I am from rolling fields, whence once Queen Anne did tread
ALEXANDER SMITH, BS5 | Bristol, United Kingdom
I am from the rolling fields,
Whence once Queen Anne did tread.
Then on throughout Industrial yields,
A new community spread.
I am from the terraced street,
Of washing on the lines.
And in the factories neighbours meet,
And sweat and tears combine.
I am from the slums declare,
“Must rid them from our sights!”
Once was a home would soon lay bare,
Where those monoliths now stand upright.
I am from that place forgot,
Though charity is not unknown.
From steeple high, to allotment plot,
We await our Heavenly home.
I am from where smells were strong,
Of tar, bone-yards and soot.
It was indeed a heady pong,
Now thankfully kaput.
I am from the working class,
Our memories still deeply held.
We once lifted high a glass,
Whilst the population swelled.
I am from where mopeds race,
And a ‘copter hovers in air.
Life here either moves at a pace,
Or sits still like a flytipped chair.
I am from this changing space,
Where guaranteed a thrill.
Our history we should all embrace,
I am from Barton Hill.
The poem begins where Barton Hill’s history begins - in rolling fields, farmlands, stables and orchards. Local legend states that when Queen Anne passed through Bristol in 1702 on her way to Bath, it is said that she stopped at Tilley’s Court House (now the former Barton Hill Infant & Nursery School) to powder her nose, and as a result this is where the name of the road, Queen Ann Road, comes from.
Then in 1837 as the Industrial Revolution continued, the Great Western Cotton Factory began to lay its foundations within the area, and with it came monumental changes not only to Barton Hill, but to the many surrounding neighbourhoods as well.
Rows and rows of terraced homes were built to house the workers that would labor within the Great Western Cotton Factory and the nearby industrial businesses within St. Philips, and along the newly constructed Feeder Canal. Some of these terraced streets still stand today, along with washing lines still in their respective gardens.
Working within the factories was indeed hard and dangerous and life in the area also came with strife. Many children and other residents in Barton Hill died from such diseases as cholera, and during the Cotton Famine of the 1860s.
Women who worked in the Cotton Factory would strike to demand better pay and safer working conditions.
The Cotton Factory was eventually demolished in 1968.
After the end of the Second World War, many of the terraced houses of Barton Hill were condemned by the City Council, and the “slums” as they were labelled began to be bulldozed to allow new “Homes for Heroes” to be constructed in their place. After the first tower block to be built outside of London (Barton House) was finished, more tower blocks would soon follow thereafter.
Barton Hill has always been a struggling working class area right back to the days of the Cotton Factory, and this has not changed. The area still ranks high within the city amongst the most “Economically Impoverished neighbourhoods”. But charity is always - and continues - to be found, whether it comes from neighbours helping neighbours, or outreach from the local church (St. Luke’s Church) (built in 1842-3 to serve the community), and other community organisations herein.
The steeple of St. Luke’s Church once rose high in the area amongst the chimneys and smokestacks, but was shortened in 1982 after being damaged.
Allotment gardens that were once used by residents in the area and stretched down to the Feeder, were built on and now form the Barton Hill Trading Estate.
As a result of such heavy industrialisation within and around the area, there were once very heady smells of everything from tar from Butler’s tar-works, rotting flesh from Coles bone-yard (now today’s Cole Road) and soot from the railway line. Those smells are now just memories as businesses have come and gone, but have now been replaced with exhaust fumes from all manner of vehicles travelling to and thro the Industrial Estate, the railway line, other nearby businesses, or from trains on the railway siding.
All Barton Hill residents will have their own individual memories of the area, however more longterm residents of the area will of course have many more memories of places now long gone, including the many pubs that once stood on the Hill and now turned - or are currently being turned - into flats to allow more residents to move into the area, further increasing the overall local population (par from the exception of the Rhubarb Tavern, the last pub in the area that has not been turned into flats yet. However, plans have been submitted to do just that, and there is tremendous pushback against these plans from the local community, and the community further afield).
The sights and sounds of mopeds racing past in the streets, and a police helicopter hovering overhead, is a common sight and wherever I go in the world if I see and/or hear them, I think of Barton Hill.
And changes that come into the area tend to come dramatically (such as the post-war “slum” clearances for the tower blocks to be constructed, or the “New Deal” redevelopments at the turn of the Millennium that saw more buildings be demolished and land repurposed for housing).
But aside from when these major changes come and go, day-to-day area life remains very much the same....
....including persistent flytipping.
All of these things - and more - make up the history of this area, and living here my whole 25 years, I too have become part of its history, and I feel it important for those who come to live in Barton Hill to know of the history of their neighbourhood. For all the good and the bad, this is still my - and our - home.