Tag Archives: Artist

Fascinating Fives Court

One building on the Kings Weston estate has had little attention focussed upon it over the years, but this article hopes to rectify that. Fives Court is now the home belonging to some of our volunteers who have kindly provided us with some photographs. It’s located on Kings Weston Lane, just at the junction of Napier Miles Road, and almost opposite the back entrance to the mansion. It presently sports a façade to the street inspired by the lodge opposite, but this obscures more work-a-day origins.

Fives Court from the junction with Napier Miles Road. Note the change in roof ridge-line.

Our first knowledge of it comes from one of two plans produced in 1772 by Isaac Taylor. The plans were drawn up after the laying out of a complex of walled gardens to the east and a long building matching the present Fives Court is included. It’s odd that it only appears on one of the two sheets covering this part of the estate and that it’s not shown coloured as the other buildings around it are, so perhaps this marks the construction date?

In 1772, a long building shown at right angles to Kings Weston Lane is likely to be the present Fives Court.

By 1849 it’s described as a Wood House, with a walled wood yard immediately to the south, and an open grass area occupying the corner of the road. It’s depicted as having a symmetrical plan with doors centrally positioned on the north and south sides, so very different from the rambling and picturesque outline of today’s house.

The building identified as a ‘wood house’ on a sketch survey of 1849. 

Its use as a woodshed seems to have been short-lived, and the modern name, Fives Court, is an insight to the building’s later Victorian History. Fives is a traditional game played like badminton, against a blank wall, but using the hand rather than a racket. It’s still a game associated with and played in public schools, with Clifton College still retaining a court in their Victorian buildings. The first mention of the building in use as a sports hall of sorts is in 1886 when one of the regular Shirehampton horticultural shows was held in the park and the following description was published in the Bristol Mercury:

“In the racquet court stalls were arranged and were laden with many beautiful objects of art, and at one end of the court was a collection of paintings, the work of the late Mrs R. Miles and Mr Frank Miles.”

Reconstruction of an 1840s Racquets court built at Eglinton Castle, Scotland. 

Indeed, by this point the shed appears to have been converted as a court for the game of racquets, similar but not identical for Fives. It may have been for the young Philip Napier Miles that the conversion was undertaken. Born in 1865, his time in public school may have seen him bring the sport home and the building refurbished to cater for a new passion. The original shed needed some work to accommodate the new use. Strictly speaking a Racquet court should be  30-by-60-foot, and the present building falls short of that a little. A more critical dimension was the playing wall, which also needed to be at least 30ft high. It appears that the original roof was too low to accommodate a court, and to get over this the east side was removed and reconstructed at a higher level, creating the pronounced step up in the roofline that remains obvious today. The twin doors would have had to be infilled to create a flush finish to the interior of the court, and new glazing was introduced into the raised gable end that now overlooked the walled garden.

The glazed gable end of the racquets court rising above the top of the walled garden, seen from the east. Circa 1898. 
 ‘Frank’ Miles, society portraitist and cousin of Philip Napier Miles of Kings Weston house. 

Diverging a little, one of the artists mentioned as exhibiting in the 1886 Horticultural show was a family member, Napier Miles’s cousin, Frank Miles. He was far from being a humble amateur, with a reputation as one of the leading society portraitists of his day. Between 1875 and 1881 he maintained a close relationship with Oscar Wilde, living together in a house in Tite Street in London, before Frank’s father threatened to cut his son off if he didn’t cut his ties with Wilde. The year of the racquet court exhibition was the same as his engagement to a miss Lucy Huges was announced, and he was at the height of his fame. How strange then that his works should appear in such modest circumstances at Kings Weston! Frank’s story took a dark turn the following year, with the engagement called off and his entry into the Brislington mental asylum after a breakdown. He died there four years later from “exhaustion and pneumonia”. Napier Miles did not attend the funeral, a private affair only for Franks three brothers. Frank must have visited Kings Weston, his father’s former family home, and it’s interesting to speculate whether Oscar Wilde ever accompanied him there.

The court continued to provide occasional use for fetes and bazaars held at the house into the 20th Century. In 1916 it was again the venue for artworks sold in aid of the Kingsweston Auxiliary Hospital as part of a grand Military Tournament held in the grounds. It may be that the building was converted for garage use for the Miles family at about this time with the addition of a big vehicle doorway directly onto Kings Weston Road, but documentary evidence is slim for this period.  

The racquets court in the 1980s, before residential conversion as the Fives Court. Courtesy of the Reid family

The racquet court was briefly requisitioned at the start of WWII, before being declared surplus and returned to the estate. It spent much of the war as the temporary home of some historic carriages that had been bombed out of their home in Bristol Museum. There are still locals to the area who remember seeing these through the doors of the building. One of the photographs shown to us by the Reid family shows the removal of some of these carriages in the 1980s, the building appearing in its earlier state before final conversion into a family home after 1985.  

 A dilapidated Victorian carriage is towed away from a shabby looking racquets court in the background. Circa 1980s.

Recently acquired painting of Shirehampton Park.

The golf course on Shirehampton Park often puts off potential visitors, but it remains an integral part of the historic landscape. This oil painting, “In Shirehampton Park”, recently surfaced showing the pastoral scene in the Edwardian Era. The Golf course began in 1904 and extended to eighteen holes in 1907. This painting shows the scene before the setting out of the course in the eastern side of the park, and illustrates the rolling pastures dotted with parkland trees which sadly have not survived later landscaping schemes.

The artist. CW Goodridge, was apparently an amateur, but anyone with further details of him or his work would be very welcome.

“In Shirehampton Park”, CW Goodridge, early Twentieth Century  

Memorials of Philip Miles

If you are looking for something interesting to liven up your walls and you have a penchant for Bristol then a recent auction lot might take your fancy. A portrait is shortly to be sold by Lawrences in Crewkerne, Somerset that has a strong connection with Kings Weston. The sitter is Philip Miles, who bought the estate in 1833 for the princely sum of £206,000; an extraordinary sum for the time. It will perhaps come as little surprise that Miles was Bristol’s wealthiest person and, when he died, the city’s first recorded millionaire.

Philip John Miles by Sir Thomas Lawrence, currently up for auction on the 19th Jan

When he bought Kings Weston he already owned the palatial Leigh Court on the other side of the Avon in Somerset, and had filled it full of famous Old Master paintings. For his own portrait he commissioned Sir Thomas Lawrence, the most famous portraitist of his time; this may not have just been purely for the prestige, but Lawrence was a Bristol-born artist who had made good in the capital.

The Miles’s founded their fortune as merchants, bankers, and ship owners, and owning plantations in the colonies. As might be expected for the period his business interests were heavily dependent on slavery right up to 1833, the year he bought kings Weston, and the Slavery Abolition Act.  He was also MP for Bristol between 1835 and 1837.

Philip Miles’s memorial in Abbots Leigh church, by E H Baily 

The painting up for sale is likely to have been painted before Miles moved to Kings Weston, and it is not documented as having hung in the house, but it is an important record of a man who played an important role in the history of the city and the estate.

After Philip Miles’s death his family went to the foremost sculptor of the age to have his memorial carved. Again, perhaps not be coincidence, the artist, Edward Hodges Baily, was Bristol-born. It is known that the family were keen benefactors of the Bristol Arts scene and it is likely that their patronage of Bristol artists was intentional. The monument stands today, pale and magnificent, on the north wall of the tower of Abbots Leigh church; a pair of pensive figures stare up towards a draped classical urn bathed in carved stone rays of heavenly light.    

The portrait of Philip Miles sells at Lawrence’s auction rooms on the 19th of January with an estimate of £4000-£6000. For further information, or perhaps even to make a bid, go here.

Unusual Georgian view discovered

A view of Kings Weston was recently sent to us which shows the house from an unusual angle. The view, painted in 1796, shows the prospect across the parkland from the South Walk, with the house framed in a naturalistic manner by groves of trees. This is the first illustration from this angle we’ve come across and is of particular note as it closely matches the views that KWAG restored during last year’s Lifting the Curtain project. The same angle is approximated in the masthead photo at the top of this month’s newsletter.

Watercolour of Kings Weston house from the South Walk, George Heriot, 1796.

The artist was George Heriot, a Scottish-born Civil servant who, at this time, had moved to the colonies of Canada. He returned briefly in 1796, when he painted this image, before returning to North America and developing a reputation as a major figure in Canadian Art.  This painting demonstrates not just the artist’s skill, but also that of the landscape designer. Edward Southwell III had de-formalised the grounds around the house in the 1760’s and we might assume that these copses of trees were planted at about that time to create picturesque framed views of his home.  

Edwardian Sketch comes to light

Many people local to the Kings Weston estate will be aware of the death two years ago of local Historian Ralph Hack. Ralph had amassed a large collection of research and original material about the whole area including Kings Weston and we’ve been keen to track-down his archives since then. 

View towards the Echo, Robert Goff, 1910

Recently portions of his collection came to light at Bristol Auction Rooms, and we were keen to try and identify anything that might relate to the house and its history. Amongst the lots was a pencil drawing that particularly stood out. Catalogued only as a view  at Kings Weston, dated 1910, and signed “RG” it is a well executed sketch of the view looking towards the Echo from the house. We were in a fortunate position to recognise the sketch, and the monogram, as being the work of the artist and etcher Robert Goff. 

Goff was the brother-in-law of Philip Napier Miles, the last private owner of Kings Weston house, and he evidently spent some time there sketching and developing compositions for his etchings. Whilst we don’t know if the drawing ever developed further it’s a fascinating companion to an image we’ve hosted here before: the opposing, engraved, view looking down towards Kings Weston House in 1907.  It’s unlikely we’ll ever know if the two images were ever intended to be seen together, but, rest assured, we’ll be keeping our eyes out for an engraved version in the future!

“The Sentinels” Kings Weston. Etching by Robert Goff, 1907.