Royal Fort House

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Royal Fort House
Royal Fort House in Bristol.JPG
Royal Fort House is located in Bristol
Royal Fort House
Location within Bristol
General information
Architectural styleBaroque, Palladian and Rococo
Town or cityBristol
Coordinates51°27′30″N 2°36′13″W / 51.4583°N 2.6035°W / 51.4583; -2.6035Coordinates: 51°27′30″N 2°36′13″W / 51.4583°N 2.6035°W / 51.4583; -2.6035
Construction started1758
ClientThomas Tyndall
Design and construction
ArchitectJames Bridges
EngineerThomas Paty

The Royal Fort House is a historic house in Tyndalls Park, Bristol. The building currently houses the University of Bristol's Faculty of Science offices, the Brigstow Institute, Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research, the Cabot Institute and the Jean Golding Institute for data-intensive research.

The house was built for Thomas Tyndall KCB, in the 18th century, on the site of bastions which were fought over during the English Civil War and demolished in 1655. The Baroque, Palladian and Rococo styles of architecture are because of the work of three different architects: James Bridges, Thomas Paty, John Wallis. The garden was laid out by Humphry Repton around 1800.


The house was constructed on the site of a Civil War fortification, which had two bastions on the inside of the lines and three on the outside. It was the strongest part of the defences of Bristol, designed by Dutch military engineer Sir Bernard de Gomme. It was one of the few purpose-built defensive works of the war era. The fort was designed as the western headquarters of the Royalist army under Prince Rupert.[1] Royalists retreated into the fort when the Parliamentarians had broken through the lines in the siege of 1645, before eventually surrendering to Cromwell's forces.[2]

The fort was demolished around 1655. The "Royal" in the name was in honour of Prince Rupert, when he was made Governor of Bristol.[3] An archaeological investigation in 2009 discovered a defence ditch, two bastions and the possible foundations of a defensive wall on the summit of St Michaels' Hill.[1][4]


The design of the mid-eighteenth-century house by James Bridges, for Thomas Tyndall KCB, was a compromise between the separate designs of architects Thomas Paty, John Wallis and himself. This led to different classical styles: Baroque, Palladian and Rococo, for three of the facades of the house.[5] It was built between 1758 and 1761, by Thomas Paty with plasterwork by Thomas Stocking.

A later Colonel Thomas Tyndall employed Humphry Repton from 1799,[6][7] to landscape the gardens which form a small part of Tyndall's Park, which extended to Whiteladies Road in the west, Park Row in the south and Cotham Hill to the north.[8] Over the years large parts of the park were sold for housing development, as the site for the Bristol Grammar School, purchased in 1877, and only a small part of the original area remains, as Royal Fort Gardens. The siting of drives in the Royal Fort park is still reflected in street plans today.

The current stone gatehouse, built in the Victorian era and known as the Royal Fort Lodge, stands at the entrance to the driveway leading to Royal Fort House. It currently houses the University of Bristol security services.[9]

The house has been designated by Historic England as a grade I listed building.[10]

Royal Fort Gardens[edit]

A view to the House from Royal Fort Gardens

Although owned by the University of Bristol, the Royal Fort Gardens are open to the public for the majority of the year. Following a failed attempt to develop the gardens for housing, at the end of the eighteenth century, renowned landscape architect Humphry Repton was commissioned to reinstate a garden in the 'English Landscape' fashion.

Repton produced a design which filled in the unsightly excavations; created an undulating lawn and screened the undesirable - or framed the desirable - views.[11] A high wall surrounds and retains the garden. This would have acted as a 'ha-ha' to gain what, at the time, would have been unspoiled vistas.

The garden is now widely used for student activities and general relaxing. It contains a small pond, trees and habitats, to increase the biodiversity, and visitors can also appreciate a mirror maze (called "Follow Me") designed by the internationally recognised artist Jeppe Hein. In 2016 a new installation called 'Hollow' was produced by Katie Paterson (with the assistance of Zeller & Moye); which brings together samples taken from 10,000 species of wood that grow throughout the world.


It is now owned by the University of Bristol, who were given the estate as a gift by Henry Herbert Wills[12] of the Bristol tobacco company W. D. & H. O. Wills. For many years it housed the university's Music Department (which in 1996 moved to the Victoria Rooms), then became a conference and banqueting venue, and now houses the university's Faculty of Science, the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute for Health Research, Brisgstow Institute, Jean Golding Institute for data-intensive research and the Cabot Institute.


  1. ^ a b "Royal Fort dig". Bristol University Press Office. 21 April 2009. Retrieved 21 April 2009.
  2. ^ "Bristol". Fortified Places. Retrieved 24 March 2007.
  3. ^ "Royal Fort House". University of Bristol Conference Office. Retrieved 24 March 2007.
  4. ^ "Secrets of the Royal Fort in Bristol are uncovered". BBC Bristol News. BBC. 8 December 2009. Retrieved 10 December 2009.
  5. ^ "Royal Fort House". University of Bristol. Retrieved 9 October 2010.
  6. ^ "Royal Fort House, Bristol, England". Parks and Gardens UK. Parks and Gardens Data Services Ltd. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  7. ^ "Royal Fort House". University of Bristol. Retrieved 19 August 2018.
  8. ^ University of Bristol Strategic Masterplan , Appendix 12:The Royal Fort Lodge Site, (November 2005) (On-line text).
  9. ^ "Bristol University Security Services contact". Retrieved 20 October 2010.
  10. ^ "Royal Fort and attached front step railings". Retrieved 24 March 2007.
  11. ^ "Royal Fort House, Bristol, England". Parks and Gardens UK. Parks and Gardens Data Services Ltd. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  12. ^ "Henry Herbert Wills Physics laboratory" (PDF). University of Bristol. Retrieved 24 March 2007.

External links[edit]