Above, Lower Cheltenham Place, Montpelier, Bristol, with those flat-fronted houses that could be any age from 1810s to 1850s. You may already suspect that I am a naturally untalented photographer.
It so happened that less than two days after I posted about the stones of Montpelier and their possible provenance at the hands of my French prisoner-of-war ancestor, I was standing on them. A pre-arranged work trip to Bristol on Tuesday had fallen through, but work had already paid for the ticket, and I’m not sure what you have to do to cancel First Great Western bookings the day before travel and get a refund but I suspect it involves forfeiting a kidney. I believe in cosmic nudges anyway and this one was wearing a hi-vis jacket, so I paid work back for the ticket, took the day off and joyously skipped onto the train.
My plan was to go first to the Record Office (and you get there, incidentally, on a bus that runs alongside the New Cut) and go through the baptism records for St Philip & Jacob looking for children of my Napoleonic War veteran, say from 1815 to 1830. It’ll take an hour, I thought, and it closes at 4.30 so I’ll do that first. It took two, and I got up to 1827, and what I hadn’t taken into account was that sunset was at 4.20. As it turns out, searching through fifteen years of births for a population of 25,000 was a silly undertaking, but not quite as silly as taking pictures of stones in a westcountry mizzle in the gathering dark. Sunset is actually an excellent time to do field walking, if it’s summer and you’re doing it in an actual field because it throws features into relief, but apparently not if it’s November and you’re trudging round an urban district with an inadequate grasp of early nineteenth century architectural detail.
I had roughly planned out a route along the roads that looked to be some of the earliest in the area according to the excellent layered maps on Know Your Place – starting on Picton Road, detouring into Wellington Place, then on down York Road, Lower Cheltenham Place and Cobourg Road, then back along Richmond Road to where I started. Gosh, but isn’t Montpelier pretty? Large chunks of it are clearly mid-to-late Victorian with the classic brick front bay window arrangement, but there are also regular terraces of those flat-fronted houses that could be any age from 1810s to 1850s (they’re probably all called “Georgian” by estate agents) and here and there are definite signs of some pretty early buildings. Above all, there are cobblestones:
Cobbled guttering in Picton Street – most of the streets of the area retain these edges to the modern tarmac.
Above and below, Gadara Cottage, Cobourg Road, a rural-looking low, pink building behind a wall with a blue gate. The plaque visible from the road on the house reads, you’ll have to take my word for this due to mizzle, Gadara Cottage 1824.
They’re dead political in Bristol (Lower Cheltenham Place here):
At this point I was basically taking pictures of things I liked:
Picton Street mural, with bins. And some Georgian-looking buildings beyond
I was of course half-looking for some miraculous piece of engraved pavement that would prove the involvement of the early nineteenth century French prisoners. This was a little later than I was hoping for:
More cobblestoned guttering and Georgian/early Victorian buildings in Wellington Place.
So there you have it. The stones exist, and that’s as much as can be said for the moment. The fact that they are there merely proves that this is a Georgian/early Victorian district, and that whoever wrote the Wikipedia entry about the provenance of the cobblestones has seen them.
By the time I’d taken all the above and many more which are even worse the night was properly drawing in and I had subsisted the whole day on a Great Western chocolate muffin served with 1970s élan from a hatch, so I went into The Bristolian on Picton Road, where the kitchen was closed for hot food but they served me a quite excellent large plate of salad with sourdough and a bottle of Bath beer, which I consumed on the effusion of nineteenth century cobbles in the front yard because there were no free tables inside, and also because nothing says winter hygge like eating a salad on your own outside in the dark. I enjoyed it enormously.