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Exploring the secret gardens of Clifton

Volunteers survey the garden of Clifton Hill House

Press release issued: 1 June 2015

The gates to some of Clifton and Hotwells’ most glorious gardens are being opened to the public this weekend [6 and 7 June], giving a unique glimpse into the city’s horticultural heritage.

Over a dozen secret gardens and green squares are taking part in the event, organised by the Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society (CHIS) and building on the success of last year's inaugural weekend which welcomed over 650 people.

One of the gardens featured is part of Clifton Hill House, a University of Bristol hall of residence, which is currently being restored to its former glory by a team of volunteers. It will be open from 11 am to 3pm on Sunday, 7 June.

Alan Stealey, Head of External Estates at the University of Bristol, said: "We're looking forward to welcoming people into the garden at Clifton Hill House and showing them how work is progressing.

"We've already made some exciting discoveries, including artefacts dating from around 1640 and pathways from the original 'sextant' garden which was there before Clifton Hill House was built."It's a wonderful building, rich with character and heritage, so we’re aiming to create a garden to compliment this and reflect its fascinating history."

Tickets for the open gardens event cost £3 and give access to all participating venues. They will be on sale outside the Arch House Deli, between Victoria Square and Boyce's Avenue, on 6 and 7 June from 11.00am. Further information is on the Clifton and Hotwells Improvement Society website.

About Clifton Hill House and garden

Clifton Hill House, steeped in history since it was completed in 1750, became the first hall of residence for women in the South West after it was donated to the University of Bristol in 1909.

The resplendent Palladian-style house is one of the most important surviving examples of work by the architect Isaac Ware who designed it for Paul Fisher, a highly successful linen draper, merchant, and ship-owner in Bristol.

Over 200 students now reside within the main house and in the more recent extensions. The restoration of the house won a national award in 2004 and the University is now working with a team of volunteers to ensure the garden reflects its heritage and important place in the history of Clifton.

Plans for the garden's design have been based on the 1746 'Survey of the Manor of Clifton' - the first pictorial representation of Clifton drawn up by Jacob de Wilstar for the Society of Merchant Venturers. Building of Clifton Hill House began at this time.

At this point in history, Clifton was essentially a farming community but three wealthy merchant families - the Goldneys, Champions and Farrs - had moved to the cleaner air of Clifton-on-the-Hill following the growing idea of the time that the suburbs were preferable to, and more salubrious than, the bustling city.

Also present are two old stone banqueting houses, one of which stands as a ruin. These predate the house itself. Serving as a reminder of the estate’s more recent history, there remains a WWII air-raid bunker, built into a sloping bank near the house.

The refurbishment of the historic garden is part of the University Heritage Volunteering project. More information on all the University’s historic gardens is available in the Historic Gardens book.

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