History of Twerton

From the discovery of Roman remains at Twerton, to the suffering felt by Twerton during the bombing of Bath in the Second World War, the history of Twerton is substantial and significant. No-one has yet written a book covering the whole of Twerton’s history, but a small number of booklets and pamphlets provide some interesting insights into what Twerton was like in the past.
 

Prehistoric to Roman times

 
Recent research suggests that an ancient track called the Jurassic Way once crossed the River Avon and into the area that is now Twerton (1). Running along the edge of the Cotswolds, this path was travelled by our ancestors as early as the stone age. It is named after the Jurassic rocks that lie beneath it.
 
Another suspected route that passed through Twerton was a branch of the Roman road called the Fosse Way, and it is thought that this construction, still in use long after the Romans had gone, eventually became the Eastern boundary of the parish (2). The main stretch of the Fosse Way is still followed by the A367 through Odd Down. It was built by the Romans in the 1st century AD linking Exeter with Lincoln.
 
Given that part of the Fosse Way might have passed through the Twerton area, and that Twerton lies close to the centre of Bath where the Romans built their city they called Aqua Sulis, it is likely that a scattering of Romano-British homesteads once existed where Twerton is now.
 
In 1872 a pair of Roman coffins dating to around 400 AD were discovered during the building of Argyle Terrace. Both contained skeletons, one being that of a tall man who had been buried with pieces of pottery. The coffins were made of roughly cut stone and covered with unfinished slabs. A Roman altar was found in the proximity of the coffins, causing its Victorian discovers to wonder whether it had some connection with the burials. Roman coins were found in Mr Kendall’s fields and a nearby garden the same year (3).
 


 
The Roman coffin discovered at Argyle Terrace in 1872

 

Anglo-Saxon times

 
The Anglo-Saxons were Germanic migrants who began to settle in Britain from the 5th century onwards. The Battle of Dyrham took place near Bath in 577 AD, resulting in the cities of Gloucester, Chippenham and Bath falling into Saxon hands. It seems reasonable to take this event as a turning point for the infiltration of Saxon culture into the regions surrounding Bath.
 
In later centuries the area that is now Twerton came to consist of two separate manors. These were land estates, each owned by a lord excercising rights over his fields and tenants. Most tenants would have been copyholders, who were loaned narrow strips of land in return for working on the lord’s. Others would have been freeholders, paying a rent for their land which they could sell or bequeath.
 
The fact of there being two distinct manors, may be the reason why Twerton has had two names: Twerton and Twiverton. One of the estates and its farm were located at the western end of the High Street, close to the church and a corn mill that stood by the river. The other estate and its farm were situated at the eastern end of the High Street, adjacent to a second riverside corn mill (4).
 
The parish church cemetery was more circular in the past than it is now, indicating that a small Saxon church once existed where St Michael’s Church stands today. The Saxon church would have been rather more dark, damp and smoky that today’s church.
 


 
How a 9th century Saxon church in Twerton might have looked

 
A throwback to Saxon times is found in the name Innox Road at Twerton, which is taken from the adjacent farmland. Innox is a Saxon word denoting a field that was regularly manured and replanted, rather than being left for a time to regain fertility after harvesting (5).
 

Norman times

 
In 1066 William the Conquerer invaded England, leading the Norman forces to victory over King Harold and the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings. Lands in Twerton were divided up between Geoffrey Malrward and Nigel de Gournay as their rewards for fighting for William (6). In 1085 William commissioned a survey of the land and resources owned in England, to inform the levels of taxation that he could impose. This information was compiled in the Domesday Book of 1086. The Domesday Book records that Geoffrey Malrward held “Twertone” from the Bishop of Countances, who owned about a tenth of Somerset land (7).
 


 
A reference to “Twertone” in the Domesday Book

 
Nigel de Gournay was named after Gournay which lies halfway between Paris and Dieppe in France. In addition to his share of the lands in Twerton, he was given the manor of nearby Englishcombe, where the de Gournay family built a timberwork castle. The earthwork remains of this castle, with its rampart and defensive ditch, can still be clearly seen when looking out towards Englishcombe from the top of Twerton Roundhill by Mount Road. The most noteworthy figure in the de Gournay family tree is Sir Thomas de Gournay, who was involved with the murder of King Edward II at Berkeley Castle in 1327 (8).
 
Some small vestiges of Norman Twerton survive within the parish church of St Michael and All Angels. The font is dated to the time of Reginald, Bishop of Bath (1174-91), and the Norman doorway, now moved to the south side, would have been used by inhabitants of Twerton to enter the church the best part of a thousand years ago (9).
 


 
The Norman doorway at the church

 
William Malrward gave the church to the nunnery at Kington St Michael near Chippeham in 1180, and the church is believed to have been dedicated to St Michael in 1191 by the Abbot of Glastonbury. St Michael is the archangel in the Bible who fights against the Devil and defeats him. A past tradition has been the annual Twerton Revel on St Michael’s Day (10). Today the association of Twerton with St Michael is recalled by the modern name of St Michael’s Road at Whiteway, now within the parish of Southdown.
 

Late Middle Ages to the 18th century

 
This is a stretch of Twerton history not really covered much in literature, hence the grouping of different time periods under this one category. Twerton people over the centuries would have been stirred by the same historical events that affected the rest of the population. They would have been familiar with the terrifying Black Death plague, which began in 1348 and wiped out whole villages. They would have heard church worship spoken for the first time in their native language, English, rather than Latin, shortly after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. And they would have felt relief when in 1588, England defeated the Spanish Armada, thereby halting the threat of invasion by Spain (11).
 
The chalice in the church dates to 1571 and arrived during the office of Vicar James Hadley who had 15 children. In the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a group of English Catholics planned to kill King James I by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. When the plot was foiled, the ringing of the church bells in Twerton to commemorate the event, became an annual custom (12).
 
In around 1620, a house that became known as Fielding’s Lodge was built on land later to be occupied by the furniture factory at Fielding’s Road. The name of the house and the road were taken from the author Henry Fielding, who is said to have stayed there in the 1740s whilst writing his novel Tom Jones (13).
 
Civil war broke out in 1642 between the forces of King Charles I and Parliament. Twerton came under the control of Parliament until 1643, and would have been obliged to supply some armed men to the Parliamentary army.
 
From the Middle Ages onwards, Twerton’s economy was based principally upon the woollen and weaving trades. In the 18th century, Twerton began to see much in the way of change, as these traditional cottage industries were mechanised and taken over by large scale employers. The opening of the Worsted Spinning Mills at Twerton in 1792 was reported by the Bath Chronicle, with a description of a meal given to “a party of gentlemen, and to the mechanics, woolcombers, and every other person employed about the mill, upwards of 280 in number” (14).
 
There used to be vineyards grown in Twerton as well, and a 1743 traveller’s reference to Mr Cawley’s vineyard mentions a “fine plantation on the side of the hill with a good view of Bath” (15).
 
A large number of 18th century dwellings that sprang up along Twerton High Street have since disappeared. These include a double row of weavers’ cottages which evolved into a complex known as Cabbage Square, where the electricity station is now, as well as a three storey farmhouse called Ivy Villa which existed with its orchard, barn and farm buildings in the area now occupied by the Spar supermarket and shops (16).
 
Two buildings that have survived from the 17th and 18th centuries, once operated as public houses in Twerton. The building at 132 High Street opposite Mill Lane, was first recorded as The George in 1797, and last recorded as a pub in 1878. It appears to date to the seventeenth century and might have been constructed as an inn from the start (17).
 


 
The tall building on the right in this photo was once The George Inn

 
The White Hart, now 141-47 High Street, opened some time before 1767. In January 1798 it became the temporary headquarters for a local militia called to resist the march of factory workers from Bradford on Avon, Trowbridge, Frome and Beckington, who were intent on demolishing the works of “Bamford and Co and Collicott and Co”. The history of the White Hart as a pub ended when it was sold in 1899 and turned into a Temperance Institute and Restaurant (18).
 

19th century

 
Twerton High Street in the early 19th century would have been a shadowy place at night, as the only street lighting consisted of the occasional oil lamp sited in places such as the church entrance and over the doors of inns. It was not until 1888 that a row of gas lamps were installed along the south side of the street – this development having originally been opposed on the basis that it would burden the people of Twerton with increased rates to pay (19).
 
In 1832 there were numerous fatalities at Twerton caused by one of the cholera epidemics of that era (20). It would be another 22 years, before Dr John Snow of London was able to demonstrate that cholera is spread by a bacterium in contaminated water.
 
Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway ploughed through Twerton in 1840, having the unfortunate effect of cutting off much of the village from its riverside streets. Twerton station closed in 1917 due to the economic hardships of the First World War, although the building itself is still prominent at the bottom end of the High Street (21).
 


 
An antiquated view of Twerton from the old station

 
The railway arrived at a time when Mr Charles Wilkins’ cloth manufacturing industries seemingly dominated Twerton, as reflected in the impressions of a passenger who stopped at the station:
 

We soon arrive at the village of Twerton with its huge factories and bustling inhabitants, many of whom bear token, in the blue dye which stains their faces and apparel, of the employment in which they are engaged – the manufacture of cloth … The factories form almost the entire support of the village … (22).

 
Wilkins also had around fifty people employed at Pennyquick Colliery, situated near the western end of Newton Road. The mining of coal commenced in 1833, with men working by candlelight in underground passages that had to be continually pumped clear of water. The mine closed in 1874 (23). Eventually a great heaps of spoil produced by the colliery would be levelled off to form the playing field at Newton Road, when the post-war council estates were built.
 


 
A coal mining reconstruction at Radstock Museum

 
In the late 1840s, the Carr family came to Twerton, purchasing Wilkins’ mills and colliery. Two of the family homes were Poolemead House at Watery Lane, now used by the RNID, and Wood House which was demolished in 1965. This building gives its name to the modern day Woodhouse Road (24).
 
The Carr family proved very influential at Twerton. Thomas Carr became head of the Parish Council and installed a new organ in the church. His son Isaac took over the management of the mills in 1855, earning an international reputation as a manufacturer of high quality woollen textiles. A new five-storey mill was constructed on Weston Island, in addition to those already in operation on the Lower Bristol Road. Isaac Carr died in 1875, passing the company on to his three sons, Johnathan, Thomas and Robert (25).
 


 
The former entrance to the Upper Mills

 
A school was opened at one of the Carr Mills in 1848. The teacher apparently had free lodging in the “residence” with its kitchen and three bedrooms. Later it was superseded by a new Parochial School which stood on the site now occupied by the McDonald’s fast food restaurant in Twerton (26).
 
The parish church underwent many enlargements and reconstructions in the 19th century. Modifications in 1816 included the building of a Sunday School Room, which still exists beside The Full Moon Pub. Further work was carried out in 1824, and the church was rebuilt in the 1830s and again in 1885-6. Other places of worship had emerged at Twerton by then, in the form of a Baptist Church at Mill Lane established by weavers in 1808, and the Zion Methodist Church built in the High Street in 1853 (27).
 


 
Twerton parish church in 1902, after the rebuilding of 1885

 
Between 1880 and the early 1900s, the Horse Bus provided transport into Bath from Twerton. Some Twerton folk claimed that they could beat the Horse Bus into town by walking and running. Later it would be replaced, first by trams, and then by a motorised bus service beginning in 1939 (28).
 
As with the 18th century, there are many 19th century buildings depicted on old maps of Twerton that have long since disappeared. They include several 1820s cottages jointly built by the rector of Twerton and Wilkins the mill owner, on land now covered by 62-67 High Street. Occupied by cloth workers, these houses became known as Dutch Cottages after a rumour that European weavers were being brought to Twerton. At the upper end of the High Street, a row of dwellings and shops called Church Buildings materialised by the 1830s. The Full Moon was one of these, originally serving as a grocers shop in the late 1860s, before being turned into a public house in around 1872 (29).
 
In 1867 the area that is East Twerton was incorporated into the City of Bath. The area is noted historically for the printing presses of Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons on the Lower Bristol Road, and Twerton Gaol (1842-1879) situated at Caledonian Road (30).
 
So rapid was the expansion of the village in the latter half of the century, that Mrs Wheatcroft, in her 1897 book of rambles around Bath, described Twerton as a “tremendous suburb, almost entirely populated by the working-class, who are more or less occupied in ministering to the wants of those on the other side of the water” (31).
 
The 19th century also saw the opening of a large number of public houses where locals dulled their experiences of the mills and factories. The Golden Fleece and The Seven Stars were situated next to each other at Avon Buildings. The Seven Stars began as a beerhouse in 1850 and survived until the 1990s, while the Golden Fleece is still in business. It is hard to imagine today that the Fit Guru Gym in the High Street, was once a pub that opened in 1850 and closed in 1906. The locations of many other Twerton pubs have been lost in the mists of time – including The Boot, The Rainbow, The Swan and the Tanner’s Arms (32).
 

20th century to the present time

 
The Carr family continued to exert a considerable influence over Twerton in the early years of the 20th century. In 1909 they donated land adjacent to Shophouse Road to be used as the recreational area called Innox Park. In the following year, Jonathan Carr laid the foundation stone of Twerton Elementary School, to which his family had contributed the sum of £1500. This building is now Culverhay Care Centre near the western end of Lymore Avenue (33).
 


 
The Carr family opening Innox Park in 1909

 
In 1915 the Twerton Cooperative Society took over the premises of 1 and 2 Railway Terrace (now the High Street). Such cooperatives would pool the finances of their members so as to be able to buy goods in bulk. These goods would then be sold without profit to members as a way of keeping prices low. In a small way, that principle lives on in the Southside Food Co-op, which serves South West Bath with vegetable produce from a modern building in Twerton High Street (34).
 
The Carr mills were commissioned to produce military fabrics during the First World War. Afterward, the 1920s economic slump together with competition from other manufacturers, caused the business to decline. Malcolm and Isaac retired in 1930, bringing family involvement with the firm to an end. The company continued for a time, producing more military textiles for the armed forces of the Second World War, before going into receivership in 1954. The last of the Carrs, Malcolm, died at Poolemead House in 1970 (35).
 
A lady by the name of Vera Dyer has written of the time when her mother worked for the Carr firm:
 

Mum went to work in Carr’s Factory in Twerton. She would leave home at 6.30am, dressed in her neighbour’s old hat, scarf and boots, many sizes too big with the toes stuffed with paper to keep them on. She used to come home at 8 o’clock for her breakfast. The rest of the family were still in bed, so she had to light the fire and get a bit of food, a cup of tea, and bread and dripping if she was lucky (36).

 
During the First and Second World Wars, service men and women from the parish of Twerton joined the armed forces, Home Guard or other wartime services. The names of those Twerton men who fought and died in the First World War, are remembered on the Memorial Cross which stands close to the parish churchyard.
 
Vera Dyer’s memoirs offer brief glimpses of how life in Twerton was changed by the two wars:
 

Then my mother’s stepfather was called up to serve in the Great War. He served in the Dorset Regiment, and in 1917, at the third Battle of Ypres, he was killed. The same shell … wounded my own father, John Fudge, who was in hospital four years recovering from his wounds.

 

I have heard Gran say how she used to watch the trains go past the bottom of her garden, full of wounded soldiers … looking for her husband among the wounded.

 

When the Blitz came in 1942, a bomb was dropped at Church Farm and all the window’s at Gran’s house were smashed. So Gran and my uncles came to live with us until their house was repaired (37).

 
The farmhouse of Church Farm stood where the old Fotec office at Twerton High Street is today (38), although the house mentioned above was probably a cottage on the farm. The Blitz mentioned was the Baedeker raids conducted by the German Luftwaffe on 25th and 26th April, 1942. Although the bombings were designed to damage Bath’s Georgian architecture, most bombs fell in densely populated western suburbs, contributing towards a frightening loss of 417 lives (39). Buildings destroyed at Twerton included a series of cottages named Eleanor Place, where Eleanor Cottages at the very top of the High Street have been built (40). A direct hit on an air raid shelter at Roseberry Road resulted in 26 deaths (41), and Twerton Parochial School was also destroyed.
 


 
The Memorial Cross at Twerton

 
There used to be many more shops around Twerton than there are now, with independent shopkeepers specialising in their own line of wares. Vera Dyer’s recollections of visiting her “Gran” in Twerton, are again valuable for their portrait of Twerton shops in the 1920s and 1930s:
 

Miss Barter and her brothers kept the draper’s shop, they also sold hardware. There was a long polished counter with displays of socks, stockings, blouses, underwear etc. In a separate room, the hardware buckets, mops, brooms and china.

 

There was Mr Batten the grocer … Mrs Brooks sold sweets and I believe she had a dairy, Miss Crook the greengrocer, the Co-op and I think a little Newsagents just under the railway bridge – I think the owner’s name was Mr Grey. Then along the Lower Bristol Road was Webb’s, who sold sold paraffin and hardware. Also, the two Miss Crooks used to come ’round with milk. They had a hand cart to carry the cans of milk.

 

On the way back from Aunt Florrie’s we would call at the Post Office, kept by a family called Coleman, and then along to Dillons the butcher. Gran would pick out what she wanted and Mr Dillon would send it up later in the day. His errand boy would ride up on his bike with the meat in a basket on the front (42).

 


 
The old shop front of “Dillons the butcher”

 
After the Second World War, Bath City Council launched a series of extensive housing projects in Twerton. People moving into the council-built estates included those who had lost their homes to the air raids, as well as people who had lived in declining areas such as the Dolemeads at Widcombe which were demolished.
 
Two of the many examples of post-war council housing in Twerton, are Day Cresecent which was built in 1949 and named after the Mayor of Bath, Samuel Day, and Freeview Road, so called because its residents have a free view of Twerton football ground (43). When the council houses situated around Innox Road first appeared, local people called this part of Twerton “Chinatown” because the roofs were thought to look Oriental in style.
 
Succesive waves of housing developments gradually caused Twerton to lose its village character. The junior school at Newton Road was built in 1951 and an infant section was added in 1953 (44). The infant school at Poolemead Road was built in 1964.
 
A recorded conversation with three elderly gents: Dennis, George and Les, in the Old Crown one morning, touched upon how Twerton has changed over the years:
 

When we was kids we used to play football in this street out here with no fear of being knocked down, because the only thing that might knock you down was a cow being taken to market. There were only about five people in Twerton in they days that had a car.

 

You used to have the village bobby in those days, and after the war we had a certain PC Ledger down here … Here’s the difference between then and now: he was along there at Mill Lane – they used to have police boxes in they days – a stolen car came round the corner and he put his baton straight through the windscreen. Twerton had its own police station in they days, along the bottom of Burnham Road, opposite what used to be Herman Miller.

 

The buildings used to go up as far as the church and that was it. It was all fields and trees right the way up to Whiteway… When the supermarkets came in the 1960s, the other shops began to close. The supermarket came to Twerton in the 1970s.

 


 
A pop concert held at Twerton football ground in 1970

 
For more about life in Twerton in the decades after the Second World War, please see our articles: Memories of old Twerton and Memories of old Twerton 2.
 
See also our History Archive.
 

References

 
1) Chapman, M. (2003) The High Street Twerton: An Historical Survey, p. 3.
2) Ibid.
3) Little, P. R. (1995) History of Twerton, p. 1-2; Photographs R9 at Bath Reference Library.
4) Chapman, M. (2003) The High Street Twerton: An Historical Survey, p. 3.
5) Cf. Little, P. R. (1995) History of Twerton, p. 36; Avon County Council Planning Department (1983) Historic Landscape Survey of the Manor of Englishcombe, p. 11.
6) Little, P. R. (1995) History of Twerton, p. 5; Manco, J. (1995) The Parish of Englishcombe: A History, p. 2.
7) Somerset Local History Library (1987) Local Studies Pack for the Parish of Twerton, p. 4.
8) Avon County Council Planning Department (1983) Historic Landscape Survey of the Manor of Englishcombe, pp. 8-9; Manco, J. (1995) The Parish of Englishcombe: A History, pp. 3-4.
9) Little, P. R. (1995) History of Twerton, p. 5.
10) Ibid, pp. 5-6.
11) Ibid, p. 8.
12) Ibid, p. 9.
13) Building of Bath Museum (2000) Oldfield Park and Twerton,
pamphlet.
14) Swift, A., and Elliot K. (2005) The Lost Pubs of Bath,
p. 127.
15) Ibid.
16) Chapman, M. (2003) The High Street Twerton: An Historical Survey, pp. 23, 31.
17) Swift, A., and Elliot K. (2005) The Lost Pubs of Bath, pp.132.
18) Swift, A., and Elliot K. (2005) The Lost Pubs of Bath, pp. 131-32; Chapman, M. (2003) The High Street Twerton: An Historical Survey, pp. 41-2.
19) Chapman, M. (2003) The High Street Twerton: An Historical Survey, p. 12.
20) Little, P. R. (1995) History of Twerton, p. 14.
21) Building of Bath Museum (2000) Oldfield Park and Twerton, pamphlet.
22) Swift, A., and Elliot K. (2005) The Lost Pubs of Bath, pp. 127-28.
23) Chapman, M. (2003) The High Street Twerton: An Historical Survey, p. 6.
24) Building of Bath Museum (2000) Oldfield Park and Twerton, pamphlet.
25) Ibid.
26) A Tale of Twerton (no date or author given), extracts from R. Naish’s articles in the Bath and Wilts Chronicle and Herald, p. 13.
27) Little, P. R. (1995) History of Twerton, pp. 12-14, 39, 41; Building of Bath Museum (2000) Oldfield Park and Twerton, pamphlet.
28) Building of Bath Museum (2000) Oldfield Park and Twerton, pamphlet.
29) Chapman, M. (2003) The High Street Twerton: An Historical Survey, pp. 19, 23-4.
30) Little, P. R. (1995) History of Twerton, p. 15; Building of Bath Museum (2000) Oldfield Park and Twerton, pamphlet.
31) Swift, A., and Elliot K. (2005) The Lost Pubs of Bath, p.128.
32) Ibid, pp. 128-229, 133.
33) Building of Bath Museum (2000) Oldfield Park and Twerton, pamphlet.
34) Chapman, M. (2003) The High Street Twerton: An Historical Survey, p. 43.
35) Building of Bath Museum (2000) Oldfield Park and Twerton, pamphlet.
36) Dyer, V. (1999) Down the Street: Childhood Memories of Twerton, p. 4.
37) Ibid, pp. 4-5, 9.
38) Chapman, M. (2003) The High Street Twerton: An Historical Survey, p. 29.
39) Cunliffe, B. (1986) The City of Bath, pp. 168-69.
40) Chapman, M. (2003) The High Street Twerton: An Historical Survey, p. 19.
41) Wainwright, M. (1975) The Bath Blitz, p. 24.
42) Dyer, V. (1999) Down the Street: Childhood Memories of Twerton, pp. 1-2, 8.
43) Building of Bath Museum (2000) Oldfield Park and Twerton, pamphlet; Little, P. R. (1995) History of Twerton, p. 36.
44) A Tale of Twerton (no date or author given), extracts from R. Naish’s articles in the Bath and Wilts Chronicle and Herald, p. 11.