The Kingsdown area was developing during the 18th and early 19th century, and the area was described by the Bristol Civic Society as:
'A mixture of well-built elegant houses for professional classes, interspersed with cottages for the less affluent, linked by steep steps and cobbled alleys.'
(Gordon Priest and Pamela Cobb, The Fight for Bristol, Bristol Civic Society 1980)
What is now High Kingsdown is situated in an area of Kingsdown that was damaged by bombing during World War II and had fallen into disrepair in the succeeding years. The area was first proposed for demolition in 1957.
'The site was acquired after the war by the Bristol City Council, who cleared it with the intention of building flats for council tenants.'
Initial plans by the city architect, Albert Clark 'covered the site with three slab blocks each of sixteen storeys' (see Benjamin Gregory, High Kingsdown 1967 - 1974, A Modern Courtyard Housing Exemplar, 2013: 55) similar to those in lower Kingsdown, but these plans were the subject of vigorous protest, with opposition led by The Council for the Preservation of Ancient Bristol, the Bristol Civic Society and Royal Fine Art Commission (RFAC). The RFAC had one of its first successes against high-rise developments when in May 1967 they prevented the scheme from proceeding although by this time the land had been cleared in preparation for construction. (see Gordon Priest and Pamela Cobb, The Fight for Bristol, pp 46)
'In 1968, however, the City's Housing committee decided to offer the site for private housing.' (see: Bristol School of Urban Studies' 1974)
During the late 1960s there was a change in central and local government architectural policy from high-rise to low-rise and medium-rise housing developments. The design implications of this are outlined in the introduction to a special issue of 'Architectural Design'. (Birkin Hayward, Martyn Haxworth and Peter Rich 'Housing primer, 'Low and medium rise housing')
An overall development plan was produced by Anthony Mackay of Whicheloe, Macfarlane and Towning Hill, initially with 400 dwellings on a large site that extended to Portland Street, replacing the public baths, and including land on the west side of St Michael's Hill. A revised scheme on the western part of the site comprised 103 houses set around a retained Victorian pub, the King's Arms, with a children's playground and a line of 110 flats along the northern edge intended to shield the development from a projected new road..
After being approved by the RFAC, outline planning consent was given by the Council planning department.(High Kingsdown, An Application by the Residents Association for High Kingsdown to be Granted the Status of a Conservation Area, 1994:; Chapter 2) Working in partnership with JT Building Group, a design for High Kingsdown developed, reflecting the character of the surrounding Kingsdown area with its small town houses. However, a major source of inspiration was provided by the schemes developed by Jørn Utzon in Denmark in the late 1950s and early 1960s, notably the Kingo Houses in Helsingor and the Fredensborg Houses (1962-5); Anthony Mackay had worked with Utzon on the latter project. Utzon's grouping of 'L'-shaped units around courtyards and patios was indebted to traditional Danish housing but also to old Chinese and Islamic models. (see Benjamin Gregory, High Kingsdown 1967 - 1974: A Modern Courtyard Housing Exemplar, 2013: 35., attached as pdf below)
In recommending the scheme be declared a Conservation Area, Dr Elain Harwood, a Senior Architectural Investigator for English Heritage noted that:
Whereas Utzon had long fingers of communal land contrasting with clusters of housing round culs-de-sac on the Radburn model, High Kingsdown was an entirely pedestrianised piece of total townscape that is exceptional on such a scale. Here the units form a regular geometry of straight rectangles in linked zig-zag ranges of four, and within each of the four phases they are all joined to each other by walls. The narrow lanes bridged by some of the larger houses create a sense of privacy and a delicacy of scale.
In the years following its development High Kingsdown was the recipient of several awards. The first group of 59 houses, built in 1971-2, won a Department of the Environment Housing Award. The commendation noted that it was 'a tightly knit piece of city, ...a lively townscape'. The scheme also won the 1974 International Prize for Architecture of the Belgian National Housing Institute . The houses (not the flats) also won the RIBA's commendation for the South West in 1975, when the assessors John Vergette, David Randall and David Terry reflected that:
the patio houses have been carefully integrated with the surrounding buildings, and the informal arrangement of houses and access alleyways is very successful. The predominance of the facing brickwork and the silhouettes produced by the basic L-shaped grouping of houses, relieved by the contrast of the black windows and white painted boarding result in a pleasing and distinctive character. The linking between the houses is well conceived, and great attention has been given to the detailing of the patio walls and access alleyways.
The Pevsner City Guide for Bristol, by Andrew Foyle, described the scheme as 'very successful', singling out its novelty.
The scheme was originally centred around the King's Arms, a public house dating back to at least 1809. The pub traded until around 2010, after which it was abandoned. In 2014 the pub was redeveloped as student accommodation, housing around 50 flats.
The former King's Arms
Notable former residents
Hartley Coleridge was born in what is now High Kingsdown.
Robert Southey lived on Clarence Place, in what is now High Kingsdown in 1796-7.
(Contributed by Briony Waite)
Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey,
In 1796 romantic poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey lived where High Kingsdown is now, on Oxford Street and Clarence Place (both roads were longer then)? Southey persuaded his friend Coleridge to come and live 'up on the hill' with him. Kingsdown was mostly views and fresh air. Coleridge is author of the famous poems, Kubla Khan and Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. It is thought that Southey wrote the well known Goldilocks and the Three Bears' story.
Sir George White BT. (1854-1916),