June 2021: Local History - A history of Rodway Hill House

May 24 2021

David Blackmore of Mangotsfield Residents' Association looks at the history of one of the area's oldest buildings

David Blackmore of Mangotsfield Residents' Association looks at the history of one of the area's oldest buildings
FOR many centuries there were two manor houses in the village of Mangotsfield: one adjoining our village church and one on Rodway Hill.
The first was built some time between 1222 and 1228, for Sir William de Putot, who was High Sheriff of Gloucestershire from 1225-1231 and Mayor of Bristol in 1241.
Sir William had been granted the land called 'Chulhenerull' (Charnhill), in the village then known as Manegoddesfelde, in return for a rent of one pair of white gloves.
The manor house, built on land made available when the Kings Forest was reduced in size to 4,500 acres, had an adjoining chapel, which later became St James Church.
Sir William had no son or heir, so his lands passed to his grandson David Blount of Bitton, and it was the Blounts who built the present-day manor house on Rodway Hill, probably in about 1350.
During the 15th century Rodway Hill House belonged to William 'The Wastall', the 2nd Lord Berkeley, who was born in 1426 at Berkeley Castle.
A supporter of Edward IV during a revolt by the Duke of Clarence and the Earl of Warwick in 1470, when Berkeley died in 1492 he bequeathed Rodway manor house and all of his estates to the crown, having disinherited his younger brother Sir Maurice, for marrying a commoner "of mean blood".
The house later returned to the Blounts, the last of whom, Margaret, was related through her mother to Jane Seymour, the mother of Edward VI; the Seymours were from Frampton Cotterell and Bitton.
After she died her husband John, Lord Hussey of Sleaford in Lincolnshire, sold both manor houses to Robert Dormer, a Buckinghamshire wool merchant, in July 1515.
At that point its estate included 20 houses, 20 farm buildings, a water mill and 500 acres of land.
The first manor, by the church, was sold by Dormer to Sir Jarrit Smyth of Long Ashton in 1558 and would eventually be acquired in 1846 by St James Church, and demolished to extend its burial ground.
Sir Maurice Berkeley never gave up the hope of one day re-possessing the estate, and sold off other land to buy the manor from Dormer around 1519-20.
But in 1520 Maurice died and the Rodway manor went to his brother Thomas, 5th Lord Berkeley, who moved from Yorkshire to Mangotsfield on being made Sheriff of Gloucestershire in 1522, altering and enlarging the manor house to its present size.
It appears that the house was previously aligned from north to south, rather than its current east to west alignment, and once had a long, lawned terrace for playing bowls.
At the foot of present day Manor Road the remains of the stock ponds for coarse fish such as tench, carp and bream can still be found. Two dovecotes at the rear of the house supplied eggs and meat, and the 'pillows', artificial warrens on the opposite side of the road from the house, were for rabbits, reared for the kitchen table.
Thomas rebuilt the Charnell's Mill and constructed the Charnell's Pool by diverting the Charnell's brook.
He died at Rodway Hill House in January 1532 and was buried at Mangotsfield church in a funeral described as “an imposing spectacle”, only for his body to be removed three months later to the Abbey Church of St Augustine, now Bristol Cathedral.
His grandson, Henry, was the last of the Berkeleys to own Rodway Hill House and his profligate lifestyle of “cards, dice, tenys, bowling ally and hawking”, saw him sell a large amount of the Berkeley possessions, including Rodway Hill House, a year before his death in 1612, to Philip Langley for £2,225 (around £500,000 now).
Langley owned the rights to the coal fields in Mangotsfield and was an MP, Mayor of Bristol and High Sheriff of Gloucestershire.
In 1663 the quarry and colliery owner John Meredith bought the estate and set about enlarging and restoring the house, and laying out a vineyard on the sheltered western slope between the house and the 'Charnells'.
Rodway House remained with the Merediths for three generations before it was sold to Charles Bragge, who also owned Cleve Hill in Downend, then to some relatives of the slave trader Edward Colston, who owned it for most of the 18th century, latterly jointly with Lord Middleton, a proprietor of the Coalpit Heath Colliery.
During the 19th century the manor was owned by Middleton's heirs until it was bought by the banker Daniel Cave between 1857 and 1859.
Various elements of the shield of arms above the front porch can be linked to the Meredith and Berkeley families, as well as the de Clares, who intermarried with the Berkeleys, and the Dormer family, but what appear to be 'bulls' heads' have so far eluded all attempts of identification.
Speculation that the shield of arms is connected to the Boleyn family is unfounded, and there is no evidence to back up claims that Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour or Catherine Parr made visits.
The manor once housed a school attended by WG Grace, who played his first competitive cricket match on Rodway Hill in 1857, aged nine, for his older brother Henry's West Gloucestershire team against a side from Bedminster. WG batted at number 11 and scored 3 not out.
In 1922 Sir Charles Henry Cave, his wife Beatrice and their two sons left Rodway Hill House, which had already been bought by Henry Young, a land agent for the Caves who combined farming at Rodway Hill Farm with his auctioneering and estate agency business, Young & Howes.
Henry's son Edward Alway Young continued in farming and auctioneering but was also a keen sportsman, and had helped to form the Mangotsfield Football Club at a meeting at the Crown Inn, St James Place in August 1888, when he was elected club chairman and team captain.
After Edward died in 1948, Rodway Hill House was sold for an undisclosed sum to an unnamed buyer. The east and west wings were converted into at least two residences and made Grade II Listed buildings in 1953.
By this time the rapid expansion of housing in Mangotsfield and Downend meant most, if not all of the surrounding farms and farmland were disappearing, with the Charnhill development covering parts of the Rodway Hill estate and the neighbouring Blackhorse, Oaklands and Barley Close farms sold to developers.
For well over 650 years Rodway Hill House had been associated with the village of Mangotsfield but it now resides within the recently-created parish of Emerson's Green.