A poem about Charles Bishop’s quest to re-open a right of way through St Anne’s Wood in 1884.

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Subjects: Commons, Customary Rights & Enclosures
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By Julie Boston

Bristol 1884

‘Who’s that walking through my woods?
Who’s that fishing In my stream?
Who’s that drinking from my well?
Who’s that trampling on my dream?

‘Last month I bought St Anne’s Estate –
The woods, the ferry and the Well –
Put a lock on every gate Trespassers can go to Hell.
How dear little Angelina dotes
On her piebald pony and pedigree goats’

James Sinnott, the villain of this tale,
thought his plan couldn’t fail
if the ferryboat didn’t sail.
But Sinnott did not realise
That a Bishop was out to organise.

The Pilgrim Inn supplied a stage
Where locals could vent their rage
‘Nethan Bridge. That’s 3 more miles to work each day.
The ferry’s by far the quickest way’
said Charles Bishop in dismay.

But the Bishop of Bath and 4 JPs,
Bristol Footpath Preservation Society,
Were loathe to attract notoriety
And agreed to proceed. I quote
“in a manner as little offensive
And annoying to Mr Sinnott as possible
to remove the locks without delay
Asserting the public to a right of way.

Sinnott felt better as he burnt their letter.
Alone his children had fun roaming
St Annes Woods till 91.

But Bishop battled on.
In 87 he made a written complaint,
– a written complaint – the committee felt faint
but agreed to wait for a later date.
In 88 they broke the lock on Sinnott’s gate,
walking the path, fearful for their fate.
Sinnott replaced the lock.

Another shock.
Bishop bought a boat and set up a ferry –
the committee got a grip. Took a trip.
A week later Sinnott issued a writ – a legal battle.
That was it.

The committee had to look
In the British Museum and the Doomsday Book
for proof of use which took
time and money.
The trial ran for nearly a year.
100 witnesses had to swear, on oath,
that they had either, or both,
paid a half penny toll on the Ferry,
or drank water from the Holy Well.

March 1891. Bristol had won.
The Judge ruled that the ancient Right of Way
was open for ever and a day.
Sinnott lost and paid costs.
A hut for the ferry man was Bishop’s next quest
raising funds with his zeal and zest.

Celebrate Bristol Radical History 2008.
Walk from Packers Field to St Anne’ s Estate.
Spark Evans Park, Castle Park, Troopers Hill
belong to us still. Then pause
and raise your glass for this noble cause.

Julie Boston, May 2008


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