Simeon and the Cable Car Mission

Dear Secret Agent Simeon,
Special forces in London have learnt that aliens are planning an attack on the Earth. Their primary method of control will be to transmit supersonic radio waves using the spikes of the O2 dome in North Greenwich as a broadcast relay. The code to jam the signal is out there somewhere! We just need you to follow the Trail and work it out!
Regards, Treasure Trails

Yet again, Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), is called in to save the world. After receiving instructions from Treasure Trails, Simeon rushed to North Greenwich in London to search and unscramble clues. Here, Simeon exited the London Underground onto Peninsula Square. In front of him stood the multi-purpose O2 arena (formerly the Millennium Dome), upon which twelve 100 metre yellow spikes rose high into the air. After checking that the aliens were not already transmitting radio waves from the spikes, Simeon looked around for clues.

The ground on which Simeon stood was formerly known as Greenwich Marshes. The land once belonged to the River Thames until the 16th century, when Dutch engineers drained the area to use as pasture land. During the following century, the peninsula was also used to store gunpowder, which traders delivered by boat to places across the world. Also, in the 17th century, corpses of pirates were hung in cages to deter other would-be pirates from committing crimes at sea. Fortunately, the pirates were of no concern to Simeon; he felt more worried about the potential alien attack.

During the 19th century, Greenwich Marshes grew into an industrial area with Henry Blakeley’s Ordnance Works and Henry Bessemer’s steelworks taking up residence. During the 1870s, shipbuilders, oil companies and gas companies arrived, the latter of which dominated the peninsula for the next 100 years. East Greenwich Gas Works was the last of its kind built in London and spanned 240 acres, making it the largest gas works in Europe. It eventually closed in the 1960s after the discovery of natural gas reserves in the North Sea rendered it obsolete.

Significant development work took place during the 1990s, including new roads, cycleways, homes and commercial spaces. The decade came to an end with the opening of the Millennium Dome and North Greenwich station. The year 2000 saw the construction of Greenwich Millennium Village on the site of the old gasworks. Today, there are approximately 2000 flats and houses in the urban village. Nearby, the man-made Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park reflects the nature of the original marshland and provides a green space in the ever-growing city.

Until the Blackwall Tunnel opened in 1897, the only way to reach Greenwich Peninsula was by boat and foot. The railway did not pass through the area until 1999 when North Greenwich tube station opened on the Jubilee line. Simeon was pleased he could travel by train since he did not fancy swimming across the Thames. Since 2012, another mode of transport, the Emirates Air Line, takes passengers from the peninsula to the Royal Victoria Dock on the opposite side of the river. This is where Simeon headed next to seek out more clues.

The Emirates Air Line is a 0.62-mile (1.00 km) cable car service run by Transport for London (TfL). It carries 34 cabins across the Thames at up to 90 metres (300 ft) above ground level, providing stunning views across London. On a clear day, passengers can see as far as Wembley Stadium, 13 miles away.

After years of planning, the Emirates Air Line took one year to construct. Wilkinson Eyre ArchitectsExpedition Engineering and Buro Happold collaborated on the design, featuring three helix towers supporting the long steel cable. Each cable car can carry up to 10 passengers, meaning 2500 people can travel every hour. This is the equivalent of 50 busloads.

Whilst keeping an eye out of aliens, Simeon admired the view and excitedly pointed out the buildings he could see. From the cable car, passengers can appreciate the unique design of the O2 Dome, which appears much smaller from such a height, despite being large enough to hold 12 football pitches. In the distance, skyscrapers such as The Shard and One Canada Square (Canary Wharf) dwarf the surrounding buildings, including the peculiar shaped 30 St Mary Axe building (the Gherkin). Other notable structures include the ArcelorMittal Orbit in Stratford, the London Eye and, on a clear day, the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, which connects Dartford in Kent with Thurrock in Essex.

Simeon’s spy documents told him to look out for the lighthouse on Trinity Buoy Wharf, which is the home of Longplayer, an installation that plays a piece of music with a total expected runtime of 1000 years. Composed by British composer and musician Jem Finer (b.1955), the music started to play at midnight on 1st January 2000. It will continue without repetition until 31st December 2999.

The lighthouse, sometimes known as Bow Creek Lighthouse, was built between 1864 and 1866 by Sir James Douglass (1826-98). There were once two lighthouses on Trinity Buoy Wharf, but the older was demolished in the 1920s. They were used by the Corporation of Trinity House to test lighting systems for lighthouses around the country. English scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867) also conducted experiments with electric lighting.

Since 2005, the University of East London uses the wharf as the location of their fine art studios. The university also uses the old Chainstore as a dance studio. The BBC used the Chainstore as the filming location for series seven of The Great British Sewing Bee in 2021. The wharf is also home to the Thames Clippers, which sail Londoners and tourists up and down the river. When not in use, they store the boats on the pier.

Simeon dismounted from the Emirates Air Line onto the Royal Victoria Dock, the largest dock in the redeveloped Docklands. The original docks opened in 1855 on the unused Plaistow Marshes. Engineer prodigy, George Parker Bidder (1806-78), designed the docks to accommodate large steam ships and use hydraulic power to operate machinery. Initially, the dock was named Victoria Dock until it was granted the “Royal” prefix in 1880.

By 1860, Victoria Dock received annual shipments of 850,000 tons, over double the other docks in London. Unfortunately, damage during the Second World War made the dock impractical, and trade gradually declined until it ceased altogether in 1981. A decade later, the dilapidated area underwent redevelopment by the London Docklands Development Corporation. Most warehouses were demolished, and in their place, the Britannia Village and the ExCeL were built. Since 2009, Royal Victoria Dock is the location of the Great London Swim, during which participants swim a mile in the River Thames.

Simeon had no desire to swim in the Thames and set about looking for clues on dry land. So that the aliens could not spot him, Simeon made use of the Peekaboo bench on the waterfront. Designed by Portia Malik, the playful bench provides privacy for swimmers to change into and out of their swimming costumes and wetsuits. It includes hooks for a towel and two peepholes so the sitter can see what is happening on the other side of the bench. Simeon had great fun watching the world go by unobserved.

After successfully unearthing clues on the Eastern Quay of the Royal Victoria Dock, Simeon needed to cross the water to the Northern Quay. With no cable cars to take him across, Simeon searched for an alternative route. Swimming across was out of the question, so Simeon was relieved when he found the entrance to the Royal Victoria Dock Bridge.

Designed and built by Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands in 1998, the Royal Victoria Dock Bridge is accessible at both ends by a lift and stair towers. Simeon did not fancy climbing up the tower to a height of 15 m (50 ft) above the water level, so he took the lift instead. The bridge spans 127.5 m (418 ft) and is tall enough to allow yachts to sail underneath.

From the top of the bridge, Simeon had a good view across the dock. He particularly enjoyed seeing aeroplanes taking off from London City Airport. The airport opened in 1987 and sees hundreds of planes taking off and landing every day. It is currently under threat from the political Green Party, who believe the planes cause “untold health and environmental problems to thousands of local residents”. Nonetheless, London City Airport continues to serve over 5 million passengers a year and flies to at least 35 destinations. Whilst Simeon saw many planes, he did not see any alien spaceships. “I must crack the code and prevent the aliens from attacking,” said Simeon as he tore his eyes away from the runway.

While crossing the bridge, Simeon spotted the derelict Millennium Mills, which the Evening Standard describes as a “decaying industrial anachronism standing defiant and alone in the surrounding subtopia.” The building closed along with the Royal Docks in 1981 and, as yet, has not been demolished or restored. Plans were made to redevelop the building with the rest of the Royal Victoria Dock, yet the Millennium Mills remain untouched.

The urban thrill seeker Christian Koch describes the Millennium Mills as a booby-trapped House of Horrors. “Danger awaits their every step in Millennium Mills. The rotten floors are comparable to thick slices of Emmenthal riddled with pigeon faeces and yawning holes that drop eight or nine storeys in some places.” The unused building has been a setting in several television series and films, including Ashes to Ashes (2008), The Man From U.N.C.L.E (2013), Paddington 2 (2017), and Alex Rider (2020).

At the other end of the bridge, Simeon took the lift down to ground level and emerged by the ExCeL (Exhibition Centre London). The convention centre opened on the Royal Victoria Dock in 2000. It has hosted several events over the past two decades, including the British International Motor Show, MCM London Comic Con, and the 2009 G-20 London Summit. In 2012, the London Olympics held several events at the ExCeL, such as boxing, fencing, judo, taekwondo, table tennis, weightlifting, and wrestling. At the outbreak of COVID-19, the NHS transformed the ExCeL into a temporary hospital, which they named NHS Nightingale. Since the hospital closed, the site has become a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre.

Simeon did not need to visit the ExCeL to solve the remainder of his clues and work out the code to stop the aliens from attacking the Earth. Instead, he explored the northern quay, where he came across an interesting sculpture. Erected in 2009, Landed is a bronze sculpture by Australian fine artist Les Johnson. It was funded by the Royal Docks Trust, the ExCeL and the Queen Mother as a tribute to those who worked in the Royal Docks between 1855 and 1981. Landed depicts three larger-than-life dockworkers going about their daily work. One man unchains a delivery of goods while another tallies the items in a notebook. The third man stands by with a two-wheel hand trolley, ready to transport the items to the warehouse.

Johnson based the three men on real dockworkers. One is Johnny Ringwood, a former seaman who had sailed the world before working on the docks. At the age of 81, Ringwood, now living in Hornchurch, published his biography Cargoes & Capers: The life and times of a London Docklands man (2017), which describes his experiences at sea and on land. The tally clerk is modelled on Patrick Holland, who worked as a stevedore for twenty years. At the unveiling of the statue, his wife Patricia explained, “stevedore is a Portuguese name, this was a skilled job, and these men were in the hold of the ship all day unloading or loading.” The third man is Mark Tibbs, a boxer from Canning Town.

Finally, Simeon reached the end of his trail, worked out the code and jammed the alien’s signal. “Mission accomplished!” cheered Simeon. Compared with other missions from Treasure Trails, the Cable Car Mission was particularly difficult, but nothing can defeat a determined gibbon. As well as solving clues, Simeon learned a lot about the Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Victoria Dock. He particularly enjoyed travelling in the cable car, even if it did momentarily stop, leaving him dangling over the Thames!

As a reward, Simeon treated himself to a chicken burger at Top 1 Forever, a restaurant based in the redeveloped section of Royal Victoria Dock. Well deserved!

To purchase the Cable Car Mission Treasure Trail, visit treasuretrails.co.uk

Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two
Simeon goes to Grantham


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Simeon goes to Grantham

Dear Secret Agent Simeon. The miserable malcontent Ivor Grudge is up to his old tricks again. This time he has planted a device in the Bell Tower of St Wulfram’s Church. The device is set to explode at the stroke of midnight. You must act quickly to find the code to deactivate the device and save the Church and the resident Peregrine Falcons who nest there.
Regards, Treasure Trails

Once again, Simeon, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please), is called in to save the day. After receiving Top Secret Spy Mission Documents from Treasure Trails in the post, Simeon headed to the South Kesteven district of Lincolnshire to follow a trail of clues around the town of Grantham. The two-mile trek took Simeon past some notable sights, including the birthplace of the UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the school attended by Sir Isaac Newton.

Grantham was once an Anglo-Saxon “homestead by gravel”. Names ending in ham were usually medieval homesteads, and “Grant” comes from the Old English word for gravel. Today, the urbanised town contains shopping centres, many pubs, industrial estates and high street shops. Yet, as Simeon discovered, there are plenty of buildings dating back hundreds of years.

According to the Domesday Book of 1086, Edith the Fair (c. 1025-66), the first wife of King Harold Godwinson (c. 1022-66), had a hall or house in Grantham before the Battle of Hastings in 1066. After this, William the Conqueror (1028-87) established a manor house, and the area became a valuable asset to future kings. Records also reveal St Wulfram’s Church existed at the time of the “Great Survey”. Yet, the building Simeon set out to save was built at a later date.

Simeon’s trail of clues passed through St Wulfram’s churchyard, and Simeon could not resist having a peek inside the church. The building is named in honour of St Wulfram of Fontenelle (c. 640-703), who served as the Archbishop of Sens in France during the 7th century. Wulfram took holy orders hoping for a quiet life, but instead, he became a missionary to Friesland in Germany. He succeeded in converting the pagan King Radbod (d. 719) to Christianity before retiring to Fontenelle. After his death, Wulfram was canonised, and he is remembered for several miracles. He is credited with the miraculous delivery of a stillborn baby, thus saving the mother’s life, preventing the death of a hanged man, and rescuing two boys who the king had sacrificed to the sea during a pagan ritual.

There are only four churches dedicated to St Wulfram, two in France and two in England. One is in Ovingdean, Sussex, and the other in Grantham. Only a few stones of the original Saxon church remain in Grantham, which was altered and expanded by the Normans after 1066. Likewise, not much is visible of the Norman building due to a lightning strike in 1222.

In 1280, after rebuilding the nave, the church expanded towards the west, taking over the space once belonging to a Saxon marketplace. Supporting piers or columns in the church feature mason marks, which indicate the gradual process of building the tower. Simeon, being on the small side, could not see these marks from ground level, but he felt awe-inspired by the height of the spire, which is visible across the town.

The spire reaches an impressive height of 86.2 metres (283 ft), making it the tallest church in England at the time of completion. Many churches and cathedrals are now taller than St Wulfram’s, but it takes credit for inspiring architects to aspire to reach such heights. One side of the spire is wider than the other to incorporate a spiral staircase leading to the belfry. “That’s where the nasty Ivor Grudge has planted his device,” realised Simeon. “I must prevent him from destroying this beautiful church.”

Simeon hurried off to complete his mission after temporarily getting distracted by the beautiful stained glass windows. The oldest windows date to the Victorian era and illustrate scenes such as the Last Supper, Christ’s early years, the Evangelists and the biblical Prophets. Others depict the four Lincolnshire saints: Regimus, Hugh, Botolph and Gilbert of Sempringham, and the Latin Fathers: Ambrose, Jerome, Gregory and Augustine.

Four windows are relatively modern in comparison to the Victorian stained-glass. One, known as the Catlin window, depicts a war in heaven, as described in Revelation 12:7-12. Designed by Henry Harvey of York in 1962, the window shows the archangel Michael holding the scales of justice and a spear. On one side, a man, surrounded by chaos, begs the angel for help. On the other, a defeated Satan and the condemned fall into hell. This window was donated by Lewis Catlin in memory of his family.

The Porter Window (1969), named in memory of Jessie Porter, depicts the birth and life of Christ. Jessie came from a family of shoemakers in Grantham, so the designer Leonard Evetts (1909-1997) included shoemaker tools in the design. John Hayward (1929-2007), who made nearly 200 stained glass windows in his lifetime, produced the other two contemporary windows. Donated by Thomas Hall in memory of Minnie Hall in 1970 is a window depicting Jesus walking on water. His disciple, Peter, tries to follow suit but begins to sink. “Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:31, NIV)

Hayward designed the other window in 1974 for Lily Pinchbeck in memory of members of her family, who regularly attended St Wulfram’s Church. The design symbolically represents the seven Sacraments: baptism (font and scallop shell), eucharist (bread and wine), confirmation and holy orders (bishop’s mitre), reconciliation (tears), anointing of the sick (oil), and marriage (ring). The window also represents the Pinchbeck family with references to baptism, singing in the choir and serving at the altar.

Having finished admiring the interior of St Wulfram’s Church, which Sir Gilbert Scott (1811-78) expertly restored in the 1860s, Simeon ventured outside to search for clues along Church Street. Several old buildings surround the church, including the original building of the King’s School (the present school is situated on Brook Street). On closer inspection, Simeon discovered that Isaac Newton (1642-1726) once attended the school between 1655 and 1660.

The school’s history dates back to the early 15th century, but few records exist until Bishop Richard Foxe (1448-1528) refounded the establishment in 1528. This suggests the school fell into disuse towards the beginning of the 16th century. Foxe came from Ropsley, a village near Grantham and served as Lord Privy Seal to Henry VII (1457-1509). Foxe also refounded Taunton Grammar School in Somerset (1522) and set up Corpus Christi College in Oxford (1517).

During the 16th century, the school officially became known as the Free Grammar School of King Edward VI. At first, not many attended the school, so classes were not large when Newton began studying in 1655. The future “natural philosopher” started attending King’s School at the age of 12, where he learned elementary mathematics, Latin and religion. He lodged with an apothecary’s family in the high street, who noted he was “a sober, silent, thinking lad,” yet records suggest Newton could also defend himself in a physical fight.

Newton paid little attention to his lessons, preferring to make mechanical devices and discover how things worked. (“I would rather climb trees,” says Simeon.) As he approached his 17th birthday, Newton’s mother called him home to work on the family estate, but he proved useless at manual labour and frequently had his head in a book. Newton’s uncle and Mr Stokes, the schoolmaster at King’s School, persuaded Newton’s mother to return him to school. After another year of education, Newton earned a place at Trinity College, Cambridge. As was customary for King’s School scholars in the 17th century, Isaac Newton carved his signature on the wall of the school library.

Isaac Newton is remembered fondly in Grantham, and Simeon spotted many references to the scholar around the town. The primary shopping centre is named the Isaac Newton Centre, which houses the public library as well as a range of shops. Opposite the centre is a statue of Newton, which the town erected in 1858. The sculptor, William Theed the Younger (1804-91), a favourite of Queen Victoria (1819-1901), made the statue from the bronze of a Russian cannon used during the Crimean War. It cost the public £1800 to produce this statue of Newton, which is the equivalent of £230,000 today.

During his search for clues, Simeon discovered another statue dedicated to Sir Isaac Newton. Situated in Wyndham Park Sensory Garden is a large hand holding an apple. Newton developed his Law of Gravitation after witnessing an apple falling from a tree. Nigel Sardeson, a self-taught woodcarver, produced the statue from the remains of a horse chestnut tree in 2010. Unfortunately, the roots and interior of the tree stump began to decay, and the statue sprouted fungus.

An urgent preservation project took place in 2015. The statue was removed from the ground and taken away for treatment. A year later, the Mayor of Grantham, Linda Wootton, unveiled the refurbished apple sculpture, which now sits upon a concrete base.

The apple statue is one of many attractions in Wyndham Park. As Simeon made his way through the grass and trees, he came across an open-air paddling pool, a model boating lake and the River Witham. Carefully skirting these for fear of getting wet, Simeon searched the area of clues.

The park is named after Lieutenant The Hon. William Reginald Wyndham of the 1st Life Guards, who died in action in 1914 at the beginning of the First World War. His mother, Constance Evelyn Primrose, Lady Leconfield (1846-1939), officially opened the park in 1924. The model boating lake predated the park by almost forty years and was once used for bathing.

While walking beside the River Witham, Simeon spotted a bench dedicated to Mr James Bench, the inventor of the bench. Scratching his head, Simeon moved on, convinced someone was pulling his leg. Soon, Simeon was distracted by a sign marking the way to “Grantham’s Oldest Resident”. Intrigued, Simeon eagerly took that path, eyes peeled to spot something very old.

After walking almost a mile (a very long way for a little gibbon), Simeon finally came face-to-face with “Grantham’s Oldest Resident”: an oak tree. Resisting his animal instincts, Simeon looked up in awe at the huge tree rather than climb up its 600-year old trunk. The tree is an ancient English oak (Quercus Robur) with a girth of over 7 metres. That’s more than 30 Simeons!

The tree’s exact age is indeterminable, but the Woodland Trust suggest it may have been a sapling when Grantham was attacked during the War of the Roses in 1461. The tree has seen Grantham grow from a relatively small village into a large town with a population of over 44,000 people. In 2018, construction work threatened the Grantham Oak, whose roots stretch almost 7 metres. The Woodland Trust and the South Kesteven District Council intervened, placing protective measures around the tree and its roots to protect it from damage. It is unusual to find an oak tree as old as this in an urban setting. Most are cut down to make way for roads and buildings, so the Grantham Oak’s survival makes it even more special.

Back in the town centre, Simeon spotted the much thinner Market Cross. Demolished and rebuilt several times over the centuries, the cross is a reminder of Grantham’s early days as an 11th-century market town. Grantham played a large role in the wool trade, which helped raise funds to build St Wulfram’s Church. The nine metre-high cross sits in the centre of the historic part of the town on octagonal limestone slabs.

Not far from the Market Cross, Simeon found a tea room (or gibbon refuelling stop, as he calls it) and treated himself to a chocolate brownie. Being an observant gibbon, Simeon noticed the strange name of the tea room, The Conduit. “I wonder why it has that name,” thought Simeon. He did not need to look far to find out. On the pavement outside stood a strange little building, also called The Conduit. This is the remains of Grantham’s first public water supply.

The first water conduit was constructed in 1134 by the Greyfriars, a group of Franciscan monks who lived near the marketplace. They used lead pipes to convey water from a nearby spring to their house. After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the water was rerouted to the strange little building outside the tea room in 1597. The inhabitants of Grantham could draw water from the conduit instead of springs or streams, and by 1680, water carts delivered water directly to houses for a fee of £3 a year. The conduit needed several repairs throughout its lifetime, and the lead pipes were replaced with iron pipes. Eventually, the conduit fell out of use due to the advent of modern water systems.

While looking for clues, Simeon came across a whole range of interesting things, including the birthplace of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013). Thatcher, née Roberts attended Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, which was established in 1910. The King’s School, attended by Newton, only admits boys.

Thatcher and Newton are not the only notable people from Grantham. Edith Smith (1876-1924), the first woman police officer with full arrest powers, patrolled the streets of Grantham. Thomas Paine (1737-1809), the author of Common Sense, briefly worked in the town as an Excise Officer. There are also many past and present politicians and sportsmen who hail from the area. Simeon also came across a family of bees living in a hive outside the Beehive Inn. South African bees have inhabited the hive since 1830.

After walking the many streets of Grantham, Simeon solved all the clues, cracked the code and saved St Wulfram’s Church from destruction. He learned so much about the town along the way and thoroughly enjoyed himself. When in the area, Simeon recommends visiting Belton House, built in the 17th century. It is located 3 miles from Grantham and has extensive parklands. It was also one of the locations for the BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice.

To purchase the Grantham Treasure Trail, visit treasuretrails.co.uk

Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part Two

Previously in Simeon’s life, the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) has run around Castle Park searching for spies, learned about the connection between Treasure Island and Bristol, earned himself a certificate, and had a rejuvenating rest. Now he is ready to tell the world about some of his other favourite things to do in the city. So, all aboard the Simeon Tour Bus. Enjoy the ride!

Stop One: Bristol Museum & Art Gallery

Situated half a mile uphill from the city centre is the Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, which opened its doors to the public on 20th February 1905. The Edwardian Baroque building was built by the architect Sir Frank William Wills and funded by his cousin, Sir William Henry Wills (1830-1911). Some of the building suffered damages during the Second World War, but much of the original architecture remains. Initially, the museum intended to display antiquities and natural history, whilst a separate museum exhibited artwork. Due to lack of funds and the two world wars, a separate museum never materialised, and the building remains both a museum and an art gallery.

Expecting to see antiquities and natural history, Simeon was surprised to find a stone angel with a paint bucket over its head standing in the entrance hall. This is an artwork called Paint-Pot Angel by Bristol’s anonymous graffiti artist Banksy. It remains in the museum as a reminder of their successful Banksy versus Bristol exhibition held in 2009. If that was not confusing enough for the little gibbon, above the statue hung two frightening Chinese dragons. With fur standing on end, Simeon reassured himself they were not real but rather examples of carved wooden dragons used in Chinese temples during the Qing dynasty.

Further into the museum, Simeon discovered items from Ancient Egypt and Assyria, including amulets, weapons, masks and mummified cats. Many of these items were donated to the museum by Bristol-based travellers, such as, Amelia Edwards (1831-92), “the Godmother of Egyptology” who co-founded the Egypt Exploration Fund in 1882. Carved stone reliefs from the palace of King Assurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) of Assyria (now Iraq) found their way to the museum in 1905, but how they got from the Middle East to England remains uncertain.

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery has a vast collection of taxidermy (stuffed animals), although as Simeon quickly pointed out, they lack a gibbon. Some of these are in the ground floor gallery opened by Sir David Attenborough (b. 1926). These animals are examples of wildlife found in the marine and freshwater habitats of the South West of England. Included in the display are owls, falcons, oystercatchers, gulls, auks and ducks. Simeon found more British animals on the first floor of the museum, including a hedgehog, a dormouse, foxes, badgers, otters and many birds.

In the World Wildlife gallery are specimens from all over the world. Some of these were shot by trophy hunters in the early 1900s, for instance, a tiger shot by King George V (1865-1936) in Nepal in 1911. Others were once residents of Bristol Zoo whose bodies were carefully preserved after death. For most visitors, this is the closest they will get to a sloth, an echidna, a duck-billed platypus, a koala, a chimpanzee and many more animals. Simeon was not sure whether to be disappointed or relieved that there were no gibbons on display.

The highlight of the World Wildlife Gallery is Alfred the Gorilla. In 1930, Alfred came to Bristol Zoo as a baby, where he entertained visitors by throwing snowballs, wearing woolly jumpers, and recoiling in horror at men with beards. Alfred also had a fear of aeroplanes. When he died in 1948, the Daily Mail jumped to the assumption that a passing aeroplane frightened the gorilla to death. In reality, Alfred suffered from tuberculosis, a disease previously thought to only affect humans. Alfred’s body was mounted in the museum shortly after his death, but in 1956, he briefly escaped from the museum. A group of university students stole the stuffed creature from the museum as a prank. Three days later, Alfred was discovered sitting in the waiting room of the student health centre.

Hanging above the museum cafe (which Simeon thoroughly enjoyed visiting), the little gibbon was horrified to come face-to-face with a hideous creature. With hair standing on end, Simeon learned this was Doris, a life-size model of a prehistoric marine reptile called a Pliosaurus. Palaeontologists do not know what Doris, named after a Greek sea goddess, looked like for certain, but she is based on fossil remains found near Westbury in Wiltshire.

Bristol Museum & Art Gallery owns several fossils of dinosaurs, including a Thecodontosaurus antiquus, which roamed Bristol and the surrounding areas about 210 million years ago. The museum also displays a pregnant ichthyosaur specimen. The bones of the baby form the smallest “sea dragon” found to date and prove that the creatures gave birth to their young rather than lay eggs. Also in the museum is a vast collection of minerals and rocks from Bristol and further afield.

The art gallery is located on the topmost floor of the museum. Initially, the museum wished to display local artists, but the collection quickly opened up to foreign artists from all eras. Paintings span from the Old European Masters of the 1400s, such as Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), through to the Impressionists and Pre-Raphaelites of the 19th century, including Alfred Sisley (1839-99) and Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98). The gallery also contains contemporary artworks and several ceramics.

Stop Two: Bristol Zoo

Having indulged in stuffed animals, Simeon thought it about time to visit the real things. So, next stop, Bristol Zoo. “Hurry!” shouted Simeon as he ran up the road towards Clifton. “We need to get there before they move all the animals to the Wild Place Project.” Bristol Zoo is closing in 2022 and moving to the Wild Place Project in South Gloucestershire

Bristol Zoo is the fifth oldest zoo in the world. It was founded on 22nd July 1835 by Henry Riley (1797-1848), a British surgeon and naturalist from Bristol who led the Bristol, Clifton and West of England Zoological Society. Many animals were shipped from across the world ready for the grand opening, but the first big attraction did not arrive until 1868. This was Zebi the elephant, who became well-known for removing and eating straw hats. Today, there are no longer elephants at the zoo, but Simeon did not mind; he was too enthralled by the lions.

Lions were first introduced to Bristol Zoo in 1900 when they erected a new house suitable for a family of large cats. Simeon admired the Asiatic lions from behind a wire fence, although they were not very active at the time. The female, Sonika, appeared to be fast asleep whilst Sahee watched over her. Asiatic lions are the most endangered large cat species in the world. They only live in the Gir forest in India, but Sonika and Sahee arrived in Bristol from other zoos rather than from the wild. Simeon was quick to point out that his fur was a similar colour to Sahee’s mane!

Simeon had already met Bristol Zoo’s first gorilla, albeit stuffed and mounted. Now the zoo is home to a family of eight western lowland gorillas. Jock the silverback, the dominant male, can make enough noise for people a couple of kilometres away to hear. Fortunately, he did not do that in Simeon’s presence. Three adult females, Kera, Kala and Touni, and three youngsters, Afia and Ayana and Hasani, live with Jock on Gorilla Island. In December 2020, Touni gave birth, taking the total of gorillas up to eight. The baby has yet to be named.

During the 1980s, Bristol Zoo developed several new exhibits. The Reptile House opened in 1981 and now houses a comprehensive list of reptiles and amphibians, including snakes, turtles, frogs, crocodiles, iguanas and tortoises. Simeon’s favourite tortoises were the Aldabra giant tortoises, which can live as long as 100 years and weigh up to 250kg. In 1983, the Monkey House opened, where mischief occurs daily. Simeon resisted the urge to play with the cheeky monkeys, macaques, lemurs and the two agile gibbons, Samuel and Duana.

Towards the end of the 1990s, the television presenter Professor David Bellamy (1933-2019) opened the Seal and Penguin Coast section of the zoo. The attraction provides the opportunity to view African penguins and seals both on land or underwater. Although penguins are very sociable animals, they were hiding during Simeon’s visit, but he enjoyed watching the seals swimming around the enclosure. The South American fur seals were almost hunted to extinction during the 20th century. Fortunately, they are now of least concern on the International Union for Conservation (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

Simeon loved every aspect of Bristol Zoo, but if he was forced to choose a favourite animal, he would choose the meerkats. The charismatic mob of female meerkats, one of whom introduced herself to Simeon as Bubushka, frolicked in the warmth of their house, frequently coming up to the glass to greet visitors. Simeon admired the patience of the meerkat on lookout duty and was amused when two rested their heads on a ledge and appeared to fall asleep.

Relieved not to be mistaken for an escaping zoo animal, Simeon exited Bristol Zoo with dozens of lovely memories. Bristol Zoo allowed him to meet animals from all over the world, including red pandas, armadillos, flamingos, frogs, bats, stick insects, birds, sloths, mongooses, and so much more.

Stop Three: The New Room

The next stop on Simeon’s tour of Bristol is the “New Room”, which is actually very old. This is the oldest Methodist building in the world, dating to 1740. The building, which became a chapel, was built after two religious societies in Bristol asked the preacher John Wesley (1703-91) to create a new room where they could meet. Wesley arrived in Bristol in 1739 to continue the work of the evangelist George Whitefield (1714-70), who preached on the streets of Bristol. Today, the chapel has been restored to resemble how it looked in 1748, with the addition of pews, which were added in the 19th century. As well as a chapel, Wesley used the upper floors as his home. The space is now a museum dedicated to John and his brother Charles (1707-88).

On entering the chapel, Simeon was struck by the lack of windows on the ground floor. The only source of light comes from an octagonal skylight. Methodism, as the denomination became known, was not welcome by some people in Bristol. Mobs frequently attacked members of the congregation, so the lack of windows limited the amount of damage they could create during a service. The design of the building also made it difficult for anyone to reach the preacher. The pulpit is only accessible from the upper floor.

Services usually took place at 5 am before people went to work – far too early for Simeon! Worship began and ended with a song, usually written by Charles Wesley, who wrote an estimated 6,500 hymns during his lifetime. The organ in the chapel was given to the New Room in the 1930s. During the 18th century, congregations sang unaccompanied.

Wesley did not design the New Room as a church, nor did he intentionally separate from the Church of England. The term ‘Methodism’ was initially given to the group by those who disliked the religious society. The Methodist Church came into being after the death of John and Charles. As well as preaching, John Wesley aimed to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. He created food and clothing banks and argued for a national living wage. He founded affordable schools and encouraged uneducated adults to earn qualifications. Wesley also promoted cleanliness and taught people how to improve their health. He provided free medicine for the poor and improved the living conditions of those in prison. Wesley was a man before his time who campaigned against the slave trade and encouraged women to play a wider role in society.

Upstairs in the museum, Simeon explored the living quarters of John Wesley and his assistants. There were twelve small rooms and one large common room, which served as both a meeting space, dining area and study. Wesley only used two of the rooms for himself: a bedroom and a private study. Today, the rooms tell the story of the Wesley family, the start of Methodism, and life during the 18th century.

The first couple of rooms in the museum explain what life in Bristol was like before John Wesley arrived in 1739. Life for the poor was dismal in comparison to the rich. Simeon’s eyes widened, and his mouth salivated as he read how the rich used to dine. A meal typically lasted at least two hours, and each course consisted of between five and 25 dishes. Gentlemen always drank port with dessert, and the women drank sweet wine. For a brief moment, Simeon thought he would love to live like the rich of the 18th century, but the rest of the museum soon put that notion out of his mind.

Admittedly, Simeon felt a bit sceptical when he read John Wesley’s recommendations for a healthy lifestyle. “Abstain from all pickled, smoked or high-seasoned food.” (Simeon eyed his round little belly guiltily.) “Exercise is of greater service to your health than a hundred medicines.” (“But I only have little legs!” exclaimed Simeon.) “Those who read or write much should learn to do it standing.” (“I think not!” declared Simeon.)

The final few rooms of the museum focus on social injustices, particularly those concerning slavery, war, consumerism and politics. Wesley looked to God for inspiration and strength. He wished to promote equal treatment for women, care for animals, offer the best possible education, create a society based on values and not on profits, avoid engaging in wars, live simply and “be content with what plain nature requires”. (“What a good man,” said Simeon, admiringly.)

“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.”

Stop Four: Tyntesfield

A week in Bristol is exciting, but sometimes it is nice to get away from the city crowds. So, Simeon travelled eight miles into the countryside to visit an ornate Victorian Gothic house called Tyntesfield and its extensive gardens. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, Simeon only had access to a handful of ground floor rooms, which failed to tell him much about the house’s history. Fortunately, Simeon is a resourceful gibbon and has learned everything he wished to know from the National Trust guidebook and website.

The estate, formally known as Tyntes Place, became the possession of William Gibbs (1790-1875) in 1843. (That’s GIBBS, Simeon. Not GIBBON!) Gibbs hired the architect John Norton (1823-1904) to double the size of the house in the High Victorian Gothic style. He also purchased neighbouring estates upon which he built homes for his sons. Following his death, his descendants made a few changes to the interior of the building, for instance, installing electricity and central heating. Richard Gibbs (1928-2001), the last member of the family to live at Tyntesfield, died without an heir and the house was left neglected. In 2002, the National Trust acquired the house and surrounding land. Following an ambitious conservation programme, they restored Tyntesfield to its former glory.

William Gibbs earned his money through guano trade with Spain and South America. Guano, as Simeon is keen to tell you, is the dried excrement of seabirds, a popular fertiliser in the 19th century. Although Gibbs spent a lot of his wealth on Tyntesfield, he also contributed to many charities. Both Gibbs and his wife Matilda Blanche (1817-87) were deeply religious and funded several churches, including the chapel at Keble College, Oxford. Towards the end of his life, Gibbs commissioned Sir Arthur Blomfield (1829-99) to build a chapel next to Tyntesfield, which the family used for daily prayers and Sunday services.

Simeon entered the house through the cloister, decorated with encaustic tiles. This led through to the centre of the house, designed to create a sense of awe and grandeur. Here, the main staircase leads up to the first-floor family bedrooms, but Simeon could not visit them on this occasion. Fortunately, Simeon was permitted to look in the library, which contains over 2000 books on several subjects such as theology, science, fine art, history, poetry and gardening.

Gardening was a favourite activity of the last inhabitant of Tyntesfield. After William Gibbs died, his son Antony did not continue the family trading business. Instead, he focused on arts and crafts. Likewise, the next heir, George, took a different profession and became an influential politician, earning him the title of 1st Lord Wraxall. By the time Richard Gibbs, 2nd Lord Wraxall became the owner in 1949, the family’s wealth had reduced considerably. After shutting up many rooms, Richard focused on maintaining the estate grounds, particularly the Kitchen Garden.

Simeon thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Kitchen Garden, which continues to grow many fruits and vegetables. The little gibbon also ventured through fields of cows to locate some of the other formal gardens on the estate. His favourite was the rose garden, which ironically contains very few roses. The local deer have eaten most of the roses, but a pink American Pillar rose continues to thrive on the iron pergola.

Stop Five: Floating Harbour

Simeon’s tour of Bristol concludes at the Floating Harbour, which covers 70 acres of the city. It is referred to as “floating” because the water levels remain consistent and are not affected by the tides. Simeon explored the harbour many times on his previous visit to Bristol, but he could not resist a few walks along the water, looking at all the boats.

Naturally, Simeon believes his tour of Bristol is far superior than anyone else’s, as I am sure you agree. Nonetheless, he insisted on travelling on the “Toot Bus” to get a glimpse of all the places he had not the time to visit. Bristol’s sightseeing bus tour starts near the floating harbour then drives up to Bristol Zoo, passing Clifton Down Station along the way. The bus passes under the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which Simeon bravely crossed on his last visit.

From the top deck of the bus, Simeon had a view of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain, as well as the other boats in the Floating Harbour. Before returning to the first bus stop, the bus drove Simeon to Temple Meads Station, which opened in 1840 as the western terminus of the Great Western Railway – another of Brunel’s inventions. Finally, the bus came to a halt outside Simeon’s apartment, where he indulged in a well-deserved rest.

Of course, a trip would not be complete for Simeon without sampling several restaurants, no matter what John Wesley says about abstaining from rich food – although the New Room’s cafe makes a mean marble cake! For pizza lovers, Simeon recommends The Stable, situated on the harbourside. The laidback restaurant serves up seriously good pizza with a wide range of toppings, alongside pints of beer, cider and crafted drinks.

Another of Simeon’s favourite places to eat is Bar + Block, a steakhouse on King Street. Whilst they specialise in steak, there are plenty of other options on the menu. Other places with large menus include The Berkeley and The Commercial Rooms, both owned by J. D. Wetherspoon. The Berkeley is situated in a former shopping arcade and contains a stained-glass dome and a small whispering gallery. The Commercial Rooms were once a gentlemen’s club and meeting place for the city’s merchants. The foundations were laid in 1810, and the Rooms opened for business the following year. In 1852, following the completion of the Great Western Railway, The Commercial Rooms became the first telegraph office in Bristol. The Rooms were taken over by Wetherspoons in 1995.

Those wishing to experience Bristol’s ultimate fine dining need to visit Browns, housed in a building that once belonged to Bristol Museum. Simeon enjoyed eating in the sophisticated establishment against a backdrop of enormous arched windows and original stone pillars. By the end of the meal, Simeon felt well and truly stuffed – both literally and figuratively. (Don’t expect this treatment all the time, Simeon!)

This concludes Simeon’s tour of Bristol. We hope you have enjoyed the ride. Do come again soon.

Simeon’s Top Tips

  1. Book tickets for the attractions in advance. Most places are limiting the number of visitors due to Covid-19. (Generally, it is best to book to avoid disappointment)
  2. Do not fall in the harbourYou will get very wet.
  3. Watch out for people on bikes and electric scooters. Do not walk in cycle lanes.
  4. Do not feed the animals in the zoo. That is the zookeeper’s job.
  5. Be prepared for lots of walking. Bristol is not very car-friendly.
  6. Watch out for seagulls. They will try to steal your food.
  7. Be prepared for rainPack more than one pair of trousers.
  8. Pace yourself. There is so much to see. It is impossible to do it all in a day.
  9. Do not eat too much pickled, smoked or high-seasoned food. John Wesley would disapprove.
  10. Follow government guidelines regarding Covid-19. They are there for everyone’s safety.

Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights
Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One

My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Simeon Returns to Bristol: Part One

Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) has returned to the South Western city of Bristol for more adventures. On his last trip, he visited the cathedral, Clifton Suspension Bridge, the SS Great Britain, Bristol Aquarium and the M Shed, but there was still so much left to explore. After patiently waiting out another Covid-19 lockdown, the double-vaccinated gibbon made his great escape in the back of a Vauxhall Corsa. Having returned from his latest adventure, Simeon wishes to tell you everything he discovered.

Broadmead and Castle Park

Simeon’s favourite way of exploring a city is by taking part in a Treasure Trail. Last year, Simeon solved a murder mystery, but this time, he received instructions about a TOP SECRET spy mission. An Eastern bloc spy ring called the “Trojans” had attacked the computers of Bristol businesses and were demanding a ransom of £10 million. The only way to avoid paying the ransom was to discover a four-digit code. Agent Simeon, under the code name “Achilles”, immediately started searching for clues and discovered some interesting facts about Bristol along the way.

The trail began in Broadmead, a street in the shopping district of the city. Originally called Brodemede as far back as 1383, the name may mean “broad meadow”, referring back to its pre-city times. Alternatively, it may refer to brodemedes, a type of cloth once woven in Bristol. In the 18th century, a shopping arcade was built in Broadmead, but the area received significant damages during the Second World War. Rebuilding began in the 1950s, and today, Broadmead is home to a shopping centre called Cabot Circus, which opened in September 2008.

In 1227, a man named Maurice de Gaunt founded a Dominican priory called Blackfriars on Broadmead. Its name describes the black hooded cloaks of the friars who inhabited the building. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538, the friars surrendered the buildings and contents to Henry VIII (1491-1547). Two years later, William Chester, the Mayor of Bristol purchased the buildings from the king.

During the reign of Elizabeth I (1533-1603), the Smiths and Cutlers Company bought the old priory and leased parts of the buildings to other organisations, for instance, a workhouse for poor girls. During the 17th century, the Religious Society of Friends acquired the premises and became known as the Quaker Friars. Only part of the original priory remains standing today. During the 20th century, the building housed the Bristol Register Office. In recent years, it has become home to a restaurant.

Llywelyn ap Dafydd (c.1267-1287), the eldest son of the then Prince of Wales, was buried in the priory grounds after a four-year imprisonment in Bristol Castle. This information confused Simeon because he could not see a castle anywhere. The matter was soon cleared up after Simeon carefully crossed the road to Castle Park.

Situated in Castle Park is the partially excavated remains of the stone keep and two preserved vaulted chambers of Bristol Castle. It was built in the Norman era to protect the walled city of Bristol from attack. The original castle, a timber motte and bailey, was presumably built on the orders of William the Conqueror (1028-87). It was strategically placed between the River Avon and the River Frome and surrounded by an artificial moat.

The castle was later rebuilt in stone and became the possession of Robert of Gloucester (1090-1147), the half-brother of Empress Matilda (1102-67), the legitimate heir to the throne. During Matilda’s fight with her cousin, Stephen (1092-1154) over the English crown, Matilda appointed Robert as her trusted right-hand man. Bristol Castle became a notable location in the war. Stephen was briefly captured and imprisoned in the castle but released in exchange for other prisoners. When Stephen became king, he thought little of the city of Bristol and the castle remained Robert’s property.

When Robert of Gloucester died, the castle and title passed down to his son William (1116-83). Unfortunately, William fell foul of King Henry II (1133-89), who confiscated Bristol Castle, making it a possession of the crown. As a result, the castle became one of the most important in the country. King John’s (1166-1216) sons received their education at Bristol Castle, including the future Henry III (1207-72), who added a barbican, gate tower and great hall during his reign.

By the 16th century, Bristol Castle showed signs of neglect, as recorded by the English poet, John Leland (1503-52). He wrote a description of the castle, noting its dungeons, church and domestic quarters, but revealed, “Many towers still stand in both the courts, but they are all on the point of collapse.” Bristol Castle had fallen into disuse and, after the civil war, Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) ordered the destruction of the castle in 1645.

The land on which the castle once stood is used as a public park today. In the centre stands the ruins of St Peter’s Church, which was bombed during the Bristol Blitz on the night of 24th November 1940. The church foundations date back to 1106, but the majority of the building was constructed in the 15th century. Excavations after the Second World War revealed St Peter’s may have been the first church built in Bristol.

The majority of the church walls are still standing, but the roof and interior suffered severe damages. Rather than demolish the rest of the building, the city maintains St Peter’s Church as a memory of the civilians who died during the Bristol Blitz. A plaque on the south wall of the church lists the 200 Bristolians who lost their lives on the night of the Blitz. Nearby, another plaque remembers the names of citizens from Bristol who died fighting against the Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939).

St Peter’s is not the only church destroyed during the Bristol Blitz. Temple Church in the Redcliffe district of the city, which Simeon visited towards the end of his trip, remains an empty shell and is protected by English Heritage. Fortunately, the unique bell tower survived the bombing. Constructed between 1441 and 1460, the tower leans towards the left due to subsidence. During the construction, builders noticed the lower sections sinking into the ground and attempted to correct it by building the upper section at a different angle. The reason for the subsidence was due to the soft alluvial clay beneath the foundations, which was compressed by the weight of the stone.

The destruction of the church revealed the foundations of a previous round nave from the 12th century. This belonged to the Knights Templar, who received the land from Robert of Gloucester. After the suppression of the Templars, the Knights Hospitaller took over the building in 1313. After the dissolution of the monasteries, the church became the property of the crown, but the Bristol Corporation managed to purchase it from the king in 1544.

Back on the spy trail, Simeon trekked through the Physic Garden running parallel to St Peter’s ruined nave. Replacing a neglected sensory garden, the Physic Garden was planted by the luxury fragrance brand Jo Malone London in 2015 as part of a global charity initiative to support people living with mental ill-health and physical disabilities. Designed to nourish and nurture, the garden is a peaceful haven for rehabilitation and recovery. Jo Malone London also supported the homelessness charity St Mungo’s to create the Putting Down Roots (PDR) programme, which encourages the homeless and jobless to help maintain the garden, earn qualifications in horticulture, and seek permanent employment.

Behind the church, Simeon was excited to discover a feature called Beside the Still Waters. Two Kilkenny limestone fountains sit in small ponds, which are joined together by a narrow channel of water. At one end, the carved stone resembles a pine cone, and at the other, the stone has a cinquefoil form, giving it the appearance of a garlic bulb. The feature was created by Peter Randall-Page (b.1954), who has public work on display in several locations, including London and Cambridge. Randall-Page focuses on the geometry of his designs, which he explains “is the theme on which nature plays her infinite variations”.

Simeon was intrigued to discover another sculpture nearby of a throne made of Normandy limestone. While inspecting it for clues for his spy mission, Simeon found giant footprints at the base of the throne. Simeon is now convinced that giants once roamed the city of Bristol, but this sculpture was commissioned in the early 1990s during the new landscaping of Castle Park. The sculptor is Rachel Fenner, who takes inspiration from ancient natural and archaeological sites of Britain.

With no time to worry about the existence of giants, Simeon hurried on through Castle Park – he had spies to catch! He even resisted climbing the five Silver Birch trees planted in memory of the five D-Day landing beaches, code-named Juno, Gold, Sword, Utah and Omaha. Nor did Simeon notice the memorial trees for Anne Frank and the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the centre of the park stands another sculpture, which Simeon paused at to sniff for clues. Unveiled by the Bristol Civic Society in 1993 to provide drinking water, the bronze fish fountain was created by ceramic artist Kate Malone. The water spouts, which poured out of the mouths of the fish, were later turned off when they failed the updated Water Regulations Advisory Scheme. Plans to refurbish the fountain are underway, so hopefully Malone’s work will function once again.

Whilst combing through the rest of Castle Park for clues, Simeon spotted a couple more things of note, such as several bird and bug boxes hanging on a wall. Opposite this, an S-shaped footbridge takes people across the Floating Harbour to the Finzels Reach development. The bridge opened in 2017 and, in Simeon’s opinion, is far more attractive than some of the industrial-style bridges. Unfortunately, Simeon did not have time to cross the bridge – he had spies to catch – but he was able to enjoy the experience later in the week.

Situated on the harbour is a floating ballast seed garden called Seeds of Change. Ballasts were frequently unloaded from trading ships in the harbour between 1680 and 1900. They often contained seeds of plants from all the countries the ships had visited, some of which flourished after arriving in Bristol. In 2007, Bristol invited Brazilian artist Maria Thereza Alves (b.1961) to exhibit her work in an exhibition at the Arnolfini gallery. During her stay, Alves dug up some of the remaining ballasts and extracted the seeds, which she grew and displayed in the gallery.

In 2010, Bristol invited Alves back to the city to develop a permanent ballast garden. A disused barge in the Floating Harbour was selected as the location of the garden, and with the help of German designer Gitta Gschwendtner, Alves chose several plants grown from seeds by participating schools and organisations. These plants arrived in Bristol from all over the world and include figs, asphodels and squirting cucumbers. Admittedly, the Seeds of Change garden did not look all that impressive to Simeon, but many new plants may flourish between now and September. 

Having collected all the clues he needed from Castle Park, Simeon returned to Broadmead, where he enjoyed following a snake-like blue line along the pavement. Along the way, he rested his weary legs on stone spheres decorated with blue mosaic tiles. This installation refers to Bristol’s famous blue glass, produced in the city in the 18th and 19th centuries. ‘Bristol Blue’ glass was mostly used for medicine bottles, and the landscaping firm Reckless Orchard recycled many of these to create the blue bricks seen along Broadmead.

Great work, Simeon! You have managed to solve all the clues, worked out the code and stopped the Trojans. Simeon patted himself on the back and set off in search of some well-deserved tea and cake.

Treasure Island Trail

Being the adventurous little gibbon that he is, Simeon sought out another treasure trail to follow around Bristol. Put together by the Long John Silver Trust, the trail takes intrepid explorers around parts of Bristol’s harbour to celebrate the city’s connection with Robert Louis Stevenson’s (1850-94) classic novel Treasure Island (1882). Simeon’s task was to locate eight wooden barrels, upon which he would learn a bit about both the book and the city.

Simeon located the first barrel outside the old Merchant Venturers’ Almshouses. Built in 1699, the houses accommodated many sailors, including William Williams, the first person to introduce a pirate treasure map in his book The Journal of Llewellin Penrose, a Seaman. Stevenson incorporated the idea for his novel, which involved pirates, treasure hunting and a young lad from Bristol.

Treasure Island begins at the Admiral Benbow Inn on the Bristol Channel, where an old sailor named Billy Bones warns the innkeeper’s son, Jim Hawkins, to keep a lookout for “a one-legged seafaring man”. On Simeon’s walk through Bristol, he came across the Llandoger Trow, a historic public house built in 1664. It is this building that inspired Stevenson to invent the Admiral Benbow Inn. It is also where English writer Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) met Alexander Selkirk (1676-1721), a Scottish privateer who spent four months stranded on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific Ocean. Intrigued by Selkirk’s story, Defoe wrote one of the first English novels, Robinson Crusoe. Selkirk may also be the inspiration for Stevenson’s character Ben Gunn.

In the book, a blind beggar visits Billy Bones to give him “the black spot”. This is a summons to share a map leading to buried treasure. Shortly after, Bones suffers a stroke and dies, and the beggar and other men attack the inn in search of the map. Jim finds the treasure map first and escapes. After sharing his find with Squire Trelawney and Dr Livesey, they secure a ship called the Hispaniola to seek the treasure, but first, they need to hire a crew. In a fictional Bristol pub called The Spy-Glass, they meet the landlord, Long John Silver, who offers his services as a cook. Jim is a bit wary because Silver only has one leg, and he recalls Billy Bones’ warning. 

Stevenson described The Spy-Glass as having a spy hole through which people could warn others of the presence of press gangs or slave traders. In Bristol, Simeon came across a pub called The-Hole-in-the-Wall, the only known pub in the country to have a spy hole feature. It is likely Stevenson based The Spy-Glass on this pub, which has other similar features, including doors leading on to separate streets so that patrons could make a swift exit. Fortunately, Simeon did not see any one-legged seafaring men in the area.

The Treasure Island Trail took Simeon to Redcliffe Wharf, where he learned of the many barrels loaded onto and taken off ships in the harbour. In the book, Jim Hawkins finds himself trapped in a barrel when he overhears Long John Silver’s plans to find and keep the treasure for himself. Simeon shuddered at the thought of getting trapped inside one of the barrels on the trail. Fortunately, they also function as plant pots, so there was no danger of Simeon falling in.

On the trail, Simeon heard about a real-life pirate who grew up in the Redcliffe district. Edward Teach (1680-1718), better known as Blackbeard, served on an English ship in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), after which he became a notorious pirate. He attacked merchant ships and stole their goods, weapons and valuables. Fortunately, there is no record of Blackbeard killing anyone. (“Phew!” thought Simeon.) Blackbeard’s second-in-command, Israel Hands, also known as Basilica Hands, inspired Stevenson’s character of the same name, a villainous sidekick of Long John Silver.

Simeon thoroughly enjoyed the Treasure Trail spy mission and the Treasure Island Trail. It was a lot of walking for such a small gibbon but he learned a lot of information about Bristol. Simeon still had several days to enjoy in the city, but first, he needed a nice long rest. He will tell you about the rest of his trip next week. See you then!

Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York
Simeon’s Bristol Highlights


My blogs are now available to listen to as podcasts on the following platforms: AnchorBreakerGoogle PodcastsPocket Casts and Spotify.

If you would like to support my blog, become a Patreon from £5p/m or “buy me a coffee” for £3. Thank You!

Simeon’s Bristol Highlights

Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please) has been off on his adventures again, this time to the South Western city of Bristol. Steeped in history, Bristol lies on the rivers Frome and Avon and gets its name from the Old English Brycgstow, meaning “the place at the bridge”.

Bristol made the news in June when Black Lives Matter rioters tore down the statue of slave trader Edward Colston (1636-1721) and deposited it in Bristol Harbour. Although honoured for his involvement with schools, almshouses, hospitals and churches, it has recently come to light that Colston trafficked around 80,000 men, women and children during the Slave Trade.

Whilst Bristol cannot escape its historical connection with the Slave Trade, Simeon discovered there are plenty of positive facts about the city and many places to visit. Twinned with Bordeaux, France and Hanover, Germany, Bristol is amongst the most popular cities for tourists in England. After spending an enjoyable, albeit wet, week in Bristol, Simeon is keen to tell you about his favourite attractions.

Bristol Old City

With the help of a murder mystery trail provided by Treasure Trails, Simeon explored the cobbled streets of the old city, containing buildings from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The trail began outside the former Everard’s Printing Works, which was built in 1900 and decorated in the Pre-Raphaelite art nouveau style by William Neatby. Although most of the building has since been demolished, the arts and crafts facade has been preserved.

Around the corner, whilst visually less impressive, is another notable building. Built in 1857 to resemble the Library of St Mark, Venice, it has been occupied by Lloyds Bank Limited since 1892. Before then, a different building stood on the site known as the Bush coaching inn. This inn featured in Charles Dickens’ (1812-70) first novel, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (aka The Pickwick Papers).

The most impressive building Simeon came across on the trail was the old Exchange building. Built between 1741 and 1743 by John Wood the Elder (1704-54), the architecture includes Corinthian columns and an arched doorway over which sits a frieze of human and animal heads. Merchants of all types traded in the building, including coffeehouses and taverns. The Bristol Slave Trade used the building in the 18th century.

Outside the Exchange are four bronze tables representing the type of tables used at trade fairs. Known as “nails”, the tables were made with flat tops and raised edges to prevent coins falling onto the floor. Each copper nail is slightly different in design and date between the reign of Elizabeth I (b.1553. r.1558-1603) and 1631.

The three-handed clock on the facade of the building most amused Simeon. One hand shows the hours, one the minute according to Greenwich Mean Time, and the third tells the local time in Bristol. Bristol is 2º 35′ west of Greenwich, making it ten minutes behind London. Due to problems, such as sticking to train timetables, Bristol eventually adopted GMT.

The Exchange is now home to St Nicholas Market, established in 1743. It is the oldest market in Bristol and ranks amongst the top ten markets in the United Kingdom. Open every day except Sundays, the market is home to over 60 independent retailers, including food stalls, jewellery makers, clothing brands and gift shops.

The Murder Mystery trail took Simeon along the quayside where the Bristol Merchant Navy Memorial stands. Unveiled by Princess Anne (b.1950) in 2001, the memorial lists the names of those who lost their lives at sea. It also records the ships lost during the two World Wars.

At the end of the trail, Simeon came across the Christmas Steps next to The Chapel of the Three Kings of Cologne, whose stained glass window depicts the nativity scene. “Three Kings” references the Biblical magi and “Cologne” refers to the church of the same name in the German city. The origin of the name “Christmas Steps” is uncertain, but one theory suggests it relates to the window of this church.

The steep steps were constructed in 1699 and lead to a small street containing grade II listed buildings. One of these buildings is The Sugar Loaf Public House, established around 1700. Another now houses a unique cafe, Chance and Counters, where customers can eat and drink while spending a couple of hours playing board games.

Bristol Cathedral

On the College Green, not far from Bristol Harbour, stands a gothic cathedral. Formally the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Bristol Cathedral belongs to the Church of England, as it has done since the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539. Founded in 1140, the original building contained St Augustine’s Abbey, but much of the structure collapsed in the 16th century. Today’s gothic building includes a nave built by George Edmund Street (1824-81) and two towers that were added in 1888 by John Loughborough Pearson (1817-97).

In 1549, Henry VIII (1491-1547) raised the building, or what was left of it after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, to the rank of Cathedral of a new Diocese of Bristol and dedicated it to the Holy Trinity. Paul Bush (1490-1558) became the first bishop of Bristol; his grave lies on the north side of the choir.

Not much is known about life at the abbey before it became a cathedral. A mob destroyed early records during the 1831 Bristol riots, as well as part of the building. Several benefactors helped to rebuild the nave, which opened in 1877. Ten years later, Taylor’s Bell Foundry cast new bells for the north-west tower.

Inside the cathedral, the vaulting of the nave and choir impressed Simeon. The architecture allows the aisles to make use of the full height of the ceiling, which is brightly lit by the daylight coming in through the tall stained-glass windows. The original windows, including a rose window on the west facade, were produced by Hardman & co, during the restoration in the 19th century. Unfortunately, many of the windows shattered during the Blitz (1940-41). Bristolian Arnold Wathen Robinson (1888-1955) produced the windows that are in place today. These designs honour several people, including St. John’s Ambulance, the British Red Cross, the Women’s Voluntary Service and the Home Guard. Plans to remove one window dedicated to Edward Colston are underway.

Cabot Tower

Although temporarily closed, Simeon says it is worth walking (he was carried) up to Cabot Tower to enjoy the views from the top of Brandon Hill. Since 1980, Brandon Hill is looked after by the Avon Wildlife Trust who have their headquarters within the parkland. The area is a breeding ground for butterflies, frogs, newts and birds, such as jays and bullfinches. Simeon also met a squirrel while having a rest by the tower.

Cabot Tower was erected in the 1890s to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s (c.1450-c.1500) journey from Bristol to Canada. Born in Italy, Cabot came to England to seek financial backing for an expedition across the Atlantic. Henry VII (1457-1509) gave Cabot a royal patent stating that all his expeditions should begin in Bristol, which was the second-largest seaport in England at the time.

The first expedition returned early due to bad weather but Cabot’s second expedition proved to be more fruitful. In 1497, Cabot set off on a small ship named Matthew of Bristol with a crew of 20 men. On the 24th June, Cabot’s ship made landfall somewhere off the coast of North America, now believed to be Newfoundland. At this time, Cabot decided to go no further and returned to England to report his findings. Although Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) is famous for colonising the Americas, Cabot Tower recognises Cabot as the first European to reach North America.

In May 1498, Cabot set off on a third expedition, this time with a fleet of five ships. Bad weather forced one ship to dock in Ireland, but the other four carried on sailing. No one heard from them again. Whether Cabot died at sea or if he found land is unknown. His son, Sebastiano (c.1474-1557), continued his father’s work, seeking the Northwest Passage through North America for the king.

Cabot Tower is 105 feet high, making it approximately 334 feet above sea level. The red sandstone structure contains a spiral staircase leading to balconies from which Bristol Harbor is visible. The tower, designed by William Venn Gough (1842-1918), is supported by buttresses and is topped by an octagonal spire upon which a ball finial and winged figure sit.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Not to be missed is the Clifton Suspension Bridge across the Avon Gorge, which links the Bristol suburb Clifton with Leigh Woods, North Somerset. Intrepid Simeon traversed the 1,352 ft (412 m) bridge at 254 ft (74.67m) above water to reach the visitor’s centre on the Leigh Wood’s side.

The visitor’s centre contains a small but informative exhibition about the history of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, which opened in 1864. The idea to build a bridge “from Clifton to Leigh Down” to ease traffic in Bristol came from the will of a wealthy wine merchant, William Vick (d.1754). He left £1,000 to the Society of Merchant Venturers, instructing them to invest it until it had reached £10,000, after which they should have enough money to build the bridge across the Avon Gorge.

Vick’s visions were impractical for the time because the technology to build such a bridge did not yet exist. Forty years later, Vick’s wishes resurfaced, and the aptly-named William Bridges published the first design idea. Unfortunately, war broke out with France and the plans were laid to one side.

In 1820, a proposal for a suspension bridge across the Avon Gorge developed. This type of bridge is much cheaper to produce than a stone bridge and quicker to build. In 1829, the Merchant Venturers launched a competition to design an “Iron Suspension Bridge at Clifton Down”, which received around 22 entrees. Only five were considered practical, but the designers lacked expertise. Instead, the committee approached Thomas Telford (1757-1834), “the father of Civil Engineers”, to provide input.

Telford, famous for his Menai Bridge, advised them not to use the competition entries and promptly produced a design of his own. The plans far exceeded the amount of money proposed by Vick’s; therefore, the committee put forward a request to raise more money for the project. Meanwhile, Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-59), one of the competition entrants, proposed an alternative idea costing £10,000 less than Telford’s designs.

Brunel’s design met approval with the locals who also began to propose alternative ideas. In 1830, the committee decided to hold another design competition, which Brunel and other designers readily entered. Of the thirteen designs entered, Brunel came second to an entry by Smith & Hawkes of Birmingham. Unhappy with this result, Brunel tweaked his design and persuaded the judges to grant him the winner.

Unfortunately, many hurdles needed overcoming before work could begin on the bridge. The project was £20,000 short of the necessary funds, and plans to raise the sum came to a standstill due to riots prompted by the House of Lord’s rejection of the Reform Act. Work eventually commenced in 1835, as recorded in Brunel’s diary: “Clifton Bridge – my first child, my darling is actually going on – recommenced week last Monday – Glorious!”

The construction of the bridge progressed slowly over the following few years, but it cost a lot more than initially expected. Work came to a standstill once again in 1843 when Brunel reported they needed a further £36,348 but methods of raising this amount were scarce. By 1853, the Society of Merchant Ventures believed “the idea of completing the Bridge is now wholly abandoned.”

When Brunel died in 1859, locals wanted to demolish the beginnings of the bridge, which they considered to be “monuments of failure”. Fortunately, before this could happen, railway development works in London resulted in the demolition of Brunel’s Hungerford Suspension Bridge, and those in charge donated the material to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. With renewed hope, the committee quickly raised £35,000 and completed the bridge by 1864.

Although Brunel did not live to see the finished product, his “child” remains one of the most iconic structures in the area. Despite being built with horse and carts in mind, more than 4,000,000 cars cross the bridge each year. Regular inspection and maintenance keep the bridge safe, but the key reason it has survived to the 21st century is due to Brunel’s superb engineering.

The visitor’s centre provides more details about the construction of the bridge and the people involved. For £5, visitors can learn everything they want about the bridge and its designer as well as use interactive screens to test their knowledge of engineering. On a nice day, the Clifton Suspension Bridge is a lovely place to enjoy stunning views and take photographs.

SS Great Britain

Clifton Suspension Bridge is not Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s only achievement in Bristol; the other, located in the Great Western Dockyard, is a ship that changed the world. SS Great Britain, which claims to be Bristol’s number one tourist attraction, was the first iron-hulled, screw-propelled passenger liner ever made. After launching in 1843, she had a long and eventful life at sea until she found herself back in the very dry dock of her origin. 

When launched, SS Great Britain was the biggest and most technologically advanced ship in the world. Brunel meticulously planned each element of the vessel down to the minutest details to make her suitable for sailing from Bristol to New York. She could sail the distance in 13 days, although not always without problems. On her maiden voyage, the propeller suffered damages but, on her fifth voyage, SS Great Britain collided with a lighthouse and ran aground on the coast of Northern Ireland. Fortunately, after a few alterations, SS Great Britain soon sailed again.

Fitted with a new engine, SS Great Britain set off from Liverpool on 21st August 1852 with 630 passengers destined for Melbourne, Australia. She could complete the journey in 60 days, which was much faster than any sailing ship. A large proportion of the Australian population can trace their ancestry to migrants who arrived on the SS Great Britain.

After many successful years sailing back and forth between Britain and Australia, Antony Gibbs & Sons converted SS Great Britain into a “windjammer”. Between 1882 and 1886, she carried wheat and coal between America and England, often through turbulent waters. These storms eventually damaged SS Great Britain, forcing her to seek shelter in the Falkland Islands.

SS Great Britain spent the rest of her working life as a storage hulk for the Falkland Islands Company until she became too old for use. In 1937, the company abandoned her in Sparrow Cove where she received visits from curious penguins and local children. By the time naval architect Reverend Dr Ewan Corlett (1923-2005) rescued the ship, only a rusting hulk remained.

Corlett arranged for SS Great Britain to return to her birthplace in Bristol. She eventually arrived in the Great Western Dockyard on 19th July 1970, 127 years after her launch. Extensive restoration work has returned the ship to her former glory. Using passenger diaries from SS Great Britain’s first few trips, the team has created a fairly accurate representation of both the exterior and interior of the ship.

Simeon thoroughly enjoyed exploring SS Great Britain, beginning with the top deck where the crew kept animals for use as food products during the journeys. One passenger diary entry listed the number of animals on board the ship in 1864: “one cow, three bullocks, 150 sheep, 30 pigs, 500 chickens, 400 ducks, 100 geese and 50 turkeys.” Most of these animals helped to feed the first-class passengers, but the steerage or third-class passengers received little more than broken water biscuits.

As Simeon discovered, the steerage class lived in the cheaper accommodation below decks in small berths containing bunk beds. Crammed together with only a narrow aisle between bunks, the steerage class had little privacy, ventilation or natural light. Simeon decided steerage class was not for him and headed to the kitchens where cooks prepared luxurious food for the first-class passengers.

Simeon found the first-class section of the ship much more to his standards. As well as slightly larger sleeping areas, first-class passengers had a wide choice of meals, which they ate in the decorated Dining Saloon. Between meals, the passengers found ways to entertain themselves, including putting on amateur theatrical or musical performances. Charades, bible-reading classes, Sunday schools, language lessons and a variety of games prevented anyone becoming bored. Although they could go up on deck for fresh air, the first-class also had a Promenade Saloon where passengers could walk if unable to go outside.

As well as the steerage and first-class accommodations, Simeon visited the noisy Engine Room, the Galley, the Cargo Deck, the Holding Bridge and the Dry Dock. The latter is a specially created roofed-dock that protects the SS Great Britain‘s iron hull. Travelling over a million miles in salty seawater caused the metal to corrode, leading to holes. Despite no longer being in the water, the hull would continue to deteriorate without prevention. 

The Dry Dock is a giant dehumidification chamber that removes 80% of the humidity from the air, making it the same level of dryness as the Arizona Desert and protects SS Great Britain from further damage. Visitors can enter the dock to get a close up look at the ship’s propellor and appreciate the size and shape of her enormous hull.

A trip to SS Great Britain includes two museums as well as the ship. The Dockyard Museum, which leads onto the top deck, provides all the details about the ship’s construction, journeys and restoration. The other museum, Being Brunel, tells the story of Isambard Kingdom Brunel from his birth to his death. SS Great Britain and the Clifton Suspension Bridge belong to a long list of Brunel’s achievements, including two more ships, the Great Western Railway and several bridges. 

Bristol Harbour

A visit to SS Great Britain makes it impossible to miss Bristol’s harbour. Nicknamed the Floating Harbour because the water level remains constant regardless of the tides, it covers an area of 70 acres, which tour boats regularly sail around. Aboard the Tower Belle owned by Bristol Packet Boat Trips, Simeon sailed past former workshops and warehouses that now contain restaurants, nightclubs and museums.

Commentary supplied by the captain of the boat taught Simeon about past and present life in the harbour. Along the way, Simeon had good views of SS Great Britain, old industrial cranes, and a replica of Matthew, which John Cabot sailed on in 1497.

Bristol Aquarium

Sticking to the water theme, Bristol Aquarium is a short walk from Bristol Harbour and is home to hundreds of sea creatures. Visitors explore the wonders of the oceans in seven themed zones. Piranhas from the Amazon, Cichlids from Africa, and Clown Fish (Nemo) and Regal Tangs (Dory) from the tropics are among the popular attractions.

Simeon particularly enjoyed watching the terrapin turtles in Turtle Bay and watching the sharks and Honeycomb Moray Eels eat their lunch. The jellyfish and rays provided a peaceful ambience, whereas the faster fish added an element of excitement. Simeon’s favourite section, of course, was the Urban Jungle where he felt at home with the foreign trees and plants, for example, the banana plant (Musa basjoo) and cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa).

Whilst the aquarium is a fun place to visit, it is also a place of learning and development. Bristol aquarium specialises in breeding seahorses, but they also have juvenile pipefish and sharks in their nursery. They take great care of their creatures and nurse any poorly ones back to good health. Many of the fish came to the aquarium as donations, but others are rescuees from dirty or unsafe waters. Many of these are eventually re-homed thanks to the aquarium’s support of marine conservation.

M Shed

On the harbourside sits the M Shed, a museum devoted to the history of Bristol and its people. Situated in one of the former dockside sheds named simply after letters of the alphabet, the museum covers everything from life in the harbour to the development of the city over several centuries. Simeon enjoyed learning about different periods of history and looking at the hundreds of exhibits.

The largest single item on display is the green Bristol Lodekka bus, used between 1949 and 1968. Specially designed to pass under all the bridges in Bristol, it could carry up to 73 passengers. Other vehicles in the museum include a fully restored Type T Tourer, the fastest solid-tyred bicycle from 1883 and a “Flying Flea”. The latter is the English name of Henri Mignet’s (1839-1965) aircraft Pou De Ciel. These were sold as kits for amateur flyers to assemble. Bristol engineer Harry Dolman (1897-1977) was the first person in England to build one of the planes, which he named the Blue Finch.

The M Shed needs more than one visit to appreciate fully; there is so much information, it is impossible to take it all in on one trip. The Slave Trade is impossible to ignore, but the museum curators have dealt with it in a sensitive, educational manner. Stories about housewives who boycotted sugar in protest of the Slave Trade and those who protested for equal rights demonstrate how the Bristolians overcame their ignoble past.

The museum refers to Bristol’s International Balloon Fiesta, which attracts hundreds of people each year. Those lucky enough to see the balloons flying over the Clifton Suspension Bridge are in the perfect position for awe-inspiring photographs – weather permitting. Simeon was disappointed he was not in Bristol for the fiesta, but he did catch sight of a couple of hot air balloons once or twice.

Of course, the balloons were not the only thing Simeon was unable to see; it is hard to fit everything into one week for such a little gibbon. Covid-19 restrictions also limited the number of places he could visit, but Simeon has a list of places he would like to see during his next trip to Bristol: Bristol Zoo, the Red Lodge Museum, the Georgian House Museum, Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, and John Wesley’s Chapel.

Simeon’s Top Tips

  1. Book tickets for the attractions in advance. Most places are limiting the number of visitors due to Covid-19. (Generally, it is best to book to avoid disappointment)
  2. Do not fall off Clifton Suspension Bridge. It is a long way down.
  3. Do not fall in the harbour. You will get very wet.
  4. Be respectful in the Cathedral. It is a place of worship.
  5. Pace yourself when climbing Brandon Hill. There are plenty of benches along the pathways.
  6. Watch out for people on bikes. Do not walk in cycle lanes.
  7. Do not touch the creatures in the aquarium. Particularly the terrapins, they have powerful jaws.
  8. Be prepared for rain. Pack more than one pair of trousers.
  9. Look out for Banksy. A couple of his works are in Bristol.
  10. Follow social distancing rules. They are there for everyone’s safety.

Read about Simeon’s previous adventures here:
Simeon goes to Amsterdam
Simeon and the Bloomsbury Treasures
Simeon Visits Rainham Hall
Simeon, the Cliffs and the Sea
Simeon Encounters Antwerp
Simeon Investigates Covent Garden
Simeon and the Green Witch’s Treasure
Simeon Conquers York

Simeon Visits Rainham Hall

A historic house with a difference

44410791_1941816782551260_493275576606392320_nThere is no stopping Simeon the red-haired gibbon (toffee-coloured, if you please); he has got his taste for adventure and is determined to explore. Simeon has now experienced his first National Trust property and is eager to tell everybody about it. Situated in Rainham, Essex, next to St Helen and St Giles Church, is a three storey brown and red-bricked Grade II listed building. Built in the 18th century, Rainham Hall has been open to the public for three years and Simeon thought it was about time he visited it for himself.

With 3-acres of public garden and the cosy Stables Cafe, located in the old stable and coach house, Rainham Hall is a pleasant, quiet place for individuals and families to visit. The house, which had fallen into disrepair shortly after the Second World War, has been refurbished and is safe for all to enter. Sadly, a lot of the house’s history and records have been lost, however, Simeon managed to discover many interesting things.

 

Rainham Hall was built in 1729 by the merchant Captain John Harle (1688-1742) who wished to settle down on land after years at sea. Originally hailing from South Shields, near Newcastle, Harle married a wealthy widow from Stepney, London, Mary Tibbington. Although retiring from the sea, Harle wanted to continue trading, meaning he needed to settle somewhere on the coast or by a river. Rainham, on the River Ingreborne, was the ideal place for the man.

Originally consisting of 11-acres of land, Harle purchased Rainham Wharf, where he dredged the river to clear a trade route to London. He built a house for himself and his wife next to the parish church but close enough to the river so that he could use his outbuildings for his trading company. The house was built in the Dutch domestic Queen Anne style, which was still popular at the time, despite the monarch’s death in 1714.

During the 18th-century, it was typical to use oak for wooden features in buildings, however, the staircase in the Hall is built out of the reddish-brown timber, mahogany. This may have been a cheaper option but the most likely reason for Harle’s choice was its connection with merchant ships. Mahogany was the wood used on the ships and it is thought that Harle may have taken the wood from those that had fallen into disuse.

It is thought that when Captain Harle lived in the house the colours of the walls were a mix of blueish grey, blue and dark olive green, however, the house has since had over 50 tenants and has been decorated several times. Today, the walls of the main staircase are painted a pale blue and feature a trompe-l’œil painting – a deceptive painting that appears three-dimensional. This painting dates to at least 1780, when Sarah Chambers, John Harle’s daughter-in-law, lived at the Hall. It features a Vitruvian scroll surrounded by a decorative floral pattern.

Most of the fireplaces are made from blue-grey marble and some, such as those of the upper floors, are decorated with Delft-blue tiles. This fits in well with the “blue room”, which was apparently once green. The rest of the rooms are now a mix of the different variety of paint schemes that the house has seen over the past couple of centuries.

In the entrance hall, an old dumbwaiter is hidden behind a false wall panel, which visitors can open and peer in. This would have helped staff transfer items from the cellar to the rooms above without having to struggle with the narrow staircases.

Rainham Hall remained in the Harle family until 1895, when it lay abandoned for a couple of decades. In 1917, the Hall was purchased by the property developer and art historian Colonel Herbert Hall Mulliner (1861-1924) who, although never lived there himself, made the building habitable. With knowledge of interior design, Mulliner modernised many of the rooms, moved the kitchen to the cellar and modified the stables so that they could accommodate motor cars. Today, the kitchen has been moved back to its original location, mostly due to the unsafe conditions of the cellar.

Outside the property, Colonel Mulliner installed wrought iron gates and railings, which, amazingly, were never requisitioned during the war years like most other railings in the area. In fact, it is the war years that gave Rainham Hall a significant purpose.

Unfortunately, due to the number of people who have lived in Rainham Hall, there is a lack of original furniture and the purpose of each room can only be speculated. Fortunately, there is a lot more evidence of the building’s use in the 20th century, as shown in Rainham Hall’s 2018 exhibition Remembering the Day Nursery at Rainham Hall. In 1942, the building was requisitioned by the Essex County Council to be set up as a nursery. This allowed mothers the time to go out to work while their husbands were away at war. From 1943 to 1954, the Hall became the daytime home of dozens of young children.

“There cannot be many buildings of such historical value that can boast of having hundreds of tiny feet trotting through their grand hall!”
– Nurse Dorothy, Havering Echo, 12 January 1971

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Simeon gets to know one of the Rainham Hall residents

The exhibition focuses on the memories of seven former nursery attendees, including quotes and photographs that they were able to provide. The house itself has been set out to resemble what it may have looked like to these children. Old toys are dotted about on window sills and examples of games and other playthings are located in display cabinets in various rooms.

Children of the war years would not have had much access to toys at home, therefore, coming to the nursery every day was a great treat for many. A questionnaire in one room offers visitors the chance to reminisce about the toys they remember from their own nursery. Some people may even recognise a few of the items on show.

Historic photographs show the children enjoying the gardens and going for long walks in the sunshine. The nursery could have up to 45 children at a time and it must have been difficult for the nurses to keep everyone satisfied and in check, however, the young faces all look happy and well cared for. In one of the rooms downstairs, possibly the matron’s office, a continuous film shows the children playing together in the house, dancing, acting and getting up to all sorts of mischief that only children are able to find themselves in.

The nursery’s first matron has been identified as Miss Rhoda Violet Carter (d. 1954). She was 40 years old when she took up the post, which was advertised in the Chelmsford ChronicleShe came all the way from Teesside to take up the post that paid £200 a year. The trained nursery assistants, of which there were two at a time, were given an annual salary of £135.

Matron Carter left her position in 1944 after getting married. It is not certain who took over her post but nursery attendants and local sources have been able to name a few other women involved with the running of the place. It is believed a Mrs Hart was the Matron in the late 1940s and a Mrs E. Walker in the 1950s. During the latter’s time, a Nurse Dorothy was present at the nursery. Photographs provided by the children who once attended the nursery have helped to identify another helper, Miss Esme Withers.

One room of the Hall contains photographs belonging to Roger and Janice Cunningham who both attended the nursery. This was something they discovered when they first began dating; they had been too young during the war to remember each other, however, they each have many memories of the nursery,

Roger and Janice married at the church of St Helen and St Giles, right next to Rainham Hall. A brief video shows the couple walking through the graveyard and exploring the newly opened Hall, reminiscing about their childhood. Photographs from between 1946 and 1950 show the blond-haired Janice and the boisterous Roger playing with the other children in the large garden.

The majority of the rooms in Rainham Hall have been decked out with items similar to those that may have been there during the nursery’s time. These are based on the memories of the seven nursery attendees who had been interviewed for this purpose. On the ground floor, the exhibition explains the purpose of the nursery and why it was set up. It also introduces the members of staff that are known to have worked there.

At the back of the house is the reconstructed kitchen. This, of course, was not where it would have been during the war, since Colonel Mulliner had moved it to the basement, however, it has been set out to resemble a typical kitchen from the war era. On the table are examples of magazines containing recipes, for example, Woolton Pie, and rationing instructions.

“Potatoes new, potatoes old
Potato in a salad cold
Potatoes baked or mashed or fried
Potatoes whole, potato pied
Enjoy them all, including chips,
Remembering spuds don’t come in ships.”
– The Song of Potato Pete

In one of the magazines is the children’s song The Song of Potato Pete, which was written to encourage people to eat what they could grow in their own gardens. This song is no longer known by children, or adults for that matter, but many well-known nursery rhymes were adapted to add references to life during the Second World War. Old Mother Hubbard, for example, is worried about food shortages and the woman in There was an Old Woman who Lived in a Shoe is busy looking after the masses of children who have been evacuated to the countryside.

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“I much prefer bananas.”

Items that were obtainable during the war fill the wooden shelves on one side of the kitchen. On the counter sits a bottle of malt extract that visitors are welcome to taste; Simeon had his first, and hopefully last, morsel of the stuff.

Upstairs, more examples of items that may have been available to the children of the nursery are on display. Visitors are also introduced to clothes rationing with a list of what each child was allowed to have. It was rare for them to have more than a couple of outfits and, of course, there were no disposable nappies. These had to be boil washed and used again.

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Simeon enjoyed hearing the stories.

An audio device allows visitors to listen to parts of the interviews with the old nursery attendees. This can be listened to by holding an old-fashioned telephone up to your ear. For those hard of hearing, some of the words have been printed next to the phones and additional quotes can be found dotted around the building.

Whilst the exhibition mostly focuses on the function of the building as a nursery, the dangers and horrors of war cannot be overlooked. Being on the edge of London, Rainham had its share of bomb attacks. Sadly, many people lost their lives during this time, including children. A wall containing an old map of the area, plotted with the places bombs landed, remembers the names and families of these children. In some instances, entire families were wiped out in one blast, which goes to show how lucky many people were to survive the war.

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Sweet dreams …

Although children enjoyed attending and felt safe at Rainham Hall, there was always the risk of an air raid. Nonetheless, life had to go on as normally as possible, which for children included education, games and naps. Tiny camp beds can be found in one of the rooms on the second floor. They do not look all that comfortable – Simeon can confirm they are not – however, they sufficed for the children at the time.

Just as they are today, children were educated through play and songs, learning the alphabet with pictures, chanting “A is for apple, B is for ball, C is for carrot …” Before televisions were around, the radio provided children with stories on programmes such as Listen with Mother; “Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.” An old record player gives visitors the opportunity to listen to a few of these episodes.

Simeon enjoyed discovering the Rainham Hall nursery and learning a little about childhood during the war years. Unfortunately, the National Trust, who owns the property, relies on old records, of which there are very few, and the memories of people associated with the place. As a result, the exhibition lacks a concise history of the Hall and the nursery, which is a great shame because it was such an integral part of the lives of women and children during the war.

The staff at Rainham Hall encourage anyone with memories or knowledge about Rainham Hall to contact them with details. Any small piece of information is useful to help build up the history of the building and its inhabitants and, perhaps, inspire future exhibitions.

If you wish to visit the exhibition Remembering the Day Nursery at Rainham Hall, which Simeon highly recommends, you do not have much time left. The exhibition will finish on 31st December 2018 to make way for their next display in the new year. Entry to the house costs £6, although National Trust members can visit for free. The garden and cafe are accessible on days that the house is open (Wednesday – Sunday).

Simeon wishes you all a good visit.

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