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Improvements to Cumberland Piazza Hotwells, Bristol

Heritage Statement

Hotwells & Cliftonwood Community Association July 2012

Heritage Statement
1. Scope of study 2. Context within the wider landscape 3. A brief history of Hotwells 4. Understanding the heritage 5. Assessment of Heritage Significance 6. Alterations made to Cumberland Piazza since 1965 7. Current condition of the Heritage 8. Assessment of impact 9. Conclusion

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This analysis draws heavily on the research of Caroline Perkins, as part of her coursework for an MSc in the Conservation of Historic Gardens and Cultural Landscapes at Bath University, produced in consultation with the Cumberland Piazza design team in 2011. The diagrams and and illustrations are part of her work unless credited otherwise. However, Hotwells & Cliftonwood Community Association accepts full responsibility for the accuracy and interpretation of any material published here. We are also indebted to Emma Jones for use of her Conservation Statement produced in 2005 for additional material concerning the assessment of the Heritage. Most of the archive photos and Sylvia Crowe plans originate from BCC Records Office.

Cumberland Piazza ImprovementHeritage Statement

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1. Scope of study
This proposal is concerned with the area of approximately 3 hectares to the North of the Entrance Lock , which is part of Hotwells and owned by Bristol City Council.

Plan showing site of Cumberland Piazza

This was a small part of a much larger landscaping scheme designed by Dame Sylvia Crowe in 1964 as part of the development of the Cumberland Basin road scheme, that extends south to Ashton Gate.

The site was designated part of the Bristol City Docks Conservation Area in 1979. Its immediate surroundings to the north are part of the Clifton and Hotwells Conservation Area. The Piazza itself has no further designations, although it is surrounded by Grade II and II* listed buildings and structures.

The site is owned by Bristol City Council and managed by their Highways Asset Management Department as property that is land-highway/pavement/path. It does not have public park status.

Aerial view of Cumberland Basin road scheme (Google Earth)

Cumberland Piazza ImprovementHeritage Statement

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2. Context within the wider landscape

Hotwells is one mile west of Bristol city centre on the north bank of the River Avon as it enters the Avon Gorge, connecting the Bristol docks to the sea. The Cumberland Piazza stands at the apex of a gateway into the City for vehicles converging from the A370 and routes from N. Somerset and from the A4 Portway from Avonmouth and the M5 motorway. It is also a walking/cycling hub, with connections to several traffic-free paths. The adjacent Entrance Lock and nearby Cumberland Basin and Junction Lock form an assemblage of structures with significant heritage importance for the City. Hotwells has a population of around four and a half thousand. Within this area there is one designated park; a small space with play equipment at Charles Place about 300m from the Piazza. Although Cumberland Piazza has no designation as an open space, the area surrounding the adjacent locks and basin which is part of the Docks estate is designated as informal green space in the recent Area Green Space Plan proposals although its primary purpose is to service the working harbour.

Parks and open spaces around Hotwells (source BCC Area Green Space Plan 2011)

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3. A brief history of Hotwells

Hotwells derives its name from a warm spring that emerged from the River Avon. Although first recorded in the fifteenth century, it was not until the seventeenth century that people began to visit the spring for its curative properties.4 By the second half of the eighteenth century, the area had become part of the fashionable spa circuit, along with Bath. It boasted a pump room, hotels, assembly rooms, river gardens, elegant houses, shops, a library and theatre. The spas popularity declined in the early nineteenth century despite attempts to revive it with a new pump room in 1822. By this time, Clifton had become a wealthy suburb of Bristol and, on its lower slopes, Hotwells became incorporated into the industry of the docks. By the 1750s, Bristol was the second largest port in Britain. However, its large tidal range the first Hotwell pump room on what is now the Portway, demolished in 1822 meant that ships were often stranded, causing overcrowding. Towards the end of the century trade began to be lost to other ports with greater capacity. Between 1804 and 1809 the existing harbour was remodelled by the engineer, William Jessop, to create a nontidal, impounded dock: the Floating Harbour. At the Hotwells riverside, the half-tidal Cumberland basin was created to store larger ships, passing through to the Floating Harbour via entrance locks. This feat of engineering gave Bristol a new lease of life as a major working port and, situated at the gateway to the Floating Harbour, Hotwells became home to dock industries and workers in tenement buildings.

Ashmead map of 1828 showing extent of buildings associated with Hotwells Spa (source BCC Know Your Place Cumberland Piazza ImprovementHeritage Statement page 5

1930s slum clearance and Second World War bombing destroyed parts of Hotwells and, with larger docks built at Avonmouth and Royal Portbury, industry at the Floating Harbour slowly decreased. The City Docks closed to commercial traffic in 1975. Today, Bristol City Docks have been redeveloped as an area for leisure, retail and residential developments.
view of Entrance Lock and Cumberland Basin c1841/2. Illustrator: William Henry Bartlett. Engraver: S. Bradshaw.

The Cumberland Basin road scheme

The Floating Harbour and New Cut formed a barrier to north-south road communication. There were only three possible road crossing into central Bristol from the south. The Cumberland Basin was the most westerly and it attracted both long-distance and local traffic. As car ownership increased during the 1950s and 60s, there was immense congestion at peak times, exacerbated by the opening of the Junction Lock swing bridge to allow shipping through. A solution to provide a constant free flow of road and river traffic was sought. The result was an elevated dual carriageway system above the entrance locks of the Cumberland Basin that incorporated a swing bridge for shipping access. The complex arrangement of roads and ramps enabled traffic to be routed to whichever bridge was not being swung at the time. Construction was completed in1965. The site was chosen with, regard to minimum spans and least interference with existing structures, land and dock users. However, at the northern end of the scheme, the Dock Masters house and its clock tower were demolished at the Entrance Lock and 59 houses, the former 18th century Assembly Room from the Hotwells Spa and 18 commercial buildings were destroyed at the site of the Piazza., The area was also divided by heavy t raf f i c w hi ch n ow negotiated a gyratory route around the neighbourhood rather than travelling directly towards the City centre via Junction Lock bridge and Merchants Rd.
Hotwells about 1940 showing area demolished to build road scheme (HCCA) Cumberland Piazza ImprovementHeritage Statement page 6

4. Understanding the heritage

As part of the engineering works associated with the Cumberland Basin road project, a wellregarded landscape designer, Dame Sylvia Crowe, was asked to devise a scheme to mitigate the impact of the new road layout. Her proposal (Cumberland Basin bridges Landscape Report, Sylvia Crowe, 1964) was accepted and largely implemented. It is clear from this proposal that the part of the scheme that she called Cumberland Piazza was envisaged to function as a park for the benefit of local people and visitors passing through the City:

The piazza and its surroundings have been designed to lead people naturally to the footbridge and underpass which will have gentle gradients and attractive approaches. A pattern of dragons tooth paving is proposed where access is to be prevented. The central feature of the piazza is a pool and fountain, which will throw up a jet at the apex of the open space between the elevated roads and will bring light down into the shadowed space beneath the arches. The fountain, a Swiss invention known as the Butterfly, has a central jet and eighteen nozzles which produce a series of water displays of changing form and colour. Lighting and containers of flowers will also enliven the area. It is hoped that the space will be used for open air sculpture exhibitions and the display of paintings. Flower stalls and an information kiosk would also help to impart gaiety and life. There might be a column to display advertisments of events in the City of Bristol near the entrance to the subway. A mural is suggested for the wall which screens the public conveniences.. ..A childrens playground to replace that displaced by the road works, is placed in a sunny and sheltered position. Part of it extends under the shelter of the road for use in wet weather. A low fence of a simple design, separates the playground from the road. ..A caf with space for tables in the open air is suggested adjacent to the childrens playground, giving views over the river. Both here and in the space south of the car park, seats are provided from which to watch the shipping. Visual continuity is planned down Hotwells Road from Dowry Square to the piazza, while the elevated footbridge will lead pedestrians naturally into the piazza. (Cumberland Basin Bridges
Landscape Report, Sylvia Crowe, April 1964) The central Piazza was surfaced with red asphalt, patterned with concrete lines and curves. Crowe created banks in the southeast section to smooth out the conflicting slopes and sharp angles normally associated with road works. The trees chosen for the landscaping were limes, Norway maples, nyssa, horse chestnuts, willows, birch, robinia and wild cherries. Large specimen trees were planted in the Piazza area to give an immediate effect. Crowe used drifts of shrubs such as cotoneaster, elaeagnus, juniperus and viburnum to separate traffic from pedestrians and clothe banks. Bedding plants in concrete containers provided colour and there were small areas of grass around the playground, subway and northeast of the fountain. Crowes aim was to exploit attractive views northwest towards Clifton and the Suspension Bridge and southwest to Rownham Park. She intended visual continuity between the Piazza and eighteenth century Dowry Square to the north. Benches were deliberately positioned to exploit views of the shipping.

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left -playground & caf with view to Clifton Suspension Bridge 1966

abovethe fountain and pool leftbenches facing Entrance Lock and caf 1966

rightpool & fountain and dragons tooth pattern in paved surface 1966

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Cumberland Piazza ImprovementHeritage Statement

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Landscape Plan for Cumberland Piazza prepared by Sylvia Crowe in 1964

5. Assessment of Heritage Significance

'Dame Sylvia Crowe was a pioneer in the field of landscape design. She was one of Britain's most distinguished landscape architects and is well-known for the variety of her work, from the landscaping of forests, power stations and roads to the courtyards of New College, Oxford. She was President of the Landscape Institute from 1957 to 1959, helping to give recognition to the relatively new profession of landscape architect in the field of planning, and from its inception had been involved in the International Federation of Landscape Architects. By 1960 she was already recognised in the sphere of public building for her work at Harlow and Basildon with Sir Frederick Gibberd, and as a writer of several key works on landscape design. Influences & Design Principles The Festival of Britain in 1951 promoted better quality designs in British development and was particularly innovative and influential in establishing a new aesthetic in landscape design. It also showed Britain how landscape architects could contribute to public spaces. Throughout the site, there were subtle surprises and dramatic contrasts, an echo of eighteenth century Picturesque theory. Influenced by Scandinavian style, the designers used new materials, boldshaped plants, curves of water, sculpture, murals and concrete planters set into pebbles. This aesthetic can be seen in the Sylvia Crowes designs and in the shaping of the Cumberland Piazza. Influenced by contemporary artists such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, Crowe was interested in landscape contours and strongly believed that designs should be adapted to the context in which they are located. She strove for simplicity and harmony between man and nature. Her designs were very simple and plain. They tended to be light and open, often contained water, glass, new metals, concrete, bare grass and simple planting. Trees and banks were used for screening hard-edged or unsightly objects. On her projects, Sylvia Crowe was intent on persuading planners, architects and engineers to take views, local character and landforms into consideration when imposing their structures on the landscape. She believed that new roads should follow the existing contours of the land and be planted with indigenous species in a natural style. As landscape consultant to the Forestry Commission, Crowe was extremely influential in improving the visual and ecological impact of commercial forests. In all her work, she showed an awareness of the need to provide pleasure, beauty and recreational space for people. Sylvia Crowes work at Cumberland Basin Sylvia Crowes landscaping plan for the Cumberland Basin bridges scheme was produced at the height of her career and reveals many signs of the spirit of 1960s optimism about communal urban life with its emphasis on public spaces. Intact landscape designs exhibiting these qualities are becoming increasingly rare Sylvia crowes design was not completely realised. Significantly, at Cumberland Piazza, the site was to be reached via a footbridge from Hotwell Road (see plan overleaf), This would have meant cutting into the Lady Haberfield Almshouse gardens. The residents and trustees objected and eventually prevented it from being built. This left two points of entry at less useful locations; the subway leading from the eastern side or by footpath and stairs leading down from the overhead flyover. Also the mural envisaged for the outside wall of the toilet block was never commissioned. In later years the site experienced a period of steady decline and many of the original features have now been lost and changes made that detract from the original vision:
Cumberland Piazza ImprovementHeritage Statement page 10

Archaeological evidence The foundations of the buildings on the site before the 1960s demolition are probably just below the surface with rubble filling any old basements. The construction of the roads, piling on the site for the flyover and the installation of services drainage, water, electricity, gas and communications are likely to have caused destruction of any remains pre-dating 1964.

this section through a trench dug in 2011 shows the tarmac and concrete cover is approximately 10 cm thick with pulverised building rubble below, to an unknown depth. (Ray Smith) (the trench has been partly backfilled with new material brought to the site)

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6. Alterations made to Cumberland Piazza since 1965

Alteration Added Date and Description
A footbridge leading from Granby Hill was built c1970 in place of the one intended from Hotwell Road. In the early 1980s traffic lights were put in at the crossing points from Hotwell Road, allowing easier access to the Piazza from the north. Rocks were installed in the early 1990s to prevent vehicle access after travelers had occupied the site. New trees were planted where the pool and fountain were infilled, c1983. Recently, twelve small ornamental street trees have been planted to line the northeastern edge of the car park.

Lost, altered or unused

Unmaintained, the pool and fountain were filled in in the early 1980s. The shape remains. The toilets have been closed since the early1990s. The caf was closed in the early 1970s and removed by 1978. The playground equipment has all been removed. Date unknown. The majority of benches were demolished in the early 1990s. Four original benches remain. Concrete planters have been removed in the last few years. Since July 2011 there have been bedding plants in rubble sacks, supplied and maintained by the local community. The council removed rubbish bins in the last few years after complaints that they were not being emptied. The footbridge from Granby Hill blocks intended views from the Piazza towards Clifton Suspension Bridge, Rownham Park, the river and locks. There is far less shipping activity to view since the closure of the City Docks in 1975.

Possibly never implemented

There is no evidence of Crowes intended mural on the wall of the toilet block entrance. There is no evidence of there having been a column advertising city events to those using the Piazza.

(colour code refers to map overleaf)

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Cumberland Piazza ImprovementHeritage Statement

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7. Current condition of the Heritage

(letters refer to location plan on p15 overleaf)

Remaining feature




Red asphalt/ Poor concrete surface

The surface is cracked or broken in several places. Weeds have been left to grow through cracks and moss covers the surface, especially under trees. Underground work has been carried out in places and the surface replaced unsympathetically. Although closed and without water or electricity, the structure appear to be in sound, dry condition. The original curved railing around the former playground is painted green and, along with all other railings, well maintained. The foundations of the former caf remain, crumbling and weedcovered. The surface is uneven where playground equipment has been removed. Brambles extend outwards from the borders. Two original benches remain, in moderate condition. The structure is sound, although there is some graffiti under the archway. The approach paths are covered in leaves and moss. This area has been well maintained. Recycling bins have been put on the western side, slightly reducing the number of spaces. Original trees are now mature but in good condition. Shrubs and trees have experienced minimal basic maintenance, being cut back when intruding on vehicle or pedestrian space. Some have been obscured, particularly the view west to the Avon Gorge and Suspension Bridge because of tree growth and the addition of the pedestrian footbridge from Granby Hill. Others remain as intended; northwards towards Clifton and southwards over Cumberland Basin. The intended visual continuity towards Dowry Square is no longer apparent. The overhead flyovers are now over forty-five years old. There are cracks in some columns. Overhead lights have been well maintained.

Toilet block Railings

Moderate Good

Former playground area,


Faraday Road subway Car park

Good/ Moderate Good

Soft landscaping,









perimeter stones Poor

Added to control access but unsympathetic to original design

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Cumberland Piazza ImprovementHeritage Statement (HCCA)

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Plan showing location of features described in table on p14

Current condition of site

Playground, brambles & caf foundations

Cracked surface & recent planting

Faraday Road subway

Toilet block

Bench & rocks to prevent vehicle access Planting and damage from mowing
Caroline Perkins, 2011

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8. Assessment of impact
The landscape and structures created in 1964 are now much degraded and to attempt to recreate these in their original form, apart from being very costly, would only replicate a formula that failed in the 1960s as a viable public space and seems very likely to fail in the 21st century. Instead, our approach has been to try to identify new uses for the site in consultation with potential users and achieve these, as far as possible by reinforcing the existing landscape elements rather than adding new structures. the following are retained in the proposed masterplan scheme: 1) All of the original planting, especially trees. Other planting may have been modified by subsequent generations of parks maintenance policy. 2) It would retain the walls of the pool . The aim is to create a similar but more practical focus for the site by using the pool as the site for a large sculpture that reflects the heritage significance of the site (for example a part of the old timber entrance lock gates). 3) It would retain the railings and the hard area within the former playground and possibly the renovated drum base of the former caf as part of an informal adventure play area/ art installation using materials like boulders of local stone. 4) It would retain the hard landscaped area to the north of the Bennett Way ramp (leading from The Portway) but soften the overall feel of this area with some additional trees, inserted through the existing tarmac and concrete paved surface. 5) It will retain the open vista to the south, gently sloping to the entrance lock as a natural focus for the site, this will include some reinstated public seating but not necessarily in the same locations. Most of the seating from the original scheme has been destroyed and the dockside environment is very different from when the harbour operated as a commercial port. Visits by large ships are comparatively rare and the draw for the public to visit and sit and watch ships coming and going is much less important. 6) The subway could be retained if means can be found to maintain it properly. At present, the impression is that it is little-used, partly because of the intimidating degree of dereliction and partly because there is no reason to visit the space on the other side of the road. 7) The heritage both of the Sylvia Crowe landscape and the pre-1964 condition of the site will be enhanced by information boards and public art that interpret its history.

9. Conclusion
Sylvia Crowe saw the value of the piazza as an important gateway to the City, a role that was less appreciated in later years by those responsible for maintaining it. This view has more recently been corrected as the Cumberland Basin area is now identified by the Bristols Core Strategy as a regeneration area where continued improvement will be promoted (Policy BCS2). Crowes plans also clearly show that the intention was to create a place of recreation for the use of local people. Perhaps a conscious response to the appalling price paid by the community in terms of homes lost and intrusion of traffic generated by the new roads. Whilst retaining respect for the surviving elements of the original design it is the success of any improvement scheme in responding to new recreational needs and being adopted by local users and visitors that will ultimately ensure its survival and the preservation of as much as is practicable of the heritage asset.

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