February's news and research at Kings Weston estate, and a reminder of our next working party.
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What's new in February around the Kings Weston parkland

The park seems quiet right now, with the vegetation at it's thinnest, just before Spring breaks. Take advantage of the leaves being off the trees to enjoy the views of Kings Weston House from the Circle and elevated walks above Shirehampton Park. Keep an eye out for the bulbs we planted last year already sprouting up close to  the Echo.


Stop Press!

KWAG has been recognised by Bristol's Mayor for our contribution to the estate and the role we're playing in it's conservation and enhancement. The recognition came during a recent Cabinet Meeting during an answer session to questions from Councillor Anthony Negus; a keen supporter of our work. You can find our mention, albeit a brief one, between 37mins and 41mins in the Council's Webcast here.  

This month:

  • New arrivals
  • Working Party reminder and the steps so far
  • Kings Weston Delivery Group
  • One for the Oscars?
  • Avonmouth; Unruly child of Kings Weston?

New Arrivals

Better ways to navigate the estate

We were delighted to find that, finally, our long-awaited new map board has appeared in the park. The sign was kindly supported by a grant from the Avon Gardens Trust last year, and since then we've spent a long time designing and the artwork and making sure that it gives visitors a fresh and informative way to explore the estate. Based on the map we commissioned from local artist Dru Marland for our estate guide leaflets we've ensured that it's been updated with all the recent changes, like the avenue and restored steps. As well as the usual information about car park, bust stop, bin and cafe locations we've also added our ten highlights of the park. It's far from being an exhaustive list, but we hope it will encourage people to explore more of the 300 acre estate.

The board appeared mysteriously and without warning around the 21st January, and slightly in the wrong place! However as this second photo shows the sign company were very quick in moving it to the correct location when we asked. It now partners our existing leaflet dispenser as an information station at the entrance into the park from Shirehampton Road car park, just on The Circle.

We're hugely grateful to the Avon Gardens Trust for their support in this project, and also to Bristol Council parks department for working with us in finalising the design and procuring the board on our behalf.

Another arrival has come in the form of a leaflet holder for the cafe at the House. It'll show off our free guides and other leaflets to best effect, and will help keep the cafe tidy too!

Volunteer Working Party reminder and the steps so far...

Back to our step-building site for Valentine's Day

January saw great progress with repairing one of the historic paths through Penpole Wood with the formation of new steps. The link between the main, upper, path through the woods and the rustic mid-Georgian pathway running halfway down the slope has been blocked and impassable for about ten years, and prior to that had become dangerous and decayed. During a two-day training course run with Bristol's Conservation Volunteers we made big progress in re-forming this lost circular route and we managed to install one third of the total number of steps we have planned. 

We'll be back out building more steps again on Saturday 14th Feb, meeting again on Penpole Lane at 10am and running our Working Party until about 3:30pm. If you weren't with us last month you'll be able to find us again using this map. We were a little crowded last month, but there'll have been a lot of preparation ahead of February's event so there will be plenty for everyone to get on with along the whole length of the path, and more opportunity to get involved with every stages of the step building process. Now we have a good knowledge of how to do the job things should speed up dramatical. Please come along wearing stout footwear and suitable clothes for the weather on the day. Come along and lend a hand in whatever way you can.
If you have any of the following tools they would be useful to bring along if you can spare them:

Mattock - for cutting steps into the ground
Mell - for hammering stakes in without damaging them
Long digging bar - to help make break holes through rough ground for the stakes to pass through.

The works are all part of a project in Partnership with Bristol City Council and grant-funded by the Forestry Commission to improve access within the woodland. The steps were one of our priorities and we worked with the Forest of Avon Trust to ensure that they formed part of the original bid. January's 2-day training course was really well attended and over the two days we had more than 20 KWAG volunteers learn how to put the steps together. Our thanks go to Bristol's Conservation  Volunteers, the training they gave us, and for some of their own volunteers who came along to help on the Saturday. This month we'll be all on our own, but now with the knowledge to complete the work ourselves. The results from last month speak for themselves, and we should be incredibly proud of what we've achieved as a group.  

Urgent Volunteer opportunities

We need to ensure all of the step works are complete by the end of March to make sure that the Council's  Forestry Commission Grant isn't lost. Depending on progress this month can YOU help by committing any more time some additional working parties? We may need to undertake some weekly sessions depending on people's availability, and we have Health and Safety trained volunteers who would need to oversee the sessions.

We also have another call for volunteers to undertake work to ensure the grant isn't lost. Bristol City Council have come to us for help to do small works around 15 candidate veteran trees; trees that will flourish to provide ancient woodland habitat, or old trees that create an important habitat for fungus and mini-beasts. We have a list of these trees and the work required for each one. If you want to become part of an informal group who undertakes this work please GET IN TOUCH as soon as possible to find out more. We only have until the END OF FEBRUARY to do this work, but each tree might take as little as an hour to complete. Drop us an email and we can discuss what you can manage, or let you know when other members are out doing similar during the week.

If we can't step-up to these challenges the grant money will be lost and Kings Weston will lose a lot of positive improvements. It's a bit last minute, but please help us to keep this money in the park.












Photos of the first working party of 2014 and the works to install new steps For a full gallery take a look at the work in action HERE.


Kings Weston Delivery Group

New commitments and fresh momentum

We've always looked to work as closely with the city Council on the park as possible. Now, after a short hiatus as the parks department changed structure, the Kings Weston Delivery Group has been revived to forge a joint future for the park with KWAG, Kings Weston House, and the local authority.

Far from being the glamorous end of what KWAG does, the Delivery Group has returned to be a regular forum for us to make sure what we are all doing aligns with the proposals in the Conservation Management Plan, and offers us an opportunity to work with Norman at Kings Weston House and the City Council to prioritise action across the estate. It will also help identify new funding for parks improvements and work to secure grants for this work. It is much of what we have done independently before, but with the additional support, skills and expertise of everyone around a table, and a more coordinated approach to the park's administration.

The first meeting of the revived group took place on 21st of January and and things have progressed quickly. We've already committed to support the Council in saving the Forestry Commission grant for Penpole Wood, of which the new steps is one small part. We have also committed to applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund to find funds to restore the Viewing Terrace wall overlooking Shirehampton Park; the recovery of which was one of our biggest early successes. The Georgian terrace is in a perilous state and will require almost £50,000 to repair. As a community group KWAG are in the best position to apply for this grant and we are keen to ensure it will be the first of many such bids. Other grant applications for Green Capital funds and Neighbourhood Partnership will also be coming this month.

Maintenance of parts of the park was also a hot topic and discussions are ongoing as to how areas of the park can be best protected for the future. The new group enables us to prioritise areas of concern with the Council and look at new ways to secure the park's future. If you have any issues of concern please get in touch with us and we can bring them up at these meeting in months to come.

One for the Oscars?

A new way to share KWAG's research - Movies!

Over the last few years we’ve undertake a lot of research that has changed knowledge about the buildings and landscape around Kings Weston. A hugely important part of testing our theories, and exploring new ideas has been the use of 3D computer modelling. We’ve posted still images of this work before, but now we can share something a little more exciting!

This short movie is an accurate reconstruction of the Elizabethan mansion at Kings Weston based on all available data we have on it. It's, most famously, illustrated in an engraving of 1711, but other information also exists in the form of drawn plans and descriptions of the interior of the house, before it was completely demolished in 1713 to make way for the present building. You'll find more about the Elizabethan mansion, who it was built for and what became of it here.

Being able to host short movies like this on our web site really enables us to showcase the estate's history in a way that's ever been possible before. Over the next few months we hope to develop more short films based on our 3D work so far, and we'll let you know when these premier!


Avonmouth; Unruly child of Kings Weston?

150th anniversary of the foundation of Avonmouth.

Looking out from Kings Weston today it is easy to begrudge the development of Avonmouth for ruining the view. But next time you stand outside the house overlooking the docks and development consider that, in fact, Kings Weston is the parent of everything you survey.

150 years ago next month Avonmouth was founded as little more than a terminus station and commercial pontoon on a muddy bank beside the Severn, and with a small hotel serving it nearby. The railway that led to this unlikely location from the city's old docks, was the brainchild of Philip Skinner Miles of Kings Weston House, and with the opening of it in March 1865 he set in motion the chain of events that would see the views across his estate, some might say, defiled, and the village of Avonmouth established. The new pontoon pier was built to serve shipping too large to pass down the Avon to the old docks, and ships keen to discharge cargo quickly ahead of a potentially long delay as vessels waited for safe tide and weather to make the treacherous route up the winding river. The new station and adjacent hotel were christened "Avonmouth"; the first time the name was adopted. Although the hotel developed its own pleasure gardens to attract day trippers from Bristol, the floating pier was never intended to be a tourist attraction, catering more for offloading cattle than it did for pleasure-seekers.

Descended from a long line of successful shipping merchants Philip Skinner Miles saw the writing on the wall for the old city docks. Increasingly large modern steamships were shunning Bristol as a port due to the problems of navigating the Avon. The railway was just the first step in Miles's grand ambition to develop his own waterfront estates as a modern floating dock, and the pontoon only ever a temporary provision ahead of the main event. In actuality the first Avonmouth dock took a further twelve years to be realised as the city Corporation, who ran the rival facilities in the city centre, opposed the scheme vociferously. They eventually opened on 24th Feb 1877, but Skinner Miles wasn't there to watch from Kings Weston House as the first ship entered. His son, Philip Napier Miles, had taken ill and they had travelled to the Continent in search of healthier climes.

The Kings Weston estate lands covered the whole area between Kings Weston House as far as the banks of the Severn and Avon. As the landowners the Miles family were in pole position to capitalise on the new infrastructure, but after the death of Philip Skinner Miles in 1888 the duty to develop the family's estate fell on his son, Philip Napier Miles. Almost everything now standing in Avonmouth from before the Second World War is, in some way, his achievement. Testament's to the family's role in the settlement of the area are reminders everywhere today, in street names, the Miles Arms pub, and perhaps most nobly in the an ornate carved stone family coat of arms, prominently facing the old dock gates, high up on the Royal Hotel on Gloucester Road.

Napier Miles was an active and enthusiastic landlord,  keen to to right by his tenants, and with a strong sense of social responsibility. After a brief period employing the architect P J Byrne to erect a few formidable and robust terraces, vigorous in detail, but hardly innovative, he chose instead Frederick Bligh Bond as his estate architect. Bligh Bond's work, beginning in the 1890s, has given Avonmouth an incredible and rich collection of Edwardian buildings, many of considerable inventiveness and eccentricity that set the benchmark for all other development after him, and still gives the area a strong and unique identity within Bristol today.

Napier Miles's own vision for Avonmouth was as part of "Kings Weston Estate", an ambitious masterplan to develop a huge new town around the docks. Thousands of acres of new offices, parks, factories and homes were laid out in a lavish promotional booklet, all linked with geometric gridded streets. A full insight into his plans can be seen in this heavily illustrated 1905 estate promotional brochure newly available through our website.  However little came of these ambitious plans with the exception of St Andrews Road, and the new docks entrance. Bligh Bond also designed many buildings around  Kings Weston House including the pretty 1901 entrance lodge off Kings Weston Lane as you enter the modern car park entrance for the cafe.  Arguably Bligh Bond's best work was the Kings Weston Estate Office in High Street, Shirehampton, lamentably now demolished, but once the epicentre of the commercial promotion of Avonmouth as an investment opportunity.

After leaving the employ of Napier Miles, Bligh Bond made his name with a more exotic, and controversial career move by excavating he ruins of Glastonbury Abbey with the assistance of  one of the long-dead monks who communicated to him and a spiritualist medium using 'automatic writing' (the medium was the husband of Carlyon de Lyle who we wrote about as the composer of The Lillypond; Kings Weston, in December last year). What the monk was doing through the architect's offices in Baldwin Street, where the sessions took place, is not known.

Since the death of Philip Napier Miles in 1935 the connection between Kings Weston and Avonmouth has been broken. Much of the land in the area still belongs to the family or their executors, but now separate from the mansion and its once-extensive estate.

The 150th anniversary of its foundation gives us an opportunity to reappraise Avonmouth, the people who built it, and to reconsider its familial relationship with Kings Weston. Later this year it's hoped that, with KWAG's support, Avonmouth 150 will develop into a project that will offer new opportunities to explore this forgotten historic quarter, through tours, talks, and guides, as well as enable local residents to record the historic character of the 'village' themselves.

The Royal Hotel and Gloucester Terrace is one of only two Listed Buildings in all of Avonmouth.



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