Find out snippets of Kings Weston's history this month
Above: Looking out across the Home Park from the house in the 1760s
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- Working Party update - Retracing our steps
- Statue remade
- A possible Penpole Pond?
- Newly acquired sketch
- John William Miles: the last in a political dynasty
Working Party Reminder - Saturday 15th June
Reminder: June's working party will take place this Saturday 15th. This month we are continuing cleaning up areas we first tackled three years ago close to The Circle. This involves tidying out young laurel regrowth and tidying up sme of teh other laurel rubbish. PLEASE NOTE this Month we meet again at SHIREHAMPTON ROAD CAR PARK at 10am. We will be working here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1Ktdm9T-K6blvj5dD_UkFKZUnT1SkbkfA&usp=sharing
Please feel free to come along any time during the day, but we do prefer to be able to do health and safety briefings as a group at 10am if possible. There will be tasks to suit most abilities though this month it will be principally focussed on trimming regrowth, with some felling vegetation. Please come along with suitable clothing for the weather on the day, bring hand-tools if you have some suitable, and we hope to see you there. Please keep an eye on our Facebook Page in case of any change of location, or call 07811 666671 on the day to find us.
Working Party update - Retracing our steps
May’s working party took place in beautiful weather and saw volunteers returning to something of a mess from a few years ago. We were less confident then as we are now in our effort and there had been a few mammoth cherry laurels left, with some unsightly piles. Last month we returned to tidy up a bit and also held our first bonfire as an experiment.
Above: Working party in full flow.
We’ve previously been reluctant to use bonfires to dispose of waste because of issues of safety, management, and extinguishing them after work finishes. The fire made quick work of a lot of the cherry laurel cuttings and branches and the whole area has benefitted from the approach. A good deal of the laurel offcuts have now been burned and the area is open and clear for new growth to take hold.
Above: Looking east in the direction of Kings Weston house with Penpole avenue on the right.
It is difficult to remember this area just a few years ago before we started, but keeping on top of progress was always our goal. The area has quickly begun regenerating with native species edging in from the perimeters, where laurel growth was more recent, towards the centre of where longer-established laurels had poisoned the forest floor for longer.
The bonfire worked well, attracted a lot of attention for our efforts, and actually got a number of new young volunteers lending a hand. It was broadly a success, but the embers remained hot for several days afterwards, even for all our attempts to extinguish it, and we’ll need to resolve this if we try for another.
Above: Looking west across the working party area with the Penpole Wood avenue on the left .
If you’ve been following KWAG since we began in 2011 you might recall the replica statue we launched with in the news. The statue was part of a campaign for information to try and discover where the original from the Echo had gone. The story even made it to the BBC, but sadly the replica statue, made of foam-board, eventually went the same way as her marble predecessor and disintegrated; she did her job however, and led to details about the real statue’s exploits between WWII when she was knocked down, to the 1970s when she was reportedly tipped into the ash pile behind Kings Weston house.
Even the cut-out statue made a striking impact when put up in the Echo on the original plinth and, after a period of three years, we’ve finally remade her! The full-size cut-out can now reappear when needed as a highlight on our history walking tours, Doors Open Day, and maybe just to surprise the unwary visitor once in a while.
Above, the first statue reconstruction seen in 2011 at teh Echo
A possible Penpole Pond?
Something came to notice just recently that raises a few questions. A map of Bristol, an early production by the Ordnance Survey in 1826, has suggested a previously unknown garden feature in Penpole Wood. Looking closely at the detail it suggests that there may have been a pond in the area called Jubilee Clearing between Penpole Point and the cricket pitch.
Above: Ordnance survey map of 1826 showing the whole of the Kings Weston Parkland
Other maps and plans of the estate from similar dates show nothing in the area, lack detail, or are unreliable in what they show. That there is clearly an, albeit tiny, blue dot in the woods of such a highly detailed survey is strongly suggestive that such a water feature existed, though nothing can be seen above ground today.
Above: Detail of the 1826 map showing the possible pond feature hidden in the woods.
Below, Edward Southwell, 21st Baron de Clifford
The area still retains a number of unusual specimen pine trees, unusual species only recently introduced to the country in the Nineteenth Century. Along with a glade with a water feature they might have made an attractive garden. In 1826 Kings Weston was owned by Edward Southwell IV, the 21st Baron de Clifford. One contemporary wrote of him:
“The great enjoyments of Lord de Clifford when at home was planting shrubs and trees. Many thousands were planted under his directions. I can picture him now as I often saw him, a little insignificant man riding on a very quiet horse followed by John Webb, his favourite groom, to superintend operations.”
It is possibly him responsible for laying out whatever garden might have formerly been in this area. We hope to be able to inspect the map, currently in the British library, to look closer at the detail and hopefully come up with some answers in the future.
Newly Acquired Sketch
Something more new to the Kings Weston story is this small pencil sketch of the house viewed from Penpole Point. In the foreground is Penpole lodge, lost to the sledgehammers in 1951. Several similar views exist, but this one differs from all of them in the detail shown so must be an original scene. It dates to the 1820s and, in the distance, both Blaise Castle and the former windmill on the brow of Kingsweston hill can be seen. The windmill was partially reused during the Napoleonic wars as part of a signalling station, but disappeared soon after.
John William Miles: Last of a political dynasty
In 1868 a fierce political fight broke out between Conservative and Liberal supporters each eagerly supporting their candidates in the city’s by-election. This was an age where electioneering could generate bitter personal attacks and even physical violence and the 1868 election was amongst the most divisive.
Standing as the Conservative Party candidate was John William Miles, brother of Philip William Skinner Miles of Kings Weston House and resident there for much of his life. The Miles family bought Kings Weston in 1834 after Lord de Clifford had died in 1832 without an heir. John Miles' brother, and his father before him, had both represented the city for an unbroken period between 1835 and 1852. John Miles no doubt wanted to continue the family’s political legacy.
Below: The Great Western Cotton Co, Barton Hill, that Miles had helped form.
Like the other members of his family John Miles was keenly and actively involved in the industrial development of the city, but also worked tirelessly in modernising the farms at Kings Weston. He was director, at one time vice-chairman, of the Great Western Railway, a director of the Great Western Cotton Company, South Wales Union railway, and director of the Great Western Steamship Co; the SS Great Britain was registered in is co-ownership. He had been a member of the Bristol Docks committee and on the city’s council. He was a well-respected member of the mercantile class of the city, and would have made a popular choice to follow in his family’s political footsteps.
Below: The SS Great Britain Shortly after launch in 1843. The ship was registered jointly in John William Miles' name.
Below: John William Miles portrait on a handbill for the 1868 by-election
Against Miles the Liberals selected Samuel Morley, who today is best known for his statue in gardens in Lewins Mead. Campaigning was frenetic, with both parties producing handbills and posters both promoting their own candidate and demeaning the opposition. Miles handbills, many now in the collections of Bristol Museum, promoted him as a positive vote for industry and prosperity with images of shipping and the railways with which he was associated being popular motifs.
Several also carried images of the man taken from a contemporary engraving from which we could infer he was a stocky joyless looking gentleman. In reality he was well known for getting involved in family life, participating in theatrical performances, and took pleasure in breeding ferns and orchids; but perhaps the severity of the portrait suggested a man with more gravitas.
Above: Miles's industrial, railway, and maritime interests illustrated on a handbill along with an anchor: part of the family's arms.
Below: Liberal handbills criticising Conservative opposition to better representation.
His opponents sought votes from the working classes rather than those mercantile or gentry. They noted that the Conservatives had been against broader political representation and, even at this point in time there were only around 25,000 men in the city eligible to vote.
Polling day was 30th April 1868 and Miles attracted 5,173 votes to Morley’s 4,977. Almost immediately after the election results were announced there were claims of foul play. Mr Morley claimed his defeat was due to “an undue use of money, beer, and intimidation”. The House of Commons launched an investigation and, although Miles was inducted into the House, it was only so for less than two months before the result was declared void. The committee charged with investigating the election uncovered the hiring of “roughs” to intimidate voters, with wholesale use of treating to entice votes, and paying ineligible men to impersonate voters. Miles was, through his agents’ actions, found guilty of bribery.
Below: Handbill produced after the finding of bribery against the Miles camp, and showing both John William Miles and his elder brother Philip William Skinner Miles, both of Kings Weston house.
The election was not re-run, instead it was held back for the November General election. There was considerable ill feeling in all camps following the incident and, perhaps foolishly, Miles was fielded as the Conservative candidate again. This time the opposition had a cause and were vociferous in their condemnation of Miles. Numerous damning and sensationalist handbills were published, and the bitterness boiled over into violence and vandalism with damage to property. Unsurprisingly Miles’s vote collapsed and both candidates fielded by the Liberal Party came in ahead of him.
Above: John Miles' face superimposed on the colt of bribery in one of the most undignified of handbills against his election.
It was a sad end to the political ambitions of the Miles family who had previously been popular and well regarded representatives of their city. The actions of the party agents brought shame on the Miles family and on Kings Weston. John’s two months were the last time any resident of Kings Weston house represented Bristol in the House of Commons. John Miles returned to improving the agricultural progress of the Kings Weston estate, and died at Penpole House ten years later. He never married.