Earlier Houses: There was an earlier 17th century house on the site of the current house.
Built / Designed For: Thomas Goldney II
House & Family History: Goldney Hall was built in the early 18th century as the country house of the wealthy Bristol merchant Thomas Goldney II, a Quaker with interests in shipping and the iron industry. One of Goldney’s most important ventures was his 1713 investment in Abraham Darby I’s iron works at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire. This was actually a history-changing moment, as Darby, who planted the seeds of the Industrial Revolution with his concept of smelting iron with coke instead of charcoal, was in danger of losing his financial backers before Goldney took over the ownership of half of the iron works. His son, Thomas Goldney III, added to the family fortune as a founding partner of the merchant banking firm of Goldney, Smith and Co., one of the earliest British banks (through a succession of mergers Goldney, Smith ultimately became part of National Westminster Bank). However, much of the family fortune was derived from the triangular slave trade and the financing of Captain Woodes Rogers’s privateer raids against Spanish treasure ships. In February of 1709, during one of the privateering voyages led by Capt. Rogers, one of Thomas Goldney II’s ships, “Duke,” rescued Alexander Selkirk (aka Selcraig) from Más a Tierra, the second largest of the Juan Fernández Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. This is interesting because Selkirk, a Scottish sailor, had been marooned on the island between 1704 and 1709, and his rescue, which was big news in Europe, almost certainly inspired Daniel Defoe to write one of the most popular books in world history: “The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.” The 1719 tome, considered by scholars to be one of the first English novels, takes place in the Caribbean, but many other elements of the novel mirror Selkirk’s story (Defoe is reputed to have met Selkirk in Bristol after his rescue, though most academics today doubt this). In 1712 Capt. Rogers, later first royal governor of the Bahamas, published “A Cruising Voyage Round the World” about his famous 1708-11 expedition, a book that must also have influenced Defoe. The story of Robinson Crusoe was the progenitor of virtually all “castaway stories” that feature human survival in an abandoned, harsh environment. From 1812’s “The Swiss Family Robinson” to the 1960s TV series “Gilligan’s Island” and the 2000 motion picture “Cast Away,” the genre has become a firm part of world culture, as witnessed by the huge success of the TV series “Lost,” which aired from 2004 until 2010. The Chilean government renamed Más a Tierra Island Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966. In 1953 Goldney Hall was donated to the University of Bristol and converted into dormitories for female students (it remains today a hall of residence for the university).
Garden & Outbuildings: The 10-acre garden, laid out by Thomas Goldney III, contains the Grade I-listed grotto, the rotunda, the orangery, an ornamental canal, and the Gothic Tower. In the early 21st century much work was performed to restore the follies to their original designs.
Country Life: CIV, 278, 1948.
House Listed: Grade II
Park Listed: Grade II*
Past Seat / Home of: SEATED AT CURRENT HOUSE: Thomas Goldney II, 1722-31; Thomas Goldney III, 1731-68. Lewis Fry, until 1921.
Current Ownership Type: School
Primary Current Ownership Use: Mixed Use
Ownership Details: Owned by the University of Bristol and used primarily as student flats. The house is open to the public on a limited basis.