Monthly Archives: August 2018

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. “