In understanding the history of Bradley Stoke it is essential to first consider the underlying geology of the surrounding area since this defines the soil type and the suitability for settlement in times gone by.
The underlying strata for the area in which the reserve is located consists predominately of Palaeozoic Carboniferous limestone with outcrops of Devonian Old Red Sandstones to the east (Winterbourne, Frenchay round to St George and Redfield) and coal measures around the north and east (from Almondsbury to Kingswood). In some areas the limestone is overlaid by Jurassic white and blue lias and some Rhaetic period rocks.
This gives a soil that is predominately heavy clay and farmland that is low to medium quality. However in the case of the Bradley Stoke Nature Reserve the soil type is some parts has been adulterated by the depositing of alluvial clay, rubble and so on from civil engineering works, predominately the Second Severn Crossing.
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Over time the appearance of the reserve has changed considerably. The two brooks, Patchway and Stoke follow much the same courses as they have always done but their conjunction to form the Bradley Brook is now masked by the lake, dug by contractors in repayment for using the area whilst laying a major storm sewer. The area of the lake was often marshy and is much improved by the lake. It is said incidentally that the village of Winterbourne owes its name to the Bradley Brook which joins the river Frome in that village. It was claimed that the stream died up in summer and for that reason was known as a winter bourne, an old English term for a stream that dries up in summer, However, Rudder, writing in his New History of Gloucestershire (1779) says there is no evidence of the Bradley Brook ever running dry at any time of the year, so the origin of the name remains in doubt.
All the brooks entering the Reserve are 'run off' streams fed by drainage from surrounding fields. Non originate from springs etc. This gives rise to fluctuating water levels which affects the flora and fauna found in the streams.
Of the three woods Webb's Wood is the oldest, at least 300 years old (18th century maps show it as a mature wood. The woodland flora also indicates an ancient wood. It is named after the tenants of Wodehouse Farm which later took the same name.
Parts of Sherbourne's Brake are nearly as old appearing as a small copse on old maps but much of the existing wood was planted in the late 19th century, planted when a number of Turkey Oaks were introduced. Sherbourne was the name of the tenants of Watch Elm Farm, although the name is often attributed to one specific member of the family, a nephew visiting the farm at the time the oaks were planted.
Savages Wood is the youngest. Parish maps of the mid 1840's show no sign of it although it is present by the 1880's. Best guess now is around 1850/53. That is not to say all the trees in Savages Wood are youngsters. There are some venerable relicts of former hedgerows scattered throughout the wood and one wide spread oak that probably stood in the middle of a field, probably as a remnant of an even older hedge. The source of the name Savages is not yet established. Before the wood the principal field in that area is shown as 'Savers' and it may be a corruption of that. The family that owned the wood until 1956 have traced the existence of a lady farmer named Savage in the 17th century and it may derive from that.
All the woods were used predominately as sources of timber, although the original Sherbourne's Brake copse may have been used as a covert. Webbs Wood particularly supplied coppiced timber and Savages hornbeam and oak. We know that Savages Wood was preserved during the 1940's and 50's as a nature reserve by the owner of Little Stoke Farm, Howard Davis who as the largest local farmer owned the land up to and including the wood. Mr Davis was also well known as one of the founders of the Wildfowl Trust at Slimbridge.
The feature known as the tump is new being comprised mainly of spill from the Second Severn Crossing. Soil types here are by no means typical of the area. The area it covers would have been part of Fiddlers Wood Farm (the wood also vanished under the motorway. Other areas produced by spoil include the meadow behind Webbs Wood and the area of the Community School.
The old parish boundary between Stoke Gifford and Almondsbury is still marked by a ditch that can be seen at the northern edge of Savages Wood, now crossed by a timber bridge installed by the BTCV NVQ group with the assistance of the local Green Gym members.
In the same area Bradley Stoke Way cut a swathe through Savages Wood (and across the ditch) when built leaving a small remnant of the wood on the far side of the road next to Tesco's car park. Much of the ash plantations nearby were planted in reparation for this disruption of the wood.
The stone bridge over the western end of the lake is built from stones from Manor Farm which once stood on Common East.
At the far northern end of the reserve by Primrose Bridge there is a rectangle of grass with fruit trees on either side. This is the location of the garden of Primrose Cottage. Primrose Cottage was one of two back to back dwellings one of which was employed for many years as a bakery supplying Patchway, Woodlands Green and even parts of Bristol with bread.
On the footpath between Primrose Bridge and the lake there is a stand of conifers and poplars with an under story of ornamental shrubs. This is all that remains of Bowsland Farm.
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