St Anne’s Church
A brief history
The present church building, which dates from 1830, is not the first religious building to have been built on this site. Previous to its building Oldland had been, for administrative purposes, a hamlet in the larger parish of Bitton and on this site had been a chapel-of-ease. (A chapel for the ease of those for whom the journey to Bitton was a long one.)
Before the Reformation the parish of Bitton belonged to the Diocese of Worcester, and in its diocesan records of about 1280 there is the earliest reference to Oldland Chapel - ‘Bytton cum capella de Oldeland’. There was not another church built between Bitton and St.Philip and St.Jacob in Bristol until the nineteenth century.
The chapel was dramatically sited on a well-drained hilltop - not too far from the manor house, and on the edge of the forest. The first building was noted for its rare saddleback tower. The tower’s roofs ran north and south at right-angles to the nave, and the tower housed three bells. A saddleback tower is good evidence for the church being fairly old. Hanging near the font at the rear of the church is an artist’s impression of this building based on an old plan of the church, which is also hanging there.
Oldland originally covered a huge tract of the old forest of Kingswood and was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. At that time it was owned by the Bishop of Exeter. In the eighteenth century the population of Oldland began to grow as a result of its proximity to coal and water, both necessary to the Industrial Revolution sweeping the country. There is evidence of mining for coal in the area from 1200 - until comparatively recently mining meant just digging as big a hole in the ground as was safe. However California Pit, situated where California Farm Estate is now, was a larger operation and employed a number of miners. It closed in 1902 after flooding overnight, when fortunately there were no miners on site, and was never pumped out. A chemical works was established in Oldland Bottom called the Old Bone Mill but closed in 1840. There were also a number of hatters’ workshops in the area. It is believed that these were started by Flemish refugees who brought with them not only the trade of making felt and beaver hats but also their tradition of building their houses in squares, or bartons. Many of theses bartons can still be found in the vicinity.
With the growth of the population a more constant ministry was demanded. Oldland had been permitted its own churchyard in 1720 - previously all burials would have taken place at Bitton. It is hard to believe now, but until the early nineteenth century Kingswood, although it had a fast growing population, was a part of the hamlet of Oldland and served only by Oldland Chapel. Holy Trinity Church, Kingswood, was built in 1821 at the instigation of Canon Ellacombe with funds granted by the King and using the labour of ex-soldiers who had served in the Napoleonic Wars - at the time it was known as a ‘Waterloo Church’. When the chapel at Oldland was demolished in 1829 to prepare for the building of the present church, at least two of its three bells were taken to the ‘daughter’ church at Kingswood and are still there. One is inscribed ‘Sancta Anna’.
The new church at Oldland, also built by Canon Ellacombe, was opened for divine service on Sunday November 14th, 1830. The Vicarage was built in 1850, originally for the curate. Previously the Vicar of Bitton had taken a service at Bitton in the morning and had gone in the afternoon alternatively to Hanham Abbotts and Oldland. The curate, now living in Oldland, could serve both these chapels. In 1861 Oldland was made a separate parish with its own vicar.
There were at one stage three galleries in St.Anne’s Church, but it remained a poor church for a poor area. The rebuilding of the church was paid partly by Canon Ellacombe’s fundraising amongst his friends outside the area and partly by a precept on the parish rate - in those days church parish and civic parish were the same thing.
Today St.Anne’s serves a different community, the population of Oldland no longer being employed locally in agriculture or industry but mostly commuting to Bristol or Bath to work, but it continues to be at the heart of what is still essentially a village - there for baptisms, marriages and funerals, there as a meeting place for young and old and there to celebrate the festivals of the Christian year.