The park remains open, but please stay safe and stay cautious.
Above: The Compass Dial on Penpole Point this month.
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- A pandemic update and the cafe reopens
- Spring newcomers in the woods
- Ash die-back at Kings Weston
- WWII remembered
- Another historic view uncovered
- Working Party Reminder - All volunteer works in Bristol parks have been canceled until further notice.
A Pandemic update and the cafe reopens
This monthly newsletter comes just as we’ve missed a second working party due to the global pandemic. Spring has developed across the Kings Weston estate, but far fewer have been able to enjoy it since the lockdown; however the park has remained open and, although the car park was officially closed, has been a boon for local residents at a time of need.
With the latest changes in Government advice the Shirehampton Road car park has officially re-opened and many are allowed again to drive to the park to take exercise. Getting out in the natural environment is more important than ever at this time when it can have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing, but please make sure to continue with social distancing, and stay considerate of other park users.
Below: The house from the South Walk
Some great news this week is that Morgan’s Coffee Shop at Kings Weston house will reopen on Thursday 21st May with take-away service only, and with new restrictions on numbers allowed in the shop and distancing. Times have also changed and will be as follows on a trial basis:
Open Thursday-Saturday ONLY
Paige, who owns the business, has said she’ll be opening to sell drinks & sweet treats, but no hot food for the meantime. Instructions for customers will be displayed on a board outside the café and are as follows:
- Enter only if you are in good health.
- Please use the sanitise station on the left as you enter the café.
- Follow the new one way system.
- Keep a safe 2 meter distance and follow the floor markings.
- Only 3 customers queuing in the café at one time. 1 person per group.
- Use contactless payment where possible.
- Toilets can no longer be used
Spring newcomers in the woods.
Sadly we missed the bluebell season, but the estate is very much back to life after the winter. There are plenty of wild flowers and plants rearing up at speed. Included are some of the beech trees that we planted in Penpole Wood last year in an effort to replace lost laurel with native species. Although some failed, as expected, many of the beech saplings have taken and hopefully will thrive now there’s natural light getting to them. The wild garlic plants that were planted around them have also taken well, and we hope that there’ll be a growing carpet of these in years to come.
Right: Wild garlic and beech saplings in Penpole Wood burst to life this month.
Ash die-back at Kings Weston
There are signs that ash die-back has reached Kings Weston. The fungal disease has been in Bristol for the last few years and many of the city’s parks, including the Downs, and Arnos Vale Cemetery, have been hit. This year has seen the first indications that the ash trees on the estate are not well. There are several signs to look out for and these affect new saplings as much as large trees. The unexplained shrivelling of new leaves and the loss of canopy cover are the best indicators, but also look out for branches dying back from the leaves and tracking back to larger branches. One of the most characteristic features appears where diseased brackets meet and a diamond-shaped wound appears at the joint on the main branch as the tree tries to protect itself from the fungus attack.
The sudden and marked demise of many saplings, and the loss of canopy are two symptoms that have been spotted at Kings Weston. It’s likely that other signs will develop as the trees try to adapt. The Woodland Trust suggest that 95% of ash trees in the UK will be lost. At Kings Weston we’re fortunate that the majority of mature trees aren’t ash, but there are some substantial specimens that re likely to be lost in the coming years. We’ll continue monitoring the issue. More on the disease and what to look out for can be found here: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/tree-pests-and-diseases/key-tree-pests-and-diseases/ash-dieback/
Left: Saplings in Penpole Wood showing signs of die-back.
There had been great efforts made to celebrate VE day at Penpole Point in 1945; volunteers had erected a huge bonfire on the spot near Penpole Lodge where celebratory beacons were traditionally lit, but all came to nothing as the weather put pay to the party and heavy rain dampened many similar bonfires across the city. Rather than to dwell on this we’d like to give you an idea how Penpole Wood contributed to the war effort in a small way.
Below: drawing showing the impact of bombs on Penpole from Webber's log book..
Things began even before the war had begun. In April 1939 there was a major training exercise conducted across the city to ensure its defences were operational, and, no doubt, to give the public some reassurance the authorities were prepared. This involved planes being flown across Bristol for anti-aircraft guns to target (firing blanks), and at night a similar mock raid with the addition of seach-lights. One of the mobile searchlights was stationed at Penpole Point and the exercise was reported to have been “spectacular”. It’s not known whether Penpole Point was regularly used for search-lights when aerial attacks came for real, but its elevated position away from targets in Avonmouth would have been helpful.
We’ve mentioned before the requisitioning of Penpole Lodge by the Home Guard, but the story doesn’t end there. In 1937 Bristol’s Scout groups bought the woods and adjacent fields for a district scout camp. Their time there is well documented in a log book written by the commissioner and warden in charge of the camp Mr W Webber. Webber records how camping was heavily restricted during the war years, though it still attracted boys from around the city at weekends subject to ensuring they included their gas mask in their kit.
Below: The change in scouting activity sketched in the log book.
In November 1940 the woods were “lit up like fairyland” as between 60 and 80 incendiary bombs rained down. The following month two high explosive bombs exploded at the bottom of the woods. It was at about the same time that the Home Guard took over Penpole Lodge as a look-out.The Scouts threw open the woods to the Home Guard as a training ground for scouting and their tactics likely to be helpful in case of invasion. The Home Guard were taught such essentials as camouflage and stealth movements by the Warden of the camp assisted by one of the older Ranger Scouts. Webber wrote “Penpole will have something to be proud of in the fact that she did her bit by training local defenders to do their jobs”.
Below: Advice provided to the Home Guard by Scouts following a training exercise in Penpole Woods.
Below: the log altar set up in the Scouts chapel in Penpole Woods.
One final tragic detail worth relaying from the logbook, and, at this time, it’s important to remember those who gave their lives during the war. John Halpin of the St Christopher’s scout group and a district commissioner for the East Bristol Rover Scouts, lost his life proceeding to his post in Avonmouth during an air raid; He was just 21. Rather than being buried he was cremated and his ashes were scattered in Penpole Woods at the Scout’s Chapel, within the circle of lime trees that had been turned into an open air church when the scouts first took over the land. Today it's sometimes called the seven sisters.
Another historic view uncovered
Another Eighteenth Century picture of Kings Weston has appeared recently. Dating from the end of the century it comes for a period when the estate was internationally famed for its spectacular views, its grounds, and collection of paintings in the house. Probably produced as a souvenir for wealthy visitors to pick up as a memento of their visit this view of Penpole Point, the dial, and Lodge is one of many similar paintings and drawings produced to capture the spectacular panoramas once enjoyed. This variation on the theme is unusual in the artist having stepped-back from the point itself, and included the more ornamental east from of Penpole Lodge as well as Penpole Lane in the composition. Although the accuracy of the detail and perspective can’t be entirely trusted it’s another nice addition to the collection of known historic images of the estate.