Willsbridge was a hamlet in Saxon times, when it was known as ‘Wylesbrugge’, which derives its name from the Saxon for ‘the spring – or well- by the bridge’. The bridge was over Mill Clack Brook, which is now Siston Brook. But the settlements main importance would have been the well, known as ‘Goldwell’. The Rev. H.T. Ellacombe locates this for us: ‘a place lying on the south side of Stout’s Hill, near which place was a gate entering the forest’. In the late eighteenth century, the historian Rudder said that the water was ‘reckoned very fine and pure. There is a pump erected, and a can chained to it, for the use of travellers to drink as they go along.’
The Queens Head Pub
The Queen’s Head pub was originally a private house built from locally quarried stone built in about 1660. It became a licensed establishment in 1719, probably brewing beer with water from Goldwell or Mill Clack Brook.
The rank of industrial buildings which adjoined the pub was built around 1790 and included a hat-making business run by George Burgess and then by John Barlow. The Queen’s Head played an important part in our local history as it was used for vestry meetings about local administration and poor relief, the Court Leet (a poor man’s court), meetings of the Friendly Society, auctions and a meeting on the Enclosure Act of 1819 , whereby common lands were enclosed in Oldland Common, North Common, Cadbury Heath, Longwell Green and Hanham Common. Many more details are contained in Lydia Wells book ‘Time Honoured Cheer’, which is sadly out of print but available in many local LibrariesWest libraries.
The Railway Inn
The Railway Inn was right where the roundabout is now, leading to Keynsham, Bitton and Longwell Green. Although it was originally a 19th century pub, it later became ‘Georges Off-License and Central Stores’, demolished in 1962.
Note: Bitton Parish History Group covers just part of Willsbridge as defined by the borders of the parish council – Siston Brook to the north and the Lock Keeper pub to the south.
The Pearsall Family
The Quaker John Pearsall moved to live in a thatched cottage opposite the Queens Head in 1716. He built a water-powered mill for rolling and slitting hoop iron, used for roofing, now Willsbridge Mill. The Pearsall family built Willsbridge House, which was later sold to Captain Stratton who added castellations making it ‘Willsbridge castle’. Robert Pearsall, was a famous musician, who became great friends with H.T. Ellacombe. After moving to Germany in 1825, Pearsall continued to correspond regularly with Ellacombe, primarily about their common interest in madrigals.
The Tramway carried coal from the pit heads of Kingswood East to the river Avon at Londonderry Wharf, Keynsham, where it was transported, by barge, to the cities of Bath and Bristol. This was one of two termini. This second wharf saved time and money for cargoes bound for Bristol, as they did not have to pay tolls at the locks at Keynsham. The Willsbridge section of the Dramway was operational by 1833. At Willsbridge it ran through the Willsbridge Valley tunnel, then cut right across the road at Brockham Hill (where the mini roundabout now is). It remained in use at Willsbridge until about 1850, but then received a second lease of life when the California Colliery re-opened from 1876 to 1904. See the Dramway page: dramway
Early 20C Willsbridge
At the beginning of the 20th century, Willsbridge was quite a thriving place with a ‘dame school’ for children, a private boarding school at ‘The Querns’, a post office and grocery store at ‘Speedwell Cottage’, Bence’s butchers and slaughterhouse, which was in a building next to the Queen’s Head. On the other side of the road from the slaughterhouse was a tannery business, after which the cul-de-sac ‘The Tanyard’ was named. There was a coal merchants, wheelwrights, and a sweet and ice-cream shop.
The Post Office, Brockham Terrace
The Post Office started as Post Receiving House run by George Burgess, the landlord of the Queen’s Head pub. In 1901 it moved to what had been a grocer’s shop from 1880. Here the Post Office was to be run for the next 40 years by Alfred Bence and his family.
In 1935 Miss Dorothy Bence committed suicide by taking Lysol disinfectant, which would have caused a very painful death. Her body was found by Walter Francis Jefferies a postman from Oldland Common. At the inquest Dr. T. Aubrey said that it was a pity that some means could not be devised to check the use of Lysol for life-taking. The jury returned a verdict of “suicide by Lysol poisoning, during temporary insanity.” There had allegedly been irregularities at the Post Office and Miss Bence had twice been cautioned by the G.P.O.