If you find the junction of four separate counties at the Gloucestershire/Somerset border a bit strange and unnecessary, you’ve got a lot of company. For twenty-two years, from 1974 to 1996, an area formed from portions of the historic counties of neighboring Gloucestershire, together with the city of Bristol became the County of Avon. After the county of Avon was dissolved, a sizable area was split up into four unitary authorities which were re-titled, Bath and North East Somerset, City of Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Interestingly, however, the name County of Avon remains in use for certain purposes- historical and non-historical. Altogether, these four small counties house 1.08 million people according to a census of 2009 and as a consequence, you may see me refer to Avon County in this entry because the name is still in use- but more for nominal or historical reasons than as a current jurisdiction. http://www.castlepark.org.uk/index.html
Among the many architectural surprises which reside in a county filled with actual medieval castles and castle sites, you can view relatively modern versions without leaving Bristol ! One of them, The Black Castle is now a pub located on Junction Road in the Brislington section. Built by two possible architects- either James Bridges or William Halfpenny- on instructions by William Reeve (a copper smelter owner) to be stables for his new building Arnos Court, the building was constructed over many years and finished by 1762. Black Castle was built with pre-cast black copper slag blocks imparting its unusually dark exterior. The dressings and carvings are said to be made from remnants of the demolished gateways that surrounded medieval Bristol.
Visitors and customers will discover that it is surrounded with small shops and stores- the busiest part of Brislington. At one time, Arnos Court triumphal Arch stood in front but was moved in 1912 to Bath Road on the northeast side, while the castle remained. Apparently, Reeve went bankrupt in 1775 despite his obvious thrifty ways and everything was sold to a member of the Tonge family who happened to be slave traders. For a time it was reputed to be haunted and Horace Walpole once described it as the Devil’s Cathedral. That would come as a terrible blow to its founder because Reeve was not only a businessman but also a Quaker. After Sanderson Miller turned it into a rather lovely Georgian pub he’s probably been doing flip-flops in his grave! Pub goers probably like the fact that they don’t have to pay a cover charge!
Bristol’s prime example of Elizabethan architecture and testament to the prosperity of that era is Red Lodge on Park Row behind Colston Hall on the West End. Along with a much larger and possibly more impressive mansion, which no longer stands, Sir John Younge entertained Elizabeth I during her visit to Bristol in 1574 with the former and did a bang up job with Red Lodge even though its purpose is rather obscure. It was apparently not for her eyes. Most of the house is quite unpretentious including the exterior and its beauty only stands out in the Great Oak Room which boasts the unique and exquisite carvings- particularly the ceilings, chimney piece in stone and marvelously intricate wooden porch, particularly the internal draught porch. It would have been a reflection of many homes in London if it had not been for the Great Fire of 1666 when a massive portion of London burned to the ground. Red Lodge is open for visitors most days, closed Thursdays and Fridays, from 10-5.
Blaise Castle and the estate property are just outside Bristol City limits, four miles northwest, at Henbury Village which looks down upon a suburban shopping mall called Cribbs Causeway. Although it lays no claim to medieval authenticity the design mimics other authentic examples in Somerset such as Nunney. The large parkland area extends all the way to the River Avon which is shared with Kings Weston House at Shirehampton on the western part of the estate, with the Avon an implied boundary between the two and they share the view over the Gorge very near Avonmouth. Blaise has become an anomaly since it has been remodeled from a rather interesting small belvedere castle into a monument of its former self. At one time it was open and available to the public to view the landscape from the tower parapets but it was closed off to inside visitors by the second owner, John Harford, who was a merchant investor with lots of ideas and plans. More recently, it has been opened to the public on certain days each month.
Of course, this area was once part of Avon County but before that the land originally was bequeathed to the Bishop of Worcester as part of the Kingdom of Mercia. The name derives from Saint Blaise and the entire 650 acre parkland became a scheduled ancient monument in 1982 after it was discovered that there are many distinctive hill forts and archaeological discoveries on the estate. In her novel titled Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen gave the estate praise by describing it as the ‘finest place in England’. Everything seated there, including a hamlet of nine cottages planned and built by Nash and Repton in 1811, is Grade II listed in the register of historic parks and gardens of special historic interest in England. All the ground works were laid out by Repton and many portions of his designs remain including a carriage drive which became an alternative entrance to sidestep Henbury and a clearing which opened up a spectacular view of the Bristol Channel and even Wales. Designed and built by Robert Mylne, Blaise Castle looks very much as it should, albeit on a small scale with four close circular crenellated towers with with an inner gatehouse drum which is also crenellated. The towers sport Celtic crosses instead of arrow slits. From the anterior it looks rectangular with a tall central tower. Thomas Farr, a sugar merchant, commissioned this work back in 1766 for 3,000. As a result, the entire estate became very popular with visitors to Bristol. Later, Blaise Castle House– which is a manor built by Harford to replace the original manor house- was designed by William Paty and built between 1796 to 1798. It is now operated as a local museum during the summer. During the earliest part of the 19th century John Nash was commissioned to add a conservatory and by 1833 C.R. Cockerell added a picture gallery which now houses many paintings from the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. Since 1949 it has been considered a branch of the same as a period house museum and the entire estate belongs to Bristol City Corporation with the exception of the hamlet cottages which are owned and protected by the National Trust.
Eveleigh, David (1987). A Popular Retreat: Blaise Castle and House Estate
Kings Weston at Shirehampton is a lonely little petunia in an onion patch- only3 miles northwest of Bristol overlooking Avonmouth. Vanbrugh designed the house for the view which, in its day, revealed the River Avon with fleets coming and going and laden with treasures from all over the world. Beyond that close-up view was the Bristol Channel and Wales. Now enclosed by an array of warehouses, oil depots, car dumps and the M5- not the sort of view of which dreams are made-the house is overwhelmed but stands alone in its restrained glamour from a long bygone era. It was commissioned for construction in 1710 by Edward Southwell, a Privy Council Clerk also Secretary of State for Ireland. Building on the mansion continued after Vanbrugh passed away for almost a decade. It remained home to the Southwells until 1822 when the Miles family acquired it and added the Avonmouth Docks. They owned Kings Weston for more than a hundred years then sold it in 1937. From then, degradation transformed it into becoming barracks then an architectural college and later a police training college until, in 1995, the Bristol Corporation left the house to sit empty and was vandalized. Redemption came in the form of a private entrepreneur by the name of John Hardy. He has carried on restoration since the year 2000 which is a constant occupation with an aging house of any stature. The exterior shows few signs of the aging or neglect with the exception of the grounds. The garden front has a portico walkup with pilaster buttresses and the inner roof line is decorated with a coronet of chimneys. The chimney pots are paired, offsetting the corner urns which are unique. A scale model of the house in wood made by Vanbrugh exists and is a rare artifact, indeed. The ground floor and entrance hall are dramatic according to Vanbrugh standards, although the entrance hall was altered by Robert Mylne in 1764. One large room is filled with portraits framed in plaster by students of Kneller and Lely. Quite a bit of plasterwork has been restored throughout the mansion and if you look around you’ll find trompe l’œil images of niches and statues on the walls.
I’ve never seen a more unusually beautiful stately home than Tyntesfield. Wrapped in ramparts of exotic flowers, this Romantic Gothic Victorian Revival mansion is of fairy tale quality and has been undergoing restoration since the summer of 2001. Located at Wraxall, two miles northeast in the Vale of Nailsea which is seven miles west of Bristol, Tyntesfield was unbelievably obscure to the public until the house received national attention when Lord Wraxall (‘Richard’ George Gibbs) passed on and left his entire estate to be divided equally between nineteen relatives, none of which were appointed executor. By 2002, the people appointed to be executors of his will decided that in order to distribute the will as intended, everything would have to be sold including the house and all its contents. The National Trust knew that this was folly and battled for public and Lottery help and won a sum of 30 million pounds. NT saved the main central part which included the house, the kitchen garden and the park. The rest of Wraxall’s estate was fragmented and sold off piecemeal. Charlton Farm, once a part of the estate, is now Children’s Hospice South West which is for children with terminal illnesses. This shows that someone’s heart is in the right place!
Within ten weeks after the acquisition by the National Trust the house was opened to the public and Tyntesfield was an instant sensation! Work continues for the restoration on a daily basis and more rooms will be available to visitors as the work is completed. The house was visited by 113,461 people in 2007 and since 2004 the NT staff have been systematically cataloging the contents of the house, collected by four generations of the family and currently the items number more than 40,000 !
Tyntesfield began life as Tyntes Place, a Regency/Gothic house built in 1813. It was purchased by William Gibbs, son of a trading company tycoon and he had the mansion rebuilt twenty years after he purchased the home in 1843 by John Norton. Building continued until 1875. Money was no object since he was one of the richest men in England at the time making upwards of 100,000 pounds of pure profit a year. (Out-of-pocket expenses were quite low !) Most of those funds were to build the mansion, went to Keble College, evangelical churches and as a matter of fact, built the largest private house chapel in England at Tyntesfield.
The house, built of Bath stone, appears almost rococo on its facade with many Regency features, coupled with turrets, pinnacles and gables. Not a single angle photographs the same so you may see medieval arches along the chapel’s south side, the veranda’s south side and the servants’ entrance but it also appears perpendicular along the east side front entrance with an amazing roofline ! The west frontage somehow manages to appear Victorian with a magnificent bay from a bygone era. Additions to the house continued when Henry Woodyer was commissioned in 1885 and the chapel was built by Sir Arthur Blomfield. The tallest and most magnificent tower was the clock tower over the entrance porch which was unfortunately demolished in 1935. All sides of the house have Gothic windows, Tudor oriels, chimneys and attic dormers.
Tyntesfield’s entrance faces the drive but the main rooms face south over the park. The interior is much less severe than the exterior with 43 bedrooms and the principal rooms including the library, drawing room, billiard room, dining room and chapel all have distinct features. During most of the 20th century the house was Grade II listed until 1973 when it was upgraded to Grade I. Additions to the house continued when Henry Woodyer was commissioned in 1885 and the chapel was built by Sir Arthur Blomfield around the same time. Because of Norton and Woodyer every room in the house is different. All suites are richly ornamented and were installed by the leading craftsmen of their day. On a tour you’ll find these all intact- furniture, fabrics and the original contents.
link for more photos: www.bbc.uk/bristol/in_pictures/360_panoramas/tyntesfield/index.shtml
Dating from the 11th century, Ashton Court is Bristol’s official Stately Home, two miles west from the center of Bristol City. Originally a fortified manor, it was granted to Geoffrey de Montbray by William I and the estate is referred to in the Domesday book as having a great hall, a courtyard with gatehouses and a wealthy property. The land passed through a line of many owners until the end of the 14th century when it was taken over by Thomas de Lions and his family. Given a license by that time to enclose the parkland he made quite a few additions and expansions to the original manor. In 1506 it was sold to Sir Giles Daubeney, Henry VII’s chamberlain and by 1541 Henry VIII gave the manor to Sir Thomas Arundel. Arundel eventually sold it to John Smyth who kept the estate in his family for four centuries. During this time Humprey Repton designed the landscaping in the 19th century. There are few, if any, mansions which display such an array of different architectural styles, especially from the eras in which it was renovated. Those identified are classified as Strawberry Hill Gothic, Italian Renaissance windows, a Victorian porte-cochere, Tudor mullion windows along with Gothic tracery, pseudo-medieval battlements and English renaissance gables. To find some of the original portions of the manor it could only be found in the anterior portion of the house which leads to the park. It is still referred to as Castle Court and retains an old gateway. In 1891 Lady Emily Smyth revealed details of alterations made by Sir Greville to the medieval part of the house along the western wing which she referred to as Drax’s Kennel and The Fox’s Hole. In 1946, the last resident of Ashton Court Dame Esme Smyth, died. The many gatehouses which are referred to as lodges are more intriguing than the house. After dilapidation of the mansion the City of Bristol bought the house in 1959 and the estate has been owned by Bristol City Council, since. The surrounding park is a public recreational area developed from the original deer park which was and still is referred to as the Forest of Avon. It is a vast open green space for many leisure activities scheduled or free and open to the public. It is an ideal day out for families with walking, wildlife watching, special trails for orienteering and cycling and mountain biking. You’ll find a Visitor Center there along with shops and facilities. http://ashtoncourt.wordpress.com
Heading west from Bristol, southwest on the M5 near Clevedon, you’ll have an opportunity to take a look at a late medieval castle which looks for all the world like one of Henry VIII’s gun forts which litter the southern coastline of England. The Iron Age hill that it’s built on goes without saying of its veracity and in the Domesday book the hill fort belonged to Gunni the Dane but Walton Castle is contemporary with King Henry’s fortresses and built to look like one of his- especially those of Pendennis, Camber, Deal, Sandgate and Walmer. An aerial view shows that it has its differences including those of a lowered keep and satellite mural towers. Strategically, it wasn’t and isn’t any more a military post than what it is used for at present. From above, Walton appears to be hidden but is quite visible for miles around, on all sides, because it’s poised on top of a hill. Actually built by a man whose name was John Poulett, a puritan cavalier with lots of money and a seat at Parliament, the castle was finished in 1620 and its authentic rendering is amazing considering that the founder was an amateur with the eye of an architect. This marvel of the late medieval period ended up derelict by 1791 and remained in ruination for two hundred years !
Today the Walton-in-Gordano Golf Course grounds are ‘next door’ neighbors and most angles leading up to Walton form footpaths which criss-cross the old hill. This former hunting lodge of Lord John Poulett is now, after restoration, a beloved wedding and event venue and a busy one at that ! Roof and floors had to be rebuilt but even before it was restored it was cited in a 1957 Pevsner guide which states that it is ‘a remarkable piece of ornamental planning’. Ownership was interchanged from landowners to a city financier and the plans to turn it into a fantasy wedding venue became a reality. It is absolutely stunning in photographs !
http://waltoncastle.com/gallery 0800 014610 email@example.com
Set directly ten miles west of Bristol on the edge of the downs and overlooking the mouth of the Severn estuary and seaside resort, Clevedon Court is one of the oldest and most strikingly gothic medieval houses in England. The south gateway is rather odd and false advertising because it appears to be a castle folly. Once you are on the grounds it’s another story. The hall, with its flanking porch and chapel goes back to 1320 when Sir John de Clevedon held the manor. Possibly the earliest part of the mansion is a semi-detached hall which is angled away from the main hall along the east and adorned with a four-storied 13th century pele tower in the anterior, which are rarely seen anywhere but in the north of England. The window slits belie the tower’s authenticity which is most likely 12th century. A crowning gable causes the old pele tower to look less defensive than it was originally but fits the overall look of the mansion and the older portion of the hall is set at an angle to the new hall. The only curiosity is that the pele tower is out of alignment with the old hall but considering that it may be the oldest part of the house- it is understandable. A length of wall running north from the tower may be the remnant of a former curtain. Further afield you’ll see buildings like the Octagon along the west end of the terrace garden which is an 18th century summer house.
This delightfully reconstituted mansion has been owned by the Elton family since 1709 as they were once wealthy Bristol merchants. A Solar wing was gutted by fire in 1882 which took out quite a few upper rooms but was stopped before it overtook the chapel. Reconstructions were done in Neo-Jacobean.
While still in residence, their home was sold to The National Trust in 1961 for death duties. The home is filled with the artifacts and glass collection which was a part of the Elton Ware once sold at Tiffany’s ! The family have been titled and feted as every day heroes being baronets, MPs, poets and firemen- even artisans! Among some well known visitors to the house were Tennyson and Thackeray (the latter a friend to the 6th Baronet) in the mid-19th century who in turn wrote about the estate. The great hall which is wiped of the Gothic exterior is awash with family portraits and peopled only with tall-backed Stuart chairs. You’ll find a minstrel’s gallery, chapel and quite a bit of historical artifacts throughout the Georgian interior which includes engineering prints and engravings of Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale among others.
Clevedon Court Tickenham Road, East Clevedon T- (01275) 872257
Website: Clevedon Court-National Trust
About ten miles south of Clevedon, Banwell Court (Abbey), a bishops residence during the late medieval period, is situated just outside of the town of Weston-Super-Mare east on the A371 road- (the juncture A368 intersects on its western end). West of the Mendip Hills in its farthest northern part, Banwell hosts the site of a hillfort where flint implements were found which predate the Iron Age and it was found to be occupied during the iron age when excavations were conducted mid-20th century by J.W. Hunt of the Banwell Society of Archaeology. During that time a Romano-British villa was also discovered which included a courtyard, wall and bath house near the River Banwell and nothing found at that site was dated earlier than the 4th century. A castle also exists at Banwell but is a 19th century renaissance creation that, but for its size, is a very good replication of an authentic medieval courtyard castle. It has an interesting history with the added pleasure of being available for accommodation and operates a delightful tea shop.
The Abbey, which was a bishop’s residence throughout the 14th to 19th centuries, exists within the village on the north side of East Street and may appear to be a renaissance castle itself if not for the obvious ecclesiastical features. Banwell Court was built on the site of an ancient monastery and the current edifice was built over those foundations by Hans Price in 1870. Nevertheless, if you visit it you’ll find battlements along with gables, gargoyles here and there and the cloisters which adjoin the main block along the east has a magnificent tower with battlements bearing, perhaps, 19th to 20th century restoration work. An outbuilding which was bequeathed in 1887 to the village by a resident of the abbey, Elizabeth Fazakerly, served that purpose until after 1960 and is currently a small museum. Visitors will find memorabilia related to the building’s later use.
Banwell Castle‘s ownership and occupation history reads quite long for it’s few hundred years of existence. This Victorian castle is located just outside the village along the edges of the Quantock Hills and will amaze you with its authentic good looks and size. The property was owned back as far as 1753 by the Bishop of Bath and Wells. No building is documented until John and Joan Landown purchased a manor on the site in 1837. After ten years in residence they sold the house to Symon Sympson whose son Joseph Dyer, a lawyer out of London, built a mansion on the site in a castellated Gothic Revival Style, mirroring the work of Augustus Pugin.
Through the years from mid-19th century clear up to the time of WWII no less than five different and unrelated families bought and sold the property, living there only for relatively short periods of time. During WWII the RAF took over the castle as area headquarters for the Barrage Balloon Section during which the ARP used the gatehouse most likely for broadcasts. Building continued in 1919 when the Calverts employed Sir George Oatley to do additional work on the castle. When Constance Calvert passed away in 1956 the Eccles family moved in to look after their uncle Richard, her husband. After Richard Calvert passed on the Eccles family had Rhodyate Lodge built inside the complex in 1963 and the castle estate has been bought three times and sold two times since, with the present owners William and Hugh Parsons. It is now a hotel and restaurant, Grade II listed.
T- 01934 822263
sweet kisses from
“Where man resides, nature must be conquered by art.” – Humphrey Repton
‘Lead me, Queen Sublime, to solemn glooms
Congenial with my soul; to cheerless shades,
To ruin’d seat, to twilight cells and bowers.’