In a Nutshell
Ashton Court Estate is located in the southwest of the city of Bristol. It is a Grade II registered park of approximately 825 acres and is listed on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest.
The historic landscape dates back to 1086 and contains wild flower meadows of significant ecological importance, together with some of the oldest woodland areas in Europe, amongst which is the 700 year old Doomsday Oak.
The Mansion House, a Grade I listed building, is located in the middle of the estate. The entrances to the estate each boast Grade II listed lodges that arch over the driveways.
In 1990, the estate fell prey to a devastating storm that caused extensive damage to the trees. The clean up operation highlighted the need for some serious investment to realise the park's potential.
In 1999, the estate was awarded a Stage 1 Pass from the Heritage and Lottery Fund, including a budget of £4.5
million. This money will be put towards the restoration of the historic landscape and improving the visitor facilities within the estate.
There is evidence of Saxon fields in the estate, but with the arrival of William the Conqueror, the land fell under Norman claim. The first written evidence of the Ashton Court estate is to be found in the Doomsay Book, which showed the manor to be a wealthy estate. In 1390, Thomas de Lyons married heiress Margaret Blanket and began developing the estate. In 1392 he was granted permission to enclose the estate and make a park. The cloth industry was flourishing at the time, and Bristol was a major sea port exporting woollen cloth.
A century and a half later, in 1545, the estate was purchased by John Smyth, a merchant. The (Bristol) Smyth family are virtually synonymous with Ashton Court, having invested in the estate significantly while they owned it. Initially the Smyths lived in central Bristol and only used the estate on special occasions (to entertain other merchants.) This extreme behaviour is moderately justified by the fact that Ashton Court was not the only estate that they owned around Bristol, they had several others too.
Eventually one of the Smyths who inherited the estate realised it's beauty (or, perhaps or even more likely, one of the Smyths inherited only Ashton Court as one of his siblings inherited the others!) and took up residence. Thomas Smyth, MP, did some building works in the 1630's that can still be seen today on the South facade of the manor house.
The Smyth's decadent ways could not last forever, and during the 1700's, the fortunes dwindled and eventually Sir John Smyth fell into debt. Sir John was described as "a morose bachelor who shunned human company." and "preferred to be with his beloved estate cattle and deer rather than his family." Sir John is reputed to have built the five mile long wall that encloses the estate. He also increased the numbers of red deer and introduced the Indian spotted deer.
Jarrit Smith (yes, with an "i"), a lawyer, lent Sir John some cash and by a stroke of providence, fell head-over-heels in love with Sir John's sister, whom he married. Upon his marriage, he changed the spelling of his name (to a "y"), and surprise, surprise, he inherited the estate. A man with a good eye for opportunity, he was the first person to mine the Long Ashton coalfield, while also dabbling in trade with the West Indies and Europe. He was not averse to the odd bit of slave trading. The Smyth coffers began to swell again. Sir John Hugh Smyth, Jarrit's son, was the next master of the manor, adding the Gothic north wing.
In the 1850's some outdated buildings were removed and replaced and Sir Hugh Smyth added a new south east wing, initially stables, but later converted to a museum for Greville Smyth's extensive natural history collection. Subsequently the room was converted into a Music Room, complete with a water pump operated organ.
In 1939, the estate was requisitioned by the War Office and it was put into service as first a Transit Camp, then a RAF HQ and ultimately as an American Army Command HQ. The last Smyth owner, (also) Greville Smyth died in 1946 and his widow, Dame Emily Smyth left the grounds and the mansion to the Bristol City Council, on her death in 1956.
For a short while, the estate was used as a police training facilty. To this end, the mansion was stripped of all its furnishings. It lay unused for 13 years, falling even more into disrepair, at the hands of damp, dry rot, beetle and vandalism. Since purchasing the estate (why they bought it when it was already bequeathed to them eludes me, but so my source says), the Bristol City Council have carried out major repairs and restored much of the mansion for public use.
Facilities - Today
About 800,000 people visit Ashton Court (alone) each year. Add in those who come for the special events, and the total nearly doubles to 1.5 million visitors.
So what do they come for? Apart from the obvious expanse of natural beauty so close to the city centre, Ashton Court offers visitors:
A significant proportion of the Estate's grass keep is grazed by deer, with two areas, the fallow Deer Park and the larger Red Deer Park being fenced off with limited public access. An organised deer walk operates within the estate, although this was restricted in 2001 due to the constraints imposed following the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.
With the exception of the two deer parks, walking paths cover much of the remainder of the estate, allowing
walkers free access across much of the landscape. These footpaths are either sealed surfaced or gravel and are
mostly suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs, with the exception of a few steep gradients. Two orienteering courses also criss-cross the estate grounds. There is a novice course and a longer main course and certificates are awarded on successful completion of either course.
The mountain bike route runs from the occasionally used Longwood Lane entrance, to the south of Durnford Quarry and New Barn Wood, up to Clifton Lodge. Here it turns north to run along the edge of the estate parallel to A369, before turning south and running adjacent to B3129 Beggar Bush Lane. There is an additional section of the course whose use has lapsed in recent years that provides a link back towards Longwood Lane. Use of this link may be
resumed in the future.
A bridle path runs around the estate, marked by white marker posts. Currently this runs between Church Lodge and Clifton Lodge, via Church Wood, Clarken
Coombe Wood and the northern boundary of the estate.
In the northern part of the estate are located two 18 hole 'Approach and Putt' golf courses that are open to
the public, who purchase an entry ticket from the golf kiosk that permits them to play on either course.
Also in the northern part of the estate is the Model Railway. This is owned and operated by the Bristol Society of Model and Experimental Engineers. Passengers are carried on the railway between
1200 - 1730 on selected Sundays and Bank Holidays during the summer months.
In the centre of the estate is the Manor House. This is open to members of the public by special arrangement
and also houses the estate Visitor Centre and the Stables Café. The Manor House is available for private hire
for weddings, conferences and other functions.
The estate is used by a number of organisations to hold one off special events on an annual basis. These events
are for a duration of between 1 and 4 days and include:
These events place extreme demands on the estate in terms of the logistics of the setting up and taking down of
temporary facilities. They also provide significant extra numbers of daily visitors to the estate for the duration
of the event.
Getting to the Estate
The estate is currently accessible at three main locations. These are: Kennel Lodge, Clifton Lodge and Church Lodge. Access at these locations is available to cars and motorcycles, pedestrians, cyclists and
equestrians. At each of the locations, a narrow road provides the access. At Church Lodge, where the
access road is cut between retaining walls, the width of the road is insufficient to allow vehicles travelling in
opposite directions to pass each other. At the other access locations, this is not a problem, although at Clifton
Lodge, access through the lodge building itself is not possible for vehicles travelling in opposite directions. In
addition, there are entrances to the estate at Longwood Lane on the southwest boundary of the estate and at Clarken
Coombe Lodge in the south. These entrances are only used to provide temporary access during special events at the
estate and provide access to the estate via a gravel track.
From the entrance lodges, roads provide access to the central area of the estate, but at this point the roads are
blocked, preventing vehicular traffic from travelling
completely through the park. Pedestrians and cyclists are not prohibited from making these movements. Part of
the Avon Cycleway runs along roads internal to the estate.
The estate is a wee ten minute walk from ascorbic's house.
Plans for the Estate
With all this Lottery funding, many changes are planned for the Estate.
Ashton Court Estate suffered severe storm damage in 1990, following which Bristol City Council were awarded
grant funding from Task Force Trees to undertake a historic survey and restoration plan for the estate. This
survey has since formed the framework for all future work at Ashton Court.
The survey findings showed that key features of the original design of the estate were now at risk through
neglect. Work was undertaken to conserve the ancient woodland areas, but funding from other sources was required to carry out repairs to the estate lodges, walls, roadways and other historic features. One possible source of finance was the Heritage and Lottery Fund.
In 1997, plans showing a range of improvement options were presented and became the subject of public
meetings and citywide consultations. Public support was gained for restoring woodland areas, repairing the
estate lodges and removing cars from the central estate areas. In addition, the idea of providing new car park areas was looked upon favourably, as were proposed improvements to the golf course areas and the visitor centre and café.
Following the public consultations, a draft Ashton Court Restoration and Management Plan was prepared and submitted to HLF for approval in 1998. The following year, HLF proposed funding of £4.5M for the improvements, out of a total cost of £6M, with the balance to be made up by Bristol City Council. Detailed plans are now being developed to secure this funding.
The Improvement Proposals
The current plans for the improvements to the estate:
- Managing the woodland plantations, grass keep and ancient trees for their landscape and wildlife value
- Restoration of the estate boundary walls
- Restoration of ponds and cart dips
- Removal of old signs and barriers and their replacement with new designs more sympathetic to the surroundings
- Removal of the existing golf kiosk and its replacement with a better sited facility
- Repairs and improvements to the estate lodges
- Repairs to the existing estate drive
- Removal of inappropriate modern specimen trees
- Restoration of historic views and vistas
- Restore and replace existing estate ironwork
- Remove cars from the core of the park to purpose built car parks at the periphery
- Improve visitor facilities
- Redesign the Mansion Gardens to allow better accessibility and manage as a dog free zone
- Replanting of parkland trees and groups in historic positions.
Much of this writeup was taken from the Scott Wilson Traffic Assessment for the estate, for which
I was a main author. This is the working noders version of Node your homework. Most of it has been rewritten into less technobabble since it was initially noded.
- Ashton Court Estate newsletter: Issue 1, 2000
When I get the chance I shall continue edit this and make it shorter, less formal and more interesting. But the node needed rescuing, I am told.