Yate 100 years ago

March 03 2021
Yate 100 years ago

Yate Heritage Centre's David Hardill looks at how the years after World War One found the town in a state of flux.

IN the midst of all the First World War centenary events over the last few years, it is tempting to forget the general effects the war had on local parishes and what remained the same.

The aftermath of war is rarely obvious, and some elements of local life remained the same, at least on the surface. Yate was no different in this respect.

The years 1917 to 1920 would transform Yate from being a rural and industrial parish, punctuated by farms, mines and quarries, to one marked by modern, heavy industry. Yet, in 1921, lasting effects were still a few years away.

Before that year, many aircraft and army personnel would have been seen on Station Road. German POWs camped on Westerleigh Road were also working on local farms and around Station Road.

By March 1921, the centre of the parish must have felt eerily empty. The vast Aircraft Repair Depot on Station Road, the centrepiece of the local war effort, had employed over 1,800 military personnel, but they had departed by June 1920.

The local POWs had finally been dispersed back to the Continent. The wartime industrial infrastructure must have appeared a sad reminder of the conflict. Little did local people know that, within four years, George Parnall would move in to manufacture aircraft there.

The casualties of war would also have been foremost in the minds of many.

January 2 1921 saw the erection of the memorial lychgate at St Mary’s in Yate (below, pictured soon after it opened) following on from the memorials at Westerleigh and Chipping Sodbury.


The new memorial hospital on Station Road, later the maternity hospital, was about to open its doors in the full knowledge that existing health services had been insufficient to cope with wartime casualties and the modern needs of health and medicine.

While there is little local evidence of Spanish Flu in Yate in 1918, it was inevitable that many local families would have lost loved ones to this cruel pandemic.

Some of the major changes wrought by war were not yet obvious or had yet to be realised. Many of the patterns and rhythms or Edwardian times returned. Station Road pubs like the Swan and Railway Hotel remained part of the fabric of social life. Chapels and churches could welcome back returning military personnel.

Many pillars of the local establishment remained popular. By 1921, the reverend Maddox Ford was a long-established rector of 25 years, while Ernest 'Gaffer' Brown, too, was a veteran head teacher of Yate Church School of some 18 years. He had seen his stature grown during the war years, reading the letters of soldiers on behalf of local families.

Colonel Peter Burges, of Ridge House, a long-standing 'worthy', was the leading advocate of the new war memorials in the area at this time.

Although the area was denuded of many young men, life had to go on. Family businesses continued. The Boulton Brothers butchers of Station Road, grocer Mark Bateman and EG Forrest, baker, both of North Road, went on as before the Great War.

Fast forward 16 years, and the original Aircraft Depot has two major companies Parnall Aircraft and Newman Industries, occupying the site, mass producing aircraft gun turrets and bomb shells for the war effort.

Yate had become a modern, industrial community of large companies, garages, cinemas and newcomers.

Top picture: North Road Post Office, 1926. Picture: R Jordan.