The house was built in 1836 by William Munro of Druid Stoke House - he could presumably have watched the progress of his building project across the fields from his house. It was built in the Elizabethan style, with dining, drawing and morning rooms, a housekeeper's room or study, china pantry and spacious kitchens above arched cellars. It had eight bedrooms, two dressing rooms, water closets and piped water.
The first purchaser, Thomas Bowman, lived there for only a few years, then advertising the house for sale as a 'substantial, elegant and commodious freehold residence... with lawns, gardens, orchard and land surrounding the same, containing in the whole 33 acres... fitted up with every attention to the comfort and convenience of a Gentleman's family'. The outbuildings comprised a coach house, stabling for four horses, harness room with servants' bedroom over, wood house, etc. The gardens and orchard were described as being 'in the first order, and are stocked with Standard and Wall Fruit Trees of the choicest kinds in full bearing'; the land 'is in the highest state of cultivation and on it are all requisite Farm Buildings'.
The 1849 sale advert in the Bristol Times and Mirror read:
'To persons resident in the neighbourhood of Clifton, the situation of Stoke Lodge, and its peculiar beauties, need no commendation; but strangers who have only heard generally of the exquisite Scenery between Clifton, Durdham Down, and the mouth of the Avon, can form but a faint idea of the charms of this most desirable Property.'
Stoke Lodge was next owned by a solicitor, George Pope, who is recorded on the 1851 census living there with his wife, children Sarah, Louisa and John and four servants. George seems to have been upwardly mobile and by 1861, he is recorded as a 'Landed Proprietor' with a cook, parlourmaid and housemaid living in, but also three families in the recently-built Lodge cottages: these were a coachman and his wife; a 'Labouring Gardener' with his wife and five children; and the gardener and his wife and two children: altogether 21 people living and working on the Stoke Lodge estate.
George Pope seems to have been particularly exercised by threats to public access to the Downs, writing to the Western Daily Press in March 1862 that:
'it is of the first importance that downs and commons should remain altogether open for the recreations of the great majority of the citizens, whose games and amusements are most largely promoted and encouraged by open, undivided spaces of turf in a pure and invigorating air. This is most essentially needful for the old city of Bristol, with its dirty courts and alleys, its increasing multitudes, and with the threatened prospect of closed squares, etc...'
Closer to home, Stoke Lodge maintained livestock including a herd of Kerry cows and also prizewinning poultry: John Pope won first prize for the best drake and duck at the Bath & West of England Show in 1872. Various flowers and produce were grown and sold - an advert in November 1869 offers two dozen specimen pelargoniums of leading varieties; another, dated 30 December 1865, offers 'ten tons of capital swedes, topped and cleaned for immediate use' at 21 shillings a ton.
By 1871, George had retired; Sarah died in 1878 and George in 1888. Later that year his older son George (who was presumably away at school at the time of the 1851 census) became High Sheriff of Bristol, having been, as Treasurer of the Merchant Venturers, 'more closely associated than anyone else' with the 'erection of the splendid schools in Unity Street, which are the theme of world-wide admiration, and with the planning of the girls' school which is in course of erection in Cheltenham Road' (Bristol Mercury, 13 October 1888).
The next owner following George Pope's death in 1888 was merchant William Budgett, with his new wife Georgiana and daughter Evelyn and five live-in servants. William's family had made their money in the wholesale grocery business, and William seems to have brought his interests home with him:
'Mr Budgett first commenced to acquire Jersey cattle some ten years ago, when finding that there was a large demand in the neighbourhood of Stoke Bishop for the best dairy products... The beautiful neighbourhood of Stoke Bishop and Clifton Down being very populous, this dairy soon obtained a great local reputation, and a demand arose, not alone for the butter, but for the cows that produced it, and some of these were therefore occasionally sold. The herd having now increased beyond the capabilities of the farm... they were met to conduct the sale of a herd of animals which had been a source of ornament and usefulness to that neighbourhood.'
Western Daily Press, 10 June 1892
William was elected to Gloucester County Council in 1895, having advertised his platform as being:
- against the expansion of Bristol (Stoke Bishop was at this stage outside the boundaries of the city);
- in favour of keeping expenses low, having due regard for the efficient administration of affairs, and
- against party politics entering into Council business.
Under his ownership, the house was extended and a drive built across the estate, emerging on Ebenezer Lane next to the Lodge cottages. In hot weather you can easily see the line of the driveway across the grass; it is also slightly raised to keep the wheels of horse-drawn carriages out of any mud.
William's wife Georgiana would go on to play a vital role on the home front during the First World War, as founder and secretary of the Bristol branch of the Red Cross. It is reported that in 1915/16 she was shown a letter from a Bristol soldier held prisoner in a German POW camp, telling of terrible conditions and lack of food. She started a fund to send food and clothing to Bristol and Gloucestershire captives in German POW camps - the invention of the Red Cross Parcel.
From 1897 Stoke Lodge was occupied by Edward James, his wife Mabel and sons Burnet and Gilbert. Edward appears to have married into the role of tobacco manufacturer, having been born into a brewing family and then married Mabel, daughter of Sir George Edwards, and risen to become managing director of Edwards, Ringer and Bigg Ltd. This was one of thirteen companies that merged in December 1901 to form the Imperial Tobacco Company, alongside another much larger Bristol tobacco company, WD and HO Wills.
Edward James was Master of the Merchant Venturers in 1895/6, and was a councillor and alderman before holding the offices of High Sheriff in 1900 and of Lord Mayor twice, in 1904/5 and again in 1907/8. He was knighted on 9th July 1908 during the royal visit to open the Royal Edward Dock.
Clearly, the James family was expected to play a very public role in the life of the city. Stoke Lodge was used for entertaining as well as public charitable events, setting a course that would continue with future owners.
In 1901 one hundred soldiers from the Bristol Crimea and Indian Mutiny Veterans' Association were entertained to a 'sumptuous tea' at the Lodge and 'indulged in a number of outdoor amusements, the Formidable band discoursing popular music'. In November 1900 adverts in the local press announced that Mrs James was 'at home' to receive guests during Advent week and on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month.
The 1901 census records the support required by the family (three members were present for the census; Burnet was a boarder at Charterhouse school) - in the house itself, there was a cook, parlourmaid, housemaid, children's maid and footman; one of the Lodge cottages housed a coachman, William Smith, with his wife Agnes and two children (William and Agnes!) plus a groom who boarded with them. The other cottage housed the gardener, James Clark, with his wife Mary and two children Elsie and Ethel.
The James family moved up Stoke Hill to Springfort in 1906 and, perhaps to mark the occasion, presented a new brass altar rail 'beautiful in design and workmanship' to St Mary's church. The rail was dedicated on Easter Sunday. The older son, Burnet, was an airman in World War I; he is among the fallen of Stoke Bishop named on the Memorial Cross.
By autumn 1906 Claude Basil Fry, grandson of the famous Fry's chocolate family, was living in Stoke Lodge with his wife Marion, daughter Helen and new baby son Maurice (whose birth was announced on 12 September from the Lodge). Fry’s chocolate company had become the largest commercial producer of chocolate in the UK, with products including Fry’s Chocolate Cream, Fry’s Turkish Delight and the invention of the Easter egg in 1873. Fry's was registered as a company in July 1912 as J. S. Fry & Sons (Africa) Limited, with Claude Basil Fry as one of the first directors. In 1919 J S Fry & Sons merged with Cadburys.
At this stage, Stoke Lodge housed the Fry family of four plus six servants: a cook, kitchen maid, parlour maid, house maid, nurse and under-nurse. In the Lodge cottages were Peter Painter, the chauffeur, and his wife Emma; and the gardener Herbert Chard, with his wife Annie and two children, Herbert and Frances.
Claude Fry was the Master of the Merchant Venturers, so the Stoke Lodge estate still played host to significant city events. On 15 April 1920, Field Marshal Haig, commander of British Forces on the Western Front in WWI, visited Bristol and received an honorary degree and the freedom of the City. It was evidently quite an occasion and the Western Daily Press reports that Earl Haig took time to meet and speak in support of the welfare of ex-servicemen. Along with other festivities and celebrations Lord and Lady Haig were hosted to dinner by the Merchant Venturers; they then stayed overnight at Stoke Lodge. The following day 'the eminent soldier greatly pleased the children by visiting Stoke Bishop school'.
The Fry family eventually moved further up Stoke Hill to Howecroft and the Misses Butlin (Annie, Mary and Emily) took up residence in January 1923. They had previously lived at The Grange, Saville Road, and seem to have left following the death of their father a few years previously. The sisters were soon advertising for a 'good plain cook, not under 35', as well as a housemaid (not under 30), with a note that a between maid was also kept. The oddly specific age requirements varied over time - by June 1944 the Misses Butlin required that their cook be at least 41 years old. The estate no longer seems to have been used for livestock, but an advert in June 1923 offers for sale by auction about 16 acres of grass in three lots, plus about 3 acres of winter oats.
The Butlin sisters enjoyed a high profile role in Bristol society events, from opening a chrysanthemum bazaar to hosting garden parties for the Stoke Bishop Women's Unionist Association and the National Laymen's Missionary movement, as well as 'at home' events to give friends the opportunity to meet visiting notables including the Lord Bishop of Gibraltar, and sales of work in aid of the Bristol and Clifton Biblewomen's Mission.
'By the kindness of Miss Butlin the garden party for schoolboys, arranged by the Bristol branch of the National Laymen's Missionary movement, was held on Saturday last at Stoke Lodge. In spite of the inclement weather between 40 and 50 boys from the larger schools in Bristol were present. Exhibits illustrating the mode of life and religion of the peoples of China, India, Tibet, Labrador and the South Seas were shown.' Western Daily Press, 24 June 1924
The 1921-43 OS Map shows the north west corner of the field marked as a cricket ground, and it is said that the Misses Butlin would watch the local teams playing on the field, from the shelter of the belvedere - even at this early stage and in an era when it was surrounded by other open land, Stoke Lodge was already a venue for community sports.
Miss Annie Butlin died on 28 July 1940; following the death of Mary Elizabeth Butlin on 7 May 1946, Emily Gertrude, the last of the sisters, sold up. The sisters' effects were auctioned, including pictures, carpets, silver, plate, china, glass, clocks, a boudoir grand piano and a 22 HP Rolls Royce Drophead Foursome Coupe.
World War I
The Fry family was in residence at Stoke Lodge during WWI, but it's possible that the effects of that war were still being felt in the 1930s, during the time of the Misses Butlin. Tragedy struck in September 1933 when estate gardener Frederick Reed (56), drowned in a water-butt at his home, one of the Stoke Lodge cottages, as a result of what to modern ears sounds like shell shock or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mr Reed had been a prisoner of war for three and a half years and had suffered serious abdominal wounds; in around 1924 he had a memory lapse and went missing for eight days. In September 1933 he went missing for two days before apparently returning and being discovered next day by another gardener with his head and shoulders in the water tank; a verdict of 'suicide while of unsound mind' was recorded. Mr Reed was a member of the British Legion and left a widow and three sons.
World War II
During WWII, three Nissen huts were placed at the eastern edge of Stoke Lodge (these are still visible on the 1946 aerial photo on https://maps.bristol.gov.uk/knowyourplace/).
These seem to have been used as recreation huts (and possibly living quarters?) for American troops either passing through Bristol to camps elsewhere or having a period of rest from the front. Due to reporting restrictions, the newspaper archives are fairly thin on detail, but there were regular appeals for gifts of home comforts - gramophones, records, wireless sets, games, books, mouth organs, a piano, playing cards, dart boards, table tennis bats and balls - and more fundamental things like floor coverings, soap and warm clothing, to make recreation huts like these more welcoming.
Many soldiers were billeted in homes in Sea Mills and Stoke Bishop, particularly in the run-up to D-Day in 1944 when local barracks were already full of troops. Billets were for sleeping only; during the day the soldiers would be training (perhaps in the grounds of Stoke Lodge?) or working - particularly moving military supplies at the docks at Avonmouth and loading ships for the D-Day landings.
Pitch & Pay House was used as HQ for the 519th Port Battalion. 'The Holmes' (now within the Botanic Gardens) was commandeered in 1943 by the US Army; General Omar Bradley of the US 12th Army Group stayed there from 1944 together with staff officers and aides, and from there he planned his troops' role in the D-Day assault on the Normandy beaches.
Ten months after D-Day, the Western Daily Press of 4 April 1945 said of the US troops:
'They are lads who in the time of great pressure, when the multitude of fighting men were training in and around our city, were billeted in Bristol homes. They became almost members of the family and being lucky in the draw for leave, what more natural than that they should be welcomed back by the folk who got to know them so well and are happy in seeing them again.
A typical example is Ronnie - who had a long stay at a nice home at Stoke Bishop. There was sorrow when the call came in the middle of the night and all the Americans in the neighbourhood lined up on Stoke Hill to be picked up and taken away for the D-Day adventure. There was joy when Ronnie came back on leave; there will be greater joy when all the Ronnies, not only in Bristol but in other towns, come back as weary war veterans when hostilities in Europe are over, for rest prior to going home...'
Western Daily Press, 10 October 1947: 'Stoke Lodge Estate, Druid Stoke, an estate of about 22 acres which represents the biggest single area in Stoke Bishop not yet covered by houses, has been purchased by the Bristol City Council for over £25,000...
The Mansion has been in the occupation of the Misses Butlin for many years... A feature of the property has been the lovely cedars and other trees which must have given pleasure to very many passers-by. It is to be hoped that a number of these can be retained in the Education Committee's proposals.'
The Council's plans varied over the next few years; there were thoughts of making Stoke Lodge a refuge for children above nursery age who were 'deprived of a normal home life', pending a decision as to their future. Ultimately it became a nursery nurses' training college and then an adult education centre; the grounds were initially designated partly for temporary housing and health use (at one stage there was a proposal to build a health centre on the south-east corner) but through negotiations between Council departments it was ultimately agreed that the land should be laid out as playing fields.
In fact, by September 1947 the long association of local community sports clubs with Stoke Lodge had begun, with Westbury Harriers moving their headquarters to the grounds and holding cross-country events and ladies' hockey matches in late 1947. Four or five pitches were prepared in April 1948 as part of a national effort to make more playing fields available for community use; by June 1948 inter-county athletics matches were being held at Stoke Lodge as well as local rugby, football and cricket matches. Barton Hill Old Boys RFC restarted after the war in 1946, moving to Stoke Lodge from Eastville Park; the club used one of the wartime Nissen huts as a changing room, and was based at Stoke Lodge until 1958. Local authority schools - Fairfield up to 2000, then Cotham - used the pitches for school sports.
On a less serious note, the Bristol Co-operative Society held their first sports festival at Stoke Lodge in June 1949, with teams from London, Newcastle and Cardiff taking part in events from distance running, walking and relay races to egg and spoon, skipping and sack races - not forgetting obstacle races and the classic slow bicycle race, with an interdepartmental tug o' war which we are told was won by the Furnishing Department.
It wasn't all about sports, though - a wide variety of groups used Stoke Lodge for different purposes. Westbury Baptist Church held annual garden fetes at Stoke Lodge (in 1950 the programme included 'the crowning of the Rose Queen, a Punch and Judy show, concert, a comical cricket match, sideshows and pony rides'); in that year Stoke Lodge also played host to the Bristol County Scout and Rover Scout sports championships, with twelve districts competing. A political fete in July 1949 spurred a complaint to the Western Daily Press from a nearby resident about 'the noise, the singing and lastly the political speech, well amplified by loudspeakers... there was no alternative but to listen or being driven from our homes'. No such complaints were recorded about sports at Stoke Lodge!
Stoke Lodge was listed (Grade II) in June 1994 and is designated by the Council as Important Open Space. In 2004 when the Council was considering alternative sites for a new school, one of the reasons for choosing Redland playing fields rather than Stoke Lodge was that 'While both sites accommodate grass playing pitches that are used as detached playing fields by local schools... Stoke Lodge is far more enclosed than Redland playing fields because of the strong boundary that is formed by extensive trees and shrubbery... The Stoke Lodge site is characterised by its gentle topography, high level of enclosure, views into and out of the site and the parkland trees within the site... Stoke Lodge has a higher visual amenity due to the wide variety of trees that are in excellent condition spread throughout the site and as such represents parkland.' From community to sports clubs to planning design experts, we love our open space and our trees, and We Love Stoke Lodge!