Montpelier Conservation Group
Bristol Evening Post 1973
Transcript of an article concerning Montpelier which appeared in Bristol Evening Post in 1973.
Transcript of an article in Bristol Evening Post: 20 March 1973
MONTPELIER - a suburb worth fighting for...
By Max Barnes
THE FUTURE of Montpelier, one of the oldest but least known suburbs of Bristol, hangs in the balance.
Like its near neighbour, Kingsdown, Montpelier enjoys amenities which could make it one of the sought-after residential districts of Bristol. It is handy to the city centre yet it stretches up quiet slopes to healthy high ground, from Stokes Croft to Ashley Down.
It has more character and atmosphere than modern suburbs ten times as large. Along its secluded streets you suddenly come across neat Georgian houses.
Along terraces built in the early nineteenth century there are still echoes of the Napoleonic wars as you read the street name plates. Names like York, Richmond and Wellington – all streets named after great commanders or Picton Street which honours General Picton.
But in its streets today are signs that the blight of neglect could become rampant if unchecked. Already some properties have been allowed to fall into disrepair. Already there are empty sites where the demolition men have been busy. Other houses wait with shuttered windows.
But some people are determined to halt the spread of this blight. People like the members of St. Paul's and Montpelier Action Group are campaigning to get a fair deal for the area where they live in face of what they consider unsympathetic treatment by the authorities.
At their invitation I spent a morning exploring the district. It opened my eyes to what a fascinating corner of Bristol Montpelier is.
I discovered that the private kingdom of Thomas Rennison, 18th century self-styled "Governor of the Colony of Newfoundland" still exists. Master Rennison's colony was set in green fields at Territt's Mills just off the turnpike highway of Stokes Croft.
Here he hit upon the idea of making his little stretch of countryside into a pleasure garden, complete with Bristol's first swimming pool and coffee house.
His "grand swimming bath, 400 feet in circumference", is still there. Once it was fed by a spring but now it is bone dry in a deserted builder's yard. He added a ladies' swimming bath for good measure. Not far away, in a little courtyard off Bath Buildings, stands Old England, the tavern which he made the focal point of his tea gardens. Here evening concerts were held on fine summer evenings, admission, plus tea or coffee, one shilling.
By a minor miracle, the baths and Old England are still there in modern Montpelier. Old England is now a pub, not surprisingly reputed to be haunted. Here I met landlord Maurice Clarke who told me that the pub was once run by Gloucestershire fast bowler Roberts who had his practice nets at the back of the pub.
Around the corner in Picton Street is the last of Bristol's old "Charley Boxes", the old stone lock-ups where drunks and petty thieves were left to cool their heels overnight before being brought up before the justices.
The Montpelier side of Ashley Road has its legacy of dignified Georgian town houses. Beyond a handsome garden gate topped by pineapple vases, No. 117, home of Dr. J. M. Evans, bears the date "1825". Inside I had a glimpse of a fine staircase lit by a beautiful coloured glass window.
These houses have endured many changes in the local scene. Not the least of their troubles has been the traffic past their garden gates. Now they must expect more traffic as Ashley Road becomes part of a new one-way traffic flow.
It was a revelation to me to discover many little-known Georgian gems on the higher slopes of Montpelier. Houses like Montpelier House which conceals its handsome brick and freestone facade to passers. It stands with its back to Richmond Road so that the occupants can enjoy the fine views across Bristol.
Houses like Field House, Goodrich House and York House, all retaining the hallmarks of good taste which their Georgian builders gave them.
It is a district of pleasant little surprises like coming across that old malt house in Richmond Avenue or finding a group of sturdy stone cottages down a well-tended lane.
A place of disappointments too. Montpelier station, once renowned for the neatness of its station flower beds, is now left to weeds and rusting iron work. Yet, paradoxically, the trains still make regular stops at the ghost station where passengers still wait.
You can search in vain for the vanished church of St. Andrew's. Now the churchyard is going too. Behind a screen of corrugated sheets the tombs are being removed.
Changing times decree that the churchyard has a better community use as a playground while the vicarage houses bed-sitter tenants.
The fortunes of Montpelier have been at a low ebb for a long time. Now there are signs of a renaissance in its fortunes. Those who take the trouble to look will find, as I did, that there is a lot worth fighting for in this little-known suburb.