Heritage Category: Park and Garden
List Entry Number: 1000393
Date first listed: 02-Sep-1989
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: City of Bristol (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: ST 63448 76911
A late C18 park and pleasure grounds laid out following the advice of Humphry Repton, now a public park.
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 (LUC 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 letter to Bristol Times and Mirror, 1927) attributes the laying out of 35 acres (c 14ha) 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 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.
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.
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
Maps Norden's map of Kingswood Forest, 1610 (reproduced in Braine 1991) Enclosure map for Oldbury Court, c 1757 (Bristol Record Office) Tithe map for Stapleton parish, 1834 (Bristol Record Office)
OS 6" to 1 mile: 2nd edition published 1904 1921 edition
Illustrations H Repton, The Banks of the Frome, Oldbury Court, near Bristol, 1803 (J7A. E6753), (Victoria and Albert Museum) H Repton, Scene at Oldbury Court, Gloucestershire, 1803 (J7A. E6750), (Victoria and Albert Museum) S Loxton, pen and ink drawing, Oldbury Court House, 1909 (Bristol Record Office)
Archival items Avon Gardens Trust, Repton in Avon: booklet for Seminar (1989)
Description written: August 2002 Register inspector: SH Edited: November 2002
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
Legacy System number: 1356
Legacy System: Parks and Gardens
This garden or other land is registered under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act 1953 within the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens by Historic England for its special historic interest.
End of official listing