Ashton Gatehouse

One gateway, two worlds


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What is in a name?

What’s in a name?   

Ashton Gatehouse

During the relatively short life of the Ashton Gatehouse, it has had several different names. Previously these have referred to a ‘Lodge’, as was often used for the entrance to an Estate.  Some of the names for this one building included Lawn Lodge, Town Lodge, Lower Lodge and South Lodge, possibly depending on who was writing and how it was being used.  They all relate the name back to Ashton Court house: how it could be seen across the lawn from the house, how it might be used to go to town, or how it compared to other lodges or buildings, e.g. Upper Lodge or Hunting Lodge, nowcalled Clerkencombe. The name ‘lodge’ may come from old French meaning ‘somewhere to stay for a short time’ or ‘temporary shelter’.

The new name of ‘Ashton Gatehouse’ relates it back to the local community instead of the house. It plays with the name of the local area of Ashton Gate which comes from the nearby site of the 18th century Ashton tollgate. It also raises the notion of a medieval gatehouse which was more defensive and battlemented. In 1805 the architect, Henry Wood, used a battlemented parapet in his Gothic design for the Gatehouse. This buildingrepresents one small piece in the jigsaw of the long history of Ashton Court Estate which stretches back well over a 1000 years.

Ashton Court

‘Ashton Court’ is the name of the manor previously known as ‘Ashton Lyons’ after the de Lyons family in the 14th century and some say the origin of the name Long Ashton. The Domesday Book names the estate ‘Estune’ meaning place or settlement by the ash tree.  It was a large manor (area of land) subdivided between three Saxon Theynes (Lords). Ashton Court was the principal manor and held directly by Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutance, who was the builder of Bristol Castle. Over the course of several hundred years, Ashton Court gradually absorbed the lands of surrounding manors including Ashton Merriet, Ashton Philips and Ashton Theynes through purchases, gifts and marriages.

‘Court’ was a name widely given to large houses in the 19th century and it held little meaning by then.  It did not normally appear in the name of a manor house until the 16th century when it was said to describe its function as a courthouse for settlement of local disputes and transactions.



How we know what we know about Ashton Court  history ?

Historic Documents

There are documents directly associated with the place and people. These may include accounts, day work sheets, plans, sale documents, law suits, contracts, private letters and diaries.

There are also documents where the Estate and family are referred to by others, whether rude, complimentary or coincidental to other stories.

When the Smyths sold Ashton Court to Bristol City Council in 1959, the estate included an archive of many 1000s of documents and maps. These are now largely held at the Bristol Record Office in a former bonded warehouse by the Create Centre on Spike Island. There is an online catalogue and public access.

The Malago Society, named after the river flowing through the ancient manor of Bedminster, has also collected many papers associated with the Smyths from the UK and overseas’ sources.

A word of warning comes from one historian writing in 1987 about Ashton Court histories: ‘Some popularised dates and facts have been misinterpreted’. Modern, legal documents and private letters can be misunderstood. This applies even more so to historic documents whose meaning can be ‘lost in translation’.