A house with a
history that goes
to the heart of
Jackie Kerly gave a presentation to the History Society on the story of a house. It is one of the oldest in Blagdon, with some important vernacular building styles that mark its venerable age. But what seems to mark it as being particularly special is its importance in the hearts and history of many of the Blagdon families whose names crop up regularly in any research carried out on the social history of the village. That would partly go to explaining why, on the afternoon of Wednesday 13th November the History Society rooms at Court Lodge were packed to the gunnels with people. Local people whose collective memory goes back generations into the history of the village.
Gilcombe House is on the corner of where Church street comes onto the Bath Road (A368) in Blagdon – opposite the school.
We know very little of the origins of the house but a few clues came with a survey of its architecture. A report by EHD Williams in 1982 suggested a fireplace had C16 origins and a second fireplace C17.There is an ornate wooden ceiling in the room to the right from the main entrance which was probably early to mid C17. The front windows are mid C18 and glazing now is C19. Once upon a time it would have had shutters. The main roof has been rebuilt. Previous one was lower with a steeper pitch.
In C18 whole the house was upgraded and a range of outbuildings and a further room were added C19, C20.
The people that lived there
As so often our earliest record of the people that lived there is from the 1841 tithe apportionment, a national survey of who owned what land, what they did for a living and what they did with the land – effectively a census. Rebecca Stephens is recorded as owning the house which included the land, plots 420 and 421. She also owned the beer house and orchard where the New Inn is now, as well as other land.
In 1844 a Voter registration document names Henry Somers as occupier of her lands known as ‘Stephens, late Vieldings’. No link for ‘Vielding’ found yet.
Rebecca was born a Spurlock, daughter of Richard Spurlock and Letitia Hardy, in 1768. She was christened Rebecca Hardy Spurlock.
Jackie was pretty sure she married Samuel Stephens in Bristol in 1809 when she would have been 42. He died in Blagdon aged 80 in 1840, just before the tithe apportionment. At the first census in 1841 Rebecca lived in what became Gilcombe with her niece Hannah, nee Spurlock, and Hannah’s husband Henry Somers who was her tenant farmer. She was still with them for the 1851 census but died in July of that year aged 84. The Spurlocks were often butchers.
the family tree shows the many tragedies in her
life when the death dates of her children are seen.
Her estate was put up for sale in 1850, the auction handled by Samuel Baker, Aldwick solicitor, who had his hand in most deals at this time. (Baker, Son and Phillott, Aldwick Court and 6 Thomas Street, Bristol). He and a John Foord, a local carpenter, seem to have bought the property, minus the Inn, probably with Samuel providing a mortgage. A document relating to a further sale in 1854 suggests it wasn't acquired by Foord until 1852. We don’t know whether the Somers family moved out immediately or continued as tenants.
Henry Somers died in 1860 and for a time Hannah stayed with his parents in Glastonbury, along with her youngest children. She came back to Blagdon to work as a dressmaker but the family tree shows the many tragedies in her life when the death dates of her children are seen.
Henry’s brother William had also settled in Blagdon by 1841, initially in West End, roughly where the current butcher's shop is with his wife, also Hannah. She was a young widow when they married in Bristol in 1840. William was a baker. In 1841 and 1851 they were in tithe 210. He may have been a baker in the building attached to the Seymour Arms.
In 1854 John Foord and Samuel Baker sold Gilcombe to William who set up a new bakery and farmed the land. He paid £365 to Foord and £70 to Baker to pay off the mortgage.
One son John Richard also worked as a baker. Eldest son Henry moved away, eventually settling in Saltford as a fruit merchant. One document indicates that he named his house, Blagdon House.
A younger son Charles Albert has been remembered in several past residents’ memories. According to Norah Day he and her father would skip school to earn a penny a day stoking the furnace at the Charterhouse lead works, 16 feet under the ground. One day each found a piece of treasure, Charlie a cameo brooch, and his friend an Elizabethan ring.
Charlie sold his find and bought a passage to America to make his fortune. Jackie was unable to verify any records of him there but as we will see, he did return.
Over the years William acquired more dwellings and bought and sold some land so that by the time he wrote his will in 1784 he had quite an estate. For instance, in 1871 he bought two Street End properties from Christopher Garraway one of which had a bakehouse. These are now called Galleon Cottage and Old Stabling. His executors/trustees were his wife Hannah, son John Richard and fellow business man Benjamin Panes whose name crops up again later in our story. He was a local shopkeeper, postmaster and property owner.
William died in 1886: his wife inherited his estate for her lifetime, while his three sons would get £200 each. and son John Richard had option to buy bakery business at fair valuation. This Richard presumably did because he continued the business until his own death 11 years later.
John Richard had married Hester Webber in 1878. She has proved an interesting person to research in that she seems to have played around with her age over time, usually getting younger! But she was probably in her forties when she married and there were no children. John Richard died in 1897, not long before his mother who died in March the following year. Probate went to son Henry (in Saltford) and Benjamin Panes and the considerable estate was put up for sale.
The house was bought by Alice Maud Taylor whose husband ran the village grocers and drapers shop, where the Stores is now. She was also the daughter of Benjamin Panes, executor of William Somer’s will.
NB George Edwards bought the cottage opposite the school for Lord Winterstoke – he later built the Parish Room on the site
In June that year, 1898, Charles Albert arrived back home, shipping records showing him sailing on the Lucania from New York to Liverpool, aged 52 and occupation, labourer. He took over the bakery and in the autumn of that year married Hester, his brother John’s widow. They married in Bristol, her name given as Hester Webber (her maiden name). It would seem that they probably bought the house and bakery back from the Taylors.
He had a wooden bungalow built on stilts on the Bath Road behind Gilcombe which later became known as Mrs Pearce’s bungalow, where John and Joyce Burton’s house, Bergenia, is now.
Built by Mr. Edward Stock and his gang of carpenters - much of it pre-fabricated in a workshop off Liberty Lane. He and Hester lived there from at least 1910, by which time he was a retired baker. The business was initially let to Edward Cole (Marion Ball’s grandfather).
Edward James Cole bought Gilcombe and the business in 1917 but was locked into an arrangement whereby he had to pay Charles an annuity of £70 a year. A newspaper report suggests that he moved to Blagdon in 1911 so perhaps he was employed at the bakery. Edward was born in Burrington and trained as a baker with Prewetts in WSM.
By 1920 the house was called Gilcombe but it is not known when the name came about. Edward Cole is remembered by many as the baker who had a large delivery round, which he would continue in the most inclement weather. His wife Edith would sell sweets from the Hester died in 1922 and Charles in 1927 by which time he had moved to live opposite the Castle of Comfort.
According to Marion’s father Donald, Edward Coles bought the Highgrove, Bath Road bakery from the Hemmens family in 1928 and moved his ovens there. He had installed steam ovens in Gilcombe in 1924 replacing the coke ovens which had to be started with faggots of wood. He and Edith didn’t leave Gilcombe House until they could sell it which took some years. Edward had the first commercial motor vehicle in Blagdon, a Model T Ford, and the first motorised dough machine which was petrol driven and allowed for overnight mixing.
Gilcombe was finally sold in 1936 for £800, having initially been on the market for £1,200.
Edward, with son Donald as manager also took over the main village stores from the Taylors in 1945, where the current Stores stand.
Back to 1936 …...the buyer was Emily Derrick, widow of Samuel who had farmed Lower Hill farm. Derrick is a very old village name, going back to at least the 16th century. After Samuel’s death in 1933 she and her son George continued to run the farm but for whatever reason it was put up for sale in 1936. It is possible that she had moved into a cottage behind the school with her sister Mrs Dawkins.
George sailed for Sydney, Australia soon after the move to Gilcombe but was lost overboard in the Red Sea. We have his shipping record giving his address as Gilcombe. A cutting in The Sydney Herald reported that when the ship reached Colombo, George was reported lost. Other frequent travellers of the route had commented on the extreme heat they experienced. His death is something of a mystery and was not much talked about in the village.
After Charles’s death his widow Sarah moved into Blagdon. Her address is often given as High Street and we believe that she lived in Myrtle Cottage, on the left as you enter Post Office Lane. The cottage belonged to Benjamin Panes and after his death, his daughter Alice. Despite renting the cottage Sarah Prior owned property of her own including at her death The Live and Let Live. She died in 1931.
Her son George Prior sailed for Freemantle, Australia. Jacky believed he worked initially on the railway but he later became a sheep and wheat farmer. Records show that he married an Alice, probably Alice Thomas in 1897 and lived at Baandee, a settlement founded in 1912 to open up the wheat lands to farmers. The settlement became quite important but suffered from flooding and now is abandoned. George called his property Mendip Farm.
Alice Prior became the infant teacher at Blagdon school for many years but in 1921 decided to return with George, who was visiting, back to Australia. Shipping records give their destination as Mendip Farm, Baandee, Eastern Gold Fields Line, W A. George had lost his wife by this time. Alice became his housekeeper but died in 1928 as reported in the local press.
George travelled back to England again in 1936, perhaps following the death of George Derrick. George Prior died in Australia in 1948.
Selina, unusually, married a man from London. They married in Burrington (Benjamin Panes as a witness) she and Fletcher Osgood Dawkins lived in Islington where they had two children and probably lost another. Fletcher was an organ builder and tuner as were some of his siblings.
By 1911 Selina with her daughter Doris Selina and son Fletcher Charles were back living with her Prior family, in which most of the women were dressmakers. In 1930 Selina and Doris were living in Street End but there are also references to Mrs Dawkins living with her mother in High Street in 1926 when they had a house fire. Later Selina and Doris, by then a musician, moved to Bristol to the Redland, Zetland Road area, where Doris taught piano.
Aged 17 Fletcher Charles left for Australia in April 1924, bound for Freemantle, as a farmer, so perhaps to join his uncle George. He returned in April 1929, recorded on the ship’s document as a farm hand. If he did go to his Uncle George he would have been there when his Aunt Alice died. Fletcher would go on to inherit Gilcombe from his Aunt Emily. I believe Fletcher was generally known as Charles or Charlie by friends.
He married Irene Olive Lyons at the end of 1930. They were the same age so may have been to school together but it is known, and was included in the newspaper report of their wedding that they were both keen sports people and she was one of the first women in the village to drive. Her father Jacob ran the carrier company Blagdon Garage in Street End, providing charabancs for outings which Olive drove. Her mother was Sarah Jane Tidball(1867-1937). In 1929 there was a newspaper report about Olive, a partner in the Lyons business describing how she like driving not only charabancs but motorbikes too.
After their wedding Charles and Olive left on 2rd Jan 1930 for Wisconsin, sailing on the SS Ascania from Southampton, arriving on 14th in New York. He was listed as a farmer. Their US census address for 1930 was Dunn Township, Dune, Wisconsin. They were visiting her brother Claude who had emigrated there. We know that Charles wrote a letter home about growing tobacco so maybe this was what Claude was doing.
I have been unable to find a record of when Charles and Olive returned but by 1939 they were living in Haydon House, Clutton with two sons and Charles was a travelling salesman. He was also a Reserve Policeman. A Dorothy M Watkins (Fox) b.1909 a social worker at Fairbridge Farm School also lived in the house.
Their first son Jeffrey Charles was born in 1931. A second son Alan L (possibly Lyons?) was born in 1936, registered in Bath: he died quite young in 1950, after collapsing at a football match with his father. Jeffrey later lived at Quarry Farm, Ellick Road before his death in 1975. A third son, David was born in 1940 probably in Clutton.
There is a cutting from 1940 of Charles selling his poultry and other effects - he is moving out. We don’t know where the Dawkins went.
In Living memory..........
Emily Prior, back in Gilcombe, let rooms
to people and especially during the war.
One family was that of Cynthia Palmer
who died not too long ago but not before
she had recorded memories of life in the
village during the war. Her family had come
out from Bristol but then settled in the
Other former pupils of the school recalled
that in the 1930s the school dentist would
visit, establishing a treadle drill in an
outhouse at Mrs Derricks. This was an occasion for absence
This must have been in the late 1930s or 40s as Emily Derrick
did not move in until 1936. It was mentioned by some evacuees.
In 1937 Emily sold a piece of land to the local council for the
building of a Police House which was built in 1938.
Emily’s nephew Charles organised various transactions with
her from 1956 including raising a mortgage on Gilcombe.
It would seem that he and Olive moved in, perhaps to look after Emily. All three are on the electoral roll until 1966 when Emily died. Charles and his sister inherited Gilcombe. Charles and Olive stayed on in the house. He was known as a keen gardener, growing prize winning onions and as a Bristol City supporter. Olive died in 1968, registered in Bristol but Fletcher was still here in 1969, in that year with his son Jeffrey.
n 1969 Gilcombe was sold to Edward Albert and Jean Sanders.
(Charles lived on until 1988, death recorded in Bath but living in the Ubley area. His son Jeffrey lived at Quarry Farm on Ellick Road).
In 1970 Jean, Edward and sons Michael, Timothy and David Sanders are registered on the electoral roll.
In 1971, Jean, Edward and David only and in 1973 Edward and Timothy. Had Jean and David (only 8) moved out?
Gilcombe was sold to Delta Hartnell in 1974 for £23,500. She was an artist and changed the house name to Studio Cottage which appears on an OS map from around that time.
Anthony Stephen Brown and wife Judith bought Studio Cottage in 1978 for £47.000 but only for one year.
In 1979 Mr and Mrs Nugent bought from Brown for £55,000. Dorothy Nugent sold woollens from the shop made from wool she collected, dyed and spun. Woad was grown in the garden.
PC minutes Jan 1980. Mr and Mrs Nugent requested a residential and restaurant license to sell by retail intoxicating liquor on or off premises. Council voted 2 to 6 against. Licence refused but they did offer Bed and Breakfast.
March 1984 advert in Parish Magazine offering Bed and Breakfast. ‘The best little guest house.’
PC minutes June 1980 no.1857/81. Angela M Ware. Change of use from gift shop (Bath Road) to Veterinary Surgery. Council had concerns about kennelling of dogs. Permission was later refused.
PC mins. March 1983 Change of use from shop to estate agents. Council opposed due to traffic but it was approved later that year. The Nugents sold the shop to Durston estate agent in 1983.
re varied and old. Coun
1985 Andrew and Olive Barnes bought Gilcombe House minus the shop. However they bought shop from Durstons later and the annex is currently being refurbished.
So there we have it – a lovely old house with a past
[After the talk a couple of people remembered someone selling antiques from the shop, possibly the Sanders?
Joan Lyons thought that Charles and Olive lived in Bristol at some time, next to his sister. She thought they then lived in Gilcombe for some time.
Mary Mead recalled a Miss Dawkins teaching piano at her school in Bristol.]
Cole family wedding 1936
Charles and Olive Dawkin-Lyons
Gilcombe House on the corner of Bath Road and Church Street. Funny little allotments or a nursery on the area below the Score. Can anyone help us date this picture?
Another picture of Gilcombe from the top of Score Lane. The little thatched house long since decayed to nothing sits at top (bottom left of the image)