News on the possible future of Kings Weston house.
Above: Vibrant Portuguese tiles added to Kings Weston house in the 19th Century
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- Working Party update - Big Bulb Plant
- Cutting through the rumours: news from Kings Weston house
- Call for ideas: KWAG's first decade
- Up on the roof - a hidden history
Working Party Reminder
Regular working parties begin again - Saturday 16th November
Reminder: November's working party will take place this Saturday 16th! This month we're returning to laurel workk left over from July close ot the White Oak in Penpole Wood. We will be meeting at 10am at Shirehampton Road public car park. Work will involve felling invasive laurels and natural spacing in other woodland compartment nearby. We will be working here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1VkCHs0l2fMQptasM1Vb1gWTXB5xS4OOa&usp=sharing
Please feel free to come along any time during the day, but we do prefer to be able to do health and safety briefings as a group at 10am if possible. There will be tasks to suit most abilities though this month it will be principally focused on trimming regrowth, with some felling vegetation. 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 update - Big Bulb Plant 2019
You will probably remember the challenge we set ourselves last month with the huge number of Bulbs for The Circle; you might also remember that it was forecast to be torrential rain across the whole weekend we’d planned to plant them. We were expecting the whole Big Bulb Plant was going to be a wash-out and we’d have to find another time to get the thousands of bulbs in the ground by ourselves. However, miraculously, the rain held off for the whole day, and rather than being put off by the forecast we saw our biggest ever turn out from the public to help planting! A huge thanks to everyone who came out and helped us; we couldn’t have managed without you! We were delighted that so many families came along to help out and it’s gratifying to know that the kids who lent a hand will be able to see the fruits, or flowers, of their labours come the spring.
The area on The Circle where the 8000 daffodils were planted has been a focus for KWAG for over five years. It’s at the entrance into the park and the focus for a number of paths that cross through the historic landscape. It’s called The Circle in documents stretching back to the 1750s and is shown on historic plans going back even further as a circular space planted with trees around its periphery. We’ve run two campaigns here to tackle brambles that were growing 8 feet high in places, and fought hard to keep undergrowth down and the area open and presentable to visitors. The planting of daffodils on this area marks a major milestone in the restoration of this area as part of the park and we hope that a sensational display next year will become an ongoing Spring attraction.
Cutting through the rumours: news from Kings Weston house
Many people have been asking us about a number of rumours circulating bout the future of Kings Weston house. Until now we’ve not been able to give any reassurances, but we’ve now been in contact with the prospective new owner John Barbey, about his ambitions for the house.
Mr Barbey had sought to purchase the lease on the house back in 2012, but was unable to do so; he’s now in negotiation with the current leaseholder, Norman Routledge, with the intention to take the house and business.
It’s fair to say that John has a fascination for Kings Weston house and purchased a property on the estate when he was unable to secure the main house. He’s been a regular visitor to KWAG events and has attended a number of our working parties. Although still resident partly in the USA, where he has championed conservation in San Francisco, he spends increasing time in the UK focused on Kings Weston.
John has kindly set out his vision for Kings Weston is he is successful in negotiating the purchase of the leasehold:
“As far as it is humanly & technically possible, I wish to return Kings Weston House to its appearance during its glory days as the very early Georgian great house it was built as by the Southwells, as the late Georgian Neo-classical wonder house it was remodelled into 50 years later, and at last as the long Neo-Baroque Summer it enjoyed under the Napier Miles family. Different styles, yet very sympathetic to each other, and still good to know today. Few houses tell the story of these great pivotal moments in British architecture as well as Kings Weston House, and it needs to be more widely known. I especially want to rebuild the Penpole Gate, which never should have been demolished in 1952, and which was critical to the overall design of Kings Weston House at all stages.
I think it will help if the furniture inside Kings Weston is the same style as the outside of the house as much as possible. This does present a huge challenge in the 21st Century which has gone into very different directions, and there will be great search for sources and for artisans who can bring this look back to life.
John Hardy and Norman Routledge have done such wonderful work bringing Kings Weston back to life and making it an integral part of the community around it and of Bristol, and I fully intend to carry on their good work. It is a great place for weddings and celebrations of all sorts, so all of this will carry on !! It may be one of "England's Smallest Stately Homes" but that is the joy of it, and it is quite large enough to be one of the wonderments of Bristol !!”
We wish John luck in his ongoing negotiations and hope to work with him in the near future making Kings Weston a place to remember.
Call for ideas - KWAG's first decade
2020 will be the 10th anniversary of the Kings Weston Action Group. Over the next few months we'll be looking to find opportunities on how to celebrate that milestone. Presently we are working on a possible book to celebrate the history of the estate and hope that this might be ready for this landmark in the park’s rejuvenation. If you have any ideas of events, exhibitions, publications, or some other way to mark our decade of work we’d love to hear from you.
Up on the roof - a hidden history
One of the most recognisable features of Kings Weston house is its roof; the castellated arcade on the top was designed to look like a fortification from a distance, and the open arches encircled a lookout platform from where visitors could admire the views across the Severn and beyond; but there’s much more up there of interest.
Although begun in 1712 the house was largely finished by 1716, enough for the rooms to be furnished and Edward Southwell to be able to move in with his second wife. However work continued on various aspects of the house; The veneered decoration on the stairs was made in 1719, the traditional completion date for the house, whilst the rooftop was the focus of continuing decorative masonry work. In the Kings Weston Book of Drawings, preserved in in Bristol Archives, there is a design for an urn intended to sit on the parapets on all four sides of the building. In total there are eight individual urns, massive stone structures that appear deceptively small when viewed from the ground; in fact they are each seven feet tall! There are three individual styles of urns, and the historical drawing illustrates the design for the pair on the “back front” of the house overlooking the service courtyard. The drawing's dated 1717 and is one of the contract drawings given to the builders to work up, for which they would charge just four pounds ten shillings for the pair! .
Above: The 1717 contract drawing in the Kings Weston Book of Drawings (Bristol Archives)
Below: The air of urns still towering over the 'back front' of Kings Weston house
The roof itself is covered in tons of heavy cast lead sheet, some of which appears to have been on the building since it was finished, but certainly most was in place after mid-Eighteenth Century alterations. The lead itself has become something of an historical document since it was first laid; there are literally dozens of graffiti signatures and marks made by visitors to the roof over the centuries. Some are simple initials indented into the soft lead surface, others are full names, and some dated. Most are made by taking an iron tool and joggling it across the surface of the metal, giving a distinctive line almost as if it were embroidered. Others are gouged directly into the surface, but this method must have been more difficult to undertake and control.
The earliest found so far is the most illuminating; dated 1789 it’s signed T Cox who was bold enough to also identify himself as an estate game keeper. Although we have a number of named gamekeepers from the house Mr Cox’s rooftop signature is perhaps his only memorial as we can find nothing more about the man.
Above: A more cryptic mark N+BEDG
Below: T Cox, Gamekeeper, 1789 in the roof lead.
Robert Edward signed the leadwork in 1834. This may have been a time at which the house was empty, awaiting the new residents, the Miles family, to take occupation after the Southwell family had died out in 1832. Edward, apparently proud of his work, adds the Latin ‘pinxit’, declaring he himself was responsible for the mark. N Cox was perhaps his companion on this visit as he too adopts the Latin elaboration, and goes further in adding a little cartouche about his name; was he related to Mr Cox the gamekeeper?
Above: Robert Edward Pinxit 1834, and Below: N Cox Pinxit, also 1834
The most fascinating marks are those drawn around shoes or hands, of which there are several. Sadly only one of these is signed and it’s tempting to conclude that these men were illiterate, able only to make their mark by pictogram. The shoes, al of which are very small sizes, are distinctive shapes, with rounded heels and chisel-ended toes; does anyone know how these could be dated? The artists have embellished their outlines with the boot-nails and reinforced iron heels marked on. The hand is perhaps the most enigmatic. Only a single left hand has been discovered, it’s author no doubt using his right hand to draw around it with a steel tool.
Above: Two separate shoe marks, one initialed B H
Below: The hand.