A fine example of an 18th-century maritime villa
Belmont is Listed Grade II*. It once belonged to the remarkable businesswoman, Mrs Eleanor Coade. Owner from 1769 of an artificial stone manufactory in Lambeth, Mrs Coade devised a formula to mass produce architectural embellishments and statuary of the highest quality.
More recently Belmont was home to world-famous author, John Fowles, author of The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman.
We have restored Belmont to its appearance in Mrs Coade’s day. Here you can sit – and indeed write – in John Fowles’s former writing room with its wide views of sea and sky. In the garden there is a Victorian observatory tower, with hatch and revolving roof. Most of the long garden is left wild (Fowles was a keen naturalist) and it tumbles down to the esplanade, with a pebble beach and the Cobb beyond.
We are so grateful to everyone who supported Belmont, helping us to raise a total of £1.8m.
‘The usual destiny for large houses in Lyme these days is to be bought up as hotels. I am determined to avoid this; and hope that the house… may have some kind of permanent educational function.’
John Fowles (1926-2005)
An 18th-century maritime villa
Belmont is a fine, early example of a maritime villa, a new building type that sprang up in the second half of the 18th century with the rising popularity of sea bathing and holidays by the seaside. Our research has shown that the house was built before 1784 by Samuel Coade. This is the date he transferred the house to his niece, Mistress Eleanor Coade (1733-1821), one of the most intriguing figures in 18th-century architecture.
The Coades hailed from the south west and were a significant family in Lyme Regis. Mrs Coade became a well-known London business woman, owner from 1769 of an artificial stone manufactory in Lambeth. She devised a formula to mass produce architectural embellishments and statuary of the highest quality. Through inclusion of a high percentage of pre-fired material in the mixture, Coade stone wares emerged from the kiln with closely predictable shrinkage and therefore accuracy. The light, buff coloured results can easily be mistaken for stone and are highly durable. Many examples survive today in the buildings and landscapes of all the finest 18th-century architects – yet today Mrs Coade is scarcely known beyond architectural historians.
After her death in 1821, the business continued under distant relations but had ceased by 1843. All traces of the Lambeth premises were lost during the construction of the South Bank complex in the 1950s. Apart from her artefacts and some loose leaf ‘catalogues’ advertising her wares, Belmont is now Mrs Coade’s only memorial.
After Mrs Coade’s death in 1821, Belmont was lived in by a series of tenants, until it was bought in 1883 by a GP, Dr Richard Bangay. He transformed the villa into a large family home, adding two large side wings, conservatories and an observatory tower. By the time John and Elizabeth Fowles bought the house in 1968, the conservatories had gone and the wings had been haphazardly reduced.
John Fowles’s hopes for Belmont
John Fowles, the author of seminal works such as The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman, lived at Belmont from 1968-2005. Towards the end of his life, he approached Landmark to help realise his wish that after his death, Belmont could be enjoyed by other writers and as many people as possible, through use as a Landmark. Above all, he wanted to prevent Belmont being turned insensitively into a hotel or boarding house. His writing room on the first floor overlooking the Cobb will play a pivotal role within the restored house and will become the main drawing room for visitors. It includes a writing desk and a large number of John Fowles books in the library, alongside other works illuminating the history of this fine house. In the attached stable block a permanent exhibition has been created, celebrating the lives of Belmont’s previous residents.
Mrs Coade’s holiday villa
Belmont is a fine example of an 18th-century maritime villa in Lyme Regis but it was in need of urgent repair. Our project rescued Belmont from decay and restored it to its late-Georgian glory, creating a Landmark for up to 8 people. As it was once Mrs Coade’s holiday villa, so it is used for holidays again, with its original features repaired and reinstated.
After detailed research, Landmark recovered the eighteenth-century form of the house to make a Landmark for up to eight people. The late nineteenth-century observatory tower, built by a remarkable Victoria GP called Dr Richard Bangay, was also restored as rare survival.
Landmark’s in-house team, working with teams of local craftsmen, removed later extensions, allowing the large window on the stairs to be returned to its original elegant dimensions.
Inside, Mrs Coade’s snug parlour with its sea views has been recreated and the eighteenth-century floorplan reinstated. The light and airy first floor sitting room, where author John Fowles once sat and worked, has had its modern lining replaced with traditional lath and plaster. Relathing and cleaning the Coade mouldings were laborious but very worthwhile tasks, and we were very grateful to the team of enthusiastic volunteers who helped. The wrought iron Regency verandah, accessed Georgian-fashion through a sash window, is now back in place, with glorious views over the sea.
A Coade-embellished fireplace was carefully restored and is now reinstated in the sitting room from downstairs, where we identified it had been relocated. Detail from the house has also been used to produce other fire surrounds.
Tree works have opened up the views across and from the site and gentle landscaping has corrected ground levels after the removal of the later extensions from the house. The observatory tower, its render painted a different colour from the house to distinguish the site’s phasing, is operational again: local volunteers have returned its rotating roof mechanism to working order and we are doing our best to source a telescope to watch the stars through the roof hatch.
This Landmark for up to eight people, complete with ground floor accessible bedroom and bathroom, is set to become an instant favourite. It has been a long haul since John Fowles first expressed his wish to us that the house might somehow be available to other writers, and Belmont’s opening in September 2015 will be a highlight for us in our 50th anniversary year.
Supporters of Belmont
We are hugely grateful to those who supported the restoration of Belmont, including:
Mr R Broyd, Mr R Eaton, Mr F Heels, Mr G Ruthen and Mrs S Andrew, Mrs A Sandall
Mr and Mrs N Baring, Mr B Foord, Mr D Holberton, Mr K Holmes, Mr C Hutt, Mr and Mrs S Jordan, Mr and Mrs R Lockyer, Mr G MacGregor, Mr S Martin, Mr M Power, Mr and Mrs J Scott, Mr B Sealey CBE, Mrs J Worsfold
Other generous supporters:
Mr F Appelbe, Mr L Benedetto, Mr C Broad, Mr and Mrs J Fitzgerald, Miss D Fowler, Dr R Gurd, Dr K Holowka, Mr T Jardine, Mr A Turner
Mrs J Hanson, Mrs S Preston, Mrs A Stevens
Gifts in memory of:
Mr K Emerson, Mrs E Jurd, Mr A Officer
Charitable Trusts and Statutory Grants:
The H B Allen Charitable Trust, Barfil Charitable Trust, The Cookson Charitable Trust, Stephen Clark 1957 Charitable Trust, A J H du Boulay Trust, Alan Evans Memorial Trust, J Paul Getty Jnr Charitable Trust, The Mercers' Company Charitable Trust, The Monument Trust, The Tanner Trust, Sylvia Waddilove Foundation, Garfield Weston Foundation
We are also grateful to the generous supporters who have chosen to remain anonymous, and numerous other donors who supported the appeal.