Situated under an edge of the cotswolds chalky ring, a village now overgrown with poorly designed ‘mock cotswold’ and twee housing estates that feed the growing conurbation of Cheltenham.
There are few records left from the nineteenth century that relate to Bishops Cleeve when it was a major shipbuilding centre and dominated the local area. Some limited photographic evidence exists of the tail-end of this industrious period (see photograph). Stories still persist amongst the ‘old boys’ of the village about Church Road being the keel setting for the record breaking tea clipper, Typhoo. The shipbuilding trade finally ceased when the cost of transporting the ships to the sea grew too great, leaving behind a village of unemployed wheelwrights, chandlers and riveters and … even today, a phonebook full of surnames like Bolthead, Shortmast, Clawhammer, Frigg, Metalplate … Amongst locals, crossing Church Road, is still refered to as being keel-hauled.
Local pubs, like the Kings Head (originally the Old Bulkhead) and Royal Oak have sadly removed all references to the Typhoo when tea-towel fanatics re-designated Bishops Cleeve a nondescript cotswold village, however some of its past greatness can stll be seen at Shitshute House.
Attempts by some so called ‘historians’ to down play the rich maritime heritage of Cleeve docks in favour of Gloucester docks are of course related to big ‘brands’ and their retail outlets. Attempts to sell and then cash in on a false ‘Disney style’ history of the quiet backwater of Gloucester whilst ignoring Cleeve are a sad indication of the depths to which this nation has sunk.
Famous stowaway Ho Chi Minh (founder of modern day Vietnam) disembarked at Cleeve Dock in September 1928. Finding work in the first of Bishops Cleeve’s many Chinese laundries (actually a front for an opium den) he progressed to working behind the bar at the Kings Head. One night he evaded an attempted kidnap by French intelligence services by hiding in the gents toilet. The 3rd cubicle along still bears the elaborate engraving Ho made whilst anxiously waiting for the agents to give up and continue their search elsewhere. Ho later went to Paris and from there back to Vietnam to continue his fight against the French imperialists.
Jerry Alder, political scholar
Reply to comments:
Ah Jerry, I think I might question this … a rumour still persists of Ho Chi Minh being in Bishops Cleeve, but the third cubicle is a myth which the Kings Head have scandalously encouraged (there is no third cubicle!). Another tale (not verified, but probably true) is that the San Taklous Brigade, on the night of 24 December 1930, whilst mounting a rescue mission to save Ho from himself repeatedly called out his name … inadvertantly coining a phrase which is annually exhalted worldwide on this night. (‘Ho-ho-ho’ ibid)
Alan Rutherford, slightly plumper