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Elizabeth Holmes (née Emra)
1804 to 1843
A Country Parson’s Daughter

"the fairies of our forest foresook their haunts here,
on the same day on which the first coal-pit was opened."

Elizabeth Emra, or ‘Little Elizabeth’, was the author of “Scenes in our Parish” which was first published in 1830 by J. Chilcott, Bristol. Elizabeth was not named as the author in the early editions, they were described as being by 'A Country Parson's Daughter'.

After her death Elizabeth's sister wrote a description of her life. It was first published as 'A sister's record, or, Memoir of Mrs. Marcus H. Holmes' and then as an introductory chapter in later editions Scenes in our Parish. The information about her life here is taken from that memoir.

Elizabeth's father was John Emra, vicar at St George Church from 1809-1842. John Emra's church was the first of three on the site of what is now St George's House on Church Drive. The history of the churches is described here - it is possible that an arch on Church Road survives from that first church.

Elizabeth was born on 20th November 1804, part of a large family with an older brother, four older sisters and ‘several’ younger siblings. After the move to St George Elizabeth lived with her parents in the Vicarage until she married Marcus Holmes on 12th July 1833. She survived contracting smallpox but otherwise appears to have had a happy and healthy childhood. As she grew up she increasingly involved herself with trying to help the poor of the Parish.

Elizabeth's youngest brother died when Elizabeth was still a child and this may be what she refers to at the beginning and end of the chapter entitled ‘The Strawberry Feast’. It appears that he may have drowned on the day of the feast.

After her marriage Elizabeth and Marcus lived in ‘Homefield Cottage’ next to the Church. Her first child, a girl, was born on 6th July 1834. In December 1842, following the death of her father the family moved to Westbury Hill. By now they had six children and had had one other that had died as a baby.

Elizabeth died on 10th October 1843, just a few days after the birth of her own ‘little Elizabeth’ her eighth child.

Scenes in our Parish by a Country Parson’s Daughter
First Published in 1830 & 1832

Scenes in our Parish gives a fascinating insight into life and death (mostly death) in the 1830s in St George. It describes many of those who lived in the Parish who Elizabeth visited and tried to help and comfort in her role as the Parson’s daughter.

Elizabeth wrote the book in two parts (first & second series) with the first chapter dated 1829 and the last chapter describing the Bristol Riots of 30th October 1831 as seen from St George. There is a date at the end of each chapter to show when it was written. Editions were published in both Britain and the United States from 1832 onwards containing both parts. Below are quotes from two of the chapters that most relate to Troopers Hill and Crews Hole.

The 1833 American version of Scenes in our Parish is also now available on Google books via this link:
http://tinyurl.com/emra1833

You can also find reproductions for sale on various internet sites as 'print on demand'. Occasionally original editions are available from second-hand book sellers either in the UK or in the US.

The Strawberry Feast

The quote that links Elizabeth Emra to Troopers Hill is taken from 'The Strawberry Feast' which is in the first part of the book and dated 30th March 1830.

“the barren and quarried hill, with its yellow spots of gorse and broom, and its purple shade of heath, raising itself above the dark heaps of dross on our own side; and then the river, the beautiful, soft flowing river that we have all loved so well, laving as kindly our rough and barren banks, and holding its pure mirror to us, as truly as to the embellished and fertile scenery on the other side; and how clearly we saw every reversed image of the trees in the little copse-wood beyond…”

[Dictionary definition of dross: ‘The scum thrown off from metals in smelting’]

But that is towards the end of the story, first there is concern about the weather for their planned festivities:

“once in every summer, we would make an excursion to the cottage of an old woman, to drink tea and to enjoy the particularly fine fruit, with which her hilly and sunny garden would supply us.” “On the preceding evening, how anxiously we watched the sunset, and foretold fine weather, however it threatened rain, - or feared rain, however glowing and glorious the setting sun might be.”

“it was not till old Betty became too infirm to receive us, and the meeting was adjourned to the house below the hanging gardens, beside the river, that we found out all the pleasures of that evening. We could not ride there to be sure, but you know how lovely the walk is, down the fields on a summer’s evening and through that deep and stony lane.”

“The scene of our festivities was a large lofty room in an awkwardly built house, designed originally for the agent of a certain concern which failed as many other concerns have done; so that for years the extensive works connected with it have lain void…”

“the great house was let to a poor but very respectable family, who thankfully allowed the use of their large room on these occasions. It was a curious old place altogether; but its chief charm was the garden, built according to the taste of the times sixty years ago. Perhaps I should have said laid out, but there were so many flights of stone steps leading through brick arches, to broad straight walks one above another; and so many square summer-houses with stonewalls and square doors and windows, that your first thought was of the buildings; and stiff and formal enough it must have looked when it was first planned. But now that the brick arches were falling into decay, and ornamented with faithful wall-flower, and wreathed and half covered with ivy; … it had become interesting from its appearance of antiquity.”

“For when we reached the top of the last flight of tottering steps, we found ourselves in a wilderness, where, up the steep side of the hill, grew untrimmed bushes of red a white roses, tangled with wild bramble, and over topped by stately old pear trees.”

“many a frock was torn, and many a tumble we met with, before we reached the arched summer house, with the bath in the middle, at the very top of the hill. And oh! what a view we had then. The steep and singular garden up which we had just climbed; the old buildings and tall chimneys clustered together so very far below us; the barren and quarried hill, with its yellow spots of gorse and broom, and its purple shade of heath,….."


Few buildings are left from Elizabeth's time in St George, but surprisingly the 'summer house with the bath in the middle' is one of them. You can see it on a video of a visit made by Friends of Troopers Hill in 2005.

Bath House Video >>

The Crew’s Hold May 31, 1831

Elizabeth is speaking to ‘Old Thomas’ about ‘Crews Hold’ and asks if he can remember how the sailors used to come up here to hide from the pressgang.

“the people, for the most part, liked the sailors, and harboured them, and used the officers of the pressgang very ill.”

Elizabeth mentions that she has heard about taking them down the coal pits. Old Thomas confirms that they did, he goes on:

“I’ll tell ye something worse than that they did once, they took the King’s officers, and carried them blindfold down to the copper furnace. They tore down the door, and made them look down into the furnace, and threatened to throw them in if they ever came that way again.”

On the name…

“in time to come, when a generation or two more have past, people will not know the meaning of the name given to this part of the parish – The Crew’s Hold – for it has already degenerated into the unmeaning word Screwshole. It is a singularly wild and poor part, yet we feel now not the smallest fear; and indeed, I don’t think there is anybody here now, that would hurt a child.”

Elizabeth describes a cottage near the river where she used to visit Henry and Sarah Curtis when she was young. She says the house and the area around it are now much altered.

“The precipitous bank, beyond it, where there used to grow gaze [???], and furze [gorse] and broom, is excavated into a very large stone quarry. There are noble masses of stone, displaying every variety of colour, from pale brown to deep red, and from cold neutral tint to bright purple.”

“they have discovered, that the whole hill side can afford stone, and soon I suppose it will be one huge quarry.

They have done worse than this. They have built a steam-engine for raising coal on a spot, which we used to think quiet and pleasant; and where, until then we could gather woodbine and blue violets.”


Of the house she says:

“it was unlike all other houses that we had ever seen. It consisted but of one room on the ground floor, from whose corners a bed room, pantry, and the little sitting-room were partitioned off. There was a large flue in the middle of the ceiling, at which we used to gaze up in wonder; and I remember old Sarah’s trying to describe to us the apparatus which once belonged to it, and which was used, as far as I understand, for trying the qualities of ore.”

The house by the river must have been part of the old copper smelting works “The Cupolas”. The quarry is probably the area of Bull Lane and the steam-engine the one at the bottom of Troopers Hill Road.

Since Elizabeth was born in 1804 and this is written in 1831, it would date the Engine house at around 1820. This fits with old maps since it is not shown in 1803 but is there in 1845.

You can read about copper smelting and coal mining in the area on our History page.

The information above is also available as a pdf to download:  Elizabeth Emra & Scenes in our Parish

'Realities of Life' - published in 1838

'Realities of Life' which was published in 1838 also has some references to St George; this can be found on Google books at: tinyurl.com/emra1838 and again is available as a 'print on demand' reproduction from some internet book sellers.

Of particular interest are Elizabeth's comments about the building of the new railway in St Anne's and the tourists coming to Crews Hole to catch the ferry to go and see it.

"who would pass winter in such a lonesome place? - A lonesome place? I was almost going to say, I wish it were lonesome now."

"But see the number of huts, perched on the rocky banks of Strawberry Lane; and look down at the congregated rows of mean houses, along the towing path, each alas! with its well-accustomed beer-shop. And hear that throng of people, hallooing for the boat, at what used to be our quiet ferry."

"Ah! if it be the Sabbath day, the throng is but the greater. They are going to keep holiday, by visiting the new rail-road, which has bought here such an influx of disorderly strangers, and such an awful accumulation of our list of accidents: and say if we shall ever have to complain of "lonesomeness" again."

Little Elizabeth's View

As the path through Troopers Hill Woods that forms part of the Woodland Trail leaves the nature reserve and enters the woodland there is a trail marker post and adjacent to it a bench. This is the location we call 'Little Elizabeth's View'.

The carving on the post was inspired by Elizabeth's story.

The current bench was installed in August 2017 as a result of an appeal for funds launched by Friends of Troopers Hill after the previous bench had reached the end of its life.

As well as public donations, some of the funds for the bench came from the ALHA (Avon Local History & Archaeology) which was given as a thank you for our members leading a guided walk for them. A further donation from ALHA has been used to install a small plaque on the marker post with a reference to Elizabeth Emra.


"Such be your lot, my kind and patient companion; we may perhaps, meet again. If not, assure yourself that you bear with you my thanks, and my best wishes. - Good night."


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