Ashton Gatehouse

One gateway, two worlds


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Build and Rebuild

Why did the owners of Ashton Court build and rebuild in different styles and materials

The methods, materials and design used in the construction of Ashton Gatehouse in the early 19th century would be described today as ‘traditional’ although some elements of the materials and design might still be found in new buildings. Then as now, the wealthy who commissioned the building were able to play with different designs and themes that suited their lifestyle and taste.  At Ashton Court they blended fashion and family tradition in a manner that demonstrated a high level of sophistication. The Ashton Gatehouse was built in the style of Regency Gothic.

Most of the materials were sourced locally and in that respect the Bristol region was fortunate with having stone and lime, timber and metals available. Later estate buildings e.g. the Clifton Lodge (built for access to the Suspension Bridge) were also a product of their age and very different to look at, this time being in Victorian Gothic style.

The stables at Ashton Court house are of a similar date to the Ashton Gatehouse. They are constructed in high quality limestone masonry and restrained in style. They were huge however, for they originally included nearly half of the main south range as well as the east courtyard in a way that only owners with a very keen interest in horses could possibly want.  Since then it has not been altered much externally apart from the windows. It is possible that the extended eastern stable wing was built in the later nineteenth century when the south wing was converted to domestic use but this has to be clarified still.

Walking past the Victorian Gothic Tudor gatehouse, the remaining part of the south elevation is in fact a facade built in the 1630s. This was commissioned by a young couple, possibly in response to a political fashion of the in-laws . The facade is finished not in stone but in a render lined out to imitate fine masonry and probably covering a rubble stone wall. Behind is an earlier building which is also enclosed to the rear by a 19th century corridor.

Choices of building materials and methods were much simpler in the past.  However, the main building structures have stood the test of time defeated only by the human desire for changing fashions and status. The west elevation and courtyard was made the main entrance in the early 19th century but shows six or seven significant building changes over four or five hundred years and at least as many window styles.  Changes in architectural styles were partly driven by new technologies in say glass making and stone cutting, as well as new ideas that arrived from the Continent and the changing needs for security.

There was major reconstruction of the house in the late 14th century when Thomas de Lyons married Margaret, the wealthy widow of the cloth merchant Edmund Blanket.  A hundred years before that, the construction details become less clear and it has been suggested the buildings were half timbered with thatched roofs. We know that the manor was here in the Saxon period but we have no evidence of how it looked, only theories. Nor do we know the origin of the Roman mosaic placed at the western entrance to the house.