History Of Pill and The Owls

The Village Of Pill

The village, nestling on the banks of the River Avon boasts a colourful past, dating back to Medieval times. For more than 500 years, Pill has been associated with the pilots, who negotiate the tricky waters of the Bristol Channel and the river flowing into it. Indeed, when John Cabot captained the Matthew from Bristol on his voyage of discovery in 1497, Pill supplied the pilot John Ray.

In 1755 Methodist minister John Wesley visiting Pill, found more than 30 pubs -'a place famous from generation to generation for brutal, abandoned wickedness'. In 1771, Francis Asbury set sail from Pill to become superintendent of the Methodist Church in the American Colonies, while during the early 1800s, Dr Richard Bright's  work on kidney disorders at nearby Ham Green, led to the naming of Bright's Disease.


The Owls of Pill

The Owls of Pill are the latest of the colourful characters, in their own way, adding a slice of local history in Pill. Formed in 1919 and have sung carols at every Christmas since.

Following the cessation of the first world war. As the euphoria of victory abated, the population of the UK became acutely aware of the suffering of those returning from the front with life changing injuries. Notable for both the numbers involved and the life impact were the war blinded. The elevated numbers due to the use of gas in the trenches.

In December 1919, in response to the mood of compassion, the local vicar (The Reverend Robert Griffith) organised members of the village church youth group (The Owls) to go from door to door singing Carols to raise money. The donations received in that first year amounted to a sum of about £24 (equivalent to around £2,000 in today’s earnings). The success of the collection led the Owls to go carol singing the following year, and every successive year since. The Owls still go carol singing, and still include charities connected with the visually impaired as recipients of the annual collection.

As can be seen in the photo, since the early days the Owls dressed themselves in Dickensian garb, notably top hats, cloaks and fancy waistcoats. A glance at our photo gallery, shows that this is still part of the tradition of the Owls.

Since 1967 the Owls have collected somewhere in the region of £300,000 all of which has been forwarded to the charities we support. In line with our founding cause we still donate a significant proportion of our collection to charities connected with visual impairment.

In addition to collecting money, the Owls sing at around 80 venues each December, at care homes, schools, hospitals and at dinners and other public meetings and events in the North Somerset and Bristol area. The Owls deliver a traditional Christmas experience which aims to provide seasonal entertainment and engage with the surrounding communities with its message of charity.

Each year the Owls sing in the Chapel at Tyntesfield House, and in the last five years the Owls have appeared several times in the BBC Casualty (Holby City) Christmas Special, providing seasonal background to some of the scenes. The Owls have sung at ‘St. Mary, Redcliffe’, and at Clifton Cathedral.

The Owls Christmas carol repertoire is a blend of those carols originally sung by the Owls 100 years ago, other more mainstream carols, and one or two more  recently penned carols.

1919 - 2019

In conjunction with the World War One Centenary Partnership and the Imperial War Museum, and supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Owls are preparing to mark their centenary. We are currently planning to create an archive of the History of the Owls,  to place a marker in the village, to undertake recordings, and produce a short documentary film containing our history and showing the Owls as a traditional part of the Christmas of Pill and the surrounding area.

To follow the Owls as they approach their centenary, please subscribe to our Facebook and Twitter  accounts.