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Explore Bristol’s hidden horticultural gems

Royal Fort Garden

Goldney Garden

Press release issued: 14 April 2016

A rare glimpse into the city’s horticultural history and beautiful biodiversity is being offered through a series of guided tours and events, launched today.

The University of Bristol is inviting people to explore its hidden horticultural gems during a special programme of activity from April until September.

In addition to its annual Specialist Garden History Tours of Goldney and Royal Fort Gardens, it now offers a series of Biodiversity Events thanks to a new partnership with the Bristol Naturalists' Society.

Experts from the Society will lead the biodiversity events, which each focus on different aspects of the diverse flora and fauna native to the area.

Among the gardens featured are Goldney Garden in Clifton, Royal Fort Garden and the landscape as part of the Stoke Bishop campus.

Goldney Garden is home to one of the country’s best-preserved grottos, which was created by wealthy merchant Thomas Goldney in the 17th century as an elaborate town garden. It's currently a hall of residence, located at the top of Constitution Hill, and is normally closed to the public.

Royal Fort Garden, which is nestled away behind Tyndall Avenue, began life as a Civil War fortification created to defend the city in the 16th century. Although it's open to the public, few people are aware of its pivotal role in Bristol's history.

Stoke Bishop Halls of Residence are surrounded by a diverse range of habitats which comprise of both formal and informal gardens, and woodland which will host a number of the biodiversity events.

Alan Stealey, External Estates Manager at the University of Bristol, said: "The historic tours of Goldney and Royal Fort Gardens are popular every year and we're excited to be able to offer more bespoke events in partnership with the Bristol Naturalists’ Society. These promise to be educational and enjoyable, whether you're interested in birds, bulbs or trees.

"The University takes great pride in maintaining a large number of listed buildings and gardens, and we’re looking forward to sharing this slice of Bristol's heritage with the public."

Lesley Cox, Honorary Secretary of the Bristol Naturalists' Society, said: "The Bristol Naturalists' Society played a key role in the creation of the University of Bristol and has been associated with it in a number of ways throughout its life.  

"Even though the University is a little bigger now than it was in the 19th century, our liaison continues and it is an enormous pleasure to be able to renew that partnership once again through the Biodiversity Events that will be taking place throughout the summer."

Biodiversity Events, £6 and bookable online:

  • Sunday, 24 April: Bulbs and Blossom, Stoke Bishop, from 2pm
  • Saturday, 30 April: Tree Gazing, Goldney Garden, from 10.30am
  • Sunday, 8 May: Tree Gazing, Royal Fort Garden, from 2pm
  • Friday, 27 May: Moths and Insects, Stoke Bishop, from 9pm
  • Additional dates to follow.

Historic Garden Tours, £10 and bookable online:

  • Sunday, 15 May: Goldney Garden, from 2pm
  • Saturday, 4 June: Royal Fort Garden and Centenary Garden, from 11am
  • Sunday, 03 July: Goldney Garden, from 11am
  • Sunday, 21 August: Goldney Garden, from 2pm
  • Sunday, 9 September: Goldney Garden, from 2pm

For further information, please contact Nicolette Smith –

Further information

About Royal Fort Garden

The landscape around the Royal Fort has altered dramatically over the past four centuries and little remains of the fortifications created to defend the city during the Civil War (1642–46).

It was originally known as Windmill Fort, located at the top of St Michael’s Hill, before the Royalists captured Bristol and Dutch military engineer Sir Bernard de Gomme redesigned it.

It was the strongest defence in Bristol and acted as the Western headquarters for the Royalist army under Prince Rupert of Rhine, the 23-year-old commander of the Royalist cavalry.

Prince Rupert surrendered to Oliver Cromwell and Lord Fairfax in 1645, with the fort being demolished in 1655.

The wealthy Tyndall family, who established Bristol’s first bank, acquired the land to build a sizeable new house with generous gardens.

The current three-storey villa was built between 1758 and 62 for Thomas Tyndall, a wealthy Bristol merchant, and his young wife Alicia. Its three facades in three different classical styles - Baroque, Palladian and Rococo - were a compromise after three separate architects submitted designs.

A later Tyndall generation called in the landscape designer, Humphry Repton, to screen their 'pleasure grounds' from urban sprawl after a disastrous housing scheme fell through. Repton's original drive and planting around the house have recently been reinstated.

The Tyndall family lived there until 1916, when the house and grounds were bought by Henry Herbert Wills, who later donated it to the University of Bristol.

About Goldney Garden

The ornate garden hidden away behind Goldney House, in Clifton Wood, includes a heritage orchard, an ornamental garden, an orangery, a canal and tower, a rotunda and bastion, Corinthian columns and the elaborate grotto which is one of the finest surviving examples of an 18th century garden grotto in Britain.

The Goldney family first came to live on the property in 1694, when Thomas Goldney II rented it. He later bought the property in 1705 before rebuilding the house and adding to the garden in the 1720s.

However, most of what we see today was the work of his son Thomas Goldney III who enlarged the garden to 16 acres in over 35 years.

He kept a garden book which logged all the work he carried out to transform the grounds. His first major project in 1737 was the construction of the Grotto.

The first part of this scheme was actually to build a tunnel, so that he would not have to cross the public footpath leading through his estate.

The Grotto itself was completed 27 years later in 1764. The walls and pillars are covered with a vast variety of minerals, shells, corals, rocks and fossils, some of which may have been brought back to Bristol by Captain Woodes Rogers.

In 1760, the Orangery was constructed to house an exotic collection of citrus trees which would have been brought to Bristol by merchant ships.

The garden at Goldney garnered a reputation as one of the must-see gardens of the 18th century, with both visitors and writers.

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