UK Genealogy Archives logo

Clifton (St. Andrew)

CLIFTON (St. Andrew), a parish and favourite watering-place, and the head of a union, in the county of the city of Bristol, 1¼ mile (W.) from Bristol, 14 miles (N. W.) from Bath, and 121 (W. by S.) from London; containing 14,177 inhabitants. This place, by some antiquaries supposed to have been a British town prior to the Roman invasion, and to have been called Caeroder, or the "city of the chasm," derives its present name from its romantic situation on the acclivities and summit of a precipitous cliff, apparently separated by some convulsion of nature from a chain of rocks on the Somersetshire coast. The river Avon, which at spring tides rises to the height of 46 feet, and is then navigable for ships of very large burthen, flows with a rapid current through this natural chasm, forming the southern and western boundaries of the parish, and dividing the counties of Gloucester and Somerset. The lower part of the town, called the Hot Wells, and formerly the more populous, is situated at the base of the cliff, and has a mild and genial atmosphere, peculiarly adapted to delicate and consumptive constitutions. It first rose into importance from the efficacy of its hot springs, originally noticed in 1480 by William of Worcester, the topographer of Bristol, and brought into general celebrity in 1632, when the water was applied externally in cases of cancer and scrofula, and internally in cases of inflammation, dysentery, and hemorrhage. These waters issue from an aperture in the rock, about ten feet above lowwater mark; their mean temperature is about 71° of Fahrenheit; they contain a portion of sulphuric-acid, but are peculiarly soft and pleasant to the taste, and free from any offensive smell. At the time of the earthquake at Lisbon, the water became so red and turbid for some days, as to be unfit for use. A new pump-room, with hot and cold baths, and containing also apartments for the residence of invalids, a neat building of the Tuscan order, has been erected at an expense of £8000, by the Society of Merchants of Bristol, who are lords of the manor of Clifton, near the site of the old house, which was built by subscription in 1770. Gloucester House, formerly the only hotel of any note, and whence the steam-packets to Ireland regularly sail, is still much frequented, from its proximity to the Hot Wells. Dowry square and parade, Hope-square, Albemarle-row, and St. Vincent's parade, all contain respectable lodginghouses, fitted up with a due regard to the accommodation of visiters of every rank, and of which some have not unfrequently been the temporary residence of royalty. At Mardyke, on the lower road to Bristol, is a saline mineral spa, said to have been found efficacious in visceral complaints.

On the south-western brow of the hill, and protected on the north and east by the summit of the cliff, is situated that part of the town properly called Clifton, about half a century since consisting only of a few scattered dwellings, but now of piles of stately edifices of Bath stone, forming, from the beauty of their architecture, a conspicuous and imposing feature in the landscape for many miles. This portion, like the Hot Wells, owes its origin and rapid increase to the efficacy of a similar spring issuing from the rock into a well 320 feet in depth, sunk at an immense expense, in 1772, and from which 30,000 gallons of water are daily raised by a powerful steam-engine, and afterwards propelled to an additional height of 120 feet, and distributed through pipes to most of the respectable houses on the hill. There are some splendid ranges of buildings, and handsome hotels, with every requisite accommodation, and commanding beautiful and extensive views. Near the summit of St. Vincent's Rock, so named from an ancient chapel dedicated to that saint, was a snuff-mill, which, by a grant from the lords of the manor, Mr. West, an ingenious self-taught artist, has converted into an observatory, furnished with powerful telescopes and a camera; it embraces a most widely extended and diversified prospect, comprehending not only the romantic scenery in the immediate neighbourhood, but a distant view of the Bristol Channel and the Welsh mountains, and the pleasing villages with which the county of Gloucester is thickly studded. The nurserygrounds of Mr. Miller comprise more than 60 acres, beautifully laid out, and forming one of the most favourite resorts of this attractive place. There are some elegant private mansions, among which may be noticed that of Mr. Goldney, and that built by Sir William Draper, the opponent of Junius, in the front court of which are a plain monument to the distinguished Earl of Chatham, and a cenotaph to the memory of those officers and men of the 79th regt. who fell in India.

The town is well lighted with gas, and improvements are constantly in progress. The Society of Merchants have formed a beautiful road, winding round the side of the rocks from the Hot Wells to Clifton Down; the extensive commons, also, have been partially planted. There is no regular market; but from its proximity to Bristol, the town is well supplied with provisions of every kind; and the prices of all articles, either of clothing or food, may be considered on an average full 15 per cent. lower than those of the metropolis. The £10 householders are entitled to vote for the representation of Bristol. The parish contains 910 acres, comprehending the site of the town and adjacent buildings. The living is a perpetual curacy; net income, £782; patrons, the Trustees of the late Rev. C. Simeon; impropriator, James Taylor, Esq. The church, a spacious structure in the later English style, was erected in 1822. A church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, and accommodating 1600 persons, has been built at the Hot Wells, for the poor; and there are a private Episcopal chapel, and a district church dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, the latter in the later English style, and erected by the Bristol Diocesan Association. Christ church, at Clifton Park, was consecrated in Oct. 1844; it is of the style which prevailed about the middle of the 13th century, and affords accommodation to 1000 persons. The livings of Holy Trinity church, Christ church, and St. John's, are perpetual curacies, the two first in the patronage of Simeon's Trustees, and the last in the gift of the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol. There are places of worship for the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion and Wesleyans; also a floating chapel for seamen, called the Clifton Ark; and a Roman Catholic chapel in a superb style of Grecian architecture. The poor law union of Clifton comprises 12 parishes or places, and contains a population of 66,233.

On the summit of St. Vincent's Rock are the remains of an encampment of three or four acres, defended by three ramparts and two ditches; the inner rampart, which is in no part more than five feet in height, is supposed to have been surmounted by a wall. Its extent, from one side of the rock to the other, is 293 yards, and on the side next the river is a deep trench, thought to have been cut during the civil war of the seventeenth century. Its origin is ascribed to the Romans, who are said to have placed here the first of that chain of forts which they erected to defend the passage of the Severn. In the immediate neighbourhood, and in various parts of the parish, numerous Roman and Saxon coins have been found; and at a short distance, in the parish of Westbury, are the remains of a Roman way. In the rocks, lead and a very rich iron-ore have been discovered, but not in sufficient quantity to be worth working; and in the fissures of the rock, and more especially in digging the foundations of houses, are found the beautiful quartz crystals called Bristol diamonds, remarkable for their naturally formed and highly polished hexagonal surfaces, and equalling in transparency those of India, to which they are inferior only in hardness and durability: they are generally imbedded in nodulæ of ironstone, of the same colour as the soil. Anne Yearsley, who in the humble situation of a milk-woman, displayed great poetical talent, and produced several literary works, was a native of this place; she died in 1806, at Melksham, in the county of Wilts. Sir Humphrey Davy commenced his career here, as assistant to Dr. Beddoes, an eminent physician; and among the numerous distinguished persons who have made it their retreat was Mrs. Hannah More, who here ended a life devoted to literature and good works.


Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.