On Saturday (4th August 2018) there was announcement that the Montague Hotel, Kingsdown, is to be offered for sale by public auction. It is a coincidence that this interesting old place is likely to change hands just about the time its 200th anniversary falls due.
During the first quarter of the 18th century Kingsdown was an unspoiled part of Bristol’s original aspect. A down in fact like Purdown, Kingsweston Down, as we, of the older generation, knew these places in the days of our youth. Being so close to the city it was, for our ancestors, as favourite a resort on Sundays and holidays as our Clifton Downs are now, and the view in those far-back days, must have been singularly interesting church steeples and towers on one side and long stretches of fields and orchards on the other.
The transformation of this scene was brought about in exactly the same way that local estates have been developed within the last year or two. Somebody with a bit of capital and an eye to business came along, offered the owners a price for the estate, became possessed of it and then proceeded to develop it. The man of business in this case was one, Giles Greville, an apothecary of means, who purchased the estate, then known as “The Montagues”, from the four daughters of Henry Dighton, whose name is perpetuated in Dighton Street. The land was laid out for building in February, 1737, and commencement was made with a house of refreshment, which was given the name of the Montague Tavern. At various times in its history it has appeared in print as the Duke of Montague and the Montague’s Head.
This name “Montague”, given to a hill and a street when the estate was developed, has for many years intrigued the writer. It had not been met with in any Bristol records, apart from this land and it could not connected up with the great family of that name. There is, however, note in John Evans’s Chronological Outline which gives clue. Under the date 1320 it is stated: “The day before the ides of July was consecrated the Convent of the Brothers Eremites of St. Augustine, within Temple Gate on the north side, founded by Sir Simon and Sir William Montacute.” A note at the foot of the page explains that this convent was situate on the east side of Bull Hill (now Marlborough Hill) and that the estate was named in right or compliment to the brothers Simon and William Montacute or their family. Famous for Turtle Soup go the name Montacute appears to have been changed to Montague. Probably in founding the order of the Eremites of St Augustine’s the two knights, Simon and William, endowed it with the lands which became The Montagues’ Estate. For two hundred years the old hotel has stood I very little changed on the city end of the Down and it has been the scene of many notable gatherings. The estate did not develop rapidly. Indeed, it was not until December 1760 that a correspondent Felix Farley’s Journal’ lamented that ”the public is like to be deprived of one of the pleasantest promenades the neighbourhood.” Kingsdown, a delightful spot, wrote this citizen, “is already begun to be dug up, and to experience the rude deforming labours of the delving masons.”
During a good part of the 19th century the Montague was one of the most popular hotels the city for public dinners. In looking through the old newspapers, the noted and quoted licensee for the hotel during one period was a lady proprietor (or manageress) so popular that no gathering took place without her health being regarded as one of the important toasts: annually, too, local survivors Waterloo met as veterans of the Great War now, until they had all joined the ”Deathless ‘Army.”
A century ago the landlord had a great reputation for providing turtles. These were brought to our port by the West India traders, kept alive for the voyage and in this way the proprietor of the Montague was able to advertise in the London and Bristol newspapers that fresh turtle was dressed by him every day. Not long ago in our 100 years ago paragraph, an item was quoted stating that she Great Duke Wellington had ordered vast in quantity turtle soup from the proprietor of the Montague for his annual Waterloo banquet in London. Few old houses in Bristol would provide more interesting ghosts than the Montague.
From: Madge Dresser