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 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.
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).
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).
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).
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).