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Clifton Home To Footpads and Chair Thieves

April 19, 2012

At the start of the 18th century Clifton was far from the affluent suburb as we know it; the area was still largely rural, a notorious haunt for footpads, with a parish church allegedly built in the time of Henry II.

With the opening up of the Hotwells, boarding houses sprang up along the river and some also crept up onto the heights of Clifton. But it was the wealthy merchants of the 1740s who were the main presence there. Thomas Goldney designed his house and garden, and Isaac Ware planned Paul Fisher’s Clifton Hill House, both now university halls of residence. Being to the west of the city, the area had the healthiest air, not just from the height above the city, but as the prevailing winds tend to be from the west. In the 1750s it was alleged that the area was still so underpopulated it was impossible to get a card game organised between the neighbours.

But as with every other parish at the time there was little money or knowledge of church building and repairs. It was then described as “a rustic West of England Chapel, with narrow windows and low sloping roof”[jas-bio p 38] No written documents survive prior to 1723 when the north aisle was erected, to which Edward Colston contributed £50. The only sculptured ornament in the church were the arms of Elizabeth I

The Hotwells was serviced by the small outpost of St Augustine the Less, Dowry Chapel, so there was need for more accommodation, but most of he demand came from visitors who were unlikely to subscribe to the church.

In autumn 1767 work began on the church. Farley reports a year later that Clifton church had been rebuilt, its capacity doubled, but the Red Book of Bristol states only the south aisle was rebuilt, agreeing about the expanded seating. Early 19th century drawings seem to show a very old fashioned looking church with a large box-like extension, which seems as big as the rest of the nave, and gothic porch attached, which seems to fit with the south aisle, and that the building cost £419, a fraction of the cost of anew church. But they had trouble raising even this, having to resort to selling pews, up to 15 people at 25 guineas each to Goldney, Elton, and Hobhouse. Given that several of these were Quakers, it is unclear whether they made any use of this.
It is not surprising that no mention was ever made of the designer or builder, and this structure was lost by the mid 19th century replacement, though it was facing the green.

In 1787 B Hill published a map of Clifton and the Hotwells which shows the area still comprised 2 settlements separated by the empty space of the steep hill, the connections between them being via footpaths. But it was here more than anywhere else in the city that the dominance of the Paty family can most strikingly be noticed. In 1768 Jones published his poem ‘Clifton’ in 2 painfully rambling and largely Clifton-free cantos and is one of the few sightings of Thomas Paty in print. Whilst it is unclear exactly what buildings he describes, he is correct in noting the man’s dominance in the area.

“These domes discretion decks, and fancy cheers
PALLADIO’S Stile in PATTY’S Plans appears:
Himself a master with the first to stand
For Clifton owes her beauties to his hand.”

Thomas Paty was mason and ornamental carver on the immensely influential but now largely overlooked Clifton Hill House, an impressive classical pile that raised standards in the early part of he century. He also helped out with Goldney with tiling in his grotto. Beside Clifton Church are 2 houses now 1(prospect House) and the much altered 2 Clifton Hill. They were built for the first of a dynasty of Town clerks called Samuel Worral, who lived in the first and rented out the other. Further along in what is now Clifton Village was a grand trio of palatial townhouses, Boyce’s Buildings, now reduced to a pair, built by Thomas as speculative housing for visitors to the Hotwells, rumoured to have been in anticipation of the king’s visitation which never happened.

Further along what is now Regent St , on the left is Rodney Place which may have been by Thomas Paty, then on the corner of a footpath leading to what is now the Suspension Bridge, is a right angled building, Beaufort Buildings, which may also have been by him. Near Christ Church is Manilla Road, a reminder of the grand Manilla Hall, built by unknown hand but possibly Paty again, for General Sir William Draper. He may have been responsible for early tree plantings on The Downs. He was locally born, and a highly successful commander in a number of now largely forgotten wars in the late 18th century including India and the taking of Manilla from the Spanish.

He built an obelisk on the forecourt of his mansion, and a mausoleum to the various battles he fought. When the mansion was eventually sold to a French Catholic Sisterhood, they wanted them removed; they were rescued and placed on Clifton Down, possibly this country’s first ever war memorial.



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