The History of Clevedon

Part 4: Start of the Town

The early village consisted of Farmhouses and the houses of the farm labourers. The only house of quality at the time of the expansion was Clevedon Court, the home of the ELTON family. In the early 1800's “Sea bathing” was made popular by the Prince Regent (who later became George IV) and the fashion spread to the West Country from the resort towns of the south coast.

The first houses and cottages of Clevedon stood on the flatlands along the base of the hills, in the original village this made water easy of access, with none of the places being more than a few hundred metres from a river. The Moor and Common Land was enclosed by an Act of Parliament 1799, and the fields were shared out according to the amount of “Commonage”, which could be claimed by the various holders. Road waste, which was also enclosed at the same time, was taken by the Court Estate for the main, as part of their share. It was shortly after this that the building of the cottages began in the strips, which were then leased from the Estate in 1808, along the sides of Ken Road, Stroud Road, and Village Street as at the time both Old Street and Old Church Road were called. (Culliford's Nest, Vicarage's Nest, Hacks Nest, Pomeroy's Nest, Taylor's Nest)

There was also a smaller strip at Walton Road and Carey's Lane (now All Saint's Lane). Most of these cottages are mistaken, as being 250 or 300-year-old houses, but were in fact built in 1808/9, as the early 19th Century Land Tax files show. In the 1820's William Hollyman who was the agent for the Court Estate, together with George Newton, a builder from Wraxall a village about five miles away, leased from the estate some six acres (2.4 hectares) of ground along the top hill slopes, overlooking the Tithing Fields near the sea coast. This land, which was of no use for agriculture because of the steepness and rockiness of the slopes, was ideal for building, giving outstanding views down the Bristol Channel and over the flat lands of the moors. Hollyman, whose choice of style was good, also improved some of the cottages in East Clevedon and made them into larger houses. Stone was in good supply and the Elton family when they leased the building sites, also kept control over the quality of the houses which were built upon them; laying down strict conditions as to the use of the building and also its finishing.

By 1841 two large hotels had been built and well over 100 houses. Another plot of land along the seacoast had been leased and many of the local building tradesmen were engaged in building and then letting out houses for holidaymakers. In 1850 it had become apparent to the heir to the Title and Estate, (Mr Arthur Elton) that some things badly needed doing. There was no sewer main system, and no piped water supply. [See Clevedon Sanitation Report and Mr Arthur Elton's booklet] With the passing of the Public Health Act of 1848 the government had made it possible for small local authorities to take charge of Health, Roads, Sanitation etc. A Clevedon Local Board of Health was formed in 1853.

The town was now growing rapidly and new roads were needed for the continued expansion. Taking into use fields made these, which had formerly been farmland on the upper slopes of the town. As the farm leases ran out these fields were withdrawn from agricultural use and were re-leased as building land.

This was the start of the period, which gradually saw the farms of Clevedon decrease in size and number as the farm leases became vacant. The town was built mainly upon the south facing slopes of the southern end of the Failand ridge hill, which ran from Clevedon north to Portishead. These slopes which extend for about one and a half miles, (two and a half Kilometres approx.) made a perfect site for the larger houses of Victorian Clevedon The villas of the middle classes were then built on the lower slopes and in turn these were added to by the terraced houses, built in the lower part of the town for the working class families, many of whom provided services such as gardeners, laundry, charwomen, maids, and servants etc.

In the 1880's there was no factory work, for the only place of large employment was the Brick works, which had been established in the 1850's. The town still grew however and most of the working class families took jobs in the service of some large house owner or farmer. By 1894 Clevedon had become large enough to apply for higher status and the Local Board of Health applied for an Act of Parliament, in order to become an Urban District. This was granted and from 1895, Clevedon Urban District Council ran the town with elected council members, until the change of County Status brought into being the much-discredited AVON County.

After this Clevedon was returned to having a Town Council but is now ruled from Woodspring. In growing thus Clevedon did not destroy the old town to rebuild on top of it but spread gradually so that all shades of the development can still be seen today. Clevedon Court the oldest occupied manor house in England still has the main hall of the original building. Highdale Farm which present building dates from about 1650's although much altered, is standing on the site of the early Domesday recorded, Hide Hall messuage. A small cottage in Old Street once called Village Farm has been expanded from the early Hall House of the 1500's.

At the West end of the town, a cottage now called “Whiteladies”, and a house now known as “Tennyson House”, are little changed from their original usage as Burryatt's Farm, (1690's) and Perry’s West Farm (1630's). Dowlais Farm in lower Stroud Road, which was one of the farmhouses, rebuilt by Sir John Knight in the later 1600's still stands. It occupies the site of the earlier Perry's West Farm in the Marsh. Cole House, (now known as Lake Farm) the farm and lands which were brought to Sir John Knight by his marriage to the heiress of the Cole Family, is in 1995, gradually mouldering with no occupant, this he place Sir John rebuilt in Elizabethan time. The Barn alongside still shows some of the evidence of its state when it was the original 1460 “Hall” House of the Cole Family. [The Cole family are still living in Clevedon, their name has been changed to Coles by the intrusive habit of the local people of putting an 's' on to the ends of some words. e.g. Regent Park one of the recently built housing estates is inevitably referred to as Regents Park]

New House Farm (New in 1700) was built by Sir John when re-placing the old building 'Burnt House' (see plate page 29) which was destroyed by fire. It stands out towards the moor land at the easternmost end of Moor Lane near the junction of Court Lane. Although the houses and buildings of the farms in the middle of the town have been demolished, the early house of the warrener or rabbit keeper still stands on the heights of Dial Hill. Now called Old Park House it was in the 17th Century a lodge to which the Lord of the Manor could come in order to shoot deer. The warren itself lay under the spot where now stands Hallam Hall, a very large building erected in the 1870 are as a boarding school. Now as so many of the other over large Victorian houses, it has been turned into flats. Another Rabbit warren was on the northern slopes of the hill behind the Court. Called Conygar its name derives from Coney (early term for Rabbit) and Gaer (Celtic word for Fort) A further small warren was on the hill at the extreme west of the town, Wain's Hill, this was a smaller warren which one of the Farmer lessees [Wain's Hill was at that time part of Spurriers Lease] was licensed to run. All Rabbit Warrens and also Dovecotes required a licence from the Crown to own. 

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