May 2021: Local History

May 06 2021

Cave family history: Grand houses, wartime service and sacrifice

Last month historian David Blackmore told how the Cave family settled in the area in the 19th century. This month, he looks at how Cleve Hill House became a hospital and the family lost a son in the First World War.

BY the mid-19th century the Cave family was well-established in Mangotsfield and Downend.
Sir Stephen Cave, who had bought Cleve Hill House, in Downend, in 1804, bequeathed it to his eldest son, Daniel, who had been baptised at St James' Church, Mangotsfield, in 1789.
After marrying a British doctor's daughter in Italy, Daniel and his bride Frances re-took their marriage vows at St James's in 1820 and had six girls and four boys during their marriage. A banker and magistrate, Daniel would become 1st High Sheriff of Bristol in 1836 and a Justice of the Peace for Gloucestershire. Although the family spent some time living in Devon, Daniel died at Cleve Hill in March 1872, and was buried in Bristol at St Paul's church, Portland Square.
Daniel and Frances's eldest son, Stephen, bought a substantial estate at Sidbury, near Sidmouth in Devon. Although he never lived there, it was later to become the Cave family seat and is still owned by them today.
An Oxford-educated writer and lawyer, born five months after his parents' marriage in Italy, Sir Stephen Cave was the Conservative MP for New Shoreham, Sussex, from 1859 until 1880, twice serving as Postmaster General. He was also chairman of the West India Committee and a director of the Bank of England.
The Sidbury estate, along with Cleve Hill House and Rodway Hill House, were bequeathed by Sir Stephen to his brother, Sir Charles Daniel, who was High Sheriff of Bristol in 1863 and became the first director of the Union Bank of London. Sir Charles Daniel was created 1st Baronet Cave of Sidbury Manor, of Cleve Hill and of Stoneleigh House, Clifton, in 1896.
Among his children was Walter Frederick Cave, who played cricket for Gloucestershire in 1883 before becoming an architect and landscape gardener, serving as President of the Architectural Association from 1907-1909 and designing gardens of stately homes including Tyntesfield, North Somerset, where his Arts and Crafts style is in evidence at the Orangery.
Sir Charles Daniel's fifth son Sir Charles Henry Cave and his wife Beatrice frequently lived at Rodway Hill House between 1900 and 1922.
Their son Walter Henry Charles Cave, who was born in March 1895, was to become a victim of the First World War. Applying for an Army commission on leaving school in August 1914, instead of attending Cambridge University as originally intended, he was made a 2nd Lieutenant on probation to the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment.
After six months guarding strategically important sites in Dorset, Walter was transferred to the 1st Battalion 'in the field', among a group of replacements that arrived in Ypres, Belgium, on February 18, 1915. Less than a month later, on his 20th birthday, he was killed by an exploding German shell at his observation point at the walled city's Lille Gate. He was buried near where he fell and is commemorated on the Mangotsfield War Memorial in the Alec Large Memorial Gardens.
By this time Cleve Hill House, which stood on the north side of Cleve Hill Road, where the present-day Cleve Lawns lies, had become home to the Cleve Hill Voluntary Aid Hospital, which opened in October 1914, with 100 beds.
Walter's grandfather Sir Charles Daniel Cave had offered it to the authorities for use as a hospital for the duration. Walter's mother, Lady Beatrice, became the Commandant and his father Charles Henry Cave the Quartermaster, while the hospital was staffed by detachments of British Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses from Downend, Frenchay and Frampton Cotterell, and a civilian kitchen staff.
VAD nurses, who had to be aged between 23 and 38, were unpaid, signing up to "do their bit” for the war effort.
Beatrice Cave was made an OBE in 1918 for her work at the hospital, but the war marked the end of the family's ownership of Cleve Hill House. In September 1920 the whole 1,400 acre Cave estate was sold at auction and split into 47 lots for development, including properties in Downend and Mangotsfield. Before the auction, plans were made for the Caves' tenant farmers to buy the land they had previously rented.
The 1921 spring electoral register shows Sir Charles Henry Cave, Beatrice and their two surviving sons still living at Rodway Hill House, but they would depart for the family seat in Devon following the death at Sidbury Manor of Sir Charles Daniel, the 1st Baronet, in October 1922. He was buried at St James in Mangotsfield.
Cleve Hill House itself was eventually demolished in 1930.
Sir Charles Henry Cave, the 2nd Baronet, died in July 1932. The Baronetcy has passed through the male line to Sir George Charles Cave, who became the 6th Baronet upon the death of his father in June 2018.