August 2021: Local History
Once popular with Bristol’s well-heeled, Rodway Hill Golf Club has now vanished from all but the longest of memories. David Blackmore of Mangotsfield Residents Association tells its story.
FOUNDED in 1899, Rodway Hill Golf Club’s chief attraction for its members from across the Bristol area was its location.
The clubhouse and course were just 200 yards away from Mangotsfield station, which itself was a few minutes by train from Temple Meads and St Phillip’s stations.
Its founders included Phillip Fussell, a colliery owner from Bitton, and three Bristol-based Scots: George Imlay, a doctor living in St Andrews, and insurance company managers William Hewat Riddell and Walter Dodds Kellar, of Westbury-on-Trym.
The Horfield and Bishopston Record and Montpelier & District Free Press noted: “Doubtless the convenience of getting to and from Mangotsfield from the city, with the additional advantage of returning direct to Clifton Down, accounts in a great measure for the large number of Bristol gentlemen joining the club and becoming regular members.”
Originally an 18-hole woodland course, the front nine holes were on land that Mangotsfield School and Pomphrey Hill playing fields now occupy, with one hole going down towards the Bridge Inn at Shortwood. Six holes were played over Charnhill and three over Rodway Hill.
The ‘Donga Hole’ – a 300 yard par 4 – played down to a green near the railway bridge at the bottom of Manor Road.
A number of the original holes were on Henry Young’s Rodway Hill Farm, which are now part of Mangotsfield Secondary School’s sports field; Young ran the farm and was the estate manager for the club’s landlord, Sir Charles Daniel Cave.
In June 1899 the club successfully applied to the parish council to fence in part of the course to stop cattle straying onto it.
By its first spring meeting, in April 1900, the club had nearly 200 members.
The clubhouse had a large dining/club room, locker, drying and dressing rooms, with hot and cold water, a committee room and a large kitchen. From the large verandah there were views of the surrounding countryside, from Monmouthshire to Lansdown.
The clubhouse’s formal opening in June 1902 – attended by notables such as club captain and Kingswood boot manufacturer Edwin Woodall Pratt, and newspaper owner and club secretary Charles W Bennett – featured a 36-hole exhibition match.
Taking part were two of the most famous British golfers of the era: Harry Vardon, whose record of six Open wins between 1896 and 1914 still stands today, and James Braid, who would retire a five-time Open champion. They had finished third and second respectively in the 1902 Open, just two days before visiting Rodway Hill. Followed by about 500 enthusiastic spectators, in the morning round Vardon beat Braid 2 and 1, but in the afternoon Braid, in addition to winning 5 and 4, also set a new course record of 70.
By November 1902 the club was raising its annual subscriptions for new members to £2 a year and entrance fee to £3 3s, as its membership increased.
The 1905 Nisbet’s Golf Yearbook recorded that its membership had reached 300 and described Rodway Hill as “an interesting course, laid out over common and pasture land”.
However by January 1909 the club’s finances had diminished to the extent that it wrote to Mangotsfield Parish Council asking to be relieved of a £5 debt – a request turned down after councillor and Mangotsfield C of E School manager Mr Penny described the club as a “nuisance” and said the sum should be doubled rather than written off.
By November the club had turned its losses around and made a profit of £11 from an income of £930. The membership stood at 243, including men and women.
The Western Daily Press recorded in July 1910 that 30-year-old club professional Alfred Rowland White, of Railway Terrace, Fishponds, had broken the course record with a round of 68 strokes, only to go one better later in the month.
The clubhad to close three greens to make way for the shows and roundabouts of the May Fair on Rodway Hill in 1912.
As the First World War began in 1914, Rodway Hill’s autumn meeting saw all proceeds from competitions, amounting to £5.6s.0d, donated to the War Distress Fund. A scheme was adopted for the donation of sweaters for soldiers and sailors, and a ‘War Medal’ fundraising competition was played over the course.
Members of many clubs volunteered for the Armed Forces and notices were being displayed in clubhouses appealing for magazines and periodicals for serving troops and sailors to read.
In June 1915 the Coliseum Volunteer Corps of the Bristol Volunteer Regiment, which guarded many important industrial sites around the city, was granted the use of Rodway Hill for manoeuvres.
The club emerged from the war with a reduced membership – of 225 by 1922 – but had added new holes by 1924, increasing the course’s length. However in December 1926 members decided to close the front nine holes, reducing the course to the nine holes over Charnhill and Rodway Hill.
The following April, at an extraordinary general meeting, a proposal was made to wind up the club.
Donations from members appear to have saved it, however, and during the 1930s Rodway Hill was listed as a 9 hole course with a membership of 250 and Sunday play now allowed, without the use of caddies.
It made the news when in November 1930 the club house was broken into by Soundwell man Kenneth Wallington, who had earlier burgled a local shop. He was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment with hard labour at Gloucester Sessions.
The arrival of the Second World War saw the clubhouse in Rodway Hill requisitioned by the War Ministry in 1941, with an anti-aircraft gun emplacement sited nearby as a response to German bombing raids on Yate’s aerospace factories, which had claimed 56 lives in February and March. Bombers would follow the railway line through Fishponds past Mangotsfield to guide them to their target. Throughout the war years the course was still maintained by greenkeeper Harold Bressington, of Shortwood.
But the club never fully recovered from the effects of the war and, with a shrinking membership, was forced to close in 1947.