Early-C19 villa grounds, designed in part by Humphry Repton, now public open space.
Reasons for Designation
Royal Victoria Park (formerly Brentry House) is included on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architect and group value: designed by the landscape architect, Humphry Repton, the park represents an unusual commission where he also designed the associated house, with his son, John Repton;
* Date: it is a good example of an early-C19 parkland, which although reduced in size by C20 and C21 housing developments, retains its integrity though the survival of its layout and some C19 planting;
*Documentation: the creation and development of the landscape is well-documented adding to the interest and understanding of the park.
Brentry Hill, later known as Brentry House, was created in 1802 and was the first house on this site. Its owner was William Payne, a Bristol merchant, formerly of Queen Square. Payne commissioned Humphry Repton to lay out the grounds and, unusually, to design the house. This Repton did with the assistance of his architect son, John Adey Repton (1775-1860). Of Brentry Hill, Repton says “I gave general plans for the whole, with the assistance of my son only in the architectural department (Nolan, 1907)." At that time the old ridgeway road ran close to the south front of the house. By 1817 Brentry was occupied by John Cave of the Bristol banking family. The estate was extended between 1817 and 1825, by acquisition of land south of the ridgeway road which was absorbed into the small park as part of the carriage drive. A replacement public highway was made on the line of the present Charlton Road. Cave and his descendants lived at Brentry until at least 1851. It was around this time that the house was substantially enlarged. By 1868, Brentry House had been bought by the Miller family who lived here until 1898, when it became Royal Victoria Home, the country’s first Inebriate Reformatory, set up by Reverend Harold Nelson Burden and his wife. The house became an administration centre and two villages were constructed in the park – a “Men’s Village” and a “Women’s Village” each containing ward and dormitory blocks. Hothouses, kitchen gardens and flowerbeds provided work for the inmates and there were woodland walks and fields for recreation. In 1922 it became a mental hospital, the Brentry Certified Institution, later Brentry Colony, and eventually became part of the National Health Service. During the period of institutional use the hospital buildings extended throughout the area behind the house to the north-east and adjacent to the rear entrance drive. Brentry’s use as a hospital declined from c1988 and ceased entirely in c1998. Part of the grounds was used for the building of St Peter’s Hospice in 1996 and the built footprint and the unbuilt areas, formerly the “Village Greens” have been developed for housing, with the house being converted to apartments in the early C21. The remaining c12ha park has been restored as a public open space and the whole site has been renamed Royal Victoria Park.
Early-C19 villa grounds, designed in part by Humphry Repton, now public open space.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING: Royal Victoria Park, occupies c12ha of parkland, lying four miles to the north of Bristol city centre and wholly within the city boundary. It is surrounded by the suburbs of Henbury to the west, Southmead to the east, and Westbury-on-Trym to the south, and is immediately bordered by Charlton Road to the south and east, Brentry Lane and a woodland belt to the north, and Passage Road to the west. The park straddles a low ridge running south-west to north-east, and the house is sufficiently elevated to command extensive views to the south and west. Repton admired the landscape, recording Brentry’s “most pleasing and extensive view. In the foreground are the rich woods of King’s Weston and Blaise Castle, with the picturesque assemblage of gardens and villas in Henbury and Westbury, beyond which are the Severn and Bristol Channel, and the prospect is bounded by the mountains of South Wales (Repton, 1801)." The views admired by Repton have been encroached upon by residential development but the principal prospect to the west may still be enjoyed. From the house the grounds slope steeply westwards to the estate wall on Passage Road and north to the woodland belts. To the north-east lies a flat plateau formerly used as “Village Greens” and later, for playing fields but is now occupied by an early-C21 housing development, and to the south lies the gently sloping parkland.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES: there are two principal entrances to Royal Victoria Park. A direct and straight drive enters the rear of the property from the north-east, off a roundabout on Charlton Road and runs between the wall of the kitchen garden and the grounds of St Peter’s Hospice. The ornamental drive approaches from Charlton Road, through new metal gates (2001) to the south-east and turns north-eastwards to the house through a belt of ornamental trees. At the turn in the drive, at the crest of the ridge, is a sudden and expansive burst of prospect, partially blocked by young trees, with views over the parkland and beyond to the north. As the drive turns north at the house the extensive westward prospects come into view. A wooden cabin stands on the site of a former lodge (demolished c1970) at the entrance to this drive and a ha-ha which ran parallel and east of the drive has been infilled. A further entrance and drive was made in the north-west corner of the site off Passage Road, probably for C20 institutional use.
PRINCIPAL BUILDING: Repton Hall, formerly Brentry Hill, later Brentry House, (1802, extended c1840, listed Grade II) was built in the Greek revival style to the designs of Humphry Repton and his son, John Adey Repton, Humphry Repton wrote of the house, which sits on a low eminence flanked by trees, that “few houses have been built with more attention to the situation and circumstances of the place than the villa at Brentry (Repton, 1803)." In the mid-C19 the house was enlarged from the original modest symmetrical three-bay villa built by Repton. This enlargement added the two additional bays on the south front, the loggia on the west front and the orangery to the east. The original design can still be clearly seen as the core of the bigger house. The house was restored and converted to apartments in the early C21.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS: the only gardens at Royal Victoria Park are some C20 shrubberies with C19 ornamental trees south and south-west of the house, on the south side of the south drive. In the crook of the elbow formed by the southern drive, the land platforms may still be discerned of abandoned tennis courts and a former croquet ground. Nothing else remains visible of the historic gardens and pleasure grounds. The site of the above ground grotto depicted in Peacock’s Polite Repository (1805) has not been previously located, though the orientation of the house shows that it stood adjacent to the southern drive.
THE PARK: the parkland slopes steeply away from the house to the west and north, and gently to the south, the remainder of the site being flat. There is a small wood in the triangle of land north of the junction of Passage Road and Charlton Road and a dense woodland belt which forms the north boundary of the park. Mature oak, lime and beech trees remain in the perimeter belts and some fine C19 specimens survive close to the house. Elsewhere the planting is from mid-to late C20 and unrelated to any earlier design in its location and species composition. The fences and ha-ha visible on the OS 25” to 1 mile 1st edition published in 1881, suggests that virtually the entire site was used for grazing. The only areas from which grazing was excluded were the perimeter tree belts along Passage Road; the belt of trees to the north; the drives; the ornamental planting along the ridge leading to the house and its immediate environs; and a triangular area of trees, possibly an orchard, in the east of the park. The extent of the park has been reduced by C20 and C21 developments, leaving only the areas south and west of the house intact. The remaining parkland has been replanted to the layout shown on the 1881 OS map under a section 106 planning agreement.
KITCHEN GARDEN: the walled kitchen garden is located east of, and adjacent to, the house. It was incorporated into the hospital buildings but remained in use throughout the institutional use of the property. In the early C21 it was set out as gardens for the apartments created in the house.