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28 October 2014

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You are in: Bristol > History > Historic Places > Bristol's forgotten treasure

KIngs Weston House

Bristol's forgotten treasure

Kings Weston House is one of Bristol's forgotten treasures - in its time it has entertained kings and sheltered wounded soldiers - but for many years it languished in the shadows, seen fleetingly by motorists rushing along the M5.

The current Kings Weston House was built between 1710 and 1723 on the site of an Elizabethan manor house.

Its colourful history has included becoming a hospital for soldiers wounded during the First World War, and as a training centre for the CID in the 1970s.

Situated high up on a hill overlooking the Severn Estuary and Avonmouth, the 28 acres of wooded parkland surrounding Kings Weston House are popular with local walkers.

Although only small by stately home standards - just 18 bedrooms, 12 of which would have been servants quarters - Kings Weston House has some unique features.

Owners the Southwell family had commissioned esteemed architect Sir John Vanbrugh, designer of Blenheim Palace, to create their new home.

Hanging staircase Kings Weston House

A staircase built in 1710 is one of only two "hanging" staircases left in the world, the other is in St Petersburg. Made of mahogany and oak it seems to balance without any support, rocking slightly like a rope bridge when used.

Another unique feature remaining in the house is a pair of antlers set above the front door. They are from the Irish Elk, a species extinct for more than 200,000 years.

It's thought that a member of the Southwell family who was Secretary of State for Ireland, brought them back to adorn his home after they were discovered in a peat bog. The only other remnants of the Irish Elk can be found in Bristol Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Although not resident in the house since 1832 the Southwells still keep a kindly eye on visitors from the walls of the main entrance hall.

Thirty-six original portraits, mostly of the Southwells and their friends, have been renovated and reinstated here.

John Hardy, a local architect with a practice in Queens Square, bought the house, and five acres of grounds, from Bristol Council on a 125 year lease in 2000 and has developed it into a conference centre and venue for weddings and celebrations.

Kings Weston House timeline

1086- Kings Weston was recorded in the Doomsday Book. It was inherited through several generations, passing to the Gournays and then to the Ap Adam family.

1330 - Sir Thomas Ap Adam sold the estate to Sir Maurice Berkeley and for centuries it was owned by his family.

1570 - It was bought by Sir William Wyntour and then Humphrey Hooke.

1679 - Sir Robert Southwell purchased the Manor of Kings Weston as a country retreat. Sir Robert was a distinguished diplomat, politician and intellectual. During a visit to Ireland, King William III was entertained at the House by Sir Robert, having landed at Shirehampton. It is thought the extensive formal gardens can be attributed to Sir Robert. The avenues of lime trees date from around 1700.

1702 - Sir Robert died and the estate was inherited by his son Edward, who followed his father as Secretary of State of Ireland and Clerk of the Privy. The following year he married Lady Elizabeth Cromwell. She did not live long and on her death six years later left Edward her moderate estate. This may have encouraged him to rebuild the house.

Portrait Gallery

1710 - The following year he commissioned Sir John Vanbrugh to prepare designs for a new house on the site of the Elizabethan manor.

1713-14 - The building works started following the demolition of the Elizabethan manor house. The construction of the house took over a decade to complete. Vanbrugh also prepared designs for various garden buildings, including the Banqueting House- also known as the Summer house or Echo - Penpole Gate, the Brewhouse and the Loggia.

1763 - Under the ownership of Edward Southwell III a new phase of architectural activity started when Robert Mylne was employed to compile designs for the completion of the interior of the house. His first task was to design the stables, which were designed to mirror the lodges, and the fishing pond.

1772 - Mylne designed a lodge and tea room, believed to be the Shirehampton Lodge. This is now the gateway to Shirehampton Golf Course. During the extensive works a two storey extension was built to the back of the house which included an open courtyard, new kitchens and a new entrance.

1777 - Edward Southwell III died and left the estate to his son Edward IV who was only ten years old. Throughout the 18th century the house and grounds were often described and views painted or etched. It was noted by Jane Austen as "being on the circuit".

1844 - Kings Weston was now the residence of W Miles, MP. Henbury Lodge was constructed and bay windows, tiled roofs and ornate barge boards added to the house.
During the mid 19th century yews, Norway spruce and larch were planted, creating a partially evergreen park which remains today.

1914-18 - During the First World War the Napier-Miles opened their home to create an auxiliary hospital for wounded soldiers.

1918 - Shirehampton Park was given by Dr Napier Miles to the National Trust.

1930 - During the 1930s Bristol Corporation approached Dr Napier Miles for use of some land to assist in the construction of sea defences. As this land had little use or value he gave it to the Corporation. Shortly after it was drained, this was developed to form Avonmouth.

1937 - The house was sold on the death of Dr Miles to Bristol Municipal Charities for £9,800 and 104 acres of the downs sold to Bristol Corporation for £11,764.

Glass ceiling - Kings Weston House

1938 - The Dower House was built for the widowed Lady Miles within the kitchen garden. Work also started on building a new school for Queen Elizabeth Hospital intended for 210 boys.

1939 - Work was halted by the Second World War. After the war QEH developed their site at Jacobs Wells Road instead. In September the house and grounds were requisitioned by the War Office. The house was occupied by various units including the logistics division. Nissen huts were erected in the woodland and at some time during the war they were occupied by the Free Polish.

1948 - The Bristol Corporation requisitioned the buildings built by QEH for use as a primary school, whilst awaiting the construction of schools in the new estate of Lawrence Weston. The Dower House became an infants school, nicknamed the "House in the Garden".

Access to the grounds became unrestricted as boundary fences fell into disrepair and the house fell into a state of neglect. The fish pond and lodges were bought by Bristol Corporation.

1952 - The viewing platform and breakfast lodge at Penpole Gate were demolished by the Bristol Corporation.

1962 - Orders were given to demolish the stables and were only rescinded after a press campaign. QEH sold the house and 37 acres to the Corporation. A proposal to build a campus for a Regional College for Science and Technology in the grounds was scrapped due to local opposition. The house remained as the Department of Architecture until 1970.

1962 - The stable block was taken over by Bristol Police Force and converted into a police station.

1970 - The house and 38 acres of grounds were acquired by the Bristol Watch Committee for use as a Detective Training Centre.

1974 - Local reorganisation meant that the house became the property of Avon and Somerset Police.

1978 - It was suggested that the site would be suitable for a new headquarters for Avon and Somerset Police but the strength of local opposition made them decide on a new headquarters at Portishead instead.

1995 - The police finally moved out of Kings Weston House resulting in the building being vandalised and then boarded up. The stables are retained as the Welfare Division of the Avon and Somerset Police Force.

2000 - John Hardy purchased the house, its gatehouse and five acres for use as a business and conference centre, to include a tearoom, restaurant, gym and offices. The house became lived in for the first time in many years.

last updated: 23/04/2008 at 08:55
created: 31/03/2008

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