Bristol has a long and proud history stretching back beyond Saxon times.

However, it also has a slightly shorter and not so proud history of allowing important heritage and buildings of historical interest to disappear under the demolition contractor’s wrecking ball, particularly in East Bristol, long treated with contempt by the city fathers.

This contempt for the heritage of East Bristol has been eloquently illustrated in recent times.

First there was the loss some 10 months ago of the fine Victorian school in Avonvale Road (posts passim). With the connivance of Bristol City Council, this was sacrificed on the altar of bland modern architecture sponsored by the academy schools programme.

The loss of Avonvale Road school was followed just one month later by the demolition of Ebenezer Chapel in Midland Road, the last non-conformist chapel in that part of the city and a rare example of a Romanesque style chapel (posts passim) in contrast to the more usual Gothic style. The site of the Ebenezer Chapel is now occupied by a bland, modern block of flats.

A third important building in East Bristol is now under threat of demolition by its owners, the Homes & Communities Agency, who in my opinion don’t know what a treasure they’ve got in their property portfolio. It’s on the left in the photo below.

photo of Marybush Lane School. Unlike Bristol24/7 I at least asked the permission of the photographer to use it and credited it accordingly

The old ambulance station site in Tower Hill. Photo used by kind permission of Chris Brown

What the picture shows is the site of Bristol’s old ambulance station in Tower Hill. The tracked vehicle on the right is sitting atop the remains of the uninspiring 1960s building forming part of the station complex. The most interesting part of the site is the stone building on the left.

That building dates from circa 1860 and was originally the parish school in Marybush Lane built for St. Philip and St. Jacob Church. It was designed by eminent Victorian architect and designer E.W. Godwin, a local boy whose best-known building is Northampton’s Guildhall. Godwin was born Old Market Street in 1833 and is believed to have attended St. Philip and St. Jacob as a worshipper. Locally Godwin also designed the grade II*-listed Carriageworks building on Stokes Croft, an early example of the Bristol Byzantine style.

The Victorian Society is calling on the Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, to step in to save the former school, which has been refused spot listing, despite its local historical importance. The Victorian Society’s Conservation Adviser, Sarah Caradec, said: “Bristol should take this last minute opportunity to save this early example of Godwin’s work in the area he was born and brought up in. Far too many examples of Godwin’s work have already been lost. Although English Heritage rejected an application to spot list the building, it recognised its strong local interest as an early Godwin building, as well as its group value with the associated Grade II*-listed Church of St Philip and St Jacob, which were restored by Godwin in the 1860s. We urge the Mayor of Bristol to recognise the building’s value and act now to ensure that the HCA build around it.”

It’s not just the connection with Godwin that makes the old school valuable. If it disappears beneath the wrecking ball, an important part of Bristol’s working class history will also be lost.

During the harsh economic times of the 1930s when millions were out of work, the Bristol branch of the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM) held its meetings at the school. Bristol Radical History Group has material related to the activities of NUWM in Bristol, whilst the excellent BRH publication Bread or Batons?, written by Dave Backwith and Roger Ball, can be purchased from Hydra Books in Old Market Street.

Will the HCA see sense?

Will George Ferguson intervene?

Only the next couple of weeks will tell.