Monthly Archives: May 2021

Iron Bridge planning application lodged

The Save the Green Iron Bridge campaign and the Kings Weston Action Group have submitted their own planning application to restore the Grade II Listed Iron Bridge over Kings Weston Road, and protect it from future damage from lorries and busses. Te application seeks consent to erect steel height restrictors either side of the bridge to make sure high sided vehicles are prevented from reaching the restored bridge and hitting it. It’s intended to be part of a series of traffic measures to stop vehicle strikes in future.

If you want to look at the whole application and support our efforts to find a workable solution to get the bridge restored and reopened please add your comments online via Bristol City Council Planning website and search for application number 21/02295/F.

If our application is successful we hope to establish funding for the proposals and work with Bristol City Council to have them carried out. If you have any queries please contact us via or 07811666671

Exploring Longcombe

During lockdown the cessation of golf on Shirehamton Park gave many the opportunity to take advantage of this less well trodden part of the Kings Weston Estate. Without sports being played families were free to roam across the National Trust owned parkland and take in its beauty. Shirehampton Park is often the forgotten side of the estate, but covers around a third of its area, comprising of around 90 acres. It was donated to the Trust by the last private owner of Kings Weston house, Philip Napier Miles, in 1922 with the proviso that it would be made always accessible to the residents of Shirehampton and Sea Mills for their recreation, and with the golf course’s use of it required. The original intention was expressed in the local papers in 1918, but it’s believed that the ongoing construction of the Portway through the park at the time delayed the final transfer.

Looking across Longcombe towards the opening in the hills that once led down to the River Avon. 

But the parkland here has a much longer history. Still today you can trace long ridges across the golf course that represent ancient field systems. Larger ones to the east of the area face south and are likely to have been designed as medieval rabbit warrens, a conyger, that were used to farm the animals for food; coney is an obsolete historical name for rabbits. The long-disused name of a nearby outcrop, Conger Hill, is likely to derive from the adjacent coneyger.  

Lidar map showing the historic  lumps and bumps of Shirehampton Park, and some of the golf course’s making,  stripped of trees and other structures.

In the Seventeeth Century Sir Robert Southwell set out to establish groves of fir trees here both for pleasure and for timber, and keenly improved the land through careful management. It remained a largely agricultural landscape until the 1720s. By the time of the estate survey at the start of that decade Edward Southwell, Sir Robert’s son, was keen to capitalise on the park’s picturesque rolling landscape, riverfront, and spectacular views across to Somerset. Soon after the completion of Kings Weston house he threw the boundary of Kings Weston’s estate out as far as the Avon and began incorporating it into the landscaped grounds.

At the heart of Shirehamton Park is Longcombe, a deep hidden valley almost completely enclosed from the outside world, and with considerable picturesque value. There are two early signs of Southwell’s ambitions for this long combe which are included in the Kings Weston Book of Drawings, an album of historical plan and drawings held by Bristol Archives. There are many sketches and drawings for garden buildings amongst its pages, and two of these relate to structures around Longcombe. Both appear to have been designed to capitalise on the topography, focused on aligned views and distant prospects.

Landscaping project for Conger Hill, Longcombe, 1724 (Bristol Archives)

The first is, conveniently, dated to 1724, when other parkland developments were already underway elsewhere on the estate. It is a design for a viewing mound with eight individual prospects cut through the trees to focus the eye on distant landmarks. The mound was to be framed with a grove of elms and topped with a cabinet of yew trees accessed by means of a ramped walk from the east. From the mound views were aligned down Longcombe, and towards neighbouring estates at Charlton (Somerset), Leigh Court, Sneyd Park, Cote – an important house on the Downs, as well as views to the river and Westbury on Trym. Exploring the location today there remains an obvious circular prominence amongst the trees, but any framed views have long since been lost.

The octagonal plan for a small lodge in Longcombe or Conger Hill. (Bristol Archives)

A second, undated, plan shows an octagonal lodge backing onto woodland with views identified in the direction of “the Dock” at Sea Mills. The location for this proposal is less certain. Under the description of “Plan for Longcombe Lodge” there is an addition scrawled in a lighter hand suggesting that an alternative site could be on Conger Hill, one supposes the same spot as the design for the viewing mound. The original intention for this building could have been to command the view along the length of Longcombe from a spot at the head of the valley somewhere. The truth is that we don’t know if either of these designs was executed, but there is some indication that something was made on Conger Hill from a later estate plan of 1772. Its author, Isaac Taylor, illustrated a circular open feature within the woods here, with a linear path approaching it from the high ground to the east, and a viewing corridor cut through the trees looking up Longcombe. Was this the vestige of the many-spoked design of 1724 or something else? There is no sign of the octagonal lodge. A tantalising 1759 memo authored by Edward Southwell II in the interim period notes “The ash trees and the seat in Long Combe to be taken away”; was this connected with one of these features?  

Longcombe shown on Taylor’s 1772 estate plan with the viewing mound shown amongst the trees on the right. 

 By the later Georgian era Shirehampton Park was much admired for its views of the Avon. Although the park offered extensive landscape pasture its main value was as a wider picturesque setting for the mansion house. This continued into the Nineteenth Century long after the estate passed to the Miles Family. A notable event was hosted in Loncombe in 1868 at the behest of Philip Skinner Miles. He was particularly keen on encouraging his tenants to grow their own produce and improve their properties with flowers. His family were instigators of the local horticultural society in the 1850s and flower shows became a regular feature on the estate. These were sometimes held close to the house, but more often in Shirehampton Park. In 1868 the Shirehampton Flower Show was held in the pastoral setting of Longcombe. To serve visitors to the show a temporary railway platform was erected where the recently opened railway crossed the foot of the combe and special trains ran throughout the day from Bristol.

Looking up Longcombe to the west on an early 20th Century postcard
The view east down Longcombe today with the site of the viewing mound in the far distance, to the right of the pines. 

Celebrating our first decade: Part III – To Celebrate!

In the final part of our tenth anniversary review we look at how KWAG celebrates the historic estate. When we established in 2011 it was to try and share the amazing history of the estate with as many people as possible. KWAG’s founders, Tim Denning and David Martyn had long puzzled over why the grand house appeared to sit in the corner of an open field surrounded by woods and set out to piece together more about the history of the house, landscaped gardens, and the families who lived there. Some of the discoveries that were made in the early days added some astonishing new background to Kings Weston, overturning decades of wrong assumptions and misunderstanding. KWAG was formed in an effort to share the importance of the estate with others and spread the word about the incredible history now discovered.

Below; where it all began; KWAG’s first exhibition  held in the Echo to coincide with Doors Open day in September 2012. This was our first public event. 

It remains a key ambition of KWAG to promote the history of the estate. Working with Bristol City Council we ensured that all of our research and knowledge was made available in the creation of a Conservation Management Plan for the estate. This continues to form the road map for the future of the estate and for all KWAG’s work. This was adopted by the Council in 2014 and is a fascinating read for anyone interested in Kings Weston. We also worked closely with the Council to help identify important sites and monuments within the estate and help mould council policies that would cover their protection and conservation.

KWAG volunteers pose with Councillor Anthony Negus on the Council’s adoption of the Conservation Management Plan in 2014

Probably the most important discoveries KWAG has made relate to the history of the house itself. Although its architect, Sir John Vanbrugh is one of the most nationally important architects his work at Kings Weston was surprisingly poorly understood. Most researchers had guessed at when it was built, and you will regularly read 1710 as the assumed date. KWAG undertook extensive research, mainly using original documents in Bristol Archives and the British Library to finally establish an exact date, the 17th June 1712, for the commencement of the present building. In the process we uncovered the intriguing story of the demolition of the old building with no firm plan for its replacement, the anxiety that the owner, Edward Southwell, felt over what to replace it with barely a month before the new house began, and the long discourse between him, his architect, and other acquaintances during the construction. We’ve also established that Southwell finally moved into his new house in 1716.

This 1724 engraving was one key piece of evidence that led us to an exact date for the commencement of the rebuilding of Kings Weston House.
A full height portrait of Elizabeth Southwell by Sir Peter Lely in 1680 is the largest item collected to date.

Some of these correspondence have since been lodged as part of the collections of Bristol Archives following KWAG’s actions. We were grateful for the public response to a call for donations in 2018 to secure an important letter about the house from Sir John Vanbrugh. In 2013 we also secured the transfer of a large and important archive of family papers that were still held by the descendants of the Southwell family and amongst which are fascinating details about the house and estate in the Eighteenth Century.

As well as contributing some documents directly to pubic collections we also hold a growing collection of original material and artefacts ourselves. Historical paintings, photos, documents and ephemera that relate to Kings Weston and the families who lived there have all been collected when the opportunity has arisen, and we’re grateful for members of the public who have added to our collection through donations. Our research has been used in other ways. In 2013 we used it to apply to Historic England to get the historic Georgian viewing terrace Grade II Listed. In 2015 we managed to get Shirehampton War Memorial, an important feature in the park, Listed too.

This 1724 engraving was one key piece of evidence that led us to an exact date for the commencement of the rebuilding of Kings Weston House
KWAG volunteers pose in front of our WWI exhibition in costume as part of a schools day commemorating the use of Kings Weston house as an Auxiliary Hospital between 1915 and 1918.

Of course KWAG’s ambition has always been to share the history of Kings Weston and we’ve found many ways to accomplish this. We’ve published a wide range of guides, articles, and, of course, the monthly newsletters for our members. The majority of these focus on the estate’s history. Walks, tours, exhibitions, and public talks are all ways that we try and promote Kings Weston across the city and beyond. We’ve also run major events and a programme of schools engagement. It’s always been at the heart of KWAG to make history as accessible as possible. By reconstructing some of the lost buildings and house interiors using 3D computer modelling has been one way we’ve tried to illustrate how the estate has evolved. Of course our website has become an essential one-stop shop for anything to do with history, nature, and our activities, and is an ever growing archive of fascinating information and images.

One of KWAG’s computer reconstructions, this one of the original Tudor house that preceded Sir John Vanbrugh’s building

Not all discoveries have been found in archives however; KWAG has run several archaeological explorations to uncover more about the parkland. Several Geophys events have identified lost features including the original Great Court at the front of the house as well as some other intriguing features that we may explore further 2012 we uncovered ruins of Sir John Vanbrugh’s Penpole Lodge and recorded them in measured drawings.

Marble fragments discovered in the cellars of the house were identified by us when they came to light in 2012. Piecing the fragments together on the floor of the cellar we recognised them from photos from a 1927 article in Country Life as being from the Eating Parlour, now the Canaletto Room upstairs. We also managed to find it referenced in archival material and could date it to 1764. It was cleaned and restored by Norman Routledge before being reinstated as the centrepiece to the room once more.

KWAG volunteers are supervised during the archaeological recording of Penpole Lodge in 2012
Fragments of the 1764 eating parlour fireplace on the cellar floor when first identified. 

Rather than detail it in full here a story about another recent find, a painting in the collections of the architect Sir John Soane RA has been published on our website. The painting brings to light the influence of Kings Weston on later generations of architects and the admiration, and occasional vitriol the house provoked! 

There are still people who come to us today saying they’ve lived in Bristol all their lives but never visited, but these days there are fewer who say they’ve never heard of Kings Weston. It can’t have escaped notice by anyone walking the park over the last ten years how many more people are enjoying it. We hope that KWAG’s influence and efforts have helped raise the profile of one of Bristol’s most important historic sites and will continue to do so into the future.

Below: Kings Weston house, or is it? Find out more here