Author Archives: David Martyn

Fall and Rise of Kings Weston stables

The stables in derelict condition in 1958

Last month we brought you some First World War images from the archives of Avon and Somerset Constabulary, but there are many other interesting finds in their collection.  This month we reveal some alarming images of the Georgian stables on Napier Miles Road. The stables were built in the  late 1760s by the architect Robert Mylne shortly after his return from study in Rome. It was perhaps here that he had come into contact with the young Edward Southwell III of Kings Weston who would give him this prize commission before allowing him free-reign in remodelling the interiors of the house itself. 

The stables and carriage houses continued to perform their original function until 1935 when the last private owner of the house, Philip Napier Miles died. His widow retained the walled gardens, where she built a new house for herself, and the stables, but the latter structures fared badly during the Second World War when they were used as billets for British soldiers employed in the house. 

The central arch with the wings dismantled and waiting for rebuildings

By 1952 the building was ruinous, its roofs collapsing, and under threat of demolition. It was only through the efforts of local conservationists and the strong advocacy of Lord Methuen that the City Council conceded to keep the building and rebuild it as a new police station to serve the fast-growing Lawrence Weston estate below.  What has not been clear until now was the extremes that the ‘restoration’  had gone to in rebuilding the structure for this new use. 

The stables in the process of being reconstructed, seen from the north, behind the building as it stands today.
The stables in the process of being reconstructed, seen from the north, behind the building as it stands today.

These photos show how much of structure was dismantled before being put back together. Remarkably only the central arch and the end facades of the two wings to the road appear to be the only elements that survived unscathed. The whole of the rest of the building has been taken down and, presumably, the most important masonry carefully numbered for later restoration. 

The facade of the west wing, facing onto Napier Miles Road, propped precariously during the “restoration”

The building was formerly opened as a police station in May 1962 by the Lord Mayor, local MPs and numerous local dignitaries. Lord Methuen also attended and expressed his complements to the City Corporation on the vision and foresight they had shown in putting the buildings to their new use. He said” I remember when nothing seemed to move anyone to preserve the place and that is why I am so pleased to be present among those who saw the possibilities of not only retaining the buildings, but putting them to such a practical use” . He continued that in most places these days there was a curious view that one should regard historic places on the basis of whether or not they could bring an income, but here was a refreshing change. He hoped Bristol would now consider preserving some more of her architectural heritage for posterity.    

Kings Weston stables police station
The opening of Kings Weston Stables as Lawrence Weston police station on May 30th, 1962

Penpole Lane saved!

Some of you will already have heard this good news through our Facebook page, but we are delighted to hear that all of our worries over the use of the land around the Karakal warehouse on Penpole lane have just evaporated in time for Christmas. 

Keith Sawyer of Karakal wrote to us and confirmed that he has just managed to exchange contracts, with Matthew Webb, whose family have owned the site for about thirty years, and now owns the area of land around the Karakal industrial unit. The planning appeal for shipping containers has since been withdrawn, and YardArts will be unable to move onto the site; Keith has confirmed this to us and we join in him in his celebration and relief that the whole plot is in his hands. Karakal have only ever had rights of access and parking on the land around their unit since 1987 and, although they have always been keen to, have never been able to agree on a realistic price for the land with its owner.

Yardarts at Kingswood 

They have shared our exasperation over many of the planning applications over the last few years that would have impacted on their business. We’ve been in contact with Mr Sawyer for a while and we are reassured that he has no plans to expand Karakal and that the land is now in safe hands. Naturally we were unaware of negotiations while they were happening, but we are incredibly grateful for Keith having emailed us just 10 mins after the exchange to let us know! 

It will be great to be able to direct our time and effort towards more constructive projects in the coming year rather than dealing with the planning problems we’ve been reporting on since 2011! We hope you will join us in celebrating this news!.  

Finally a BIG thank you to everyone who has supported us in objecting to the planning applications on this site; It’s been frustrating and draining, but all of your letters of objection have made a difference and have fended off development . We couldn’t keep going without your help and support!

The development as it might have ended up

Discovery of WWI Images

The west end of the Vanbrugh Room with sheets hung up over the library shelves

In poignantly timely discovery, days before the centenary of Armistice Day, we found a series of photographs of Kings Weston dating to the First World War. We’ve previously shared photos of the outside of the house during its time as an Auxiliary Hospital caring for the wounded sent back from the front; this new series of images shows the grand state rooms reutilised as hospital wards.

The ante-room, now the Breakfast Room has changed remarkably little. The wounded and nurses relax for the photographer.

The interiors are shown emptied of their ornamental furniture and paintings and laid out with beds for soldiers. The Vanbrugh Room, “breakfast room”,and Drawing Room (now the oak room) are all seen in duty as wards, where Red Cross nurses tend to their patients. The largest of the wards, now the Vanbrugh Room is seen with empty  bookcases and around sixteen simple iron beds. All the images show small groups of wounded servicemen surrounded by the volunteer Red Cross nurses who tended to them. Surprisingly the rooms are adorned with numerous vases of flowers.

The Drawing Room before the marble fireplace was removed and the windows in the main front re-opened. Notice the quantities of cut flowers. 


Some of the photos are numbered and we’d be keen to find the rest. If anyone knows where these originally came from we’d be keen to find out, and we’re trying to speak to the Avon and Somerset Constabulary archives from where the images first came.


We’ve also collated the known records of Red Cross nurses who worked at the house from the national database of First World War volunteers which can be found in thisPDF. Many were local ladies who wanted to make their contribution to the war effort, including three members of the Moore family from Penlea in Shirehampton. It’s likely that some of these nurses are those who appear in  rediscovered photos.

The Vanbrugh Room looking towards the wall that now features the mural. A group shot showing patients and nurses posing for the camera.

New arrival on the South Walk

Recent visitors to Kings Weston cannot have missed the appearance of a new cast iron bench on the South Walk;It’s almost luminous colour was something of  surprise when it was installed as part of the closing project of the Forgotten Landscape project.KWAG have worked with Forgotten Landscape and their artist, Deborah Aguirre Jones, on the design and the location for this bench, one of several installed at special locations in the area.

The arm & anchor of the Miles Family of Kings Weston house incorporated into the design of the new bench on the South Walk
The east end of the bench looking down the path

The design of the bench ends is different at either end; on the west side the arm and anchor motif is the arms of the Miles family who lived at Kings Weston house between 1834 and 1936 and developed the docks and Avonmouth. On the east side the natural and landscape qualities of the area are celebrated, including one of the wind turbines that feature in the view from the South walk.  The location was carefully picked in partnership with the artist. From the bench you can enjoy a view of Kings Weston house with the Severn estuary beyond, framed beneath one of the huge cedars that line the path; a prospect that KWAG’s volunteers restored afew years ago.

This bench is a one-off artwork in the park, and doesn’t set the  pattern for future installations on the estate, rather it will remain as a unique and special addition that we all hope people will enjoy for generations to come.

The bench with the framed view of the house beyond

 

Archaeology in Penpole Wood

The hope was that trial excavations in August 2018 might uncover some trace of the Georgian arbour suggested in this location by a 1772 estate plan.Once the site was bare of cherry laurel three locations were identified for trial trenches: one at either end of the long site, and one inthe centre to the south of the large flat rocks exposed on the surface. The two outer trenches were excavated to about 18-26 inches each and yielded little more than fine brown natural earth with occasional stones. No interpretable features were observed in either of these trenches and they were quickly closed

The central trench revealed that the large rocks were not part of the underlying bedrock, but appeared to have separated from the natural outcrops above it and was resting on the level area adjacent to the path. The present path runs immediately along the northern edge of this feature and is built-up on a man-made terrace in areas, though utilises natural topography in others. The trench was dug through rich brown soft earth which appears to have accumulated across the site from wash-off from the slopes above. It was clearly deeper and embanked immediately below the natural rock across the back of the site where deposits naturally collected

 KWAG volunteers working on excavations.
sample of river shingle from the excavation
 

At a depth of approximately 20 inches there was a clear layer of rounded river shingle, unusually pale or white, and smooth in nature. Shingle varied in size between 2-inches to grit. This surface was a distinctive and unbroken horizon which was tracked-back in a northward direction where it met the back edge of the boulders. An abrupt edge in the surface was identified to the south of the trench three feet out from the boulder. The trench was enlarged east,west, and south to discover the extent of the shingle surface and explore the context between it and the natural cliff to the back of the site.

View looking west showing the shingle surface and distinctive edge aligned with the modern path beyond. 

The surface continued east and west, maintaining a clear delineation along its southern edge, and ran approximately parallel to the main path to the North. The eastern end began tracking around the boulder though its southern edge became indistinct and it was not possible to determine if the feature curved northwards with confidence. The west end of the feature continued in a straight line and apparently in alignment with the existing path further off inthe same direction. The discovery of some rocks along the straight  edge of the shingle feature could suggest they’d been intended to delineate that edge; although found at depths consistent with the shingle layer these were only haphazardly and sporadically found, and not conclusively associated with the defined edge.

Following recording the trench was locally dug deeper through the shingle layer to establish its depth and any build-dup. The opportunity was also sought to explore whether hole in the shingle surface was a post-hole. The Layer was surprisingly thin, no more than an inch in depth, and with nosub-base. Shingle was spread across the natural earth and no further features were identified below it. The possible post-hole had no corresponding features below the shingle surface that supported that initial interpretation.

 Aside from the shingle, and anashy deposit from a bonfire close to the surface in the western trench, there was no stratification, or obvious levels or horizons visible in trench sections; the whole typically being the same consistent soft brown soil. There were no finds recovered associated with any of the features, though there was some isolated fragments of roof slate and a single clay tile in upper layers

The site viewed from the east. The rocky outcrop at the back of the site, on the left, the low boulder along the path, on the right, and the alignment of the shingle feature matching that of the modern path stretching into the distance beyond.  

The shingle layer was clearly imported material, possibly from gravel beds around Shirehampton and Avonmouth, and can be interpreted as a path surface. Although a very shallow spread of stone the distinctive edge  suggests it’s related to the main path on the north side of the boulder. There was no evidence on the modern path of similar stone being used,but this could have been obscured by later re-surfacing. There are two possibilities regarding the excavated path surface; firstly it could have been an earlier course of the current path passing to the south of the boulder;alternatively the pleasure walk may have split around the boulder, revealing it as a rustic feature within the path. The terracing on the north side of the boulder to accommodate the path, and the regularly planted trees along it supports the latter of these two theories

Interpretation of the site looking north from the top of the rocky outcrop 

It was surprising that there were so few features identifiable across the rest of the site; there was certainly nothing that could relate to the distinctively crescent-moon shaped structure shown in the approximate area in 1772.That the excavated path was such a strongly linear feature suggests that the exposed rocks were a feature to be enjoyed as they were passed-by, rather than a place to dwell. If structures, or other designed garden features once occupied this site there was no identifiable remains left to be discovered by our volunteers. It was not practical to continue excavation directly down to find the natural bedrock which was so clearly exposed in the surrounding area,though future exploration may help our understanding of the natural geology and topography, and how it might have been utilised and adapted by Georgian gardendesigners.

The appeal of Penpole Point

Penpole Point, at the far western extremity of the estate, has been a popular vantage point overlooking the Severn for generations. The stone dial was erected there by the Merchant Venturers as a shipping mark, but became the focal point of innumerable rambles through the parkland from the Georgian period onwards. Until the last few decades the romantic views obtained from the dial continued to attract visitors, but sadly the views have been gradually lost to rampant tree growth.

A few recent discoveries illustrate the past popularity of the Point. Perhaps two of the most enjoyable are a couple of stereoviews taken by a private individual around 1900, a single view of each of which is shown here. Far from the stuffy demeanour of the usual Victorian photograph the two gentlemen are seen first in relaxed pose, then, no doubt after some intense clambering, astride the dial in a gesture parodying the pose of some self-important statue. The two images are fascinating for both their personal insight into the two tourists, but also for the detail of the dial and the long-lost Penpole Lodge in the background.

Single images of two stereocscope view of Penpole Point, circa 1890-1900.

Single images of two stereocscope view of Penpole Point, circa 1890-1900.

Single images of two stereocscope view of Penpole Point, circa 1890-1900.

 

Photo taken by Mrs Stephanie Keates of her husband-to-be in 1964

The Point must have always had a lure for romantic couples to get away from the city and share the views each other’s company. When KWAG posted these on our Facebook page we were delighted that they elicited a response from Mrs Stephanie Keates, and we hope she will not mind us sharing her image onwards. She tells us that the photo was taken in 1964 when she and her husband-to-be were courting and that they have recently celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary.

The fame of Penpole Point was wide, and visitors at the turn of the Century could purchase one of many postcards of the view, or the dial, that were on sale in Shirehampton and throughout the city. A far more rare souvenir of the estate would have been the little bone china trinket we’ve also recently picked up. The transfer-applied scene depicts the dial and Penpole Lodge, and the whole is crudely coloured by hand. It dates to the first decade of the Twentieth Century. Perhaps this little memento was commissioned by a local shop in Shirehampton and retailed to ramblers returning to the station from their hike to enjoy the view.

China beaker with Penpole Point depicted. Circa 1900-1914

It is ultimately KWAG’s ambition to re-open some of the views from Penpole Point, but many of the trees that have grown up since the 1960s are far more substantial than what our volunteers are able to manage. The treacherous quarry-like edges on both sides of the point also create safety problems in accessing the area both for assessment and for clearance. Hopefully, at some point in the future, we will be able to fund the opening-up of at least some viewing corridors through the trees.

Last of the Miles family

KWAG was contacted recently by a well-wisher in the USA. David McGreevy had acquired a photograph from an English seller that he wanted to know more about, and thought we might share his interest.

The photo, dated 1873 is a fascinating insight into the Miles Family who lived at Kings Weston between 1834 and 1936. It shows the last two owners of the estate together as father and son. The 57-year-old Philip William Skinner Miles is seen holding the reins of Philip Napier Miles’s pony; the younger miles was just eight when the photo was taken.

After a little detective work we were able to identify the location of the photo as the yard of the stables on Napier Miles Road, and have passed this on to its new owner. In return he has happily allowed us to share it with you.

Philip Napier Miles sits astride a pony and his father, Philip William Skinner Miles holds the reins. 1873

An intriguing Italian perspective

A new description of Kings Weston has come to light with some fascinating new detail about the estate dating from the height of its fame. The description comes from an Italian author, Luigi Angiolini, who was drawn to Kings Weston in 1788 by its international reputation. Two features in particular stand out in a translation of his 1790 book “Letters from England, Scotland and the Netherlands”, and are unique insights.

The statue standing on its plinth in the 1920s.

Describing his visit to the grounds Angiolini describes the long-lost statue in the Echo as being a “good ancient Roman” figure. This is the earliest mention of the statue we’ve so far found and adds considerable weight to our belief that it was a classical era state collected on the continent by one of the Southwell family and transported to the estate. Our identification of the pose as conforming to a standard classical portrait model, retrospectively categorised as “small Herculaneum Woman”, always implied that it was not a bespoke commission for the Echo. Had it been we might expect it to have represented a more recognisable deity.

We might hope that Angiolini’s assessment of the statue is based on a knowledge of ancient examples which, as he notes, survived in far greater numbers in his homeland; his countrymen lacking the same reverence or value that Gentlemen travelers from Britain attributed to them.

 detail of Isaac Taylor's estate  plan of 1772

detail of Isaac Taylor’s estate plan of 1772

Sadly it’s likely that the only confirmation of the statue’s origins might come if it can be located, perhaps still, where anecdotal evidence suggests, tipped of off the terrace wall and into the ash pile close to the house.

Angiolini also treats us to another revelation about the landscaped grounds; He mentions an “artificial cave”, made of wood, and hidden in a grove of evergreens. Five years ago we identified an unusual feature in a 1772 map of Penpole Wood which may correspond to Angiolini’s cave, and, at the time, we tentatively attributed it to the landscape designer Thomas Wright. Since then we have proven Wright’s involvement in the design of the Kings Weston grounds and the description of a rustic wooden cave, intertwined with ivy, compares favorably with other known examples of then-fashionable grottoes and seats in Arcadian settings.  Such examples of “grotesque architecture” were perishable by nature, an intentional contrast to the permanence of classical garden temples, and so often decayed unrecorded, but a quarried area adjacent to one of the paths through the woods corresponds to the map location.

An example of one of Thomas Wright’s designs from his book “Universal Architecture”

We are left to imagine what the structure looked like, but the closest example is the root house at Blaise Castle Estate. This was recorded by the artist Samuel Hieronymous Grimm the year after Angiolini’s visit to Kings Weston. Angiolini doesn’t mention visiting Blaise in his writings, and travels quickly on to Aust and the ferry to Wales. We trust that in describing the example at Kings Weston he was not conflating it with a similar rustic seat on the adjacent Blaise estate.

The root house at Blaise Castle depicted by S H Grimm in 1789 (British Library)

A full translation of Angiolini’s description of Kings Weston follows:

“It was a total satisfaction to visit the palazzo of the Lord; It is not big, but is tasteful, with portico supported by columns in Palladian style, which I liked. I will not speak at length about the different parts that compose it; the paintings are mostly Italian, few originals, many copies, including some very good. I was occupied with the pleasure gardens, even those said orchards, namely gardens of fruits and green vegetables. I will not dwell on the way they are maintained; It would be easier to perform than to describe what I observed. The park, which is well cut with many majestic evergreen trees, obliges one to take a path which is long but not tiring, because one is amused by many diversions of variety and innovation. If ever you came into these parts, do not neglect to educate yourself of a point half a mile from the palazzo, from which you can discover all the Bristol Channel at once, the outlet of ‘Avon into Severn, the Counties of Somerset, Gloucester and Wilts, and a large tract of country of Wales. In the Gardens there is a good ancient Roman statue for which a temple has been built, if not very large, very elegant and dignified. In England, perhaps for the rarity, you have a respect and a reverence for old things that we, too abundant of them, do not. In the midst of an evergreen grove, there is a pleasant surprise, a kind of hidden cave, made of timber and artificially covered in ivy that appears alive. Englishmen are unique in their knowledge of how to contrive art from nature. “

Urgent Iron Bridge Action!

Important news about the Iron Bridge!

KWAG fully supports a morning event this Sunday to bring about new attention for the plight of the Grade II Listed Iron Bridge on the estate.Frustrated locals in north Bristol are marking 800 days since a vital – and historic – footbridge was closed to pedestrians by Bristol City Council, with a public rally showing how much the bridge is loved.


Kingsweston iron bridge is a Grade II listed cast iron structure, built circa 1820 by legendary roads engineer John Loudon McAdam (who gave his name to tarmac). It forms the only safe pedestrian link between the Blaise and Kings Weston estates in north Bristol. It was used daily by hundreds of dog walkers, families, schoolchildren and ramblers until it was struck by a high-sided lorry on 4 November 2015. The bridge was swiftly scaffolded by Bristol City Council and closed to pedestrians – and has now remained this way for over 2 years and 2 months. This week marks 800 days since the bridge was last open to foot traffic.

The Facebook group Save the iron bridge – Kingsweston has over 400 members, but campaigners are growing frustrated with the Council’s slow pace and poor communication with locals. The closure affects thousands of residents of Sea Mills, Shirehampton, Combe Dingle and Lawrence Weston, as well as many visitors from the wider Bristol area.

We are urging anyone who uses or cares about the future of the bridge to join them this Sunday 14th Jan, 10-11am and attach their messages of support to the bridge. Messages will be pinned to the scaffolding around the bridge and then put on display locally. “Although Bristol Council has said it’s committed to repairing the bridge, so far we have only had words and no action,” say event organisers Ella Davies and Dan Linstead. “We appreciate budgets are tight, but we need the Council to act now rather than later.

With the footbridge closed, locals are forced to cross the notoriously busy Kingsweston road, with traffic coming fast and unexpectedly in both directions. It is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or worse.”

Group members and local councillors will meet at the bridge this Sunday 14th January at 10am (press photocall at 11am) to raise awareness ahead of a full council meeting on
Monday.

For more information and to join the Facebook group, visitgreenironbridge.com. contact organisers Ella Davies (ella.davies@yahoo.co.uk, 07707 125227)
or Dan Linstead (danlinstead@yahoo.co.uk, 07866 551632)

Great Court Consultation

The last planting beds on the garden front of Kings Weston have recently been completed by Norman Routledge and his team at the house. Focus is now turning to the main front of the house facing the Home Park. Plans are being drawn up by the house to look at creating a new formal forecourt in front of the main steps.

The new formal area is intended to reflect the original Great Court that once lay in a similar area. Although smaller in size it is intended that the design will use the same classical proportions.

Work on designs is likely to continue over winter and a Planning and Listed building application will follow. The illustrations here are to help everyone get an idea of the character of the proposals and get feedback on them to help Norman and his architect, Quentin Alder, develop designs that respond to people’s thoughts.

If you have any suggestions, ideas, or concerns please forward them to us so we can coordinate a response to Norman. Unless you ask otherwise we will keep any feedback anonymous. Please email us at kwactiongroup@gmail.com, call 07811 666671, or post your comments to us as soon as possible, or before 1st January 2018.