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Welcome to KWAG's October 2021 Newsletter. No.95.
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Join us this month for our 9th annual Big Bulb Plant! 


Above: A painting rediscovered. Read below about this rare early Victorian view. .  

 

If you value our work please consider donating to help support our projects. Follow THIS LINK to donate safely and securely towards KWAG's work


This month:

  • KWAG's 9th annual Big Bulb Plant! 

  • Working Party update - Back to the laurels III  

  • Doors Open Day review

  • A painting lost and found 

  • Keeping on top of access 

  • Unraveling the historic stairs 

  

Big Bulb Plant 2021!  Saturday October 16th 
          
October's working party will be our 7th annual Big Bulb Plant and take place this Saturday 12th. This is our yearly big opportunity of families, as well as our regular volunteers, to help out and support our work. 

Please feel free to come along any time during the day.Tasks will be digging and planting daffodil bulbs. Please come along with suitable clothing for the weather on the day, bring a spade if you have one but we will have spares,  and we hope to see you there. Please keep an eye on our Facebook Page in case of any change of arrangements, or call 07811 666671 on the day to find us.


Our 9th Annual Big Bulb Plant takes place on Saturday 16th October! This is the ninth such event where we call on members, volunteers, and families to come along and help us plant thousands of bulbs to help enhance the parkland. This year we have an order of 8000 daffodil bulbs arriving shortly that we’ll need lots of help in getting in the ground.
 
After the success of the last two years planting daffodils from the Circle and down the ancient lime avenue we’ve set our sights on the new avenue as a planting location HERE . This will nicely complement the last two year’s areas and, we hope, create an impressive display.

So, PLEASE come along with family and friends, any time of day between 10am and 3pm on Saturday the 16th and keep your fingers crossed for good weather!



 

 

Working party update - Back to the laurels III
 
Our regular newsletter to a short hiatus last month, so we’ve not yet had the opportunity to show what our volunteers achieved in August. We continued the work clearing cherry laurels in Penpole Wood that’s become something of the bread-and-butter of our volunteer events. Carrying on from the previous month we pushed further westward, tracking back along the main path through the woodland and the Yew Avenue. We have now reached the edge of Jubilee Clearing, an area once used by the District Scouts for camping. Here too are the remains of the Victorian Arboretum.

Unusually for the hottest of the summer months the volunteer turnout was really good and we made some really important progress, even having to extend the working party area half way through the day to cover new ground. Significant areas of the native woodland have now been cleared of the invasive invader. Although there are barren areas we know from past experience that these quickly regenerate once the daylight can reach the forest floor again.
Above: Laurel encroachment on the main path in the direction of Penpole Point. 


Above: Looking north, down onto the main path through Penpole Wood Before and after August's Working Party.
Below: The tangle of laurels is cleared near to Jubilee Clearing, immediately above the main path and looking south.

 

Doors Open Day review   
Below: Doors Open Day tours begin in the Saloon of Kings Weston house. (Photo: Bob Pitchford) 
Regrettably we were not able to properly promote the annual Doors Open Day at Kings Weston in September. Changes in the way the event runs means that entry to venues was charged and had to be booked in advance. There was widespread confusion over how the event was supposed to be run and poor correspondence from the organisers over visitor numbers, capacity, and times. Eventually Kings Weston house took the sensible decision to open the house to everyone who wanted to visit without admission checks, despite the instructions of the Bristol-wide organisers.
 
What could have been a catastrophic disappointment actually turned out to be a reasonably successful event. KWAG volunteers put up our exhibition panels in the old Oak Room with a few new exhibits along with our regular collection of books, images, and models. As
usual we gave tours of the main rooms of the house which proved incredibly popular, running back-to-back for the whole day.  
 

This was also the first chance for visitors to see the recently refurbished interiors following the transfer of custodianship to John Barbey and his team. A newly subtle colour scheme, antique furnishing, and new lighting have certainly enhanced the historic character of the rooms.  
 
In all, the visitor numbers were good, particularly considering the difficult circumstances. Somewhere around 500 guests took the opportunity to visit the house, many coming to the estate for the first time. We’re grateful to everyone who made a donation towards KWAG’s work on the day, and those who’ve joined our membership and mailing list off the back of the event. We received just short of £300 in donations which will go towards this year’s Big Bulb Plant this month. We hope that next year there will be changes in the way Doors Open Day is organised as there is particular concern about free access for all being the most important principle of the national Heritage Open Day events.   
Above: A brilliant rainbow forms over the gardens at Kings Weston (photo: John Barbey)
 
A painting lost and found  
 
Since KWAG began ten years ago we’ve known of an historic oil painting of the Kings Weston estate that was last seen at auction in 2005. The unsigned painting is a rare view looking up towards the house from the lower park, where much of the Lawrence Weston housing estate stands today. This is the only such view of the Lower Park showing the Georgian Landscaped parkland that we know of from this angle. It must have been painted in the first half of the 19th Century; the current coffee shop terrace and balustrade was built in 1850, but it’s conspicuously missing from the scene with the landscape sweeping right up to the house.  
 
Sold in Christie’s for almost £1500 the painting disappeared from view. Despite enquiries with the auction house it was only known through a grainy low-resolution digital image that still sits as an important record on our website; that is until a couple of months ago. It reappeared for auction in the south of England, somewhat restored, and with a mistaken description now suggesting it was a 20th Century work.  It has now been secured as part of a growing Kings Weston collection, and for significantly less than it sold for in 2005!


Below: The early Victorian oil painting showing Kings Weston house seen from the Lower Park, from where modern Barrowmead Drive runs today. 


 
Keeping on top of access 

The weather this year seems to have been perfect for undergrowth to thrive across the estate. Several areas and popular paths have been threatened with inundation and we’re grateful to KWAG volunteers for helping push back the tide. Working in an unofficial capacity workers have reopened the WWII concrete steps, tackled paths around the former tennis courts alongside Penpole Lane, and, most recently, cleared the Listed viewing terrace behind the Echo.  
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Unraveling the historic stairs 
 
While taking visitors around the house on Doors Open Day it occurred to us what a complex history of alterations has occurred over time. There are few parts of the house that haven’t been altered over time, but the impressive stair hall has perhaps the most complicated background.
 
The space as we see it today is nothing like Sir John Vanbrugh, the original architect, intended. Whilst there are some remainders from his time, particularly the painted trompe l'oeil urns in their alcoves, and the staircase itself, it is virtually unrecognisable. It was long thought that the interior of the house wasn’t finished by Vanbrugh, but we now know different, and KWAG has established its original appearance through diligent research and close inspection of historic drawings.

Below: the stair hall highlighted on 1724 plans of the first and attic floors of the house. The arcaded passages around the side of three sides of the open central stair are clear. 

Below: KWAG's reconstruction of Vanbrugh's original stair design, showing the open
arcades and coved ceiling.
The staircase remains in its original location, but, when the house became a home for the first time, in 1716, it was enclosed in a birdcage of stone arcades on all four sides. You would enter through a single arched door in the middle of the south-west wall. In front of you, beyond an arcaded passage the stair would have dominated the space, with a backdrop of tiered glazed arched windows reaching up to the ceiling. The rhythm of arches was repeated on the other three sides of the stair, tightly enclosing and supporting it on all sides. This formed a series of passages on all floors from which the various rooms could be accessed.
 
Rather than today’s arrangement, with its grid of skylights, there was a deeply coved ceiling with a solid, flat central panel; this may have been decorated with a painted allegorical scene in keeping with many important interiors of the time.
 
There are parallels between what one existed at Kings Weston and Vanbrugh’s more grandiose Hall of Blenheim Palace. Here too the architect incorporated arcaded passages that looked down into the main space, albeit on a more expansive scale. There is also the deeply coved ceiling that we know Kings Weston possessed until later alterations. A painted ceiling centrepiece like that at Blenheim would have matched the interior design approach to the painted urns that still exit.

Below: The Hall of Blenheim Palace 
Our computer reconstruction of the stair hall must be a relatively accurate representation of the original appearance; but what happened to it?
 
The house passed from the Southwell family to the Miles family in the 1830s. It was the second generation of the Miles’, with Philip William Skinner Miles, that things changed. The year following his inheritance of the Kings Weston estate Skinner Miles commissioned the architect Thomas Hopper to make huge changes. The ambition was to turn the aging mansion into a modern family home. New kitchens, enlarged reception rooms, and better sanitary accommodation were required.

Perhaps Miles found the stair hall too dark and restrictive, or maybe the space used for architectural drama was in greater need for practical purposes. Whatever the reason work began in 1846 to open out the space by removing the integral arcades around the stair. Original plans had been to replace the 1700s staircase completely, but in the event it was kept. The loss of its supporting walls meant that a new approach had to be found to hold it up. Using modern building technology the architect engineered new open galleries where the arcades had once been. These galleries were supported on composite cast iron and timber beams that spanned between the ‘tower’ structures within the space that could not be removed.

The new beams, cast in Gloucester and sailed to Bristol in 1847, were erected in the space. These would now carry the load of the newly free-floating stair. Iron rods were connected through the beams and dropped down to connect with the stair landing. A secondary steel beam was threaded through the landing and bolted to the suspension rods with giant ornamental nuts formed like upturned pineapples.  

Below: Two details of early proposals to reconfigure the stair, dating from 1847.
Below Left: the First floor plan showing how two WCs were squeezed between the gallery and the new alignment of the outer wall against the windows.
Below Right: Vanbrugh's original coved ceiling is indicated in the sectional drawing, along with the proposed "girders" supporting new open galleries. 



Below: Early ideas to replace the staircase shown on an 1847 plan of the ground floor. The moving of the rear wall and windows is shown in pink ink whilst retained fabric is grey.
Below: the newly completed interior recorded in 1848. The doors prominent
on the first floor gallery were to toilets, a rather exposed arrangement! 
At the same time the whole of the back wall of the stair hall was being carefully but completely removed, along with its arched windows. A letter written by Henry Rumney, the local architect entrusted to oversee the work on behalf of Hopper and his client, says it was progressively dismantled “having properly marked the stones for refixing & the windows & other work connected also”. A temporary timber truss supported the roof during these works.  The care taken in dismantling the rear wall was with the intention to rebuild it on a new alignment, about 12 feet out from its original location, and the spot where we find it today. Peculiarly this appears to have been thought necessary only to allow for new toilets to be incorporated in the newly acquired space.
 

With toilets now blocking the old back windows another approach was required to light the stair. Hopper’s solution here was to add a series of roof lights to the existing flat ceiling to light it from above.
 
All these works must have been undertaken at huge expense, but the benefits look to have been meagre, especially to modern eyes that lament the terrible loss of Vanbrugh’s interior.  For the Miles family new toilets would no doubt have been an incredible relief (no pun intended!). On completion in the new room was recorded in a watercolour painting by Thomas Rowbotham. The newly acquired floorspace was quickly occupied for a fashionable billiard table shortly after; an iron bracket still fastened two thirds of the way up the stair was designed to hold suspended lights that would have illuminated the game.
 
It no longer has the integrity of the original design, and Hopper’s changes are a bit clumsy and functional rather than beautiful. Hopper must have recognised the compromised nature of the results: As if in tribute he’d virtually reproduced Vanbrugh’s dramatic original arrangement in his own work at Amesbury Abbey.  Today the stair hall remains a grand focal space of Kings Weston House, one containing interesting and important features from several periods. Perhaps though, it is the story of how it took on its present state that is most interesting.  
 
Above: Victorian sketches showing the bracket and suspension
rod for lights above the billiard table. 
 
 










WWW.KWAG.ORG.UK
07811 666671
KWAG, c/o 75A Alma Road, Bristol, BS8 2DW
Copyright © 2021 Kings Weston Action Group, All rights reserved.


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