CHIS Newsletter August 2019


The Tale of Beauty and the Beast: 2-16 Clifton Down Road.

The restored Mortimer House is now fully revealed for us to marvel at its splendours. The mansion looks as fine as when it was built in c. 1760: honey-coloured, elegant stonework is fronted by an eighteenth century lawn and period planting, within which is a semi-circular path, to be used strictly for drop-off parking.

Please, as Hamlet bade his mother: “Look here, upon this picture, and on this” - the first his adored father, the second his murderous uncle, “a wholesome brother” against “a mildewed ear”.

BEAST. Almost adjacent is the hideously neglected Clifton on Ice/W. H. Smith site, a rough, shaggy creature, left so by a developer seeking to replace it – with what? - an overbearing, smooth, insolent Beast that tramples on the surroundings in arrogant disdain.

Thanks to the unremitting energy of the CHIS Planning Group, lead by Linda Edwards and aided by the Mall Gardens Association, and keen volunteers delivering our leaflet, around 250 residents have been alerted enough to register to Bristol City Council their objections to the proposal by THAT Group. Its subsequent revision amounts to no more than a tweaking of a design that, as Historic England says, might grace the Temple commercial area – but we think it will disgrace the heart of Clifton Village.

Sir Roger Scruton (Co-chair of the government’s Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission) has given permission to quote his personal judgment of the plan:

“It is an example of insensitive development. The obvious fact is that the architect does not know how to do anything better, that he or she has no grasp of design or of any materials other than those used in standard commercial blocks, and in particular that he or she has never looked at a street or what composes it. It is this devastating ignorance, which is learned ignorance, and also taught ignorance, that is the real cause of the degradation of our cities.”

We are appalled that some people give in to the siren-call “Oh, anything is preferable to the current slum site”. Not so: one current sort of blight must not be replaced by a long-term affliction, two and a half times the size of its predecessor, which at least offered an open public piazza.

CHIS has commissioned a plan which avoids such gross intrusiveness and pays heed to the unique setting. If only Bristol would discover a developer sensitive enough to make such a vision real and save the city’s architectural reputation.

BEAUTY (2). One such feat may be seen in the restored Observatory, an example of what may be done by a concerned, tasteful developer, affectionate towards the neighbourhood and heritage, whilst tactful in modernising that long-neglected, unique structure. The many people, young and old, who attended the launch of the cleverly integrated glazed restaurant extension will register what can be achieved. Ian Johnson is to be warmly congratulated on the acumen and style of his restoration and refurbishment. We wish him well in his future work on the Rocks Railway.

However, another potential Beast has re-emerged. It is the plan by Christ Church to erect a glass extension to the crypt on the Clifton Park side. A delightful feature of this grand 1844 church is that the grass slope makes for a feeling of countryside in the town and a continuing line to Christ Church Green. To carve out yet another entrance and windows into this slope is wrong and the reason why CHIS and other groups, local and national, helped prevent a not dis-similar scheme a few years ago. The building would destroy the harmony of the site - for a small gain in direct light to the interior, access to which should come from the inside of the church. One exterior improvement is this; that the splendid clock be repaired, to everyone’s benefit!

TALKS. The theme of our final address of the season was focused below ground. Melvin Wood alas had to postpone ‘Bristol’s Hidden Rivers’ because he was in hospital, but we were lucky to replace it with Hamish Orr-Ewing’s wide-ranging illustrated talk on a related topic, “The Dark Side of Bristol” - not the drug scene but a survey of the extraordinary network of tunnels and rivers that lurk beneath our roads and pavements.

VISITS. Very much and agreeably above ground is Coates English Willows – The Willows and Wetlands Centre at Stoke-St-Gregory. The Coates family has been working since 1819 with willow: the variety of objects was astonishing, from furniture and coffins to containers/baskets for all kinds of fruit and balloons, including one used by Brunel at the Suspension Bridge. The outing was completed, after lunch in Taunton, by a notably informative tour of the 14th century, in part, Cothay Manor, a hidden gem if ever there was one. This small medieval manor was unspoilt (if neglected) until the 1920s, when a large garden was laid out, to be re-planted in the original framework in the 1990s. A full house of members was delighted by RoseMary Musgrave’s discovery of these two venues and the meticulous organisation, not to forget an exceptionally obliging coach driver.

In late June a small group had a conducted tour of Goldney Gardens and the grotto. It was also a chance to see the recently-installed Castaway statue.

TREES. CHIS has, from its establishment, played a major role in planting trees and bulbs. Some members will remember Geoffrey Brazier’s drive in 1973/4 – the ‘Plant a Tree in 73’ and then ‘One More in 74’ - when CHIS planted and cared for over fifty trees in Clifton and Hotwells. We have received a handsome certificate from Bristol City Council acknowledging the trees we provided on Christ Church Green.
Councillor Paula O’Rourke is to be thanked for persuading the Council to prune the Lime Walk in St Andrew’s churchyard.

PLAQUES. After a quiet period we have in mind to put up a plaque to commemorate Beryl Corner, the redoubtable doctor who was among the first women to establish herself in the medical profession in Bristol.

TRAFFIC AND PARKING. Concerns about drivers who speed and ignore STOP signs have prompted hard work by Peter Stanley and Paul Main. Meanwhile, hard evidence of a long-suspected abuse of the residents’ parking system has been revealed in an on-line request for someone to buy day-time parking vouchers. CHIS has always been concerned about wrongful use: customer parking permits being used by employees instead.

REFUSE. Some success in this continuing trouble can be reported. Christopher Jefferies persuaded Councillor O’Rourke to take effective action in making a less visually offensive provision of refuse collection in Royal York Crescent. Councillor Stevens similarly helped in surveying the horrors of Alma Vale Road but so far with less co-operation from the authorities.

Finally, on the broader scale we are grateful to Maggie Shapland for constructing a comprehensive response for CHIS on the Local Plan Review (H1-H7) and, in contrasting scale, for persuading the Council to preserve the Telegraph Pole by the Observatory – a reminder of its significance during World War Two.

I look forward to welcoming members to the TALK on 17th September and the TALK plus AGM on 29th October and introduce our Treasurer-elect, James Simmonds.

Brian Worthington