The corner of Victoria Park which housed the Club from its formation in 1894 until 1900.
The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom is a successor to the Tory Party, which represented landed gentry and the Anglican Church well into the early nineteenth century. However, the 1831 general election resulted in a landslide win by supporters of electoral reform and the introduction of ‘The Representation of the People Act’ the following year changed the political scene so completely that the 1832 election proved disastrous for the Tories.
Faced with the prospect of adapting or dying, around 1834 the party’s title was officially changed from Tory to Conservative, while the widening of the electoral franchise forced it to change direction. No longer portraying themselves as primarily defenders of the landed and aristocratic elite, the Conservatives successfully widened their appeal to the urban lower and middle classes leading to a period of political dominance which began in 1886 and lasted for most of the next twenty years.
At first the Conservatives were passively supported in opposition to Irish Home Rule by the recently formed Liberal Unionist Party, a breakaway faction of the Liberal Party, and in 1895 the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists formed a coalition government before completely merging in 1912. Consequently, from the 1890's until the 1920's, Unionist displaced Conservative as the general term for the Party and its supporters.
Locally, the first tentative step towards the establishment of the Fishponds Conservative Club can be traced back to September 29th 1859 when Henry Charles FitzRoy Somerset, the 8th Duke of Beaufort, who resided at Stoke House, Stapleton, and owned an extensive estate in the parish, sold a plot of land just south of St Mary’s church in Fishponds village to John Yalland, a local building contractor.
Although born on October 7th 1812 in the village of Loddiswell, near Kingsbridge in Devon, the son of a well to do farmer, by 1841 Yalland had moved to the St Philips area of Bristol where he was working as a stone mason. Ten years later he was employing 42 men, while about 1854 John Yalland bought William Monks old farmhouse and grounds adjoining Prison Lane in Fishponds, which he extensively remodelled and christened the Manor House. As a result, Prison Lane was later renamed Manor Road.
John’s son Thomas King Yalland, who had been born on March 5th 1845, followed in his father’s footsteps and by 1881 was described as a master builder contractor employing 90 men. He was then living at ‘The Laurels’, a house standing on part of the land adjoining today’s Fishponds Road and St Mary’s churchyard bought by his father in 1859.
The West Gloucestershire constituency, in which Fishponds was located, had been created in 1832. It returned two members of parliament and from its inception one of these had always belonged to the Whig, and later the Liberal Party, which strongly supported social reform, personal liberty, reducing the powers of the Crown and the Church of England and extending the electoral franchise. Many Liberals were also nonconformists, as were a considerable number of people in and around Fishponds, an area in which the population expanded steadily during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Consequently, the village eventually became important enough to be canvassed by mainstream politicians including Benjamin St John Ackers, the Conservative candidate for West Gloucestershire, who had been selected to fight the seat following the promotion of the constituency’s local Liberal M.P. Robert Kingscote to manage Crown lands. Ackers held a meeting on the green at the rear of the Full Moon Inn during the evening of August 19th 1884, and although it was a ticket only event, many local Liberals “not in sympathy with the political views of the promoters’ managed to gain entry”!
Nevertheless, in spite of winning the bye-
In spite of the next general election being some eighteen months away, the local press considered it worth reporting a well attended gathering of Unionists, as the Conservatives were also describing themselves, which took place on February 27th 1894 in the Fishponds Assembly Room, a building which appears to have belonged to St Mary’s church. The meeting was presided over by Thomas King Yalland and addressed by none other than Lewis Fry, who was standing as the Liberal Unionist candidate for Bristol North.
At its conclusion Mr. J. Sparks junior proposed a resolution, which was seconded by Mr. J. Hands, stating that in spite of Fry having been defeated in the 1892 election, “the Unionist Party in Fishponds was healthier, stronger, and more determined to fight and win today than it ever was.” This was no idle boast as within three years Liberal Unionists had all but merged with the Conservatives and so when, in July 1895, the country next went to the polls Lewis Fry was elected to serve as the Liberal Unionist M.P. for Bristol North, a seat which the party retained until 1906.
Meanwhile, on December 24th 1894 Thomas King Yalland had begun leasing a house and shop in Fishponds close to the junction of Manor Road and Victoria Park. Originally known as 2 Victoria Buildings, but later re-
From the very beginning billiards has featured prominently in the club’s social activities, and in October 1896 it is recorded that the Fishponds Unionists played an away match against St Agnes. However, although the Unionists, represented by Messrs Clark, Pike, Brimble, Smith, Gerrish, Bragg, Dale, Scott, Webb, Brown, Fabian and Ball lost by 281 points, in November, when they played the Devonshire Unionist Club at home, they won by 180 points, while in December, again at Fishponds, they defeated the Lake Street Institute by 192 points.
1897, the year in which Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee was celebrated, saw a fountain inscribed with the name of John Yalland, the first chairman of the Stapleton Local Board, erected in Fishponds Park in order to commemorate that the ground on the corner of Manor Road and Fishponds Road had been laid out for public use back in 1888. However, on March 28th 1897, some eight months before Fishponds ceased to be a part of the County of Gloucestershire and was swallowed up by the City & County of Bristol, Yalland died aged 84. Some of his property was inherited by his daughter Mary Jane Powell who, on December 29th 1899, sold part of the land he had acquired back in 1859 to John Grant and Thomas Free as it was there that that the new premises for the Fishponds Unionist Club was being erected.
The work was carried out by Mr. E. Clark, according to plans prepared by Mr. A.J. Saise, and when completed the total cost was estimated to have been about £1400. Located at 761 Fishponds Road, between the post office and the park, the new club building was constructed of Pennant stone, with Bath stone dressing. It was provided with a basement containing kitchens, a scullery and extensive cellaring. On the first floor, level with the street, was a bar measuring 24 feet by 18 feet, a reading room of the same size, a games room 18 feet square, lavatories and a room for the caretaker, while the second floor housed a spacious billiard room 44 feet by 24 feet along with accommodation for 43 year old James Wines, the new caretaker. An ex-
On the evening of Monday March 19th 1900 the new Unionist Club at Fishponds was officially opened with a well attended dinner held in the billiard room. The chair was taken by Thomas Free, and the company included Lewis Fry, the Liberal Unionist M.P. for Bristol North, Messrs Arthur Lee, John Grant, George Davies, Alfred Bruce Robinson, H.W. Carter, I. McIlroy, A.J. Harris and A.J. Saise, Dr. W. Brown, Dr. C. Bernard, Dr. Skelton, Capt. St. Maur Hill, the Rev. J.W. Dann and others. Apologies for absence were received from Aldermen F.F. Fox and J. Wesley Hall, Captain Belfield and others.
Lewis Fry later congratulated the club having moved into such an admirable and commodious a home. It had done excellent work in the past and it was destined in its new home to do still greater and more effective work for the Unionist Party. Arthur Lee then proposed the “Fishponds Unionist Club” and said that by it they would be able to obtain the means of political education which had a valuable character. Finally, Dr. C. Bernard, chairman of the Building Committee, expressed thanks to those who had assisted in the work connected with the building, which had provided for upwards of 200 members, and concluded by saying that the club had a balance of £150 on the right side.
In 1907 41 year old Edwin Amos is first recorded as being the club manager, a new description for the steward, and he lived on the premises along with his wife Florence, who acted as stewardess, and their three children Edwin junior, Daisy and Lily. 1912 saw the Conservative Party and the Liberal Unionists officially merge to form the present day Conservative and Unionist Party, while the following year Edwin Amos left the club to be replaced by Frank Paske, who was last listed as manager in 1922. In 1923 Mr. R.F. Thorne was being described as the secretary, and he remained in post until 1926 when John Hall took over the position, only to be followed by Ernest Tyler in 1930. However, by 1934 Reginald Stepney was acting as the honorary secretary a post he held throughout World War Two and for a number of years after.
Although in 1947 the premises were described as housing the North Bristol Union Association, with Clifton C. Hazel as its secretary, by 1950 No.761 Fishponds Road was again being listed as home to the Fishponds Unionist Club (with Reginald Stepney still as honorary secretary) and this remained its official description until 1969 when it was finally renamed the Fishponds Conservative Club.
Today over a hundred years on, the Fishponds Conservative Club still occupies the same imposing premises with a membership of 300 plus and social calendar of events to please everyone, yet sadly not in such a healthy financial situation. Therefore The Fishponds Conservative Club cordially invites and would welcome applications for new memberships to add to the already happy band of members.
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