Blaise Hamlet – a quick historical walk
If you’re in Bristol…
…or north Bristol for that matter. And you don’t have much time to kill, there is a small hamlet of houses out of the way of the beaten path. Away from the busyness of the city and tucked away in the village of Henbury. A charming collection of houses called Blaise Hamlet – one of Bristol’s lesser known historical places.
I came here with my parents last autumn. It was a cold day, but the sun was out, so it was a good opportunity.
I just want to give you some information on my experience there. On its background. And what there is to see and do.
Blaise Hamlet History
The hamlet is a unique housing estate built in the early 19th century as part of the Blaise Castle Estate.
Blaise Castle Estate & John Harford
Blaise Castle Estate changed hands several times in the 18th century, especially during the turbulent years of the American revolution, where fortunes were lost. Then, in 1789 it was bought for £13,000 by a respected banker and Quaker called John Harford, a well-respected Bristol banker and Quaker. In 1795, he commissioned architect William Paty, to build a new house for him and his family.
Harford also employed Humphry Repton (one of the leading landscape architects at the time) to redesign the grounds of the estate. Around the same time Repton introduced Harford to architect John Nash (famous for designing the Brighton Pavilion). It was at that time that Harford commissioned Nash to design the Blaise Hamlet cottages.
Purpose of the cottages
The cottages were built around 1811 for retired employees of John Harford. The idea was to build a number of cottages that provided housing for Harford’s servants when they retired.
Designed by John Nash, the hamlet is one of the first examples of the garden suburb and set the standard for other garden suburbs that followed. It’s also an example of the picturesque ideal promoted by William Gilpin.
Each of the cottages are unique in design, with some of them having thatched roofs. The cottages are called, Oak Cottage, Diamond Cottage, Dutch Cottage, Double Cottage, Rose Cottage, Dial Cottage, Circular Cottage, Sweetbriar Cottage and Vine Cottage.
The hamlet today
The Blaise Castle estate was sold to Bristol City Council in 1926. However, Blaise Hamlet and its cottages have been owned by the National Trust since 1943 with extensive refurbishment and modernisation undertaken on the cottages in 1975. These are still occupied and rented out by the Trust. Rose Cottage is also let out as a holiday cottage.
Things to see and do
When you enter the hamlet area, there is an oval path encircling the public green space which links the cottages. You’ll also notice the cottages are built around the village green.
The different houses
This cottage was built in 1812.
Historic England describes this cottage as…
Random rubble, brick gable stacks and a thatch hipped roof. Single-depth plan. Picturesque style. Single-storey and attic; 1-window range. A bow-ended cottage with a pent on brackets extending round 3 sides, over a left-hand gabled open porch to a plank door, and a front bench. Paired lattice casements, to the sides and front, and half-dormers to the left and front. Paired diagonally-set rear stacks.Historic England
Any builders want to translate for me?
For me, all I know it’s a very charming thatched-roof cottage. Somewhere I’d probably like to retire to.
Just one thing. It doesn’t look circular to me.
As with Circular Cottage, the Diamond Cottage was built in 1812.
Again, I don’t claim to be an expert in architecture. But what I like about this building is its diamond symmetry and the unique chimney stacks. And the fact that it it comes with its own inbuilt outdoor seating at the front under shelter – great if you get caught out in the rain.
What I do know is that before the cottage was renovated in 1975, it had an outside toilet. Not ideal for one of those late night episodes after a night of curry.
The village pump & sundial
It’s not much to look at. But the hamlet’s village green has a village pump and sundial that was built by the son of John Harford in memorial to his father. I’m sure if we all had that kind of money, we’d all do something similar for ours.
Blaise Hamlet Bristol is nothing spectacular. But it’s a fine example of a picturesque village. And it’s a historical place I recommend for a short visit. The Hamlet was a product of the times and showed the benevolence of some employers to their workers/servants at the time. This was typical of the Quaker attitude. If only employers today showed the same care!
On the other hand, the hamlet was built at a time when wages were pitiful when compared to what the privileged were earning at the time. So only made sense to reward loyal service with a living space that would have been beyond the reach of most of the population at that time.
However, with affordable housing now fast-becoming unaffordable for even people with modest jobs. Perhaps there is now a place for this kind of benevolence once again. Sadly.