Tag Archives: Penpole Wood

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.

A Pennant from Penpole 

This time of year might not be the best to think about camping, but we wanted to share a new artefact that’s recently come our way: a small green flag. Many will know that Penpole Wood and the slopes below, where Lawrence Weston estate now stands, were the home of Bristol’s district Scout camp between 1937 and 1947; It’s a rather sad story that ended with their land being compulsorily purchased by the City Council for new housing. But, in 1937, after their purchase of 70 acres of woods and a couple of fields in the park below they set out with great optimism to create somewhere that Scouts could come to hone their camping skills, pioneering, and woodcraft.

Teams of scouts raise the new camp flagpole in the fields below Penpole Wood. Trees in the distance on the right are still recognisable as those on The Tump. The location of the flag would be around where 19 Mancroft Avenue stands today.. 

By the end of the first year it was clear that it had been an immediate success. The Scouts chapel, steps through Penpole Woods, and the campfire circle had been set out, with Penpole Lodge and Wood Lodge being used as storage and offices. A campsite in the woods was created in Jubilee Clearing, surrounded by trees of the Victorian arboretum. The second year, 1938, began with great optimism. Early in the year a magnificent new flagpole of about 50ft in height was manhandled into the fields and set up close to the campfire circle.

a flyer handed out to advertise the “Penpoloree”

The highpoint of that year was the Whitsun jamboree camp held over the summer bank holiday weekend, christened the Penpoloree. This was the main annual gathering to which all the district’s scouts were invited, attracting visitors from troops around the country. Events and displays were put on over three consecutive days, the event even forming part of the city’s civic calendar with the distinguished attendance of the Lord Mayor. It was also an opportunity for the Scouts to showcase their campsite to the general public who were invited to the camp sing along, with guests paying 6d for the privilege.
 1938 was particularly special for the attendance of the 8th Earl of Buckinghamshire, John Hampden Mercer-Henderson (1906-1963), Commissioner for the Boy Scout movement. He camped with the scouts for the duration of the jamboree and keenly involved himself in the weekend’s events. His presence cemented Penpole on the national scouting stage, resulting in plenty of press coverage both locally and nationally.
The culmination of each day’s event was focussed on the huge campfire hosted in the fields below Penpole Wood. Here, with the camp chief presiding in a chair hollowed from a giant log, dignitaries were hosted and public beheld the massed voices of the campers in song. A special Penpole camp yell was also a highlight of festivities before campers returned to their tents either nearby or in Jubilee Clearing at the top end of the woods.      

The Commissioner of the Boy Scout movement, the Earl of Buckinghamshire, conducts proceedings around the jamboree campfire in 1938.

During the camp special pennants were awarded to recognise particular scouts and patrol groups who had excelled in their work, our recently acquired flag no doubt being one of those handed out by the Commissioner on that Whitsun weekend. By coincidence one of the photos published in the Evening Post shows the Earl presenting a similar pennant to the Lord Mayor at the camp. Sadly we know nothing of its history between then and our acquisition.

the pennant, awarded for good camping at the Penpole Whitsun jamboree in 1938. 
The Lord Mayor is presented with a similar pennant by the Earl of Buckingham.

The camp was a huge success. Over the weekend Penpole attracted 897 campers with another 479 visiting scouts, and over 2000 paying members of Bristol’s public. It was to be a sunny and halcyon time for those who attended, unaware that the onset of war the following year and the council’s desperate need for housing afterwards would overshadow their time there. Today the
If you remember camping at Penpole or have any more memorabilia from the scout’s time at Penpole, we’d love to hear from you. We know that there were films recorded during the 1938 event by W. F. E Gill, so we’d love to know what happened to them. If you’d like to read more about the Scout’s history on the Kings Weston estate, take a look at the detailed journals written at the time by W.G.N Webber who was camp coordinator for their time there. The original is held at Bristol Archives and is free to view on request.

The yew trees talk to us

the recently revealed line of yews looking up the slope towards the main path 

We’ve made a habit recently of clearing undergrowth and revealing some majestic trees in the woodland, but it’s easy to forget that this wilderness was once all part of a designed landscape; Our April  Working Party uncovered more trees that help tell that story. Just to the north side of the main path through the woods we discovered a line of three mature yew trees, clearly planted in an intentional line, and with the stumps of a fourth and fifth tree nearby and to the same spacing.

the boundary of the woods shown in 1772

Yew are something of a tell-tale species at Kings Weston; whilst their scattering may at first seem random through the woodland many relate to historic planning schemes and features. When compared with historic plans and illustrations the significance of the yews becomes more clear. The three yews we rediscovered last month run along a former boundary between the more open parkland to the east, and the long-established woodland to the west. Originally a wall formed this boundary, with a set of gates straddling the main path, but, by the 1770s this had be de-formalised and  instead an iron park fence replaced it. An estate plan from this date clearly shows the planting of trees on the outer edge of it and the yews are certainly the same ones described in plan.

the walled boundary and gates into Penpole Wood in 1710

This is not the only instance of yews indicating lost historic features. Further along the path through the woods to Penpole Point you will encounter many more, frequently grouped around certain points. A careful comparison between these locations and an earlier estate plan of 1720 suggest that these are the remains of woodland saloons where viewing corridors were cut through the trees northwards towards the Severn and Wales beyond. Whether these yews were planted as a deliberate grove, or whether they are the vestiges of a more formal hedged circle can’t be established, but their planted locations are not coincidental.

Penpole Wood in 1720 showing the main path and circular saloons with viewing alleys cut through the trees. 

Our next Working Party will reveal another designed feature in which yews feature prominently: an avenue of mixed yews and oaks leading from the ruins of Penpole Lodge to the Jubilee Clearing. This strip of land is a curiosity. In 1772 the park boundary appears to run just above the main path through the woods, so this elongated sliver of land between that path, the current boundary wall, and running as far east as to incorporate the clearing, is outside the woodland. By 1840 the park boundary had been pushed out to its current extent and the line of yews planted. The planting defining the clearing (along with more cherry laurel) appears to have been laid out at the same time. This may all have been the work of the last of the Southwell family to live at Kings Weston , the 21st Baron de Clifford. He was known to be a keen planter and the dates, between 1777 and 1832, and the enclosure Acts would fit this incursion onto the common land.

So next time you are walking through Penpole Wood keep an eye open, and next time you spot a yew ask yourself what it might be telling you about the lost historic landscape and the people who created it.