History of Saltford - Saltford Parish Council

Oil painting of Saltford Lock, the River Avon, and a nearby storage building
Saltford Lock, image copyright SPC.

Saltford’s two claims to fame are that it has oldest continuously occupied private house in England, and that it is the location of the first ever recorded cricket match in Somerset.

But there is much more to Saltford’s history. From its nationally protected geological Site of Special Scientific Interest to a Scheduled Ancient Monument at a site mentioned in the Domesday Book, there is plenty to find out about Saltford’s past.

For detailed information on artefacts found in Saltford, visit Saltford’s online museum run by the Saltford Environment Group (SEG). To view these artefacts in person look out for open days at SEG’s volunteer run Saltford Heritage Centre on the High Street.

The Brass Mill, located on The Shallows, is now a visitor attraction run by an active team of volunteers. The Brass Mill site is regularly open to visitors during the summer months, please see the Saltford Brass Mill website for details.

Click on the links below to discover more.

Fossil in wall in Saltford

Many ammonites and other fossils can be spotted in Saltford’s walls and buildings. Saltford has a fascinating geological history with Lower Jurassic rocks used in many of the older houses in the village, as well as seen across ploughed fields. The rocks, mainly Blue Lias limestone, have abundant fossils and show that 180 million years ago the wider region was once under a warm, shallow sub-tropical sea.

Some limestone exposures in Saltford are extremely important in understanding local and regional geology and have been protected as Regionally Important Geological Sites (RIGS) in recognition of this. A gravel deposit from the last ice age near Avon Lane has national protection as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

The oldest artefact from the Saltford area, a stone axe with a hole for a wooden handle, dates from either the late Neolithic (stone age) or the early Bronze Age. Several other artefacts show habitation of the Saltford area in pre-historic times, including Neolithic flint deposits and iron age pottery shards.

Saltford’s inhabitants during the Roman period would have farmed and produced goods to sell in the bustling city of Aquae Sulis (Bath) during its Roman heyday.

Many Roman artefacts Saltford have been discovered, of particular note the Carthaginian coin dating 300-264 B.C, now at the British Museum. Coins and jewellery are now on display at the Saltford Heritage Centre, and Roman roof tiles and everyday pottery shards often turn up in ploughed fields. Several Roman coffins have also been found in Saltford.

Saltford Environment Group continue to support excavations for evidence of a Roman villa within Saltford’s current boundaries, further to those already known at Keynsham and by the ‘Twerton Fork’ junction c.1.5 miles from Saltford.

Saltford Manor House
Saltford Manor (photograph copyright Cllr Jon Godfrey)

The population of Anglo-Saxon Saltford was substantial enough to warrant a church, as shown by St Mary’s Church tower, the base of which dates from the latter end of the period and possibly supersedes an earlier church building. Apart from its Saxon tower base, the majority of St Mary’s Church is early Norman in origin. It is a typical small village church, its size reflective of the population it was built to serve. The church still retains its Norman (possibly late Anglo-Saxon) octagonal font.

An Anglo-Saxon burial ground was discovered in c.1936 to the north of Saltford near Avon Farm.

Evidence that Saltford was an established village by the late Anglo-Saxon period is demonstrated by the village’s entry in the Norman’s Domesday Book, a record of the ‘Great Survey’ created by order of William the Conqueror written just two decades after the Norman invasion. Written in medieval Latin, the main purpose of the survey was to identify what taxes had been owed during the reign of the last Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Confessor, and therefore what taxes William could raise. 

The Domesday Book entry for ‘Sanford’ or ‘Sandfort’ records residents (by type i.e. ‘serfs’, as is typical of the document) as well as Saltford’s watermill showing that industry has been taking place in Saltford for over 1000 years. Saltford was one of 75 manors in Somerset alone given by William the Conqueror to Geoffrey Mowbray, the Bishop of Coutances. Mowbrey was a warrior-bishop, who fought alongside William at the Battle of Hastings and played a key part at his coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey in 1066. 

Saltford’s oldest dwelling is Saltford Manor, dating from the middle of the 12th century. It is thought to be the oldest continuously occupied private house in England. Saltford Manor retains many Norman features, including the tall narrow window visible at the back of the house.

Saltford Manor, and the adjacent St Mary’s Church, were both monastic establishments of Keynsham Abbey an Augustinian abbey founded in c.1166. It is believed that the medieval fishing ponds behind the manor and church were used to supply fish to the inhabitants of Keynsham Abbey. No doubt having such a powerful religious centre close by would have impacted on the lives of the inhabitants of Saltford. Keynsham Abbey was disassembled on the direction of Henry VIII in 1539, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. A small section of its ruins can still be seen today in Keynsham Memorial Park.

Saltford High Street

In 1303, Saltford was recorded as being in the Hundred of Keynsham (a ‘Hundred’ being a unit of local government and taxation, its size being between a village and shire). The Hundred of Keynsham had been conferred upon Keynsham Abbey at its foundation in the 12th century.

The area now known as Saltford’s ‘old village’ developed in and around the areas between the High St, watermill and what is now the A4 Bath Road. Today this forms today’s Saltford Conservation Area, as outlined in this map.

Documents detail the history of residences on Saltford’s High Street to the early modern period, including no.5 which still has its Tudor fireplace. Cottages belonging to mill workers dating from the 1600s can be found on The Shallows. Many former houses on the High Street also date from around this period, including Metz Cottage, Norman House and 18 High Street, which were all built around 1600. Fir Cottages on the High Street, now rebuilt as ‘Fernbank’, was used by the Parish of Saltford as the Poor House from 1615 (when a workhouse was built in Keynsham in 1838). Springside was constructed in 1684, and the row of cottages adjacent know as Collins Building (opposite to Rose Cottage) are also of 17th century origin.

St Marys Church Saltford
St Mary’s Church (Photograph copyright Cllr Jon Godfrey)

In 1643 the river crossing at Saltford was used by armies during the Civil War, and soldiers were billeted in the village.

St Mary’s Church tower was recorded as being attacked by the Roundheads. Internal parts of the church were also damaged.

‘Jeffrey’s Lodge’ on the High Street was originally a farmhouse. Its name change is said to originate from the building being the accommodation for Judge Jeffreys who stayed there after the Civil War during the trial of rebels.

Brass Mill Saltford

On 3rd September 1702, Queen Anne was recorded as passing through Saltford on her way from Bath to Bristol. It is recorded that she and her entourage travelled in 13 coaches, each pulled by six horses, along The Shallows, a section of Mead Lane, then up a ‘track’ which is probably what is now known as Avon Lane. She returned the same route later the same day.

Although there has been a watermill in Saltford for over a thousand years, the building visible today, today known as the ‘Brass Mill’, was built in 1721. Its waterwheels were used to power machinery. It was built by the Bristol Brass Company which was established in 1702, and was one of nine mills along the River Avon belonging to the company.

In 1727 the tidal River Avon was made navigable from Hanham to Bath via a series of locks. ‘Kelston Lock’ is close to Saltford Marina, with ‘Saltford Lock’ located about a mile away, adjacent to the Jolly Sailor public house. The Jolly Sailor Inn was built next to the lock in 1749 for the bargemen who needed accommodation, food and drink. Bargemen were employed to pull the barges along the river in teams of five men, though horses were later used.

The Crown Inn, a public house on the A4 Bath Road, was a staging inn when it opened in c.1748. The inn offered accommodation, food, music and stables. It was formerly known as The Saltford Inn.

The first cricket match recorded in Somerset took place in Saltford on 3rd July 1751.

Notable Saltford residences built during the 18th century include Saltford House, a square Georgian mansion, constructed in 1712. A blue plaque marks the residence between 1856 to 1867 of Admiral Benedictus Marwood Kelly, who fought in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars and served on the anti-slavery patrols off the west coast of Africa. He made major additions and repairs to the building. Admiral Kelly’s wife, Juliana, was known to generously distribute coal, cloaks and soup to poor families.

Adjacent to Saltford House is another notable residence now know as The Tunnel House, built in 1744. It is a Georgian three storey building famed for being purchased by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who built a tunnel underneath between 1836 and 1838 for his GWR London to Bristol line.

Brass Knocker House was built in 1747. Originally called Mount Cottage, it was subsequently named after its shiny brass knocker made at the Saltford Brass Mill. The building was used as a beer shop, grocery shop, an inn, and a post office.

Old photograph of Saltford Ferry

An early 19th century white turnpike house can be seen on the left when entering Saltford from the direction of Bath. There would have been a gate across the road (A4 Bath Road) which opened once the toll was paid.

Saltford’s first parsonage, Saltford Rectory, was built in 1814 and was in use until 1987. Located by the outlook (formerly Cox’s Close) at the top of The Shallows, it is now a private residence, with Saltford’s current rectory located on Beech Road.

Brunel’s Great Western Railway opened between Bath and Bristol in 1840, and Saltford’s station opened in August of the same year. The station was rebuilt in 1874 after a fire. The line is still operated by GWR though Saltford’s station was closed on 5th January 1960. The former GWR station site is located above The Shallows, with access from the A4 Bath Road. On the opposite side of the road was The Ship Inn, an ancient inn once used for the changing of horses. During the building of the railway it was used as a pay office to page the workers, and when the station was open it was perfectly positioned to gain the passing trade of passengers. The building was also used as a post office in 1894.

Saltford’s original school was called ‘Queen’s School’, adjacent to Queens Square. It opened in 1847, funded by donations by rectors in the Bath area as well as £100 from Admiral Kelly of Saltford House. In 1874 Mrs Juliana Kelly – then Admiral Kelly’s widow – paid for the rebuilding of Saltford School. The old school building is now part of the church hall and in part a private residence. Saltford School relocated to its current site on Claverton Road in 1961.

A second railway line was built between Bristol and Bath by the Midland Railway, which opened in 1869. The stretch passing through Saltford served Kelston, and provided a direct link between Bath, Birmingham and Manchester. It also connected in Bath with the Somerset and Dorset Railway, meaning Saltford residents could travel directly to Bournemouth by railway. Trains stopped twice a day, and a wooden station was built in Saltford that was accessed over fields by Kelston residents. To coincide with the arrival of the Midland Railway two thatched cottages were converted in the same year to create The Bird in Hand Inn. The inn was used by navvies working on the line. The bridge built over the River Avon to carry the railway is the only crossing over the river in Saltford. Following the disuse of the Midland Railway line, the former line is now the popular Bath and Bristol Railway Path, and is popular with cyclists and walkers.

The Saltford Regatta was a highly popular event which officially started in 1894. It was however preceded by the Bath Regatta on the same stretch of river, which was first held in Saltford in 1849. Saltford as a location was chosen both for its long straight section of river and also the proximity of the GWR railway station. Known as ‘the Henley of the West’ according to newspaper articles of the time, many hundreds of people came by train and boat to attend.

In 1861 Saltford is recorded as having 376 residents living in 86 dwellings.

A ferry from The Shallows to the opposite side of the river was used to take both passengers and livestock from one side to the other. Hannah Gregory was known to operate the ferry across the River Avon between 1886 and 1908. She and her husband Charles lived in Ferry Cottages, now Willow Cottages, on The Shallows. The passenger ferry was propelled using a pole, and there was also a large flat boat for wagons and animals to be transported. The ferry was particularly busy during the Saltford Regatta. The ferry was also in popular demand by Saltford residents on race days, due to the location of the Bath racecourse on the other side of Kelston Round hill.

Saltford Parish War Memorial

The turn of the century marked the beginning of the end for Saltford’s Brass Mill. Declining to adopt newer production methods, in time the Bristol Brass Company failed to keep up its competitors. Brass battery using hammers ceased at the mill in 1908 and brass rolling – with rolling mills powered by waterwheels – was stopped in 1925. The area around the mill is now used for mooring river boats.

Saltford Golf Club was established in 1904, with its Club House built the following year.

In 1906 Saltford gained its first motor bus service. This travelled from Saltford to Brislington, where passengers could then join Bristol’s electric tram service. Further motor bus services were added, including to the Globe roundabout to Bath’s electric tram service.

Several men from Saltford lost their lives during both the First and Second World Wars – details can be found on the railings by the war memorial on the corner of Beech Road and Norman Road. Saltford’s War Memorial was originally located in the centre of the road close to its current location, and was erected in 1920. It was moved to its current location in 1966 following it being damaged by a car. The railings in front of the War Memorial are assets belonging to Saltford Parish Council. These were updated in 2018 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1.

In 1939 a hundred children from London were evacuated to Saltford, and were integrated into classes at Saltford School. The garden at the rear of the building was used to grow produce, and children would use Queen’s Square as their playground.

In 1930 the Wills family funded the conversion of the Methodist Chapel on The Shallows to a Working Men’s Hall. It remained in use, having a snooker table as its main attraction, until Saltford Hall opened in 1961. Saltford Hall was built using donations from residents, following a community fund started in 1948. As well as funds, residents dug the foundations and built part of the hall. Today it is managed by the Saltford Community Association and forms a focus for community events and activities.

Saltford saw significant expansion and house building during the 20th century. Norman Road had many houses by the 1930s, and later in the same decade work began on houses in Claverton Road. Substantial development also took place during the latter decades of the 20th century. For maps of ‘then’ and ‘now’, please visit the Saltford Environment Group’s online museum ‘river and aerial views’ page.

Saltford Parish Council held its first meeting on 15th May 1991, following the outcome of the local election on 2nd May 1991. The Parish Council marks its 30th anniversary in 2021. For information about the first Saltford Parish Council, and how and why Saltford Parish Council was created, please see our ‘Marking 30 Years of Saltford Parish Council‘ account based on recollections from two former SPC Chairs.

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