Over the last few weeks the estate has erupted with green, and the ancient woods and historic grassland are filling with wild flowers.
Above: Buttercups on Penpole Point last month
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- Working party progress at the walled gardens
- Walled Garden open morning success
- Iron bridge update
- The rise and fall of QEH at Kings Weston
Don't Forget! - Working Party Reminder
Reminder: June's working party will take place next week, on Sat 11th. Meet as last month at the Lily Pond, Napier Miles Road at 10am. We'll continue work in the View Garden next to the former stables and on the other side of the wall we dealt with last month.
Our ongoing work will involve the removal of self-seeded saplings, ivy, creepers 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 tackles walled gardens
Ahead of the Walled Garden open morning our last working party focused on revealing another, more forgotten, part of the walled complex. Symmetrical with the gardens on the south, lily pond, side of the road there were identical walled compartments either side of the former stable block. On the east side were the estate yards, and on the west side, the wall we focused on with this working party, was the View Garden.
The wall to the View Garden has gradually vanished behind self-seeded trees and shrubs, and been overshadowed by the yew trees planted on the other side that now cascade towards Napier Miles Road. The vegetation also threatened the survival of the historic fabric. Our efforts were focused on pushing back at this wall of undergrowth and revealing the Grade II* Listed wall for visitors to appreciate as part of the open morning.
Above right: volunteers pose outside the cleared gateway. Below left : Before and after view across Napier Miles Road
Work also included the removal of a lot of ivy from the front of the wall, and the re-setting and making safe of some lose stone coping on the top. Incredibly there was a 4-inch depth of leaf-mould and soil on top of the wall that the ivy had fixed fast into. We were able to remove all of this which will reduce future damage by roots.
We had a few new members along to this working party and we are grateful for their efforts, as we are for the hard work of all of our regulars. By the end of the day there could be little doubt of the improvement with the Georgian wall, a feature that many will never have realised existing, once again symmetrical to the walled garden on the opposite side of the road.
Below: Before and after views looking along Napier Miles Road towards the stables.
Walled Garden open morning success
Following on from our clearance work the Walled Garden open morning had been eagerly anticipated by many people. The opening, on the 1st of June, was made possible by Kingsweston School and their desire to see the grounds better appreciated. KWAG were on hand to meet and greet visitors, running tours and providing free guides to the history of the former gardens.
The grounds, originally built in 1763 to serve Kings Weston House, have been school premises since 1948 following the death of Sybil Miles. Focused around her former home many of the walled garden compartments now house teaching facilities, but there was more than enough of historic interest to see. The tours took in the Medieval Bewy's Cross, located here in the 1950s, the lily pond, Secret Garden, and the new wildflower meadow and Forest School areas. The tours continued on the other side of Napier Miles Road for the more courageous visitors who battled through the undergrowth of the View Garden to see the ruins of the Eighteenth Century glasshouse. Beyond this the enigmatic ice house fascinated many people.
Below: The Secret Garden, and Forest School garden
Word had clearly spread about the morning as, by opening time, there was already a small party gathered, and within the first few minutes it had developed into a large crowd. Despite the grey day the first of the guided tours was heavily attended and we received some really positive feedback.
In all we had over 140 visitors over the short, two-hour, duration! The morning was a free event, but we're grateful to everyone who came and donated £140 towards KWAG's future projects. We're also grateful to Jim Ellis and Emma Jones for volunteering for the morning, to Bob Pitchford for photographing it, and, of course, to Kingsweston School for hosting the event. Following the success of this event there is definitely an aspiration to run it again in the future.
If you couldn't make the event, but would like to find out about the gardens please download your own copy of the free guide KWAG produced by clicking here.
Iron Bridge update
Unfortunately we don't have good news to report on the repair of the Iron Bridge across Kings Weston Road damaged by a lorry at the end of last year. Council Highways engineers have commissioned the replacement cast iron parts and these have been made, but there is no plan to repair and reopen the bridge before 2017.
Below: A Victorian View above the Iron Bridge
Engineers are keen to explore ways of raising the bridge structure and abutments, form new ramps to maintain level access, and try to prevent high vehicles from hitting it again in the future. We are concerned that the bridge, a Grade II Listed structure, is not adversely damaged as part of the proposed works, but we are equally anxious that the footpath is reopened as soon as possible. For those who use the route regularly the diversion to the bottom of the hill is arduous, and having to cross the road at one of Bristol's most dangerous junctions is unsafe.
We are working with local Councillors and the highways department to try find ways of prioritising the work, and establish the potential harm that their proposals might have to the historic 1824 bridge. We hope to be able to have more positive news to report soon, but if you live in Bristol we urge you to get in touch with your local Councillor to raise the issue and help reinstate one of the city's key walking routes.
Outside the garden front of Kings Weston house, lying almost across the main axis between house and the Echo, is a complex of overgrown brick structures long lost to the undergrowth. These ruins often provoke curiosity from visitors and, with their imminent removal, it seems a timely moment to uncover their past. Rather than being the ruins of buildings they are in fact ruins of a building site. The walls, some standing up to ten feet, are all that remains of a grandly ambitious plan to relocate one of the City's best knows schools to Kings Weston.
The rise and fall of QEH at Kings Weston
Even in the first decades of the Twentieth Century Queen Elizabeth Hospital School had a pretty formidable reputation for harsh and disciplined education. However, by the 1920s the regime was changing and, as part of a campaign of modernisation the school, better known as QEH, they were keen to shed their Victorian workhouse-style premises on Jacobs Wells Road for greener pastures. The death in 1935 of the last private owner of the house, Philip Napier Miles, gave them their opportunity and they entered into negotiations with his widow and trustees. Eventually it was agreed that Bristol Municipal Charities would purchase the grounds on behalf of the school for the discounted price of £9,800 "provided that the historic house was preserved".
There was a short delay as funds were sought for the purpose and for the construction of new accommodation the school would need; the purchase only being completed in 1937. The Western Daily Press of July 31 that year announced "It has been stated at recent prize-giving a Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital that the Governors were looking out for a site for a new school. This has now been secured and Bristol will lose from its centre a school which has made its mark on the educational world. It is announced that the negotiations for the sale of Kings Weston House, Shirehampton, have now been concluded, and Mrs Napier Miles, the owner, has sold Kings Weston House with land, including the front park lands and Echo Walk, to the Trustees of Queen Elizabeth Hospital… Mrs Napier Miles is retaining the Kings Weston walled Vanbrugh Gardens, together with the lily pond, and other adjoining lands in which she is building a house for her own future occupation."
There was a further delay to the project as drawings for the new buildings were secured from the eminent London firm of architects Sir Aston Webb & Sons. The plans involved a new wing at the back of Kings Weston house replacing the former kitchens, and connecting it to two further blocks of accommodation via an open "cloister". The new sections were to incorporate a gymnasium, refectory and kitchens in the centre (Block C), sandwiched between school rooms and library in the main house, and new dorm accommodation at the far end. The architects confidently expected the school to be ready for occupation by September 1940.
The continual delays in the project were to prove terminal. Planning approval was finally signed on the 23rd of March 1939, and although work began very quickly on site the declaration of WWII less than six months later put pay to the project, as all non-essential building work was laid aside for the war effort. The Evening Post of October 27th gloomily reported "School scheme in abeyance - Kings Weston affected by war: A paragraph in the later editions of yesterday’s Evening Post announced the cancellation of certain arrangements which involve the temporary abandonment of two important local educational schemes. As a result Queen Elizabeth Hospital School will continue to function as at present and the scheme for the proposed new secondary school at Kings Weston remains in abeyance for the time being"
Above: A recently found image of the proposals now held by QEH
Throughout the war QEH nursed their ambition to complete their project and relocate to Kings Weston when hostilities ended. The house and park were requisitioned by the army, but the half-built walls of the school were left alone. The large quantities of stonework salvaged from the old house kitchens still litter the grounds today, and the rear of the house, where the new structure was to connect, was left scarred and open, only to be quickly patched to make it temporarily watertight (a repair that's still in service today!). Instead of an open cloister there was a deep trench along which the services were to have run. And so it remained.
In 1947 the grounds were still under requisition when Lord Methuen brought the plight of the house and school up in the House of Lords, "I am sure it would be generally agreed that there is no better way of keeping a house in good condition than by its being lived in and properly cared for under responsible ownership. That will be the case with Kings Weston when the school is able to take up its abode there." But rationing and restrictions on construction continued after the war and no further progress could be made. As soon as the Army had left then the Corporation took control of the house and grounds for use as a temporary junior school for the fast-developing Lawrence Weston Housing estate. QEH, with its patience and enthusiasm stretched, eventually abandoned their plans, and Bristol Municipal Charities sold the land on in 1960.
Today the ruins stand much as they were left at the outbreak of war. The walls have been upset by the roots and branches of trees, but still stand. The giant trench can still be seen, along with the Victorian detritus that was tipped into it in the hurry to close the building site down; but this is shortly to change. The Conservation Management Plan for the estate published in 2014, although recognizing the part the ruins play in the story of the house and Grounds, identifies the ruins as having a negative impact. It is true that, as Lord Methuen pointed out in 1947, the extension of the buildings onto the axis to the Echo was "unfortunate", and the replacement of the walls with a more appropriate setting should be welcomed. As part of the developing plans around the house the walls will be gradually reduced, though Norman Routledge who now owns the house and area immediately around it intends to retain certain sections. The remains will be carefully photographed ahead of this work and serve as a permanent record of this failed project.