November 2023: Local History with CHAPS

The Staple Hill greyhound mystery

IN the early 1930s Cleve Hill House in Downend was demolished, and its grounds redeveloped for housing.

This transformed much of the area from the Cave family’s single, palatial estate into the thriving suburb that we know today, providing homes to thousands of families on the fringes of Bristol.

Its physical legacy now only gives us glimpses into its previous grandeur, with garden features, stables, estate buildings and a lodge house having survived to the present day.

As amateur local historians, we at Downend Community History and Art Project (CHAP) are sometimes left only with fragments of evidence that we must piece together, as there is seemingly no definitive record of what became of the building’s large amount of architectural salvage.

One such mystery that has long made me ponder is that of a rather incongruous feature upon a building in Staple Hill, next to the Crown Inn.

It is a stone carving containing a greyhound running, on a barley twist surrounded by a floral arrangement, clearly in a style and of a quality more associated with an earlier form of architecture.  

This got me thinking and starting to research. The Cave family crest was defined by a running hunting greyhound or whippet motif, as shown on the estate Cleeve cottages’ remaining weather vane. So is this merely a coincidence?

This is where we need your help. We know the building the greyhound sits upon is post-World War Two, on the edges of what previously was an industrial yard that made washboards, boots and ladders.

The Crown Inn is a 19th century pub that would have been next to this busy working factory yard.

I’ve been told there used to be either a transport café or just a shed for lorry drivers passing through this industrial area, to sate their hunger with a ‘sausage sarnie’ and a mug of strong tea. 

It’s not inconceivable that the numerous lorries taking away the large amounts of rubble from the Cleve Hill site may have stopped somewhere on their way back to the yard with a few ‘interesting’ architectural items in the back, and maybe someone took a fancy to it.

This is, of course, a bit of a stretch of the imagination, and something we know any true historian should not indulge in without some solid evidence.

So, it’s over to you.

Have a look at your own garden in Downend – have you got a piece of ‘Neoclassical Roman Doric style facade’ as part of your wall?

Have you got a 1930s’ photograph of Cleve Hill House, before it was knocked down?

Or do you know anything about the Greyhound of Staple Hill? If so, we would love to hear from you.

Please contact CHAP by email at or letter at CHAP, 49 Overnhill Road, Downend, Bristol, BS16 5DS.

Nick Smith