Troopers Hill has a fascinating history that has shaped its appearance today. The most obvious feature is the Grade 2 listed chimney at the top of the hill which may date from as early as the eighteenth century.
Harris Hill & Civil War
The area that is now known as Troopers Hill is on the edge of Kingswood Forest or Chase overlooking the river Avon. The hill was named as 'Harris hill' on a map of Kingswood dated 1610. A later map of 1672 also shows 'Harris hill lands'.
Local tradition has it that the Parliamentary army, under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, camped on Troopers Hill prior the siege of Bristol in 1645. It has also been suggested that the ditch between the hill and the allotments was dug at this time as a defensive earthworks. Troopers Hill, with its views of the city, would have made an excellent camping ground.
Crews Hole became a completely different place in the eighteenth century when the copper smelting industry was established in the area. Copper ore was brought by boat, mainly from Cornwall and north Devon and coal was sourced locally. The copper produced was mostly used with calamine (zinc ore) from the Mendips in the manufacture of brass at Baptist Mills and other sites in Bristol. Many of the brass products were exported to Africa to be bartered for slaves as part of the 'triangular trade'.
In around 1710 a copper smelting works was established by the Bristol Brass and Wire Company on land between the River Avon and where the Bull Inn now stands. This works became known as 'the Cupolas' and were the main industry in the vicinity of the hill.
From about 1750 the Brass Company started casting the waste copper slag into moulds to produce black building blocks. The best example of the use of these 'Bristol Black' blocks was in the building of the Black Castle at Arnos Vale but they can also be seen in many of the walls around the area. In around 1780 the Bristol Brass and Wire Company moved its copper smelting operations to Warmley having purchased the works of their rival William Champion and by about 1790 the Crews Hole site was abandoned.
While some copper and lead smelting continued in Crews Hole during the early years of the nineteenth century it seems to have been on a much smaller scale than in the eighteenth century. On Troopers Hill itself there was some quarrying of pennant sandstone during this period, but the most significant development was the opening of Troopers Hill Pit.
The chimney or stack that still stands at the junction of Troopers Hill Road and Crews Hole Road is all that remains of this colliery. Originally the chimney was at the corner of the engine house and parts of the walls of that building can still be seen. The corners of the stack are formed with black copper slag blocks. This structure is also Grade II listed. The mine shaft was behind the engine house on Troopers Hill in an area now covered in bramble; it is assumed that it was filled in after the colliery closed, which was before 1845.
Pennant Sandstone Quarrying
The industry that had the most effect on the shape of Troopers Hill as we see it today was the quarrying of pennant sandstone for use in building. The quarrying probably started on a small scale in the 1600s and continued until the early 1900s. The humps between the gully and Troopers Hill Road are tipped waste from the quarry that formed the gully.
1843 saw the start of a new industry adjacent to Troopers Hill that dominated the area until 1981. While the Great Western Railway was under construction in 1838 John Bethell patented creosote as a timber preservative and IK Brunel realised that its use would be a benefit to his new railway. Brunel took out a licence and set up a Tar Distillery on the site of the original copperworks at Crews Hole.
William Butler was appointed as manager of the works from the start of operations. In 1863 a fire broke out that nearly destroyed the plant and William Butler bought the plant.
William Butler & Co Ltd became a very successful and innovative company. When the adjacent Conham Chemical Works closed in 1904 and Stone and Tinson's in 1924, both sites were incorporated into the Butler Works together with the site occupied by a fireclay mine. In 1962 the Gas Board became sole owners of this company and continued to operate the tar works to treat the crude tar generated from the production of town gas. On 1st April 1970 the ownership of Bristol and West Tar Distillers changed hands for the last time when it became owned by the British Steel Corporation (BSC). The Crews Hole works closed in 1981 as BSC reduced the number of tar plants that they operated.
Troopers Hill was purchased by Bristol City Council in 1956 for use as a public open space. The adjacent land between the hill and Lamb Hill was purchased in the same year, but this was for use as Malvern Road Tip. The hill was largely left to take care of itself and seems to have remained largely unchanged until the early 1990s. In 1991 the Bristol Development Corporation installed fences around the site and constructed new paths. This was aimed at keeping motorcycles off the site and 'stopping Troopers Hill from wearing out'. Troopers Hill was declared as a Local Nature Reserve (LNR) on 22nd June 1995 in recognition of the wide range of wildlife present on the hill and its importance as a unique habitat in the Bristol area due to the presence of acidic soils. The start of the Wildspace! project in 2002 run by Sally Oldfield was the next significant event and led directly to the formation of Friends of Troopers Hill in December 2003.