Crews Hole White House

ROB ACTON-CAMPBELL | Bristol, United Kingdom | Trooper's Hill, BS5

"A landmark around which there are woven many tales of romance and adventure."

The White House
Dr Fryer’s picture of “The White House” which was featured in an 'Images of England' Book of Crews Hole, St George and Speedwell by Dave Stephenson and other members of the Barton Hill History Group.

Susan and I moved to the Crews Hole area of east Bristol in 1998, to a modern house (built 1993) - one of three houses built on the same plot by the previous owner. At the time we knew nothing about the history of the area, one of the house’s main attractions was the wonderful view of Troopers Hill, seen here in May 2021.

Soon after we were involved in the setting up of Friends of Troopers Hill in 2003; a local resident told us that she had received a small payment in the 1980s as a result of the land our house was built on being finally sold by the administrators of the estate of her ancestor, Charles White, when a final distribution of funds was made to his descendants. Charles White had died in 1895.

We didn’t do any further research until December 2020, when Friends of Troopers Hill were sent the photo below. It was taken in the early 1900s and shows Elizabeth Bessell, outside her home in around 1910. It was sent to us by her great-great-grand-daughter, Jayne.

As soon as I saw the picture, I thought ‘that could be my garden’. On reading the email in more detail I saw that Elizabeth Bessell had indeed been a resident of the White House in Crews Hole. Some of the cottages that can be seen in the background are still standing, and the images below show Elizabeth superimposed on a recent photograph.

Another photograph shows Fred & William, Elizabeth’s two sons, this is taken further round the side of the house, the cottage behind them has now been demolished. It is interesting that whereas we now take photos with the glorious view of Troopers Hill in the background, these avoided the Hill. At that time the chimney may still have been in use and it was probably still a working quarry.

Information about another resident of the White House was sent to us by Sue White. Sue is the Great Great Grandaughter of James Limb, a Workman at lead works whose death at the White House, aged 83, on 20th December 1879 was reported in Western Daily Press on 26th December that year.

There is a family story that at one time the first James was Steward at the White House. He was waiting at table one day when his employer remarked "I shall remember you, Limb" (meaning to remember him in his will) when he fell forward dead. James Limb never received a penny. A further story tells of the White House being associated with fine music which drew crowds on Sundays!

Having received this information we looked further into the history of the White House.

The above extract from the 1840s tithe map of St George (taken from Bristol City Council Know Your Place maps) shows the White House as plots 684, 683 & 682. The Tithe Apportionment Index shows that plot 684, was a Methodist Meeting House in the ownership of Rev Robert Smith.

The reference to James Limb being a Steward at the White House (see above) may well therefore refer to his role at the chapel.

The Gloucestershire Places of Worship website has a page about Crews Hole Methodist Chapel this includes a reference to the "White House Chapel" at Crews Hole, St George as being in use in 1851, predating the 1853 Crews Hole Chapel.

It seems that the western half of the White House was the Meeting House for the Crews Hole Methodist congregation before they moved to the new chapel in 1853.

Writing in 1831, Elizabeth Emra, mentions the 'white house' in the 'Crews Hold' chapter of 'Scenes in our Parish'. Elizabeth was one of the daughters of Rev John Emra, vicar of St George from 1809 to 1842 - read more about the Emra family here.

Elizabeth describes a visit to 'Old Thomas' who lived in 'Crews Hold' and some of the stories he told. Elizabeth says "I have heard it said too that they fixed a cannon on the broken piece of rock, behind the white house, then one of the chief places of resort for the sailors, and threatened to fire at any vessel that came up the river to look after them".

Old Thomas replies "It is very like, why there’s a large cupboard, upstairs, where two of the sailors were hid for a day and a night, and the officers were forced, at last, to go away without them"

This 1926 'Britain from Above' photo shows the White House with its large chimneys and from the fact that there was washing hanging in the gardens it looks to be still occupied. It can be seen that they were imposing buildings, with the western half having a lower roof line. On older maps the area between Troopers Hill and Nibletts Hill was referred to as 'White's Hill' but it not known whether this is linked to the 'White House'.

The White House was demolished in 1939 and the site remained vacant until 1993, it can be seen below the balloon in this photo from 17th August 1985.

Its demolition was reported in the Bristol Evening Post on 17th January 1939, the report (found in the British Newspaper Archive) under the heading "Bristol Landmark Disappearing" also includes some comments about the building's history:

"A landmark around which are woven many tales of romance and adventure in the Crews Hole district of St. George is fast disappearing.

The White House, a substantially-built building reputed to be hundreds of years old, has been condemned as unfit for human habitation and a demolition gang is fast pulling it to pieces.

On the steep hillside overlooking the river it is reputed to have been at one time the haunt of smugglers and pirates, and tradition has it that there was formerly a secret underground passage leading from its cellars to the riverside.

The man who is in charge of the demolition work is the owner, Mr William White, to whom the house was left by his grandfather"

William White's grandfather was Charles White who had died in 1895. Charles White had bought the White House at auction for the sum of £250 on 28th Sept 1880.

The advert for the 1880 auction at which Charles White bought the four dwellings described:

"All those Four substantially built and commodious cottages with gardens and a stable and outhouse known as the WHITEHOUSE."

So the name White House appears to have been a coincidence and not connected to the White family.

You can read more about the White House and the history of Troopers Hill and the surrounding area on the Friends of Troopers Hill website:

Bridging Histories butterfly