History of Cleeve Wood Road Shops in Downend, Bristol

Historically, Downend was part of the Mangotsfield parish, along with Staple Hill, Soundwell, and Moorend. Mangotsfield is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Until the mid-1920s, Downend was a small rural community with a few large houses and farms, alongside cottages for farm workers and quarrymen. The landed gentry resided here, with the Cave family, prominent bankers, becoming the largest landowners after 1805. Their family home, Cleve Hill, had an entrance that can still be seen at the top of Croomes Hill, where the thatched cottage stands. The main entrance to Cleve Hill featured a serpentine driveway and a tunnel under Cleeve Hill Road near the tennis courts.

Cleve Hill House stood roughly where Cleeve Lawns is today. Over the years, the Cave family expanded the property into a bow-fronted Georgian-style residence, which was ultimately used as a hospital for wounded soldiers during World War I. The final owner, Sir Charles Daniel Cave, leased the property to the government for this use. A relative of his, Charles Henry Cave, became the Quarter-Master and his wife, Beatrice became Commandant, overseeing its operation. In September 1920, Sir Charles Cave sold the Cleve Hill Estate (1,400 aces) at auction, leading to much of the farmland being purchased by small builders. This marked the beginning of Downend’s growth, which continued into the 1930s until World War II halted further development. By then, new housing had emerged along the main roads—Badminton Road, Cleeve Hill, Bromley Heath Road, and Overndale Road—with additional roads branching off them. The Cleve Hill Estate house was demolished in 1930.

The spelling difference between ‘Cleve Wood’ and ‘Cleeve Wood’ is notable. The road ‘Cleeve Hill’ appeared on maps dating back to the 1800s with this spelling, directly adjacent to the house ‘Cleve Hill House’ (note, one less ‘e’). Similarly, the house ‘Cleve Wood’ appears on maps from the same period with the same single ‘e’ spelling. A map from around 1921 also displays ‘Cleeve Wood Road’. It seems that the houses used the spelling ‘Cleve’ while the roads opted for ‘Cleeve’.

In 1928, shops were constructed on Badminton Road to serve the new communities, now known as Downend High Street. Only two shops, the newsagent and the fish shop, retain their original trades to this day.

John Randall, a timber merchant from Fishponds, bought the house known as Cleve Wood (note the slightly different spelling) in 1923. His son opened the grounds of the house as “Cleve Wood Pleasure Grounds” which included activities such as tennis courts and fishing. Cleve Wood had frontage along the River Frome, as did the nearby Cleve Tea Gardens located at Cleve Mill, where many visitors enjoyed rowing boats along the river. After World War II, in 1945, the Randall family sold land fronting Cleeve Wood Road to the Malpass Brothers. The tea gardens closed in 1956.

The Malpass brothers were builders who developed the area, although not by themselves, in the early 1950s. The Malpass brothers later built and ran the car garage on the end of the shops, where petrol was sold along with car servicing and sales.

The Cleve Dale Flats, opposite the Cleeve Wood Road shops, were built in 1964 after the demolition of Cleve Dale House.

Initial businesses at Cleeve Wood Road included a small supermarket, an ironmonger, a grocer, a green grocer, Brookmans Bakery (which closed in 2006 after originally opening in 1956), and a pharmacy (which is still in its original location and operating today). There was also a butcher. Brian Kearns and Bill Bevan worked for Noel Woodhall, who opened the butcher’s shop in 1956. When Mr. Woodhall retired, it became known as Bevan and Kearns. Brian Kearns eventually bought the business outright, and following its closure in January 1999, it became Cleeve Catering and is now a veterinary practice. Other businesses that have operated at Cleeve Wood Road shops included Bidwells electric light shop, which is now West 70 Photography. At one time or another Cleeve Wood Road shops was also home to  a toy shop, a video rental shop, a sporting goods shop, a women’s fashion shop and a newsagent.

The supermarket, now Co-Operative Funeralcare, and three adjoining shops (now Victoria’s Beauty, Style Collection, and CJ Hole) were built around 1960-61. Initially, one of the units housed a district office of the Prudential Insurance Company. There was also an off-licence called Roberts & Cooper, which became Arthur Cooper, later Peter Dominic, and then Threshers off-licence before a brief stint as a t-shirt printing shop and now is home to the estate agents CJ Hole.

If you have any further information about Cleeve Wood Road shops and the former businesses that traded please contact us, as we welcome information.

Acknowledgement: The information above was compiled, written and shared by Mr Malcolm Coles, a local resident and member of over 40 years of Downend Local History Society (DLHS). The text was edited and webpage compiled by Adam Jones, business owner at Cleeve Wood Road Shops. 



Interactive Maps: https://maps.bristol.gov.uk/kyp/?edition=southglos

External Links of Interest:

Books / Further Reading:

The following publications provide detailed written and photographic information about Downend, offering valuable insights into its history and the surrounding area. By 2021, the DLHS had amassed around 3,000 photographs, now held at the South Gloucestershire Museum in Warmley. Many of the books detailed below are available at local South Gloucestershire libraries. The LibrariesWest website allows you to search for books available in at libraries in the area.

“Our Parish Mangotsfield and Downend” by Rev. Arthur Emlyn Jones (1899)
Originally written when Jones was a Curate at Christ Church Downend. Rediscovered by DLHS in the early 1970s, with the original plates found at Kingsmead Press in Bath. Reprinted with added photographs and an index in 1974.

“Mangotsfield Past” (1984)
A compilation of memories from elderly residents of Downend, Staple Hill, and Mangotsfield, collected during the 1970s and early 1980s.

“The History of Mangotsfield School” by R. S. Howlett (1980)
Updated in 2018 by Malcolm Coles after the school’s relocation to Emerson’s Green.

“Mangotsfield Picture Past” Volume 1 (1985), Volume 2 (1987), Volume 3 (1992)
Each volume includes an equal number of photographs of Downend, Mangotsfield, and Staple Hill, contributed by the public.

“More Mangotsfield History” by Peris Jones (1985)
Focuses on the owners, their families, and the occupiers of Baugh Farm and Bury Hill Farm.

“All Our Yesterdays” by DLHS (1994)
A collection of memories from elderly residents of the area.

“Staple Hill: A History” by Reg Howlett (1991)
Explores the fascinating history of local people and businesses.

“Making Ends Meet” by Peris Jones (1998)
Examines Poor Relief in the area during the 18th century.

“Betts Barton” by Peris Jones (2002)
A history of Salisbury Road.

“Gentlemen and Players” by Peris Jones (1989)
Short biographies of each member of W.G. Grace’s family, revealing interesting facts.

William Joyner’s Notebook 1790 – 1823”  by Peris Jones (1998)
This gives a Coroner’s view of Gloucestershire Society in that period.
“Death of a Giant” by Richard Randall (1991)
The story of the 1957 Britannia air crash in Downend.