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Stubborn William won the 'Battle of Boyce's Buildings' but not the war

By The Bristol Post  |  Posted: November 16, 2011

William built an archway and an iron gate to ensure that the pathway was only used by pedestrians

William built an archway and an iron gate to ensure that the pathway was only used by pedestrians

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AN incredibly stubborn man, but with a real sense of injustice, William Mathias was at the heart of a long-running Clifton dispute which became known as the "Battle of Boyce's Buildings".

Where he lived, on the corner of Victoria Square (then called Ferney Close), had once been lodgings for spa visitors with a footpath leading out to Clifton village.

Although William was quite happy with this, he refused to accept that there was any right of way for horses, carts and carriages.

But the council, and some of the square's residents, wanted the footpath upgraded to become a carriageway. Matters came to a head in 1849 when William's boundary wall was deliberately knocked down.

He rebuilt it, but it was repeatedly demolished, invariably late at night. After a while William built an archway and an iron gate to ensure that the pathway was only used by pedestrians.

A postman was then ordered to drive his horse and cart through the gap in order to set a precedent.

William fought back. After digging a deep trench across the Victoria Square entrance, he soon gained the nickname "General Mathias".

It was later claimed in court that the council had also deliberately sent a woman with a baby carriage along the footpath. After lifting her heavy pram and baby over the barrier, William then ordered her to go back.

She later accused him of assault, although she later admitted that all he had done was put a hand on her shoulder.

As there was nothing concerning these "vehicles" in law (they were, after all, a new invention) much legal debate centred on what prams actually were.

There was also much learned discussion over whether a pram was a greater obstacle to other pedestrians than women in wide crinolines. As you might expect, the poor old jury were baffled.

After hundreds of people had signed a petition complaining about the way William had been treated, the case was quietly settled – out of court. But the gate stayed in place across the path.

The row rumbled on for years and, in 1873, at the age of 92, William was jailed for failing to restore a roadway he had damaged.

When he came out, this once wealthy man was virtually bankrupt. I'm sure there is a lesson there somewhere.

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