Ashton Gatehouse

One gateway, two worlds


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The Gatehouse

Timeline of Contrasting Lives and Events, 50 years before and after the building of Ashton Gatehouse. We focus on 3 areas of life: the national and public; the local; the business and private lives of the Smyths at Ashton Court. It was a revolutionary time of much social, political and technical upheaval with many lasting legacies.



National Events             

Ashton Court and the Smyths

Bristol, Bedminster & Ashton

1740 - King George II  has been on the throne since 

1741 - Heirless and nearly bankrupted, John Smyth leaves Ashton court estate to his 3 sisters.

1743 - A contemporary description of the people of Bristol  - “the merchant classes were upstarts and mushrooms, proud relentless hearts… ….the working classes a wild race...”

1740 - King George II  has been on the throne since 1727, born and brought up in Germany, speaks passable English 



 Georgian Bath is the most fashionable centre for artists and politicians and all exhibitionists outside London

1741 - Heirless and nearly bankrupted, John Smyth leaves Ashton court estate to his 3 sisters.


Jarrit Smith, the family solicitor buys up the estate and marries widowed Florence (Smyth) Piggot and restores the family fortunes with Bristol businesses including slave trading. He adopts his wife’s maiden name and is made a baronet.

1743 - A contemporary description of the people of Bristol  - “the merchant classes were upstarts and mushrooms, proud relentless hearts… ….the working classes a wild race...”


Through most of the 18th century Ashton Vale is an area of market gardening, scattered coal pits, iron and clay works dating back to 17th century. Bristol industry is oriented to the slave triangle selling copper, brass and glass to Africa, buying sugar and later tobacco from the Americas.



c1747 – 1750  Liverpool overtakes Bristol as busiest slave trader and Birmingham overtakes Bristol in population and industrialisation

 1745 - With help from a mining surveyor from Kingswood, Jarrit Smyth opens the first deep mine at South Liberty Lane, Ashton Vale. The Newcomen Engine installed c1750 to pump out water, lasts until 20th century.


1762 - Commentator quotes re Bristol ‘’without exception the filthiest, nastiest place that ever was seen’’

1756 - 7 years war with France begins


1760 - King George III comes to the throne.

1756 – 1768, Jarrit Smyth, Bristol

Tory member of parliament,has part shares in Merchant ships bringing back spoils of war.


Mid 18th century -1825. The Smyths  own slaves on their Jamaican sugar plantation


1773 - Boston Tea Party - American colonies reject British taxes - “no taxation without representation”


1775-83 American war of Independence

1787 – Prince George, later Prince Regent, begins his extravagant development of Brighton Pavilion – completed 1823.

1777 Jarrit Smyth is a director of Harford’s and Bristol Brass co.

Jarrit and John Hugh Smyth hold tenants meetings at the Star Inn Bedminster, now the Steam Crane.

1783 - Sir John Hugh Smyth inherits the estate, continues attention to business dealings as a director of many companies including the Bristol Brass Co. with John Harford of Blaise Castle and John Champion.

 1776-79 - Edmund Burke, Bristol MP, is popular among merchants because he campaigned for trade with North American colonies while also unpopular for campaigning against slavery.



1788 - John Wesley preaches against slavery in Bristol


Bristol men are kidnapped to work on the slave ships .

1789 - Storming of Bastille in France – French King executed.









1793 - Britain goes to war with France.

 1789 - A survey describes Ashton Court as :  Mansion House, outhouses, garden courts, rabbit warren, orchards and deer park of 254 acres. This is not so different to the 16th century estate it seems


Throughout  the 18th century much attention has been given first to the ‘squandering’  of estate money by John Smyth,  then rebuilding business income by Jaritt Smyth and his son John Hugh;  little is spent on the house or estate itself

1793 –11 killed, many wounded in Bristol Bridge toll riot after the City council breaks promises to end unpopular tolls.


1793 Financial crash bankrupts builders and some Clifton terraces remain unfinished until 1820s.

1795 - Prince George assumes unofficial role as Prince Regent. During his Regency arts and sciences flourish. Also described as an era ’of low morals and high fashion‘  Saul David




1798 Jane Austen publishes Northanger Abbey, a Gothic satire that mentions John Harford’s ‘Blaize’ Castle


 1794 - The City guidebook warns “the populace are apt to collect in mobs on the slightest occasion”


1795 - Food riots in Bristol after a poor harvest. Corrupt and extravagant city council forced to sell food at reduced prices.


1795  ‘’coal workings were evident as the countryside was black from Bedminster to Nailsea.’’ Agricultural survey.


19th century


1805 –Nelson defeats the French and Spanish at the naval  Battle of Trafalgar, many thousand die.


1806 Britain unable to access blockaded European ports during wars, contributing to food shortages and political instability 

19th century


In early 19th century the Smyths and Gore Langtons own two thirds of Bedminster, Ashton & Southville.



c1802 - John Hugh Smyth is aware his estate appears out of date and seeks advice from Humphrey Repton, fashion guru for the parks and gardens of the aristocracy.

19th century


1801 - 1st census records 3000 population in Bedminster which rises 2500% to 78000 in 1884


1802-15 - The Royal Navy press gangs intermittently roam dockside wharves and pubs stealing men off to war with Napoleon.


1807 - Abolition of the Slave Trade


1802 - Horse racing enthusiast Hugh Smyth inherits the estate from heirless uncle but follows many of Repton’s recommendations

c1803 ‘Notorious Starveall pit’ opens 600 m from the new Ashton Gatehouse


Significant rise in malnutrition and crime rate in Bristol during Napoleonic wars.


1811 Formal recognition of Prince Regent who acts as king on behalf of his sick father




1815 – Duke of Wellington defeats Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo with the help of the Dutch, Belgians, Germans and the Prussians

1802-25 - Hugh Smyth begins enclosure of land to south of house, builds the Regency Gothic ‘Ashton Gatehouse’ and extensive stabling and courtyards to east of original medieval gatehouse. He makes the west end of the house the main entrance,  introduces 41000 + trees to hilltop plantations and new winding carriage drives with new walls around the estate.

1804-09 - Construction of floating harbour and digging of New Cut - mainly by Irish and Scots navies


Wartime ‘enclosure’ of common land means men returning from war with no means to subsist are driven to work in mines of Ashton Vale

1820 - The Regent Prince made King George IV when his father the so called ‘mad king dies’


1830 - George IIIs brother, King William IV inherits the throne.


1825 - Hugh dies without a legitimate heir and his cousin John Smyth inherits. He is a successful business man with keen interest in horses, cattle and deer. He spends little time socialising and never marries.


By 1820 over a dozen coal pits are being worked within sight of Ashton Court. The Ashton Vale Colliery, Iron and brick works is developing 300 yards from the Gatehouse – where Sam FM can now be found.


1832 Reform Act gives votes to middle class men- small landowners, farmers, high rent payers in towns.


1833 - The 1st Factories act - employment laws are largely ineffectual.

1826 - The ‘stopping up of roads’ on the estate, to create a private parkland - proposed around the same time as the new walls and Gatehouse in1802 is finally achieved. This enclosure of land extends the deer park south of the house, in place of farmland. A herd of Indian spotted deer and red deer are introduced to the park.

 1831 - Bristol Riots - Prisons, the

Custom House, Queens Square and the Bishop’s Palace are burnt down after the House of Lords refuses to pass voting reforms - hundreds are killed.





1834 - Slaves are freed from British Colonial plantations.



c1830s - The Smyths and Gore Langtons own ⅔ of land around Bristol, Bedminster and Ashton 


Timber plantations and deer parks bring some income  to the 19th century estate but the Smyth’s lifestyle and is mainly financed with royalties from coal and iron industries and rental from lands and properties, across Bristol and Somerset.


1831-32 - Cholera pandemic comes to Bristol port. Over 1500 are affected mainly in Bedminster, where living conditions are poor.



1832 - Brunel builds the Underfall to resolve problem of the floating harbour turning into a cess pool because all sewage emptied into the river and was no longer flushed away by tides


1836 - Dickens publishes 1st novel Pickwick Papers. Written in Bath


1837 - Victoria inherits the  throne at 18 from her uncle.


1844 - Construction of Brunel’s Suspension Bridge begins but later suspended till after his death in 1864


Dean lane, Malago, South Liberty lane and Ashton Vale are major collieries with associated iron, brick and tile works, other industries include sawmills, tanneries, ship building,

1841 - Bristol connected to London by rail

1840 - There are Hothouses, an Orange House and kitchen garden by Kennel Lodge Drive and flower beds on the new south lawn.


 1842 - Law bans all children under 10 and all females from working underground in mines.


1844 - Factories Act - all children under 8 banned from working.


1849 - John Smyth dies heirless and his sister Mrs Florence Upton Smyth inherits at the age of 80.



1850s - Bristol is third most unhealthy city in the UK - “the river, an open sewer, full of industrial effluent and human waste.”



1848 - Karl Marx’s communist manifesto published in London but at same time Revolutions throughout Europe make little difference to the ruling powers.


1859 - Darwin publishes Origin of Species

1853 - Greville Upton inherits Ashton Court at 17 where he lives with his mother and sisters.  He searches the world for plant species and museum pieces, There are acres of greenhouses a wilderness and specimen trees planted and. Later he converts the south facing stable wing into a music room and museum for his many collections, makes many other internal changes and marries his widowed 1st cousin Emily in 1884 with whom he had had an affair for many years.

1854 Miss Mary Carpenter, the social reformer, opens a Reformatory School for girls at the Red Lodge.


1856 A miner in a Smyth mine earns 7.5d for every ton of coal he digs out by hand.  Greville Smyth gets 8d royalties for each ton dug because he owns the land. 



1859 - Darwin publishes Origin of Species
1859 - Darwin publishes Origin of Species