This month marks the Centenary of Armistice Day. We would like to take this opportunity to remember the First World War and its impact on the estate, Shirehampton, and those caught-up in the conflict on the home front.
At the outbreak of the First World War the owners of Kings Weston House, Philip Napier Miles, and his wife Sybil, wanted to help the war effort and turned the house into an auxiliary hospital caring for injured soldiers returned from Europe. The hospital was run by Sybil, who would later be honoured with an OBE for her efforts. Hospitals across the south of England were put to use in caring for troops brought back from the trenches, but the most heavily injured soldiers were taken to established hospitals. Kings Weston provided care for less serious wounds and for patients who needed time to recover, often before they were returned to their regiments fighting on the Continent. Most of the rooms in the house were turned into hospital wards and, under Sybil’s direction, Red Cross nurses cared for the wounded. The main ward occupied the library, now known as the Vanbrugh Room.
The gardens around the house were ideal for fresh air and relaxation that soldiers needed to recover. It was though that seeing other soldiers in uniform might upset those wounded very traumatically; Instead they wore “Hospital blues”, though soldiers were permitted to wear their regimental caps. The gardens were also put to use in raising money to run the hospital with open days when visitors would pay a fee to enjoy the historic grounds and know they were helping the Red Cross at the same time. An influx of soldiers in the summer of 1916, probably from the Battle of the Somme, curtailed charitable events meaning the house was not open to visitors. The programme for one of these events can be found here. Soldiers from the nearby Remount Depot regularly put on fundraising tournaments in front of the house where troops would compete in events using the depot’s horses, and inviting paying members of the public to visit.
The hospital closed in 1919, after the end of the war. It’s not clear whether it was PN Miles, or some of the soldiers how had been treated there, but a plaque was made that still sits over the front door of the house commemorating the happy times that recovering soldiers spent there.
PN Miles donated the land, and supported the erecting of Shirehampton’s War Memorial at the junction of Park Hill and Penpole Lane; this is now a Grade II Listed structure. It was officially unveiled in 1921 with a memorial service, and has continued to be the focus of local remembrance of those from the Parish who were not fortunate enough to return.
KWAG put together a series of exhibition panels focussing on the area during the First World War and these can be found via our website