Snuff Mills is the woodland and grassland between the car park at River View and the little 'Halfpenny' bridge that crosses the river to Oldbury Court. This land was never really part of the Oldbury Court Estate. It has a long history of quarrying for building stone dating back to at least the 1600s. While quarrying was important, much of the area was also used for growing timber and the land next to the river was used as a paddock for grazing animals. This area was known as 'The Hams' for many years and many older people often refer to going for a walk along 'The Hams' when they go for a walk in Snuff Mills.
There were at least two water mills between Halfpenny Bridge and River View. They were used for grinding corn, snuff and also cutting building stone. Snuff was ground at Witherlays Mill from about 1790 to 1843. This Mill no longer exists but you can see where it was in the lumps and bumps in the ground just before Halfpenny Bridge. This Mill was also the home of the legendary 'Snuffy Jack' who is thought to still haunt the valley. The Snuff Mill we know today was called Whitwood Mill and used for grinding corn and then cutting stone. It was excavated by the Avon Industrial Buildings Trust in the 1980s and restored thanks to the hard work of local historian, John Bartlett.
Bristol Corporation bought 'Stapleton Glen', now Snuff Mills, as a park for all Bristolians in 1926. The woodland was still recovering from being felled during the First World War to support the war effort. While the woodland started to grow back, the mills were all demolished and a bandstand built where Snuff Mill used to be. The old quarry that had formed a deep lake above what is now the car park was filled in during the 1950s and the slope planted with trees. Before this happened, the lake was a popular if rather dangerous place to go for a swim.
The gardens were kept by the first ranger, Ben Smith. They became a much-loved feature of the valley and were kept beautiful for nearly fifty years. The Council also improved the footpaths and gradually Snuff Mills became one of the most popular places to go for a walk in Bristol.
However, as budgets to manage Bristol's parks and open spaces were cut back during the last twenty years, the garden was planted with low maintenance perennial plants, paths were not resurfaced as often as necessary and benches were not replaced. The toilets were also voted the worst in the UK in a BBC TV programme a few years ago.
Snuff Mills Action Group was formed in March 2008 to support the Council in its efforts to put more resources in to Snuff Mills. The Group plans to work on the garden to return it to its former glory and increase the variety of trees in the woodland to improve it for wildlife. With an Action Group to care for it, we hope that Snuff Mills and the rest of the Frome Valley will be as fantastic to visit as Blaise Castle has become.