Ashton Court | Attraction Guides | History Hit

Ashton Court

Bristol, England, United Kingdom

Sarah Roller

03 Mar 2021
Image Credit: SB_photos / Shutterstock

About Ashton Court

Ashton Court is a mansion house and estate owned by the City of Bristol, although it technically lies in North Somerset. It is a popular day out for Bristolians, and the parkland is the perfect place to enjoy some fresh air.

History of Ashton Court

A manor house has stood at Ashton Court since the 11th century: the estate is referred to in the Domesday Book. It was considerably expanded in the 14th century, and eventually sold to Sir Giles Daubeney, one of Henry VIII’s chamberlains, in 1506. It later passed to the Smyth family, who made use of the Dissolution of the Monasteries to purchase surrounding lands, which had previously been owned by Bath Abbey.

Thomas Smyth (1609-1642) made major alterations to the original manor house, adding a southern front in the style of the popular architect, Inigo Jones: a contemporary writer described it as a ‘very venerable and picturesque building’ following his renovations.

In the 18th century, the famous landscape designer Humphrey Repton was consulted by the then owner about potential changes to the east of the house, although he never ended up doing the work.
Major alterations were made again in the 19th century, and the main façade dates from around this period. Today, it’s a mish-mash of architectural styles: from neo-Classical to Strawberry Hill Gothic, the house stands as testament to its eclectic owners.

During the First World War, the Ashton Court Estate was used as a military hospital, and it was later requisitioned during the Second World War as an HQ for the RAF and US Army. The last owner, Dame Esme Smyth, died in 1946: the house was eventually taken over by Bristol City Council in 1959. By this stage, it was in a state of disrepair and restoration and repairs has been an ongoing process as grants have been in relatively short supply.

Ashton Court today

The house is operated by a local charity, ArtSpace, which runs tours of the interior on an ad-hoc basis: the mansion house is also used as an event space, but other than that, it’s not open to the general public.

The grounds are extremely popular with locals: there’s a ParkRun held every Saturday, a golf course, and lots of walkers, runners and mountain bikers can be found roaming the space at weekends.

The grounds also host the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta in August each year: a sight that’s well worth seeing if you get the chance.

Getting to Ashton Court

Ashton Court is the other side of the Avon – it technically lies in North Somerset. It’s easily reached by car, either across the Clifton Suspension Bridge or via Ashton Gate/A370, and there’s ample car parking.

The grounds of Ashton Court are approximately a 30 minute walk from Clifton, or a short cycle ride: wear sensible footwear as the grounds can be muddy.

Buses go from the city centre to just outside the grounds regularly.

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