Aug 05 2020

The owners of the Bishop’s Knoll Mansion by Chris Stephens

The owners  of the  land north of Bristol have been  well documented since before the time of King Offa. These have included the latter’s henchman Aethelmund, Geoffrey de Montbray, the Norman Bishop of Coutances, the Bishops of Worcester and,  after the Dissolution of the Monasteries,  Sir Ralph Sadlier. In 1659 the estate was bought from Sadlier’s decendants  by Joseph Jackson, a Mayor  and Sherrif  of Bristol who was also  a  Master of the Merchant Venturers.  One of his descendants married James Martin (1804-1872), who in 1850 was persuaded by a local builder,  William Baker, to lobby for a private members Bill to remove the Jacksons’ restrictive covenant which precluded building on the land of Sneyd Park.[1] 

William Baker (1789-1873)

The Martin’s Act of 1853  allowed Baker to purchase land from Martin 1855 on which to build “prestigious houses”.[2] Baker (1789-1872), the son of a  Bristol fishmonger, was clearly remarkable man. By 1851 he was a prominent builder whose two addresses are given as  31 Trenchard St and  Canons Marsh Bristol. By 1861 he was employing 160 men. The Knoll, as it was then called,  was the first house to be built on the land and was completed shortly after he had finished the nearby St Mary’s Church also  built on land he had ;purchased and then donated. The account below suggests that the trip to Chepstow which Baker organised  might have been a reward for his mens’ work at Sneyd Park.

In 1866, the carpenters and joiners employed by Mr. William Baker of Canon’s Marsh, Bristol, arrived by the ‘Packet’ at about 11 o’clock and, after satisfying the “inner man” with “a capital spread” at the George, proceeded in brakes to Wyndcliff, Tintern Abbey and other places of interest in the neighbourhood.[3] 

William had intended the Knoll  to be for himself, but it is not clear how long he  lived there as very soon the Port and Pier Railway line was being built just below the house. William died in March 1873 and the Knoll was sold on April 14th 1870 to Peter Prankerd by which time the rest of the Baker family were living in Sneyd Park Villa  in The Avenue.

Peter Prankerd (1819-1902)

Prankerd, who was born in Langport Somerset, had  gone out  to  Australia as a Government clerk,  on a Government-paid passage, arriving in Sydney on 28th November 1839. In local directories he is thereafter described as a “Land Agent” and is still so described in 1870 the year in which he returned from Australia a wealthy man and bought The Knoll.

 

Peter Prankerd’s two sons attended Clifton College and during this time  Prankerd built the Bishop’s Knoll Lodge (1876) and may well have been responsible for laying out the gardens and building the Gardener’s Cottage. (By 1881 there were three gardeners working at the Knoll, one of them living in the “Brickyard”  attached to the disused brickworks below the house. By the time Peter Prankerd died in October 1902, he was a widower. His son eldest

Percy was now practising as a barrister in Tunbridge Wells and his younger son Herbert was  a surgeon in Southampton and so the house was put up for sale. The first advertisement appeared in the Western Daily Press on Saturday 23rd May 1903  but as can be seen from the advertisements below the Mansion remained unsold for 2 years. 

Transcribed from the Western Daily Press Saturday 23rd May 1903

SALE BY AUCTION;

The estate of P.D. Prankerd Esq deceased

Residential property known as The Knoll stoke Bishop.

The residence is a stone built and commodious superior building with  cottages, glass houses,  and farmery and about 12½ acres of lovely grounds and grassland.

To be sold by auction by Messrs. Hampton & Sons in conjunction with Messrs. Alexander Daniel and Co at the Mart, Token House Yard

Tuesday 30th of June

(This  advertisement was repeated  on Thursday 30th June 1903)

Transcribed from the Western Daily Press Saturday 19th Sept 1903

SALE BY AUCTION

The estate of P.D. Prankerd Esq deceased

Residential property known as The Knoll, Stoke Bishop.

 

Stoke Bishop  near Bristol.

Magnificent position 1½ mile from the Clifton Downs Railway

the beautiful of residential property known as

Bishops Knoll,Stoke Bishop

 

Standing at 165 feet above sea level and commanding a fine views of the River Avon and the Bristol Channel. The residence is a stone built and commodious superior building, (with) cottages, glasshouses, farmery and about 12½ acres of lovely grounds and grasslands.

To be sold by private treaty.

For further details applied to the agents:

Mrs. Alexander Daniel &Co,  Bank Chambers, Corn Street, Bristol

(This advertisement was repeated Saturday 6th February 1904  and Saturday 30th May)

[1] Martins Act 1853 16/17 Vict (An Act for enabling James Thomas Martin Esquire, and the Persons in remainder under the Will of Mary Jackson deceased, to grant Leases of Parts of the Estates thereby devised in Settlement, for the Purpose of building upon and otherwise improving the same; and for other purposes)

[2] Bristol Archives. Abstract of title  ref 40950/38

[3] Clash H. The history of the George in Chepstow. Gwent Local History 64: Spring 1988

[1] Martins Act 1853 16/17 Vict (An Act for enabling James Thomas Martin Esquire, and the Persons in remainder under the Will of Mary Jackson deceased, to grant Leases of Parts of the Estates thereby devised in Settlement, for the Purpose of building upon and otherwise improving the same; and for other purposes)

[1] Bristol Archives. Abstract of title  ref 40950/38

[1] Clash H. The history of the George in Chepstow. Gwent Local History 64: Spring 1988

Transcribed from the Western Daily Press Saturday 8th April 1905

 

The estate of P.D. Prankerd Esq deceased

Gloucestershire

Stoke Bishop Nr Clifton

Charmingly situated on the heights (about 165ft above sea level)  overlooking the far-famed Avon Gorge and commanding views of the Severn, the Bristol Channel and the Welsh hills.

 

WITHIN TWO MILES OF CLIFTON DOWN RAILWAY STATION AND 4 MILES OF THE BRISTOL JOINT STATION WHENCE LONDON CAN BE REACHED IN 2 HOURS

Preliminary announcement of the sale of freehold MANSION

and extensive pleasure grounds known as The Knoll with several enclosures of rich pasture land contributing in are all about 12 ½ acres.

 

Messrs Hampton and Sons will sell by auction at the Bank Mart, Corn Street, Bristol on Wednesday, 17th May at 3.0 o’clock unless previously sold by private contract 

Robert Edwin Bush (1855-1939)

It is possible that Bush got to know that the house was for sale from one of Prankerd’s sons who he would have known at Clifton College. Bush was four years their senior and though soon to leave was by this time a prominent cricketer both for the school and the Gloucestershire County team  which at this time still used the school’s cricket ground for many of their matches.  The two families may have kept in touch after Bush sailed for Australia  in 1877 as both  families had strong Australian connections. After 30 years in Wstern Australia , during which time he became  a prominent and wealthy sheep farmer, Bush now a widower returned home  to Bristol with his two children aged 8 and 10 years. They sailed to  Hong Kong and disembarked in Vancouver from the SS Empress of India on 11th July. Assuming they then  travelled across America by train and sailed from New York, the party would have arrived in Bristol sometime in August or early September 1905.This was where  several of Bush’s brothers  and their families were living. Bush would therefore have been in Bristol when the house was readvertised on the 7th October. The subsequent announcement of the sale of its contents October 24th – 27th shows that his purchase  of The Knoll was swiftly concluded.  We do not know what Bush paid for the property  but Prankerd’s estate was initially valued at £116,315 at his death (equivalent to £20M today) but was later revised upwards by £3560 (£440,400 today) which perhaps was the result of the later sale of the house contents.[1]

Bush must have decided before he left Perth that he and his second wife would marry in Bristol  as soon as he had found somewhere for them to live.

Transcribed from the Western Daily Press Saturday 24th Oct 1905

The estate of P.D. Prankerd Esq deceased

THE KNOLL, STOKE BISHOP,BRISTOL

[1] National Probate Calendar for England and Wales 1858-1966. https://www.gov.uk/search-will-probate. Accessed 20/05/2020

Tuesday 24th day of October and 3 following days at 12 o’clock the costly effects of

 

THE MANSION

Including Boudoir grand pianoforte by Collard and Collard, valuable books, three fire resisting safes, silver and plated goods, handsome clocks and bronze ornaments, valuable paintings and drawings, full size billiard table and accessories by Burroughs Watts also Cob, Cart and harness.

Catalogue price 6d each may be obtained from the Auctioneers, Corn Street

Tuesday 24th October:  Books,  China, glass, the contents of the vestibule, ante room, Inner Hall, Central hall and China Pantry.

Wednesday 25th  October: the contents of the Ballroom, Landing, clocks bronzes and ornaments, the contents of the Drawing Room, Morning Room and Library, paintings, drawings and engravings.

Thursday 26th October: the ornaments, contents of the Dining Room, silver plate and plated goods and the contents of the first floor bedrooms.

Friday 27th October: bedding, the contents of the remainder of the bedrooms, smoking room, billiard room, kitchens and challet, Cob, harness and cart.

On view by Catalogue only this day from 10 am- 4 pm.

 

How much of the contents Bush brought can only be guessed at but we know he had a full sized billiard table in the basement and his granddaughter reports that  there were several large bronze birds in the winter garden.[1]

Bush and his wife were married in St Mary Magdelene Church Stoke Bishop on May 27th 1907.  It was Bush who subsequently changed the name of the house to Bishop’s Knoll.

Bristol Aircraft Company

Bush died in December 1939  and while B.A.C. never owned Bishop’s Knoll (it may well have been requisitioned)  the company occupied it  from 1940 until the end of the Second World War. Mrs Bush attended the annual  Anzac day service at Arnos Vale for the last time in April 1940 and soon after left Bristol to spend the rest of her life in Lyme Regis Dorset with her daughter.

Until his death in 1916 Sir George White founder of B.A.C  had been a close personal friend of the Bushes. In September 1940 there had been a disastrous raid on the undefended Bristol Aircraft Company works at Filton where the Blenheim, light bomber and the Beaufighter were being built. Aircraft manufacture was now dispersed all over Bristol and the Southwest and Bishop’s Knoll became “Office (0.4) Purchasing and Estimating”,[2] though other accounts suggest that it was also used as an apprentice school.

After the War the house was empty for a few months though Mrs Bush retained ownership until it was sold to the United Bristol Hospitals.

[1] June Bush. Personal communication, April 2016

[2]  Preparing for a career, Flight, 8th October 1942, pp 391-394).

The Board of the  United Bristol Hospitals

The amalgamation of the four Bristol hospitals had become effective in September 1939 and the Nursing Staff of the new United Bristol Hospitals was unified in 1940. In 1942, Miss Helen Bell the first Matron now reorganized nurse training.[1]  As a result  in I947, 8 months before the new NHS came into being, the United Bristol Hospitals Board bought Bishop’s Knoll for use as a Preliminary Nursing Training School; but  though valued  at £100,000, through the generosity of Mrs Bush, they only   paid £15,000.

[1] Saunders,CJG.  The United Bristol Hospitals, Board of Governors of the United Bristol Hospitals, Bristol 1965

Evening Post August 12th 1947

Alteration to outbuildings were made to provided additional accommodation for the students.[1] Within the house the Winter Garden became a “ward”,  and the Music Room took on its new role as a lecture theatre. The School was formally opened by Princess Margaret in March 1949.

[1] Bristol City planning application 1948 Ref 48/00120/U.  Extension and conversion of Outhouses to provide sleeping accommodation.

The Winter garden 1958  – now a Ward.

[1] Saunders,CJG.  The United Bristol Hospitals, Board of Governors of the United Bristol Hospitals, Bristol 1965

[1] Bristol City planning application 1948 Ref 48/00120/U.  Extension and conversion of Outhouses to provide sleeping accommodation

Demolition

After the Preliminary Nursing School closed in 1966 the house was to remain empty until  1971 when was sold by the Board of United Bristol Hospitals for £250,000 to  English and Continental Homes Ltd who appointed MWT Architects of Bath to design a residential development for the site. Because of its important location a number of meetings were held with the Bristol Planning Office to discuss the principles of the development. A detailed planning application was submitted but once outline approval had been obtained the plan received extensive local press coverage because of its sensitive location. The scheme was therefore presented to the Sneyd Park Residents Association who submitted mixed opinions to the City Council.

MWT Architects  design for the development of the Bishops Knoll site (Copyright Neil Burlton) 

As a result the Planning Committee referred the scheme to the Royal Fine Arts Commission in London for an architectural opinion as all other aspects (transport, housing  density, access etc) had been accepted. Sir Hugh Casson and Lord Esher presided over the presentation of the proposals and gave their full support to what they considered to be the outstanding quality of the design, and strongly recommended that the City Council approve the application which they did.

The Bishops Knoll site in 1972-3 (Copyright A.Lewis)

However in October 1973 , with work about to start on site, the Oil Crisis hit  and the scheme was put on hold. In January 1974 the Government introduced the 3 day week and a world recession then followed until 1975. In 1981 the site was acquired by the builders Benson Brothers who built the present three blocks of flats. Finally in 1983 the land below the flats was donated by the new owners to the Woodland Trust which in 1986 began planting trees in the former paddocks below the house. A volunteer group, established in 2014 now assists the Trust in maintaining the wood as a public amenity.

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to acknowledge the valuable help of the following in the compilation of this account.

Mrs. Glenda Lindsay, Mrs Jenny Weeks, Mr. Neil Burlton (formerly of MWT Architects, Bath), Mr. Andy Lewis, Mr. Mr. John Penny, Mr.  Dick Probert, Mr David Watkins, Michael Whitfield,

Thank you Chris for all this information

 

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