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The occupation of this site dates back to an Iron Age hillfort on Castle Hill. Of the medieval manor house of Henbury nothing now remains. It was demolished on completion of Blaise Castle House.

In 1688 Sir Samuel Astry inherited the estate. He built the great house (remodelled in the early 19th century) and laid out an enclosed park. A significant feature of the design was a double avenue of elms (now demolished) crossing the parkland from the foot of Castle Hill. This led to an area which is now the site of the Blaise Castle House stables. Around the house were formal parterres. The estate passed through a number of hands over the course of the next century.

In 1762 Thomas Farr, a Bristol merchant, bought 45 hectares of the estate for a country retreat. He planned to develop the park as a pleasure ground. He planned walks around Castle Hill, built the castle and landscaped the hill as ramparts. However, Farr lost money through the American War of Independence and was forced to sell the property.

In 1789 the estate was bought by John Harford. He was a Bristol Quaker and director of the Harford Bank. Harford commissioned William Paty to design Blaise Castle House and Humphry Repton to improve the park. The estate's natural features and Farr's earlier attampts at landscaping lent themselves to Repton's style of picturesque landscaping

John Nash, who had business connections with Repton also did some work for Harford. Harford's son succeeded to the estate in 1815. He commissioned Charles Cockerell to design an exhibition room in the house. This was to display the pictures and statuary he had collected on his Italian travels. In 1926 the estate was sold to Bristol Council. 

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

www.historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list

 

HISTORIC DEVELOPMENT

Domesday refers to a wood one mile square in the manor of Henbury, held by the bishops of Worcester. There are traces of ancient woodland on the estate, with ridge and furrow and old field boundaries in the parkland south of Blaise Castle House and the remains of an Iron Age hillfort on Blaise Hill.

After the Dissolution, and the seizure of the estate by the Crown, Henbury was granted to Sir Ralph Sadlier, of Standon in Hertfordshire. Henbury was sub-let by the Sadliers until they sold it in lots in 1675. A substantial part was purchased by Sir Samuel Astry, whose father-in-law, George Morse had built a house, known as Henbury Great House, on land in the village purchased from the Sadliers some ten years earlier. After Morse's death in 1688, Astry took over and enlarged the house and made formal gardens to the north, and planted a double avenue to a summerhouse on the top of Blaise Hill. The whole layout is depicted in an engraving by Kip published in 1712 (Atkins 1712).

After Astry's death, the manor passed via the Earl of Suffolk who had married one of Astry's daughters, to the Smyths of Ashton Court, Avon. Athough they held the estate until 1760, they sold the Great House in 1730 and it was finally demolished in the 1830s.

In 1762, Thomas Farr, a wealthy Bristol sugar-merchant, bought 110 acres (about 45 hectares) of the estate, comprising the old Manor House, then a gabled farmhouse (depicted in one of Repton's Red Book paintings), Blaise Hill, the land between the Hill and the village of Henbury, and Hazel Brook in its spectacular gorge. Farr was responsible for commissioning the London architect Robert Mylne (1733-1811) in 1766 to design Blaise Castle, a triangular prospect tower, designed to command views of the shipping in the Severn and the Avon. Farr created an elaborate pleasure garden, inspired by that of his friend Valentine Morris at Piercefield near Chepstow, designed to capitalise on the sublime qualities of the topography, with bastions, wooden cannon, and look-outs on Blaise Hill overlooking the gorge. He made cascades and pools in the brook, with a steam-engine designed to raise water to supply water-features in the gorge in which he built a bath-house and a root-house.

Farr went bankrupt in 1778 as a result of the blockade of shipping in the American War of Independence. The property was purchased by Dr Denham Skeet, who in turn sold it to the Bristol banker and Quaker, John Scandrett Harford, in 1789. Harford augmented the estate with further land purchases, including the east side of the gorge, and in 1795 commissioned a design for a new house, Blaise Castle House, from the Bristol architect, William Paty (1758-1800). At the same time, Harford invited Humphry Repton (1752-1818) to visit. Repton made two further visits in 1796 and a Red Book was completed the same year. After Paty's death in 1800, Repton's partner, the architect John Nash (1752-1835) became involved, designing an ornamental Dairy in c 1804, an Orangery in 1806, and picturesque cottages at Blaise Hamlet, completed in 1812. Repton's sons George Stanley Repton (1786-1858) and John Adey Repton (1775-1860) appear to have assisted Nash on these commissions.

After Harford's death in 1812, the estate was inherited by his son, John Scandrett Harford Jnr. G S Repton may also have given advice on the park and gardens in the period 1812-20. Charles Robert Cockerell (1788-1863) was commissioned in 1832-3 to work on the House and immediate surroundings. Further ornamental planting continued during Harford Jnr's lifetime.

J S Harford Jnr died in 1866, after which Blaise Castle ceased to be the family's principal seat. In 1926, the estate was purchased by the Bristol Corporation, excluding Blaise Hamlet which was bought by the National Trust in 1943. The Corporation opened the estate as a public park, and in 1949 the House as a museum. Under the Corporation's ownership, Blaise has served as a public park but with little alteration to its picturesque qualities.

Site timeline

1926: The estate was sold to Bristol Council.

People associated with this site

Architect: Charles Robert Cockerell (born 27/04/1788 died 17/09/1863)

Architect: James Foster, senior (born 1748 died 01/11/1823)

Builder: Mr Robert Mylne (born 04/01/1733 died 05/05/1811)

Architect: John Nash (born 1752 died 1835)

Architect: William Paty (born 1758 died 11/12/1800)

Designer: John Adey Repton (born 29/03/1775 died 26/11/1860)

Designer: George Stanley Repton (born 30/01/1786 died 29/06/1858)

Designer: Humphry Repton (born 21/04/1752 died 24/03/1818)

Features

gate lodge

Creator: Humphry Repton (born 21/04/1752 died 24/03/1818)

This is the entrance lodge and the gateway from Henbury Hill, which was designed by Repton to stand at the beginning of the carriageway drive. It accords in style with the castle rather than the house.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

ornamental bridge

Feature created: 1788 to 1789

This is a rubble bridge over the Hazel Brook at Stratford Mill. It was part of the works for the Repton carriageway drive of 1788-89.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

garden seat

Feature created: 1832

The seat was designed in 1832 by C.R. Cockerell as the terminal point for Sir Samuel Astry's double avenue of elms planted around 1700. The elms are no longer extant. There is a plain wall of Bath stone with a large niche containing a seat. This is crowned by a pediment.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

grotto

This feature is known as the Robber's Cave. It is probably of the Repton period, though possibly of the Farr period. It is a 'natural' limestone cave.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

drive

Feature created: 1788 to 1789

Creator: Humphry Repton (born 21/04/1752 died 24/03/1818)

This is Repton's carriageway drive. Repton believed that one of the greatest improvements to the estate would be to remove the principal entrance from Henbury village 'where a number of Villas or large country houses seem to dispute with each other by their size and and cumbrous importance'. His hope was that 'the approach will be in strict character with the wildness of the scenery, and excite admiration and surprize'. Repton's spectacular drive begins at the eastern Henbury Hill entrance. It descends the wooded Hazel Brook Gorge by way of hairpin bends and passes. It crosses the Hazel Brook at Stratford Mill and then more gently climbs the other side of the Gorge. At the top it emerges from the woodland onto open grassland and sweeps around Blaise Castle House.

ornamental bridge

This is a bridge over the Hazel Brook, some 450 metres downstream from the bridge at the Giant's Soap Dish. It is a small rustic rubble bridge, a 20th century copy of the bridge at the Giant's Soap Dish.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

walk

This rhododendron walk was possibly planted by J.S. Harford Jnr.

ornamental bridge

Feature created: 1812

This is a further bridge over the Hazel Brook, some 650 metres downstream of the the bridge at the Giant's Soap Dish.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

folly

Feature created: 1766

Creator: Mr Robert Mylne (born 04/01/1733 died 05/05/1811)

Blaise Castle, on Blaise Hill was built by Robert Mylne in 1766 for Thomas Farr. It is unusual for a mid-18th century Gothic folly in that it was built to be occupied. It was repaired in 1957 when all the interior features were removed. The structure comprises a circular tower with three attached battlemented turrets.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II*

grotto

This feature is known as Butcher's Cave. It is probably of the Repton period, though possibly of the Farr period. It is a cell in the hillside with an arched entrance.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

planting

The Dairy garden is a simple garden of sloping lawn, curving footpaths, some planting and a pond.

planting

The formal garden is a walled garden planted with roses.

prospect mound

Lovers Leap: this is a viewpoint down the gorge to the Giant's Soap Dish and Goram's chair, and over to the countryside beyond.

drive

Feature created: 1812

This feature is the carriage drive to Coombe Dingle. It follows the Hazel Brook from Stratford Mill to Coombe Dingle.

earthwork

There are the remains of Iron Age banks and ditches.

walk

Creator: Humphry Repton (born 21/04/1752 died 24/03/1818)

Repton's Vista Walk winds around the remains of the Iron Age earthworks, linking the house and the castle.

earthwork

Goram's Chair is a limestone outcrop on the south side (Coombe Hill) of the gorge.

pool

This feature is the Giant's Soap Dish. It is a small pool near the bathing pool.

earthwork

This feature is Goram's Footprint, a 'footprint' in stone.

pool

This feature is the bathing pool, a pool made in the Hazel Brook.

plantation

There is a plantation of beech trees on Coombe Hill just beyond Goram's Chair.

earthwork

There are earthworks on the top of the ridge between Limkiln wood and Alderdown wood.

garden house

Feature created: 1798

Creator: Humphry Repton (born 21/04/1752 died 24/03/1818)

This is the Woodman's Cottage. It was created in 1798, being part of Repton's scheme described in his red book: 'The form of this cottage must partake of the scenery without meanness, it must look like what it is, the habitation of a labourer who has the care of the adjoining woods, but its simplicity should be the effect of Art and not of accident'. It has since been altered and trees now block the planned view of it from the house. Today it has a slate roof, but originally it was intended to be thatched.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

garden building

This is Stratford Mill. It was brought in 1952 from its original site at West Harptree when the Chew Valley was flooded for a reservoir. It was probably a late 18th century corn mill. It now stands where the carriageway drive crosses the Hazel Brook. It forms a picturesque feature in keeping with Repton's design.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

garden house

Feature created: 1766

This is a timber lodge. It possibly dates to the mid-18th century, contemporary with the castle (1766). In character it is more suited to the Repton / Nash improvements, but is not mentioned by Repton in his Red Book. The feature is a 'cottage naturelle'. It consists of one storey and an attic, covered entirely in bark, roots and thatch.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

ornamental bridge

Feature created: 1812

This is the bridge at the Giant's Soap Dish. It was part of J.S. Harford's last scheme, the carriage drive to Coombe Dingle.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

orangery

Feature created: 1806

Creator: John Nash (born 1752 died 1835)

There is a simple, curved orangery built in 1806 by John Nash, in the position recommended by Repton.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

stable block

Creator: William Paty (born 1758 died 11/12/1800)

This feature is a stable block completed in 1801. It is of plain Georgian design. There are three wings around a cobbled yard with a wall and gates to the front. There are stables in the north and south wings and a coach house in the east wing. The building is now used as storage by the gardeners.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

drive

Feature created: 1800

There is a drive past the stable block to the house. It has limestone rubble walls on either side.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

finial

There are two stone piers crowned by carved seahorse heads at the house end of the stable drive.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

garden terrace

Feature created: 1832 to 1833

There is a terrace, balustrade and four vases around Blaise Castle House. These features were probably added during the time that C.R. Cockerell was working on the house.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

dairy

Feature created: 1802

Creator: John Nash (born 1752 died 1835)

The thatched dairy is a tiny picturesque cottage ornee. It was used to house part of the museum, but is now closed.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II

kitchen garden

Feature created: 1800

The walls relate to the old kitchen garden, which is now grass with a few trees. The walls remain, and are built of red brick.

Designation status: The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building Designation Grade II