Tag Archives: gay

Morality and scandal at the Kings Weston Inn 

The acquisition of a detailed view of the former Kings Weston Inn is occasion enough to add a little colourful history to the building. The view shows the inn at the turn of the 20th Century with a large party of guests sitting down on long tables for refreshments. The inn had ceased trading as a pub by this point but is known to have offered accommodation for tea parties under a Mrs Withers. This may be one of the many meetings of ladies of the Primrose League, a Conservative organisation, that are known to have taken place at Kings Weston at this time.

Kings Weston Inn in the early 1900s with a large gathering over trestle tables

The building itself was probably built shortly after 1718, when a drawing for an inn, then ale house, at Kings Weston was drawn up by the architect Sir John Vanbrugh. The dated drawing was superseded by a later version that is strongly similar to the core of the present building, but we can also attribute this design to the great architect.  The building was much smaller than it is today but with features that are still recognisable. A central dog-leg stair ran up the centre of the building with a simple room either side on each floor. The central bay of the building rose above the pitched roof, terminating in a low tower that, we believe, was used as a viewing platform for patrons.

The second plan for Kings Weston ale house, from the Kings Weston Book of Drawings. circa 1718. (Bristol Archives)

The building of inns to serve visitors was not unusual in the Georgian era, but that at Kings Weston is very early, being only a year later than the New Inn at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, built for the same purpose. Using the drawn dimensions has enabled us to create a simple 3D model of the building before later extensions and alterations changed its appearance. The architect’s measurements compare well with that of the core of the existing building.  
We know that there were modifications in the mid-Victorian period, but even before then the building must have been found wanting. Parties from Bristol and Bath regularly visited the inn for recreation during the Eighteenth Century and it was part of well-published local tours.

Reconstruction of the original Kings Weston Ale House, before alterations. 

In stark contrast to the genteel party in the new image, one intriguing report involving the inn comes to us from a newspaper report from 1774, perhaps one that may, or may not, be fitting for publication in Pride month. The incident followed a private tour of Kings Weston house for a couple of visiting gentlemen, given by one of the male servants there. The report implies that the servant was sexually assaulted at the inn by one of the visitors as the other sought to stop him from escaping. It’s not known who Mr L and Mr B were, they both escaped, though we the scandal broke Mr B fled the country all together, no doubt with his reputation shot, and fearing reprisals. How much truth there is in this report is unclear, but it shows the taboo of homosexuality at the time and the risks that men would sometimes go to:
Reading Mercury & Oxford Gazette
Sept 12 1774

Extract of a letter from a Gentleman of Bristol to his friend on London Aug 31
An affair has lately happened here, which has been the general topic of conversation ever since last Wednesday, Mr B—-, Mercer of this city, and Mr L—–, a linen draper, not a hundred miles from the Haymarket, London, went in a chaise together to Kings Weston, to view the house of Edward Southwell Esq – At their departure they offered the servant who showed it a piece of money, which he refusing, they insisted on his drinking a glass with them at the inn they put up at. After they had drank pretty freely, Mr B—- on some pretence left the room; which he had no sooner done. That Mr L—- behaved in such an indecent manner as contrived the man of his brutal intentions; he therefore attempted to quit the room, but was prevented by Mr B—-, who held the door on the other side; finding he could not get out, and being irritated by such an infamous insult, fell upon him and beat him unmercifully.
The noise being heard below, brought several people up, which Mr B finding, thought proper to leave the door and fly to the window from whence he made his escape, leaving Mr L— behind to bear the insults of hostlers, cooks, chambermaids etc who kicked, cuffed, and clawed him, tore his hair, had the dogs set on him, afterwards uncovered him, rolled him in the nettles; finally the maids would have proceeded to castration, had they not been prevented.
Mr Southwell, being acquainted with the affair, ordered two men to guard him that night, with the intent of bringing him to justice the next morning, but he found means to bribe his watch, and got clear off before morning. As for Mr B—- he attended his shop as usual two or three days, till the matter became public, and everybody looking on him equally guilty, he thought fit to decamp, and has not since been seen; it is said that he is gone to France or Italy with an intent never to return.


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.