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Compass Dial and Navigation Marker at Penpole Point

A Grade II Listed Building in Bristol, City of Bristol

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Latitude: 51.4927 / 51°29'33"N

Longitude: -2.6757 / 2°40'32"W

OS Eastings: 353186

OS Northings: 177299

OS Grid: ST531772

Mapcode National: GBR JM.K1NT

Mapcode Global: VH88D.KRT2

Entry Name: Compass Dial and Navigation Marker at Penpole Point

Listing Date: 30 December 1994

Last Amended: 31 May 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1202440

English Heritage Legacy ID: 380173

Location: Bristol, BS11

County: City of Bristol

Electoral Ward/Division: Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Bristol

Traditional County: Gloucestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Bristol

Church of England Parish: Shirehampton

Church of England Diocese: Bristol

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A maritime navigation marker incorporating a compass dial for the observation and location of anchored shipping in the Severn Estuary. It is probably of C17 date and was adapted for use as seating in the C18 when Penpole Point became a popular public viewpoint.


A compass dial and navigation marker, probably of C17 date or earlier with attached C19 seating.

MATERIALS: limestone ashlar, possibly from the adjacent quarry, with a cast-iron seat and stone sett paving.
DESCRIPTION: octagonal on plan the structure is approximately 2m in height and takes the form of a thick stone shaft on a plinth and a moulded capstone above, with stone setts forming a 2.8 diameter circular paved around it. The plinth has eight square sockets and four vertical recesses probably associated with an earlier timber seat. The diamond-lattice cast-iron seat has four moulded columns for legs, quatrefoil in section, with bases and decorative spandrels. The stone shaft has some holes filled with a hard mortar and patches of a thin surface render. The moulded capstone is worn and has a series of overlaid carved graffiti to each face. The north and south faces each have an angled semi-circular carved slot, a scafe sundial. The top of the capstone has a carved starburst compass rosette, faintly visible, with a prominent fleur-de-lys marking the North point. The surface slopes down from the centre where a finial or weathervane was formerly inserted. The capstone sits off-centre to the shaft, overhanging slightly further to the north.


The structure is a combined compass dial and navigation marker that stands on Penpole Point, a ridge overlooking the Bristol Channel to the west of the Kingsweston Estate and within sight of the ruins of Sir John Vanbrugh’s Penpole Lodge. It was used in conjunction with a former marker known as Bewy’s or Bevis Cross to aid the navigation of vessels at the confluence of the River Severn and River Avon. Penpole Point was also used by watchmen to record shipping movements and the structure was equipped with rudimentary tools to measure wind direction and time. A compass dial was on the site in 1668 when the Merchant Venturers of Bristol recorded their contribution to the cost of the repair of the “cumpasse” on Penpole Point. The mouldings to the capstone would not conflict with a C17 date.

A marker is shown on a Johannes Kip drawing of c 1710, which is broadly of the same form as the current structure. Much later, in 1788, Samuel Hieronymous Grimm painted the compass dial in a watercolours showing it to be of some age with considerable wear. The illustration shows a gnomon or finial fixed to the top (possibly decorative rather than functional). It also shows an attached timber platform (the current one is cast iron) with sockets carved in the plinth below it that indicate that there had been an earlier platform in place secured using a different method. The seat shown in Grimm may have been paid for by Edward Southwell in November 1773, Baron de Clifford as a "seat at Penpole". A surface covered in stone setts is shown encircling the structure.

It is marked as ‘Seat’ on the 1840s tithe map, by which time Penpole Point had become popular with visitors for its views as shown on a lithograph of c 1840 by M H Holmes. The structure is marked on the subsequent Ordnance Survey maps. The current cast-iron seat appears to date from the mid-C19. In the C21 the structure has some signs of damage and repair to the shaft and capstone.

Reasons for Listing

The Compass Dial and Navigation Marker at Penpole Point, Shirehampton, Bristol, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural Interest: it is elegantly carved with unusual architectural flourishes for a functional structure. The decorative iron seating of later date complements its historic character;
* Historical Interest: as a navigation leading mark and compass dial point for the monitoring of shipping, it is evidence of early commercial maritime practices;
* Rarity: pre-C18 navigation markers are exceptionally rare, especially those that clearly have a dual function as compass dials;
* Intactness: while it has been subject to some alterations, the structure’s original function is legible and its later historic use as viewpoint seating is intact;
* Group Value and Setting: as part of the wider Kings Weston Estate near the ruin of Vanbrugh’s Penpole Lodge within a park and garden of national significance that includes a number of Grade I listed buildings, and overlooks the Avon Gorge and Bristol Channel.

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