CHIS Newsletter, May 2016

Letter from the Chairman

It would be unthinkable to begin this report without expressing the condolences of CHIS members to RoseMary Musgrave for the loss of her son, Will, after a long illness. The striking front cover of our March Newsletter is representative of Will’s first-rate photography, which is to be seen in many previous editions as well as in his books that contrasted local settings of today with their equivalent a century ago.

Notable too are his photographs of Green Squares and Secret Gardens, his mother’s project. This, the third year of its steadily increasing range and appeal, may be remembered as a tribute to Will and RoseMary’s devotion.

The March talk, on the Bath Botanic Garden by Ann Brooks, brought a substantial audience, some of whom may be stimulated to join the CHIS visit to the garden on 5th July.

Our recent outing to Blenheim Palace, in tolerable weather, attracted a full coach-load. Not only the palace – a rarity in being neither royal nor episcopal – but also its grounds and the exhibition to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Capability Brown’s death provided considerable delights. We are again indebted to RoseMary Musgrave and Linda Edwards for the arrangements.

It was not the Classical but the Medieval period on which Professor Roger Leech lectured in April: ‘Exploring the town houses of medieval and early modern Bristol’ to a sizeable audience. Although the word “demolish” rang tocsin-like, Professor Leech compensated by showing slides of a number of buildings that have survived developers and the Blitz. They are often hidden among larger and later structures.

We shall be able to appreciate the Medieval on our visit to Tewkesbury Abbey and Madresfield Court, part of which dates back to the Twelfth Century. Its fascinating architectural variety, family history and 95 acres of gardens promise a rewarding afternoon.

I wish CHIS members could witness horticultural riches nearer home, in its sponsored bed by the Vic Rooms but, despite repeated promises, the civic authorities have let the already meagre display degenerate into desert scrub – so much that we cannot continue to fund the project.

In contrast, the Mall Gardens are coming along well after restoration and input from residents and are attracting visitors, helped by Bristol City Council’s dignified notice boards. Unfortunately two unofficial boards have appeared, one at the Gorge end of Caledonia Place and the other near the Archway at Victoria Square. Neither is of a style fitting for a conservation area.

Speaking of which, the Local History Day at Hope Chapel, organized by Sue Stops, proved to be extremely popular and rewarding. A score of societies including CHIS exhibited and people came from far and wide, some to recall Hotwells before the 1950/60s developments and to see the beautifully restored crypt.

In this year of commemorating Suffragettes’ actions CHIS is to contribute with a plaque to Eveline Dew Blacker at 20 Victoria Square at 11.00 on 21st May. The dedication and tribute to the first female architect in Bristol on the 60th anniversary of her death will be made by Dr. Sarah Whittingham. All members are welcome.

The students’ presence is, to say the least, a familiar topic. Beacon House (formerly Habitat) is now completed as Bristol University’s welcoming site (and study facility). You do not need to be connected with the University to take up the invitation to visit. Members of our Planning Group gave encouragement to the project but wish that the general frontage be improved, first and foremost by the removal of the squalid telephone box.

Over the road, Bottelino’s is to be revamped by (Marstons – Pitcher and Piano - Group), with an entrance moved from the Waitrose steps. An aspect of the plan to cause concern is a request for extended licensing hours at the end of the week.

A project adjacent to BS8 but with possible ripple effects is a plan by “Unite” to convert Brunel House into student accommodation. At a well-presented pre-application event, Christopher Jefferies thought that, but for one feature (which will be re-considered), the scheme is fine. Could it just be that the number of purpose-built student dwellings in the city centre will lead to an easing of the pressure on Clifton and Hotwells residents?

There are two disturbing pub closures in Clifton: the Richmond and the Albion. The former has sadly been in the offing for a while, its elegant frontage looking forlorn; the latter’s sudden halt remains a mystery.

More cheerfully, a detailed tour led by Ian Johnson, the new owner of The Observatory, impressed the Committee, who appreciate the imaginative, developing scheme, which should do proper justice to this extraordinarily significant site, troubled as it has been for fifty years.

The reappearance of another scheme is contentious: a stone-work bridge across Bridge Valley Road to link footpaths on either side, with possible establishment of a roundabout where Bridge Valley Road meets a number of other roads. Alas, what was to be a way for pedestrians would have to be a joint pedestrian-cyclist route, at the insistence of the Downs Committee. That raises grave concerns about pedestrians’ safety and the obtrusion of cyclists onto the superb Promenade – a lamentable prospect, aesthetically and practically.

At the edge of the Downs on Blackboy Hill another sort of green scheme is complete, with the re-painting of the Great War Veterans Shelter by initiated and with much of the work carried out by Maggie Shapland.

Brian Worthington