Last year it is estimated that well over half a million people visited the Blaise Estate and this has set me wondering how this has changed over the years since 1926, when the Estate was first purchased by the Corporation of Bristol for the enjoyment of its’ citizens.
At that time Henbury was a very small independent village situated in South Gloucestershire dominated by its’ Church and large houses built by wealthy Bristol merchants. It was not until 1935 that it became a part of the City of Bristol.
A visit to Blaise from Bristol in 1926 was quite a difficult journey. The original guide book published in 1927 states “the most convenient way to reach the Estate from the City is by tram to Westbury Village and thence by motor omnibus or by walking along Henbury Road to the Henbury Hill entrance. The estate can also be reached conveniently by the public footpath from Canford Lane which runs across the Golf Links, by the footpath from Coombe Dingle which enters the Estate near the junction of the Hazel Brook and the River Trym , also by public footpaths from Kingsweston Hill and from Kingsweston Road between Henbury and Shirehampton” This is much the same today.
As a result of the above several local residents opened Tea Gardens on the outskirts of the Estate which offered refreshments to the visitors. I can remember two at Coombe Dingle and one in Henbury and certainly the one in Henbury continued into the 1950’s
So Blaise became a day’s outing for many Bristolians and their families. A welcome opportunity to get away from crowded housing and streets of the City and enjoy the woods and open spaces of Blaise.
Early visitors in 1926 would have entered the previously private estate of the Harford family who had lived here for 137 years, with very little access for the public. The house remained closed, as also did the Castle and there were few, if any visitor facilities. Free access to the grounds and the establishment of by laws to ensure proper protection of the environment were established.
The layout of the Estate today remains more or less as it was in 1926 and today’s visitors continue to enjoy its same beauty. But many readers may remember events and facilities which they have enjoyed, but are no longer there.
A big attraction established shortly after the war was the base of an old static water tank converted to a children’s paddling pool, just opposite the entrance to the Museum. I think that this was closed for Health and Safety reasons.
The thatched lodge house at the entrance from Kings Weston Road and now occupied by the Play Area was bombed in the war.
The Rustic Lodge on the main drive from Henbury has suffered from serious vandalism, is currently unoccupied and its impressive thatched roof replaced with corrugated iron sheets.
The miniature railway which travelled between the Museum and what is now then Café no longer runs.
The annual Blaise Fare is no longer held
But I am sure those early visitors would still be able to walk the paths and recognise the features which make the gorge and woods so attractive to so many people today as it did in 1926.
Make the most of the long days in June to also enjoy everything that Blaise has to offer.
April is an important month in the Friends of Blaise Calendar.
This year we start our 26th season of Castle opening, which will be between 2:00pm and 4:30pm on the third Sunday of every month, plus Bank Holiday Sundays and Mondays. The first opening will be on Sunday 17th April and the last on Sunday 19th October.
Following the success of the Carol concert held at the Castle in extremely cold conditions last December we are hoping to arrange some further attractions this summer, details of which will be published when finalised.
The Castle is surrounded by a grass plateau and the whole area has been the subject of several excavations. Pottery, brooches, food bones, weaving combs, corn grinding stones have been found here. Examples of these can be seen on display in the Museum. Over 100 Roman coins and evidence of various buildings have been discovered. During excavations for the foundations of the Castle, a vault measuring 10 yards by 6 yards was found containing human bones.
The Castle dates from 1766 and for 150 years, until the Estate was purchased by the City Council was a private summer house used by the family for entertaining guests.
Why was it built on this particular site? At the time there were very few trees growing on the hill and it commanded superb 180 degree views. From the roof of the rear turret it was possible to view the Estuary of the river Avon discharging into the Bristol Channel and it is thought that this was one of the major reasons for building it here. Thomas Farr could now see his ships returning to port with cargoes from his American estates. A painting in the Blaise Museum showing sailing boats awaiting a pilot to take them up to Bristol, clearly shows the Castle on the hill.
In more recent times it was the best place in Bristol to view the return home of Concorde, with a grandstand view of it’s’ progress, until it finally landed on the runway, clearly visible from the Castle roof.
It was and still is a building with no water, or other essential facilities for modern living, but in 1922 Mr. Castell, a workman on the Estate, recently married and without anywhere to live, was offered the ground floor of the Castle. This he accepted, and lived there with a growing family for four years.
We are always looking for additional volunteers to help open the Castle. If you are interested please telephone 9501967 for additional information. An afternoon spent at the Castle can be quite rewarding and you will have the opportunity to ensure that this building will continue to be enjoyed by the public, and not remain just a closed building like the Mill alongside the Hazel.