Oldbury Court 2486

Bristol, England

Brief Description

Oldbury Court comprises pleasure grounds and a park of 35 hectares surrounding a country house (now demolished).

History

Before 1800 there was a small country house with formal gardens set in farmland and enclosed by walls. An extensive designed landscape was described by Shiercliff in 1789. Thomas Graeme purchased the site in 1800. He called in Humphry Repton to advise on the laying out of the grounds, though no red book was produced.

Visitor Facilities

Oldbury Court is open throughout the year.

Terrain

The parkland occupies a gently undulating plateau but the densely wooded valley of the River Frome is precipitous, with dramatic outcrops of rock.

Detailed Description

The remains of the Oldbury Court Estate form a substantial area of mature informal parkland bordered on the south and east by modern housing, and on the west and north by the River Frome. Much of the parkland occupies an undulating plateau, but the valley of the Frome is steep and precipitous, with many dramatic outcrops of rock. Much of the valley is densely wooded, the tree cover being made up principally of oak, beech, willow, sycamore and holly.

The mansion house, which was demolished in 1960, occupied a site on a prominence overlooking the river valley. This area of the valley is densely planted with laurel, rhododendron, bamboo, aucuba, holly and other shrubs. Many footpaths have been laid out on the steep slopes on the south of the river, and provided with steps where necessary. These footpaths allow the visitor many different views of the river valley.

A small brook flows from east to west through the estate, joining the river just to the north of the site of the mansion house. There are two ornamental ponds on this brook, both with cascades. A small stone footbridge crosses the brook. A modern footbridge has also been provided to span the brook where it joins the River Frome. The valley of this brook is again wooded, particularly on the north side. The south side is being planted up by the City Council with a mixture of ornamental shrubs and trees. It is debatable whether this is in character with the rest of the estate.

There are several entrances to the estate. The main entrance was formerly from Oldbury Court Road. A line of trees still flanks this drive. The estate can be entered from the west by crossing a footbridge from the Snuff Mill Park, and from the east by Frenchay Bridge. There are other entrances from the south and west. A part of the Frome Valley Nature Trail runs along the banks of the Frome through the Oldbury Court Estate.

The Oldbury Court Estate is maintained by the Parks Department of Bristol City Council. The grass is cut regulalrly, and most of the park is kept free of litter. The character of the site has been altered by the demolition of the old mansion house in 1960, and by the construction of a depot for the Parks Department. This is on the site of the outbuildings and kitchen garden of the old mansion house.

A children's play area has been constructed near the site of the mansion house, as has a set of dressing rooms. Several of the old pathways and carriage drives through the estate have been metalled. Iron railings have been installed in places near cliff edges and along the river bank to prevent accidents. Since the purchase of the estate by Bristol City Council in 1937 there has been a considerable amount of ornamental planting of mixed trees and shrubs around the brook and around the paths which lead to it from the Oldbury Court Road. This planting is continuing, and will soon have significantly altered the character of this central area of the estate.

Apart from these changes, the estate appears to have been preserved largely as it was in the early 19th century, after the landscaping attentions of Humphry Repton. This makes it all the more important to consider carefully any future landscaping plans for Oldbury Court.

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

A late 18th century park and pleasure grounds laid out following the advice of Humphry Repton, now a public park.

DESCRIPTION

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING

The 35ha Oldbury Court estate lies c 5km north-west of Bristol city centre, between the suburb of Fishponds to the south and Frenchay village to the north. It is bordered to the south and east by inter-war and post-war housing estates and to the west and north by the River Frome. Repton's drawing The Banks of the Frome, Oldbury Court, near Bristol (Peacock 1803) suggests that the ornamental landscape extended across the River Frome and included the opposite side of the glen with its similarly steep and heavily wooded character. A small brook, Oldbury Stream, runs from east to west in a valley across the middle of the park before plunging down a glen north-east of the house to meet the River Frome south of a small island in the river. The north-west boundary of the site is contiguous to the west with the woodland of the former Glenside Lunatic Asylum and, via Halfpenny Bridge, with the public open space known as Snuff Mills. The parkland occupies a gently undulating plateau but the densely wooded valley of the River Frome is precipitous, with dramatic outcrops of rock, an effect increased by the extensive quarrying of the glen for pennant sandstone.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES

There are two principal historic entrances to Oldbury Court but the park is now readily accessible from most parts of its southern and eastern boundaries. A short straight drive enters from Oldbury Court Road in Fishponds to the south and leads 300m north and 50m north-west to the former depot in the walled garden, past a turning circle made on the former site of the house. The west side of the drive is flanked by one side of a former avenue of mature lime trees. The east side has been replanted (from c 1950s) with a collection of garden exotics, mainly cherry trees. The ornamental north drive enters the site adjacent to a stone bridge, built in 1788 by public subscription, over the River Frome in the village of Frenchay. A thatched rustic lodge, demolished by the council in 1949, formerly marked this entrance; today only the footings remain. The drive offers a carefully landscaped and dramatic approach, winding south-west and south up the valley side between tall stands of mature beech and Scots pine. It passes several exposed rock faces, the remnant of stone quarries, and offers repeated glimpses of the river below before emerging into parkland beyond a small wood of mature oak trees. At this point can be glimpsed, 400m to the south-west, across a lightly wooded valley, the gable end of the sports pavilion close to the site of the house. The drive crosses a stone bridge over Oldbury Stream and divides into the original drive curving west to the site of the house, and a C20 metalled path running 300m directly to the south entrance of the park. The drive to the house enters a shallow cutting after 150m, passing between a fine specimen sycamore on a mound to the north, and a clump of mature sycamores to the south.

PRINCIPAL BUILDING

The mansion house at Oldbury Court stood on a prominence towards the centre of the site overlooking the river valley, where a turning circle has been made east of the cricket pavilion and walled garden. The house, which replaced an earlier house, was built c 1600 by the Kemys family and passed through the hands of the Powell, Oveston, and Winstone families. The house was extensively altered in c 1720 and c 1830 (Winstone 1977) and survived in an altered condition until its demolition in 1960. A single-storey sports pavilion (c 1960s) stands between the site of the house and the infilled ha-ha.

GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS

The turning circle which now occupies the site of the house contains an island bed of shrub and soft planting made in the last thirty years. A low depression visible in the ground to the south marks the line of the ha-ha, now infilled, which separated the house from the park. Any historic gardens close to the site of the house have been lost. The ornamental areas of Oldbury Court occupy the valley of Oldbury Stream and the woodlands, in the manner of a ferme ornée. The stream, west of the bridge carrying the north drive, is a linear ornamental area which includes pools, dams, and cascades. The north bank is planted with mature trees and shrubs and the area south of Oldbury Stream contains an assortment of brightly coloured trees and shrubs, planted under municipal ownership since the 1940s. A further pool near the Oldbury Court Road entrance, beneath a rock outcrop upon which formerly stood an ornamental cabin, was used in the inter-war period for bathing until it was destroyed for the post-war car park.

The overgrown woods which occupy a semicircular arc on the steep slopes to the west of the walled gardens were formerly the pleasure grounds, or woodland gardens. The main path hugs the outside of the north and west walls of the walled garden, then runs south of the valley of the small brook which meets the River Frome at the site of a former boathouse, 150m north of the former house site. The walk runs at a high level, commanding views of the valley below. Places for seats are cut into the rock face at strategic vantage points, the most notable of which commands an extensive view, above the trees, of the Frome Valley to the north. The path runs west and south along the top of a substantial stone-built revetment which acts as a ha-ha, separating the woodland gardens above from the woods and former riverside pasture below. It leads to, and passes through an arch in a dramatic rock formation, the sides of which contain iron hinges from a former gate. This area lies at the end of a vista from the house site high above which was known as Long Bottom (Avon Gardens Trust 1994). In his Observations, Repton (1805) described how a small amount of earth-moving opened up a view of a 'romantic glen'. A rock seat close to the arch gateway overlooks a strikingly picturesque scene of the river, the remains of a mill, and a weir across the river. The opposite, western bank for 300m north-east of the weir as far as the island is densely vegetated with laurel, rhododendron, aucuba, bamboo, holly, and other shrubs. From this principal walk spring numerous lesser paths which zig-zag up and down the steep valley sides on steps and narrow terraces. There is little evidence to suggest the former nature of the gardens which have reverted to dense woodland, but a recent survey (LUC 1992) confirmed that the predominance of mature beech and oak dates from the Repton period. The main path and its retaining wall were restored by Bristol City Council and the Countryside Commission in 1995.

Public use of this part of the Oldbury Court estate is largely confined to a metalled path, built as part of a flood alleviation scheme in the 1970s, which runs along the river bank the entire length of the Frome Valley Glen from Stapleton to Frenchay.

PARK

The park at Oldbury Court lies on a gently undulating plateau south-east of the gorge of the River Frome, and south, east, and north-east of the house site, and is bisected by the valley of Oldbury Stream. The park is predominantly close-mown amenity grassland with sports pitches and a scattering of mature trees and grown-out hedges around the boundaries. The Sale catalogue (1833) describes the park as 'thickly studded with luxurious timber' though its current appearance is quite sparse with a few notable veteran trees and mature specimens. South of the house site is a large children's playground and a cricket pitch.

Recent research suggests Repton 'approved of most aspects of the landscape at Oldbury Court and did not want to propose major alterations' and, consequently, that he probably advised 'removing the field boundaries... breaking up the old plantations... creating sunk fences... planting clumps and converting the land to pasture' (LUC 1992).

KITCHEN GARDEN

The brick- and stone-walled kitchen garden located 100m north-west of the former house site is now used as a council depot. The depot contains the remains of glasshouses and a gardeners' bothy.

REFERENCES

Shiercliff, Guide to Bristol and the Hotwells (1789)

Peacock's Polite Repository (1802)

Peacock's Polite Repository (1803), frontispiece

H Repton, Observations on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening (1805)

Bristol Times and Mirror, March 1927 (Letter from H G Vassall)

D Stroud, Humphry Repton (1962), p 171

R Winstone, Bristol's suburbs in the 1920s and 1930s (1977)

G Carter et al, Humphry Repton (1982), p 153

N Kingsley, The Country Houses of Gloucestershire (1989), p 217

A Braine, The History of Kingswood Forest (1991)

Oldbury Court Restoration Plan, (Land Use Consultants 1992)

Avon Gardens Trust Newsletter, 10 (1992), pp 27-31; 14 (1994), pp 20-37

S Harding and D Lambert, Parks and Gardens of Avon (1994), pp 62-3

S Daniels, Humphry Repton (1999), p 230

Description written: August 2002

Edited: November 2002

Features
  • Mansion House (featured building)
  • Description: The mansion house at Oldbury was a three-storey, triple gabled house of the 17th century, or possibly earlier. Several pictures of the house are extant. It was demolished in 1960. The site is now largely empty, and used as an amenity area.
  • Earliest Date:
  • Latest Date:
  • Garden Wall
  • Description: This feature relates to the site of outbuildings and the kitchen garden. Several old stone walls are still standing here, and the outline of the former buildings is visible. The area is now used as a depot.
  • Pond
  • Description: There are two small artificial ponds with cascades on the small brook that flows through the Oldbury Estate. They are clearly shown on the tithe map of 1834. Another pond was shown on 20th century maps. This was located to the east of the footbridge, but no longer exists.
  • Cascade
  • Description: There are two small artificial ponds with cascades on the small brook that flows through the Oldbury Estate. They are clearly shown on the tithe map of 1834.
  • Path
  • Description: There are many different footpaths around the slopes surrounding the site of the mansion house. The paths are well-built, and provided with steps where necessary. They were probably laid out after Repton's visit, or even earlier.
  • Ornamental Bridge
  • Description: There is a small stone single-arched bridge, with a cascade on the west side. This feature is shown on the 1834 tithe map.
  • Latest Date:
  • Stream
  • Description: A small brook, Oldbury Stream, runs from east to west in a valley across the middle of the park.
  • River
  • Description: River Frome.
Access & Directions

Access Contact Details

Oldbury Court is open throughout the year.
History

Detailed History

Oldbury Court is thought to have been one of the royal hunting lodges in the Kingswood Forest. As such, it is represented on a map of 1610. The mansion house, which was demolished in 1960, is variously thought to have been Elizabethan, Jacobean, or from the reign of Charles II.

In the 18th century, Oldbury Court passed through the hands of the Powells, the Ovestons and the Winstones. In Shiercliff's 'Bristol and the Hotwell guide' of 1789 it is described as being the 'seat of Hayward Winstone Esq.'.

Shiercliff goes on to describe the grounds. He speaks of 'elegant rural walks' that were 'carved through the woods and precipices which border the Frome, which is seen flowing below, sometimes serene, or even turbulent.....in its meanderings tumbling its waters over a weir extending across the river from a mill, forming a beautiful cascade'. This weir may well have been the one which still crosses the river immediately to the north of the site of the mansion house.

The Oldbury Court Estate was purchased by Thomas Graeme in December 1799, and it was under his ownership that the grounds took the shape in which we see them today. Graeme called in Humphrey Repton to landscape the grounds, and Repton was undoubtedly taken with the place. He wrote, in the introduction of his report to Graeme:

'In the immediate neighbourhood of so popular a city as Bristol great extent of undivided property is hardly to be expected. And without such an appropriated domain, a fine commanding situation, however, desirable in many respects, must be defective in this - that it is liable to be annoyed by various buildings, manufactories and nuisances of every description inseparable from a commercial city. But there is another character of scenery most desirable in such a neighbourhood, and of which it would be difficult to select a better specimen than Oldbury Court, where the leading features are and ought to be privacy and seclusion, with such a variety of sublime and beautiful scenery as seldom occurs in places of much greater extent. I feel highly sensible of the honour of being called in to bring into notice the several features of so beautiful a spot, and am happy to know that by being in the possession of a man of taste and polite literature, there is no danger of its adding one more to the many instances of bad taste - but too common in the environs of large cities.'

It has not been possible to locate the rest of Repton's report to Thomas Graeme, but a brief reference was made by Repton to Oldbury Court in his 'Observations on the theory and practice of landscape gardening'. He describes how a small amount of earth-moving opened up a view of a 'romantic glen'. Two of his drawings of Oldbury Court appeared in Peacock's 'Polite Repository', one in 1802, and one as the frontispiece in 1803.

It is difficult to know for certain what work was carried out at Oldbury Court following Repton's advice, but when the estate came up for sale in 1833, the sale particulars described some 14 hectares of ornamental woodland as having been 'laid out some years since under the superintendence of the late Mr. Repton'.

The Stapleton tithe map of 1834 shows the Oldbury Court Estate very clearly, remarkably similar in its layout to the present day. The only substantial woodlands are those along the valley of the Frome, and along the small brook which joins the Frome. It seems likely then that Repton may have been involved in the planting of the slopes bordering the Frome, and probably also in the planting of much of the parkland in the estate. The small ponds on the brook are shown on the 1834 tithe map, but we have no evidence to connect them with Repton.

In March 1927, the then owner of Oldbury Court, Mr. H.G. Vassall, wrote that 'Oldbury Court has no "modern improvements"'. His statement is borne out by the evidence of the 1834 tithe map. It seems likely that the Oldbury Court Estate as we see it today is very much as Humphrey Repton left it in terms of its layout. Even the paved pathways which cross the estate are shown, with one exception, on the 1834 tithe map.

The old Snuff Mill, and the adjoining house, were part of the Oldbury Court Estate in the 19th century. Snuff Mill is now also owned by the City of Bristol, and has been made into a park adjoining the Oldbury Court Estate. A thatched cottage which used to stand across the River Frome from the mansion house was burnt down in 1914. It was stated in 1833 'to form a most beautiful feature from the mansion house'. It is possible that this too was Repton's work.

Thomas Graeme died in 1820. His elder sister Margaret had married Henry Vassall, and they held the estate until 1833. An unsuccessful attempt was made to sell the estate at this time, and William Vassall inherited later in the same year. It stayed in his family until 1937, when it was sold by Harry Graeme Vassall to Bristol City Corporation for £13,800, for use as a public park for the rapidly growing suburb of Fishponds.

The mansion house, which was in a ruinous condition, was demolished in 1960.

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

The earliest record of a tenant at Oldbury Court is in the reign of Henry VI (1422-61), when William Dodisham was in possession. He was Lord of the Manor and Ranger of the Forest and the original house probably dated to this time, serving as a hunting lodge within Kingswood Forest. Before 1800 there was a small country house with formal gardens set in farmland and enclosed by walls (Land Use Consultants 1992). The earliest record of an extensive designed landscape at Oldbury Court was its description by Shiercliff in 1789 as 'the seat of Hayward Winstone Esq' which was famous for its:

elegant rural walks ‘carved through the woods and precipices which border the Frome, which is seen flowing below, sometimes serene or even turbulent'in its meanderings tumbling its waters over a weir extending across the river from a mill, forming a beautiful cascade. (Shiercliffe 1789)

Oldbury Court was purchased by Thomas Graeme from the Winstone family in 1800, when he called on Humphry Repton (1752-1818) to advise on the laying out of the grounds. No Red Book was produced for Oldbury Court, though the site is mentioned in Repton's Observations in 1805, and illustrations by Peltro, after Repton, appeared in Peacock's Polite Repository in 1802 and 1803. Graeme died in 1820 and the Oldbury Court estate passed to his sister Margaret, wife of Henry Vassall. Her descendant, Harry Graeme Vassall, wrote in 1927 that Oldbury Court 'has no modern improvements' (letter of H G Vassall to Bristol Times and Mirror, 1927). The Sale catalogue of 1833 (quoted by Vassall in a letter to Bristol Times and Mirror, 1927) attributes the laying out of 35 acres (about 14 hectares) of ornamental woodland to Repton. As the extent and location of the woodlands have not changed it is reasonable to assume that they remain (2002) as laid out by Repton. In the introduction to his (now lost) report, Repton wrote that 'the leading features are and ought to be privacy and seclusion, with such a variety of sublime and beautiful scenery as seldom occurs in places of much greater extent' (quoted by Vassall in a letter to Bristol Times and Mirror, 1927).

Oldbury Court was bought from the Vassall family by Bristol Corporation in 1937 for use as a public park, in which use it remains (2002). The mansion was demolished in 1960.

Period

  • Late 18th Century
Associated People

Just one person associated to Oldbury Court

Contact
References

References

Contributors

  • E.T. Thacker

    1

  • Avon Gardens Trust