Welcome to KWAG's May 2021 Newsletter. No.91.
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Important Iron Bridge update this month!  

Above: The Garden Front of Kings Weston House.


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This month:

  • Working Party update - conserving Penpole Point 
  • Iron Bridge in for planning  
  • House happenings
  • Working Party poster
  • The historic Penpole Dial 

Working Party Reminder - Planned working party event SaturdaMay 15th 

This Saturday we will be running two separate groups of six volunteers each.We still need to follow social distancing rules with numbers, but there are still a couple of pplaces if anyone would like to come along, though please let us know in advance. This month we'll be continuing work around Penpole Point 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-practised 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:   



Working party update - Conserving Penpole Point 

It’s been great to be able to get out again with our Working Parties since the lockdown restrictions have eased. It was lovely to be able to see a number of familiar faces as well as some new ones at last month’s event at Penpole Point. There were several objectives objective for April’s Working Party: was to push back the undergrowth along the main path that has been threatening to encroach onto it, to re-open views and a sense of openness along the Point and around the ruins of Penpole Lodge, and to “naturally space” the woodland to ensure its ongoing health into the future.

Above: Looking towards the ruins of Penpole Lodge before and after work.  
Below right:the lodge before and after KWAG's clearing.
As we are in bird nesting season the brambles had to be left, but there was a lot of elm regrowth, and ash that needed attention. Kings Weston hasn’t avoided the plague of ash dieback that’s swept across the UK, and many trees in this area are likely to die, or are already showing signs of the disease. Other trees in the area including sycamore and yew have been prioritised as part of the natural spacing. A good deal of dead trees were removed, mainly elm that have grown for a while before  succumbing to Dutch Elm disease and the area tidied up, with plenty of wood piles to act as wildlife habitat in the future.
The ruins of Penpole Lodge have again been revealed and at some point we hope to be able to offer interpretation displays of some sort to help people understand what it once looked like and its importance to the historic landscape.

The openness of Penpole Point is an important characteristic that’s been eroded for decades. Our recent work, and some tidying up in the following fortnight, have again tried to restore the historic downland habitat that the Point was once valued for. We hope that after bird nesting season we can again address the brambles that have grown up subsequent to our clearance of the rest of the Point in 2014. Unfortunately we have still had no success in getting agreement form the City Council to maintain the grassland following KWAG’s efforts, and we will no doubt have to periodically return in future years.

Above: Looking across Penpole Point from within the undergrowth line. 
Below: Th view back up the path towards Penpole Lane. 

Iron Bridge proposals in for planning 

This big news this month is that KWAG and the Save the Green Iron Bridge campaign, acting as the Iron Bridge Alliance, has submitted a planning application to secure the restoration of the historic Grade II Listed bridge and protect it with freestanding steel height restrictors across  Kings Weston Road on either side of the bridge. This was a measure recommended by Historic England, but has never been pursued by the Council highways team. There has never been convincing justification for their proposal to raise the bridge by about 1.5m. The Highway department’s own planning application faltered in 2019 following requests for further information, design improvements,  and assurances that the bridge would be replaced within a fixed timeframe; It still hasn’t been determined by the Local Authority Planning department.


Contrary to recent assertions by the Mayor we are not aware of any further progress on the Highway team’s own plans, or any dialogue or agreement with Historic England (HE). Any proposals of the bridge would have to be supported by HE as a statutory consultant and we hope that in developing their suggestions in our own application we can overcome the obstacles to restoring the bridge and the Public Right of Way across it.
The intention of the new proposals is to manage the risk of future highways issues, whilst providing a cost-effective solution; the extravagantly long ramps and infrastructure works the Highway’s proposal relies upon wold be disproportionately expensive and disfigure the historic landscape unnecessarily. There is no statutory requirement to provide disabled access across the bridge where it would lead to harm for the Listed structure, or where, considering the existing paths either side of the bridge, disabled access to the ramps would be unrealistic in the first place. 


The application is now registered and includes a methodology for the dismantling of the bridge, its restoration, and its timely replacement back in its original location. We are grateful to heritage metalwork experts Dorothea Restorations for their time and support in providing the methodology which will be another important element in satisfying Historic England and their concerns.      

What you can do:
We would really appreciate your support of the proposals. We’re keen to show that this is a community-led solution with good local support. Even if you don’t live within the immediate area your comments on the application will help demonstrate that there is widespread desire to see this historic structure restored and protected for the future. Please help us by indicating your support through the Council’s Planning Website by searching for the application 21/02295/F and clicking on “Make a comment”.  You’ll also find the full set of drawings and documents for the application, including the Design & Access statement that provides more information on the highways, access, and signage issues.

Where next?
If the proposals get consent we hope to push the Council further to undertake the approved scheme rather than the controversial and expensive solution that’s currently stalled. We want to work with them to saving the bridge and restoring a safe crossing of a dangerously busy road. We consider the Council to be in contravention of their legal requirement to maintain and keep public rights of way open. Should we need to look at independently funding works we may need to look at options for this, and any legal challenge to their continued obstruction of the public Right of Way,  but at present we’ve had assurances from the mayor that a sum of money is already included in the capital budgets.

House happenings 

Many will know that Kings Weston house has been undergoing refurbishment for a few months now by its recent leaseholder John Barbey. The process has moved from room to room restoring spaces closer to appropriate period colours for the Georgian Interiors. Already most rooms have been completed, including the star hall, and work has no moved to the Gallery , or Saloon at the front of the house. As part of this work full height scaffolding has been erected in the hall and the collection of Southwell family portraits carefully removed and put in safe storage under the keen eyes of Bristol Museum curators who are their custodians. We are hoping that the opportunity might be taken to investigate behind the paintings where there may be important evidence for what became of the original interiors designed by Sir John Vanbrugh.  
Above: A birdcage of scaffolding goes up inside the gallery in preparation for redecorating. 
Working party poster

Now that restrictions are easing we feel confident enough to publish our remaining Working Party dates for the rest of the year in poster form. We hope that only further easing will occur and that we’ll be able to honour all of these dates. October may be the big bulb plant again, and September may be Bristol Doors Open Day, but this will be confirmed later in the year. 

If you have anywhere to display a poster please print one off or drop us a line so we can get you some copies. 


The historic Penpole Dial

We have frequent queries about the stone pillar on Penpole Point, questions which arose again during our last Working Party nearby. It is actually one of the earliest standing features of the Kings Weston landscape, and until recently was still poorly understood.  Although first designated as a Listed building in 1994 it was still described and a Nineteenth Century garden ornament until KWAG’s research corrected the error. It is in face a rare example of an historic navigation aid, a shipping mark and was an essential tool to mariners trying to navigate the mouth of the Avon in order to pass through the Gorge to the city docks.

It stands on the highest point of the acute ridge of Common Land projecting towards the estuary from the Kings Weston escarpment. Although clothed in woodland today this ridge was once barren and open and formed a prominent and memorable feature of the skyline when viewed from the water.  It was already of strategic importance to the city’s shipping in 1668, when £5 was granted towards its repair by the Merchant Venturers, with the remaining costs to be shouldered by Sir Humphry Hooke, who then owned the Kings Weston estate. It is believed that this outlay resulted in the present stone pillar still standing on the point, but that it was described as repairs at that time shows that it was already a well-established feature.

Right: the Compass Dial on Penpole Point today.

Above: The dial can be spotted on the ridge of the hill in the detail of this 1710 engraving of the estate.   
Below: The dial painted by Hieronymus Grimm in 1788. The timber platform seen here was later replaced by the ornamental cast iron seat still in place. A decorative pintel tops the capstone, perhaps once for a weather vane. 

To understand how it was used you have to imagine a time before the trees obscured the views too and from the point, and when the sheltered harbour of the King Road below Kings Weston was busy with ships waiting for an advantageous wind and tide to help their passage up the Avon an the completion of their voyages. Ships could be detained at King Road for days, even weeks, before conditions allowed them safe passage. The twisting nature of the river and its entrance were difficult to negotiate and, unlike today, the Avon had to be approached at an awkwardly acute angle. To aid mariners there were two markers established one on the shoreline and one on the horizon at Penpole Point. When the two were aligned a ship’s captain knew that it was safe to turn the ship into the river’s mouth safely.

The shoreline mark was supposed to be Bewy’s Cross. This was a medieval stone cross which later ended up as an ornamental feature of the Kings Weston gardens before 1772. At this time it was replaced with a simpler stone. We don’t know what any earlier mark on Penpole Point looked like, but the present structure was a well built, high status, structure. The records of the merchant Ventures have the word “marke” struck through and the word “compasse” substituted. Indeed if you look closely today, on the top surface of the capstone, there is a starburst compass rose carved in its surface, radiating out to the cardinal compass points and their quarters. The north point is embellished in the traditional fashion with a fleur de lys.
Above: The crudely cut scafe sundial in one side of the capstone, once used to tell the time.  

In fact the Compass had a dual function; not only was it intended as a guide for seafarers it was also equipped with tools to assist watchmen in recording shipping movements, probably for the information of city merchants waiting expectantly for their vessel’s return. In the centre of the capstone was once an iron pintel. This, it is thought, once carried a weather vane to judge wind direction. The compass point allowed for rudimentary bearings to be recorded, plotting the anchorages of vessels and the angle of approach. Finally, although often mistaken for a sundial, the Compass dial does incorporate two primitive “scafe” sundials for recording time, one each on the east and west sides of the capstone. These are carefully carved concave cuts into the stone, angled towards the sun, and recording the time of day in the morning on the east face, and the afternoon on the west face when the sun moves beyond its azimuth.  

When KWAG applied to get the Listing description change from an ornamental sundial the Marine Listing Team confirmed that these structures are extremely rare and recommended that it was upgraded from Grade II Listing. Sadly the upgrade was never effected. Nevertheless the mysterious stone pillar remains one of the most important yet enigmatic of Kings Weston's monuments.    

Below: The Compass Dial can been the focus for gathering for centuries. Here in the 1840s visitors enjoy the sunset across the Severn. Oil painting by Joseph Walter.  

07811 666671
KWAG, c/o 75A Alma Road, Bristol, BS8 2DW
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