Tag Archives: Kings Weston

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)

Slow work on laurels in Penpole Wood

Perhaps it was the forecast of bad weather, or the holidays, but we had a very low turn out in July for the working party. However regrettable, we were still able to make headway on our challenge of clearing cherry laurel from an area close to the historic Scouts chapel in Penpole Wood. We will need to return here again this coming week, to today as much as to complete the job.

The difference made between June and July, with the lime trees of the Scout’s Chapel appearing beyond. 

The work over the last couple of months has revealed another post quarry, later turned into part of the landscaped grounds of the house. As well as views through the woods to the tall lime trees around the Scout’s chapel, itself part of the Georgian landscaping, work has opened around a mature beech tree and yews. The last push in August should add another beech tree to this collection of veteran parkland trees and open the woodland floor for colonisation by native species.
 
Because of the small turnout, and the rain that eventually curtailed efforts in the afternoon, we were unable to property and safely tidy up the area, but we made sure that nothing was blocking any public areas around the quarry. Apologies for the unsightly mess, but we’ll make sure to clean it up this time around!

looking eastwards, along the slope, with the main path through the woods on the right.
The view in the opposite direction, in the direction of Penpole Point.


Kings Weston and the Irish Influence

The staircase at Kings Weston showing the “S” curves taking the handrail up to the landings. 

There were strong connections between Kings Weston and Ireland, ever since the estate was bought by Robert Southwell in 1679. Southwell was from a wealth Irish family and was appointed Secretary of State for Ireland by the King. His descendants maintained and strengthened their Irish roots, adding extensive landholdings, marrying into illustrious Irish families, and maintaining the role of Secretary of State through several generations. The Southwell’s’ built extensively on their estates, introducing the latest styles, and during the Georgian era Kings Weston became a frequent staging post for many travellers between the two kingdoms. Perhaps it’s not surprising that Kings Weston might have influenced the direction of architecture in Ireland.

Edward Lovett Pearce is, perhaps, Ireland’s most important 18th Century architect. He was from an Irish family and cousin of Sir John Vanbrugh. Recent research suggests that he worked closely as apprentice to the great architect at Kings Weston. Robert Lynch has identified a striking and idiosyncratic detail of the great stair at Kings Weston repeated in many of Lovett Pearce’s later works: the unusual continuous swan-neck curve of the balustrade handrail, passing continuously up the stair to the landings.

Left: Edward Lovett Pearce’s staircase at the former Archbishop’s Palace, Cashel, County Tipperary, 1732. 
Right: Another of Pearce’s stair designs at Desart Court, County Kilkenny of 1733, since destroyed. 
The rear of Penpole lodge  in around 1900

Pearce had become a pupil of Vanbrugh in 1715, following the death of his father, and undoubtedly would have dealt with work at Kings Weston, then in construction. Work on the great staircase is known to have been continuing in 1719, three years after the Southwell’s’ moved into their new mansion, but designs are likely to have been fixed before 1717 when Pearce chose a short-lived career in the dragoons. He may have returned to architecture in around 1722 when Vanbrugh and Southwell had already turned their attention to the Kings Weston parkland, ornamenting it with new ornamental garden buildings.

The Temple at Emo Court, County Laois, Ireland,  in a ruined state. 

By chance the “temple” at Emo Court in County Laois caught our attention. It’s not really a temple, but a gateway and gloriette. There’s little evidence dating it. But there’s something familiar about its shape; it bears some resemblance to Penpole Lodge at Kings Weston. A rusticated podium, a central arch with arch and circle recesses either side, a single small room sat crowning the arch, and each accessed by a cramped staircase threaded up through one of the side piers are some of the features shared between the two buildings. Like Kings Weston the Emo Court building was strategically located for picturesque effect from the house it once belonged to. Exploiting a highpoint in its parkland, like Penpole, it would have been silhouetted as a landmark on the horizon, with the arch framing views of open sky from the mansion house, since rebuilt.

With the kind assistance of the Ministry of Works in Ireland we’ve got access to measured drawings of the now ruined Emo Court arch, and have drawn up a simple 3D model to compare with our one of the original Penpole Lodge. Marginally smaller it’s still not too dissimilar in character from Penpole to be able to suggest some sort of kinship.

3D computer models of Emo Court temple and Penpole Lodge at the same scale.

The designs of Penpole Lodge are dated 1724. It was in this year that Edward Lovett Pearce is believed to have returned to Ireland to begin his own practice and meteoric rise in Irish society. The Irish Georgian Society has tentatively connected Pearce’s name with the Emo Court building, and architectural historian James Horley has made stylistic comparisons between it and other of his works. Regardless of its authorship there are stylistic, political, and logistical reasons to believe that Penpole Lodge might have been the inspiration for Emo Court. Circumstantial evidence for this is strengthened where Pearce’s involvement at Kings Weston is brought into consideration, and a possible direct route for the importation of architectural ideas into Ireland. 

Top: “Sketch at Emo Park” 1790, by J.Brown (National Gallery of Scotland) 
Bottom: Penpole Point and Lodge, detail of a painting circa 1760. (Sir John Soane’s museum)  

  

Park ablaze with daffodils

As you’ll be able to see from the photographs, March has been ablaze with daffodils across the estate. The Circle and ancient lime avenue planting continue to put on great shows, and the new planting along the new lime avenue has started off well. This is despite some later vandalism, where flower heads in the two bays closest to Kings Weston house were plucked off. Otherwise, things have passed off without previous large scale thefts that marred the display last year. Some late flower daffodils are still to flower along the ancient lime avenue, so there’ll still be something to see as April marches on.

The last Squire’s silverware

Recently we were approached by someone in Spain, who had recently acquired a fragment of Kings Weston’s history. Fermin Fernandez Izquierdo had chanced upon a solid silver cigarette case engraved on one side with the first few bars of “West Country Overture” and on the reverse with the initials P.N.M and a date. Those familiar with the history of Kings Weston will recognise the initials as those of Philip Napier Miles, the last squire of Kings Weston house, who died without an heir in 1935. Miles was a well-known and accomplished amateur composer, and a little delving in the University of Bristol archives establishes the piece of music as one of his works, most likely the Lyric overture in G minor: ‘From the West Country’, finished 16th March 1898. Ironically the piece wasn’t completed in the West Country, but from Miles’ Italian villa in Alassio!

Napier Miles West Country Overture engraved on one side of the cigarette case.
Philip Napier Miles’ initials and the date of his marriage

The date inscribed on the case, 1.2.99, records the marriage of Philip Napier Miles to Sybil Marguerite Gonne, fifth daughter of Baron de Hochepied Larpent, which took place in London. The solid silver case was most likely a wedding gift, perhaps a personal one to the groom from his new wife; perhaps the wedding was the West Country overture, an introduction to a new relationship that would take the couple back to Kings Weston.     

Thank you to Fermin for sharing his find with us.

Sybil Miles painted by her brother-in-law, artist George Percy Jacomb-Hood, and a photo of Philip Napier Miles at around the time of their wedding

Penpole Point: A place for the people

Strictly speaking Penpole Point shouldn’t form part of the historic Kings Weston landscaped parkland; it has always been common land, separated from the private grounds by a stout estate wall, guarded by lodges. The land was of no agricultural use, exposed, and only offered sparse common grazing land, so perhaps little wonder that it was largely valueless and left for people and livestock to roam freely. Add to this the spectacular views once enjoyed looking across the Avon and Severn estuary and the rocky outcrop proved to be a popular destination for visitors and locals alike.
 

Buttercup-dotted meadow surrounds Penpole Compass Dial, the same spot we’ve just cleared. This postcard dates to the late 1930s. 


The focus of the Point itself was, and still is, the stone dial with its circular bench. Often misunderstood as an ornamental sundial it is in fact a 17th Century marker, set up by the Merchant Venturers, and used as a landmark by seafarers to calculate the safe passage into the mouth of the Avon. The bench was originally a wooden platform to access the upper surface of the dial and the carved compass on its top surface, likely used to take crude bearings for the location of ships moored in the channel. Whatever it’s intended use it provided a convenient bench for visitors to sit and take in the vast panorama below.

With greater appreciation of the picturesque and sublime that developed in the Georgian era the Point, with its rocky edges, and exposed situation appealed to the senses; at once beautiful, but simultaneously perilous and vulnerable to nature’s elemental forces. Notable artists came here to try and capture that experience, and whose paintings now appear in the collections of museums and galleries internationally.     

View of the River Severn near Kings Weston, Benjamin Barker, 1809. The rocks on Penpole Point in the foreground mirror the ominous clouds beyond. Penpole Lodge and in the far distance the Dial appear as fragile human interventions in a landscape of wild, sublime, grandeur.   Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection 

Our perception of the Point is today largely marred by the trees that have grown up, particularly on the west side, that rob the visitor of views of the ground on that side, and of an appreciation of the height and nature of the sudden drop. Hidden too are the exposed rocky outcrops and projecting slabs that once added to the rugged character; you can still find these in exposed spots beneath the Point, where the suffocating ivy relents and the thrusting geological beds create sheltered alcoves.
 
The wood that’s grown along this western edge has grown up since regular grazing ended on the common land; we don’t know when, but probably around the 1930s, perhaps after WWII. Views from the point are still remembered from as recently as the 1980s, but since then the onslaught of self-seeded ash and sycamore has cloaked the slope. For the intrepid explored  it’s still worth trekking through the woodland, passing through the hummocks of former quarries and below “The Rocks”.

An early 20th Century postcard view of The Rocks, looking back along Penpole Point, the dial and Penpole Lodge appearing on the left. Already trees and shrubs have begun to colonise the open grassland. 


The area was as popular recreation space as the Point itself, offering the visitor a rugged playground of exposed rocks and little dells. It was popular for picnickers seeking for a more convivial, sheltered spot than the open ground above the Point. It was also the location chosen for a series of famous local events; the open air church services. These were begun in 1910 by the local Vicar, Rev Powell, a provocative figure who was seldom far from controversy. The Rocks most likely provided a physical reminder of the hill of Calvary, fundamental to the Easter story. A makeshift pulpit was set up against Penpole Lane and the assembled crowd could gather in a natural amphitheatre of the rocks opposite to listen to the sermon and sing.

In the Rev Powell’s own words, written in 1914:        
“In the year 1910, 1911, 1911, and 1912 we held open air services in those beautiful surroundings. On Easter Monday of both this year and of last year, although no longer vicar of the parish, I repeated these services. The singing by a special choir, ably led by Mr Milton of Clifton, has always been a helpful feature. The natural formation of this valley-like spot lent itself to the sound of many voices” 

The Easter Service at Penpole Point in 1913, conducted by Rev Powell. He can be seen in the pulpit on the left on Penpole Lane, with crowds seated on the steep edges of the ridge. Penpole Lodge rises up above the tree line on the right. 
The same location as the 1913 Easter Service. Some features remain just recognisable, but today the area has been reclaimed by  woodland. 
Bristol Rock Cress growing still in the Avon Gorge. From Wildwings and Wanderings blo

Sadly the regular events ended in bitterness after a new vicar came to Shirehampton in 1912, and the Rev Powell’s continuation of “rival” services at Penpole caused friction. Powell to put his own side of the story in his book “Recent persecution in the church of England”.

It was this more rugged side of Penpole Point that offered rare habitat to Bristol Rockcress, a variety of wildflower found only in the Avon Gorge and, once here too. The crevices between rocks offered protection for the tiny plants. Like the drama of the place these too have succumbed to the growth of the trees and onslaught of ivy, overshadowing this once-unique habitat.

A group of labourers stop for lunch sat on the Penpole ridge in the 1900s, each with their own flagon. 

Southwell’s Architectural Odyssey

Edward Southwell, circa 1705. Downpatrick Museum

Anyone committing to build themselves a house no doubt puts a good deal of thought and research into the design beforehand, and it was no different for Edward Southwell when he was planning his new home at Kings Weston. Although he had appointed the Queen’s architect, Comptroller of the Royal Works, Sir John Vanbrugh to design the building Southwell would have been keen to make sure the designs, and the cost of the project, suited his needs. In appointing Vanbrugh he had already committed himself to the most modern and innovative architecture of the day. It is difficult now to picture quite how revolutionary the architecture was. For comparison, most of the grand houses around Bristol were still largely Tudor structures. At the time, nationally there were relatively few houses that adopted the newly fashionable Classical style we might now associate with grand stately homes. The revolution in style had only really taken hold in the decades after the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, and took time to establish after the privations of the Civil War and Commonwealth era. If Southwell was to get inspiration for his new house he had a shallow pool from which to drink.

Sir John Vanbrugh. Painting in the National Portrait Gallery.

Seemingly with little plan for what to replace it with Southwell began demolition of his old family home in Spring 1711. By December the same year his sister, Helena le Grand, lamented to family friend John Perceval 

“we expect my brother in town the end of the week after filling his belly with the ruins of Kingsweston for I can call it no otherwise.” 

Still, in March the following year, Southwell himself confessed to Perceval “Kings Weston house is almost down though I don’t know what to build in the room” – an extraordinary lack of foresight! In the same letter he notes that he is making his gardens there “very fine” though the pressing priority of the house designs continued to elude him.
 
On April 25th Southwell set off from his London house, Spring Gardens, for ten days at Kings Weston, with an intention to set out the new foundations for the house. Rather than hurry to the building site an itinerary had been devised that would take in many of the most modern house architecture between the Capital and Bristol. Southwell’s own travel journals record the visits made on the four day trip and each short entry is accompanied by very basic notes on the incidence of garden features, architecture and stables. This was a study trip to get inspiration, and perhaps some housebuilding advice. 

Beginning on the 25th April
Duke Schomberg’s – Uxbridge (Hillingdon House)
Sr Roger Hill’s – Denham Place, Buckinghamshire
Sr Richard Temple – Stowe, Buckinghamshire
Mr Boyle’s – Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire
D. of Shrewsbury – Heythrop Park, Oxfordshire
Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire  
Dodington, (Gloucestershire)

This map shows all the stops on the route.

Today many of these buildings are fairly obscure, if not forgotten. Some have been entirely rebuilt or altered, but at the time they represented a good selection of the modern architectural or landscaping works, utilising the most current styles, construction techniques, and building technology.

Painting of Denham Place, its gardens, and estate buildings, circa 1700. Yale Centre for British Art. cropped to image
The grand staircase at Denham Place, circa 1701

Hillingdon House is not supposed to have been commenced until 1717, so what Southwell saw there is unknown. Denham Place had been completed in 1701 and was surrounded by fine formal garden compartments, including a long ornamental canal, that set the house in the centre of a lavish pleasure ground. The ornamental garden buildings, gates,  and statues added opulence to the house itself, which was built of brick. Well-mannered with good proportions it was in a fairly staid style, perhaps even out of date for its time. Inside, a grand central staircase was one of the finest features along with other finely fitted out rooms; perhaps these were inspiration for what Kings Weston could offer.

Stowe house and gardens are now internationally known, and Vanbrugh later worked to embellish its gardens with ornamental buildings, but Southwell will have seen an earlier, less extravagant, house. Built in 1676 it was similar to Denham in its general plan and style with ‘H’ plan and hipped roofs. Both these houses had balustrade rooftop terraces and architecturally prominent chimneys. Architecturally they were fairly derivative, following almost standardised patterns after Burlington house, London, a building, amongst other fashionable examples, that set the mould for house design at the start to the Restoration era. 

Stowe House in about 1715, before it was redeveloped  on a colossal scale. 

Middleton Stoney was built around 1710. Unfortunately it was completely rebuilt in the 1750s and no earlier depiction has been located to know what he saw there. 
 
Heythrop Park was the most architecturally ambitious building visited. Begun in 1706 it was nearing completion when Southwell visited. Not only would it have given him an insight into the modern Baroque style, but he could have sought direct advice from builders and other people involved with the construction. Applied columns in the Corinthian style and ‘Giant Order’, robust window keystones, and an emphasis on the main entrance with its portico have some parallels with what happened at Kings Weston. The unique interiors of this house were lost in a fire in the 1830s.

South east front of Heythrop Park, Oxfordshire, by Thomas Archer, 1706- circa 1718.

Cornbury, though much earlier, shared similar features to Heythrop, but is more restrained in its exuberance. Here, on the south east wing, the Portico is engaged with the façade, with bold projections at the cornice. Imagining the frontage without the two end bays, and a silhouette enriched by a rooftop arcade, this building has stronger parallels with Kings Weston than Heythrop. The south-east wing was designed in 1666 by Hugh May, and architect who Vanbrugh admired for the work he’d done at Windsor Castle. The interiors here have been heavily altered, but there was once a double height hall here whose over-scaled fireplace with a Vanbrughn boldness survives. 

South east wing of Heythrop house, Oxfordshire, by Hugh May, 1666. 

Most curiously the diversion to Heythrop diverted right around Blenheim Palace, Vanbrugh’s most famous work, that was then in the process of construction. Considering Southwell had hired him as architect an inspection of the works might be expected it to have been an essential highlight. It’s assumed therefore that Southwell had visited at least once before and was already familiar with the project. How Heythrop, or for that matter any of the buildings on the itinerary, were selected can only be speculated upon.  

Like Middleton Stoney, Dodington Park was entirely rebuilt in the late 18th century, and little can be ascertained on why it was included on the itinerary. Dyrham Park nearby,  finished in around 1711, would already have been very familiar to Southwell, who was close to the Blathwayt family and would marry into it in 1716.  
 
Further research is required to know whether Vanbrugh accompanied his patron on this journey. Was he there directing Southwell to features he thought fitting for Kings Weston, or did he have some influence on the selection of properties to visit? Was Vanbrugh present when Kings Weston was set out and begun?   
 
You might expect that by the time Southwell reached Kings Weston, on the 29th April, and after so much inspiration, he might have at last decided on a new design. Indeed he writes that already “upwards of 60 men preparing stones and digging the foundation of the new house”; but still, in the closing days of May he wrote “I am full of a great anxiety and trouble as to mine (house improvements) which arises from the uncertainty of setting out right, and to this hour my model, I cannot say, is fixed; though it may be and will be by the next week.” Clearly April’s ambition to set out the new building had failed, the study trip perhaps even adding confusion to the process.    

 Architectural drawing of the main front of Kings Weston House, from the office of Sir John Vanbrugh. (Victoria & Albert Museum) 

 This indecision appears to be Southwell’s own, and Vanbrugh is not mentioned at all. The architect must have been working closely with his client on proposals, so whether his designs were rejected and revised, or whether the fault was his, and he’d been slow in furnishing his client with drawings is not known. There are no significant variations in the general design of the new mansion in existing drawings. Eventually plans for the house were agreed, and on 16th of June work on Vanbrugh’s designs for Kings Weston house was begun. In the context of most of the grand houses of its day, particularly in the Bristol Region, it was still a pretty revolutionary piece of architecture. Where Vanbrugh deviates from the rigours of classical architecture with the main front, and experiments with robust modelling of the other three fronts, Kings Weston is particularly unique.  

A Delve into the Museum Stores

A recent visit to the back rooms of Bristol Museum and Art gallery has uncovered some interesting new finds. The museum holds an extensive collection of material on Kings Weston including paintings, prints, drawings, and artefacts. This particular visit was focussed on uncovering, and recording, some of the less well known images of the historic estate.

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Above: The view from Kingsweston Hill, a watercolour from the late C18th by Samuel Jackson (BMAG K181). Below-right: Sunset from Kingsweston Hill, circa 1790,Nicholas Pocock (BMAG Mb1996)

pococke-sunsetThere are a number of memorable paintings in the collection, just a small number of which we share here. Most are from the estate at the height of its fame in the late Eighteenth century, with many by notable artists of the “Bristol School” such as Francis Danby, Samuel Jackson, and Nicholas Pocock.
Of special interest was a large portfolio of art etchings by the eminent artist Robert Charles Goff (1837-1922). Most of the dozens of etchings are little to do with Bristol, but are significant for their connection with the last members of the Miles family. The collection was gifted to the museum in 1936 by  Mrs Sybil Napier Miles, the wife of Philip Napier Miles the last private owner of the estate, and her sisters. Goff was their brother-in law, having married Sybil’s sister, Clarissa, in 1899.

Below: The Sentinels, Kings Weston, Robert Goff, 1907(BMAG Mb2555)
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The Goff’s and the Miles’s were close and Robert and Clarissa were frequent visitors to both Kings Weston, and Napier Miles’s villa at Alassio in Italy. On Robert’s death in 1922 Clarissa came to live permanently with her sister and brother-in-law at Kings Weston, and presumably brought the artist’s portfolio of work with her.

Sadly for Sybil, both her husband and sister died in 1935 within weeks of each other, leaving her with a huge estate and the contents of the house to manage alone. Evidently she sought to ensure that Goff’s artworks were kept together as a single archive and, in memory of her sister, donated then to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery the following year. In this way the provenance of the works can be directly connected back to the artist’s ownership.

Amongst Goff’s works in Bristol museum are two etchings of Kings Weston. One, of 1907 we have discovered before and our Tree Trail guide sports a low resolution version of it, and the other completely new to us. This second view is taken from the Shirehampton Park side of the estate, where the parkland drops steeply down to Horseshoe Bend of the River Avon. It is a particularly pleasing composition with the once-famous pine trees framing glimpsed views back upstream to the Avon Gorge. This scene has sadly succumbed to the ravages of time and the Portway Road now passes through this very area.

In due course copies of all the artworks recorded will be uploaded to KWAG’s website to accompany the galleries of historic views.

Below: The Avon below Kings Weston, Robert Goff, drypoint etching. (BMAG Mb2552)

goff-shirehampton-park

Laurel clearance concerns

Please be reassured…

KWAG appreciates that there is some concern locally about the felling of laurel in Penpole Wood. We do understand that the degree of change can be challenging, but we’d like to assure everyone that the work KWAG are doing is necessary for the future protection of the Ancient Woodland.

Over the last few months KWAG volunteers have been undertaking two projects directed by the Forestry Commission; Natural Spacing and the removal of Laurel. Natural Spacing is good practice to thin-out poor quality saplings to allow the best ones, and most importantly the existing mature trees, to thrive with less competition. It promotes growth and reduces the risk of disease.

Cherry Laurel is an invasive foreign plant, and has serious implications for the health of natural woodland; it suffocates all other competing native species by preventing light from reaching the forest floor. It also decays slowly leaving a cocktail of toxins in the soil that retard the growth of other trees and ground cover.

It’s also on the Dogs Trust list of poisonous plants for dogs.

Laurels recently felled

Laurels recently felled

Although laurel’s been present at Kings Weston for centuries, introduced as an ornamental shrub, it’s now run wild, threatening the nature, fabric, and diversity of the Ancient Woodland; as such it needs to be removed.

Although it will look bare for a short time, especially now in winter, the removal of the laurel will allow the forest floor to regenerate naturally with native trees and undergrowth; That it looks so bare right now is largely because the laurel has already suffocated everything at ground level.

The process will ensure the survival of the Ancient Woodland for future generations, ultimately increasing the diversity of woodland habitat and species.

The majority of the feedback we’ve had has been resoundingly positive, but we appreciate the loss of familiar thickets will upset some people. Please be assured that KWAG are working to a brief defined by the Forestry Commission, and supported by Bristol City Council, and that the work is designed to save Penpole Wood from permanent decay, not to damage it.

You can read more about Bristol’s Biodiversity Action Plan for woodlands, and the benefits of re-opening the forest floor to native growth here:
https://www.bristol.gov.uk/…/369f1561-116b-40d0-8cf9-50eaa6…

Planning application takes gardens project forward

We know that the inevitable loss of the lime trees on the ancient avenue has come as a great shock and sadness on many people in the park, and so many people have spoken to us about it. We are looking to prioritise how we can replace the lost trees as soon as possible, but this won’t be at least until the next planting season next winter. This will give us plenty of time to secure the funding we’ll need to support this.

However, there are many other trees in the park that we are less sorry to lose, and a recent application to fell trees within the Conservation Area has been submitted for planning. The application from Kings Weston house marks the next stage in the restoration of the grounds. Norman Routledge, the owner of the house and the area of grounds immediately around it, is keen to repair and enhance the grounds and one priority that everyone has agreed on is improving the current woodland car park.

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Undersized for use by both the house and park visitors it’s led to vehicles damaging the park and paths. The new proposals will see the establishment of a better designed, and more appropriate car park that will tackle the problematic issue of some of the brick ruins around the house. As a first stage a planning application has come forward for the felling of many of the poor-quality sycamore and ash that currently engulf the ruins and are obstructing views of the Echo. These trees have grown up entirely unmanaged only since the 1950s and the area is identified in the City’s Conservation Management Plan for this work.

A full copy of the application can be found on the City’s Planning website (search for ref: 16/00359/VC)
http://planningonline.bristol.gov.uk/online-appl…/search.do…
It’s accompanied by a professional tree survey that’s reassured us that there are no trees of good quality of high habitat value being proposed for felling. We are hoping that the council will apply policy to ensure that trees felled will be replaced with higher quality specimens in the next phase of the proposals, and as such we are minded to support this proposal.

If you have any thoughts please comment on the planning application.