Summer is here, though the weather is wet. The woodland and meadows are verdant and the scars from winter clearance are fast healing.
Above: Summer lawns in front of Kings Weston house
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- Working party progress at the old glasshouse
- Missing link completed
- Iron bridge update
- Some ongoing research
- Glasshouse discovery hints at lost history
Don't Forget! - Working Party Reminder
Reminder: July's working party will take place next week, on Sat 16th. Meet at Shirehampton Road car park at 10am. We'll be undertaking Natural Spacing of the woodland compartment beside the lime avenue leading to Kings Weston House. this will out us on-track with our obligations under the Forestry Commission grant
Our ongoing work will involve the removal of self-seeded saplings and undergrowth, but there will be tasks to suit most abilities. 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 progress at the old glasshouse
After revealing the wall adjacent to the former stables on Napier Miles Road June's working party focused on the most historic structure on its other side. The walled garden compartment to the west side of the stables was formerly known as the View Garden, and at its centre was one of the largest glasshouses of its age. Fifty-four feet wide and thirty feet deep, with walls and roof entirely of glass, it has long since succumbed to the onslaught of nature, but enough remains to offer an important insight into the past.
The last remaining part is the substantial brick and rubble-stone spine wall, but this has come under increasing threat by trees and ivy pulling at its fabric and putting pressure on its foundations. Our work in July was designed to release this pressure by felling self-seeded trees and shrubs from around the structure and removing the majority of ivy from wall surfaces.
Regrettably the weather for this event was pretty awful, but the small team of seven volunteers persevered through the rain for about three hours before throwing in the towel. Surprisingly, in such a short space of time we exceeded our original objectives!
Ivy has been cut from the base of the wall, but due to the poor condition of the masonry at the top we have taken the decision not to pull it away and risk further damage. Notwithstanding this limitation we have uncovered the remaining wall to its full extent, and previously hidden features are now visible to enjoy. Find out more about one of these later in the newsletter, or take a look at this story to find out more about the former importance of the glasshouse.
Missing link completed
At the very start of this month a small group of KWAG volunteers headed back to one of our past projects to finish off. Although we achieved our target number of steps on the reinstated route through Penpole Wood in February last year there remained a gap in the flight. We were prevented from completing the job because we'd run out of material and the rock of the hillside prevented stakes being driven in to support the structure.
Now, with materials purchased by KWAG, and a revised construction technique, we've filled that missing link of ten steps and genuinely completed the project! Our thanks go to Jim and Celia for having project managed the one-off working party and Colin, James, and Alan for their labours. We know that the route is already well used and we hope that more people will benefit from it now that accessibility has been improved.
Iron bridge update
Local Councillors, and city highways and conservation officers, met last month to discuss the issue of the damaged Iron Bridge. Due to pressure on resources, and the need to carefully inspect and devise an appropriate repair strategy, it is unlikely that work will begin on reopening it very soon.
To support and speed up the process KWAG has begun compiling historical information and making an assessment of how the historic structure was fabricated and constructed. This work will be essential for the city highways department in repairing the bridge with minimum disturbance of the Grade II Listed fabric. In all over 116 cast or wrought iron components make up this otherwise simple structure, so the scale of the restoration is complex and far from straightforward.
The proposal to raise the bridge, reported last month, is not likely to be pursued; a less invasive approach being preferred. Other proposals include improved signage warning of the low height, and hopefully night-time illumination. This will both increase visibility after-dark and celebrate the historic bridge in a new and striking fashion.
Plans are also being progressed for the road junction below the bridge with Shirehampton Road. A frequent accident spot this is likely to be revised and, we hope, the gateway into the estate enhanced.
Some ongoing research
There are a number of research projects continuing on the Kings Weston estate which aim to broaden our understanding of the parkland and help inform future plans for conservation and enhancement. This is just an update of a few that we hope to expand on in the future.
- Recent repair and restoration work at Grade II Listed Wood Lodge on Penpole Lane has uncovered some interesting features from an earlier incarnation. Beneath the cement render a number of former windows have come to light that reflect its appearance in the late 1700s, and from before it was enlarged in the 1860s. This new evidence is being used to accurately establish its original appearance and chart the many changes that have occurred.
- KWAG has begun to create an accurate mapping of the most important trees on the estate using GPS. The study will focus on species that are most diagnostic of the development of the historic gardens, and which date from before the 1930s. This will give us a clear picture of where trees have been planted as part of the designed landscape and help develop strategies for their conservation. It will include species such as oak, lime and yew, but omit sycamore and ash as these are less likely to have been deliberate introductions. The survey will also highlight areas of cherry laurel, Portuguese Laurel, mock orange, wild raspberry, hob-nut and other introduced shrubs to identify the historic extent of ornamental under-storey planting. The study will be shared with Bristol parks to help them in their maintenance work and inform future plans.
- Newly available topographic information, detailing the slopes and contours of the Kings Weston landscape, has enabled a new assessment of hidden features to be made. The LIDAR survey strips away trees and buildings from the world and gives us a chance to read lumps and bumps that we would otherwise never notice. This new information has helped develop a new theory of how the land behind the Echo, where the Iron bridge is now, has been substantially changed. Bringing together historic information with the LIDAR data reveals where lost garden walls, roads, and even missing hillside have left their mark. A 3D model is being produced to illustrate the impact of these huge changes on the parkland.
Glasshouse discovery hints at lost history
As well as uncovering the historic glasshouse wall KWAG’s recent clearance efforts uncovered a fascinating new fragment of the estate's history. The discovery of a decorative cut stone fragment, still built into the wall, raises questions about where it came from.
The stone is not in its original location; it’s built into the wall at about eight feet off ground level and with its carved mouldings formerly hidden within the fabric of the wall. This carved surface has now been revealed through the gradual collapse of the wall to the north of it. It measures approximately 7” x 7” x 4” and the stone is not from any of the quarries of the Kings Weston Estate. Instead it’s of the much finer oolitic limestone from quarries at Dundry or perhaps Bath. This finer grade of stone was frequently used for its easily worked qualities on ornamental work.
Above and above-right: The stone fragment in-situ in the glasshouse wall
There are only two faces visible in the present location. The most diagnostic face has ovolo mouldings along its narrowest edge and is clearly set on its side so that its plainer face would have formed a flat surface within the glasshouse, with the ornamental parts deliberately obscured within the wall fabric.
By 1712, when the rebuilding of Kings Weston house and estate buildings were begun, mullion windows would have been anachronistic and ovolo mouldings replaced by new classical details. The mullion is likely to date from a period between the late-Sixteenth to the very early Eighteenth-Century, but to be more precise is difficult. It is undoubted that the stone forms part of a window mullion, but from where, and under what circumstances did it end up in its current location?
Reconstruction of the stone fragment in the sort of context it was originally designed for
From estate plans we can date the wall in which it presently resides to about 1770. This was towards the end of a period of major upheaval on the estate, when Edward Southwell III was, once again, remodelling and renewing Kings Weston house and its gardens and service buildings to a grand and new coordinated plan. The stables and walled gardens around the glasshouse are the most substantial evidence of that programme of development.
Southwell sought to lay out the new walled complex to accommodate all the services and kitchen gardens he was removing from their original locations. Originally densely massed around the rear of the house many structures would have pre-dated the mansion designed by Sir John Vanbrugh. Early engravings and estate plans show a series of low-rise structures arrayed around yards, no doubt swept away to expand the ornamental parkland setting.
So with this level of upheaval could the stone have come from one of these out-buildings on the other side of Kings Weston Lane? It is certainly a possibility that the rubble was salvaged and reused in new structures. It would be logical that the glasshouse, an ornamental building built for leisure rather than utility, would have followed the more important kitchen gardens and service blocks which needed to be complete before the old buildings across the lane could be decommissioned. It could then have been erected at a time when the old buildings were being dismantled and material transported the short distance across the lane for reuse.
However, there remain a couple of other possibilities. Although the late Tudor mansion that preceded the current house was demolished sixty years previously it is not inconceivable that material from it was still scattered about and scavenged for new building work, but perhaps the strongest argument can be made for it having been salvaged from buildings closer at hand.
Close to the site of the glasshouse we know that there were at least three properties in existence in 1720 each within its own plot(marked 1-3 on the plan). From a closely contemporary engraving we get a sense that these were good sized buildings, each of two storeys. Building 3 lay almost exactly on the site of the glasshouse, and all of these structures had been erased by the time the walled gardens were begun. There is a strong possibility that fabric could have been reutilised in the new works.
It is interesting to note the east-west alignment of building 2 on the plan and there is speculation that this structure may have incorporated the medieval chapel of St Thomas that was associated with the earlier manor. Sadly there’s been no recent identification of any medieval material at Kings Weston and the fragment of mullion post-dater the reformation when it was, most likely, abandoned.
Above & below: The 1720 estate plan and a near-contemporary engraving showing the buildings demolished for the walled gardens and stables
The quarter of the walled gardens to the west of the stables, incorporating the remains of the glasshouse wall, may hold significant archaeological interest. Perhaps, in the future, we might be able to identify more of this cluster of earlier buildings, swept away in the Eighteenth Century race for modernity.