Beggars Bush: A Perambulation through the Disciplines of History, Geography, Archaeology, Literature, Philology, Natural History, Botany, Biography & Beggary

Long Ashton/Failand, Bristol Beggars Bush (Lane) 1890

Now the B3129. This is a lane which runs along the edge of the Ashton Park estate. It is now a public park and playing fields. J Coleman in D&DN&Q Vol. III, 1890, p.11 referring to this location mentions a letters to the Daily Bristol Times and Mirror, 18th August 1891, complaining about the state of the lane and the darkness of the road caused by overhanging trees, saying that “a more unpleasant place to encounter a resolute and importunate tramp I cannot imagine”.

Phil Quinn says this was on former wasteland near the place of execution – Hangman’s Oak – and quotes a record that in 1847 there was “an ancient whitethorn tree on the roadside and now supported by a friendly prop in its venerable old age” but that the tree was felled in 1850. This does not describe the whitethorn as being Beggars Bush. (Leech, Joseph, 1847, Rural Rides of the Bristol Churchgoer, quoted in Quinn, Phil, 1999, Beggar Bush: A Study of liminality and social exclusion, 3rd Stone, 33 January-March 1999).

The estate was acquired by the Smith family in 1545. Hugh Smith was a pugnacious argumentative merchant, and the last person likely to tolerate beggars in the vicinity of his estates (Bettey, J.H. Hugh Smyth, of Ashton Court 1530-1581: Somerset Landowner, Justice of the Peace and trouble-maker, SANHS, vol.136, 1992, p.111, Bantock, A., Early Smyths of Ashton Court, Malago Society, Bristol, 1982). It adjoins Abbotts Leigh, a monastic location dissolved in 1639 and granted in 1641 to Edward VI by the Bishop of Bristol, Paul Busshe, which may have provided/prompted the use of the name, although I have not traced any record before 1890.  (SANHS Collection, DD/SAS/C/795/PD/83 and also 90 & 95)

In his Collecteana (Bristol & London 1902) the antiquary V. S. Lean, who was educated and lived in Bristol, noted the Godmanchester site as a “well-known tree” and the literary usage of a “taunting prophecy of poverty” but went on to say that “The primary meaning was a rendezvous for beggars at the bifurcation of two roads. Such a one exists on the Leigh side of the river Avon, opposite Clifton, and it is still called “Beggar’s Bush Lane”.

In July 1842 The Royal Agricultural Society held a ploughing contest, or, as one newspaper had, “a trial of rustic skill”, in the area. The various reports may support a derogatory source for the place name. Many reported that there were problems. The fullest said “it was not considered a very favourable spot as it turned up stony, and in some instances could hardly admit of ploughing to the requisite depth” (4 inches).

The area is flat enough for the Clifton College playing fields to be used as a temporary airfield “Beggars Bush Field” for the US Army when they were based at the College during WWII.

I discount the derivation of the name from “Burning Bush, because as the sun rises in the sky the leaves look red” suggested in one blog which says that the location is on a ley line.

OS Grid


Posted: April 10th, 2011 | Filed under: Places | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

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