Warmley & Siston – One Hundred years of history – Part 2 of 7 – 1914 – 1930
The 4th August 1914 is the day that the British Empire, the largest the world has known, began its decline. Germany had invaded Belgium and Britain, who had sworn to support her along with France, was instantly drawn into the conflict. At midnight on the 4th Britain declared war on Germany. The devastation of little Belgium saw many refugees stream to our safe shores and a number were cared for in Warmley.
The reserve army was quickly mobilised. This included Bill Johnson of Tower Road North who soon found himself in the thick of the fighting. At the Battle of Mons, Bill received a ‘Blighty’ when a machine gun bullet went straight through his thigh and he spent the remainder of the war transporting hand grenades for Cranes Factory.
One of the first local men to be killed in action was Private Arthur Bendrey of Bridgeyate. Private Bendrey served with the 1st Gloucesters. He died on the 2nd November and although he has no known grave his name is recorded on the Menin Gate, Ypres.
Lord Kitchener, the Hero of Khartoum, was given the task of recruiting a new army and by the end of the month the trickle of volunteers had grown to a torrent. Soon the 12th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment, ‘Bristol’s Own’, was formed.
Many fresh faced young men from this area, looking for a quick adventure, found themselves with the 12th. For them the war wouldn’t end by Christmas as they thought, but in 1916 at the Battle of the Somme.
As the war progressed and all the volunteers had gone, conscription was brought in, taking the cream of the young males away from the local industries. The female population replaced the absent men in offices, factories, farms and the transport systems, proving they could do the job as well, or some times better, than the men. Even St. Barnabas bellringers became an all female team.
Douglas Motorcycles of Hanham Road, Kingswood, won an army contract and produced 25,000 machines for the use of dispatch riders in the worst terrain of the Front. The disused spoil heap from the colliery on Siston Common saw hundreds, if not thousands, of machines being tested on its steep crater-like slopes.
Training for the front sometimes took about eighteen months and in the early years of the war there were not enough camps for these new recruits. It was often the case that soldiers would have no uniforms or weapons and sometimes went home to bed and had to return by first light.
In June, the 11th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment were stationed in the Warmley area. Sometimes six men were billeted in local houses, forming contacts which survived long after the war ended.
The local population also had the task of entertaining ‘Tommy’ until they were moved to other quarters.
In July one of the most fierce thunderstorms on record occurred over the district. As the sky blackened on this summer Sunday, the power of the elements was let loose creating a spectacle of noise and lightening to match many a battle across the English Channel.
As the thunder and lightening eased a terrific hailstorm started, stones as big as eggs crashed out of the sky, causing damage to crops and property the like of which had never been seen before.
The Smith family, who had large greenhouses at their nursery in Stanley Road, had to replace hundreds of panes of glass following the storm.
In October the most famous cricketer the world has known, passed away. William Gilbert Grace, who was born at Downend, played many of his early matches against teams from the surrounding villages. He was a practising doctor and may have stood in at the family surgery in the centre of Kingswood where many local people went for a consultation.
Warmley’s principle contribution to the war effort came from Crane’s Fireworks Factory, which switched production from fireworks to hand grenades, or Mills Bombs as they were called. In this period the workforce increased to nearly 100, mostly young women, who when filling the boxes of grenades to be shipped to the Front, would often slip a little note for the Tommies to find, and frequently they would receive a reply, sometimes in a foreign language.
Ten million grenades passed through Warmley Station during the war which shows what a tremendous effort the firm made throughout the duration of the war.
For recreation, these fit young women formed themselves into a tug-of-war team, calling themselves the ‘Warmley Grenadiers’. They proved formidable opposition during tournaments in the district, including events at Douglas Sports Days and other challenge matches.
This was the fourth year of the war, and for one family-in Warmley it could not have been worse. Thomas and Emily Toghill, lived in Tower Road North, next to the Blackhorse Inn. They had raised a large family and when the call to arms came their sons were not slow in coming forward to fight the enemy.
The dreaded telegram from the War Office came no less than three times to the door in Tower Road and the grief that fell on the Toghill household was shared by the whole community.
Herbert T. (James) Toghill, (201247), Lance Corporal in the 2/4th Battalion Gloucester Regiment, died of wounds, 29.9.1917, aged 25, and is buried at Duisans British Cemetery, France.
Lance Corporal H.J. Toghill lost his life half-way up the line on the 29th September (1917).
His officer, Capt. Gordon Wansbrough, writing to his relatives said ‘Ever since we came out here he has done excellent work, and no one could have done his duty better or more cheerfully.’
Joseph Toghill, (16067), Private in the 11th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, died on the 12th February 1917 aged 20 and is buried in the Karasouli Military Cemetery, Greece. The Observer reported on 17.3.1917; news from Salonica of the death in action on the 12th February of Pte Toghill of the Worcesters…. He joined up 18 months ago (Sept.1915), he was killed by a shell instantly. He was 20 years of age..’ Joseph was in a machine gun section of the Worcesters.
Thomas H. Toghill, (265862), Private of the 1/5th Battalion Gloucester Regiment, was ‘Killed in Action’ at the age of 23. Thomas was the husband of May L. Toghill of New Cheltenham Road, Kingswood. He has no known grave but is recorded on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Passchendaele, France.
There were over three-quarters of a million British men killed in the Great War, and of those only five were called Toghill. A fourth was Samuel Henry Toghill, 3/7495, Private of the 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry. He was born in Siston, Glos., and enrolled in Bristol and was ‘Killed in Action’ in France at Flanders, 27th July 1916. He is remembered on the Kingswood Holy Trinity War Memorial and the High Street School Memorial.
In the last year of the war things were finally going right for the Allied Armies. The Americans had added their might and after the German offensive in March 1918 had petered out, the end was a foregone conclusion.
One of the last to die from our area was Private Albert James Harvey of the Royal Marines. He took part in the courageous blockade of Zeebrugge Harbour. Several hundred marines held off the German defenders as old ships were sunk to seal the entrance to enemy submarines. Private Harvey was mortally wounded and died in hospital in June. He is buried in St. Barnabas graveyard.
At 11am on the 11th November the signing of the Armistice took place and thus ‘The War To End All Wars’ was over. The war cost the lives of 29 former residents of the district, one in eleven of all those who went away were killed in action and another one in five received wounds. A considerable number were permanently mutilated and everyone lost a relative or friend in the conflict.
When word of the Armistice reached the Council offices in Stanley Road a large crowd began to gather and in no time banners were produced declaring ‘The End’ and a procession of elated villagers marched and cheered excitedly around the district.
In recognition of the sterling work contributed by the female population, all women over the age of thirty were given the vote for the first time.
In June of this year, Moses Brain, who for fifty years was Superintendent of the Congregational Chapel Sunday School, died aged 100. Moses was one of the original founders of the chapel in the 1840’s. He was born three years after the Battle of Waterloo and would have known people who worked for William Champion way back in the 1760’s. Even today he is remembered with respect and esteem by his many descendants and former pupils.
With the ending of the war, Warmley House and estate was put up for auction. The house and grounds were sold to Mr. Fred Brain, who had taken over the flour mill in Chapel Lane. The Haskins Pottery Company, which had closed briefly during the war, was sold to Sir Seymour Williams, Clerk to Warmley Rural District Council, and was managed by his brother-in-law, Mr. Howes.
Parish elections had been suspended throughout the duration of the war. A Parish Council Meeting was held on 19th January at which it was resolved to erect ‘A Memorial to the Boys of the Parish slain in the War’.
The Committee included; Rev. Robertson, Rev. Rogers, Messrs. Rawlings, Taylor, Webb, Hembrough, Moore, Williams, Clark, Snell, Brain and Morgan. A fund raising programme was soon put in motion and a variety of activities planned.
The Warmley War Memorial Carnival organised a concert in September, with four-hourly performances of acts arranged by Miss Gwendolene Pyle. These included pianoforte duets, comic songs, dancing and even a song by Ben Fussell entitled ‘The Village Blacksmith’, very appropriate as this was his trade.
Earlier in the year some forty girls and young women from The Warmley National School performed their rendition of ‘The Enchanted Glen’. The operetta was presented by the school headmaster, Mr. William Moore and his wife, on St. George’s Day, April 23rd and 24th . The girls managed to raise a splendid 20, a considerable sum of money in those days.
Bridgeyate House, at the bottom of Chesley Hill Common, was 200 years old this year. In 1719, this early Georgian House was built on the Bristol to London Road, then called The Causeway, and is one of the oldest in the district, although in 1919 it was in Wick and Abson Parish.
Warmley Green was chosen as the site for the new War Memorial and as in 1920 enough money had been raised for it to be constructed, work was soon in progress. Warmley was allocated a German Field Gun to be positioned in front of the memorial, although the angle of the gun was the cause of some controversy as it was pointing directly at the houses opposite.
On Saturday the 14th August 1920 the service for the unveiling of the memorial took place. A procession of dignitaries emerged from the Union Offices to the sound of the Warmley Military Band. The Green was packed with the people who had come to witness this solemn occasion. The families and friends, workmates and old school chums, everyone in the village, knew and loved the lads who would never return.
There was a brief introduction by Mr. Charles Snell, the Chairman of the Memorial Committee, and at 2 oclock Lady Goldney performed the unveiling ceremony by pulling a cord which released the Union Jack which had covered the inscribed column. At the same time the park, which had newly planted trees and a holly hedge surrounding it, was declared open as a living memorial to the men who gave their lives.
The service was completed by a dedication and address from The Venerable J.G. Tetley, Arch deacon of Bristol and the hymn ‘Peace, Perfect Peace in this Dark World of Sin’ was sung. Finally the sound of the Last Post echoed across the packed assembly and, in time, having their own private memories and prayers, everyone drifted away.
In September of this year an exciting new development took place furthering the education of the young people in the district. Kingswood Secondary School, as it was known in the early days, was built around a group of buildings abandoned after the war.
It took almost the whole of the first term for the new school to settle into any routine. Starting from scratch, all the books and writing materials, as well as the school furniture had to be ordered and allocated. This was successfully achieved by the first headmaster, Capt. Eaton, with a small staff of five teachers.
The scholars were divided into three houses; Davies, Fussell and Haskins named after local dignitaries. The latter deserves some special mention, William Haskins was born in Tower Rank in 1853 and was brother of the Pottery owner, Joseph Haskins. Education played an important role in William’s life, knowing from his own experience that knowledge was the safest path to success. He was fundamental in supporting many Primary Schools and from his position in the District Education Authority fought for the opening of this school.
For the first few years the Secondary School was struggling to find its role but as it grew in size it grew in stature. By the third year there were ten teachers but still as yet had no assembly hall or proper library.
Some of the earliest scholars to go through the gates of the school in Brook Road were Millie Underdown, who later taught at Warmley School, and a young lad from Oldland called Bernard Lovell, later to become world renowned for his work at Jodrell Bank in the field of astronomy.
It was around this time that Siston lost its oldest building which is thought to predate Siston Court. Mound’s Court, sometimes called Mounts Court or Moon’s Court, is thought to have originally been one of the Royal Hunting Lodges in the Kingswood Forest.
Its greatest claim to fame is that Queen Catherine Parr, wife of King Henry VIII, a lady fortunate enough to outlive her husband, kept her Court at Mound’s Court for some seven or eight weeks. Why did Queen Catherine stay here and not Siston Court?
The answer must surely be that the original Siston Manor House was not fit for a Queen and the present Siston Court was not built until 1598. Perhaps it was the celebrated St. Anns Well, with its healing properties for those suffering from weak eyes, was the reason or the royal visit?
Mounds Court remained in the ownership of the Strange family for well over 300 years, a family name that appears in the very earliest parish records circa 1550. However by 1922 the prestigious and ancient building was in a poor state of repair and John Davis, father of the present owner, decided to rebuild the Court.
The present building stands on the foundations of the old house and incorporates its original cellar. There are said to be passageways from the cellars that travel great distances.
One of the many chimneys which broke the Warmley skyline was demolished this year. John Hembrough, youngest son of W.J. Hembrough, began working for the family firm. One of his first tasks was to help with the demolition of the old colliery stack on the opposite side of the road from their offices.
John had to get a number of iron spikes from Ben Fussell, the local blacksmith, which were then driven into the walls, inside the chimney. After climbing up inside, the workers then pulled the top 6-8 feet of brickwork down by ropes. The remaining stones were hit from inside and cleared until the structure was down to ground level.
Of the 37 names on the Village War Memorial, twenty were former pupils of Warmley National School. As many of the men served with the Gloucestershire Regiments, it was fitting that a ‘Gloucesters’ man be invited to the ceremony when the school’s own memorial was erected.
In March, the unveiling was carried out by Lieut. Col. H.L. Baker, Commander of the 4th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment , and the plaque was dedicated by The Reverend Frederick Rogers of St. Barnabas Church.
The first marriage ceremony took place in March at Warmley Congregational Chapel. It wasnt until 1922 that the licence for marriages was given and the first to take their vows were Frank Selman and Doris Gingell.
With the expansion of Warmley National School, its smaller much older sister establishment at Webbs Heath ceased to be a viable place of education. For generations this tiny school room, barely bigger than a single classroom at Warmley National School, was the nearest place of education for the children of Siston Village, Webbs Heath and Goose Green.
It was a sad day for Webbs Heath when the last child crossed the threshold and joined the rest of the areas children at the school in London Road.
The school building was a frequent venue for the early Parish Council Meetings as well as being used as a sports pavilion for games on the levelled piece of Common opposite.
The Reverend F. Rogers, who had been the vicar of St. Barnabas Church from 1906, passed away this year. He had retired the previous year at the age of seventy and it would appear that no one was able to take his place until this year. However, the Reverend G.H. Dymock took over the role as incumbent of the parish for a brief spell from 1924-1926.
George Webb could be described as one of those rare individuals in these times, a real local character! George was born in 1842 and at the age of eight started his working life in a nearby coalpit. Inspired by the sounds of brass band music, he taught himself to play the cornet and at the age of thirteen he left the pit. George was now in his element. In a very short time he was able to ‘triple tongue’ on his cornet and was capable of producing 700 notes to the minute.
In 1862, he was the star player of ‘The Christie Minstrels’. From this time on he was often on tour but always returned to his roots where he had a wife and young family. Around 1882, George took part in a ceremony when the chimney stack at Haskins Pottery was heightened. When the chimney was completed George stood on the top run and played the National Anthem, God Bless the Prince of Wales and Auld Lang Syne.
The cornet was not the only instrument George mastered as he was able to handle many instruments, particularly the trombone. His ability did not stop there as he also became bandmaster to numerous bands but, in particular, the Warmley Military Band. At the turn of the century George Webb had produced scores of compositions for brass bands and his name was familiar all around Britain as well as on the Continent.
There is a story that the Black Dyke Mills Band were passing through Warmley station on their way to Bournemouth. They had persuaded the driver to stop the train so as they could meet their hero, George Webb. However, George had prepared a surprise for them and with the aid of a local brass band, the Black Dyke and Warmley Bands marched along the road, playing at full pitch and meeting in the middle of the village.
George ended his days with his daughter, Minnie Webb, in Stanley Road, who was a schoolmistress at Cadbury Heath School. One of Georges other children was Bill Webb, the cycle shop owner.
The post war depression was at its height in 1926 and the unemployed of the Warmley Rural District had to go to the Union Offices in Stanley Road for help in these dire times. Unlike today, money was allocated locally and unemployed men had to pass a demeaning means test before any assistance from the Board was given.
There are tales of people who possessed but a few shillings being told to go away and not be a burden on the parish.
In this year unemployed workers, who had had enough, staged a demonstration. They marched around the district four abreast and held a protest outside the offices in Stanley Road.
There was not a great deal that could be done with the limited funds available; however, the men were employed for three days a week, repairing and rebuilding roads and bridges throughout the district. They also levelled off the old rabbit warrens on Siston Common.
Siston Common was formerly known as Syston Warren, a map of 1867 even shows a Warrener’s house. These warrens were used to encourage rabbits to breed and feed in this area.
The rabbit fur was used in the hat industry and the flesh was sold for the pot. The hat industry had gone into decline at the end of the 19th century and the warrens had become a liability. Scores of these ancient warrens, some several hundred years old, were levelled off. Today only four remain in the area east of Fisher Road. Most people in the area do not know of their existence or their history.
No one knows how Warmley got its name but there is a theory that the old hamlet of cottages were in the ‘ley’ or lee of the warren and became known as Warrenley, if said quickly – Warmley. Over the years Warnley would have become Warmley.
Also in 1926 there was an increase in the size of Siston Parish, when the hamlet or village of Bridgeyate was transferred from Wick and Abson Parish to Siston. Until now, the parish boundary ended at the Griffin Inn on one side of the road and Wakeford’s Garage on the other. Bridgeyate Common and all the properties that fronted on to it looked to Wick as their administration area. After this date the boundary was moved to the top of Homeapple Hill, bringing parts of Cann Lane and Chesley Hill into Siston parish.
Blue Lodge stands just within the boundary of Siston Parish, however, the narrow lane leading to it is in Wick and Abson. Standing on top of an isolated hill the Lodge is on one of the most historical areas in the district.
Blue Lodge is described as possibly being on the site of one of the old Lodges in the Kingswood Forest. Another likely Hunting Lodge is Lodge Farm near Mangotsfield Golf Course.
Records from the early 18th century show that there were three churches in the parish of Siston, St. Annes, St. Bartholomews and St. Cuthberts. St. Annes is the only survivor and some speculation exists on the whereabouts of the other two churches. However, it is possible one of them was next to Blue Lodge, as one of the old field names adjacent to the Lodge was ‘Holly Ground’ or perhaps
Another ancient mystery is the location of the lost Manor of Churchley, partly in the Parish of Siston and partly in Wick and Abson. Old land documents give more clues, and show William Llewellyn as owning lands in Churchley. Stone monuments in St. Annes show the Llewellyn Family was living at Blue Lodge in the 18th Century.
In the last century, Blue Lodge became home for Anna Sewell and her parents. The family lived here in Siston for six years perhaps due to the isolation of Blue Lodge, they were happy years. Anna and her mother, Mary Sewell, did great charitable works with the inhabitants of Wick and became aware of the hardships they had to endure.
The Sewells were also conscious of the labours of their beasts of burden. The memories of the people and their horses of Siston were surely inspirationalin the writing of Anna’s best known work, ‘Black Beauty’.
Travelling through the district from the east, the first landmark to confront the traveller is the crossroads at the top of Bridgeyate Common. To the right is the Griffin Inn and on the left is the Griffin Garage.
In 1928, Ronald J. Wakeford started trading in a garage adjoining the Griffin Inn. This building he quickly out-grew and acquired a piece of land opposite where he constructed his own garage with a much larger forecourt. This was the first modem, purpose built, garage in the area as all the others were adapted from buildings which had formerly had other uses.
The garage was well positioned to pick up trade from the four roads leading to the crossroads, as well as from the public house and weekly market opposite. From the early days, the garage has been registered with the RAC., and when M.O.T., tests were introduced the garage quickly acquired the appropriate equipment.
Ron Wakeford took a leading role in local politics and was Chairman of Warmley R.D.C. from 1954-55. The social life of the area also benefited from Rons talents and for fifteen years he was Chairman of Warmley Memorial Hall and Community Centre. When the Community Centre’s Social Club opened in 1977, Ron became its first President and held this position until 1984.
The latticed railway footbridge at Warmley Station had deteriorated since its erection thirty years earlier and it was in this year that the Midland Railway replaced it. The new bridge was of a girder construction with iron plates fixed to the sides. This gave a modest protection to the travellers from wind, smoke and steam as they crossed over the passing engines.
It was also about this time that a parcel store was added to the station buildings. It is interesting to note that Warmley station buildings were constructed mainly from timber, whereas other stations on the Mangotsfield to Bath line were mostly built of brick or stone.
Whether this was a cost cutting exercise by the Midland Railway Company we shall never know but it does seem strange that the Warmley station, serving Wick and Kingswood, was so poorly provided for. Perhaps to make up for this the station’s platform gardens were always a picture, the station master and his staff taking a pride in keeping them well tended.
W.J. Hembroughs & Sons have probably built more of the homes in Siston and Warmley than any other builder. In 1899, William Hembrough moved from Little Brook Farm, Goose Green, to Norman Road. He was general foreman for several large firms and was in charge of the construction of Hanham Road School in 1906.
From 1910 to 1919, he was a member of Siston Parish Council and in the latter year became Clerk of Works for Warmley R.D.C.
In the 1920s, William Hembrough was working for himself and one of his first major projects was to put a main sewer under London Road. By the end of the decade all four of his sons were working for the business and in 1930 they had become a limited company trading as W.J. Hembrough and Sons.
The firm had first leased the Crown Colliery site from Lady Goldney and later bought it outright. Over the years, Hembroughs have employed hundreds of building tradesmen in the district, many of whom started as apprentices and then set up in business on their own account.
Properties built by Hembroughs include houses in Siston Park, Church Avenue, London Road, Station Road, Tower Road North, as well as estates at Mangotsfield and elsewhere.