Goldney Grotto, Bristol

The Goldney families influence in Bristol can be trace back as far as 1637 when Thomas Goldney I was sent, by his father, to Bristol from Chippenham in Wiltshire to serve as an apprentice for seven years. Goldney Hall was built for his son Thomas Goldney II who was born in 1664.

It was built in 1714, possibly by George Tully[citation needed] for Thomas Goldney II ,a Bristol merchant who was a partner of William Champion in the Coalbrookdale Works. Goldney was a Quaker and businessman with interests in banking, shipping and the iron and brass.

Goldney’s wealth came from the technologies which sparked Britain’s industrial revolution and the overseas voyages of Captain Woods Rogers on the Duke of the Duchess. Rogers crew rescued the Real life Robinson Crusoe, Alexander Selkirk, from Juan Fernandez island.

The gardens and orchards were designed by Goldney’s son Thomas Goldney III. The house was recased, altered and extended in 1864-5 by Alfred Waterhouse who also designed the Natural History Museum. The house later passed down to other wealthy Bristol families – The Wills and the Frys. Lewis Fry(1832–1921) who was a member of the prominent Bristol Fry Family and became the Liberal MP for Bristol and first chairman of the University of Bristol University Council.

The Grotto at Goldney House is a highly decorated grotto, dating from 1739, in Clifton, Bristol, England.I

It was built between 1737 and 1764 (dated 1739) and has been designated by English Heritage as a grade I listed building. It is decorated inside with shells, quartz and rock crystal and inside is a pillared hall with fountains, rock pool, statue of Neptune and a Lion’s Den. In 1762-5 Thomas Paty was employed in “grinding, gooping and laying” tiles for the Grotto.

The grotto was built as the centrepiece of the gardens by Thomas Goldney III, a Bristol merchant who was a partner of William Champion in the Coalbrookdale Works.

Architecture and decoration

The fountains were supplied by an early Newcomen steam engine hidden within a gothic tower approximately 20 metres to the north.

The grotto is approximately 36 ft (11 m) long by 12 ft (3.6 m) wide and consists of 3 chambers, divided by pillars encrusted with quartz crystals. The central chamber houses a life size plaster of paris lion with a lioness sitting in a den behind. Another chamber hosts a seated sea god with water running from an urn over giant clams into a pool. It is lined with over 200 species of shell brought back from such locations as the Caribbean, and African waters. The roof of the central hall is composed of closely fitting block of Bath stone carved into pseudo-stalactites. On a panel on the door is the portrait of a lady, thought to be Ann Goldney (1707-96), the younger sister of Thomas Goldney III.

It is the only Grotto in Britain with both a shell room and running water, and its restoration is one of the strategic initiatives of the warden.