March 31, 2017


We awoke on Day 2 to a light rain and chilly breeze. We stepped next door to the Ashville for the continental breakfast (in this case, cereal, cold cuts, fruit, croissant and various pastries). And excellent coffee, just the thing to top off a breakfast.


After breakfast I called the car rental to report the problem with the GPS. I was told that our car had been transferred from the airport location and that he would check to see what was available. He followed with a text that he was working on it. I texted back that it was not critical today but that we would have to have it tomorrow. (This proved to be ill advised on two counts. The first is that I have not heard from him since. The second will become evident as you read.)


With that, we prepared to spend at least part of the day at the Ashton Court Estate. As I have noted previously, our great great grandfather William and his son, our great uncle William, both worked as gardeners at the Estate. So we were anxious to see just where they had spent much of their lives. We piled into the Mercedes and then checked the distance and time to the Estate. The phone app gave us a distance of 1.4 miles and a drive time of 4 minutes. Twenty nine minutes later we pulled into the parking lot. (This was the second consequence of no GPS.) On the trip we passed the same places several times which served to reinforce our knowledge of the area.


Ashton Court Estate has been the site of a manor house since the 12th century. During my ancestor's employment, it was owned by the Smyth family. The grounds enclose 340 hectares (that would be 850 acres to my fellow colonists.) At one time it encompassed two thirds of Bristol. (I am not sure exactly how big that was, but it was considerable.) I do not know how large the manor house is but in 1791 it was described as “The front is in length one hundred and forty three feet...The back part of the house is very ancient”. The house has been added to numerous times over its life. Today it is owned by the City of Bristol (which probably accounts for the decline of the gardens.) While the manor is open for public use, it is not open to the public in general (unless you are both bold and lucky.)


On arriving we took a circuitous route through the front lawn and gardens. There were many large yew trees that were surely there at the time of both Williams. (The oldest known yew is not far from here in Wales and is estimated to be as old as 5000 years!) There were several unassuming gardens that are probably but a remnant of the large gardens in the time of both grandfather William and uncle William. We then entered the small cafe which we discovered had been the stable area. Here we also were informed that the Manor was not open to the general public.


As we walked around the Manor, we came to the West entrance which is the main entrance and noticed folks were coming out of the door. So we decided to take the opportunity to check out the interior. We entered the Great Hall wandered to the Inner Hall and Dining Room (which was set up for a meeting which explained the people leaving) until finally accosted by an employee. While Cissy diverted her with the details of our ancestors, I took the opportunity to photograph the Grand Staircase. Not missing a thing, the lady informed me that the Manor was not open to the public. A second lady walked out and I asked if we could take a quick picture of the music room. “Fine” she said, much to the consternation of lady #1, “you can see a few of the rooms”. So she proceeded to give me the poor man's tour. We went through the Winter Garden (which had formerly been open to the sky and was now a bar), then the Vaulted Hall with wonderful fluted columns and and on to the long Music Room which had probably been a ballroom in its glorious height. All the while she kept up a running commentary. We returned to the Great Hall where I proceeded to photograph the Grand Staircase as lady #1 looked on with pursed lips.


We then went back to the cafe where we had a lunch of pasties and paninis. I should note here that the grounds of the Estate appear to be one large dog park. We saw dogs of all types ranging from small dachshunds to what could only be great Pyrenees. As most of the houses we encountered in the Bristol area have little to no garden (yard to you and me) it is understandable that the public parks are much used in this manner.


We finally took leave of Ashton Court with the intentions of next going to the Bristol Archives. However, my mapping app would not recognize Bristol Archives as such. I finally had to just point to where I thought it was on the and say “take me there”. We wandered around for 20 minutes until we got to where I wanted to go. Unfortunately, we were surrounded by apartments with no Archives to be found. At this point we decided to return to our flat and regroup. On our returned, I checked Google maps where it verified that I had chosen the wrong location. I was close, but this was not horseshoes. It being 3:00pm and with the Archives closing at 4:30, we figured we did not have time to find our way there and do any meaningful research. Leaving the Archives till Friday, we decided to make another foray which we could actually do on foot.


Our great uncle William, the gardener, married Ann Maria Rich in 1855. He passed away in 1868. A.M. (as she signed her letters and as we have come to refer to her) wrote several letters to my great grandmother Mary Ann (George's wife) and grandfather Frank Francis. She did not date the letters; however, in one letter she signed it “Dear old Seventy, five”. Since she spoke of her old age pension in the letter, we have taken the signature to mean her age, 75, which would have been in 1910. The return address on the letter was 15 Wells St Ashton Gate Bedminster, Bristol England. Wells St is about 0.4 mile from here which is about an eight minute walk (or 15 if you are rubbernecking). It was on our list of places to visit so this seemed like an excellent time to make the journey. I had looked at the front of the house on Google street view and, like many of the city dwellings in England, this was a row house. However, it was different to stand in front of the door knowing that she had walked out the door and up the same sidewalk we had just strode. And there was always the hope that the current owner would see us and come to the door. Had they done so, I'm sure Cissy would have finagled our way in (and probably dinner to boot.) We took pictures in front of number 15 and proceeded on our way.


Our route back took us passed an Aldi's store and we had to stop and pick up a few snacks. Cissy and John got some weird flavored crisps (or chips as we would say), Cissy got some fizzy water and I got some extra dark chocolate (which I am enjoying as I write). This would have been Cissy's biggest experience of the day had we not made the pilgrimage to Ashton Court.


We returned to our flat with our spirits renewed. We discussed the events of the day until 6:00pm when we unanimously proclaimed it time for dinner. John had declared before the journey that the only thing he really wanted to do was “eat at a proper fish and chippie place”. We decided that tonight was the night and again headed back past Aldi's, this time turning left down North St to the eateries. This is a very popular area with both the locals and the tourists, both foreign and domestic. We finally decided on the Fishminster. Here Cissy had the Cod, John the Hake and I the Haddock (of course) each with more chips than we could eat (and this was the small order). The fish portion was considerable and we left there well sated.


We walked just a short way down North St taking in the many shops and eateries and then returned to our room where we completed our discussion of Ashton Manor. Finally, Cissy and John retired to their rooms leaving me at peace to complete this.


Tomorrow we visit the Archive where we hope to find pictures from Ashton Manor that might have included our Williams. And replace our Mercedes with one with an operating GPS. For on Saturday we venture into the wilds of Wales.

The Smokies from near Taig an Drama Pilgrimage to Ashton Court The east elevation of the Manor with its expansive lawn framed by one of the large yew trees that guard it. Standing next to one of the ancient yew trees,  you get a sense of it's size and age. The forbidden Grand Staircase with its magnificent balustrade and newel posts. Standing at 15 Wells St, AM's  residence in 1910. Looking south down North St with its many shops  and eateries. A very popular area with both the  locals and the tourists, both foreign and domestic. The North Courtyard, previously the horse stables on the lower levels. Cissy standing in front of one of the horse stalls. It now serves as a seating area in the Cafe The east elevation with its massive door. I discovered later that they open to the Vaulted Hall with its magnificent fluted columns. My photography does not do justice to the Vaulted Hall columns.  It's massive size totally overwhelmed my flash. Probably won't answer the knock of a commoner! Above the door is the crest of the Smyth's - a Gryphon The Winter Garden with its wonderful Gothic Arches. The area to the left of  the arches would have been open to the sky, A photograph of the Winter Garden in its heyday hangs on the garden wall. You see the Gothic Arches that served to define the garden area. The expansive Music Room with its double fireplaces, barrel ceiling and parquet floor. It would have served as a ballroom back in the day. One of the many gardens on the Estate that would have been maintained by my great great  grandfather and great uncle. It is easy to believe that the present garden is but a remnant  of the garden that must have existed in their day. Another garden that would have been maintained by my ancestors. The West or Main entrance to Mansion Large herds of red deer have historically been kept on the grounds,  a practice that continues today. A mural on the side of a building on North St. Oh yeah, and the Aldi's sign. Day 3 - Search for William