Welcome to KWAG's July Newsletter
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Sunset across Avonmouth from Kings Weston Estate

We have some really big news to share with you soon, but for now we're bound to secrecy! We'll let you know as soon as we are able, but for now please enjoy this month's update. 

This month:

  • Lifting the Curtain III - working party progress
  • Tree walk report
  • Tree works in the park
  • Nature in the ascendant
  • House façade returned after 250 years
  • History update - Lady de Clifford's flowers

Don't Forget! - Working Party Reminder

Reminder:  July's working party will take place next week, on Sat 18th. Meet at Shirehampton Road public car park at 10am. We're planning to continue carrying out light clearance nearby along the South Walk between the Circle and the Echo, continuing the progress on our "Lifting the Curtain" project made last month. This will involve the removal of self-seeded saplings and light undergrowth. 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.


Lifting the Curtain III
Progress from our working party

Last month we continued work along the South Walk as part of our Lifting the Curtain project. The trees are denser here, and there's a deeper boundary between the path and the open meadow around Kings Weston house, but results have been impressive. We have returned the visual connection to the house in several locations now , and restored a far better sense of connection between historic elements of the park that had become separated.

There have been additional benefits to our work in having opened up views of some of the historic parkland trees that had been obscured by undergrowth, and now stand a better chance of thriving against more youthful competition! Last month a fine oak, lime, and pine tree sprang to the fore as we cleared the self-seeded ash and sycamore from around them. A few sturdy cherry trees have also been left so as not to lose woodland cover entirely.

For a full gallery of last month's work you can visit our web pages. We've also updated them with a gallery of May's working party results.

Tree walk with Richard Bland
Report form the latest free nature event

We had some great weather for our tree walk on the 11th of July; one of our free Green Capital events being held throughout the year. Our guide, Richard Bland, brought his incredible knowledge of Bristol's trees to bear on the parkland with a sizeable group of interested visitors. Richard gave us some welcome recognition of the quality of our Tree Trail created in 2012, but brought an in-depth perspective of each of the trees we visited.

Amongst the most interesting points involved our most veteran trees; the limes on the avenue, and the 400 year-old oak that pre-dates the construction of Kings Weston House. We also visited the grove of false-acacia trees close to the house, first introduced by Sir Robert Southwell in the 1680s, and the towering Deodar Cedar on the lawns.


Tree works in the park
Bristol City Council give notice of some essential maintenance 

There have been notices put up on several trees close to Shirehampton Road public car park. These detail the need to fell some trees in the park. The trees affected are on ash tree close to the notice-board and bin on the east side of the car park that which is succumbing  to serious canker, and two already-dead trees in the area of the Circle. The Council is operating a programme of tree planting as part of its "one-tree-per-child" initiative and we hope to benefit from this at the end of the year with replacement planting close to the Echo.

Nature in the ascendant
Notable benefits from our recent work

Summer always brings an inundation of undergrowth to the park. This year there have been some notable benefits to its biodiversity from work undertaken by KWAG. We have see the first flowering of the foxgloves sow from seed around the Echo two years ago which bring a welcome burst of colour. These were accompanied by an incredible display from waves of Rose Campion revelling in the recent clearance nearby. Finally, the ponds, dead and lifeless less than twelve months ago, have burst into life following our removal of the laurels that suffocated them. The ponds have now been planted with native water plants; duck weed, iris and marsh marigolds. Tadpoles were released in the spring, and there are incalculable number of water fleas and other fauna benefiting from our work.  Of course our major project of last year can also now be seen in full leaf; the restored avenue.  


House façade returned after 250 years
Vanbrugh's vision restored

A couple of weeks ago the last two blocked windows on the main front of Kings Weston House were restored by Norman Routledge and his team. This reinstates Sir John Vanbrugh's original design for the main front for the first time in 250 years. All of the windows of the side wings of the main portico front of the house were blocked in the 1760s during alterations by the architect Robert Mylne for Edward Southwell III. It's thought that the alterations were to create more hanging space for the vast number of paintings the family had accumulated, but will also have reduced draughts and made the rooms warmer in winter.

The windows have gradually been re-opened over the centuries by different owners, and the installation of the final pair (First floor, left-hand side) mark the culmination of that long return to the original vision for Kings Weston. (photo courstesy of Bob Pitchford)


History Update - Lady de Clifford's flowers
New research uncovers the botanical influence of one of the notable Ladies of Kings Weston

A garden can be a very transitory thing. At Kings Weston we have the buildings, most of the remaining parkland features, and many mature trees, but we are missing an important dimension of its history; its flowers. To get an insight of how flowers might have been used at Kings Weston it has been helpful to try and understand the people who lived their and their passions. Research has recently uncovered details of the life of Sophia, Lady de Clifford, wife of Edward Southwell III, and has helped us gain new insight into the estate. 

Sophia was from a wealthy and influential Irish family, the Campbell's of Mouth Campbell, and married Edward Southwell in August 1765. Their marriage seems to have been one of love rather than simple convenience, though a substantial dowry would not have been unwelcome to Edward who had ambitious designs for his political career as well as for Kings Weston. Sophy, as Edward affectionately called her, bore nine children. In 1776 she became Lady de Clifford when her husband successfully established his claim to a Barony. Their happy life together was cut short suddenly when, in the following year, Edward died.

On his death their son, also Edward, was still in his minority, and executors took control of Kings Weston. Sophia received a regular allowance from the estate, but the house was no longer hers, and, now as the Dowager Lady de Clifford,  she would have been obliged to start a new life for herself. It appears she had moved out by 1786 when a contract for maintaining the grounds by an external contractor, rather than staff, was agreed by the executors.

We have little personal detail about Sophia before this time - perhaps she was in the shadow of her husband - but in the decades that followed she made her own impression on the world, driven by a passion for plants. Starting first at a house she rented at Nyn Park, near Barnet, and later moving permanently to a villa in Paddington, she built up a nationally important and famous collection of exotic flowers brought there from all corners of the known world.

Between 1793 and her death in 1828 the popular botany journals of the time brimmed, not only with illustrations of plants she'd nurtured, but also great praise for her scientific
approach to Botany which "all the collectors and professors of science stand much indebted for the zeal and patronage which her Ladyship has shown in her endeavours to promote it". Titles such as Botanists Repository, Botanical Register, Exotic Botany and Curtis's Botanical magazine all relied heavily on access to her unrivalled collection, and several plant species were named in honour of her (though subsequently names have altered). At least three books on the growing of flowers and other exotics were dedicated to her during the same period.

Many of her plants were grown from seed or bulb in her hothouses, stove houses, or conservatory, and in this way she was identified as the introducer into the UK of such plants as the Australian Waratah, and a South African Ixia. Some-such plants were amongst the only growing in Europe, and the collection boasted imports as far-afield as Minorca, the West Indies, Guinea, Ceylon, and Mauritius.

What then can this tell us about Kings Weston? Its certain that Sophia nurtured her fascination with flowers from an early age, and when she married Edward she would have found in him a shared interest in gardening. The design of the eating parlour fire surround with cascading roses, completed in the year of their marriage, is sure to have been designed to delight her and the incorporation of the two tiny forget-me-nots was a symbol of their union.

As the refurbishment of Kings Weston House continued Sophy's taste must have begun to exert itself. Whilst Thomas Stocking's stucco ceiling in the eating parlour was rigid and formulaic, that of the Drawing Room, designed the year following, is an explosion of flowers swagged, and re-swagged across the whole  of its surface. The flowered theme was reprised in the design of the Saloon (Main Hall) where roses, tulips, jasmine, and more sprigs of forget-me-nots dance around the ceiling. 

Before their marriage Edward had already begun the construction of the walled gardens and stables behind the house on present Napier Miles Road, but it may have been to satisfy Sophy's growing interest that in about 1772 a vast new glasshouse was constructed on a former orchard. Stretching over 30m in length, and carefully orientated southward to gain maximum benefit from the sun it once projected far above the roof of the adjacent stables as a major feature of the estate. Its ruins, still standing almost 7m tall, can still be found close to the stables and ice house.

The garden designer Thomas Wright greatly admired the glasshouse on a visit, but the French diplomat Malesherebes gives us the only scant detail as to what grew there. Writing in 1785, after Sophia had departed, he noted "the vast hothouses, and a house made ​​entirely of glass, both walls and roofs, which is 54 feet long by 30 wide. The exotic plants think they are in the natural earth, and I have never seen such beautiful bamboos or Bengal figs anywhere".

Whilst reforming the parkland of Kings Weston was the obsession of Edward, the gardens must surely have received attention from Sophy too. The 1772 estate plan by Issac Taylor offers tantalising suggestions of planting around the Echo, the 'Terras', and in other areas, where flowers may have played a more intimate role. Sadly we have nothing to tell us of what might have been, but for the fascinating legacy of Sophia, Lady de Clifford.


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