The Royal Fort House – in the place of the old fort

blog by Megan Vandewalle

Our excavation this summer are take place at the gardens surrounding the famous Royal Fort House. The site of the Royal Fort House and the surrounding garden has had a long and interesting history. The house itself is described as Bristol’s finest Georgian villa. It is a three-storey square plan built in Bath stone and its three elevations are attributed to three different architects, each one commissioned by Thomas Tyndall as an ode to classicism.

The house was built in the 18th century on the site of bastions which were fought over during the English Civil War. During the autumn of 1642, as the hostility of the rival forces of the Crown and Parliament deepened and the threat of civil war increased, Bristol began work on the expensive task of surrounding the city with defensive earthworks. The pass into Bristol between Windmill Hill and Brandon Hill was defended by forts built atop the two hills. On the west of the city the fortifications ran from Brandon Hill fort and continued up to the hill-top then known as Windmill Fort. These forts were used by Prince Rupert during his siege of the city, and in July 1643, the Prince successfully captured Bristol from the Parliamentarians. Rupert became Governor of Bristol and subsequently rebuilt the fort on Windmill Hill, which then became known as the Royal Fort. The “Royal” in the name was in honour of Prince Rupert when he was made Governor of Bristol.

In 1655, Oliver Cromwell ordered the demolition of the Royal Fort. Colonel Thomas Tyndall, a wealthy merchant from the long-established, locally influential Tyndall family from south Gloucestershire, leased the land from Bristol Corporation in 1737. He intended to build a fashionable mansion and garden on the grounds. In 1758, the Common Council of Bristol renewed his lease of a house in the Royal Fort for a fine of £60 and an annual rent of £6. In 1762, he bought the freehold from the Council for £670. He soon acquired the freehold of the Royal Fort from the Corporation and most of the surrounding property, and demolished houses, cottages and buildings to create an elegant parkland. Tyndall demolished many of the stone walls which had divided the area into paddocks, planted trees and erected a grand entrance to his park from Park Row, with a gateway flanked by two lodges.


Tyndall commissioned three different architects to design an elegant Georgian mansion to overlook his newly constructed park. The Baroque, Palladian and Rococo styles of architecture are attributed to several architects. James Bridges designed the house to join an existing building on the north side, and engaged the Bristol sculptor, Thomas Paty, to provide the ornate carving, while the fine plasterwork of the interior was created by Thomas Stocking. By the 1760s, the Royal Fort House, with its beautiful interiors of plasterwork and carved wood, was finished. The Tyndalls’ lived at Royal Fort House until 1916 when it was sold to the University of Bristol. The house is now the home of the University’s Institute for Advanced Studies.

The architectural quality of the house is exceptional, and it remains one of the most interesting and important C18 houses surviving in Bristol. Its design provides an important link between Bristol and classical architecture. Royal Fort House is Grade I Listed and the gardens are included in the gazetteer of historic parks and gardens in Avon, which makes them of national, regional and local significance.

Working out Royal Fort’s dimensions

Previous excavations of Royal Fort, Bristol appear to have underestimated its size, for example the BaRAS excavations of 2014 ( included the following illustration, which shows the southern end of the fort reaching only as far as the bay window of Royal Fort house. Our excavations, however, seem to be revealing a much larger footprint for the fort itself.

BaRAS unfortunately missed a key resource for understanding the earlier landscape in the area. Namely, Humphrey Repton’s ‘Red Book’ entitled ‘The Fort nr. Bristol, a seat of Thomas Tyndall esq’ in which it shows the shape of the fortification (unfortunately without a scale to gauge its dimensions) as well as other useful information. BaRAS can be forgiven however as the book was located in Yale university library, Connecticut and may not have been digitised at the time.

Repton used a plan of the fort taken from one of 56 etchings of the antiquities of Bristol made by Joseph Skelton who in turn utilised artwork by Hugh O’Neill as inspiration. Hugh O’Neill was an English architectural and antiquarian draughtsman, and his drawings are part of the Braikenridge collection held by Bristol City Museum.

Repton’s Red Book also contains a cross-section pen and ink drawing showing, to the left, The House at the Fort (Royal Fort House), then The Pleasure Ground (with accompanying large hole = the remains of a section of Prince Rupert’s Royal Fort), beyond which is The Park.


What is important in this illustration however are the three tiny lines written beneath: the dotted line shows the original shape of the ground; the zigzag line shows the chasms dug from 15 to 20 feet deep; the shaded line shows the present shape of the ground, as altered and planted. Importantly, each one of these lines represents a phase in the landscape’s history. The first line represents the original shape of the landscape, pre-Civil War. The next line essentially represents the construction of Prince Rupert’s Royal Fort by Bernard de Gommebetween 1643-4  with its vast ditches (which Repton was tasked to fill-in), and the final line represents Humphrey Repton’s relandscaping of the locale into a picturesque pleasure ground.


The image below (Duffy, 1985, 2) shows a cross-section througha typical Civil War fort and this is essentially what we appear to be seeing with our geophysical surveys and excavation on site where we appear to be targeting the most southerly baston of Royal Fort.

Also, from Repton’s Red Book is the image below, showing a substantial surviving piece of masonry/walling. This wall appears to survive to the present day (despite Repton’s landscaping) and is showing up immediately to the north of our present Trench 3. There is even local folklore suggesting that this is a remaining fragment of the Royal Fort.



Bristol and the English Civil War

Since our excavation shed a new light into the Civil War history in Bristol, let’s have a look at the role that the city played in the war. The English Civil War was a series of battles between Royalists, who supported King Charles I, and Parliamentarians, who fought against him. The conflict surrounded the governance of England and religious freedom. King Charles and his supporters wanted absolute monarchy due to his strong belief in the divine right of kings, whereas the Parliamentarians wanted constitutional monarchy. The conflict ended with a Parliamentarian victory, marked by the execution of Charles I, the exile of his son, Charles II, and the abolition of the English monarchy. The English monarchy was then replaced by the Commonwealth of England, with Oliver Cromwell ruling over the British Isles.

The event that first triggered conflict was the dissolution of Parliament by Charles I in 1629, which marked the beginning of 11 years of Personal Rule- namely, a period of government without parliaments. In a bid to secure religious conformity across Britain, Charles introduced a new prayer book in Scotland, which resulted in protest from the Scots. Charles attempted to secure order by preparing to send troops to Scotland. However, this required money which Charles did not have, causing him to summon a new parliament. This parliament was resentful of the monarch’s domestic policies, refusing to grant him money, causing Charles to re-dissolve parliament a month later. Scotland’s forces overpowered the English, forcing Charles into a truce due to their occupation of Northern England. Once again, Charles re-established parliament to provide him with financial assistance- a decision which backfired, with many members of parliament using their position to voice their complaints against Charles’s policies. In an attempt to demonstrate political control, Charles attempted to arrest five leading members of parliament. However, they evaded the monarch’s capture, and in 1642 the civil war began.

Charles set up his royal standard in Nottingham, summoning his subjects to join him in the fight against parliament. Almost all of southern England fell under Parliamentarian control, with the exception of Cornwall, who became some of the king’s strongest fighters. On the 23rd of October 1642, Charles’s army advanced on London, resulting in a battle at Edgehill in Warwickshire which proved to be indecisive. The following September, after a series of reverses, Charles called for a ceasefire with the Catholic insurgents in Ireland in order for the English Protestant soldiers to return home and serve in the Royalist army. This caused even more outrage from the Parliamentarians, who then formed an alliance with Scotland, who agreed to fight in return for church reform in England. On the 2nd of July 1644, Prince Rupert’s army was destroyed in a battle with the Parliamentarians and the Scots, resulting in the loss of the north to the king. Following a defeat in the Battle of Lostwithiel in Cornwall, parliament passed the Self-denying Ordinance, requiring all members of parliament to lay down their commands. This restructured fighting force, which was made law on the 15th of February 1645, was named the New Model Army, of which Oliver Cromwell was second in command. This army went on to crush the Royalist’s main field army in Naseby, Northamptonshire, effectively crushing any chance of Charles winning the civil war.

On the 5th of May 1646, Charles surrendered to the Scots, who handed him over to the Parliamentarians. Two years later, in 1648, a second civil war broke out, with Royalist rebellions breaking out throughout the country. The Royalist force rode south, but were destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s army, marking the end of the Royalist resurgence. On the 30th of January 1649, Charles was executed, after being found guilty of treason. In an effort to recover his father’s throne, Charles I’s eldest son made a bargain with the Scots. On the agreement that he take the Covenant himself, the Scots crowned him King Charles II of Scotland in early 1651. After his coronation, Charles II utilised his Scottish army to invade England. Despite the support of many English royalists, Charles II’s army was defeated in battle at Worcester by Oliver Cromwell’s forces. This was the last major battle of the English Civil War, and Charles was exiled abroad.

Following the execution of Charles I, there were a number of internal disagreements within parliamentary factions. To resolve this, Oliver Cromwell dissolved this rump parliament and summoned a new one, which also failed to manage the complex issues England was now facing. Cromwell also named himself ‘Lord Protector’, essentially giving him the powers of a monarch. His regime was supported by his continuing popularity with the military. In 1658, Oliver Cromwell died, and his son Richard took his position as Lord Commander. The Commonwealth fell into financial chaos and parliament was once again dissolved. Richard Cromwell was overthrown, and a leading officer of the army realised that the only end to the political chaos would be the restoration of Charles II. On the 29th of May 1660, Charles II was officially restored to the English throne, an event marked by massive celebrations.

Bristol should have played a key part in the English Civil War due to the importance of the port to both the Royalists and Parliamentarians. However, it did not meet its expectations as a strategical key due to the population’s reluctance to participate in the war. Bristol’s governing body initially wanted to keep the city neutral, with a request being made in 1642 for Parliamentarian Thomas Essex to not occupy the city. Despite this, Essex’s forces managed to enter Bristol with little resistance due to its weak defences. For the duration of the war, the Royalists utilised Bristol as a receiving point for reinforcements from Ireland. Bristol Castle, as well as the Frome and Avon rivers, meant the town was well defended against attack, but the population of Bristol were largely unenthusiastic in fulfilling the expectations of such a large and rich port town. The Royal Fort House, designed by Dutch military engineer Sir Bernard de Gomme, acted as one of Bristol’s strongest defences, as it was one of the only purpose-built defensive works of the era. The fort was made to be the western headquarters of the Royalist army, but it was demolished in 1655.

The key event that occurred in Bristol during the war was the Storming of Bristol by the Royalists in 1643, in which Prince Rupert’s army seized the town from its Parliamentarian garrison. Bristol went on to become a major supply base for the Royalists, as well as a centre for communication, administration, and manufacture. Bristol was important to the Royalists due to their dependence on foreign aid and imported weaponry. In order for them to receive this cargo, however, the ships had to evade Parliamentarian patrols. In September 1645, the second Siege of Bristol occurred, and the city surrendered to the Parliamentarian army. In disgrace, Prince Rupert fled England, and English Royalists were left with only the port of Chester to connect them to Ireland.



We are back with fieldwork excavating the University Royal Fort Gardens

This year, after a digital project in 2020, the famous University of Bristol student excavation is back on track on a fantastic site, at the University Royal Fort Gardens.

Over the course of the first week the students started excavating two trenches in search of evidence of the Royal Fort, which was for built for the Civil War, as well as trying to understand how the landscape changed with the later construction of Royal Fort House and the relandscaping of the grounds by the famous Humphrey Repton.

At the start of Week Two, in Trench 1, there is some emerging evidence for a linear feature, as well as evidence for some later quarrying of the site (probably around the time the Royal Fort was dismantled) and also some potential later garden features.

The linear feature is possibly part of the construction phase of the Civil War Fort (potentially a ditch, such as that shown in the image below).

On the western side of Trench 1, there is also evidence of quarrying of a limestone outcrop (probably synonymous with the destruction of Royal Fort for building stone). The trench has also produced a good clay pipe stem with partial bowl (see photo below), which may give us a date for the Fort’s destruction).









In Trench 2, minimal features and finds have been uncovered. The features present appear to be cuttings for Victorian or Edwardian ornamental flower beds rather than evidence for the Picturesque style landscape that Humphrey Repton was endeavouring to create in 1800. Also uncovered in Trench 2 was a late Victorian or Edwardian scarf/tie pin, which nicely dates the flower beds.

Victorian/Edwardian flowerbeds in Trench 2

The Archaeology of Pandemic Project- towards the end

Reflecting on our work so far, we noted our strong focus on recording objects and buildings related to healthcare. While these are essential to our understanding of the pandemic, focusing on them has limited the scope of our work. So far, we’ve largely missed out on a wealth of information about the ordinary, everyday experience of the pandemic. For our last few days of recording we’re shifting our efforts towards more mundane objects and buildings which tell us about how ordinary people perceive and react to the pandemic.

For example, the buildings team will be looking into changes within the home, like how many spare spaces such as garages have become makeshift pantries to store goods ‘panic bought’ before lockdown. Similarly, the objects team will be recording objects associated with the experience of living in lockdown, be they new targeted products like lockdown branded beer or familiar objects which have acquired new meaning through the pandemic- even toilet roll will be recorded! The historical narrative team will supplement this work by adding wider stories about such objects throughout the pandemic to the timeline.

As this is our final week of the project, we are also starting to think more about what to do with the information we’ve collected. We could analyse the results we have and publish the results in a paper, which would hopefully add to academic efforts to understand the impact of the pandemic. Alternatively, we could assemble what we have into a virtual exhibition, featuring our Padlet map and timeline which give a great sense of scale to the pandemic. Maybe even both? More updates on this and our progress soon.

Kieran Curtis

Second year Anthropology student

 the ‘Archaeology of Pandemic’ Project: On Context in Contemporary Archaeology.

Well into the second week of our digital fieldwork, we turn our efforts from brainstorming the myriad imprints of this pandemic towards the categorisation and sorting of data. In doing so, we hope to begin with a coherent data set, allowing us to start analysis and discussion of some of our examples. To summarise, contextual data is continually being added to the padlet timeline. Meanwhile, object and building forms have been sorted into google spreadsheets- enabling a level of clarity in presentation that the map padlet couldn’t provide. These efforts are not to say that we have ceased to explore new ideas of how the pandemic has shaped contemporary material culture. 

Late yesterday we recorded some of Royal Ascot’s ‘virtual racegoers’ and their outfits, a novel practice which exemplifies digital adaptation to one of Britain’s oldest traditions. More recently, we’ve turned to Damien Hirst’s ‘Butterfly Rainbow’, which, while holding aesthetic value in its own right, also contributes to the new COVID metanarrative of nationwide NHS support. Drawing upon these examples helps illustrate the multifaceted nature of all the objects we have chosen to record- serving as both a merit and an issue in analysis. Central to our methodology is the designation of Historic England’s heritage values to each aspect of material culture (i.e. evidential, historical, aesthetic, or communal). Yet while clearly defined, these values are interwoven. The total salience of Hirst’s rainbow is lost without an understanding of the support it conveys. Likewise, the newfound digital footprint of Royal Ascot is only made important with reference to its centuries-old history. Essentially, the material culture of this pandemic is both formative of, and dependent on, the context it is a part of. From a heritage standpoint then, we should aim to capture both the physical and wider contextual value of each item- an opportunity provided especially to us as contemporary archaeologists, living through the history.

While pandemic life has somewhat become our new ‘normal’, its evolution is far from stagnant. If the fleeting establishment of our Nightingale hospitals is anything to learn by, the contextual backdrop of this fieldwork will inevitably change just in the short period we are undertaking it. 

Therefore, it is inherent to contemporary archaeology and heritage asset production that this work will become just a snapshot of our time in this pandemic. It is vital then, in designating heritage values, that we provide a rich contextual background against which we substantiate our selection of this pandemic’s exemplary material culture.

Tim Rock

Second Year Archaeology and Anthropology Student.

The Archaeology of Pandemic project – Day 4

Day 4 of the project and we are well into the swing of it.  Group 1 has been focussed on formalising the historical narrative the project uses. This includes looking at how COVID-19 spreads and linking this to both material changes and our Padlet timeline. Groups 2 and 3 are recording the objects and buildings which have changed or been introduced due to the Pandemic.

Today that included looking at the short-lived life cycles of some of our examples. In March, the Government appealed for help with 10,000 ventilators. Dyson replied, designing, engineering, and producing ventilators across 4 weeks at a cost of £20million. But these were never needed. Now Dyson have shifted to how they may be able to produce ventilators for international markets. The objects themselves were designed and prototypes made but they were never used.  This narrative may change our perception of their importance.

Similarly, many of the makeshift hospitals worked under capacity or were built for a demand that never materialised. NHS Nightingale London and ‘Dragon’s Heart’ Hospital Cardiff were open for  less than a month. Exeter and Bristol Nightingale hospitals were unused. Of all the makeshift hospitals recorded so far only the NHS Nightingale Manchester still has patients. All others are on standby in case of further surges in the pandemic.

We therefore face questions about how we record these objects and buildings, and their value in heritage. These are key buildings, objects and moments in the historical narrative but so far have had small lifespans within the pandemic. Unless there is a significant second wave, they will play smaller parts than expected in the pandemic response. How important are these hospitals which did not fulfil capacity? Is the fact that they were built important enough to warrant documentation and preservation?  The much longer biographical histories of centres such as the Excel Centre London, the NEC Birmingham and Manchester Central Convention Centre must also be considered.

Δημιουργήθηκε με το Padlet

Amelie Wiseman

Second Year Archaeology and Anthropology Students

Day Three of the ‘Archaeology of Pandemic Project’

Today’s post is about the difficulties that we started seeing early in our project. As mentioned yesterday we have split into three groups researching the historical narrative, buildings and objects associated with the pandemic, respectively. Most items of interest – the announcement of the lockdown, the construction of temporary hospitals, and the repurposing of ski goggles as PPE for medical staff, due to shortages – will naturally fall into one of the above categories. However, there are exceptions which we came across today. Shipping containers are being converted into portable laboratories designed to carry out up to 2,400 COVID-19 tests per day. The metal containers started as objects but through conversion into testing centres, they have become buildings. Should the containers be recorded as shipping containers or labs? Should they be placed in the category of object or building? The answer is that they could be either – it is debatable. The materials and transportable nature of the finished laboratory would identify it as an object, whereas the uses of the shipping container as a lab, something which cannot be moved while in use, would identify it as a building. As we had to categorise the shipping container labs into one of the two categories, we placed them under objects. This is because the shipping container is what the lab was converted from and could be converted back to. How ordinary items have been altered due to demands caused by the pandemic is key to this project, as it is reflective of the changes caused by COVID-19 that we are documenting.

Another feature of the pandemic we found to be difficult to record is the digital replacement of physical events. The Hay Festival and Download Festival are just two examples of events that were due to take place this summer as physical events but have been forced to go online instead. When attending a physical event, one would expect to leave with physical reminders: tickets, wristbands, muddy boots, souvenirs. But those who attended virtual festivals have none of these. By taking the events online more people can be a part of the experience, although the experience is altered through the lack of materiality. We are taking note of these festivals both because they did not happen physically but also because they did which makes them difficult to record their ‘material print’. These events are best documented by looking at social media posts detailing the reactions to any festival forced online, as the use of such sites and technology as a substitute for physical interaction is a defining feature of this pandemic.

Continue to keep updated with our progress in documenting the historical narrative, and the heritage value of the objects and buildings associated with the pandemic, on our Padlet Map:

Δημιουργήθηκε με το Padlet

Anneke Schadenberg

Second Year Archaeology and Anthropology Student

Day two of the ‘Archaeology of Pandemic’ project fieldwork’

It is day two of our socially distanced Archaeology of Pandemic project, and we split into three groups. Group One started researching the historical narrative of COVID-19, the most significant respiratory virus since the 1918 influenza pandemic, by establishing a timeline of UK-related events. The study combined World Health Organization key events from the first identification of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, its arrival in the UK ,and the following responses of the Government. We are now linking these to COVID-19-related material culture. Looking at non-pharmaceutical interventions of suppression and mitigation from Imperial College London’s COVID-19 response team, we have begun tying key events and data of death/case rates to material culture. This includes the demand for PPE, building of temporary hospitals, and changes in use of objects and buildings.

Groups Two and Three have developed heritage asset recording forms that work in conjunction with padlet boards. We are recording objects and buildings in line with Historic England’s guidelines annotating the four values of heritage: Evidential, Historic, Communal and Aesthetic. These can be anything that is viewed as significant in the material response during the imposed lockdown in the UK. The use of social media platforms like Twitter are helpful as they form dated threads, such as the ‘#DragonsHeartHospital’ from Cardiff. Via Padlet we are mapping objects, events, physical and digital sites that have been important or have changed meaning and use during the lockdown from the 28th March to the 1st June.

We have all been working from our homes while communicating via Slack, Google Docs and padlets, and we are using digital recourses to gather data and information as a base for our project. Today, in our daily 4pm meeting on Zoom, we discussed the different heritage interpretations of the ‘Shetland scrubs’ initiative and the communal, historical and aesthetic value of the manufacturing of facemarks. We also discussed the use of fieldwork for looking at ways buildings, such as retail and grocery shops, have been modified for social distancing to minimise the transmission of COVID-19.

You can follow our progress visiting our padlet map

Δημιουργήθηκε με το Padlet


Lydia Ropel

Second year Archaeology and Anthropology student

The Archaeology of Pandemic Project: Studying COVID-19 heritage in the UK

The Archaeology of Pandemic Project

Historic England in April 2020 launched an initiative to archive public pictures from the COVID-19 related lockdown. The ‘Picturing Lockdown Collection‘ aimed to archive images from the quarantine that has been applied across the UK to tackle the spread of the new Coronavirus. More than 3000 people contributed with images that show the impact that lockdown had on everyday lifeways. It is important that Historic England reacted rapidly to the temporality of the current events and tried to preserve the Heritage aspect, launching a community-based initiative. The collection is publicly available and can be accessed through this webspace. 

Here in Bristol, we believe that the disciplines of Archaeology and Anthropology should play a more active role studying the impact of the pandemic and helping to preserve the related tangible and intangible Heritage Assets. We advocate that archaeology is a tool to study past and present societies alike through their material print while the methods of anthropology enable us to document individual and collective thoughts in the contemporary. Thus, we decided to launch a two week ‘fieldwork’ programme that studies the material response to lockdown.

The ‘fieldwork’ is digital and socially distant! We are working from our homes, and in our neighbourhoods, tracing the objects and the buildings that have changed use, meaning, and/or importance during the lockdown. Alongside we are looking for objects that have been created specifically to battle the pandemic. We are also interested in seeing how the public interacts with these objects and buildings, and how active perceptions have changed during the different phases of the lockdown.

The idea of studying materially pandemics and quarantines is not novel, and relevant outputs can be observed from medieval plague burials in London to modern quarantine stations in New South Wales, Australia. Our aim is to identify the dynamics of the lockdown and how material cultures change meanings. In order to achieve these goals, we are recording objects (such as the Shetland Scrubs), buildings (such as the makeshift hospitals) and intra-landscapes (such as the arrangements for social distancing in shops).

We are using padlet boards to organise our research along with Slack and Zoom for team communications. We are following Historic England guidelines for the building and object recording, when the norms of ‘Object and Building Biographies’ are the theoretical baselines of our research. At the end, we aim to have a digital record of lockdown-related material culture and built heritage across the UK.

We will be posting daily updates in this blog about the project and its outcomes. So watch this space for the progress of the Archaeology of Pandemic Project’s digital fieldwork.

Dr Konstantinos Trimmis

Archaeology Technician and Associate Teacher