Sweet History landmark (photo)

Country Estates and Follies

Some Bristolians made a lot of money during the 18th century, from the slave and associated triangular trade. As the rich got richer they spent their money building or enhancing their homes. Many country estates and stately homes were built during this time and they were very elegant and ornate to showcase the wealth of their owners. In the 18th century, wealthy landowners enclosed huge areas of land to create landscaped parks, with grand houses. The grounds often had copies of classical temples, grottoes, bridges, and follies. The houses were of a classical design style, with rooms that were well-lit with large windows, natural light and numerous large mirrors.

Examples of Country Estates that were built or extended as a result of slavery-linked wealth in the Bristol area are:

  • Redland Court (now Redland School for girls)
  • Arnos Court (gothic black stone castle)
  • Henbury Manor (part of this is now Blaise Castle Estate)
  • Cleve Hill House
  • Ashton Court House
  • Royal Court (now part of Bristol University)

For more information visit: the Port Cities website (see links section) or read the Gentility and Slavery section of the book ‘History Obscured’ by Madge Dresser.

Blaise Castle House and Folly Activity

1. Get students to read the pieces of information below:
‘Situated in the beautiful parkland of the Blaise Estate at Henbury, the Museum is housed in a late eighteenth century mansion, and contains most of the Museums Service’s social history collections.

Blaise Castle House was built in 1796-98 for John Harford, a wealthy Bristol merchant and banker. It was originally part of Henbury Manor, that was owned by Sir Samuel Astry. Inside some of the original ornamentation remains, such as casts of Classical and Neo-Classical sculptures and reliefs, including a set cast from the parthenon marbles.

You can also experience the beautiful Picture Room, restored to its Victorian splendour during the 1990s. The Picture Room is licensed for civil marriages, civil partnership cermonies and naming ceremonies and is available for private hire.

While the house was being built the grounds were laid out by Humphry Repton (1752-1818) a leading landscape gardener, and the Regency architect John Nash added on the dairy and the conservatory’
Bristol City Council website

Thatched building

‘Blaise Castle at Henbury, north Bristol, was a folly, a building with no use, in this case built to enhance the view. It was built by Thomas Farr who bought the Blaise estate in 1762. Farr had extensive investments in the slave trade. It is said that he built the £3,000 folly (about £150,000 today) so that he could view his ships sailing back up the River Avon to Bristol from it. The Blaise estate was previously part of Henbury Manor which had been owned a century before by Sir Samuel Astry. It is known that an African slave lived in the Great House there as the servant of Sir Samuel’s son-in-law, the seventh Earl of Suffolk, until his early death in 1719. The black servant was named after an ancient Roman general of African origin, Scipio Africanus. The nickname might have meant to make fun of the servant’s lowly position as a slave in comparison to the high-ranking Roman general of the same name. Scipio Africanus’s tombstone still stands in the nearby Henbury Churchyard, though his actual burial there is not confirmed in the church records.’
Port Cities website

Blaise House Folly

‘The Castle - Within the estate is the Folly, a small Gothic castle built on the top of Blaise Hill in 1766, which was once used as a Summerhouse for entertaining, complete with its own kitchen and drawing room. The folly is now a romantic ruin, open to the public on Sundays’.
Forest of Avon website

2) Get the students to produce a tourism leaflet for the Museums Service that explains the history of the house, gardens and folly and the links they had to Bristol’s slave trade. Pupils could do further research and if possible a visit to the site could be organised so that pupils get photographs/drawings to use in their leaflet. The pupils could produce a printed version in ICT/graphic sessions.

This activity could be linked to literacy and ICT and the finished leaflets could be used to create a wall display (or copies could be sent to Blaise Castle Museum for staff to review!)