HOW DO WE GET TO SEE INSIDE?
The Castle will be closed now until April 2024 for the next season of regular opening by our volunteers. Specific dates will be published in advance. Over the Winter, it may be possible for groups to have a dedicated tour under certain circumstances. Contact us to find out more.
Is it a real castle?
No, it isn’t I’m afraid; it was fashionable at the time to build mock medieval structures that existed in their original form 500 years earlier – which we now call follies. At the time this folly was built, there was no need to have a fortress to defend against marauding enemies.
When was it built and for whom?
It was completed in 1766 for Thomas Farr, a rich Bristol merchant. It was commissioned by Robert Mylne to build the sham castle in Gothic Revival style
How much did it cost?
£3000, which doesn’t sound much but would be close to £1/2M today, and to put in context was more than a quarter of the value of the whole Estate. Not bad for a building without its own water supply!
Why was it built?
Primarily as a status symbol, much as the very rich now have super yachts. It also provided a perfect vantage point from which to view his Estate and his ships as they sailed up the Avon.
What was it used for?
Thomas Farr would show off his wealth with grand banquets in surroundings that mimicked a medieval banqueting hall – oak panelled walls, suits of armour in the alcoves and stained-glass windows. He would also amaze his guests with the views from the parapets, this being one of the highest points in the area.
Who owns it now and who opens it to the public?
Since 1926, it has been owned by Bristol City Council and opened every year since 1981 by volunteers from Friends of Blaise.
The last ruins of the chapel, predating the Castle, were removed in the early part of the eighteenth century, when the estate was in the possession of the Smyth family of Ashton Court. The estate was sold in 1762 to Thom Farr, a sugar merchant who was to become Lord Mayor of Bristol in 1775. Possibly he regretted the removal of the ruins, for by the second half of the eighteenth century it was fashionable to have such picturesque adornments to one’s grounds. Rather than rebuilding the old manor house, he chose to spend £3,000 on a Gothic folly, the Castle, built in 1766 to the design of Robert Mylne. The Castle was built with carboniferous limestone, dolomite conglomerate, Lias Limestone and pennant sandstone which was mainly taken from the hill itself and the surrounding area. Bath Stone was also used for ornamental purposes and was probably shipped along the River Avon from Bath to Sea Mills where it was hauled up to the site.
Originally the castle had a first floor which was lavishly furnished with oak-panelled walls and suits of armour in the alcoves, while down below the servants would be roasting mutton and beef on spits over two open fires. There were separate spiral staircases for visitors and servants with one providing access to the roof and from there a ladder onto one of the turrets to reach the very top to provide an even better view.
As well as serving as an opulent Banqueting Hall, the Castle was intended as a retreat for meditation as well as a vantage point from which to enjoy the extensive views. It was visited in 1788 by John Wesley, the much-travelled founder of the Methodist Church, who described the view from the Castle as “a prospect all four ways nothing in England excels”. The op of the Castle also served as a vantage point for Thomas Farr to see his ships returning with their cargo of sugar from the Americas – the source of his fortune.
The Harford Family who later inherited the Castle made no discernible changes and in 1926 it was bought by the Bristol Corporation, now Bristol City Council. It remained pretty much intact until the 1950’s culminating in a disastrous fire that gutted the interior and destroyed the upper story and the spiral staircases. The exterior was partially restored but the fabric of the building continued to deteriorate until by the start of the 1980’s the Council prepared plans to demolish it. However, the local community protested and raised sufficient funds to save it and it is their efforts that we still have it today.
It was from this community protest group that the Friends of Blaise emerged who have ever since ensured visitor access and will do into the future.