We visit Mangotsfield, the timeless village 30 minutes from central Bristol
It has a 13th-century church and once had its own railway station, but what’s it like living and working in this former village on the north east edge of Bristol - Mark Taylor finds out
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The fact that nobody ever mentions Mangotsfield was reason enough to visit this former village on the north-eastern edge of Bristol on a damp October morning. I hadn’t been to Mangotsfield for at least 30 years and not that much seems to have changed - it still has the sleepy feel of the rural village it was.
Just after 11am, a handful of locals were tidying up the entrance to the splendid Grade II-listed St James Church, which dates from the 13th century although rebuilt by the Victorians. In the row of shops dominated by a large Tesco Express, staff were preparing to open for business at Bruce’s Fish Bar. A few doors down, Shep’s Barber Shop was already busy doing half-term haircuts for the local kids.
Had I been walking around the village on the second or fourth Wednesday of the month, I might have even heard the dulcet tones of the ‘Friendly Voices’ at Mangotsfield & Castle Green United Reformed Church. This local singing group is for people with dementia and their carers and they meet twice a month.
Until 1966, Mangotsfield had its own railway station, but now buses to and from the village are few and far between. There are more frequent and reliable services running to nearby Emersons Green, a 15-minute walk away, with its supermarkets, retail outlets and restaurants.
In the timeless centre of Mangotsfield, a cluster of red poppy wreaths had been placed around the war memorial opposite the Grapevine Brasserie, a pub and restaurant. The more traditional Red Lion down the road may still be the pub where the locals drink, but the Grapevine is more of a pub restaurant aimed at families.
But with the cheapest pint of beer or cider now at £4.90, drinks prices at the Grapevine are comparable to city centre venues and manager Corina Ambrose told me business was much quieter than it was a month ago.
Like all pubs and restaurants, the cost of ingredients and drinks is rising for the venues and they have no choice but to increase the prices on the menus. To entice more diners to the Grapevine, Corina has launched a range of deals and events from Wednesday steak night and Thursday burger night to bottomless Prosecco lunches on Saturdays (£30 for two courses and ‘unlimited’ Prosecco).
The Grapevine has also recently started a cheaper lunch menu. Pub classics like ham, egg and chips or beef pie, mash, vegetables and gravy are now just £10, and there is a range of ciabattas, sandwiches and jacket potatoes between £7.50-£8.75.
“Early in the week, it’s very quiet but when it gets to the weekend, we still get fully booked,” Corina told me. “People have less money than they did and they can’t afford to eat out as much - even I stay at home to eat rather than going out, but then I’m lucky as my boyfriend is a chef!”
The one thing that might strike the first-time visitor to Mangotsfield is the fact that there are very few places to shop apart from the Tesco Express. Apart from fast food takeaways, hairdressers, barber shops and a funeral directors, the centre of the village is devoid of retail units.
The one exception to that is The Revolution Workshop opposite the church in Cossham Street. Started 15 months ago by Will Wells, the business is a repair shop that also sells new Raleigh bikes.
It started as a mobile business covering the BS16 area but Will decided to open a permanent site in Mangotsfield, mainly because it was close to the popular cycle track. “Commercial lets are extremely hard to come by so it was sheer chance rather than choice that landed us here,” says Will. “Most commercial leases get snapped up by massive chain stores before even going to market.
“It says a lot about the way things are going that all of the units in Mangotsfield except Tesco are operated by businesses offering services rather than retail. Although we sell bikes and parts, the vast majority of our business is our servicing.
“You can’t buy a haircut, tattoo, bike service or hot fish and chips from Amazon!
“Actually, we don’t think bike sales will be the mainstay of our business as things shift more and more to online retail. It’s sad, and we wish a lot more people would support independent retail, but it has been going in this direction for a long time, and the current financial climate pushes more and more people to save money via online purchasing.”
Like other bike shops around Bristol, Will is seeing an increase in business due to the cost of fuel and the clean air zones in the city.
“We are seeing a lot more people switching to bikes to commute to work this year. We’ve just taken on Raleigh as our first bike brand and nearly every bike sale so far has been people switching from driving to riding an e-bike.
“Luckily the cycle to work scheme has raised their upper voucher limit to accommodate e-bikes which saves up to 50%. There’s really good access to both Bath and Bristol from Mangotsfield by bike and an e-bike makes that commute accessible to nearly anyone rather than the hardcore fitness fanatics.”