Warmley House, Siston 3427

Bristol, England

Brief Description

Warmley House (1750s) has grounds of around four hectares surrounding a mansion developed in the mid-18th century. The partly surviving gardens make use of existing features from earlier industrial works. Warmley House is now a home for elderly people. This record was checked with South Gloucestershire Historic Monument Records Officer - June 2010.

History

Warmley House was built in about 1750 for William Champion, a Quaker industrialist who had moved his brassworks to Warmley. The gardens around the House were laid out from 1746 to 1769. Many features had a dual purpose, being both ornamental and of use in the industrial processes.

Terrain

The landform is mostly flat, being in the broad valley of the Siston Brook, but rises to the east where the House stands.

Detailed Description

For several decades, Warmley House was used as offices for Kingswood District Council and, prior to that, Warmley Urban District Council. It was thus in a good state of repair when last surveyed in 1984. At that time, the house was for sale, and its subsequent use has yet to be established.

The following description dates from the 1984 survey, and may therefore require updating. At the time, some restoration work was being suggested, and may have been carried out:

The grounds have been poorly maintained for decades and show this very plainly. The grottos are in a state of dereliction and have been fenced off by the Council. The pond is overgrown, with only a small amount of stagnant water in it. The boathouse is an ivy-covered ruin. The huge statue of Neptune stands isolated in a caravan park, covered with ivy and showing signs of serious erosion. The castellated summerhouse has had modern extensions built onto it.

There is a small area of lawn to the north-west of the house which has been maintained by the Council. There are some fine trees which have survived. What remains of the garden is now surrounded by residential, industrial and horticultural developments. This, combined with the neglected state of the garden, gives the site an air of some desolation. However, there are so many visible relics of the past around the site that it is possible to imagine what it may have looked like in its heyday. Sensitive restoration work could still make the remaining garden an area of great beauty as well as historical interest.

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

Mid 18th century grounds around a mansion using features of earlier industrial works.

DESCRIPTION

LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING

Warmley House is situated c 9.5km east of the centre of Bristol in Warmley, part of the suburb of Kingswood, and the grounds cover 4ha. The boundaries of the registered site are formed by the western boundary of the caravan park to the west; the rear of properties off Tower Lane to the south; the rear of properties off Tower Road North to the east; and the garden boundary of the Summer House to the north. The landform is mostly flat, being in the broad valley of the Siston Brook, but rises to the east where the House stands. The site is bordered by suburban housing and a horticulture enterprise to the east, residential and commercial development to the south, and fields to the west.

ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES

Warmley House is approached from the east, along a short c 50m drive off Tower Road North, through ornamental gates and gate piers (1830s, listed grade II). There is a turning circle north of the House and attached stable block. A steep incline leads c 15m north from the head of the drive into a small walled area now used as a car park. The gardens are entered through a doorway in the wall to the west of the car park. There is a pedestrian access from the south, next to the former Warmley Works buildings on Tower Lane, 150 south-west of the House. This access links to the southern end of the Laurel Walk which leads approximately north/south through the gardens. The Summer House, which is located 300m north of the House, has its own access drive to the east off Tower Road North.

PRINCIPAL BUILDING

Warmley House and stable block (c 1750, listed grade II*) were built for William Champion who lived on the site of his brassworks. The three-storey ashlar and slate-roofed building occupies the east of the grounds on a low eminence, its main, north front overlooking the grounds to the north and west. The House has a central block with a rusticated ground floor and central pedimented porch. The west elevation has a two-storey semicircular bow with a balustraded parapet. The east side of the north elevation has a set-back two-storey wing connecting to the stable block which is of colour-washed brick and stone with a late C20 tile roof. The House is currently (2002) used as an old people's home.

GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS

The gardens lie to the west of the House and extend for c 300m to the north and c 100m to the south. The House terrace and immediate surrounds are planted with mature evergreen trees such as holm oak and monkey puzzle dating from the C19. South-west of the House the ground slopes away down a grassy bank to a line of mature perimeter trees on the southern garden boundary 100m away. Warmley's most intricate garden area lies c 50m to the west of the House. An ornamental gateway (mid-late C18, listed grade II) flanks steps leading to the northern entrance to the interior of the Grottoes (mid-late C18, listed grade II). These underground structures, thought to originate in industrial workings (Bryant and Howes 1991), are built into the rising ground upon which the House stands and consist of passageways built from stone, clinker, and slag blocks which link a central, formerly domed but now open, area to four axial vaulted chambers, some with water basins and waterfalls. The interior is liberally decorated with black slag and clinker, by-products of the smelting processes, and niches and shelves are cut into the walls. The water features were probably powered by the steam engines which raised water for the industrial works (ibid). The Grottoes have several openings which pierce the gardens walls. South of the Grottoes are a series of walled enclosures of varying heights and construction, forming a chain of outdoor rooms with shrub beds against the walls. One of these enclosures, the Chequered Walled Garden, is set into the hill on which Warmley House stands and has a wall punctuated by arched openings, subsequently infilled in a chequerboard pattern of black slag blocks. Some 20m south of these enclosures is the Mount, covered with holly and a ring of oak trees, which overlooks to the south the site of the former Works and remains of the Windmill Tower and associated buildings, now housing the Industrial and Local History Museum. At the west foot of the Mount is the southern end of the Laurel Walk, bounded on its west side by the remains of the lake edging and aligned to the south with the Windmill Tower (C17/C18, listed grade II), situated outside the gardens. Also outside the public gardens to the south and in divided ownership is the Icehouse (C18, listed grade II). The lake which covered the entire western half of the site no longer survives: two thirds of its former area at the southern end is occupied by a mobile home park and the remainder, to the north, by an abandoned tree nursery. The Laurel Walk runs 100m north-east to a roofless boathouse at the southern end of the semicircular Echo Pond, a small body of water backed by a 3m high curved wall and framed by alder trees. A 50m path follows the line of the straight wall at the garden front of Echo Pond and leads to the southern end of Elm Walk, a slightly curved path, 200m long, which passes between poplar and lime trees and elm scrub to the northern boundary of the gardens. Elm Walk is bounded on its eastern edge by a dried-up canal which formerly fed Echo Pond. The canal has been encroached upon by extensions to the rear gardens of neighbouring houses in Tower Road North. The Summer House (mid-late C18, listed grade II) lies 30m west of the end of Elm Walk and marks the former northern boundary of the lake. The castellated Summer House, now a residence with C20 extensions, was built for Champion from slag blocks. To the east of the Summer House, at the junction with Elm Walk, were the sluices for regulating the flow of water from Siston Brook into the lake. South of the Summer House is an abandoned nursery, home to a range of semi-mature trees. A massive statue of Neptune (mid-late C18, listed grade II), c 8m tall and decorated with clinker and render, stands 120m due south of the Summer House, formerly in the lake but now incongruously visible above the roofs of the mobile homes to the south (2002).

KITCHEN GARDEN

No evidence of a kitchen garden survives at Warmley. It is possible that any productive gardens were in the area north of the House, outside the site here registered, which is now used as a horticultural enterprise.

REFERENCES

H T Ellacombe, History of the Parish of Bitton (1883)

Warmley Gardens and Grotto, guide leaflet, (Kingswood Borough Council 1987)

Avon Gardens Trust Newsletter, 2 (1987); 22 (2000), pp 14-19

A Bryant and L Howes, Warmley Historic Gardens (1991)

Warmley Historic Garden Management Plan, (L Howes 1993)

S Harding and D Lambert, Parks and Gardens of Avon (1994), pp 48-9

Warmley Historic Garden Management Plan, (Nicholas Pearson Associates 1996)

Warmley Gardens Landscape Conservation Plan, (Nicholas Pearson Associates 1997)

Description written: September 2002

Edited: January 2003

Features
  • Mansion House (featured building)
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  • Pond
  • Description: Echo Pond. It seems that the echo was a fortuitous accident and not some clever effect carefully designed.
  • Boat House
  • Description: A small square building stands immediately to the south of the semi-circular pond, at the edge of what was once the lake. It is two storeys high, but it is difficult to tell what its original function may have been. It is now in a state of dereliction and covered with ivy. It may have been a boathouse, summerhouse or gazebo.
  • Statue
  • Description: A large statue of Neptune, built of copper slag and other metalic waste, stands on a solid pedestal in the middle of the site of Champion's lake. The lake has long been drained and the statue now stands next to a caravan park. The statue has suffered serious erosion and it is difficult to imagine its original state. As it now stands it is rather graceless, but its sheer size and mass are striking. It stands at least eight metres high.
  • Icehouse
  • Description: There is a substantial brick-built icehouse at the southern end of the site of the lake, adjoining the dam. This has been dated on the basis of oral evidence to around 1825. It is not therefore part of the original garden layout. It remained in use commercially until at least 1905.
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  • Summerhouse
  • Description: This is the small building referred to in Canon Ellacombe's account of the garden. It is a small square building of two storeys built entirely of black copper slag. This alone gives it a certain architectural importance. The building is castellated and sits on a small arch over the Siston Brook. This used to mark one end of the lake, and Canon Ellacombe suggests that the building may have been a dwelling place for a keeper of some kind. This building has been recently altered.
  • Artificial Mound
  • Description: To the south of the house stands a small conical mound about 20 feet high, now overgrown with trees. There are no obvious entrances to the interior of the mound and its origins and purpose are unknown. It may have been a spoil heap or rubble left over from the construction of the grottos.
  • Lake
  • Description: This is the site of the lake, now drained. It is still possible to trace the outline of the 13 acre lake and parts of the dam built to contain the water. At present, the Siston Brook flows straight through the site of the lake in a concrete culvert. Most of the site is occupied by a caravan park.
  • Planting
  • Description: There is little of great horticultural interest. No traces remain of the elms described by Canon Ellacombe. There are, however, several fine trees including black poplar, holm oak, beech, cedar of Lebanon and Chile pine.
  • Tower
  • Description: The Clock Tower.
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Grotto
Authorities

Civil Parish

  • Hanham Abbots
History

Detailed History

William Champion was an enterprising Quaker who moved to Warmley in 1746 to develop his ideas for the large-scale production of copper, zinc and brass. He was drawn to Warmley by the combined lure of a plentiful supply of locally-mined coal, and a less plentiful supply of water from the Siston Brook. In a comparatively short time, Champion was to establish at Warmley one of the largest industrial complexes then existing anywhere. He was in the forefront of the technological revolution then gathering pace, and felt obliged to keep many of his industrial processes secret from his many rivals and competitors.

Champion built his house in Warmley in the 1750s. It was adjacent to his works, the pleasure grounds mainly being laid out to the north and west of the house. Where possible, he combined business with pleasure. Many of the ornamental features of his garden play an important functional role in his industrial processes. Thus, he created a 13 acre lake by damming Siston Brook just to the south-west of the house. This lake was graced with a colossal statue of Neptune, placed on a small island. The lake served not only to lend beauty to the landscape, but also to provide a continuous flow of water to power various mills.

The meagre flow from the Siston Brook was insufficient to meet Champion’s needs, so in 1749 he installed a huge steam engine, which he used to pump water back into the lake. This daring use of emerging technology attracted considerable attention. Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal carried this report on 30th September, 1749:

‘The machine is the most noblest of its kind in the world; it discharges upwards of 3000 hogsheads of water in an hour; the water is buoyed up by several tubes in a Hemispherical Form, and falls into the pool as a cascade; and affords a grand and beautiful scene.’

A visiting Swedish steelmaker, Rienhold Ruther Angerstein, visited the works in 1754. His notes are available at the Jernhontore’s Archive in Stockholm, Sweden, entitled ‘Journal of Travels in 1754’. He noted particularly the use of this steam engine:

‘What is special about this mill is that it is driven by water, which is brought up from 3 fathoms by a fire engine, and then runs into a wide reservoir; from this onto the wheels, and finally to the fire engine to be pumped anew. Mr Champion told me this fire engine cost £2000 to build and that it also requires every year £300 to be maintained with coals etc.’

As the garden fed the works, so the by-products of the works provided Champion with materials to build his garden ornaments. A hard, black, iridescent clinker was produced as a by-product of the copper-making process, and this material was used in the construction of the statue of Neptune, the boathouse and the summerhouse. Many walls in the garden and in the surrounding area are capped with this slag. Perhaps of most interest though is the use of this material to line the walls of the vaults and chambers of the grottos, lending a truly informal atmosphere to this bizarre construction.

There are few clues to the early layout of the grounds. The only known description is by H.T. Ellacombe, who wrote in 1881:

‘Champion, though an enterprising manufacturer, did not neglect to make his place at Warmley attractive. At the rear of his works he built a new house for himself, in front of which he laid out in Dutch style a beautiful walk through several acres of meadow land. A row of elms still stands which he planted, having grown to gigantic proportions. On the northern side of the house he constructed a huge lake, covering 13 acres, building a very heavy dam and gates to regulate the supply of water to his mills. An ornamental arch and a house built above it formed a neat entrance where the water filled the lake, the house also serving the purpose of a dwelling for the keeper. Lastly, in the centre of the lake on a small island, stood Neptune, nearly 60 feet high, constructed of masonry according to the traditional proportions of that monster. Its face, chest and arms being made of white plaster or cement, contrasted effectively with its head and lower parts of the body of rough black cinders from the works; while one hand, extended, held the usual barbed fork. This image had a weird effect from a little distance.’

Champion did not have long to enjoy his pleasure gardens. His enthusiasm for risky business ventures led him into bankruptcy and in March 1769 his works, with the house and grounds, were put up for sale by auction. They were bought by the Bristol Brass and Wire Company, and production there continued for a long time to come. Champion died in London on 22nd April, 1794.

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

Warmley House was built in about 1750 for William Champion (1709-89), a Quaker industrialist who had moved his brassworks (founded 1742) from Old Market, in the centre of Bristol, to Warmley in 1746. The gardens around the House were laid out from 1746 to 1769, with much of the work taking place at the beginning of this period. They were closely associated with the early zinc smelting processes invented and patented by Champion and were intimately linked to the large industrial complex (Scheduled Ancient Monument) he developed to the south of Warmley House. Many features had a dual purpose, being both ornamental and of use in the industrial processes. Champion's brassworks were driven out of business by competitors in 1768, bringing about the ruin of his main investor, Norborne Berkeley, Lord Botetourt of Stoke Park, Avon. Thomas Goldney III of Goldney House, Avon and Charles Bragge, later Lord Bathurst, also lost significant sums of money.

The works were auctioned in 1769 following the collapse of the business and sold to the Bristol Brass Company. Activity on the site was gradually wound down but the manufacture of brass pins continued to after 1835, under the ownership of George Madgwich Davidson. The pin-making business was sold to Joseph Haskins in 1881, when the property consisted of a dwelling house, coach house, yard, lawn, gardens, pleasure grounds, and ponds. The building known as the Summer House, in the north of the site, was sold in 1918 (Pearson Associates 1997).

Warmley House and its garden was bought by Warmley Rural District Council for use as offices in 1941. In the 1960s most of the Pottery Works adjacent to and south-east of the site were demolished, leaving little more than the Clock Tower (about 1746, Listed Grade II) and associated buildings, formerly the pin factory. A lake, which formerly occupied the northern and eastern areas of the site, became silted up in the early 20th century and the area was occupied in the 1970s by a mobile home park following the culverting of the Siston Brook. A boathouse situated about 70 metres north-west of the House was burnt out before 1984. In 1984 Warmley House was sold and became an old people's home, and the grounds were opened as public open space. The site remains (2002) in divided public and private ownership.

Contact
References

References

Contributors

  • E. T. Thacker

    1

  • Avon Gardens Trust