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Barrow Court


Barrow Court is a medieval building, much altered and extended in the 1880s. It is surrounded by large formal gardens and a larger informal park. The building is approached along a straight drive with lawns on either side. There are large mature cedars on the lawns. Another lawn at the back of the main building is informally planted with mature trees.


Barrow Court is located on the Backwell limestone ridge c 1.5km north-west of the village of Barrow Gurney.

Barrow Court has an enclosed garden layout of around 6 hectares, with the remains of a landscape park of some 60 hectares. The park dates from the 18th century, whilst the gardens are primarily late 19th century. The gardens probably incorporate the earlier layout. The site has a formal garden, also a surviving large kitchen garden. The house has been divided and is in several ownerships. It is surrounded on all sides by a large informal park, now used for agricultural purposes.

A terrace runs along the north-east side of the house and overlooks a large formal garden. The formal garden is separated into two different sections. It contains a lily pond surrounded by large yew hedges. On one side of the pond is a rose garden and on the other is a herb garden. These are bordered by another terrace which overlooks a large lawn. This is terminated by a low wall topped with a balustrade. The shrubbery forms part of the formal garden and is laid out and planted with similar attention to detail. It has carefully planned views and includes a small loggia.

Wrought iron gates with steps lead through to the parkland on the north-east and north-west sides. There are many urns and summerhouses in different places in the formal garden, all carefully placed. Twelve statues around the gates on the north-west side of the garden represent the months of the year, each one being inscribed with the name of the month in Latin. To the south-east of the formal garden is the shrubbery, formal in character, with more statuary and other garden buildings.

The gardens at Barrow Court have been surprisingly well-maintained, though some sections have fared better than others. Two gardeners are employed on their upkeep. The main area of the formal garden is very well-preserved and carefully maintained. The shrubbery is rather more neglected, but still contains many shrubs and trees. The area of the garden to the west of the main building is again slightly neglected, and has lost some of its fine detail.

The large and well-ornamented kitchen garden complements the formal garden and shrubbery. It has lost some of its original cohesion by being sub-divided to form separate private gardens. Much of the basic layout can nonetheless still be seen. Many of the trained fruit trees also survive. Like the formal garden, the kitchen garden has excellent views over the surrounding parkland. The lawns around the drive leading to the main building are well cared-for. The large areas of parkland to the north, west and south of Barrow Court are now used for agriculture. Although some of the old trees survive, this parkland must be considered as a vestigial remnant of the 19th century park.

Description checked by the Avon Gardens Trust 22/5/2012.

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 National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

A late 19th century architectural garden, largely as designed by F Inigo Thomas, with late 18th century parkland around a country house.

Location, Area, Boundaries, Landform and Setting

Barrow Court is located on the Backwell limestone ridge c 1.5km north-west of the village of Barrow Gurney and 9km south-west of Bristol. The gardens comprise c 6ha with the landscape park extending to c 60ha. The irregular site is bounded to the east by Barrow Court Lane and is defined by a hedge north of the entrance lodge, while south of the lodge there is a 4m high wall pierced regularly with clairvoies and iron rails. The eastern part of the northern boundary of the park follows the southern edge of Breach Hill Wood, while at its western end it follows a C19 park railing fence, then the edge of the park along the woodland of Bourton Combe.

The park is located on the north-facing side of the Failand valley with views northwards to Tyntesfield, and eastwards. To the south and west the ground rises to a wooded ridge which bounds Bourton Combe.

Entrances and Approaches

The main approach to Barrow Court is from Barrow Court Lane to the east. A gate lodge and archway dated 1884 (listed grade II) stand on the north side of the entrance, c 200m south-east of the house. On the south side just inside the gate is a pond, a larger version of which is shown on the view published by Collinson in 1791. A straight drive runs north-west from the lodge between regularly planted mature Scots pine and beech trees before passing through gate piers with iron pinnacles and gates into a walled forecourt on the south-east side of the house. At this point, the drive is sunk between two lawns to north-east and south-west, on which there are three Lebanon cedars.

Principal Building

Barrow Court (listed grade II*) is located at the centre of the site here registered. It is a stone building with slate and tile roofs, and mullioned windows with relieving arches above. It was converted from the original Benedictine nunnery c 1537-59, with further alterations c 1602-10. A range was added to the south-west in the later C17. The house was refurbished and further extended in the late C19, when various Georgian alterations were removed. Its entrance front faces south-east and is a largely symmetrical composition, with an elaborately decorated Jacobean entrance to the porch in the central projection. The roofline includes ball finials to the gable ends, tall ashlar chimney stacks, and a central cupola. On the north-east side of the forecourt stands the church of St Mary and St Edward, rebuilt by Henry Woodyer in 1889. South-west of the house is a stable range built 1891 in a vernacular style (listed grade II).

Gardens and Pleasure Grounds

The principal gardens are laid out to the north-east of the house. The layout is formal and semi-symmetrical, with three levels of terracing, falling to the north-east. The north-east front of the house, which has no doorway to the garden, has a terrace immediately under its windows with a central gravel path running 120m from the church at its south-east end to a clairvoie at the north-west end. The terrace is bounded on its north-east side by a dwarf stone wall, and three flights of stone steps lead down to a second terrace some 80m wide. The central flight leads down to a formal pool (c 1892-7, listed grade II*).

On this second terrace, the central pool is enclosed by yews, replanted c 1992, south-east and north-west of which are open grass plats with beds to the design of Inigo Thomas, now replanted as late C20 parterres. At its south-east boundary the terrace is separated from the churchyard by a stone wall which has a row of bee-boles built into it. It has a steep grass slope north-eastwards down onto a lawn located on a third and final terrace. Midway along the slope, aligned with the pond and upper central steps, two sets of stone steps, flanking a railed and paved terrace with a stone sundial, descend to the lawn. Under this paved area, there is a small semicircular pool fed by a stone-carved lion's head (whole complex c 1892-7, listed grade II*). Along the top of the grass slope is a gravel path leading to stone-walled courts (c 1892-7, both listed grade II*) at either end. The courts are similar in plan but substantially different in detail. The north-west court has an ornate stone-carved entrance arch, with finely carved wooden screens and settles and elaborate trellis-work inside. The south-east court, which has a plain entrance arch, is an outdoor dining room with a stone table and sheltered seat. Above the seat is a large stone panel with a high-relief carving of various fruit. The back of the south-east wall forms a memorial to the Gibbs family in the adjacent churchyard. Both courts have railings, with obelisk finials at each corner, and each court has a second archway facing north-east with a flight of steps leading to the third terrace.

The north-west boundary of the third terrace is formed by a semi-circular exedra (c 1892-7, listed grade II*). The exedra comprises twelve pillars, or terms, with busts carved by Alfred Drury. These represent the twelve months of the year as the twelve ages of woman, the pillars linked by 2.5m high railings on a dwarf stone wall. In the centre of the exedra, massive 5m high gate piers flank elaborate wrought-iron gates. The exedra links to a gazebo (c 1892-7, listed grade II*) in the north-west corner of the garden, which faces the south-west court. The gazebo has a steep-pitched stone-tiled roof, with Venetian arched openings on three sides and a wooden settle facing the garden. To the north-west of the lawn, Thomas designed a yew hedge pieced by five openings to give a view of the exedra; only the north-east and south-west stubs of this now remain (Iann Barron pers comm, 2002).

South-east of the lawn are two parallel yew hedges, aligned on the church tower, and running from the south-east court to wooden boundary gates set between 5m high stone gate piers topped by massive ball finials. The yew hedges have a gap halfway along to allow for the main axis of the garden, running from the centre of the exedra to a semi-circular corona, a stone-pinnacled, column-flanked recess containing a statue of Victory (c 1892-7, listed grade II*). The corona is approached along a walk lined with limes, originally interspersed with standard laurels (Iann Barron pers comm, 2002), through an area of shrubs and specimen trees. Many late C19 trees remain, including two katsura, two cypresses, two Judas trees and a gingko. The corona is set into the south-east boundary wall, along which a secondary axis runs between a gazebo to the north-east (c 1892-6, listed grade II*) and the Sundial Court, with steps, over-sized 5m high piers with ball finials, pool, balustraded terrace, and a stone-tiled Doric loggia (c 1892-7, listed grade II*) to the south-west.

The garden boundary on the north-east side runs between the two gazebos and is formed by a low stone retaining wall above a ha-ha. The stone wall is topped by a balustrade interrupted at regular intervals by 2m high piers with ball finials.

To the south-east of the house, a rectangular lawn is raised above the level of the approach with 1m high retaining walls either side of the drive. South of the approach the lawn includes a ramped terraced walk running 50m south-eastwards along its southern edge, to iron gates, while immediately south of this is a modern tennis court. Some 100m west of the house is a C14 tithe barn (listed grade II*), now converted to residential use, with a domestic garden to the west.


The house is located in the centre of parkland which rises sharply south and south-westwards towards the site of the medieval conygar, and falls gently to the west and north. The southern park has a scattering of parkland oaks and beech, with a beech shelter belt along the eastern boundary with Barrow Court Lane. The Conygar has been planted to form a skyline of conifers; Bourton Combe, further south (outside the area here registered), appears to contain picturesque walks and rides associated with Barrow Court. On the eastern edge of The Conygar wood is a water-catch and underground reservoir built as part of Gibbs' improvements, to supply the house and gardens. It also supplies a disused swimming pool some 300m north-east of the house and more than twenty stone-built ponds with cattle ramps in the surrounding park and fields. A ha-ha immediately south of the walled garden, some 120m south-west of the house, separates the park from the gardens. North and west the park has a scattering of parkland standards; immediately west is a Scots pine shelter belt. Some 500m north from the garden is Breach Hill Wood, in the south-west corner of which, adjoining the registered area, are the remains of a stone-built Wendy House (c 1890s), with its own landscape of a miniature ravine and stone-edged walks. Some 300m north-east of the house are three large brick-built byres which are part of a model farm dating from the 1920s.

According to Bond (1998), a park at Barrow is referred to as early as 1296 but there is little information on its origins and it is unlikely that it was associated with the nunnery. It was probably a small seigneurial park rather than being of monastic or episcopal origin. The park in its present form seems to date from the late C18: no park is shown on Day and Masters county map of 1782, but Collinson's view of 1791 shows the old house in a landscaped setting.

Kitchen Garden

The kitchen garden is laid out on the south-west-facing slope below the house. It is bounded to the north-west by a stepped stone wall. A north-east/south-west axis runs along a central path with espaliered fruit trees on 2m high iron frames, to a substantial gate with stone gate piers and elaborate wrought-iron gate. This leads in turn, via a short walk with espaliers and frames, to a gate and a pedestrian bridge over the ha-ha into the park. The kitchen garden is now subdivided by planting into domestic gardens. A bothy range and glasshouse on the north-east side and a gardener's cottage have been converted into dwellings.


  • Day and Masters, Map of the county of Somerset, 1782
  • OS 6" to 1 mile:
  • 1st edition published 1887
  • 2nd edition published 1904
  • 3rd edition published 1932
  • OS 25" to 1 mile: 3rd edition published 1931


Engraving, Barrow Court in its park (in Collinson 1791)

Description written: December 2002 Amended: July 2003

Register Inspector: DAL

Edited: November 2021

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

A Benedictine nunnery was established on the site in 1211. This was patronised first by the Gournays and later by the Berkeleys.

The whole site was leased by John Drew of Bristol after the Dissolution and used as a country house. The estate then passed through several different families before being bought by the Gibbs in 1881. Henry Martin Gibbs came to Barrow Court in 1882 and made substantial alterations to the buildings. At this date the gardens and park were laid out in their present form.

After World War II the house and grounds were leased to the College of St. Matthias. In the last few years the estate has been divided into upwards of 20 separate residential occupancies. However, this has been done without the division of the main formal garden, which is communally maintained by the residents.

The formal gardens were largely designed by F. Inigo Thomas.

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 National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

13th Century

The first recorded Lord of the Manor of Barrow was Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances (CL 1902), but by the 13th century it was in Crown ownership. William Rufus granted it to Robert Fitzhardinge, via the marriage of whose grand-daughter it came into the Gournay family. It was from this family that the neighbouring village of Barrow Gurney took its name.

14th - 16th Century

The house stands on the site of a Benedictine nunnery founded before the 14th century, and possibly as early as about 1200, whose first recorded prioress was Joan de Gournay. A deer park is known to have been established in the medieval period (Bond 1998), and The Conygar is recorded as the name of a wood about 300m south-west of the house on early Ordnance Survey maps. The estate went through various owners until the Dissolution, after which Henry VIII granted it to John Drew of Bristol, who converted the core of the present house between 1537 and 1539.

17th -19th Century

In 1602 it was sold to Dr Francis James, a lawyer, who altered and extended the house to its present E-shaped form. In 1659 the estate was sold to William Gore, in whose family it descended through the 18th century and much of the 19th century, although in the early 19th century it was being used only as an occasional residence. The Barrow Gurney estate, including the 16th century Barrow Court, was acquired in 1881 by Antony Gibbs of Tyntesfield, Avon, who sold it in 1883 to his younger brother, Henry Martin Gibbs. He remodelled and refurbished the Jacobean house and between 1887 and 1891 rebuilt the adjoining church. In 1892 he commissioned F Inigo Thomas (1866-1950) to produce a comprehensive new garden design, in a series of interlinked formal compartments dominated by yew hedging and architectural features, which was completed by 1897.

20th Century

The house remained in the Gibbs' ownership until 1976, although it was used as a military hospital in the Second World War and was leased as a college of education from 1949 to 1976. In 1978 the house was converted into separate dwellings, and the gardens are now (2002) maintained by the Barrow Court Residents' Association.

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • The National Heritage List for England: Register of Parks and Gardens

  • Reference: Barrow Court
  • Grade: II


  • House (featured building)
  • Description: The house core dates to the 16th century, with 19th-century alterations and additions. The original portion is limestone rubble with freestone dressings.
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  • Stable Block
  • Description: Former stable range, now housing. Main entrance range with adjoining rear ranges forming U shaped plan. Water pump circa 1891. Ashlar and cast iron. Quatrefoil base with 2 steps to each niche in between foil projections. Square rising to octagonal pump shaft with pyramid cap. Cast iron pump handle and water spout.
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  • Boundary Wall
  • Gate Lodge
  • Description: Gate Lodge and Entrance Archway to South East of Barrow Court: Dated 1884 on rainwater head. Squared and coursed rubble with flush dressed stone quoins, openings and copings, stone tile roof, ashlar stack. Tall 3 storey lodge, square on plan in Cotswold Vernacular style.
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  • Gate Piers
  • Description: Gatepiers, gates and 12 Pillars collectively known as the Twelve Months of the Year. Rubble to base of curving quadrant walls which form the semi-circular enclosure. Ashlar coping, gatepiers and piers, ironwork railings 6 terms, 2 metres high to either side of central Gatepiers. Each term has a moulded base and develops into the bust of a woman depicting a month of the year: the month is carved in letters below each bosom which is decorated with foliage sprays.
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  • Temple
  • Description: Temple, Exedra and Linking East Boundary Wall of Formal Garden at Barrow Court: The Temple is a tetrastyle Doric loggia with a hipped roof and ridge ball finials which gives on to a square courtyard walled on the east and west and leading via 3 semi circular steps down to the formal east axis of the garden. At each side of the steps are curving quaadrant balustrated walls and tall Gatepiers, 2.5 metres high. The Exedra is a semi-circular recess in the Boundary Wall with ball finiars to the rear wall and 2 tall piers, 3 metres high, with attached columns with composite capitals, deeply projecting entablatures and vast urn finials with fruit and flower swags.
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  • Pond
  • Description: Lily Pond and 2 Ornamental Pedestals with Urns each 20 metres either side of Pond in Rose Garden at Barrow Court: Rubble stone to pond walls below water level, ashlar coping. Ashlar pedestals and Urns. Ironwork railings enclosing pond. It is enclosed by tall yew hedges but on axis with the 2 Pedestals which are central to 2 symmetrical parterres of rose beds.
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  • Building
  • Description: Tithe Barn: Former Tithe Barn, now house. Large squared and irregular coursed rubbled with flushed rusticated dressed stone quoins, stone copings and pantile roof.
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  • Garden Wall
  • Gazebo
  • Description: East and West Corner Gazebos and Linking North Boundary Wall of formal Garden at Barrow Court: Rubble to Gazebo bases, flanking curved walls, ashlar to piers and stone slates to Gazebo roofs. Each Gazebo has a Venetian loggia on its south facade with ornamental keystone and further arched openings with curving steps up to each side givve access to a wooden settle-type seat.
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  • Courtyard
  • Description: East and West Courts and linking South Boundary Wall of Formala Garden at Batrow Court: Two walled Courts and Garden Wall. Squared and coursed rubble to Courtyard walls, rubble to Garden Wall both with dressed stone copings. Ashlar coins and archways to Courts, iron railings. Each Court gives access through round-arched entrances to the North Lawn and the cross axis path along the north boundary of the Rose Garden.
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  • Sundial
  • Description: Steps, Walls, Ornamental Vases and Sundial forming Junction between Rose Garden and North Lawn at Barrow Court: A series of stone steps up either side of a rusticated archway over a semi-circular pond. A viewing platform of stone flags placed centrally on the north boundary axis path of the Rose Garden. The archway has a lion's head spout whose water course links with the Lily Pond. Wrought iron railings on the north side with urn finials and wrought iron panels of Tijou derivation; 2 ornamental Vases are set at each corner as the steps ascend. The sundial is placed centrally on the platform; balauster shaped shaft with acanthus carving and a copper plaque with missing shadow bar.
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  • Kitchen Garden
  • Description: The large and well-ornamented kitchen garden complements the formal garden and shrubbery. It has lost some of its original cohesion by being sub-divided to form separate private gardens. Much of the basic layout can nonetheless still be seen. Many of the trained fruit trees also survive. Like the formal garden, the kitchen garden has excellent views over the surrounding parkland.
  • Shrubbery
  • Description: The shrubbery forms part of the formal garden, and is laid out and planted with similar attention to detail. It has carefully planned views and includes a small loggia.
  • Loggia
  • Exedra
  • Hedge
  • Description: Yew hedges.
  • Arbour
  • Statue
Key Information


Landscape Park



Principal Building

Multiple Dwelling





Civil Parish

Flax Bourton




  • E.T. Thacker

  • Avon Gardens Trust

  • Details checked with North Somerset Historic Records Officer 22/5/2012