Shirehampton Park: A park for the people  

Following from last month’s focus on the garden village connections with Kings Weston, and the genesis of Sea Mills, this month we look at Shirehampton Park. The land between Shirehampton Road and the River Avon had become part of the landscaped parkland around the house in the 1720s, with designed garden features, tree planting, and pleasure buildings dotted around over 100 acres. It’s even thought that at the banks of the Avon there was access directly to the park from the river at Crabtree Slip. The land was grazed by animals, but intended as a picturesque adornment to the wider Kings Weston Estate. This remained the situation even after the Port and Pier Railway was driven through the park in 1865, severing it from the riverside.

Shirehampton Park and the view across Horseshoe Bend. John Syer, circa 1860. Bristol Museum & Art Gallery. 

It was Philip Skinner Miles, owner of Kings Weston, who promoted and financed the building of the railway through his land. Advantage was taken of this new mode of transport when, starting in 1865, Miles began opening the park for an annual horticultural show.  A temporary railway platform was erected alongside the line where special trains would stop for visitors to the show could alight directly for the show ground in the “beech avenue” in Longcombe, a hidden hollow in the heart of Shirehampton Park.

Little changed until the Twentieth Century when Skinner Miles’ son, Philip Napier Miles leased land on in the park to the newly formed Shirehampton Golf Club. The club was formed in 1904 with nine holes, and, following its success, expanded quickly to a full eighteen. Napier Miles was happy to allow the recreational use of the park, but only formally joined the golf club in 1910, and almost immediately was elected club president for the next ten years.  

The Shirehampton Park golf club house shortly after it was first built.
Surveyors in Shirehampton Park circa 1918 ahead of the Portway construction.

Sea Mills garden suburb was projected from 1918 on Miles’ land.  Keen to support this model housing estate he sold his land to the Corporation at a reduced rate. As well as ensuring oversight of the quality and conditions of the new housing, he wanted to ensure that open green space and opportunities for recreation were accessible to the new residents. He made the decision to donate Shirehampton Park for the enjoyment of residents of Shirehampton and the new estate, though initially he appears to have been uncertain whether the best course of action was to pass the land to the Corporation, no doubt with covenants, or to the new National Trust established just eleven years previously. By July 1918 the Western Daily Press was able to announce that Napier Miles intended to hand to the National Trust a “considerable portion of Shirehampton Park having a frontage of about three quarters of a mile to the river, as a public park for the people of Bristol”.

There then followed a lengthy delay, of more than four years! It’ not immediately clear why this was, but it may have been connected with the driving of the Portway through the area and the substantial parts of Shirehampton Park that were required to enable this. The new road was cut deeply into the rock close to the railway, and the difficulty and cost of the works made a significant contribution to the road becoming the most expensive per-mile in the UK. Work had begun in 1919; it was a difficult undertaking, opening eventually in 1926 after repeated delays.

The cutting being driven through Shirehampton Park for the Portway. Samuel Loxton. 1920. 

Fortunately for the people of Shirehampton and Sea Mills the delay in getting their park was less severe. Residents had begun moving into the new garden suburb in 1920, but it wasn’t until December 1922 that the Indenture gifting Shirehampton Park to the National Trust was signed. In it Napier Miles laid out clear conditions on his 98 acre gift; he ensured that the land was protected “as an open space for the benefit of the people of Shirehampton and the neighbourhood”; also that “golf shall be permitted to be played” subject to the continued enjoyment of the park by the public; and that no buildings were allowed to be erected “except such pavilions, bandstands, shelters, cloakrooms, lavatories” that the National Trust considered “conducive to the better enjoyment of the said park by those frequenting it”. With this condition it is implied that Napier Miles hoped that the land might fulfil a partial role as a municipal park as well as a golf course.

A printed Edwardian postcard showing Longcombe and “golf links” 

Whilst the land continues as cherished open space the golf course use has the effect of marginalising the  access Napier Miles might have envisaged in his gift. There remain public rights of way across the land for those that can find them, though paths are poorly marked and there is occasional conflict between sports and recreational use. It does continue under the ownership of the National Trust though, and Crabtree Slip wood is a rich natural woodland. Sea Mills also enjoys the gift of Three Acre Covert nearby, also forming a gift of green space from Napier Miles

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