This earliest house seems to have been of three floors, with a substantial basement but only one room deep; the rear wall of the north-east basement room has a window in it, showing the room behind to be a secondary addition. In the basement was a kitchen and a second room in which there is a stone niche, or Buffet, with a fine shell head. This, with other fine masonry detail in the central lobby, led to the theory that this might at one time have been a main floor, but it now appears more likely that all have been moved from elsewhere.
At the back of the first house there was a central wing, probably for a stair. There is good reason to believe that it in fact contained the existing very fine staircase, which was later moved to its present position. It still relates to earlier floor levels.
Between about 1710 and 1720 this first house was enlarged by the addition of wings on either side of the stair but extending west beyond it on all floors. This could have been part of the original plan, since only at basement level do there seem to have been windows in the back wall.
Edward Marchant was a developer as well as a builder and profited from the early 18th-century building booms in Bath. His will, dated 1735, shows that he lived in Elton House himself. His daughter Ann was allowed to stay on there after his death, in the room that had been her lodging for several years, although the house and its furniture were to go to another daughter, Elizabeth Brydges. In 1738 Elizabeth, now a widow, was married a second time to Jacob Elton, Alderman of the City of Bristol.
Elizabeth and Jacob Elton almost certainly lived in Bristol and not in Elton House. However they made several alterations and improvements to the house after 1749 when they purchased the lease from the Duke of Kingston. It is likely that these were intended to convert the house into sets of lodgings to accommodate the affluent visitors flocking to the city.
The house was re-faced in ashlar and given new windows; the ceilings of the rooms on the first and second floors were raised, and decorated with new cornices, fireplaces and panelling. The staircase was moved into a new stairwell set further back between the side wings.
Further additions have been made since; an attic storey, window bays to the rear wings, a block of closets at the southern corner, the cottage and most noticeably the shop front, probably all of around 1800. At the same time, through many changes of owner and countless different occupiers, Elton House has, in its essential character, survived as it was made by Edward Marchant and his daughter Elizabeth Elton. It tells of the more humdrum and provincial side of Bath, a side that existed alongside the formal grandeur of the Woods but has now largely disappeared.
Although it is the Eltons’ name that has stayed with the house, it was theirs for less than 30 years. In 1765, the year of her husband’s death, Elizabeth Elton’s trustees sold it to Joseph Terry, Haberdasher. His family owned the house, now called 2 Abbey Street, for 120 years, although they do not seem to have lived there after about 1830. In 1851 it was let to a grocer who later, having risen to the position of Superintendent of the Mineral Water Baths, bought the lease.
In the 19th century the area around Abbey Green was no longer fashionable or prosperous and most of the houses were divided into innumerable tiny dwellings. Elton House was no exception and it was in this neglected but unaltered condition that it was first seen by Miss Philippa Savery in 1946; home to twelve different tenants and with a cobbler’s shop on the ground floor.
She was looking for somewhere to set up a business selling antiques and was soon the occupier of the front half of the shop and rent collector for the whole house on behalf of Miss Dingle, the owner. As Miss Savery worked hard on a Sunday to get ready for opening, one of the tenants sang hymns to make up for her irregular behaviour. But the antiques shop was soon well-known and loved, especially by the people of Bath who recognised it as a symbol of much that was disappearing around them and they would arrive with artefacts rescued from the debris of demolition.
As rooms fell empty, Miss Savery took on the tenancies and finally on Miss Dingle’s death in 1962 was able to buy the whole house. Miss Savery died on November 27th 1996. Until then she and Elton House had been full and equal partners. Much ingenuity and imagination had gone into their survival together and their skilful evasion of the heavy hand of modernisation. The garden she created at the back of the house is a particular source of pleasure, as is the view of green fields above Bath, still to be enjoyed from the windows at its front.