Anton Bantock, a retired teacher and local historian, outlines the history of the estate following a thirty year love affair with the manor house and its historical past. The estates history include’s love affairs and illicit liaisons with The Prince of Wales, who was a frequent visitor in the late 18th Century to the Ashton Court Estate. Anton has accumulated a huge archive, which is now stored in a basement storeroom at Bishopsworth Library.
It is here on a cold November day we first meet. There is no escaping Anton’s passion and enthusiasm; he has after all almost single-handedly collated an impressive archive on Ashton Court. It is now considered so valuable by his fellows of the Malago Society that access even for Anton is strictly limited and a careful log of loaned documents is kept.
On discussing the estates history and how long it has been in existence, Anton reveals that there has been evidence of a settlement on the Ashton Court site dating back to Roman times. “There have been substantial finds of Roman artifacts and there is evidence of a Roman Mosaic in the doorway, as part of a step into the house itself.”
The Manor House grew through the middle ages and was rebuilt from wood to stone during this period. Although records for this time are few and far between, Anton has undertaken pain staking research and drawn several artist’s impressions of what certain aspects of the house might have looked like over the preceeding years. The house has changed greatly over the centuries and sadly in more recent times been left in a state of disrepair.
… “The Manor grounds have contracted from its original size when the estate lands covered about two third’s of Bristol. One of the most interesting periods of the estate is the last 100 years when the (Manor House) ownership finally fell into the hands of the local council, the lands being acquired in 1947 and the house being bought in 1959.” The estate management has been in the hands of Bristol City Council ever since.
The property originally came into the hands of the Smyth family in 1545 and stayed with them until the family died out in 1946, with the death of Esme Smyth. Then the estate lands were put up for sale in 1947 and were bought by Bristol City council, although the house wasn’t purchased by the council until 1959.
Greville Smyth 1836-1901, inherited the Ashton Court Estate at the age of 16 in 1852 by way of a maternal grandmother. In 1857 Greville came of age. By the age of 27 he became the second wealthiest landlord in Somerset, earning £27,087 per year from the estate. At the age of 48 he married his first cousin Emily Edwards after her first husband had died. He had always admired Emily from afar and he seems devoted to her. He left the entire estate to her. However, Dame Emily Smyth was not so loyal.
Dame Emily Smyth 1835-1914, was the eldest daughter of eight children, born Emily Way. She seems to be a well-loved woman in more ways than one. “Her sapphire eyes, alabaster complexion finely chiselled profile and hair spun like gold, led her to being called the loveliest woman in the west of England.”
Whether she was or was not is open to speculation, but she was surely one of the naughtiest. In 1884 the then Prince of Wales was invited on a shooting party by Greville Smyth. He (Greville) was having an affair with Emily whilst she was married to George Edwards. It can be assumed the Prince of Wales made a significant impression on Emily and her on him. After the death of her first husband, Emily married Greville Smyth, but also continued a secret love affair with the Prince of Wales, which had started some time earlier.
A woman of substance and some stamina, we can assume.
Funding For Ashton Court Manor House.
Parts of Ashton Court manor house are in a poor state of repair and very little of the house is open to the public. “This is a great shame” says Anton passionately. His voice now quite irate at the fact that Bristol city council seems to be depriving the people of Bristol, from one of the country’s most unique heritage sites. His appeal is for the council to open the doors on Ashton Court fully so that the public may see upstairs as well as downstairs.
You can listen to Antons appraisal of the historic heritage of Ashton Court and its estate by clicking here
Grateful thanks to Anton Bantock for his time and access to his research material in being able to prepare this blog post.