Henbury was historically a very large Gloucestershire parish. It extended to the River Severn and included the tithings of Aust, Charlton, Kingsweston, Lawrence Weston, Northwick and Stowick. When the civil parish was created in 1866.
Parts of the ancient parish were separated to form two civil parishes of Aust and Redwick & Northwick (later Pilning and Severn Beach), neither of which feature in this article.
The civil parish of Henbury was bounded by the parishes of Northwick in the north, Compton Greenfield and Almondsbury in the north-east, a small connection with Filton in the east, Westbury-on-Trym in the south-east, and Shirehampton in the south-west. By 1935, the city of Bristol gradually extended its boundary into the southern half of the parish consisting of Henbury, Coombe Dingle, Lawrence Weston, Kingsweston, Sea Mills, Brentry, Chittening and the Blaise Castle estate. The northern half was transferred to the parish of Almondsbury and consists of Hallen, Catbrain, Cribbs Causeway and the lost village of Charlton.
Henbury was first mentioned as Heanburg in 692, when a Saxon king gave the manor of Henbury to the Bishop of Worcester. The name is from the Old English ‘hēan byrig’ meaning 'high fortified place' and was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Henberie. Soon after the Conquest, the Bishops of Worcester founded a palace here and imparked many acres. Thomas PEVERELL the sixtieth bishop died here in 1418. Some ruinous buildings near the church seem to mark the site of the palace, which was their occasional residence. After the Dissolution and the seizure of the estate by the Crown, Henbury was granted to Sir Ralph SADLIER in 1547. It was sub-let by the Sadliers until they sold it in lots in 1675. A substantial part was purchased by Sir Samuel ASTRY, whose father-in-law, George MORSE had built a house, known as the Great House, on land in the village purchased from the Sadliers some ten years earlier. After Morse's death in 1688, Astry took over and enlarged the house. He made formal gardens to the north and a double avenue to a summer house on the hilltop, the site of an Iron Age fort and a medieval chapel dedicated to St. Blaise. The whole layout is depicted in an engraving by Kip published in 1712. By 1715, his estate was divided between his three daughters.
Henbury village is situated about 4½ miles north-west of the city of Bristol. It was sparsely populated, centred round its church until the 17th century and become a popular place for wealthy Bristolians. It was a rural retreat among the farms and away from the city’s grime and pollution. A charity school for boys was founded in 1624 by a merchant Anthony EDMONDS. A gabled Cotswold-style house called Henbury Awdelett (later known as Henbury Manor) was built in 1688 by John SAMPSON from nearby Charlton and stayed in the family until 1947. Henbury Lodge was built around 1700, when it was three cottages, which were subsequently converted into one house. A rich sugar merchant Thomas FARR bought the Blaise Estate in 1762 which started to evolve into the sort of place that we would recognise today. He constructed a large park with walks, rustic lodges and a folly called Blaise Castle replacing the summer house. In 1789, Farr went bankrupt and sold the estate. Thomas STOCK, a wealthy Bristol sugar refiner built Henbury Court in 1807 to replace the Great House, which was later demolished in about 1821. He rebuilt the boys’ school in 1830 in a Tudor revival style.
A Quaker banker and philanthropist, John Scandrett HARFORD bought the Blaise estate in 1789. He commissioned William PATY to design a fashionable new house called Blaise Castle House built between 1795-99. It is situated just a few metres north-east of the site of the old manor house. He also commissioned Humphrey REPTON to enhance the estate by putting in winding approach roads through the gorge complete with thatched rustic cottages and quaint chimneys, and the architect John NASH to design a final cottage with a thatched dairy, conservatory and Blaise Hamlet, which is a complex of nine beautiful thatched cottages with remarkable chimneys. They were built around 1811 for retired employees. After Mary Harford died in 1919, her three unmarried daughters went to live in Bath. In 1926, the empty house and the Blaise Castle estate were bought by Bristol Corporation. During the Second World War, the house was occupied by troops and in 1949 became a folk museum. Blaise Hamlet in Hallen Road was purchased by the National Trust in 1943. In the valley of Hazel Brook, on the estate, can be found the old Stratford Mill transported here from Chew Valley in 1954 as the lake was being built.
During the 19th century, a number of substantial Victorian houses, girls and infant schools and a typical small police court and station were built. Despite the village being subsumed into the City of Bristol in 1935, it altered very little until after the war, when, following the devastation of the Blitz in many parts of Bristol, the city needed huge areas for new housing development. Compulsory purchase orders for the lands of Norton and Westmoreland farms resulted in the housing estates along Crow Lane and Station Road (formerly Gloucester Lane). Some old buildings were converted into a different use. The boys school to a village hall, Henbury Manor to Woodstock School, Henbury Lodge to a hotel and the police station and court into private dwellings. The girls school and Henbury Court, both in Station Road, were demolished. On the latter site a new school was built to replace the two old schools. The centre of the village was designated as a ‘preservation area’ to which the south-west was protected by the Blaise Castle Estate, owned by the City and designated as an open space.
The parish church dedicated to St Mary the Virgin dates from about 1175 and was built on older foundations. The first vicar mentioned by name is Alwin in 1140. The church had massive round Norman pillars with early English arches built on top. The tower is from the early 13th century. The church was restored in 1878 and many other improvements made. The churchyard is extremely interesting. Close to the north porch is a headstone, dated 1720, of 18 year old Scipio Africanus, a Negro manservant of Charles HOWARD, 7th Earl of Suffolk, who married one of the Astry daughters and lived at the Great House. Nearby is the grave of Amelia EDWARDS, the Victorian author and Egyptologist who died in 1892 and was a founder of the Egypt Exploration Society, hence the Ankh, or symbol of immortality on her grave. Under the church clock is the tomb of John Scandrett Harford junior. A family grave in the south churchyard marks the burial place of one of the MILES family. The church contains some fine monuments to the SOUTHWELL family. Both families were of Kingsweston House.
Not all the parishioners behaved themselves! There are some interesting entries in the parish records. In 1562, one guilty couple were punished for ‘immorality’. The man was covered with a white sheet and made to ring a bell while standing in Thornbury’s busy market place. The woman had to stand as a penitent before the congregation in the church. In 1597, James MATTES was punished for haymaking on Sunday. In 1599, local men Robert STOAKES and John WASHBOROW had to do ‘public penance’ in the church for the keeping of music and dancing in their houses during evening service.
The Hazel Brook (known as the Hen), rises at Cribbs Causeway, flows south through the village and the Blaise estate, before joining the Trym at Coombe Dingle. It flows southwards through Sea Mills to the Avon. In the village, the brook crosses Henbury Road as a small ford near The Salutation public house. The ford floods relatively often and a small bridge exists to allow traffic to pass. Now to other areas within the former civil parish of Henbury:
Lawrence Weston was originally a small village to the west of Henbury and is situated at the edge of the Severn flood plain, directly beneath the wooded Kingsweston Hill. There was a Chantry Chapel and John KIRKBY was the first known Prebend there in 1276. He was a member of the Royal Council, Treasurer in 1284 and became Bishop of Ely in 1286. In 1577 an ordinance was made by William WARMSTRIE, Registrar of the Bishop of Worcester, giving the Vicar of Henbury the chapel of St Lawrence. The Chantry Act was dissolved by Henry VIII and the chapel was demolished before 1600. The village was transformed in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the housing estate was built, absorbing the neighbouring village of Kingsweston. St. Peter’s Church was built in 1950 and later non-conformist churches. Originally council owned, much of the housing stock is now in private hands. It is known as ‘El Dub’ or ‘L Dub’ to its inhabitants.
Kingsweston was originally a small village to the south-west of Lawrence Weston and was subsumed into Lawrence Weston when the housing estate was built in the late 1940s. The estate is very old and mentioned in the Domesday Book as part of the Berkeley Estates. The Southwell family acquired the estate in 1679 and in 1710 Sir Edward Southwell, Chief Secretary of State for Ireland, commissioned the architect Sir John VANBRUGH to design a building to replace the original Tudor house, which is now a school for learning disability children. The present Kingsweston House was completed in 1720 and became a famous attraction, its gardens being especially admired. Mention of the estate can be found in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. In 1833 the estate became the property of the MILES family who made their fortune from plantations in Jamaica. When Philip John Miles died in 1845, his estate was valued at one million pounds, making him Bristol’s first millionaire. Ironically, a portion of the amount was from compensation received after the 1807 Slave Abolition Act. The house became a hospital in the Great War and the estate was sold to pay death duties in 1935. Requisitioned in the Second World War, the empty house was then occupied as a school, later a police training college, and finally purchased by Bristol Corporation in 1996.
During the building of the housing estate in 1948, remains of a substantial Roman Villa were found, as a result of which the plans had to be changed to build houses around the most significant part of the site rather than on top of it, although much of the villa and grounds were still built on. The Romans farmed the salt marshes and they built a road across the marsh to Holesmouth Creek (in Chittening) where there was a ferry across to Wales. There are still traces of this road known as Mere Bank Rhine. The preserved remains of the villa contain a mosaic pavement and much interesting information about how the Romans lived. There was a Quaker Meeting House situated in Kingsweston Lane next to the surviving burial ground dating from 1690 and on which land now stands the Lawrence Weston Christian Fellowship (formerly Bethesda Chapel).
Coombe Dingle is an area to the south-west, centred near where the Hazel Brook joins the main course of the Trym. The inhabited place appears simply as Combe, Coomb or Coombe, meaning 'short bowl-shaped valley', in documents from the 13th century and on early maps. The name applied to Coombe Farm and Coombe House on the eastern side of the confluence of the Hazel Brook and the Trym, which are in the parish of Westbury-on-Trym and not where the modern suburb lies. This area later became noted for its cherry orchards. Strictly speaking, Coombe Dingle was the wooded narrow valley through which the Trym passes south-west of the farm and house. It was once a popular destination for outings from Bristol, and there was a well-known tea-room in the wooded Dingle itself, now a private house. The original winding road passing it, also called The Dingle, has been bypassed by the modern road which is carried across the river on a discreet bridge with a classical-style balustrade. In the Dingle the river drove a flour mill called Coombe Mill. The name of the narrow valley was borrowed for the new development consisting mostly of private housing built in the 1920s and 1930s to the west of the Trym onto an old hamlet of Bowden's Fields, which was on the Blaise Castle Estate. It was and remains a desirable area to live. Near the western edge is Haig Close, a small development of houses originally built for ex-servicemen in 1929 on land donated from the Kingsweston estate by Philip Napier MILES, though this is generally said to be in Sea Mills.
Sea Mills is an area to the south-west of Coombe Dingle and was the site of a Roman settlement of about 20 acres, known as Portus Abonae. This was located where the River Trym enters the River Avon. Two Roman roads led to the port, one from Aquae Sulis (Bath) and the other from Glevum (Gloucester). The port was possibly the chief Roman terminal in the west, and would have also been a distribution centre for the lead and silver which were mined in the Mendip Hills. It seems to have been abandoned by the 4th century. The name Sea Mills may derive from the cloth mills that stood on the Trym and manufactured ‘saye’, a rough serge. The site of the Roman harbour became one of the earliest wet docks in the country. It was constructed in 1712 by Joshua FRANKLIN, a wealthy Bristol merchant, to eliminate the need for large sailing ships to navigate the dangerous Avon any further upstream. However, poor transport links doomed the enterprise and the harbour facilities fell into disrepair in the 1760s. In the 1920s and 30s, Sea Mills was developed as a planned green suburb. Much of the housing was local authority, although it is now mainly in private ownership. St Edyth’s Church was built in 1924, and later a Methodist church. Adjacent to the Portway is a small estate of prefabricated bungalows dating from a post-WW2 housing scheme. The wide A4 Portway trunk road passes along the south-west edge of Sea Mills and links central Bristol with its outport at Avonmouth. Running parallel to the serpentine path of the River Avon, the Portway was the most expensive road in Britain when it was opened in 1926. Both the Portway and the railway line have bridges over the harbour outfall into the Avon.
Brentry is an area to the east of Henbury. The settlement grew around the junction of two roads, where a public house, the Old Crow, has long been established. The north-south road, Passage Road, was a turnpike road from Bristol to South Wales via New Passage or the Old Passage at Aust. The area was developed into a suburb after WW2 and has a mix of high-quality private housing and good former council housing. Brentry House, built in 1802 in Charlton Road, and designed by James and Humphrey Repton, was used as a home for recovering alcoholics, founded by the Rev Harold BURDEN and his wife Katherine in 1898 as the Brentry Certified Inebriate Reformatory. In 1922 it became an institution for the mentally ill and was renamed Brentry Certified Institution. It was renamed the Brentry Colony in 1930. In 1948, under the National Health Service, it became Brentry Hospital. It closed in 2000 and has been converted into apartments, now known as Repton Hall.
Charlton was the name of a village to the north-east of Brentry, and had several farmhouses, a public house called the Carpenters Arms, a post office, several large houses and a few cottages. In 1870, it had a population of 425. In the late 1940s the entire village was demolished to make way for an extension of the main runway at Filton Airfield, to accommodate take-offs of the giant Bristol Brabazon prop-driven airliner. Many of the former residents were rehoused in council housing in Patchway. Although the Brabazon project was abandoned in 1953, the extended runway proved very useful later, when Vulcan V bombers were dispersed to Filton during the Cuban Missile Crisis and when Concorde supersonic airliners took off. In the 1970s, the name was resurrected for the new development of Charlton Mead on the south side of the airfield near Southmead and again in 2009 for the new development of Charlton Hayes on the north side of the airfield at Patchway. The airfield closed in 2012. The decision resulted from a review of its financial/commercial profitability.
Cribbs Causeway is a road to the north-east of Henbury and has given its name to the adjacent area, a large out-of-town shopping centre, including retail and entertainment parks and an enclosed shopping centre known as The Mall. The road is often said to owe its name to Tom CRIBB, a famous bare-knuckle boxer from the Bristol area. However, this was proved wrong in the 1960s by the discovery of a map showing that the current name dated to four years prior to his 1781 birth. The true origin of the name may be from Crybe's dwelling (Crybe being a personal name), or from crib, a manger or hovel. All that we can truly glean from this is that the causeway - i.e. the Roman road - was named for a family with the surname Cribb (which may or may not have been closely related to the boxer's family: he was from Hanham on the opposite side of Bristol). This local family was probably also commemorated in the smallholding called Crybescroft which existed in Henbury in 1281. Cribbs Causeway is believed to be the route of a Roman road from Sea Mills to Gloucester. It later became the route of a turnpike from Bristol to New Passage. In the 20th century it was part of the main road from Bristol to the Aust Ferry. In 1971, the M5 motorway junction transformed the area. In 1976, Carrefour was granted planning permission to build a hypermarket (now the Asda store) near the junction. Development of retail parks followed and in 1998 the Mall was opened.
Catbrain is a hamlet located by Cribbs Causeway, on a road that contains many car dealerships. A new housing estate has been recently constructed next to the hamlet. At the bottom of the hill lies Filton Airfield. The name ‘Catbrain’ derives from the Middle English ‘cattes brazen’ which is a reference to the rough clay mixed with stones that is characteristic soil type of the location.
Hallen is a village to the north-west of Henbury and lies at the edge of the Severn flood plain. The word Hallen is Old Saxon meaning the village or place of salt. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Hallen was a popular stop off point for travellers making their way from the south west to the ferry to Wales. There were three inns in the village, one with its own brewery. The brewery structure is still visible today attached to the last remaining pub, The King William IV, known locally as the King Billy. The railway line construction made an embankment along one side of the village. It was during the excavation that a natural water spring was blocked. This destroyed the watercress fields that used provide a major income for the village. A large underground petroleum storage facility was built into the hillside behind the village during World War II and the facility is still in use today. However, Hallen also had a dark past. It was the place where public hangings took place for poor condemned wretches from Bristol. The field on the west side of the village was called the Gassons. The village has now been split in half by the M5 motorway. It no longer has its 1863 village school or St John’s church built in 1853, which are converted to dwellings, but retains its village atmosphere.
Chittening is an area to the north-west of Lawrence Weston and Hallen, on the A403 road, near the River Severn. Chittening was once a farm. It was first recorded in 1658 as Chitnend. The name apparently comes from the Middle English chitten ende, meaning ‘end (of a parish or estate) where there are the young of animals’. In the First World War a munitions factory was built on the site, where cylinders and shells were filled with chloropicrin and, from June 1918, with mustard gas. The industrial estate developed after the war, under the management of the Port of Bristol Authority. In 1951 a factory producing carbon black was built next to the estate, and operated until its closure in 2008.