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Welcome to KWAG's April 2021 Newsletter. No.90.
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Working Parties to restart this month!  


Above: Daffodils on the Lime Avenue inject some joy into a lonely lockdown period.

 

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This month:

  • Keeping up Appearances 
  • Hopes for closer working with the Council 
  • Reaping the benefits of the Big Bulb Plant 
  • With thanks to the womblers 
  • More anniversary planting 
  • Exploring Longcombe 
  

Working Party Reminder - Planned working party event SaturdaApril 10th 
          

This Saturday will be our first working party since last year. We will be running two separate groups of six volunteers each. If you have already been in touch and passed your name to us you will be on the list and can come along, but we’re sorry not to be able to accept more people due to social distancing rules. This month we will be working around Penpole Lodge on self-seeded saplings and natural spacing. Please bring along your own tools if possible.

 
Working parties will be operated in groups of no more than six, including one health and safety trained volunteer who will lead activities; in this way we can manage an overall event for 12 volunteers doing similar activities, but in adjacent areas of the estate.  Volunteers will be encouraged to bring their own tools, but if they can’t we will ensure there are adequate wipes to allow use of KWAG tools, but no sharing between volunteers will be allowed. The now long-practiced social distancing measures will need to be observed and face masks encouraged where practical. We will have to be very strict over these restrictions, particularly social distancing within groups. We hope volunteers will understand and help us get back to work in this limited fashion. Please come along with the following if you are able:

- A face covering
- Loppers, a bow saw, sheers if you have them
- Suitable clothing for the weather
- Gardening gloves if you have them  
 
This is where we plan to meet and work:
https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1brML7V0WyImbUxMVW7-xxo8Q8V0MsofE&usp=sharing
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Keeping up appearances     
 
Although KWAG working parties have had to stop over the most recent pandemic some of our volunteers have still kept an eye open to keep on top of maintenance issues outside the Council’s usual remit. Chief amongst these has been the re-cutting of cherry laurel, to make sure it doesn’t start taking back control of Penpole Wood. Some recent work involved passing through the area above the old quarry, being careful to avoid the saplings planted there, and clipping off regrowth. Considering how long it took a full volunteer team to fell the area over a series of months the clipping took little more than a morning!

We have also sought to capitalise on other areas of undergrowth ahead of the growing season, and make sure that things don’t spiral out of control. The area along the railings near Kings Weston house was tackled and bramble and elm sucker growth cut down. We extended this work to cover the area below the coffee shop terrace where previous Council mowing campaigns have become gradually less observant.  


Above and right: Before and after getting back on top of the cherry laurel in Penpole Wood  without damaging native trees that are now returning.
Below: Tackling regrowth on the meadow margins outside Kings Weston house. A before and after





Hopes for closer working with the Council     
 
Last month we met the new team at Bristol City Council Parks to discuss priorities on the estate and look at closer working. Caroline Ennion is Parks Area North manager.  The new Parks Operational Coordinator for the north of the city is Mary O’Connell, and Kit Beaumont is the Parks Heritage and Estates Officer and we met with both these Council officers to discuss immediate issues. These included the condition of the Shirehampton Road car park, the accessibility and condition of the paths throughout the estate, and the declining condition of the historic buildings and structures.

We highlighted the poor condition of the glasshouse wall and walled garden pond and lodges to the east of the house, the Listed viewing terrace wall and the Echo as well as Penpole Lodge ruins and the estate boundary wall around Penpole. There seemed to be a joint agreement that the ideal approach would be to look at securing funding to tackle all of these structures at the same time and future-proof them. Similarly the paths we understood as being in poor condition and attention needed to be paid to them.
The long-standing problem of gradual encroachment of the ecologically important grasslands with brambles, and the lawns around the house, was also brought up, and we hope that a new mowing regime can be established.  

We used the opportunity to explain KWAG’s ambitions, the Conservation Management Plan, and some of our achievements over the last ten years. We hope to be able to work with the new team as closely as possible on pursuing projects on the estate.

Below: The main front of the house with Spring celandine. 
 


Reaping the benefits of the Big Bulb plant      
 
We’ve had some mixed results from our bulb planting this year. We’re sorry to say that there was a spate of thefts of daffodils from the Circle which, on top of a number coming up blind this year resulted in a bit of a disappointing show. On the other hand last year’s planting efforts along the Lime Avenue produced some pretty stunning results to make up for it. These were the bulbs planted by family groups under restrictive social distancing measures in October. There was a massive increase in visitors to the park experienced during lockdown, and the exceptionally muddy conditions have led to people diverting around wet sections and many bulbs got trampled. Hopefully the display still impressed, and we will try to remember to take more protective measures next year.

Elsewhere in the parkland the daffodils below the viewing terrace above Shirehampton Park put on an exceptional show this year, partly due to KWAG work last year to keep on top of the undergrowth in the copses they grow in.  Later this spring the bluebells in the woodland leading up to the Echo hare doing very well and we hope to see the results soon.

Right and below: The daffodils planted last October in bloom on the ancient Lime Avenue. 





With thanks to the womblers       
 
With so many more visitors, both regulars and new, coming to Kings Weston over lockdown there has been an explosion in left litter. Whilst there have been no formal litter picking events we would like to thank everyone, KWAG volunteers and individuals, who have taken it upon themselves to maintain regular wombles. Particular thanks to Jim Ellis and Dee ox who are just two of our volunteers we know have been at work, but everyone who’s made their own collection deserves our gratitude. Thank you everyone!  
 
Above: Dee Cox at work in the flower beds at Kings Weston. 


More anniversary planting      
 
In March we quietly popped in a replacement for one of the cedar trees that had dies over recent years along the South Walk. Unfortunately there seems to be an issue with cedars across the city over the last few years. This could be to do with age, or may be due to climate change, but we know that several mature ones around Kings Weston are showing signs of stress right now. The new cedar has been planted near to a dead one, but within enough space that it should thrive. It is a Deodar Cedar of the same species as the magnificent specimen near Kings Weston house. Hopefully this new one will mature to similar size and be a fitting commemoration of the tenth anniversary of KWAG.

Right: The new cedar on the South Walk in the sun. 



Exploring Longcombe      
 
During lockdown the cessation of golf on Shirehamton Park gave many the opportunity to take advantage of this less well trodden part of the Kings Weston Estate. Without sports being played families were free to roam across the National Trust owned parkland and take in its beauty. Shirehampton Park is often the forgotten side of the estate, but covers around a third of its area, comprising of around 90 acres. It was donated to the Trust by the last private owner of Kings Weston house, Philip Napier Miles, in 1922 with the proviso that it would be made always accessible to the residents of Shirehampton and Sea Mills for their recreation, and with the golf course’s use of it required. The original intention was expressed in the local papers in 1918, but it’s believed that the ongoing construction of the Portway through the park at the time delayed the final transfer.


 Above: Looking across Longcombe towards the opening in the hills that once led down to the River Avon. 

But the parkland here has a much longer history. Still today you can trace long ridges across the golf course that represent ancient field systems. Larger ones to the east of the area face south and are likely to have been designed as medieval rabbit warrens, a conyger, that were used to farm the animals for food; coney is an obsolete historical name for rabbits. The long-disused name of a nearby outcrop, Conger Hill, is likely to derive from the adjacent coneyger.  
 
In the Seventeeth Century Sir Robert Southwell set out to establish groves of fir trees here both for pleasure and for timber, and keenly improved the land through careful management. It remained a largely agricultural landscape until the 1720s. By the time of the estate survey at the start of that decade Edward Southwell, Sir Robert’s son, was keen to capitalise on the park’s picturesque rolling landscape, riverfront, and spectacular views across to Somerset. Soon after the completion of Kings Weston house he threw the boundary of Kings Weston’s estate out as far as the Avon and began incorporating it into the landscaped grounds.


Above: Lidar map showing the historic  lumps and bumps of Shirehampton Park, and some of the golf course's making,  stripped of trees and other structures.
 
At the heart of Shirehamton Park is Longcombe, a deep hidden valley almost completely enclosed from the outside world, and with considerable picturesque value. There are two early signs of Southwell’s ambitions for this long combe which are included in the Kings Weston Book of Drawings, an album of historical plan and drawings held by Bristol Archives. There are many sketches and drawings for garden buildings amongst its pages, and two of these relate to structures around Longcombe. Both appear to have been designed to capitalise on the topography, focused on aligned views and distant prospects.
 
The first is, conveniently, dated to 1724, when other parkland developments were already underway elsewhere on the estate. It is a design for a viewing mound with eight individual prospects cut through the trees to focus the eye on distant landmarks. The mound was to be framed with a grove of elms and topped with a cabinet of yew trees accessed by means of a ramped walk from the east. From the mound views were aligned down Longcombe, and towards neighbouring estates at Charlton (Somerset), Leigh Court, Sneyd Park, Cote - an important house on the Downs, as well as views to the river and Westbury on Trym. Exploring the location today there remains an obvious circular prominence amongst the trees, but any framed views have long since been lost.
Above: Landscaping project for Conger Hill, Longcombe, 1724 (Bristol Archives)
Below: The octagonal plan for a small lodge in Longcombe or Conger Hill. (Bristol Archives) 
A second, undated, plan shows an octagonal lodge backing onto woodland with views identified in the direction of “the Dock” at Sea Mills. The location for this proposal is less certain. Under the description of “Plan for Longcombe Lodge” there is an addition scrawled in a lighter hand suggesting that an alternative site could be on Conger Hill, one supposes the same spot as the design for the viewing mound. The original intention for this building could have been to command the view along the length of Longcombe from a spot at the head of the valley somewhere. The truth is that we don’t know if either of these designs was executed, but there is some indication that something was made on Conger Hill from a later estate plan of 1772. Its author, Isaac Taylor, illustrated a circular open feature within the woods here, with a linear path approaching it from the high ground to the east, and a viewing corridor cut through the trees looking up Longcombe. Was this the vestige of the many-spoked design of 1724 or something else? There is no sign of the octagonal lodge. A tantalising 1759 memo authored by Edward Southwell II in the interim period notes “The ash trees and the seat in Long Combe to be taken away”; was this connected with one of these features?  
 
Below: Longcome shown on Taylor's 1772 estate plan with the viewing mound shown amongst the trees on the right. 
 
By the later Georgian era Shirehampton Park was much admired for its views of the Avon. Although the park offered extensive landscape pasture its main value was as a wider picturesque setting for the mansion house. This continued into the Nineteenth Century long after the estate passed to the Miles Family. A notable event was hosted in Loncombe in 1868 at the behest of Philip Skinner Miles. He was particularly keen on encouraging his tenants to grow their own produce and improve their properties with flowers. His family were instigators of the local horticultural society in the 1850s and flower shows became a regular feature on the estate. These were sometimes held close to the house, but more often in Shirehampton Park. In 1868 the Shirehampton Flower Show was held in the pastoral setting of Longcombe. To serve visitors to the show a temporary railway platform was erected where the recently opened railway crossed the foot of the combe and special trains ran throughout the day from Bristol.
 

Above: Looking up Longcombe to the west on an early 20th Century postcard

Below: The view east down Longcombe today with the site of the viewing mound in the far distance, to the right of the pines. 

   











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