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Gardens & Grounds

The main gardens of Manor Hall were laid out in a symmetrical fashion by Dr Hiatt Cowles Baker (1864-1934), a Pro Chancellor of the University in 1934, a fact commemorated by an ornamental bird bath in the centre of the main lawn.

His expeditions abroad to collect seeds and plants from places as far apart as the Himalayas and China were shown, until its recent demise, by an oriental pear tree planted from one of these seeds. The oldest of the cherry trees and the two magnificent tulip trees date from his planting.

The garden in front of Manor House was rejuvenated in the 1980s when a long brick terrace, formerly housing outside lavatories, and areas of building rubble were removed. The wall dividing the garden from Sinclair House dates from 1802.

The theme of the garden is based on the trees which might have been found there in the eighteenth century: a medlar, sweet chestnut, wild cherry, walnut, mulberry, ornamental pear, crab apple, quince and assorted flowering cherry trees.

At one corner of the garden is a marble plaque to the memory of Mrs Jessie Kate Parry (1868-1937) of Sion Hill, Clifton, who was actively involved in welfare and missionary work amongst the wives and families of dock workers and sailors in Hotwells and Clifton Wood. Her father, Alderman Alfred John Smith J.P., was Lord Mayor of Bristol between 1905 and 1907. The plaque was rescued from the ruins of a Methodist church in Bedminster in the 1960s, and had a chequered history, including being used to roll out pastry, before finding its present home.

The garden formerly contained a coach house, which has completely disappeared, although the whitewashed back wall of the former two horse stable remains, and has a vigorous fig tree growing in front of it. The terrace contains the remains of a number of Roman columns believed to have been brought back from the continent in the mid-18th century by a former tenant, Whitchurch Phippen the Younger.

The plants on the terrace (rosemary and lavender) and the Victorian-style roses on the wall and entwined through the railings, (which were erected in the 1980s to a design which mirrored that of the balconies), were planted principally for their scents. Below the terrace is a tunnel which emerges by the kitchen which enabled the gardeners to bring produce to the cook without being seen by the “quality” and allowed the residents covered access to the privy which, before the advent of piped water and flush closets, was situated between the wall of the terrace and the stable.

Lack of money has always been a problem in ensuring that the gardens are adequately stocked. The Manor Hall Association provided benches in memory of many former members of staff, including the first Warden, Mrs Jessie Dewrance Skemp (1882-1961), her deputy Miss Fanny Ackers M.B.E., and more recently the founder of the Manor Hall Association, Miss Winifred Armstead. They also provided various shrubs in the main garden in memory of the third Warden, Dr Marjorie Tait J.P.,(1906-1972). At various times students have paid for the wooden edging in the main gardens and augmented the magnificent selection of bulbs which make the garden essentially a Spring garden.

Benches and plants in the garden commemorate a number of frequent visitors to the hall: Dr Basil Cottle F.S.A., (1917-1994), reader in Mediaeval Studies at the University, who was part of the Enigma team which broke the German codes at Bletchley Park during the war; Michael Barrett F.S.A., (1948-2002), a Bristol history graduate who served on the University’s Court, (1990-98), and was head of History at Gresham’s School, Norfolk; Dr Paul Hancock, (1937-1998), Professor of Neotectonics at the University; Mrs Nancy Cain, (1920-2000), the mother of a former Sub Warden; and most recently Mrs Kathleen Muriel Philpott (1910-2005), chairman of the Manor Hall Association, who as a young woman was one of the first intake of students into Manor Hall in October 1932. Other donors of plants and shrubs include the late Miss Margaret A.B.Jones, the first female lecturer in Law at the University; Mrs Lilian Brown (née Oakman), who was a student of the hall in the 1950s; Dr Peter Cain; the Warden and his family. The gardens of Richmond House/Sinclair House contain a mature specimen of Sorbus Bristolliensis “the Bristol whitebeam” which is unique to the area around the Avon Gorge.

Many of the people who have felt closely attached to the hall have asked for their ashes to be buried in the grounds, including Professor Hancock, Mrs Philpott, and Miss Sheila Brennan, the Warden from 1974 to 1984, whose long and varied career in education included posts in Africa, and a spell as the University’s Advisor to Overseas Students.




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