KWAG's October update
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Two big events down, and one to come... Bring your family along to the Big Bulb Plant 2015 next week.


Autumn on the Echo Walk
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This month:

  • Big Bulb Plant
  • Historic new find 
  • Lifting the Curtain - Working Party Progress
  • The Battle of Shirehampton Park
  • Clearance on Kingsweston Hill
  • Doors Open day and Capability Brown Conference
  • The riddle of the sphinx

Don't Forget! - Big Bulb Plant Reminder

Reminder:  The Big Bulb Plant, a family event, will take place next week, on Sat 10th October. Meet at The Echo at 10:30am. Bulbs will be provided. Please bring a spade or trowel is you have one. 

We will be planting daffodil bulbs along Shirehampton Road, and native Bluebell bulbs along the South Walk in areas we've recently cleared. Join us any time during the day, though please not the bulbs disappear fast! Come along early to avoid disappointment.


Historic new find.
Our recent trip to the Heritage Angel Awards gave an opportunity for more research

We've discovered a previously unknown view of the Kings Weston estate in the archives of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The watercolour painting shown here is part of the prints and drawings collection and shows the view from Penpole Point looking back past Penpole Lodge towards Kings Weston house and Blaise Castle in the very far distance.

The work was painted is September 1781, over two hundred and thirty years ago, and by the gifted amateur artist Copleston Warre Bampfylde. It is of particular interest as Bampfylde was the owner of Hestercombe House in Somerset where he'd laid out the extensive landscaped gardens incorporating many ornamental temples, mausoleum, and rustic structures, as well as carefully designed views of the sweeping Somerset landscape. In visiting Kings Weston and recording this view it is interesting to speculate what his thoughts would have been on the parkland here.

The newly recorded view is interesting for the extent of the panorama. As well as familiar features like the Lodge and house it's a rare record of the tree-studded meadows below the house. Particularly interesting is the earlier avenue connecting the house with The Tump - a hill in the park that still remains undeveloped today.

Lifting the curtain - September
Working Party Progress

More historic trees are salvaged from the wilderness

Our Lifting the Curtain project takes a rest this month and allows us to reflect on the progress we've made. Almost three quarters of the north side of the South Walk path has now been cleared, from the Circle almost as far as the Georgian viewing Terrace. Historic visual connections to the house have been restored, and nearly two dozen veteran trees 'haloed' of competing vegetation in order to increase their chances of survival. 

Last month alone we opened up around two venerable oak trees, and one ancient Lime allowing them to breathe again, but also to be better seen and appreciated. Don't worry that there are parts of the park that look a little bare. Nature will soon see that these areas regrow quickly with a wider variety of species that can take advantage of the lighter conditions.
Above: View looking west along the slope with the South Walk on the far left and the open meadow of the Home Park on the right
Below: Looking down the slope towards the Home Park. One of the fine oaks returns to prominence.

The Battle of Shirehampton
A curious chapter in the Kings Weston story

Another recent discovery was an article published in The Navy and Army Illustrated on 8th Nov 1902 dramatically entitled The Battle of Shirehampton. One might imagine some Civil War skirmish, or historic battlefield had been discovered within the boundaries of the Kings Weston estate, but the truth is, sadly,  slightly less exciting, but still adds an interesting footnote to the park's history.

The 'battle' was in fact an annual training manoeuvre for the principle Public School Cadet Corps of Clifton, Cheltenham, Malvern, and Marlborough Colleges. The schools took it in turns to host the event, and 1902 was Clifton's year. They chose to hold it in Shirehampton Park, no doubt with the consent of the owner, Philip Napier Miles. The schools were split into two teams; one was to represent an invading force approaching from Avonmouth, the other were instructed to seize the high ground in the park and repel the enemy.

The report of the exercise suggests it did not all go smoothly. We can assume that no live ammunition was used, but the battle descended into something of a mess with " the bulk of the fighting taking place at absurdly short ranges" and "some instances of flagrant stupidity". The report continues "a lamentable disregard for cover in general was displayed" the defender "sought protection behind useless bushes that in warfare would probably have served no other purpose than to draw the enemy's fire" Notwithstanding these shortcomings the Umpire in Chief expressed himself satisfied with the result.

The three photographs published with the report are illustrated here and show the slopes of the park descending towards Sea Mills and Longcombe. The final view shows the tall pines that once fringed the cutting for the Port and Pier Railway. The the Shirehampton Park area of the Kings Weston estate is now owned by the National Trust and forms Shirehampton Golf Course, but public access footpaths cross the area.

Clearance on Kingsweston Hill
New commitment stems the onslaught of undergrowth

We're delighted to report that Bristol City Council have begun proactive work to protect the open meadowland across Kingsweston Hill. A new programme of flailing has begun that will reverse that  encroachment of brambles and self-seeded scrub onto the important grassland habitat. Although there will be areas that will look a bit 'bruised' over the winter these will be quick to repair come the spring.

The programme of flailing is due to extend to parts of the Home Park soon, and consolidate gains  begun by KWAG over the last few years. This should include the main ancient avenue between the limes, the Circle, and Penpole Point. We hope to report more progress on this next month. 

We were also heartened with the speed at which the Council removed graffiti from the Echo once it was reported. Their cleaning extended to the floor of the structure and the statue plinth that also looks bright an revived. We hope you'll share in our thanks to the offices involved who've been overseeing these works in testing times for the City's parks department.

Doors open Day, and Capability Brown Conference
A short report on two major events last month

The 13th of September was Kings Weston's annual public open day fro Bristol Doors Open. Although this was held on the Sunday this year, rather than the main Saturday, we still saw a lot of visitors to our exhibition held in the Oak Room of Kings Weston house. KWAG hosted five tours of the house which were all well attended and there was a great deal of positive feedback on the day, the house, and on the work KWAG have been undertaking. We are extremely grateful for the £109 in donations that were received at the event and we'll make sure it's put to good use.

The following week the Avon Gardens Trust hosted the Capability Brown Study Day at the house. More than fifty delegates attended the event, some travelling from distant parts of the UK to be there. The morning began with an introduction to Kings Weston House given by Norman Routledge, and to the work and aspirations of the Kings Weston Action Group. The remainder of the morning was spent in the presentation of three academic papers discussing Kings Weston, and the influence of Lawrence 'Capability' Brown and his contemporaries on the parkland. KWAG's David Martyn presented the first paper detailing recent research on the development of the Kings Weston Parkland, and was followed by Steffie Shields paper entitled "moving Heaven and Earth which opened possibilities of what Capability Brown's own work in the park may have been. Judy Preston closed the morning's proceedings with an exploration of Brown's contemporary Thomas Wright and his influence on the landscape garden movement around the Bristol Region in parallel to Brown's. 

The afternoon was spent in touring the Kings Weston estate with two walking groups taking in different aspects of the landscape; something which was extremely interesting in the debate it opened up about many of the parks features. Our thanks go to Richard Goldthorpe, Bristol City Council's Landscape Architect, for his time in leading one of these walks.     

For both events KWAG are indebted to Norman Routledge for his kind support and encouragement, and for KWAG's continued ability to promote the estate at these sort of events.

The riddle of the sphinx
A Grimm discovery  

A recent return to the topographical drawings of the British Library raised an interesting question. The drawings, many of them pen and ink illustrations by the artist Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, are an extraordinary record of Britain in the late Eighteenth Century. One of Grimms paintings of the Bristol area is of Blaise Castle. A detail caught our eye that may help us answer the question of where the pair of sphinx from the front of Kings Weston house disappeared to.

The sphinx were an integral part of the original design of Kings Weston House and were intended to sit either side of the main steps. They were recorded in a drawing by James Stewart in 1746, but have since vanished. We believe this happened in 1766 when the architect Robert Mylne proposed reconstructing them for Edward Southwell III.

Robert Mylne was also the architect of Blaise Castle; designed in exactly the same year for Bristol merchant Thomas Farr on the adjacent estate. Could it be that, like the lead statue of Hercules that ended up at Goldney House, the sphinx were disposed of as unfashionable ornaments unfit for the newly remodelled house and park at Kings Weston? Are the sphinx at Blaise Castle Kings Weston's cast-offs? And what's happened to them now?

(Above left: Detail of the entrance to Blaise Caste by Grimm, 1789. The sphinx can be seen either side of the entrance door. Courtesy of the British Library.
Left: Detail of James Stewart's 1746 drawing showing the sphinx either side of the steps at Kings Weston. Courtesy of the Bodleian Library)
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