Tag Archives: History

The Letters of Katherine Southwell

Way back in 2013 KWAG made contact with the John Russell, 27th Baron de Clifford, ancestor of the Southwell family. Initially we were most keen to record a number of paintings the family possessed, those which once hung at Kings Weston before the last member of the direct lineage died in 1832, but the family were eager to show us a large collection of documents too. We were delighted to be able to arrange for these to be transferred to Bristol Archives on their behalf, and were privileged to be able to review them before they were added to the city’s collections. 

There was a much of interest to Kings Weston, perhaps nothing more so than a fascinating series of letters written from Katherine Southwell to her son, Edward Southwell, whom she affectionately called Ned, the third of the family to carry that name at Kings Weston. We know Katherine today through a glorious portrait of her that still hangs at Kings Weston house. Painted by Allan Ramsay in 1740, it faces her husband across the hall where they were installed there by her son shortly after her death in 1765; indeed the whole of the portrait gallery may have been designed as much to memorialise her as the rest of the family.

Katherine Southwell by Allan Ramsay, 1740. It hangs in the Saloon at Kings Weston opposite that of her husband, Ned’s father.

Katherine and Ned’s father, also Edward, appear to have had difficulty in conceiving, the young heir not being born until nine years into their marriage. Another child, a daughter also named Katherine, died but ten years old, and perhaps a second son may never have survived infancy. Edward Senior died in 1755 leaving his wife and son alone.  It is perhaps in this context that Katherine’s affections for her surviving son were so great.  

The letters between mother and son begin in 1749, but climax after 1758, the year that Ned left for the Grand Tour of Europe, an essential component in the life of any young man of means at the time. Ned, then aged 20, left behind his 48 year old mother with few friends and family members around her. The parting was keenly felt by her, and the ensuing stream of letters that followed his departure exudes that affection and care felt for her son, but also the eagerness for him to improve himself and kindle ambition. 

Throughout Ned’s three year tour of Europe his mother sent letters, each one was carefully preserved by Edward on his travels and returned with him to the country, testament that his affection matched that of his mother. The majority survive today, though sadly there are notable gaps, where batches of correspondence appear to have been lost to time. It’s also unfortunate that we don’t have a reciprocal collection of Edward’s writings to make full sense of Katherine’s letters, but this doesn’t dim their colourful and engaging insight into mid-18th Century life. In them she updates her son on the global political situation, intermixed with “tittle-tattle” and gossip, encouraging words, and descriptions of her own exploits. Her search for a suitable new home to act as a Dower house is also a regular feature of her letters. Moreover, the letters are an incredible insight into Kings Weston, the gardens and staff employed there, and the comings and goings of tenants, neighbours, and livestock long-known to them both. 

Ned Southwell in the only known portrait of him with his sister Katherine. The painting must date to before 1748, when his sister died. He would have been under 11 years old.

In Ned’s absence, Katherine spent time at Kings Weston, working with the head gardener, Gould, and the estate manager, Nicholls, carrying out her son’s instructions. Sometimes she is at the centre of the action, actively out in all weathers assisting in planting trees, and other times an observer, sending on vivid descriptions of the flourishing parkland. She wrote:

“I got hither to dinner yesterday, and was lucky in having good weather, and took the advantage of a very fine afternoon, to visit your plantations in the quarries, who thrive very well and are very clean, as is the garden; nay even the park is more free from nettles than usual; a prodigious quantity of grass and bullocks and sheep fatting on it; your colt frisking about very gay and for what I know very fine ones; ………I live on the hope of once more enjoying you all together and let the intermediate space run on as it can.”
Kingsweston, 27 Sept. 1758. 

The gardens around Kings Weston house in 1720, before their redesign. 

And soon after:
“Having no letter of’ yours, my dear Ned to answer, and having had no visitor but Mr, Berrow this can bring you no news but of the mute and vegetable part of the creation. To begin then your serpentine plantation at the bottom of Penpole looks much less like a snake than it used to do, the trees in general are flourishing and, the laurels almost cover the wall; it is extremely clean and has been twice sow’d this year, once with turnips and once with fetches.
The quarries have lost but few trees, but the hares and the lambs have crept under the rails and nibbled some, out. I find they took good care to keep them out as soon as they perceived it for ‘tis very little damage that is done.

The old kitchen garden is transformed into a nursery, but Gould cou’d not entirely part with the sparrowgrass (asparagus) beds, so has planted only between them, but the want’ of room this year will force him to quit his beloved.

There’s a fine parcel of young things of last year’s sowing in the flower garden, viz beach, swamp oak, Weymouth pines, cyprus, holly, laurel and some larch.
Now for my own particular friend the tulip trees that were removed are in health the arbutus are full of fruit and the two small magnolias are alive, but, alas, the great one is dead but what is still a greater misfortune to me, some Dutch sailors stole Jewel (a horse) but the day before I came.”
Kingsweston, 1 Oct. 1758.

Kings Weston in about 1763, with some of the plantations below Penpole Point that Katherine mentions, and shortly after the demolition of the walls of the Great Court in front of the house. (Sir John Soane’s Museum)  

Throughout his time away, Ned was replanning his estate. Katherine writes frequently about floor plans and elevations of the house being sent out to him in Europe with her letters; evidently there were plans being sent back to her and Nicholls too, and schemes which she intimates were significant in ambition. A plan for firing bricks and setting out new kitchen gardens was already in train in 1758. These plans would finally come to fruition after 1762, with the stables and walled garden complex on modern Napier Miles Road being begun; indeed, brick was made extensive use of in these walls.  

“Gould advises you to make bricks for the kitchen garden wall; he says there’s earth fit for it, and ‘twill save a great deal, for they are very dear here; send me word if I shall begin; the earth must be dug six months before ’tis worked”
(Kingsweston, 1 Nov. 1758)
And later:
“My dear Ned,
I have sent you by Mr. Gaussin, Gould’s plan for the house and garden; l don’t imagine ‘tis quite the design you will follow, but as the ground is regularly measured and marked, I hope ‘twill give you some amusement.”
“…I come now to yours of 30 Dec. I have sent you, Gould’s plan, it is not so extensive as your: scheme, tho’ it does take in some of the road.”

(Spring Gardens) 23 Jan. 1759.
“I am in a fright about the bricks; for as that was not Nicholls’s own proposal, I find he does not approve of it, and make great puzzling and difficulties and works, so unintelligibly about it, that I don’t know what he is doing.”
In this letter Katherine implies that the line of a road, probably part of Kingsweston Lane, is included. That may have been the southern end that now faces onto the side of Kings Weston inn cottages, but before then looks from maps to have been aligned further to the west. Katherine eventually settled on a house at Westhorpe, Little Marlow, which she figured would be convenient for her son to drop in on between the family’s town house at Spring gardens and Kings Weston. Most of the letters after 1760 are written from her retirement there.  

Westhorpe House, Little Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

From 1759 Katherine leased the place as her Dower house. She agreed to buy the furniture already there, and a boat that she fancied Ned would enjoy using in the park’s lake. After his return to England in 1761, Ned quickly took works on the estate in hand. Unlike his father, who had been created Secretary of State for the Kingdom of Ireland by entail, he had no position in court or government, and sought to rebrand Kings Weston as a political powerhouse. With an ambition for a seat in Parliament, he set about modernising house and grounds as a statement of intent, as many of his peers had also done. His first task was to move the collection of old stables and kitchen gardens from a cramped position next to the house. Employing the architect Robert Mylne, a gentleman whom he’s believed to have met in Rome during the Tour, Ned began work quickly. It is perhaps not a surprise that he turned to his mother to lay the literal and metaphorical foundation of this political ambition.  

“You are very ‘obliging in seeming to think what I have done at Kingsweston prospers; alas, ’twas so very little, that to me ‘tis not perceptible; I shou’d very gladly lay the first stone of any building projected by you for I have a great propensity to like your designs.”

3 May, 1762.
She appears to have had concerns over the height to which the garden walls were to be carried for she wrote later the same year:

“I honour your spirit and resolution, that has carried your walls up against all your ministry, but know that from this time forward you’ll be charged with every blight that falls on your trees and must never complain of unripe fruit, or backward pease, without being told you wou’d have the walls so high no sun can come into your garden.”
Westhorpe, 3 Sept. 1762

The stables and walled garden begun by Ned immediately on his return from his Grand Tour. the garden walls make extensive use of the brick he was intent on firing from his own resources. 

We had long believed that the landscape gardener Thomas Wright, the “Wizard of Durham” had worked at Kings Weston, but it is only through Katherine’s letters that this has been confirmed. Wright had been working nearby at Stoke Park on the other side of Bristol, but also for the Duke of Beaufort at Badminton. That he worked at Kings Weston too explains some of the landscaping introduced during the 1760s and the celebration of the quarries in Penpole Wood as rustic garden features.   

“… I am glad you are agreeably detained and that Mr. Wright and you have not quarrelled. He must be a very odd creature for he has refused very advantageous offers from Lord Halifax to go with him to Ireland and prefers liberty tho’ joined to poverty. I don’t blame him for I think I shou’d do the same.
Saturday, 11 April. 1761 (Westhorpe?)
“I wish I could see your new designs with Wright but you will tell them me and they will shew better when executed”
Tuesday 8 April 1761 (Westhorpe?)

 Wright probably advised on the deformalisation of the Kings Weston landscape, the thinning of avenues and grandiose architectural features in favour of a naturalistic pastoral landscape. It may have been his suggestion that resulted in the pulling down of the Great Court in front of the house. An important note from Katherine records the year this was planned:

“You are a lucky man, my dear Ned, to have nothing, to find fault with on your return home. I hope your perturbed spirit is at rest now, my dear Irishman and that you no longer overlook your works after ‘tis dark and before it is light. I shall find great fault when I come if the return wall to the parlour window is not down.”
Westhorpe, 22 Aug. 1762

Thomas Wright, 1711-1786 Wizard of Durham, architect, astronomer, mathematician, and landscape gardener. 

Katherine writes in an incredibly genuine and engaging manner, making her letters a joy to read. They are sometimes candid and amusing, whilst her campaign to resurrect the de Clifford Baronetcy in favour her son shows her as determined and intellectual. The total collection of around 200 letters is a vast trove of fascinating details on mid-Eighteenth Century life. We are only now transcribing the collection, possibly for future publication. The original letters are available free to view in Bristol Archives: Letters from Mrs Southwell to her son Edward (bristol.gov.uk)

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.


Lawrence Weston – a legacy of estates 

Looking north from the house today it’s difficult to reconcile the Lawrence Weston housing estate with the Kings Weston historic parkland. The Lower Park on which it was developed was once a key component in the designed landscaped grounds, dropping away to reveal the spectacular views across countryside towards the Severn, and acting as an artificially picturesque setting for the house in the opposite direction. It’s harder still to conceive that the designers of the post-war estate acted with sympathy to the historic setting they were provided with.

The Lower Park seen from Kings Weston house in 1789, by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm. Penpole Point is recognisable in the distance, with the lodge tower and stone dial. 
Cast concrete Easyform houses are erected on Mancroft Avenue. The angle of the photograph is not too dissimilar from the above painting. 

Immediately after WWII there was a housing crisis that dwarfs the scale of todays. Swathes of Bristol homes lay in rubble, others were unsanitary and decaying slums, and an influx of servicemen returning from war exasperated an already difficult problem. Just a year after the end of hostilities squatters were already taking up residence on some of the abandoned army huts elsewhere on the Kings Weston landscape. Recognising the urgency of the problem the city Corporation took the decision to lay out a large new estate to the north of the city, across the Lower Park of Kings Weston. The Scouts camping fields were acquired by compulsory purchase in 1947 and the rest of the land below the house secured for development.

Although it never hosted any ornamental parkland buildings the land added to the picturesque effect of the estate. By the 1770s it had been laid out in the picturesque Landscaped Parkland fashion, with clumps of trees artfully positioned in the naturally undulating land to frame views or catch the eye. The Tump, a natural hillock immediately to the north of the House, was planted with specimen trees, and some of a much older avenue trees retained and interspersed with these new specimens. Most of these trees remained after the war, and the Capability Brown-style landscaping remained intact.

1947 aerial view of the parkland with north orientated downwards. The open fields, scattered specimen trees, and clustered groups ac all be picked out.
One of the early planning drawings for the estate with north approximately downwards. Sites for a youth centre, pub, nursery school and new schools are indicated. 

Looking at the Lawrence Weston estate today you might think that it was imposed on the landscape without much thought beyond utility, but look closer and you can see its designers were sensitive to the task set of them. The City Architect of the time, Nelson Meredith, was particularly alert to the city’s historic buildings and unique character, and often worked with an ambition to reveal and respond to historic buildings, albeit in a way we might think insensitive today.

In this 1949 photo the flat roofs of the concrete Easyform houses on Mancroft
Avenue reveal the historic mansion above the growing housing estate. 

Meredith’s team of architects and planners set out the road of the estate in a way that maintained unobstructed views up to the mansion from Mancroft and Barrowmead Avenues, and from Long Cross. To ensure that new building had as minimal an impact as possible a flat-roof house type was developed and located where a traditional pitched roof would otherwise have interfered with these protected views.

The designers recognised the importance of the many mature parkland trees on the estate and sought to incorporate them within the overall design.  Where possible they were retained as part of main road frontages, with clumps being given greater emphasis as the focus of new park spaces. Broxholm Walk was aligned to respond to the line of the early Georgian avenue, “Wilcox Avenue” that once linked the house to the Tump, and some of whose trees still survived. The Tump was initially retained as an enclaved vestige of the open parkland, complete with trees an open grassland, though this was, in part, due to the impractical nature of the hilly ground. Today it is part of the Grade II Registered Historic Parkland along with the rest of the estate.

Sadly, over time the mature trees have gradually died and been replaced with more municipal style tree planting. Later houses like those on Sadlier Close have been less sympathetic to views of the house and tree-lined horizons of Penpole Wood. Even those built a short time after the original phases lacked the same understanding of the historic landscape.

Looking west across the Lawrence Weston estate circa 1952, showing the many mature trees and open spaces integrated into its design. Penpole Wood is in the background. 
1948 Roman villa excavations with Mancroft Avenue being built in the background.

The construction of Lawrence Weston did reveal something about the Kings Weston estate, hidden for many centuries: the Roman villa. When in 1947 Long Cross was constructed as the main arterial route through the new housing estate it sliced through part of an important villa dating to the 3rd century BC. Between 1948 and 1950 it was excavated, and the designs of the housing estate adjusted to protect it.

It would once have been the home of a prominent local family who likely depended on a sizable agricultural estate around it for their wealth. The villa faced uphill, southwards, towards what is now Penpole Wood, with an ornamental symmetrical façade. It was furnished with ornate mosaics, its own bathhouse, and later under-floor heating. It’s impossible to know the extent of the Roman estate, but it’s not impossible that ancient land boundaries persisted long after the abandonment of the site in the 4th or 5th Centuries AD, morphed into the Saxon manor, and that Kings Weston house is the direct descendant of the same Roman villa. 

More revelations from the hot spell

We reported last month on the parch parks that had become visible in the lawns around the house in the hot weather. We’re really grateful to Matt Ford, a drone enthusiast, who remembered us asking about this a couple of years ago, and captured a couple of great images looking down on the area. These have revealed much more about what we could see on the ground, and have also helped correct some of the archaeological survey work we’d undertaken in previous years.

An enhanced version of the drone photo, kindly provided by Matt Ford. The house is visible top-left. North is approximately in the same corner. 

The first thing that probably stands out are the parallel green lines running diagonal to the house. These were also picked up with geophysics surveys and represent low-density, moisture-retaining features that have allowed the grass to remain green for longer. We now think the most likely explanation for these is that they are part of the underlying geology, running roughly aligned to Penpole ridge.  

 The irregular parallel features retaining moisture, and showing as green grass on the aerial photo. 
Enhanced photos showing the feint traces corresponding with the corner of the Great Court and the path aligned with the restored avenue. 

You have to look a little closer to start picking out some of the lost historic features. We knew the  outline of the Great Court in front of the main front of the house remained as a shadow in the geophysics data, but the hot weather revealed it physically on the ground once more. The court was created as the grand formal setting that helped frame the grand main facade of the house when it was rebuilt to the designs of Sir John Vanbrugh from 1712. The aerial photo includes a clear demarcation of the side and front walls, with a pronounced corner being the most defining feature (feature B). Also visible are wide strips of green heading away from the house and the Great Court. These are part of the parallel avenues of lime trees that once connected to The Circle as part of a grand axial arrangement, and alignment of out 2014 trees corresponding with that line.

Halett’s 172 map of the estate overlain, with features showing as parch marks identified. 
The Great Court illustrated in 1746 by James Stewart. the statue is visible in the centre of the walled area.
Diagram showing why the Great Court may be showing as a moisture-retaining greener area. 

One thing that’s puzzling is why the Great Court shows as more green than the dry grass to the south. The visitor can still see the very shallow depression where the court must have been cut down directly into the rock to create a perfectly flat yard, so why would this not be harder ground with shallower soil that would dry out more quickly? It may be that, when the surrounding walls were taken down and the court deformalized in the 1760s, the ground had to be made back up again to form an unbroken smooth lawn. This would see looser fill material offering a better harbour for moisture, and explain why it read as low-density on the geophys. This also suggests the strips were also cut in, and later infilled.

The Great Court might explain another feature further to the north, a thin but defined line, that relates to the alignment of the front wall (Feature E). This was in the area covered by geophys, but there was no corresponding high-resistance feature that would otherwise indicate a wall. The jury’s out on this particular mark.

A pronounced feature (feature A) that does appear on the ground and the geophys is a hard lump or two nearly symmetrical with the front of the house. With its prominent location in the centre of the court it’s tempting to interpret this as being the foundation for the statue base for a statue of Hercules dating from the building of the house from 1712-1716; perhaps future excavation will reveal this and confirm whether the base of the statue of Hercules at Goldney House, Clifton, matches the one lost from Kings Weston.

Enhanced photos showing the corner of the Great Court showing up as a distinct green patch which continues towards the house.

Our second geophys survey in 2017 we supposed to be geo-referenced to make sure it overlaid with our earlier 2014 results, however, the parch marks now indicate that it was a bit off. We have now been able to correct the overlap between the two by matching the physical marks on the ground. Comparing both parch parks and the survey shows that there is a return wall (feature C) stretching southwards, away from the Great Court that adds to our understanding of the garden layout. It’s not a feature shown on any early maps, but probably dates to the same period as the mansion. It bisects the Great Court midway along its south wall suggesting that it was aligned to the centre and the statue location.  

The archaeological geophysics results reconfigured over the parch parks, and showing correlating features.
Enhanced photo showing alignments of a linear feature and the outer wall of the wilderness garden.  

Another new discovery has been the locating of the garden wall of the second of the earlier large garden courts that spread out between the house and the Echo (feature D). We have this in early engravings and plans, but the parch marks now locate it physically. Marks show that the existing formal garden was designed to be slightly shorter, with the lost ‘wilderness’ garden beginning closer to the house than the current hedge. The marks also show that the wilderness garden was much wider than previously thought, and with this knowledge it’s now easy to see variations in the topography of the field that likely relate to it. This area may be worth looking at for archaeological excavation to explore what features might remain from this important 17th Century feature.

At this point it’s worth bringing in another survey technique: LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). This uses laser measuring to create a hyper-detailed topographical survey that can be adjusted to highlight lumps and bumps on the surface of the land. We know from this that there are a series of regular parallel ridges across the whole of the lawn, and that these don’t relate to the natural bedrock below. We don’t know what they are, or why they’re here, but we can tell is that they pre-date the 17th and 18th Century garden features as they’re truncated by them.

LiDAR survey showing how the earlier ridges were truncated by later garden features. 

One final detail brought out by the dry weather has at least photographic evidence supporting it; Moving attention to the garden front of the house there are marks in the recently laid lawn that correspond to alternating circular and rectangular rose and flower beds of the Victorian era (feature F). Perhaps a focus on this area in future years might reveal more of earlier garden layouts?

Key features identified on the enhanced aerial photo . 

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.

Domestic interiors at Mr Southwell’s Kings Weston

We’ve often mentioned the incredible Kings Weston Book of Drawings (KWBoD), a unique collection of architectural drawings documenting the house and its construction and all dated to the first quarter of the 18th Century. The book is in the collections of the Bristol Archives and we’re reproduced drawings from it in many of our newsletters and on our website. One aspect we’ve never looked into is the internal decoration of the house as built. Many will know that the rooms of Kings Weston were all remodelled in the 1760s and later, and scant remains of the original character remain. However, inspecting the drawings gives us an insight into this lost world.

Undated draft of the chimney and mirror in the Kinsale Chamber (KWBoD)

The drawings also give us a puzzle. Whilst we can be certain about the layout and room names and uses after the 1760s, we are less certain over the earlier arrangement. There are rooms named, the Throwley Chamber, Kinsale Chamber, and Eating Parlour, that can’t be precisely located. We can assume that the Eating Parlour would have been on the principal ground floor, but wouldn’t have been in the same location as the later room that bore that name which was formed from the State Bedchamber. The description of several rooms as chambers implies they are, essentially, bedrooms, and most likely on the first floor.
Both Kinsale and Throwley chambers are named after the Southwell Family estates. Kinsale in southern Ireland was where the Southwell’s’ heralded from before Kings Weston, and Throwley Old Hall in Staffordshire came into the family through the marriage of Edward Southwell, rebuilder of the house, to Lady Elizabeth Cromwell. A further chamber is referred to in a letter from Edward Southwell in Dec 1713 when he writes ” I have almost forgot what I wrote about the two chimney pieces, but if I remember right I desired one according to the wooden model I sent, which being large was to go into the great parlour. The other I desired for a bedchamber of the common chamber size, and of the Italian moulding if you fit, to put it in the room I call Burton”; Burton was the estate of his cousin John Percival to whom the letter was written. The room names then follow a pattern of representing places of importance to the family.  

Cornice of the Throwley Chamber, dated Feb 1717

The drawing for the Throwley chamber illustrates a profile of a ceiling cornice. Comparing it with a similar example at Dyrham Park house, a building with close family bonds with kings Weston, we can assume this was intended to be of timberwork. The Kinsale Chamber drawing contains more of interest. It’s a design for a fire surround and chimney breast that would have been the focal point for this bed chamber. The fireplace is 5ft 2in wide and 4ft 1in high and probably wrought in polished stone or marble. Above it are mouldings, again of timber, framing a wide mirror with cushioned edges. By the level of detail it can be assumed that the mirror was already in existence and the designs were drawn with the intention of incorporating it into the new room. Above the mirror were further cornice mouldings and panel work taking things as far as the ceiling. Again, the arrangement isn’t dissimilar from some of the interiors at Dyrham.

One of the anterooms to first floor apartments at Dyrham Park house give a good impression of how Kings Weston’s rooms may have looked. 

Two drawings can be more firmly located within the house; these are fireplaces for Mr Southwell’s closet and chamber. Aside from the State Bedchamber on the ground floor this would have been the finest furnished rooms. The principal chamber in later eras was in the southern corner of the house, with an outlook over the garden to the Echo. Reviewing the plan of the house published shortly after completion this is most likely to have been intended as Southwell’s bed chamber and private rooms.
The first floor of the house was laid out as a series of apartments which could be allocated to family members or used by guests. There are three apartments on the first floor connected by common anterooms. In the later 18th Century the central anteroom overlooking the Echo Walk was called the Tapestry Room, and it’s possible this interior, with its old fashioned wall hangings, survived the 1760s refurbishments.  A smaller bed chamber occupied the western corner of the house directly off the servants stair, but separate and not identifiable as a part of a suite of rooms; Aside from Mr Southwell’s chamber this is the only room shown where there is a pronounced chimney breast, so might be tentatively identified as the Kinsale chamber. The other two bedchambers on this floor had fireplaces flush with the interior wall.

The first floor layout of apartments at Kings Weston when first complete, with the KWBoD drawings located. 

Each apartment consisted of a bedchamber, and two further rooms. The principal of these smaller rooms was equipped with a fireplace, whilst the lesser room was unheated; this was possibly a dressing room. The design for Mr Southwell’s closet is the most decorative of the interior drawings, and this illustrates the status the room enjoyed. The panelling here doesn’t reach the whole height of the room, instead a more intimate character is created by a lower cornice level. The fireplace is shown with ornate decoration, probably carved in wood. The drawing suggests that this incorporates wreathes of foliage framing a central panel, possibly a painting, and a crowning section of more indistinguishable decoration. Either side of this centrepiece candle sconces are fixed. The wall space above the ornamental panelling is reserved for a painting.  

Undated drawing of Mr Southwell’s closet fireplace (KWBoD)

The function of the closet was to offer a private retreat for the apartment’s occupant; somewhere they could display their most important treasures and intimate effects. It was a room for display, but only to the most limited of audiences. A good example of this sort of room exists in the Cedar Closet at Tredegar house, Newport, though from about a generation earlier that Edward Southwell’s new house.
The Closet drawing has curious pricked lines on one side of the chimney breast which are not easily explained. They may be an alternative decorative scheme with carved stacked quoins mimicking an architectural detail in stone, or they could intimate shelving concealed behind the panelling.

The Cedar Closet, Tredegar House, Newport dates to around 1670, but gives an impression of the scale and appearance of Mr Southwell’s closet room

Mr Southwell’s Chamber also has its chimneypiece drawn. This Is a fairly straightforward design with timber panelling up the chimney breast and terminating against the ceiling with a boldly projecting cornice. The focus of this feature was likely to be a painting hung over the narrow mantelpiece. Between this and the stone fire surround there’s a wide panel picked out in grey ink, and with four quite substantial fixings; was this for another painting, or could it have been for a carved stone plaque? The vast scale of the proposed chimney breast is only revealed when a figure is added to the same scale, as we’ve illustrated here.  

Chimney intended for Mr Southwell’s Chamber with figure added for scale.

 The last drawing, or drawings, we’ll look at here are of another fire surround, to be “wrought out of the ash colour marble”. A surround in similar grey marble still exists on the second floor. The two drawings clearly show the same fire surround and one is dated 13th Feb 1718. This shows us that, although Southwell moved in with his new wife in 1716, that there were still significant fitting out works being undertaken on rooms. The same dated drawing describes the drawing as a “coppy of Mrs le Grand’s draught of a chimney piece”.
Mrs Helena Le Grand was Edward Southwell’s older sister. He had delegated the setting up of the house to her before he moved in when she was “fully employed in transposing and setting the furniture, pictures and cheney”. The second drawing showing the fireplace may then be her own drawing from which a  second version was taken and annotated. Was she more involved in the design of the house, or its interiors than we’ve previously been aware?

The two drawings for a chimneypiece of ash colored marble, the original on the left with the copy on the right dated Feb 1718. 

One thing that this short series of drawings show is that the first floor interiors were very traditional, not having the same architectural drama of Sir John Vanbrugh’s exteriors, Saloon or stair hall. The layout and appearance would not have been unusual in a house from thirty years previous like Tredegar. It’s unlikely we’ll ever know how the State rooms on the ground floor were decorated, but the first floor chambers were not ostentatious and would have relied largely on their furnishings for any display of wealth or status.

New acquisition

A historic document has just come our way related to Kings Weston. It is a contract between Edward Southwell II of Kings Weston, his Court acquaintance James Vernon, and John Lambert, a builder of Lambeth to complete a building at Spring Gardens In London. Spring Gardens was the London home of the Southwell Family and they sought to develop the land they leased from the Crown from the 1730s onwards. This document from 1754 is an interesting insight into Edward Southwell’s development of the site around his Spring Garden Mansion.

Spring Gardens was located on the south side of Trafalgar Square, where The Mall now joins it. It disappeared under the construction of Admiralty Arch at the start of the Twentieth Century, but you can see where it was on this map. The area shown here was the house and garden of the Southwell’s in 1777 after they had leased much of their surrounding property for development.

The document is particularly interesting for its three wax seals, all bearing the arms of Edward Southwell II surmounted with the armorial goat. Edward’s signature bestrides the best of these seals.

spring gardens