Ashton Gatehouse

One gateway, two worlds


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Ashton and Bedminster

Where were people of Ashton and Bedminster living and working around the time the Gatehouse was built?

Bedminster had been a royal manor and a prosperous small town from the Saxon period through to the civil war. Retreating royal armies burnt Bedminster to the ground and by the start of the 19th century it had not recovered. Population was low, 3000 in 1801, and the availability of housing and employment was limited. The centre of ancient Bedminster was around Canon Street and the Saxon church of St John, now represented by a small park near McDonalds.

Areas towards the river and the site of St Catherine’s were sparsely populated but gradually land was given over to the smelly and unpleasant leather tanning industry and metal workings. The coal mines of Dean Lane, begun mid 18th century, grew larger taking over other smaller pits.  Some coal was stored along East Street and housing was needed for the many people who came from Somerset in search of work. None of these early houses have survived; they were often cramped courtyards with one toilet shared between many families.

Ashton was a series of scattered settlements on rich farmland with small scale mining, metal working and quarrying.  All of this was changed by the removal of communal farmland by land enclosures while the men were away fighting the Napoleonic wars and the development of major mining enterprises and metal workings.

Scattered coal and iron works could be found across Ashton Vale and into Bedminster from at least mid 17th century and possibly much earlier. The first deep mine shaft was sunk by Jarrit Smyth in the mid 18th century on South Liberty Lane and deep coal mining was firmly established by the start of the 19th century. The notorious Starveall pit was sunk 600 yards from the Ashton Gatehouse. Much closer to the Gatehouse, the small pits of iron and coal extraction scattered alongside the  Colliter’s, Ashton and Longmoor Brooks, were soon replaced by a growing industrial site which became the Ashton Vale Colliery and Iron Works.

The landscape at this time was more open with fewer trees; the land was black with coal dust ‘from Bedminster to Nailsea’; and men, women and children walked across the fields from Ashton to work in the coalmines. Amid it all, the locally produced strawberries and cream were popular with locals and tourists from Hotwells spa who braved the Rownham Ferry to visit the Ashton tea houses.