I love history; it forms the basis of my interest in genealogy and has an influence on our itinerary when on family holidays.
Victorian Folly: Journey of Discovery
Our son, a professional photographer who is always on the lookout for unique photo opportunities, stumbled across an obscure picture on the web of wooded ruins in Bristol.
There was no clear indication of where exactly the ruins were or what they were. Therefore, he enlisted the help of a close friend of ours who’s good at this sort of detective work.
Using Google Maps, our friend tracked down the ruins to be on the boundary of a private back garden and Sheep Wood in Henbury, Bristol. In looking at the image, it seemed very familiar, reminding him of the Lord Mayor’s Chapel in College Green, Bristol.
In looking on the web, Wikipedia was of little help, so he phoned the Lord Mayor’s Chapel and had a chat with them, which led him to a brief account of events in a small article published on the web by the Bristol Museum.
- Bristol Museum’s Synopsis of the Lord Mayor’s Chapel
Includes a brief description of what happened to the original frontage when it was dismantled in the 1820s as part of renovation work to the Chapel.
A Brief History of the Chapel
The chapel was built in 1230 by Maurice de Gaunt, grandson of the first feudal baron of Berkeley; it served the hospitals of the Gaunt family and was known as Gaunt’s chapel until 1722.
In 1541, during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII, the Chapel was purchased by the city council (local government), when it then unofficially became known as the Lord Mayor’s Chapel. Its official title was St. Mark’s Church.
It was not until 1899 when the office of mayor was elevated by Queen Victoria that it officially became the Lord Mayor’s Chapel; the Lord Mayor’s Chapel was one of only two churches in England privately owned and used for worship by a city corporation.
In the 1820s, major restoration work was carried out on the Chapel, and in the process, the frontage was dismantled and replaced by a replica. The original frontage was bought by Henry Brooke, a wealthy Bristolian who then rebuilt it in his back garden as a Victorian folly.
In 1871 a cast-iron viaduct was built over Frogmore Street to raise the elevation of the bottom of Park Street to improve its gradient, which in turn meant further building works had to be carried out on the frontage to the Chapel to compensate for the raising of the road level.
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A Brief History of the Ruins
The following historical notes were discovered in our research:
- The original frontage to the Lord Mayor’s Chapel was built in 1230.
- In the 1820s, during major restoration works, the old frontage was replaced with a replica.
- When it was replaced in the 1820s, the original frontage was bought by Henry Brooke of Henbury Hill House who reconstructed it on the boundary of his private garden overlooking sheep wood, as a Victorian folly.
- Looking at old maps from the early part of the 20th century, the owners of the ruins built an observation platform at the back of them, overlooking the woods.
Sheep Wood Status and Setting
Sheep Wood, where the original frontage to the Lord Mayor’s Chapel now stands as a Victorian folly, is part of the Brentry Conservation Area, and all the trees in Sheep Wood are protected by a TPO (Tree Preservation Order).
Brentry House, which is now part of the Brentry Conservation Area is a family home built for a wealthy Bristol merchant in 1802. It was converted to a hospital in 1898 and became part of the NHS in 1948. The building was sold and converted into residential apartments in 2000, and is now known as Repton Hall (named after the architect who designed the building).
In the UK, a conservation area is usually an urban area “of special architectural or historic interest, the character of which is considered worthy of preservation or enhancement." It thus has legal protection against development.
Finding the Ruins
Now we knew the history. The next step was to find the ruins so that my son could photograph them. We wouldn’t be able to photograph the front of the ruins as they stand on the boundary line of a private garden, but Sheep Wood is public land, so we would be able to photograph the ruins from the rearview from within Sheep Wood.
Although Sheep Wood is public land it is surrounded by private land on all sides, and it’s not immediately clear where the public Right of Way onto the land is.
However, after a little bit more research, and a few phone calls, our friend located the Right of Way access across private land to get into Sheep Woods. Thus, our final journey of discovery begins.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Arthur Russ