29 Queen Square, Bristol, BS1 4ND
1709 – 11
Stone for decorative details, for instance doors and columns.
The building houses the offices of English Heritage and there is no public access. Access to the exterior at all reasonable times to view the building from the pavement or square.
Queen Square was laid out in the early 18th century as a fashionable residential district. There was little impressive city-centre housing in Bristol before this square. Its houses were among the first wave of brick (rather than timber-framed) houses in the city. They were built according to rules drawn up by Bristol Corporation, and such ‘urban planning’ was a major housing milestone for Bristol. Frontage styles varied and No 29 was fairly fancy, suited to its wealthy first owner, the alderman Nathanial Day, later Bristol’s mayor.
Its symmetrical frontage is a fairly typical ‘Classical’ one of its era: three tiers featuring Doric, Ionic and Composite columns in that order from the bottom plus alternating triangular and semicircular pediments over the windows. Some touches are rather amateur, however. For example, these pediments seem to be supported only by keystones rather than proper entablatures. By the mid-1800s the square was unfashionable as the wealthy were moving to places such as Clifton. No 29 was used for a variety of purposes, including a sailors’ home, and is today the South-West office of English Heritage.
Queen Square showed Bristol to be forward-thinking – catching up with the attractive new London squares built after the Great Fire of London. Inside No 29, a wide, elegant, open-well staircase leads to the first floor while another staircase goes up to the second and third floors. There are Siena marble chimneypieces from the late 1700s. A good amount of No 29’s fashionable 18th century fabric remains because the Bristol Sailors’ Home established there from 1851 until the 1980s could not afford wholesale refurbishment work. They did, however, make changes such as creating an inner courtyard as a dining area for residents in 1942 and replacing much of the original roof in 1963. Prior to being a sailors’ home No 29 had been the residence and office of a wholesale grocer (1814–35) and a lodging house (1835–51).
The back of the house has several points of interest. Examples of surviving original sash windows can be seen here (many of the front windows are 18th-century replacements). There is a rear kitchen courtyard because a detached kitchen reduced the fire risk. The back of the house also has a warehouse facing the docks. This was a common feature of Queen Square houses because they were often both house and workplace for wealthy merchants who originally lived here. It was this warehouse layout that made No 29 suitable for conversion to a sailors’ home.
Photography: ©Frances Gard