HISTORY OF STOKE GIFFORD
Edited by Adrian Kerton
The Agricultural Alderman.
[First printed in The Bristol Times, July 1855]
The tourist up the Rhine has doubtless had his attention called to a little monument on a most picturesque part of those picturesque banks where the lesser stream of the Nahe by Bingen, joins the great German River.
Under this monument, he will be told, lies the ashes of the heart of a Frankfort Alderman one Nicholas Voit who was so fond of rural beauty in life, that he left directions that, in death, the should not be wholly divided from it.
We have our Aldermen at home, who, like those abroad, delight to enjoy the rus as well as urbs, too-who give the left hand to agriculture while, commerce wholly occupies the right. About two years ago, we copied from a Scotch Journal the account of the visit of an eminent agriculturist, who, touring South of the Tweed, thought it worth his while to turn aside, and devote a day or two to the inspection of the plan pursued and experiments made at Walls’ Court Farm within a few miles of Bristol, by the tenant, Mr. Alderman Proctor, of this city.
Walls’ Court is in the rear of Stoke Gifford, and is, with the surrounding estates, the property of his Grace the Duke of Beaufort. Mr. Proctor’s farm comprises six hundred acres, of which, about four hundred are under grass; and so poor had for many years been the reputation of the land, that by all previous tenants it was known by the hungry but expressive name of ;Starve-all-Farm. Nothing deterred by this title, Mr. Proctor took it as a sort of recreation from the severer duties of a large manufacturing business, or, we should rather say, manufacturing businesses, as he has houses for bone and other artificial manures, not only in Bristol but in Birmingham, London and, we believe, in Leicestershire, so that our agricultural friends my from some idea of the amount of leisure such a man has to bestow on experimental farming. But system is everything; and as they say Cockney shopkeepers, when emigrating, make the most successful agriculturists in Australia, so the method of the counting-house, applied by a man of business to predial matters, tenders the management of even six hundred acres a thing of easy routine.
Another potent element of trade was, it is true, also applied to Walls’ Court Farm, by our friend, the Alderman. He took the holding, we believe, under an equitable term, that was to give him a fair return for his capital, and through the magic operation of the latter, the once ill-omened Starve-all-Farm gradually became a model one -by the effective draining and manuring, the hungry land took heart, and gave forth rich herbage, dotted with cattle, such as Sidney Cooper would delight to paint. £5,000. or £6,000 not only made the wilderness bloom and blossom like the rose, but a picturesque residence and the most complete set of farm offices, now render Walls’ Court Farm the interesting object of the neighbourhood. All this has taken place in a marvellously short time. About four years ago, the Aldermanic tenant resided in a handsome villa in Cotham Park, when the thought of rural felicity and dairy farming first struck him.
We had this week an opportunity of witnessing with our own eyes the advance which Walls’ Court Farm as made since we published the account in question from the Scotch Agricultural Journal and we trust it will not be thought an intrusion upon privacy if, for the sake of enforcing a good example, we notice the circumstance. The interest which Mr. Alderman Proctor (whose meritorious energy is almost unbounded), as Chairman of the Restoration Committee, takes in the renewing of St. Mary Redcliff Church is known many of our readers. Some time ago, the Freemasons of the Province, in admiration of Mr. Proctor’s exertions in behalf of the glorious old structure in question, determined, though he was not one of the initiated – while more than a Mason in Masonic feeling – to pay him such compliment is they could. By inviting him to meet the Provincial Grand Master and other leading members of the Craft. On Monday last, Mr. Proctor returned the courtesy, by having twenty of the fraternity to dine with him at Walls’ Court, including the Provincial Grand Master, H Shute, Esq., the Mayor &c. The company also included four or five eminent agriculturists, and it was on this occasion that we had an opportunity, in their company, of inspecting the homestead, &c., and it was while passing through it that we were struck by one circumstance that mainly induced this notice, and to which we shall presently refer.
The common bullock-sheds were, in themselves, patterns of convenience and order. The largest is about 220 feet long, and is almost an ecclesiastical-looking structure, being lit at the end by a three-light Gothic window. It accommodates fifty cattle, holding altogether, with the
two lesser sheds on either side, about one hundred. But the singular feature of this bucolic building has still to be noticed. Down the centre of it (hear it, all ye lag-behind sons of the soil in Somersetshire and Gloucestershire, and, like our worthy alderman, go a head if you can), runs a well-constructed railway, for the conveyance of fodder to the stalled beasts on either side -no mere patched-up tramway, but a substantial permanent way, a line made with out an Act of Parliament, working without a solicitor, and managed without directors. Certainly, at morning and evening you may hear and see the train of waggons thundering along through these handsome sheds, while its share of green fodder is punctually delivered at every shed or station throughout the entire distance. Special trains also, we believe occasionally travel at other hours of the day.
Next came the incident in the Alderman’s Agricultural Department, which as before stated, most struck us. After passing the comfortable and picturesque cottages which be had erected for his farm labourers, our attention was attracted by an exclamation from one of the visitors, and following him into a building, we were pleased and surprised to find ourselves in a neatly fitted-up schoolroom airy, arranged with desks, forms, clock, &c., and the walls ornamented with maps, and those illustrations of natural history which the Society for the Diffusion of Knowledge have published and rendered popular. This was in fact a school, established and supported by the tenant Alderman himself, for the children of his farm labourers, there being nothing of the kind within practicable distance of Walls’ Court. The children and intelligent mistress rose as we entered, and we learned that sixteen scholars attended during the day, and ten in the evening – the latter being employed at other times on the land, and spontaneously devoting a portion of their afternoons to the opportunities of improvement thus afforded them. Hear ye this, ye great farmers of Wiltshire, with your two or three thousand acres; how many of you recognise your responsibilities to the children of your workmen in this manner?
If even, one felt their duty and fulfilled it at their own cost as Alderman Proctor does, the ignorance of the rural classes of England would not be so crying as it is. It was by the merest accident this circumstance, and the worthy Alderman appeared to think as little of the merit of the act as he is ignorant of us noticing it. However, we cannot abstain, even at the risk of appearing to invade privacy, from chronicling the fact for the sake of example. People talk a great deal now about the right man in the right place; and we think it may well be said Mr. Proctor, whether in town or country, is never the wrong one. Nor can his business in Bristol, Birmingham, and elsewhere, superadded to the charge of his bullocks and milch cows at Walls’ Court Farm engross his energies -for the stranger or citizen who passes Redcliff Church, and sees the North Porch growing from year to year in newness and beauty through the liberality of an anonymous hand, which from time to time furnishes the funds, will not perhaps be so astonished to learn that the same Alderman Proctor, manufacturer, grazier, and restorer, is, at least, the sole depository of the secret of NIL DESPERANDUM.
NOTE The Proctor Memorial
There is a drinking fountain was erected at the top of Bridge Valley Road in 1872, at the corner of Ladies Mile (not far from the zoo). It bears the inscription:
Erected by Alderman Thomas Proctor of Bristol, to record the liberal gift of certain rights over Clifton Down made to the citizens of Bristol by the Society of Merchant Venturers under the
provision of the Clifton and Durdham Down Acts of Parliament 1861 whereby the enjoyment of these Downs is preserved to the citizens of Bristol for ever.’
It is a three-sided structure and it displays three Coats of Arms, namely, those of the Merchant Venturers, the City of Bristol and of Alderman Thomas Proctor.
In 1987 it dismantled, cleaned, restored and resited on the opposite side of the road on the grass nearer to the Mansion House.