Ben Probert - Champion of the Common

November 01 2016

For many of those living in the Horfield Common area the name Probert is well known, be it with humour or trepidation.


For many of those living in the Horfield Common area the name Probert is well known, be it with humour or trepidation. 

This isn’t surprising as there has been a Probert in the area since Cecil and Doris bought a house on Longmead Avenue when the road was built back in the late 1920s. Their four children went to Bishop Road School and played on Horfield Common, and could remember when most of the Common was given over to vegetable growing as part of the war effort. Three of the children settled in Longmead Avenue or Highfield Grove, bringing up their children in the area and playing on the Common. Many of Doris and Cecil’s grand- and great-grandchildren have been brought to the play area and Ardagh, and know it well.

Ben Probert spent the first and last third of his life living on one or the other of the two streets, and a lot of those years either playing on the Common himself or playing with his children or grandchildren, and in his later years spinning a yarn with anyone who could get beyond his grinning ‘bloody awful’ reply to questions as to his well being.

It is not surprising then that he became a central part of the Friends of Horfield Common community when it started. Not only because the Common was his second back garden, but because of his love of nature and the importance of family life to him. When he heard that the Common was under threat of being developed he did all he could to support, keeping it as a community space, free and available for the “Common people”, two words he much enjoyed and quoted.

After Ben’s peaceful passing, the family felt that instead of a more traditional venue like a hall or a pub, the Café on the Common represented his style, as well as supporting a community project that was important to him. It was an ideal venue, where Sara, Fiona and team did a brilliant job arranging everything, ordering homemade cakes which were exceedingly tasty, and making it such a special occasion for everyone. Ben’s wake was followed by a private family BBQ at the Café, which is just as Ben would have wanted.

Sam Thomson was prompt and helpful in setting up a donations page for the Friends of Horfield Common in lieu of flowers. Ben had visualised a picnic bench on the Common, made from recycled materials, and the plan is to fulfil his wish. A week before he passed away he said how he would love to see more trees on the Common. He also said he wanted the return of the putting green and a refurbishment of the tennis courts in The Ardagh. The Café on the Common was an ideal venue, and the family were pleased to be able to use it, as it lent itself perfectly to the occasion.

Ben was a regular at the Horfield Common Cafe, run by Sara Manley. “I will miss him,” said Sara. “He was a character that used to draw people to him and tell them all about the history of the area. He was very pro community spaces and really wanted to see the Common flourish.”

Photos courtesy of Sue Shean and Anne Wookey