Everyone is welcome at our meetings – you do not need to be a member to join in.

Next Meetings

May 28th 2024 Bring your own Artefact or Antique

Bring your own artefact. Jon Heyes will help us with knowledge of antiques. Perhaps something that will be of interest to others; something that you want help to identify or value.

We will also celebrate the 10th anniversary of the formation of Bitton Parish History Group.

St Mary’s Church, Church Road, Bitton, BS30 6LJ
7:00 for 7:30 pm

June 18th 2024 The history of Bitton Mill in automotive parts manufacturing

Tony Wilmott will give a talk and  slide presentation on the history of Bitton Mill at St Mary’s Church.

St Mary’s Church Hall (not the church!), Church Lane, Bitton, BS30 6LH
7:00 for 7:30 pm

Sept 10th 2024 Edward Long Fox and Brislington House

Dinah Moore will give a talk on Brislington House (now known as Long Fox Manor) then a private lunatic asylum. When it opened in 1806 it was one of the first purpose-built asylums in England. It is situated on the Bath Road in Brislington

Venue to be advised

Oct 8th 2024 Architectural Follies of the West Country – a talk by Jonathan Holt

Find out the stories behind the extraordinary follies as Jonathan Holt answers the question: ‘Who on Earth built that?!’
The region is full of these curious buildings which can take many forms – towers, summer houses, grottoes, shell houses, eyecatchers, mock ruins, temples, hermitages, obelisks, pagodas, rustic seats…the list goes on. The stories behind them are many and various – built out of passion, megalomania, artistry, showing off one’s wealth or to keep up with or block out one’s neighbours.

Venue to be advised

Nov 12th 2024 Churchyard Records – a talk by Bridget Hetzel

Bridget Hetzel will tell us how a team photographed the gravestones and recorded the inscriptions at St Mary’s Church, Bitton. A database has now been created so that the burial records can be searched to show a photo and inscription of the gravestone.

Venue: St Mary’s Church, Church Rd, Bitton,  BS30 6LJ

December 3rd 2024 Stothert and Pitt’ including Torrances – a talk by Peter Dunn

Torrance and Sons became a worldwide supplier of stainless steel and standard paint and colour grinding machines along with general items such as drain covers. Their parent company was Stothert & Pitt.

Venue: Bitton Parish Community Building, High Street, Oldland Common, BS30 9TL (situated behind Redfield Edge Primary School).

Previous Meetings

March 19th Professor Richard Coates on Surnames and our AGM

Professor Coates will explained the historical background, formation, and typology of surnames which provided interesting information especially for family history research.

23rd January 2024 – Unbuilt Bristol: the city that might have been – a talk by Eugene Byrne

7:00 for 7:30pm 23rd January 2024. Venue: URC Chapel High Street, Oldland Common, BS30 9QN

The footnotes of Bristol’s history are littered with schemes for roads, bridges, railways, buildings and things which for one reason or another (usually money) never got built. Eugene Byrne takes a look at just some of the proposals, from the perfectly sensible to the completely insane. Focussing mostly on the post-war period he will also try to tease out some morals and lessons and wonders if we’re any wiser nowadays.

November 21st, Gary Best – ‘Slavery and Bristol’

21st November. Venue: Unity Oldland, Methodist Church, West Street, Oldland Common, BS30 9QS.

The acclaimed local historian Gary M Best lead us through a compelling talk on Bristol’s controversial role in the slave trade.

October 24th, Professor Ronald Hutton ‘Village Witchcraft’

Professor Hutton looked at the beliefs and practices of magic and witchcraft that were held by ordinary people in England and Wales. He revealed a rich and flourishing world of practising charmers and magicians, in which the fear of witchcraft remained very real, and asked when and how this world came to an end.

The 5th September, 2023  – Reunion at URC Chapel Upton Cheyney

Venue: URC Chapel, Wick Lane, Upton Cheyney, BS30 6NL. The 5th Sept, 7:00 for 7:30pm

The URC Chapel in Upton Cheyney, a historic landmark that has been an integral part of the community for almost two centuries, will bid a farewell in a heartfelt reunion event on the 5th of September.

11 July, 7:30pm: Visit to Warmley Grotto

William Champion’s zinc making business in Warmley became successful in the late eighteenth century, and he built himself an elegant and imposing new house with surrounding gardens laid out in the then popular Dutch style. A focal point was a ten metre high statue of the god Neptune with his trident. The statue is still standing and is believed to be the largest garden statue now standing in the country. The garden also features extensive man-made grottos, which are fun to explore.



Photo Bill Blair, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

23 May – Place Names, a talk by Professor Richard Coates

Professor Coates helped us understand the history and meaning behind local and national place names. We know that there are Old English origins in the name of Bitton. Many of our other local place-names are of great interest. Professor Coates showed the meanings of many of these place-names through local language, history and culture. Some places such as Saltford, Swineford and Hanging Hill are more obvious but places such as Stanton Drew, Yate, Hanham and Upton Cheyney are more complex.

25th April Avon Wharf and Dramway – a talk by Dr Jim Pimpernel,

Oldland Common Tabernacle, URC, High Street Oldland Common Bristol BS30 9QN

Although the Dramway has been abandoned for many years, it has left an intriguing legacy of landmarks and features in the landscape, giving glimpses of the past when this area was part of a booming coalfield and a burgeoning, busy industrial area.

21st March 2023 Family History 21st March  – Mike Slucutt
Unity Methodist Church, West Street, Oldland Common, BS30 9QS

Have you ever wondered about your family ancestry or wanted to create a family tree of your own? How do we start on the subject – how do we find and analyse sources, discover different research strategies, and tackle genealogy databases? Mike Slucutt will show us how to start genealogy research, and the basic procedures needed to trace our ancestors. The talk will cover basic information for starting family history and move on to cover more advanced research.

7 Feb 2023, The History of Seasonal Festivals in Britain – Professor Ronald Hutton, The Meadows School, Bitton, BS30 6HS

Professor Ronald Hutton will take us on a spirited journey through the history of seasonal festivals in Britain.
The origin of customs that are still with us today, like Christmas cards and hot cross buns will be explored by Ronald Hutton, Professor of History at the University of Bristol. Along the way, we hope to learn about British folklore traditions like the real significance of the May Pole, why the Puritans banned Christmas, and the magical properties of St John’s Wort.

25th Nov, 2022, Avon Valley Railway – North Common Village Hall, Millers Drive, BS30 8YH

A talk by Alan Mathews of Avon Valley Railway on the amazing feat started in 1972 to restore Bitton station building and to re-lay track and operate trains.

Bitton Station Midland Railway: photo courtesy BRO

25th Oct, 2022, Fry’s Chocolate Factory – St Mary’s Church, Bitton, BS30 6LJ

The very good friend of the history group, the author David Noble, gave a talk and video about Fry’s Chocolate Factory (later to become Cadbury’s) based on his 41 plus years of service there as man and boy. The talk provided an insight (often humorous), of ‘Life down the factory’ which played such a significant part of the lives of local people till the factory closed in 2011.


20th Sept, 2022, The Bristol Riots of 1831

The speaker (Professor Alan Jocelyn) has uncovered much recent primary evidence that this was the largest and most bloody riot in English history. At the Peterloo Massacre 15 people were killed; in Bristol 500 were hacked to death. Professor Jocelyn shared his research and even displayed artefacts from the period.



Bristol Riots 1831

17th June, 2022, 7:30pm: Visit to Warmley Grotto

William Champion’s zinc making business in Warmley became successful in the late eighteenth century, and he built himself an elegant and imposing new house with surrounding gardens laid out in the then popular Dutch style. A focal point was a ten metre high statue of the god Neptune with his trident. The statue is still standing and is believed to be the largest garden statue now standing in the country. The garden also features extensive man-made grottos, which are fun to explore.



Photo Bill Blair, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license

10th May, 2022, 2:00pm: Visit to Saltford Brass Mill

Saltlford Brass Mill was part of a major copper, zinc and brass industry in the Avon valley, supplying an international trading market. It all started with coal-fired smelting of Cornish copper ores on the banks of the Avon using Bristol coal, and finished with a thriving industry making brassware for trade with West Africa and the Caribbean. Such pots and pans supported the triangular slave trade which contributed to the creation of the wealth of Bristol and Bath.



24th March Famine and Plague in Early Modern England – Professor Ronald Hutton

Professor Ronald Hutton gave a talk on ‘Famine and Plague in Early Modern England’ from  on Tuesday 24th March at 7.30pm at North Common Village Hall

One of the main features which distinguishes the Tudor and Stuart period from the modern age is that its people suffered regularly from famine and devastating epidemic diseases. This talk looks, with some special reference to the Bristol area, at the way in which historians can study these killers and their effects, and how they were perceived and experienced at the time. It also tackles directly the question of when and how they were finally brought to an end.


11th January 2022,  David Hardwick  ‘60 years of change in the Bristol Coalfield 1961 – 2021’

Many thanks to David Hardwick from from the South Gloucestershire Mines and Research Groupfor an excellent talk on the developments in local pits over the last 60 years. Amazing that there has been so much activity but disappointing that many of the mine working buildings have disappeared over that time. We are fortunate that remains still exist locally at Golden Valley and Oldland Common, enabling us to recall a 400-year-old industry that helped define our local history.

7th December, at St Mary’s Church – Mike Gates: The Ellacombe Chimes: a pitched battle between the villagers and the curate.

The Ellacombe Chimes were invented in 1821 at Bitton by H.T. Ellacombe. The covered the background to the invention, its widespread adoption and  included a video of how the invention was celebrated by churches and towers across the world.

26 October – Dr Jo Edwards: Hannah More (1745 – 1833)  

Hannah More, born in Fishponds, in 1745, was one of the most influential women of her day.

Her father was a school teacher and set up two schools in Bristol – one for girls and one for boys. As a young adult, Hannah taught at the girls’ school.

As well as a poet and playwright, Hannah More was also a campaigner for social reform, female education and the abolition of slavery. She set up twelve schools in the Mendip area. Today, there are still several schools in the Bristol area named after her.

21st September 2021 – Dr Richard Stone, ‘Bristol’s First Slave Traders 1662-1698 – a local detective story’.

Thank you so much Dr Richard Stone for a truly interesting talk. He presented a detective story of how through painstaking research he had uncovered the true nature of Bristol’s early involvement in the Slave Trade.

15th June 2021 – Kelston, Saltford and the river Avon – Hazel Beale

In this zoom meeting Hazel explored the history of Kelston, the village where she grew up, and Saltford, the village across the river. It explored the industrial heritage of the river Avon, in particular the brass battering mills beside the river at Kelston and Saltford, their link to the slave trade and the ‘Benin bronzes’ in the British Museum, the Avon navigation and Bath’s stone industry.

23rd March 2021

At our Annual General Meeting, David Noble introduced our next project of researching chapels and churches. There were not less than thirteen places of worship In Oldland Common, Bitton, North Common, Bridgeyate, Willsbridge, Upton Cheyney/Beach and Swineford. They have formed a huge part of our social history and the character of our area. David will outline how we can work together to ensure that this important part of our recent local past is retained. Please contact us with any documents, photos or memories to add to the research.

Whitson March at barry Road, Oldland Common: photo courtesy a local resident

February 2020 Meeting: David Noble with a DVD on Oldland Common

What a wonderful trip back to our childhood David Noble provided with his DVD of Oldland Common. The film brought back the enduring friendship and public spirit of people at that time. We saw how everyone has looked after each other, working hard for the good of the local community. David brought together members of the original Oldland Football Club team that won the Gloucestershire FA cup in 1950, to replicate their original photo. In another incredible section was saw the Oldland Horticultural Society Show where in some years there were more than 6,000 visitors.

Nov 2019 Meeting – Canon Ellacombe: Bitton’s famous clergyman gardener by Wendy Smale – 21 Nov 2019

The name Ellacombe is virtually synonymous with Bitton, father and son having served as vicars to the parish for almost a century between them. Both were keen gardeners, as were many clergymen in those days. The talk looked at Canon Ellacombe within the timeline of clergymen gardeners and discussed the exceptional standing he achieved in horticultural circles and the contributions he made to the world of plants and plantsmen.

October 2019 – The English Civil War

The English Civil War of (1642–1651) between Parliamentarians (“Roundheads”) and Royalists (“Cavaliers”) over the manner of England’s governance and issues of religious freedom including the Battle of Lansdown Hill – a talk by Professor Ronald Hutton

July 2019 – The lost industry of hat-making in Oldland Common

In the early 19C hat-making was the most important local industry employing half of the population of Oldland Common. Many of the hat-making cottages and workshops still survive. Mike Gates was our tour guide taking us on a virtual guided tour and talking about the lives of the hat-makers.

June 2019 – The life of Sir Bernard Lovell

Sir Bernard was our most famous local person. He established the Jodrell Bank Observatory and constructed the then-largest steerable radio telescope in the world, the Lovell Telescope. The talk will be on his fascinating life and achievements.

May 2019 – Photos of Bitton and Oldland Common

We held an informal drop-in evening on 29 May to visit the Kingswood Heritage Museum to view an amazing collection of photos of Bitton and Oldland Common. A large number of these photos have not been seen before by most of our members. David Noble (the author of local history books such as An Oldland Boy Looks Back) together with Roger Fowler and Alan Bryant answered many questions on the photos.

West Street, Near Court Road:
photo courtesy local resident

April 2019

John Cennick: The forgotten Kingswood Evangelist – We were lucky to have the foremost historical and author on Methodism, Gary Best to talk about Kingswood’s forgotten evangelist, John Cennick, whose local preaching led to cultural and social changes that we can relate to today

January 2019 – Show and Tell

‘Show and tell’ based on ‘What did your Grandfather or Grandmother do? Included in the many talks was an outstanding contribution from Penny Deverill which is linked to here > Worlock Grandparents-talk

December 2018 Meeting – The history of Bitton Mill.

Tony Wilmott gave a slide presentation and talk on the history of Bitton Mill at St Mary’s Church. Many of the slides shown are available using the following link:

November 2018 Meeting – Douglas Motorbikes

Bill Douglas introduced us to the history of the world-famous Douglas motorbikes. First manufactured in Kingswood from 1907, some 25000 were constructed for military use in the First World War. As well as Bill’s highly entertaining talk we also saw the fine display of historic Douglas bikes at Kingswood Museum.

October 2018 Meeting – David Noble – Oldland Common

Eighty of us packed North Common Village Hall for a wonderful film made by David Noble and his friends Steve and Sue Brown. All eyes were glued to the screen, where so many old friends, neighbours and family told the story of Oldland Common since the 1940s. The evening was bursting full of anecdotes about school life, the local shops, pubs and sports.

July 2018 Meeting – ‘Killed in a Coalpit – Doreen Lindegaard

Doreen Lindegaard showed us a fascinating but sometimes macabre history of local coal mines. Her talk ‘Killed In a Coalpit’ provided an insight into the miners’ lives and the dangerous world of coal mining. Doreen has scoured newspaper reports, church and coroner’s records to find out more about some of the names whose deaths are recorded alongside the single line ‘killed in a coalpit’.

May 2018 Meeting – Kingswood Heritage Museum

At our visit to Kingswood Heritage Museum 23rd May we were treated to a fascinating evening, a relaxed atmosphere and a warm welcome. Alan Bryant highlighted some of the remarkable displays.

March 2018 Meeting – Local Buildings

We focused on local buildings with highlights being Kay’s explanation of the changes to the thatched cottages of Upton Cheyney, Penny Deverill’s slides of ‘The Checkers’ pub and No.46 School Road, and a huge display of local historic photos provided by David Noble.

January 2018 Meeting- Wandering and Begging: Children who lived on the streets of Bristol

Our speaker was Shirley Hodgson, who has written and talked extensively on the subject of the vagrant children of Bristol. Shirley told us about the children who were orphaned, or abandoned locally and left destitute on the streets in Victorian times. Some were fed and educated by charities, churches and industrial schools, but many were left impoverished in workhouses, reformatories, or on the streets.

November 2017 Meeting – The social effect of Methodism in our area

8 November
Gary Best talked about ‘The Social Impact of Methodism on Bristol in the Eighteenth Century’. Gary Best is a well-known historian and writer, has written extensively on the history of Methodism and is a former Head of Kingswood School. In the eighteenth century our local area, around Kingswood, was known for lawlessness and rebellion and yet one hundred years later it was described by the historian Abraham Braine as a peaceful, orderly place with hard working, contented inhabitants. It cannot be a coincidence that Methodism, among other non-conformist religions, had become widespread as the religion of local people.

October 2017 Meeting: – Excavation of Roman buildings at Hanging Hill

Tony Roberts of Archeoscan, explained how a dig had originally started in 2012 with digging test pits, which revealed the corner of a building, thought to be 3rd Century. After carrying out magnetic imaging surveys, the work was continued in 2015 and revealed the lightweight foundation of a building and a series of bakery ovens and quernstones. At the same dig, painted plaster and pottery imported from southern France, indicated that there was a more significant building nearby. Intriguingly, a massive boundary wall was uncovered, some 2 yards wide, suggesting the site was either a villa, a public space, such as a temple, or a fortress.

The archeologists were eager to continue the work this year, despite being severely hampered by bad weather. Further work showed that the lower terrace they had worked on was indeed an industrial working area with a bakery, iron working, pin manufacture, and the splitting of sandstone. Then came a breakthrough just two weeks ago, when, as well as lots of interesting pins, bowls, coins and other artefacts, a piece of carved monument, possibly the corner of an alter stone was found. Then a few days before the dig was due to finish, some pink (ochre) painted wall plaster, a mortar floor and what is possibly a bath house was found.

June 2017 Meeting: An evening about Rebecca Worlock 27 June

Many thanks to Adam, Bel and Penny for a very informative and enjoyable evening about Rebecca Worlock, Rebecca murdered her husband in 1820, by mixing poison in his beer. She was hanged for this crime the same year, in Gloucester Gaol. Bel now lives in the house where Rebecca was born and raised and offered her own thoughts about the story which haunts her more and more. Penny Deverill kindly shared so much of the research she carried out for her book ‘Two Penneth of Poison’. Adam generously showed his much acclaimed short film about the trial.

Further details of Rebecca Worlock are shown here