Help us solve a seating shortage

A regular complaint is that there are so few benches around the estate to rest or enjoy the parkland. We’d like to remedy that and hope that you will be able to help us. With the agreement of the Council we’ve identified a series of locations around the estate where they could be installed, and we are asking for sponsorship for simple oak benches.

Our intention is that people can select a location and sponsor a bench as a, gift, memorial, or simply as a generous gesture. KWAG volunteers will procure heavy duty oak benches and install them on your behalf. If you would like a small brass plaque on your bench these can be supplied at extra cost.

This map will show you the agreed bench locations. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1uBosa4CK0btlH_JFb_bB3jvTVZ0&usp=sharing We regret that locations can only be offered on a first-come first-served basis.

 

The solid oak benches are available to sponsor for £175 or £220 with a personalised memorial plaque. Payment can be made via Paypal and the location, and any further details included in the “Add special instructions” box, or get in touch with us by email at kwactiongroup@gmail.com or call 07811 666671 to reserve a location and find out alternative methods of payment.

KWAG has already committed to providing two benches and we hope to install these soon. You will also notice that one location has already been reserved. This spot, overlooking the Home Park and the house, will be the location of an artwork as part of the Forgotten Landscape project, and will be designed by Debborah Aguirre Jones. The bench will be a unique design incorporating elements of just three locations across the whole Lower Severn Vale project area. Each bench will then have a texture or pattern burnt into the wood

The Echo Plinth and a Roman Influence

Robert Mylne is a significant, but less well known, figure of Eighteenth Century architecture. Long overshadowed by his contemporary and fellow Scotsman, Robert Adam, he was no less skilled as a designer. He studied extensively in Rome under the architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and when he returned to England in 1759 he quickly entered, and won, a competition for a new bridge at Blackfriars, London, one of the most prestigious and high profile projects of the age.

Robert Mylne by Vincenzio Vangelisti, after Richard Brompton, line engraving, 1783 (1783)

A recent research visit to the collections of the Royal Institute of British Architects at the V&A has brought new depth to our understanding of what the two men achieved at Kings Weston. Although Mylne’s diaries have been published before there have been many significant omissions.

We now know that Mylne first arrived at Kings Weston, at Southwell’s invite, On April 30th 1763. He stayed for eleven days, during which time he no doubt he discussed his client’s ambitions at length, and made initial surveys and proposals for the house and grounds. He returned to London with Southwell and began work.

First amongst Mylne’s works were the walled garden and stables. The following year he moved onto the house itself and the interiors; The Eating parlour, Drawing Room, the building of the bay window overlooking the Severn, and the Saloon (picture gallery) and other interiors were all tackled over the following five years.

Amongst the inexplicably overlooked diary entries is one that now confirms the stone pedestal in the Echo as Mylne’s work. On March 20th 1766 he wrote “Made out a drawing for a pedestal to a statue for Mr Southwell and ditto at large. To be charged by the workman’s bill.” The following day, no doubt with the instruction of his client Mylne ordered the pedestal to be executed.

The statue is believed to have been collected by Southwell on his Continental tour, but Mylne’s pedestal is a work of art in its own right. Carved from a single piece of Portland Stone the design illustrates the architect’s knowledge of the latest understanding of classical architecture. The round cylinder-shaped pedestal takes the form of an ancient Greek altars. Carved in high relief on the simple drum are swags of leaves draped from simple rosettes; oak leaves are associated with the highest gods in the Greek pantheon, but also have a more general sacred symbolism.

Our recent trip has also identified regular payments made by Southwell for Mylne’s work. During the most active periods Southwell was paying £100 per annum to his architect. Between 1764 and 1770 payments in excess of £450 were transferred to Mylne, a figure excluding the cost of many other individual drawings considered extra to their original agreement. These substantial sums perhaps reflect the skill of the architect, and responsibility of his position; the annual wage of Southwell’s senior footman was just £16 16s a year.

The Echo in 1927 (Country Life)

The Echo in 1927 (Country Life)

Urgent Help Needed to Resist Penpole Planning Proposal

We’ve received notice that ANOTHER planning application for land adjacent to Penpole Lane, popularly known as the Karakal site, or Fairways. A proposal has come in for 77 shipping containers to be located within the Conservation Area and within the boundary of the Kings Weston historic Registered parkland. The site will be railed off with an 8-foot high mesh security fence with gates, and the containers introduced as part of a self-storage business.

One of the proposed containers and externall treatment

One of the proposed containers and externall treatment

The proposals will form the backdrop to the War Memorial on Shirehampton Road, now a Grade II Listed structure in its own right, and will blight the setting of the park. The Conservation Area appraisal describes this as semi-rural, and the proposed semi-industrial use is unacceptable in principle. We need your help to object to this planning application.

Over the years KWAG has made significant improvements to this, most visible, part of the estate. We removed the ruined tennis court, ensured the undergrowth that had taken over here has been kept in check, and developed a plan with the City Council Parks department for the restoration of the old courts to grassland. Unfortunately our efforts face being undone if permission is granted for the development.

 The type of 2.4metre security fences proposed for the perimeter.

The type of 2.4 metre security fences proposed for the perimeter.

To register your objection go to the Council’s online planning search page and search for application number 17/02259/F (Change of Use of site for self storage units. | Fairways Penpole Lane Bristol BS11 0EA ) The website is here: http://planningonline.bristol.gov.uk/online-applications/search.do?action=simple

You will need to object to the application on planning grounds. There are numerous policies that oppose this sort of development and t     these can include:
– Harm to the character of the Conservation Area
– Harm, and considerable disrespect,  to the setting of the Grade II Listed War Memorial, Grade I Listed Kings Weston House, and the Grade II Registered historic landscape
– Increased traffic from users of the self-storage facility
– increased danger to pedestrians and school children using the lane to get to school
– Loss of the designated wildlife corridor that constitutes the north half of the site

– Ecological and environmental harm

If you are unfamiliar with the site it is on the right in this google street view https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.4908349,-2.6659256,3a,75y,294.98h,93.91t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1senrl1FH3X-wNYacqE00GTQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

Consistent with our resistance to the intensified development of this site over several years KWAG strongly objects to this proposal. It is entirely counter to the recommendations of the Conservation Management Plan that was designed to protect the park and for which we fought strongly for. We believe the proposals will damage the appeal and character of the historic park for everyone. We’ve pushed back on this one before, and we hope you can support us again. Please, please, help us resist this assault!

The existing site (left), and the proposed distribution of the 77 containers across the site (right). Click the image to view in more detail.

The existing site (left), and the proposed distribution of the 77 containers across the site (right). Click the image to view in more detail.

Forty Years of Resistance: Preserving Kings Weston

This month’s plea for support against ill-conceived planning applications is not the first time the community have come together to save the parkland from development; And back in 1977 it was just such a proposal that was the catalyst in forming our predecessor: The Kingsweston Preservation Society.

1977 model of the proposed police HQ looking south. Kings Weston house middle-right.

1977 model of the proposed police HQ looking south. Kings Weston house middle-right.

During the 1970s the house and Home Park were owned and maintained by Avon and Somerset Constabulary. They ran police training facilities in the house, but, in 1977, formed plans to build a huge new force headquarters within the grounds. Avon County architect Martin Kennington was commissioned to design a large office block which would sit along the north side of the Echo Walk and fill a space more than seven times larger than Vanbrugh’s historic masterpiece.

New houses would be laid out between Vanbrugh’s Brewery and Banqueting House loggia, and the meadows below the house terraced and tarmacked to form extensive car parking. Plans later developed to include a vehicle garage and maintenance depot around the Circle on the edge of Penpole Wood, and a tall new Police Radio transmitter close to the Echo.

1977 plan showing how the site was to be developed (main office block on east of Echo Walk).

1977 plan showing how the site was to be developed (main office block on east of Echo Walk).

Following publication of the plans, and a public meeting in January 1978, many local residents were horrified. They quickly grouped together and formed the Kingsweston Preservation Group who fought a coordinated attack against the proposals. Many of the posters and leaflets produced by the society are collected within the Bristol Record Office (Now Bristol Archives) and offer a hint of the ferocity of opposition.

poster advertising the 1978 public meeting

poster advertising the 1978 public meeting (Bristol Archives)

Eventually, in the face of intense public opposition, and concerns from Avon County Council about the negative impact of the buildings on the historic house, the park, and on traffic the application was refused by town planners.

Police use continued at the house until 1994, but with their ambitious proposals for the grounds thwarted, alternative locations were sought for their new headquarters. Kings Weston was extremely fortunate at the time that the local community rallied behind its park, and understood the importance of the house and environment. The Kingsweston Preservation Society also thrived, and continued work promoting and protecting the estate before finally ebbing out of existence by about 2003.

Opposition poster by the Kingsweston Preservation Society

Opposition poster by the Kingsweston Preservation Society

We are fortunate that assaults on historic buildings, landscapes, and parks, that continued throughout the 70s and 80s, are now far rarer. Since then national and local planning policies have evolved to better protect our built and natural heritage. Although Kings Weston House was Listed in the 1950s the park remained largely unprotected until the creation of the Kings Weston and Westbury on Trym Conservation Area in 1981. 300 acres of the remaining parkland were entered on the ‘Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of special historic interest in England’ in 1987, giving it greater protection at a national level, and, most recently, the adoption of the Conservation Management Plan by the City Council in 2014 is also a relevant consideration in planning deliberations.

Without that group of committed locals and supporters forty years ago its difficult to know what condition the estate would be in today. Thanks to their vocal opposition we are able to build on their legacy today, metaphorically rather than literally of course!

 

Home Farm Reveals Hidden History

Sometimes something familiar can still manage to surprise you. This month a recent exploration of some of the former parkland around Lawrence Weston turned up an intriguing new discovery. Some of you will be familiar with the Home Farm buildings on Kings Weston Lane, just below the house. The buildings here once formed the principal farm for the north side of the estate and was farmed and managed directly by the Southwell and Miles families living in Kings Weston House rather than being let to tenant farmers.

The east front of Home Farm onto Kings Weston Lane.

The east front of Home Farm onto Kings Weston Lane.

The main range of buildings survived the post-war development of the parkland as bring converted to a health centre, though many of the outbuildings that once formed the exotic Georgian menagerie were lost.

It is difficult now to establish what purpose the various elements of the building performed. The central portion was, no doubt, the original house, but the north and south wings are unusual.

The rear, west elevation showing the ornamental Gothick facade incorporated on the right.

The rear, west elevation showing the ornamental Gothick facade incorporated on the right.

 

It is in the south wing that the recent ‘discovery’ was made, though at the rear of the building, not the public front. It was this, the west side, that fell within the boundary of the landscaped parkland, and we should, perhaps, not be surprised that it had additional architectural embellishment where it could be seen by the household and visitors.

Within the façade is incorporated three arch-headed openings, designed with symmetry and deliberate decorative intent; a pair of windows with y-shaped timber tracery, and a matching central door accessing a long room. A glance through the windows reveals three further openings of similar form in the north side of this room. Careful inspection of the stonework of the east elevation, to Kings Weston Lane, identified both a series of strong stone quoins on the corner, stretching up only the ground floor height, and a clear break in the stonework.

Detail of the east front showing extent of earlier structure

Detail of the east front showing extent of earlier structure

The implication of these finds is that, when first completed the building was a long single-storey structure with some ornament function. This was later incorporated within the farm house building, with a connecting wing at ground floor level and an entirely new first floor and roof.

So what purpose could this building have performed? Sadly there is no definite documentary evidence that we can turn to answer the question, though there are hints in an estate plan of 1772. At this time it is clear that, as part of the pleasure grounds, a walk was laid out along the eastern edge of the landscaped parkland linking Kings Weston House with the menagerie. This walk is depicted as being heavily planted and meanders downhill where it pauses at the south wind of Home Farm before continuing onwards to the open paddocks of the Menagerie just to the north; it clearly had some interest to visitors to the park to have been included on this route.

Detail of Issac Taylor's 1772 estate plan showing Home Farm.

Detail of Issac Taylor’s 1772 estate plan showing Home Farm.

Already by 1772 the plan shows that the structure had become part of the long range of buildings we see today. Conceivably the pointed arches could date to the 1750s or 1760s when such “Gothick” follies were fashionable; indeed the fanciful tower at Blaise Castle dates from this period. There is the possibility that, when it was drawn in 1772, the buildings had only recently been amalgamated.

Its location, as part of the farm, and ornamental appearance might suggest that this building formed a dairy. Dairies often presented fashionable diversions for the wealthy, and there are notable examples of very ornate structures being attractions at country estates; our most notable local example being at Blaise where a rustic, thatched, dairy was built in the gardens in close proximity to the mansion house at a slightly later period. An alternative possibility is that it was part of the menagerie buildings, though the majority of those seem to be focussed north of the farm house.

The roof form of the building has been altered in recent times, a hipped end once fronted the parkland, and the interiors modified for health centre use, but a more detailed  inspection  of the whole range of Home Farm buildings would be a worthwhile, and potentially fruitful exploration to try and uncover its contribution to the Kings Weston estate.

1947 Aerial photo showing an earlier hipped roof form.

1947 Aerial photo showing an earlier hipped roof form.

 

Volunteers make bold steps

For many years now the path between the Echo and the Georgian Viewing Terrace behind has been a bit difficult to negotiate. Whether it was by a direct and steep route along the side of the Echo, or by an uneven diversion around the bay tree the route was difficult to negotiate for many visitors, and particularly treacherous in the winter.

The steps during construction

KWAG volunteers have now rectified the problem by constructing a new set of steps descending in  a graceful curve around the bay tree and delivering walkers safely to the main path. Building on our previous training and experience with the long ascent through Penpole Wood a small group of invited volunteers attended a special working party on the 2nd May. Timber, gravel and tools were all purchased through donations to KWAG, but, of course, the manpower required was provided free by our volunteers and were are very grateful.

KWAG volunteers pose with the finished result

KWAG volunteers pose with the finished result

The alignment of the path approximates the historic route shown on an estate plan of 1772  and is therefore more of a restoration than an entirely new insertion. However the creation of level steps is a modern innovation of our own, and one which we hope will make the path between two of the estate’s historic features much more accessible for all.

Our thanks go to everyone who lent a hand on the day, and especially to Jim and Celia Ellis whose planning of the project made the whole day run smoothly.

Coincidentally the day also saw a good deal of activity form Bristol City Council parks rangers. They felled some of the large bay tree boughs that were threatening the masonry and urns of the Echo. Other complementary work say the poisoning of the Japanese Knotweed later the same day.

 

The steps curve away around the bay tree beside the Echo.

The steps curve away around the bay tree beside the Echo.

Research update: More on the Echo

With the acoustic feature partially restored it’s worth reassessing the parkland building that took its name. The Echo was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh, the same architect as Kings Weston house, and was probably erected when the parkland was being embellished in the 1720s. It was fitted into a pre-existing series of formal gardens that led up the hillside from the house. These three walled gardens followed a typical arrangement of parterre garden, ‘wilderness’ garden, and grove, that became popular in the Seventeenth Century. At Kings Weston these gardens were to have been likely laid-out by Sir Robert Southwell and designed to related to the earlier Tudor mansion. They were retained, partly remodelled, when the old house was demolished and the present one begun in 1712.

The early gardens are shown in several engravings, but the most complete is an estate plan of 1720. This may have been commissioned immediately ahead of the park being embellished, and doesn’t yet show the Echo in its current location. Instead, in the location the axial route through the Grove terminates in a canted wall, perhaps with a raised viewing terrace where the view back towards the house could be enjoyed.

Detail of the 1720 Estate plan showing the location of features mentioned in the text

Detail of the 1720 Estate plan showing the location of features mentioned in the text

The blank sides and rear of the present Echo building has often perplexed visitors. Why would a garden structure that could, at the time, have been seen from all sides make no effort with ornamentation? The answer has been revealed through recent research. A drawing exists in Bristol Record Office  which shows the slope of the landscape from the garden front of the house along the garden axis. Dated 1720 it’s is a measured survey produced ahead of proposed alterations to the height of Kingsweston Hill, and, although it doesn’t show the Echo, passes through its future location. Measuring carefully the distance from the house the location can be plotted on the historic drawing. What it shows is that at this time there existed a public road passing around the back of the private gardens.

Detail of the 1720 section surveyed through the landscape and with the current position of the Echo added

Detail of the 1720 section surveyed through the landscape and with the current position of the Echo added

Whilst it’s not possible to find traces of the road today – it’s long been erased by works designed to obliterate it – it illustrates why there was never any necessity to ornament the rear of the Echo at this time. The public’s experience of this side of the gardens was only of a high boundary wall intended to keep the inquisitive at bay. When the Echo was built it too turned its back on the public highway.

How long the road, and the garden wall, remained is not known; They were swept away before 1772 when the Echo is first shown as a stand-along building. It is likely that the road was moved and landscape altered in the 1730s when records suggest part of the hill here was being taken down. This was a major undertaking designed to improve the view from the house towards the city across Shirehampton Park, and a public road would have been a substantial inconvenience to ambitions.

The early wall fabric preserved in the rear of the EchoThe early wall fabric preserved in the rear of the Echo

What we are left with in the Echo bears closer inspection. Looking carefully at the stonework there are clear scars in the fabric. Whilst it’s known that some of these date from substantial restoration works in the 1990s there remain earlier traces. Across the rear wall of the echo, on the front and rear facades, there is a definite change in colour and texture in the stonework. The lower section is of paler limestone, whilst the upper section matches the sides of the building and are of a pinkish Penpole Stone. This is the fossilised remnant of the original garden wall that were incorporated into the Echo when it was built in about 1724. The alcoves inside the Echo have been inserted within the thicker fabric of this boundary wall, and the arches spring just above the line of the original wall.

Although no other built trace remains of the formal garden structure (even the current axial path is a Victorian) we are fortunate that, if we look closely, we can still discover traces of the landscape’s past in even in it most familiar features.

The back wall of the Echo showing the change in stonework from grey below the line, to pink above it.

The back wall of the Echo showing the change in stonework from grey below the line, to pink above it.

Round the Back Front: History of a forgotten part of the estate.

Many people’s first impression of Kings Weston house is marred by the slightly mangled and despoiled rear of the building. There have been some real improvements recently under Norman Routledge, but it’s a far cry from the original intentions of the architect Sir John Vanbrugh who designed the house with four individual facades of near-equal importance. We are fortunate that there are a wealth of estate maps, and drawings for the Kings Weston estate, but with so many differing styles, scales and detail it’s sometimes difficult to interpret how the setting of the house once appeared.

Recent research and interpretation of this forgotten side, the “Back Front” as it was built, has revealed how this part of the estate has evolved. A new set of reconstruction images, presented here for the first time, seeks to show how this are developed over time. Click on  each image to view it at larger size.

When Sir Robert Southwell bought Kings Weston in 1679 it was centered on a late Tudor mansion, in front of which were formal open courts and scattered service buildings. By 1710 his son, Edward, had ornamented the grounds with a brick-faced banqueting house and a long raised terrace, perhaps for bowling.

 

By 1720 Vanbrugh had completed the new house and with Edward they’d added new kitchens, brewhouse and a huge new terrace overlooking the Severn terminated by an ornamental loggia attached to the side of the Banqueting House. A pond and fountain were added symmetrical to the “Back Front”

Edward Southwell III had deformalised the gardens by 1772. A new kitchen range closed off the back of the house for the first time and a service court was created. This, and its access drive, cut through the old Banqueting House terrace. An ice house was sited to take advantage of the shade below the bank down to Kingsweston Lane.

The Victorian era saw substantial changes under the Miles family. A large replacement  kitchen block was added in the 1840s and the former Banqueting House was reused as a laundry and wash house. The remnants of the terrace was a drying yard. An ash tip was hidden out of site behind a timber fence and yew hedge.

The kitchens were demolished in 1938/9 before plans to turn the house into a school faltered in WWII. After the war the estate entered institutional use, and the gardens and buildings were neglected and went to ruin. By 1980 the back of the building was in use as a car park, and little sense of the historic setting remained.

Iron Bridge update. April 2017

We’re regularly contacted about the current progress on the Iron Bridge repair. We’re still in the position of lobbying the city council highways department to get some progress. We are aware that there are significant safety concerns about crossing the road close to Shirehampton Road junction, and the use of the bridge by trespassers crawling through the scaffolding, and have passed both issues on to the Council.  Rest assured that local Councillors Jo Sergant and Donald Alexander  have also been pushing hard on behalf of their ward.

The latest news is that it is planned that the work will be included within the current financial year, though this will be very dependant on budgets and other priorities within the city. We’re sorry that the news isn’t more positive, but the best advice we can give is to recommend you refer any queries, concerns, or issues directly to the councillors so they can pass them on to cabinet or the highways officers involved.

Tree planting with One Tree per Child

Following clearance of laurel and brambles last month saw the replanting of a large area around the White Oak in Penpole Wood with native tree species. Bristol City Council’s One Tree Per Child programme supported an event held on 23rd of March to involve school children from Kingsweston School in planting new 58 saplings.

Bristol Council's Jon Atkinson shows us how it's done

Bristol Council’s Jon Atkinson shows us how it’s done

Jon Atkinson, and volunteers from KWAG and Keynsham company, So Vision, set out the area ready for planting and helped in the work of planting.  Native species focused on native oak, lime and hazel and have been planted to complement the existing and rare White Oak which remains the central focus of this part of the woodland.

Children and helpers from Kingsweston School get stuck in with the tree planting.

Children and helpers from Kingsweston School get stuck in with the tree planting.

The original path through the area has also been informally reinstated as part of the work. The path will enable the saplings to be accessed for future maintenance and enable visitors to get much closer to the landmark White Oak, so please do take the opportunity to use it.

 

Unfortunately the new path has been deliberately vandalised, blocked, and the edging removed on two occasions now. If you know who is responsible please let us know, or report it if you see anything or find it removed again. Thank you.

The tree planting area and reinstated path below the White Oak.

The tree planting area and reinstated path below the White Oak.