A Cemetery of Things

The Hengrove Mounds are a nature reserve in South Bristol. The space is a nature reserve by virtue and not especially by action. Abandoned, undulating manmade mounds intersected with rough muddy paths provide the texture of the landscape. This now wild edgeland space is enclosed by two uncrossable arterial roads and an area of new housing development, leaving it the domain of local dog walkers and nocturnal underage drinkers. It is an uneasy surprise to find anybody else in this space, where glances are exchanged uncomfortably as if the right to roam should never be shared. 

The Mound’s have had an intriguing social history where human changes have been affected on the once rural landscape, although limited evidence of this now remains. In 1929 farmland was purchased by the Corporation of the City of Bristol to construct a new municipal Airport to service the city. By 1930 the area that is now the Hengrove Mounds was the end of the Whitchurch Airport runway and a thriving aviation industry flourished in the now overgrown urban edgeland of Hawthorn, long grass and ankle-deep depressions filled with muddy water. 

With the outbreak of World War Two, the airport was requisitioned by the Air Ministry with increased security encircling its perimeter with barbed wire, echoing the way it is now also confined by dual carriageways and fast moving traffic. During the war the airport remained open as the final outpost connecting Britain to mainland Europe for limited civilian air travel. Regular routes served Lisbon in Portugal and Shannon in Ireland with an onward connection to the United States. The Airport provided a vital clandestine route into and out of Europe for both British and Nazi spies under the cloak of civilian travel, as well as a crucial route into America for diplomats and politicians. It cannot be understated how vital the connection that Whitchurch Airport afforded to war-time Britain was.   

The Airport closed in 1957 due to the limitations imposed by rushed post-war housing being constructed in its close proximity. Deemed too small to small to handle the larger aircraft of the 1950’s, the Airport was abandoned in favor of the former RAF Lulsgate Bottom which is now known as Bristol Airport. The Mounds sit under the flightpath to Bristol Airport which provides a momentary aerial glimpse into its once purposeful past. 

The Mounds themselves were created with Landfill from post war road widening and the removal of part of the runway itself. Intermittent shards of unidentifiable mental and concrete puncture the grass, acknowledging what lies beneath. The locality of the Mound’s has long buried its historical and human past as the wilds of nature now reclaim ownership. The Mounds are a cemetery of things, of human history and use, now interred and long forgotten. 

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