmother) and Mary (known as Polly); and two boys: Jack, who died as a young man, and George, the much loved Uncle George of his many nieces and nephews including the three children of my mother LIly’ says Winnie. ‘When George was s small child he developed what was thought to be measles, but was in fact polio, known then as infantile paralysis, which made him a cripple for the rest of his life. His father, realising that life would be difficult for him, made sure that he had a good education. He wrote in beautiful copper-plate hand in the days when many older people could not read and write, those who received letters would come to him to have them read, and he would help them with replies. Later he was apprenticed to a chair maker, but did not carry on this craft, apart from designing his own invalid chair – a great innovation – the wheels being made by the local bicycle shop, as all cycles in those days were custom built. It is said that doctors sent relatives of other handicapped people to see this chair, so no doubt others copied his example and became more mobile and independent.

Ivy’s eldest brother, Henry, recalls regular visits to the cinema – The Gem in Carey’s Lane, on the corner opposite the Empire Theatre.  The manager regularly reserved a seat next to the aisle for Henry, and allowed Uncle George to sit in his wheelchair, parked in the gangway.

‘The family remember him best as a shoe repairer. he had a small workshop in the yard of his mother’s house, and from the window at which he worked could see into the road and beyond the malt-house to Victoria Park. Children of the family spent many happy hours with him, watching as he deftly soled and heeled shoes and boots. As pattern paper he used railway timetables, known then as the Bradshaw. Taking the thin sheets he placed one on the sole of the shoe, quickly rubbed round with a file, leaving the pattern to be cut out in leather with a sharp knife. Next he put small tacks to hold the leather in place, finishing it later with ‘heel ball’ (for the benefit of younger readers, this is now used for making brass rubbings). in later years rubber heels came into use. One sort was a circle of black rubber with a metal centre, which could be screwed to the shoe and the rubber could be turned round to give even wear. Children learned a great deal from him, as he was a great reader. Using the clock face he had made we were taught to tell the time before we started school. He could also mend clocks and watches, so when people had an old-pocket watch they passed it on to him. The reward for boys being able to tell the time was the gift of a renovated watch. A story is told of one small nephew who went with uncle on a Sunday morning ‘walk’ in his chair. reaching Redcliffe church the child looked up at the large clock, took his own watch from his pocket. and said ‘That clock is right, ‘Uncle!’

‘My brother Norman must have bee the last child he taught to tell the time as he was just under school age when Uncle George died. Norman surprised the teacher at South Street when she sent him out of the room to ask the time from the headmistress, enthroned on her desk in the hall. The five year old told his teacher that he had no need to ask anyone to tell him the time as he could do that for himself!’

‘Another skill we were expected to acquire before going to school was to tie bows in our shoelaces. This teaching task was undertaken by Aunt Susie, the only single sister in the family. She, like George, had an interest in shoes, but by selling them – first at Mr. Beake’s shop opposite Bedminster Police station, and later in London where she eventually took over from Mr. Beake. Children used to sit on the floor at her feet and learn to tie bows, using the silk laces in her smart patent leather shoes.

‘Norman’s chief recollection of uncle is that of a day in the workshop when he was being taught how to become a boxer. Enthusiasm got the better of him, and he fell over, cutting his head on a bucket. Pausing only to grab a towel and her purse she picked up the child and ran to the main road at East street, intending to get a tram as far as the General Hospital. Seeing that this was a crisis situation, a man passing in a horse and trap gave them a lift to the hospital. This, Norman says, was the only time he had a ride in a horse and trap – once again thanks to Uncle George.

‘Another adventure Norman recalls was the day when a cow escaped from the slaughterhouse next door to ‘Gran’s’ and got stuck in the passage of her small house. It seems that life in Stillhouse Lane was seldom dull and uneventful!

‘Our memories of Uncle George seem to be all happy ones as, despite his disability, he seemed to live a very full and contented life. He had many friends, read widely and, thanks to his love of the chapel in Sergeant Street, was a man of great faith.

‘One of the books he left us is a copy of the Apocrypha, my favourite passage being from Ecclesiasticus Chapter 38, which ends by saying of craftsmen ‘They maintain the fabric of the world, and their prayers are about their daily work.”

‘Lizzie Walker, neighbour and close friend of my  great-grandmother, Rebecca Sanders’ said Winnie, ‘was a local midwife. She confided her story to Gran, who told it to my mother.

‘Lizzie was a foundling and had been abandon on a doorstep. Her life then followed the usual pattern of such children in Victorian times: cared for and brought up in an orphanage until she was old enough to go into domestic service, where she no doubt learned about midwifery and the care of infants. Romance came her way when she saw a young man looking up at her as she stood by her mistress’ window. Sadly, I cannot remember any details of this love story, but they did marry and settled in the Philip Street area.

‘In the days of long families she was much in demand as a midwife and her snow-white aprons were always ready and waiting for the next confinement. For a modest sum she delivered the baby and then called twice a day for the two weeks ‘laying -in’ period, to care for the mother and bath the baby. By modern standards it seems odd, but at this time the only rest period a mother had was after the birth of a child. With a close-knit community, neighbours and relatives would rally round to care for the rest of the family. It was said that Lizzie never lost a mother and that her husband kept a book as a record of all the children she brought into the world. When the certification of midwives came into being, provision was made for some of the existing nurses to qualify, but by this time Linda was too old. Although she could no longer deliver babies, many still liked to have her with them for after-care. When my sister Nora was born in 1911 the doctor was needed, but Lizzie was there too. As he left he gave her a tip and she kept exclaiming with joy: ‘He gave me a shillin’.’

‘Granny Maria’ (Mar – I – al) was a well-known character because of her small shop in Stillhouse Lane,  just beyond Woodchoppers Alley. No one knows how she became known as ‘Granny’ as she was a single lady. She could not read or write by conventional standards, but had her own accounting system, by which everything was written up on slates fixed to the wall. Her chief commodity was ‘tea-fish’ (salt cod) imported into Bristol in large quantities and a well-known part of most people’s diet. This was the accepted meal on Good-Friday, when it was served with white sauce, chopped hard boiled egg and mashed potato. The price of each fish was shown by the number of notches cut with a knife through the skin on the fishes’ backbones. For children she sold boiled rice, sweetened with dried fruit. They would take a container along and she measured out the rice in a tea-cup, which had lost it’s handle. Why those two delicacies were so popular it is difficult to imagine, but it seems that the shop itself had attraction for children in particular, like Ivy, largely because of the ‘death-cards’ which decorated her walls. These were like a greeting card and were supplied by undertakers as part of the cost of the funeral. They were quite beautiful, with suitable sprays of lilies and a cross on the outside, while inside there was usually a verse of poetry or scripture, extolling the virtues of the deceased and, of course, giving the details of the death and burial. Usually these were only sent to ones ‘nearest and dearest’ but because of Granny’s mania for collecting them, it was usual for people to send her one, whether she knew of the dead person or not. It was said that at Christmas she decorated this collection of cards with colourful paper chains.

By Anton Bantock, with Winnie Harris, Ivy Herwig (and others)

Bedminster’s Backstreets – part two

I have managed to track down six copies of ‘Malago’ containing stories and articles about ‘Bedminster’s Backstreets’. With the generous help from MarieJo Coutanche, who looks after the Malago Societies publications, I have number 25 – 30, published 1991- 94. I have copy typed an extract giving a background history of the Bedminster area and in particular, the area where Windmill Hill City Farm, now stands.

From the publication MALAGO No.26 produced by the Malago society.

With much thanks to all members of Malago society, for kind permission to reproduce this article.

Bedminster’s Backstreets

By Anton Bantock

A Times and mirror reporter in 1886 believed that the squalid conditions of the houses in Bedminster’s courts, ‘…where the paper hangs in strips like the tattered bills on a posting station after a winter’s gale…’ was mainly due to the shifting population. Most people stayed and endeavoured to pay up arrears of back rent, but many cases of ‘moonlight flitting’ were quoted:

‘Here is one room in a dull court (Brown’s Row) from which a destitute family – husband, wife and children – have just flitted. Their lot was of the hardest one can conceive. They tried to pick a living collecting from ash tips old meat tins to melt down for the solder, which they sold. They were in deep distress, the children almost naked and sleeping on the floor and in cupboards, the family of 7 having to live in one room. A gentleman in Clifton, hearing through the School Board Officer of their condition, gave the man a few shillings to enable him to buy a basket and some fruit and they suddenly left the neighbourhood.

‘We enter the place where a shoemaker and a young woman taking a house at 4-/ a week, let out a room for 1/3d. a week to a labourer and his wife, received the money for sub-letting and never paid any money to the landlord. They slept on the floor and one night, picking up all their goods in a sheet, they left for Wales. They were £4 in debt to the landlord and the rooms were left covered with dust and filth, in some places 25 inches deep.’

In the courts off Brown’s Row appears to have been the most frightful squalor on record. The wife of a labourer who paid 3/- a week for a 4-roomed house, found the roof so leaking ‘…that she brought down 2 buckets of water in one week from the bedroom.’ The children of this district were invariably under-sized and suffered from loathsome affections of the head ‘…one young, healthy looking girl of 12 years old, was as bald as an old man… and even her eyebrows were eaten off.’ Nonetheless it is interesting to note that those children who attended board schools ‘…are fully clothed and show some acquaintance with soap and water; but the others are black…’

The writer of this report treated himself to a literary flourish now and again, and as faithful journalism it is suspect. Here is a typical example:

‘One poor little fellow of 3 years had wandered into the street, but the gale had overtaken him and, half-naked, with a shirt and one other garment flitting in ribands like the torn sails of a ship in a storm, he is tacking for home, giving out a wail of distress every moment as the boisterous sou-wester threatens to strip him of any bit of rag he was flying before he can reach port. His cries do not cease when he finds the fire out as he comes to anchor almost on the very bars. But the elder boy of 11 now arrives, and tries to kindle the fire by blowing the embers and as they begin to glow the little fellow who has weathered the storms, ceases crying and the half-clad children huddle together for warmth before the grate.’

Stories recorded verbatim from the lips of the Bedminster poor have a much more authentic ring about them. The case of a labourer and his wife and 7 children paying 3/-rent for a hovel in a court off East street is worth quoting in full:

While the husband was out of work nearly all the furnitture was sold for food and in the living room there are 3 shattered tables which would not realise any money; a piece of old looking glass tied to the wall with rope, a chair and two stools. The husband had 3 days work last week and earned 8/-, enabling him to pay 1/6d. of the rent, otherwise they feared they would have to sell the few things left in the home. The wife, a thinly clothed, sorrow-stricken woman, with a baby barely 15months old at her breast, seeking the nourishment which she tells us she has not had for him through want of food herself, is surrounded by 5 of the most poorly clad, dejected children of 12, 9, 6 and 4 years of age. One girl of 15 nurses a child for a neighbour and receives 1/- a week, and the eldest daughter is learning a branch of brush making at a factory where she earns a little money, but last week it was only 1/-. It is Wedbesday morning and the husband has obtained a job of work but will not be paid until Friday or Saturday, and the wife, who, as we entered the house was just about to send one of the children to sell for food 2 ginger beer bottles which she had carefully placed in a broken basket, says:

‘They had no food this morning, except a few crusts the neighbours gave them, and as they dried for more I was going to sell the 2 bottles. We have sold nearly everything, and the children took the sheet and put it away for a shilling a fortnight ago, there is nothing now on the bed more than you can put on your hand. We had nothing in all the house this morning and I stewed the tea leaves over again for them, and myself, and the baby (who has evidently had a mother’s loving care) is dragging me for nothing at all now. A relation in the country sent me a few potatoes early in the week and I had to go into debt for the saucepan we boiled them in, and we had a 1/2 quartern of bread and some potatoes a day until now. The poor little things; when their stomachs are empty and they go to bed with only a few rags to lie down, it isn’t much rest for ’em. They haven’t been to school since Christmas and I haven’t anything to send them in, no shoes; and I haven’t any shoes to go out in myself, if I could get out to earn anything, and I have sold my own linen off my back and their pinafores for bread for ’em. My husband, who is a steady man, and don’t drink at all, used to get 10/- a week, but we haven’t had that many months now – work is so short.’

In a street off Mill Lane, a woman had ‘…washed and ironed out the childrens’ nightclothes and sold them to get bread for breakfast’ and admitted she ‘…would go out of her mind if no work turned up.’ She took in a plain sewing and earned 6d. one day, and sometimes stitched up trousers farmed out by a tailor.

Stick-chopping was already in, 1886, a time-honoured source of income, and in the foetid alleys off East Street our reporter tells us they ‘…are the most industrious sections of the community,’ and he pays special tribute to ‘…the women and young girls hauling wood home in the wet, kneeling on the stone floor at the chopping from morning till night one day, and carrying about the city heavily laden baskets on their heads the next, often toiling many miles from door to door, sometimes in wet weather, to return home with inly a few coppers. They are a clannish lot and here is a whole court of them where in summer – time you may see their sawing stools and chopping blocks out in the open, and their lot is then much happier than in the winter.’

Among the stick-choppers, we are told, it was usually the women who were the bread-winners and often saved the family from pauperism when the father could not find work in the industry.

By thrift, hard work, and a certain amount of luck, we are encouraged to learn that some families were able to lift themselves out of destitution. ‘In a 5-roomed, old fashioned house, a labourer paying 4/- a week, lets off one room at 1/4d, and has a happy house full of children, for there are 9 under the age of 13. The man is careful and thoughtful of his home. He earns £1.1.0d a week, keeps only 1/- for his clothes and pocket money, and though some of his little ones are without shoes, and with nursery, kitchen, living room and wash-house all in one, the place is not as clean or tidy as a drawing room, we have rarely seen a more happy family in a poor neighbourhood. Babies have come so frequently that it is necessary to have a corner for a permanent institution in the household, and this had been found on top of the boiler, where a comfortable crib has been formed by a shifting board of mahogany, fastened, fastened by bolts to slot in the wall. In this snug boiler-crib, the long family, one after another, have been cradled, and here is the last and biggest of all – a prize baby, a regular ‘bosun’ as his proud mother calls him – sleeping hours away. The happy family have paid their rent so regularly and so long that the landlord, a most exemplary owner of dwellings of the poor, has already reduced the rent by 3d. a week.’

The reporter encountered extreme reluctance, even among the most destitute poor, to apply to the parish for relief, and a profound dread of the workhouse, the ultimate refuge of the poor. The heroic work of churches and chapels in the area made a considerable contribution towards easing dependence on the Poor Law Guardians.

‘Forty-five years ago,’ writes our reporter (1841) ‘there were only 2 churches and 4 chapels in Bedminster. Now (1886) there are 6 churches and 17 chapels.’ Each of these had its church school and relief agency, and none more than St.Luke’s, under the famous ministry of Dr. David Doudney. He came in 1861 and soon there was a flourishing mission hall, a Day School for 976 children, Sunday School for 600 and a Ragged School for 150 poor children. Through a splendid network of mothers’ meetings, district visitors and bible women, a close watch and helping hand was extended to the poorest corners of the parish. It was in the ragged School that Dr.Doudney founded his famous soup kitchen. The idea of the soup kitchen, he said, resulted from a present of £5 from an old Bedminster man in Australia. As the fund grew, stream boilers were installed and up to 900 quarts of soup and tea, with bread were served on Wednesdays and Fridays to about 150 unemployed men and old people.

In the recession of 1886 the soup kitchen was working overtime. ‘During the past week,’ writes our reporter ‘the Rev. Dr. Doudney has had his soup kitchen thronged with men out of work; and even in the daytime, at the distribution to those who come from families with tickets or pennies, hungry men have followed the doctor down to his soup kitchen, and from 50 to 80 at a time have been treated to basins of soup at the adjourning Ragged School. Speaking of the appearance of the school on Friday morning, when it filled with Ragged School children and 78 men out of work, who dropped in for a basin of soup and thick slices of bread, the doctor says: ‘I don’t think I ever witnessed a more touching scene; even taking into account the famine in Ireland.’ On that morning 800 quarts of soup were distributed in a little more than half an hour, so perfect are the arrangements under the care of Mr Lockyer, the curate.’

An idea of how the poor live can be gained from the account book of a Bedminster shopkeeper which came into the hands of Dr. Doudney: ‘The curious little diary before us’ writes our reporter, ‘shows that one poor family bought 1/2d. worth of tea and 1/2d. worth of sugar regularly 4 times a day. The day’s purchases of another poor household consisted of tea 1/2d., sugar 1/2d., pickled cabbage 1/2d.,cheese 1d., and a loaf of bread. Here is a more portentous order:

2oz. of butter, 1 1/4d; Quarter pound of treacle; Ha’porth of soap;

Soda, 1/4d; Coal; a 1/2d. candle; and a 1/4d. box of matches.

‘Every half-penny had to be eked out with the nicest care, though the poor people could purchase far more economically if they had the means of buying in their week’s stock.’

Bedminster’s Backstreets

I have managed to track down six copies of ‘Malago’ containing stories and articles about ‘Bedminster’s Backstreets’. With the generous help from MarieJo Coutanche, who looks after the Malago Societies publications, I have number 25 – 30, published 1991- 94. I have copy typed an extract giving a background history of the Bedminster area and in particular, the area where Windmill Hill City Farm, now stands.

From the publication MALAGO No.25 produced by the Malago society.

With much thanks to all members of Malago society, for kind permission to reproduce this article.

Bedminster’s Backstreets

It may come as a surprise to many that the site of the Windmill Hill City Farm in Bedminster is an area rich in social history. In the great tide of industrial expansion which overtook most English cities in the middle of the 19th century, Bristol overflowed first and foremost into Bedminster. Between 1830 and 1860 the old village of Bedminster, which some claim is older than Bristol itself, was engulfed by new industries. The presence of plentiful coal from the Bedminster and Ashton Vale coalfield encouraged smelting, brickworks and other heavy industries, and in due course large numbers of other, generally insalubrious, enterprises such as tanneries and slaughter houses and glue works followed. Rows and rows of cheap houses were erected to accommodate the work force, most of whom came from other parts of the city or rural areas of Somerset. Between 1801 and 1901 the population of Bedminster rose from 3,287 to 73,127 and it rapidly gained the reputation of being one of the worst slums in the country. In MALAGO 5 we published an article about the absence of sanitation in Bedminster in 1850 when the cholera epidemic of that year carried off more people in Bedminster than anywhere else in the city.


‘Wood chopper’s court’

The archway at the end led into East Street and can still be seen opposite Bedminster library. This photograph was taken in 1902 and shows a typical scene at that time. Each day the women fetched wooden crates weighing half a hundredweight from shops and yards, carrying them home on their heads; then all the family chopped them up in the street, and the women hawked the firewood around the houses and shops in baskets carried on their heads, hoping to make a few pence to eke out their existence.

Some of the worst squalor and poverty was found in the sector bordered by East street, the New Cut and the Bristol and Exeter Railway, which by 1860 was an area of low income, high density sprawl. The 1883 street map shows 29 tiny terrace houses in Doveton street, 31 in Clarke street, 35 in Willway Street, 51 in Whitehouse lane, 66 in Stillhouse lane, 71 in Percy Street and 93 plus 5 pubs in Phillip Street; not to mention scores of tenements in dingy courts and alleys packed in between.

Today there are six houses still standing in Whitehouse Lane, six in Stillhouse Lane, 5 in Phillip street, 2 in Doveton street, and none at all in Clarke Street, Willway Street or Percy street. For some years there was one house remaining in Percy street, for Mrs. Lewis resisted pressure to move and her little terrace house was left standing in a desert, where everything around her was levelled, until at last she went to the flats at Redcliffe.

Of the 5 pubs in Phillip street the ‘Maltsters’ is now called the ‘Apple tree’, the ‘Swan’ was bombed flat in the second world war, the ‘Steadfast’ closed about 1960, and the ‘Spring Tavern’ is now derelict (the roof fell in, in 1986). Only the ‘Barley Mow’ exists in it’s original form, and that is only because it’s main frontage is in East Street.

The closing down of the Capper Pass Smelting Works and then the Wills’ East street factory more recently removed the chief sources of employment, the population was rehoused over the years in the new estates at Knowle West, Hartcliffe, Withywood etc What had once been a vibrant community became an inner city twighlight area. A few new industries were established, but the greater part of ‘East Bedminster’ became a waste ground, peopled occasionally by gipsies, squatters and scrap merchants.

In 1976 was founded on this site the Windmill Hill City Farm which has done much to revive the community life of the district. It’s anniversary celebrations in 1986 included a reunion of former residents of the area, and since 1987 some of them meet each week to record their memories.

We hope to publish some in future issues of MALAGO but in this one, by way of an introduction, it is interesting to read what journalists wrote about the area when they visited it in 1886.

The Bristol Times and Mirror of that year painted a grim picture of the poverty of this district in a series of articles entitled ‘Hunger Haunted Homes in East Bedminster’

‘… the great army of the poor has increased, and none but those who are constantly in their homes can have any conception of the hapless lot of many with empty rooms, blank firesides, bare cupboards and hungry children whose bodies are scarely covered with the few rags drawn over them.’

There follow a number of case histories of the poorest dwellings off Whitehouse Street, Stillhouse Lane, waters Place, The Piggery and Doveton Street ‘…in which furniture has to be sold and clothes have to be taken off the backs of children to buy food in the grim daily struggle to stave of hunger owing to the actual want of work.’

But, we are told, ‘Bedmister people, like most of the genuine working class, look after their children. Some of the most impoverished may go back in their rent for a few weeks during a prolonged dearth of work, but they endeavour to feed their little ones. We have seen a home swept of all its belongings except a straw bed on the floor, but the children have some bread. We have been shown rooms and inmates with black with accumulated dirt, but the little mouths have not gone entirely without food for very long.

‘During the present work famine, the family have sometimes to wait till late in the afternoon before they break their days fast, and if the breadwinner comes home with no money, the mother will perhaps go to a neighbour and with that unselfish kindness, tender and pitying regard which the poor have for one another, the needed help is given.’

Here are some of the case histories quoted:

‘In the neighbourhood of Waters Place we found a labouring man and wife with seven children under 11 years of age occupying a two roomed house with a few articles of furniture inside. The husband can get very little work and has only earned from 8s. to 7s. a week and 2/6d. has to be paid out of this for rent. He states that one day last week the family were all day without food and for two or three days they had nothing till the afternoon of each day, the children whose fees are paid *going to school without food. The nine persons sleep in one small room.’

‘A labourer in Doveton Street cannot find work. He has a wife and six children and of the two elder boys one earns 5/- a week, the other is out of work and the wife is obliged to go out to earn a little money, leaving a girl of years to mind for baby a year and seven months old. While she was out the infant fell against the bars the fire grate and scarred it’s face fearfully, so that the poor little one will be marked for life. The wife ahs sold the bed for food and is just going to pledge the counterpane for the same purpose, and she’s crying bitterly at her most miserable lot. The house in her absence is in a most neglected state and rooms and children begrimed with dirt.’


Near the embankment we find the most bare and blank home of a labourer with a wife and four young children. A box and two stools make up nearly all the furniture in the living room; there is a meat tin on the hob for a kettle; the children are raggedly dressed and the poor dejected woman who has just come in with her scanty clothing drenched with rain, has been trying to sell a few oranges which she has in her hand basket. The husband has done no work since Christmas. Their boy earns 4/6d. a week but the rent is 3/d. and on Tuesday they had no food for breakfast and the children went to bed without any, and she, that day, earned nothing. They had had a ticket given them for soup** that Wednesday, but the crowd was so great that her daughter could not get it. Her little girl had been to school several times without food, once both in morning and afternoon.’

In the filthy courts and alleys off Stillhouse Lane even greater cases of poverty were reported. These were ‘back-two-back’ houses, each room being a separate home. ‘In one case every article that would realise a penny had been sold, with the exception of the straw bed and patchwork quilt in the corner of the room, ‘but’…the floor was as clean as water and house flannel could make it!’

*Until 1890 ‘school pence’ had to be paid, usually 3d. per week for the eldest child and 2d. for each of the younger ones.

** Doctor Doudney’s soup kitchen q.v.