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 before1784 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 will include a writing desk and a large number of John Fowles books in the library. His achievements will also be celebrated in an interpretation room being created in the old stable block.
‘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)
Former owner signs his work
During the restoration of the turret of the observatory tower at Belmont, the signature of Dr Banguy, who built the tower and lived at Belmont has been found, dated 1881. Richard Banguy, a GP, used the house as his family home from the 1880s, also adding two large side wings and conservatories.
Coade stone urns returned to Belmont
Roof completed at Belmont
The roof of the main house at Belmont has now been completed, with the final ridge tile being laid on 4 July. Parts of the inner section of the roof, which cannot be seen from the ground, include solar tiles, which will generate some of the power for the property. The photovoltaic slates are a good match for colour and size of the Welsh slates being used on the rest of the roof.
Excitingly, it has also been possible recently to open the roof of the observatory tower. The tower roof had received additional lead-work in 1996, which had locked everything in place, however this has recently been removed, and now when the handle in in the top of the tower is turned, the roof gradually peels open to reveal the night sky.
All of the Coade Stone elements to the façade of the house are now back on site, having been repaired and cleaned or remade.
One of the many challenges still remaining on site is to remove some of the internal finishes in the property. In the photos shown you can see the Coade Stone faces and beautifully intricate cornice have been covered in layers of paint over the years, gradually eating away at their finer details. These paint finishes need to be removed without causing any damage, as on the sample areas in the photographs, and will remain at the property to be enjoyed by guests.
Observatory Tower at Belmont
There have been exciting developments in the Belmont restoration project in Lyme Regis. Doctor Bangay’s tower roof now rotates, thanks to a dedicated group of retired engineers. The team’s continued hard work forms the first step in enabling this fantastic feature to become fully operational once again. The winding gear is also receiving expert repairs, so that the tower will be in full working order for guests to use once the building opens. Dr Richard Bangay added the observatory tower to Belmont, and transformed the house into a large family home in 1883.
Eventually there will also be a telescope for guests at Belmont to enjoy the observatory tower in its full glory. Research is currently being undertaken with regard to exactly what type of telescope would originally have been in use at Belmont. Once the restoration is completed, Landmarkers will have a glimpse of life in this historic century seaside town, and holiday like the many extraordinary and intriguing former owners of Belmont.
Belmont fundraising appeal reaches its target
The appeal for Belmont has now reached its target, with the final funding coming from the use of a hugely generous financial bequest to Landmark by the late Mrs Shelagh Preston. We are so grateful to everyone who supported the appeal, which raised a total of £1.8m.
The ground levels around the house have been corrected and the remnants of the late Victorian wings taken down. This briefly opened up fine views across the site and provided a thrilling impression of how this pretty villa will once more stand proud at the top of Cobb Road – before it was wrapped in scaffolding for the next phase.
We found the entrance to an old cellar, long ago filled in, and discovered that ‘Bunter’s Castle’, the small pavilion that predated Belmont on the site, seems to have had two chambers rather than one. The foundations for the ground floor bathroom have been laid, where 18th-century service buildings are also known to have existed.
Simple steam cleaning of the Coade stone embellishments delivered spectacular results, revealing their breath-taking detail. These are now all safely boxed against accidental damage.
Stuart Leavy, our site manager, and Carole Paton as project surveyor are master minding the works. This is a windy spot, but the impressive roofed scaffolding ensured the site was well protected as this winter’s storms lashed the south coast and works continues apace.
October Belmont video blog
Work at Belmont begins
28 October 2013
We are delighted to announce that work on Belmont has begun. Read the full news story here.
We still need the remaining £322,000 to save Belmont, so please donate if you can.
Belmont’s observatory tower saved!
We are a significant step closer to saving Belmont after an incredible donation of £100,000 was made to the appeal this week by an anonymous Guardian of Belmont. The donation is to be used to fund the restoration of Dr Bangay’s observatory tower, as well as supporting the wider project. Aided by a group of local retired engineers, we will restore the winding gear of the observatory tower’s roof to full working order, and install a telescope, so that it can once again be used as an amateur observatory, whilst adding extra enjoyment and discovery to a visit to Belmont.
We still need £393,000 to save Belmont. To find out more about becoming a Guardian of Belmont, and the packages of restoration work your gift could fund, please contact Bruce Hall, Head of Development, on 01628 825920, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Supporters enjoy a late summer private tour of Belmont
Belmont in Lyme Regis was a hive of activity in September. We threw open the doors to supporters of the appeal, Patrons and Guardians. Hundreds of donors enjoyed a private viewing in summery conditions, and the following day Anna Keay hosted the annual Directors Lunch, attended by 42 Patrons. A merry band of volunteers from the Friends of Landmark also helped clear part of the garden and salvage valuable materials. Preparations have now begun to start work at Belmont but we still need to raise more support to fully fund this exciting £1.8m restoration project.
Restoration of Belmont could start this Autumn – but donations urgently needed.
Our fundraising appeal to save Belmont has received a huge boost with a donation of £500,000. Over 1,200 generous donors and trusts have already helped us raise £1,291,000 and as a result, we now hope to start restoration work this Autumn. To ensure the fragile fabric of the building does not have to endure another winter, we must first find the outstanding £508,000, equating to just 28% of the total.
The recent donation, from a grant making trust, has given us hope that we may be able to start work this year but we urgently need to find the remaining funds if we are to achieve this. If restoration work is not started in October it may have to be delayed for another whole year as there are only a few months each year when the roof can be taken off so that there is minimal disturbance to bats resident in the house.
Help us to get started with the restoration and to protect this important place for future generations.
Belmont in the news
BBC Radio 4: Woman's Hour, 28 May 2013
The Guardian, 8 May 2013
An introduction to Belmont