Ashton Gatehouse

One gateway, two worlds


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Ashton Court Mansion

How old is Ashton Court estate and mansion, what was there before it and how did it survive?

We have focussed on Ashton Court mansion and the park land immediately around it. Although this has changed in name and size, land use, construction and ownership over the course of 1000 years; it has remained intact at its core.

We have a number of sources of information to refer to with regard to the history of Ashton Court. The primary sources are original documents; we also have books and studies that have been written by others about Ashton Court over several hundred years.  To study it all is more than lifetime’s work so we have confined ourselves to documents written by others with an occasional look at primary sources where our focus may differ to other researchers.

A list of the owners of Ashton Court shows that the Smyths held the estate for the last 400 out of over 1000 years. Before the Smyths, it had changed hands many times.  There are written records from the late Saxon period. However these documents are rare and require specialist understanding of language.

It is possible to track some of the estate development through documents from the late 14th century (when 250 acres was enclosed for deer alone), to the first drawn survey in 1730. This clearly shows fields and roads prior to the extensive boundary changes and road closures of the early 19th century. By the late 19th century the estate boundaries were largely fixed and enclosed an area of around 850 acres.

The existence of an important manor house in the late 10th century suggests it was there for some long time before this. It has been suggested by some to date back to the early Saxon period.

The archaeological record can enhance written records. Where no written records exist it is our only way to understand the landscape. We have information from land surveys, archaeological finds and features reaching back to the Roman, Iron and Bronze Ages on the Ashton Court estate. The landscape of 2000 years ago and beyond may indicate a co-dependence between Ashton Court and other archaeological sites such as nearby Iron Age Stokeleigh and Burwalls.

The survival of Ashton Court is not unique but many thousands of other manorial sites have been lost in the last 100 years.  Since the 14th century, each time the house has been extended and rebuilt, some of the earlier house has survived alongside it. In 1977 Professor Fowler wrote about the parkland ‘Bristol possesses something rare and scientifically valuable and I would have thought of interest to its people in these fragile remains.’

It has survived partly because of where it was, because the Smyths owned it for hundreds of years and because Bristol City council decided to preserve it.