Last October volunteers from KWAG, along with families from around the estate, came up for our 7th annual Big Bulb Plant. Our target was to plant over 8000 daffodil bulbs on The Centre. This are was the historic heart of the landscaped parkland, and remains the focus of the paths and avenues crossing the estate today.
The October event was our most popular yet, and the bulbs have now burst to life in dramatic fashion! The whole are is now richly golden with a dense field of flowers and are proving quite an attraction. The daffodils can be seen far across the park, appearing in views up the main avenues, from the lawns around the house, and from the path from the public car park on Shirehampton Road.
It’s difficult to imagine that just a few years ago this same area was a deep jungle 8 feet deep in brambles and hemmed-in with invasive cherry laurel. KWAG volunteers have gradually cleared the area and have been methodically keeping on top of regrowth since then. The flowering of the bulbs marks a huge landmark in reversing the tide of neglect and enhancing the parkland.
One of the most recognisable features of Kings Weston house is its roof; the castellated arcade on the top was designed to look like a fortification from a distance, and the open arches encircled a lookout platform from where visitors could admire the views across the Severn and beyond; but there’s much more up there of interest.
Although begun in 1712 the house was largely finished by 1716, enough for the rooms to be furnished and Edward Southwell to be able to move in with his second wife. However work continued on various aspects of the house; The veneered decoration on the stairs was made in 1719, the traditional completion date for the house, whilst the rooftop was the focus of continuing decorative masonry work. In the Kings Weston Book of Drawings, preserved in in Bristol Archives, there is a design for an urn intended to sit on the parapets on all four sides of the building. In total there are eight individual urns, massive stone structures that appear deceptively small when viewed from the ground; in fact they are each seven feet tall! There are three individual styles of urns, and the historical drawing illustrates the design for the pair on the “back front” of the house overlooking the service courtyard. The drawing’s dated 1717 and is one of the contract drawings given to the builders to work up, for which they would charge just four pounds ten shillings for the pair!
The roof itself is covered in tons of heavy cast lead sheet, some of which appears to have been on the building since it was finished, but certainly most was in place after mid-Eighteenth Century alterations. The lead itself has become something of an historical document since it was first laid; there are literally dozens of graffiti signatures and marks made by visitors to the roof over the centuries. Some are simple initials indented into the soft lead surface, others are full names, and some dated. Most are made by taking an iron tool and joggling it across the surface of the metal, giving a distinctive line almost as if it were embroidered. Others are gouged directly into the surface, but this method must have been more difficult to undertake and control.
The earliest found so far is the most illuminating; dated 1789 it’s signed T Cox who was bold enough to also identify himself as an estate game keeper. Although we have a number of named gamekeepers from the house Mr Cox’s rooftop signature is perhaps his only memorial as we can find nothing more about the man.
Robert Edward signed the leadwork in 1834. This
may have been a time at which the house was empty, awaiting the new residents,
the Miles family, to take occupation after the Southwell family had died out in
1832. Edward, apparently proud of his work, adds the Latin ‘pinxit’, declaring
he himself was responsible for the mark. N Cox was perhaps his companion on
this visit as he too adopts the Latin elaboration, and goes further in adding a
little cartouche about his name; was he related to Mr Cox the gamekeeper?
The most fascinating marks are those drawn around shoes or hands, of which there are several. Sadly only one of these is signed and it’s tempting to conclude that these men were illiterate, able only to make their mark by pictogram. The shoes, al of which are very small sizes, are distinctive shapes, with rounded heels and chisel-ended toes; does anyone know how these could be dated? The artists have embellished their outlines with the boot-nails and reinforced iron heels marked on. The hand is perhaps the most enigmatic. Only a single left hand has been discovered, it’s author no doubt using his right hand to draw around it with a steel tool.
In 1868 a fierce political fight broke out between Conservative and
Liberal supporters each eagerly supporting their candidates in the city’s
by-election. This was an age where electioneering could generate bitter
personal attacks and even physical violence and the 1868 election was amongst
the most divisive.
Standing as the Conservative Party candidate was John William Miles, brother of
Philip William Skinner Miles of Kings Weston House and resident there for much
of his life. The Miles family bought Kings Weston in 1834 after Lord de
Clifford had died in 1832 without an heir. John Miles’ brother, and
his father before him, had both represented the city for an unbroken period
between 1835 and 1852. John Miles no doubt wanted to continue the family’s
Like the other members of his family John Miles was keenly and actively involved in the industrial development of the city, but also worked tirelessly in modernising the farms at Kings Weston. He was director, at one time vice-chairman, of the Great Western Railway, a director of the Great Western Cotton Company, South Wales Union railway, and director of the Great Western Steamship Co; the SS Great Britain was registered in is co-ownership. He had been a member of the Bristol Docks committee and on the city’s council. He was a well-respected member of the mercantile class of the city, and would have made a popular choice to follow in his family’s political footsteps.
Against Miles the Liberals selected Samuel Morley, who today is best known for his statue in gardens in Lewins Mead. Campaigning was frenetic, with both parties producing handbills and posters both promoting their own candidate and demeaning the opposition. Miles handbills, many now in the collections of Bristol Museum, promoted him as a positive vote for industry and prosperity with images of shipping and the railways with which he was associated being popular motifs.
Several also carried images of the man taken from a contemporary engraving from which we could infer he was a stocky joyless looking gentleman. In reality he was well known for getting involved in family life, participating in theatrical performances, and took pleasure in breeding ferns and orchids; but perhaps the severity of the portrait suggested a man with more gravitas.
His opponents sought votes from the working classes rather than those mercantile or gentry. They noted that the Conservatives had been against broader political representation and, even at this point in time there were only around 25,000 men in the city eligible to vote.
Polling day was 30th April 1868 and Miles attracted 5,173 votes to Morley’s 4,977. Almost immediately after the election results were announced there were claims of foul play. Mr Morley claimed his defeat was due to “an undue use of money, beer, and intimidation”. The House of Commons launched an investigation and, although Miles was inducted into the House, it was only so for less than two months before the result was declared void. The committee charged with investigating the election uncovered the hiring of “roughs” to intimidate voters, with wholesale use of treating to entice votes, and paying ineligible men to impersonate voters. Miles was, through his agents’ actions, found guilty of bribery.
The election was not re-run, instead it was held back for the November General election. There was considerable ill feeling in all camps following the incident and, perhaps foolishly, Miles was fielded as the Conservative candidate again. This time the opposition had a cause and were vociferous in their condemnation of Miles. Numerous damning and sensationalist handbills were published, and the bitterness boiled over into violence and vandalism with damage to property. Unsurprisingly Miles’s vote collapsed and both candidates fielded by the Liberal Party came in ahead of him.
It was a sad end to the political ambitions of the Miles family who had previously been popular and well regarded representatives of their city. The actions of the party agents brought shame on the Miles family and on Kings Weston. John’s two months were the last time any resident of Kings Weston house represented Bristol in the House of Commons. John Miles returned to improving the agricultural progress of the Kings Weston estate, and died at Penpole House ten years later. He never married.
This year Sea
Mills estate celebrates its Centenary. The new suburb was built on land owned
by Philip Napier Miles, and, although not his project, saw the realisation of a
long-held ambition to create a garden village.
clear what first inspired PN Miles to dream of developing his lands on along the
revolutionary principles of the Garden
City Movement, but he was an early adopter. Perhaps he’d read Sir Ebenezer Howard’s ‘To-morrow: a
Peaceful Path to Real Reform’ that set out the ideology of uniting the benefits of open
green space with new urbanization and industry. If he read it in its first year of
publication, in 1898, he was quick to respond as the architectural character of housing around
Avonmouth changed almost overnight, from traditional Victorian terraces, to new
model housing in the Arts and Crafts style still found along Green Lane.
quickly expanded and in March 1903 Miles published his grandiose plans for developing
thousands of acres of land around Avonmouth along Garden City ideals. This was
the same year as the foundation of Letchworth Garden City, the first realised
town plan using the same principles, and the architecture around Avonmouth is
still strongly reminiscent of the more famous settlement.
heavily marketed the Avonmouth city project never really gained traction.
Investors were reluctant to commit to a damp, wet, floodplain that was only poorly
connected to the city centre of Bristol. However the wide streets, and elaborate
Edwardian architecture suggest at the aspirations Miles had.
Avomouth was undergoing tentative development another opportunity arose for
Miles to achieve his ambition; that being the Bristol Garden Suburb Ltd. Miles
was approached in 1909 by promoters of a smaller scale development inspired by the
garden-city principles that would provide pioneering artisan and workers
housing with high quality living conditions and generous gardens front and
back. Miles sold a portion of his estate off Station Road in Shirehampton at
extremely reduced cost to see if the experiment would succeed, and gave the
option to acquire more land if it was a success. The project was realised and
although only 44 houses had been built by 1913 it remained incomplete. Today
the garden village can best be seen around Passage Leaze where it has been
surrounded with later council estate development that muddies its real significance.
remained committed to developing a much larger garden suburb on his own terms
and, in 1918 a new plan was formed to develop 350 acres of the Kings Weston
estate below Penpole Wood and where Lawrence Weston is today; 60 acres of this
were scheduled to be open green space. A 1919 newspaper report describes the
visit of the Garden Cities and Town Planning Association when Miles took the
opportunity to describe his plans and the progress then being made on them. The
first public building was to be a Trades Hall for the use of trade unionists,
new education facilities, communal laundries, baths, swimming pools a main
avenue of two miles in length, and a shopping centre were to incorporate
elements of the landscaped parkland below Kings Weston house.
aren’t any surviving plans for Miles’s ambitious scheme, but part of it was
realised in the form of about 100 houses below Penpole Point, around Bean Acre
and the western ends of Old Quarry Road and Kings Weston Aveunue; the latter being
the commencement of the 2-mile long avenue planned. The works were undertaken
by the Ministry of Munitions and it appears that Miles had limited control of
the appearance of their work driven by the wartime need to supply workers
housing for the Government zinc smelting works and the Mustard Gas factory at
known why the Kings Weston Garden City faltered after such grand plans,
especially following the 1919 Housing and Town Planning Act, promoted by politician
and doctor Christopher Addison, gave Local Authorities the power and money to
act to help resolve a chronic housing shortage. Instead Bristol Corporation focussed
attention on another large tract of Miles’s estate: Sea Mills. Miles bought
into the idea and he happily negotiated with the Council to sell the 205 Acres
of land required, but with three clear provisos that ensured he retained considerable
control of the design. These were: 1. “that no part of the said lands…shall
be used for any purpose other than that of a Garden Suburb”; 2. that the
density “shall amount on an average to not less than 8 and not more than 12 per
acre; 3. “that the said lands…shall be laid out and built upon in accordance
with a scheme which shall be previously prepared in consultation with the
Surveyor and Architect employed by the Vendor”.
In June 1919 the
architect of the social reforms that had enabled the foundation of Sea Mills,
Christopher Addison himself, cut the
first sod on Sea Mills Square and symbolically planted the ‘Addison’s Oak’. The
plans closely followed the Garden City principles, applied to a suburb, ensuring
generous green spaces, civic, educational and social buildings planned as a
unified and integrated whole. Miles further augmented the new suburb with the
gift of open spaces, and the donation of Shirehampton Park to the National
Trust for the enjoyment and recreation of the new residents.
In this Centenary year for Sea Mills it should not be underestimated the vision of men and women to provide humane, healthy, and dignified for their fellows. Amongst those people we should remember Philip Napier Miles and his devotion to the Garden City ideals; Sea Mills Garden Suburb must have given him pleasure as the most complete realisation of the dream he harboured for two decades.
The Centenary of Sea Mills is being celebrated by the Sea Mills 100 project with a series of events throughout the year, and the launch of a micro museum in a restored telephone box in the village centre. More information can be found here. For more information on Sea Mills suburb the Conservation Area Statement provides more detail.
Two items of Kings Weston interest recently appeared in
auction in Gloucestershire. Two paintings, both dating to the 1840s went under
the hammer on the 7th. The first was a small and somewhat naive
depiction of Penpole Point in oil. This small painting was unsigned and a
little mangled. The view included Penpole Lodge and the dial further along the
ridge, but all concertinaed into a compressed space with some alarming perspective
at play! It was also odd in showing the dial raised on a mound, perhaps for
artistic effect as we know it never had this pronounced feature. The painting shows some of the many visitors
who came to Penpole Point to take in the views; one even holds a telescope to
out on the early steamships plying their
trade on the Severn.
The other painting is a large watercolour depicting the
staircase in Kings Weston house by Thomas Leeson Rowbotham and is of historic
as well as aesthetic interest. Rowbotham (1782-1853) was born in Bath in 1782
where he worked as a teacher of painting. He lived in Bristol from about
1825-35, where he made many drawings for G. W. Braikenridge who famously
commissioned hundreds of paintings documenting the old city of Bristol in incredible
detail. Over 400 of Rowbothom’s paintings form part of the museum’s
Braikenridge collection. Rowbothom must have impressed the Miles family, owners
of Kings Weston from 1835, as he was commissioned to paint the interior of both
his mansions: Leigh Court and Kings Weston. A painting of the Drawing Room at
Leigh Court is in the Bristol Museum collections.
The Kings Weston painting is dated, June 1948, and this too is significant. After the death in 1845 of his father, Philip John Miles, his son, Philip William Skinner Miles decided to use his inheritance to refurbish Kings Weston as his new family home. Part of his works were to demolish the ancient arcades that filled the stair hall of the house and open up the space with wide galleries and a new top-lit ceiling. The centrepiece of the space was to remain the original staircase designed by Sir John Vanbrugh and installed by 1716. This work began in 1846 and concluded with a ceremonial dinner for the labourers on August 21st 1847; this was held in the George in Shirehampton and not in the house itself!
Skinner Miles appears to have commissioned Rowbothom to
record the brand new interior he has just created. Everything looks neat with
only a few belongings having yet been set up and paintings and furniture that
later occupied the space not yet installed. The gas lamps fitted to the stair
newels are feature now missing, but the scene is little changed today from
Rowbothom’s meticulous depiction of the newly finished hall.
Last month we brought you some First World War images from the archives of Avon and Somerset Constabulary, but there are many other interesting finds in their collection. This month we reveal some alarming images of the Georgian stables on Napier Miles Road. The stables were built in the late 1760s by the architect Robert Mylne shortly after his return from study in Rome. It was perhaps here that he had come into contact with the young Edward Southwell III of Kings Weston who would give him this prize commission before allowing him free-reign in remodelling the interiors of the house itself.
The stables and carriage houses continued to perform their original function until 1935 when the last private owner of the house, Philip Napier Miles died. His widow retained the walled gardens, where she built a new house for herself, and the stables, but the latter structures fared badly during the Second World War when they were used as billets for British soldiers employed in the house.
By 1952 the building was ruinous, its roofs collapsing, and under threat of demolition. It was only through the efforts of local conservationists and the strong advocacy of Lord Methuen that the City Council conceded to keep the building and rebuild it as a new police station to serve the fast-growing Lawrence Weston estate below. What has not been clear until now was the extremes that the ‘restoration’ had gone to in rebuilding the structure for this new use.
These photos show how much of structure was dismantled before being put back together. Remarkably only the central arch and the end facades of the two wings to the road appear to be the only elements that survived unscathed. The whole of the rest of the building has been taken down and, presumably, the most important masonry carefully numbered for later restoration.
The building was formerly opened as a police station in May 1962 by the Lord Mayor, local MPs and numerous local dignitaries. Lord Methuen also attended and expressed his complements to the City Corporation on the vision and foresight they had shown in putting the buildings to their new use. He said” I remember when nothing seemed to move anyone to preserve the place and that is why I am so pleased to be present among those who saw the possibilities of not only retaining the buildings, but putting them to such a practical use” . He continued that in most places these days there was a curious view that one should regard historic places on the basis of whether or not they could bring an income, but here was a refreshing change. He hoped Bristol would now consider preserving some more of her architectural heritage for posterity.
Some of you will already have heard this good news through our Facebook page, but we are delighted to hear that all of our worries over the use of the land around the Karakal warehouse on Penpole lane have just evaporated in time for Christmas.
Keith Sawyer of Karakal wrote to us and confirmed that he has just managed to exchange contracts, with Matthew Webb, whose family have owned the site for about thirty years, and now owns the area of land around the Karakal industrial unit. The planning appeal for shipping containers has since been withdrawn, and YardArts will be unable to move onto the site; Keith has confirmed this to us and we join in him in his celebration and relief that the whole plot is in his hands. Karakal have only ever had rights of access and parking on the land around their unit since 1987 and, although they have always been keen to, have never been able to agree on a realistic price for the land with its owner.
They have shared our exasperation over many of the planning applications over the last few years that would have impacted on their business. We’ve been in contact with Mr Sawyer for a while and we are reassured that he has no plans to expand Karakal and that the land is now in safe hands. Naturally we were unaware of negotiations while they were happening, but we are incredibly grateful for Keith having emailed us just 10 mins after the exchange to let us know!
It will be great to be able to direct our time and effort towards more constructive projects in the coming year rather than dealing with the planning problems we’ve been reporting on since 2011! We hope you will join us in celebrating this news!.
Finally a BIG thank you to everyone who has supported us in objecting to the planning applications on this site; It’s been frustrating and draining, but all of your letters of objection have made a difference and have fended off development . We couldn’t keep going without your help and support!
In poignantly timely discovery, days before the centenary of Armistice Day, we found a series of photographs of Kings Weston dating to the First World War. We’ve previously shared photos of the outside of the house during its time as an Auxiliary Hospital caring for the wounded sent back from the front; this new series of images shows the grand state rooms reutilised as hospital wards.
The interiors are shown emptied of their ornamental furniture and paintings and laid out with beds for soldiers. The Vanbrugh Room, “breakfast room”,and Drawing Room (now the oak room) are all seen in duty as wards, where Red Cross nurses tend to their patients. The largest of the wards, now the Vanbrugh Room is seen with empty bookcases and around sixteen simple iron beds. All the images show small groups of wounded servicemen surrounded by the volunteer Red Cross nurses who tended to them. Surprisingly the rooms are adorned with numerous vases of flowers.
Some of the photos are numbered and we’d be keen to find the rest. If anyone knows where these originally came from we’d be keen to find out, and we’re trying to speak to the Avon and Somerset Constabulary archives from where the images first came.
We’ve also collated the known records of Red Cross nurses who worked at the house from the national database of First World War volunteers which can be found in thisPDF. Many were local ladies who wanted to make their contribution to the war effort, including three members of the Moore family from Penlea in Shirehampton. It’s likely that some of these nurses are those who appear in rediscovered photos.
Recent visitors to Kings Weston cannot have missed the appearance of a new cast iron bench on the South Walk;It’s almost luminous colour was something of surprise when it was installed as part of the closing project of the Forgotten Landscape project.KWAG have worked with Forgotten Landscape and their artist, Deborah Aguirre Jones, on the design and the location for this bench, one of several installed at special locations in the area.
The design of the bench ends is different at either end; on the west side the arm and anchor motif is the arms of the Miles family who lived at Kings Weston house between 1834 and 1936 and developed the docks and Avonmouth. On the east side the natural and landscape qualities of the area are celebrated, including one of the wind turbines that feature in the view from the South walk. The location was carefully picked in partnership with the artist. From the bench you can enjoy a view of Kings Weston house with the Severn estuary beyond, framed beneath one of the huge cedars that line the path; a prospect that KWAG’s volunteers restored afew years ago.
This bench is a one-off artwork in the park, and doesn’t set the pattern for future installations on the estate, rather it will remain as a unique and special addition that we all hope people will enjoy for generations to come.
The hope was that trial excavations in August 2018 might uncover some trace of the Georgian arbour suggested in this location by a 1772 estate plan.Once the site was bare of cherry laurel three locations were identified for trial trenches: one at either end of the long site, and one inthe centre to the south of the large flat rocks exposed on the surface. The two outer trenches were excavated to about 18-26 inches each and yielded little more than fine brown natural earth with occasional stones. No interpretable features were observed in either of these trenches and they were quickly closed
The central trench revealed that the large rocks were not part of the underlying bedrock, but appeared to have separated from the natural outcrops above it and was resting on the level area adjacent to the path. The present path runs immediately along the northern edge of this feature and is built-up on a man-made terrace in areas, though utilises natural topography in others. The trench was dug through rich brown soft earth which appears to have accumulated across the site from wash-off from the slopes above. It was clearly deeper and embanked immediately below the natural rock across the back of the site where deposits naturally collected
At a depth of approximately 20 inches there was a clear layer of rounded river shingle, unusually pale or white, and smooth in nature. Shingle varied in size between 2-inches to grit. This surface was a distinctive and unbroken horizon which was tracked-back in a northward direction where it met the back edge of the boulders. An abrupt edge in the surface was identified to the south of the trench three feet out from the boulder. The trench was enlarged east,west, and south to discover the extent of the shingle surface and explore the context between it and the natural cliff to the back of the site.
The surface continued east and west, maintaining a clear delineation along its southern edge, and ran approximately parallel to the main path to the North. The eastern end began tracking around the boulder though its southern edge became indistinct and it was not possible to determine if the feature curved northwards with confidence. The west end of the feature continued in a straight line and apparently in alignment with the existing path further off inthe same direction. The discovery of some rocks along the straight edge of the shingle feature could suggest they’d been intended to delineate that edge; although found at depths consistent with the shingle layer these were only haphazardly and sporadically found, and not conclusively associated with the defined edge.
Following recording the trench was locally dug deeper through the shingle layer to establish its depth and any build-dup. The opportunity was also sought to explore whether hole in the shingle surface was a post-hole. The Layer was surprisingly thin, no more than an inch in depth, and with nosub-base. Shingle was spread across the natural earth and no further features were identified below it. The possible post-hole had no corresponding features below the shingle surface that supported that initial interpretation.
Aside from the shingle, and anashy deposit from a bonfire close to the surface in the western trench, there was no stratification, or obvious levels or horizons visible in trench sections; the whole typically being the same consistent soft brown soil. There were no finds recovered associated with any of the features, though there was some isolated fragments of roof slate and a single clay tile in upper layers
The shingle layer was clearly imported material, possibly from gravel beds around Shirehampton and Avonmouth, and can be interpreted as a path surface. Although a very shallow spread of stone the distinctive edge suggests it’s related to the main path on the north side of the boulder. There was no evidence on the modern path of similar stone being used,but this could have been obscured by later re-surfacing. There are two possibilities regarding the excavated path surface; firstly it could have been an earlier course of the current path passing to the south of the boulder;alternatively the pleasure walk may have split around the boulder, revealing it as a rustic feature within the path. The terracing on the north side of the boulder to accommodate the path, and the regularly planted trees along it supports the latter of these two theories
It was surprising that there were so few features identifiable across the rest of the site; there was certainly nothing that could relate to the distinctively crescent-moon shaped structure shown in the approximate area in 1772.That the excavated path was such a strongly linear feature suggests that the exposed rocks were a feature to be enjoyed as they were passed-by, rather than a place to dwell. If structures, or other designed garden features once occupied this site there was no identifiable remains left to be discovered by our volunteers. It was not practical to continue excavation directly down to find the natural bedrock which was so clearly exposed in the surrounding area,though future exploration may help our understanding of the natural geology and topography, and how it might have been utilised and adapted by Georgian gardendesigners.