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'FREE THE FROME!'

Introduction

for 1999 -2001

The River Frome

A Little on the River Frome's History its Role in Bristol's Development

The River Frome in Flood

The Northern Stormwater Interceptor

Baptist Mills

St Werburghs

Introduction

Thank you for your interest in 'Free The Frome!'

The 'Free The Frome!' Project came into being as a result of a 'Photo Day' organised by 'Living Eastonin May 1996.

As local people started to look closely at the River Frome and the M32 Motorway they began to see its potential as a walk way and cycle path which could include a History Time-signs Trail and Environmental improvements which incorporated works of publicart

Since May 1996 'Living Easton' has organised a number of walks along the proposed route and has held a succession of Public Meetings, Displays and Clearing and Planting Days. Representatives from many sections of our diverse community responded to invitations to these events. Since we started we have seen thousands of trees planted along our stretch of the Frome - over the last two years we have been joined by the City Council who have been planting trees along the Frome as part of the 'M32 Strategy'.

Living Easton is also part of Friends of the Frome. This is a group which represents voluntary organisations from along the whole course (24 miles) of the river. Friends of the Frome is coordinated by the Forest of Avon and has representation from both Bristol and South Gloustershire Councils.

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'FREE THE FROME!'

A Living Easton Project

Our Vision for 1999 -2001

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The River Frome

The River Frome, or Froom as it used to be spelt, rises in Gloucestershire, England at Doddington (near Tetbury). It then runs through Iron Acton, Hambrook, Frenchay, Stapleton and Eastville Park. Before the Storm Water Interceptor was built at Eastville the river continued happily through to Baptist Mills and St Jude's and (underground) into the City Centre.

The 6th Edition of Matthew's Guide to Bristol (Published some 200 years ago) it says that, "over this little but useful river there are thirteen bridges in the city and suburbs.". The gradual covering of the river in the 18th and 19th Centuries destroyed all these "one arch bridges made of stone". The construction of the M32 motorway with its huge roundabouts and slip roads was responsible for the destruction of further bridges and crossing points over the Frome. The building of the motorway was not only responsible for the covering of much of the river but also for creating a concrete barrier which continues to divide all the communities of East Bristol established along this stretch of the Frome Valley.

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The River Frome's History and its Role in Bristol's Development

Bristol, which means 'Bridge Town' or 'Place of the Bridge', first existed on high ground on the Gloucester side of the River Avon. By 1000AD it had become an important trading centre. As the town grew it took over the rival settlement of Redcliffe and later spread up the slopes of Kingsdown. The marches along the Avon and the Frome were then drained and reclaimed. In the 13th Century (1240 - 48) the Frome was straightened out from St John's Gate to a new junction with the Avon. When this massive Mediaeval engineering feat was completed Bristol had a new harbour which replaced the Avon wharves as the centre of the city's port trade. While the new 'trench' was still tidal its bottom was soft and at low-tide ships could rest into its oozy mud without breaking as was sometimes the case on the Avon's stony bed.

During the period which followed (1248-1809) Bristol became a prosperous City based on two rivers the Avon and the Frome. Due to its increasing colonial import-export trade and the eventual mega-profits of its trade in slaves and sugar Bristol became the 'Metropolis of the West'. The construction of the New Cut (1804-1809) meant that there was now permanent high water on the traditional quays on the Avon and the Frome. New quays around the Floating Harbour were also constructed. As ships got bigger and through attempts to attract shipping trade to the City the Frome arm of the port became less important and in 1892-3 the stretch of the Frome from Rupert Street to St Augustine's Bridge (opposite the end of Baldwin St) was covered. In 1938-9 the further stretch from St Augustine's Bridge to where the Neptune statue now stands was also covered.

Up river, on what was then the outskirts of Bristol, the River Frome continued to play an important role in Bristol's industrial and leisure activities. As well as being a source of water power for a whole series of mill operated industries the Frome also provided opportunities for the local population to enjoy themselves.

It's perhaps difficult to imagine fishing, drinking and feasting days at Earls Mead (Pennywell Road) today. But in the 17th Century (even during the English Revolution of 1640-48!) there was a tradition of 'Fishing Days' in the City when eels and perch were caught in the Frome.

In the 1830s the Three Blackbird's Pub on Stapleton Road would hold Gala Days. The gardens of the pub (Wellington Gardens) stretched right down to the river and there would be Gala entertainment's; fire-eaters, tightrope walkers, musicians and singers and hot air balloon assents. Efforts have been made by the Environment Agency further up-stream (Winterbourne) to improve the water quality of the river. Here, because of housing developments, industrial and intensive farming influences, there has been a decline in the river's water quality, wildlife diversity and fish life. Living Easton believes that this quality of River Life should be continued through its urban course in Eastville, Easton and towards the Centre for the benefit of local residents.

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The River Frome in Flood

January 1607: The River Severn overflows flooding over 100 square miles as far inland as Wells Cathedral.

1703: 'The Great Storm', city-wide flooding in Bristol.

October 1882: Flooding as far as Mina Road & Wellington Road, Bristol.

March 1889: Flooding over 200 acres.

1936 and 1937: Wide-scale damage across the city including; Eastville, East Bristol, Mina Road, Broadmead.

1947: Melting snow caused flooding of Eastville Park and surrounding area - city centre of Bristol only just avoids serious flooding.

1968: Last major flood of the Frome; 5 million gallons of water pumped out of Bristol Rovers ground.

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The Northern Stormwater Interceptor

Started in 1962 the Northern Stormwater Interceptor was completed in 1968.

It was the latest in a series of flood prevention schemes which the City had carried out since the Bristol Flood Prevention Acts of 1885 and 1890.

In the past there has been flooding over many parts of the city. But the most serious flooding in the past 100 years has been due to prolonged rainfall in the catchment areas of the River Avon and the River Frome. The Avon drains around 857 square miles The Frome drains 68 square miles.

There were three factors which caused this flooding:

  1. The Severn Estuary has the highest tidal range in the country and the Avon is tidal right up to the city. Because of these high tidal ranges the level of the Avon can, during spring tides, be higher than the low-lying parts of the city. When there is the rare occurrence of storm surges in the Atlantic coupled with high spring tides then the tidal level can be further increased by several feet. This combination has resulted in serious flooding in the past.

  2. Heavy rainfall can cause surface water run-off from paved and roofed areas to overload the capacity of the sewage system.

  3. The large catchment areas of the Avon and the Frome can result, in time of prolonged rainfall or melting snow, in conditions of spate which can, again, cause river levels to exceed the level of low-lying areas of the city.

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Baptist Mills

The history of Baptist Mills is tied to that of the River Frome. The area was the probable crossing point over the River Frome of the Roman Roadway, Via Julia which ran from Sea Mills to Bath. It is thought that the name of Baptist Mills comes from the name of a mill owning Bristol family named 'Bagpath'.

In 1702 the Bristol Brass Wire Company was established at Baptist Mills. This was an extremely important event not only for the local area and Bristol as a whole but also Nationally and Internationally. Using Capital from local Quaker Merchants, including that which came from the labour of West Indian Slaves, this firm, under the managership of the Quaker, Abraham Darby I, developed industrial techniques which were to revolutionise manufacturing in Britain and were of immense importance to the coming Industrial Revolution. The water power for this enterprise was provided by the River Frome.

With its headquarters at Baptist Mills and stimulated by export trade to British Colonies this company expanded to become 'perhaps the most considerable Brass House in Europe'. No signs of this site now remain, any remains of the factory and offices were destroyed in the construction of the St Paul's roundabout for the M32. However, one of the by-products of Bristol's Brass industry was the use of slag building blocks from the waste produced from the furnaces. If you look at one of the walls of the Greek Church at Baptist Mills you will see it is topped with this building material. There are other scattered examples of these slag building blocks around Easton. They are the only reminders in the area of an industry which employed hundreds either through its processing factories or through the economic stimulation it gave to other local industries, for example the coal mining industry of Kingswood.

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St Werburghs

What is now called St Werburghs used to be part of an estate named 'Asslega'. This later became known as Ashley. Asslega comes from the Old English 'aesc' (an ash tree) and 'leah' (a wood). In 1170 the lands of Ashley were given to the Monks of St James Benedictine Priory. In 1544 Henry VIII 'privatised' the Priory's land and sold it to Henry Brayne. The estate was gradually broken up until 1626 when Thomas Walker, who owned Heath House Estate, bought the neighbouring former priory lands. he also bought 'a certain hill and land called Northeway'. It is presumed that this is the hill which was later called Netherways and later still, Narroways.

In 1767 the Smyth family of Ashton Court came into possession of the whole area. They were still in ownership when the Railways were developed in the mid 1800s. It was in this period that the topography of Narroways Hill and St Werburghs was dramatically altered with the construction of deep cuts and huge railway embankments.

Recently the 12 acre open space which is Narroways Hill has been under threat of development. However local people, through the formation in 1996 of the Narroways Action Group, have managed to keep Narroways Hill an Open Green Space in the inner-city. With recent actions such as this and the success of the protection gained for near-by Royate Hill it is clear that local people want to retain the few open green spaces which remain in East Bristol. With this in mind the 'Free The Frome!' campaign to create an environment/history cycle/walk way through the Frome/M32 corridor is in line with local current thinking.

Our thanks to Harry McPhillimyof The Narroways Action Group for the information in this section on St Werburghs.

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