Kwag's April newsletter
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Plenty's been happening over the last month. Many people have commented on the fantastic display of daffodils this year above Shirehampton Road and the wild flowers are bursting out all over the park. Read on for some updates on our progress and some new history about Kings Weston.

This month:

  • Event - Join us on a History walk on the 26th April
  • Free Event - Wild Food Forage with Steve England, 9th May
  • Steps project complete
  • Kings Weston; Versailles of Bristol?

Working Party Reminder

Reminder:  April's working party will take place next week, on Sat 18th April. Meet at Shirehampton Road public car park at 10am. We are planning to carry out light clearance nearby at the foot of the new avenue. This will involve the removal of self-seeded saplings and light undergrowth - a much easier task than previous month! Please come along with suitable clothing for the weather on the day and we hope to see you there.

Event - Join us on a history walk
History walk on Sunday 26th April 

We're running another guided history walking tour of the Kings Weston landscape on Sunday the 26th April. This will be a chance to explore the rich history of the parkland under the expert guidance  of KWAG's chairman David Martyn.

Taking in both familiar landmarks and some of its hidden treasures it's sure to prove fascinating to anyone with an interest in the estate. Come and discover over four hundred years of history and the cast of the people who led to  development of Kings Weston as one of Bristol's greatest and most famous country estates.

The history walk is one of our regular fund-raising events and we ask a fee of £6 for anyone who would like to join us. The event will start at 10:30 from Shirehampton Road car park and last approximately 2.5 hours. Places on the walk are limited, and please book in advance by contacting us through the details below. Payment should be made on the day. Children under 16 are free and well behaved dogs on leads are welcome.
Tel: 07811 666671


Free Event - Wild food Forage with Steve England
A family-friendly exploration of the wild food growing on our doorsteps - Saturday 9th May

Returning for a second time to Kings Weston Bristol's own naturalist Steve England will be leading a Wild Food Forage on Saturday 9th May. Exploring the incredible edible nature on our doorstep the walk will uncover a range of fascinating produce the park can provide. This wild food walk for beginners will look around the estate identifying and tasting a few edibles and more importantly identifying poisonous plants. Steve will teach you about the law and wild foods and also about keeping things sustainable too. Under Steve's expert guidance you'll be able to see Kings Weston in a new light and even try some of what you find!.

Steve's always gives a really engaging tour and it is ideal for young and old alike - the perfect opportunity for the family. Thanks to funding from Green Capital year we are able to provide this family-friendly event FREE of charge, but booking is essential.

The wild food walk will begin at 10:30am from Shirehampton Road public car park and last for approximately 2 hours. Although the walk will be free booking is essential. Steve's walks are always hugely popular so we recommend booking quickly. To book a place please get in touch by email, or call on 07811 666671.


Steps project complete - for the moment 
In March volunteers finally met our step-building target and deadline

At the beginning of this year we began our project to reinstate a missing link in the network of paths through Penpole Wood. We'd worked with the Forest of Avon Trust many months ago to ensure that it was included within a bid put together by Bristol City Council for Forestry Commission grant funding; the opportunity to reconnect two of the most historic pleasure walks with a new set of steps was considered important to increase access through the ancient woodland.

It's proved to be the most difficult and challenging of the projects we've ever undertaken. Following two training events in January we've worked hard; almost every weekend since then. The terrain has been difficult and rocky, the route slippery and dangerous, but finally we've met our target to get it finished and on time too! Huge thanks have to go to all the volunteers who worked on the project in whatever way and donated more than 340 hours of work to it. We're incredibly grateful to everyone and we've had some really great feedback from park visitors who have commented on the project.

We had a target of 61 steps given to us by the Council who provided all the materials to complete them. Unfortunately, whilst we've been able to exceeded that number (we've installed 64 steps), and met our deadlines, there's further work needed; There's a break of about 15 steps in the middle of the steps, just on the steepest section, where materials have run out. It's our intention to work to secure funds to properly finish the project, but in the interim please take very great care if you are using the route across the missing section as it's very slippery. April's working party next week will focus on easier work, but we'll return to the steps at a future date.

You can find a full set of photos showcasing our achievements on our website. There is a set of before and after photos here, and we've also set up a gallery in our completed projects section.


Kings Weston; Versailles of Bristol?
New research has uncovered tantalising evidence for a French influence on the estate.

A book exists in Bristol Record Office called the Kings Weston Book of Drawings (KWBoD). It’s a fascinating volume comprising numerous original Eighteenth Century drawings for Kings Weston house and surrounding parkland features. The most visually attractive of the pages hosts a drawing of a pair of sphinx proposed for the “cheeks of the great steps”. Now long lost these once guarded the main entrance of the house before falling victim to changing fashion in the 1760s.

However ornamental the pen-and-ink design held in the KWBoD is it was not an original one. It was copied, quite meticulously, from an engraving of an identical sphinx in the gardens of Versailles. The original designer was Louis Lérambert who in 1664 provided a wide range of sculptures to the palace, but it was through the engraver Jean Lepautre that the design arrived at Kings Weston.
Lepautre was a well regarded and successful designer and engraver operating in late Seventeenth Century France. He published a number of lavishly illustrated books focussing on Versailles, including his seminal work 'Vues et Plans de Versailles' in 1675. It was from this book that the designs for the Kings Weston sphinx had been copied.

This month we’ve made further discoveries linking the work of Lepautre to Kings Weston. By chance an engraving of his came up for sale. It depicted a design for a fictitious building not dissimilar to the Echo. With a new rigour we returned to Lepautre’s work and began reviewing it for any other commonalities. Trawling through the many hundreds of designs he produced there dozens for numerous garden pavilions, interiors, decorative motifs, and statuary. After a brief time we discovered an engraving of the imaginary ornamental urn illustrated here. It’s identical to one of the painted, gilded urns in the stair hall of Kings Weston House and is further evidence that Lepautre’s work was influencing designs during construction between 1712 and 1719.

Above left: The painted urn in one of the alcoves in the stair hall at Kings Weston house. Above right: The source for the design in one of Lepautre's engraved designs

Lepautre’s oeuvre also contains another print of a building of particular interest, and one that would certainly have influenced the invention of his own Echo-like building that began our recent quest. The building is the Grotte de Tethys, an extravagant artificial cave designed for the gardens at Versailles by the architect Le Vau in 1666, and published in Vues et Plans . The grotto was set close to the palace and at the head of a long promenade stretching out into the park. The Echo would once have shared a similarly formal garden context terminating a long formal axis from Kings Weston house. Like the sphinx the symmetrical arrangement of parterres and “French alleys” were swept away in the 1760s during Edward Southwell III’s aggressive re-branding of the estate as vehemently English political powerbase.

Features in both of Lepautre’s engravings, such as the triple-arched loggia, the rusticated stonework, cyclopean keystones, and the forest of urns feel very familiar when looking at the Echo. Could these ideas have been filtered through Vanbrugh’s genius to give Kings Weston its own little piece of Versailles? If so this influence can only have come through engravings because by the time the Echo was built the grotto at Versailles had been demolished for almost forty years.

One last piece of evidence supports Lepautre’s influence over Kings Weston and its gardens. In the 1834 auction catalogues that mark the end of the Southwell family’s reign there two books noted; Lot 764: Le Pautre’s designs – 1667 calf bound sold for £1.18.0 and Lot 765: Le Pautre’s designs – 1667 calf bound sold for £1.11.6. Sadly there is no mention of the Versailles book in the catalogues, but these later volumes are likely to have been Lepautre’s own designs compiled into the pattern books that helped spread his stylistic influence through Europe. Although we cannot be sure when they entered the Southwell’s library their appearance is unlikely to be coincidence. Could these have been the reference sources for more at Kings Weston than we are yet aware of?

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