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A dear friend of mine, who loves the story of Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot in Persuasion , cherishes the notion that, after they are married, they took one of the lovely villas overlooking Lyme, set in the hills leading back from the sea front overlooking the Cobb, and live happily ever after there in sight of the sea and at the place where Wentworth’s admiration for all Anne’s admirable qualities (and not a little jealousy) was first revived. One such house is the subject of a restoration project and I thought you all might be interested to hear of it, and may even want to help out by giving donations.
Belmont, shown above, is a fascinating house on the hills that surround Lyme, overlooking the Cobb, where Louisa Musgrove took her unfortunate tumble.
It has intriguing historic and literary connections and the Landmark Trust , who now own the building, are trying to raise £2.1 million to restore it so that it can be used by the public as a rather special holiday let, and the adjoining stable block can be used as an exhibition space with full public access. The Landmark Trust is one of my favourite organisations. It saves and restores threatened historic buildings and gives them a new life and purpose. I’ve stayed in two of their lets: The East Banqueting House in Chipping Camden in the Cotswolds and Auchinleck House in Scotland.
The house was, until very recently, the home of the author, John Fowles , shown above, who loved Lyme with a passion, and who was also the curator of the Philpott Museum. He wanted the house to be saved for public use, and this wife has generously allowed the Landmark Trust to take on the building so that it can be renovated and re-opened. However it was the home a very famous woman of teh late 18th century, Eleanor Coade, who is famous for her “secret” formula used for creating a form of artificial stone which was more durable than natural stone and which took her name, Coade Stone.
The Coades were a West Country family, and Eleanor’s uncle built the house sometime before 1784 which was the date when it was transferred into her ownership. She embellished the house with her stone ornaments. Her business,based in Kings Arms Stairs, Narrow Walk, Lambeth, produced some of the most accurate and detailed stone ornaments and they were famed for their strength and durability,and of course, for their cheapness in comparison with stone which had been individually quarried and sculpted.
The ornaments,- made from moulds, were used by many of the most famous architects of the 18th and early 19th centuries. They included Robert Adam, James and Samuel Wyatt, Sir William Chambers, John Nash, and John Soane. Some of her most famous and quirky designs are to be found on the entrance to Twinnings tea shop and museum in The Strand in London.
(©Victor Grigas via Wilkepdia Commons)
©Robert Freidus via The Victorian Web,
The Chinese figures atop the pediment are made from Eleanor’s stone. Jane Austen know this place for she obtained tea from this long-established firm of tea merchants here and wrote to her sister, Cassandra of it in her letter, written from her brother Henry’s house in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, which is just a little further along the Strand:
I am sorry to hear that there has been a rise in tea. I do not mean to pay Twining till later in the day, when we may order a fresh supply.
(See letter dated March 5th 1814)
In her next letter to Cassandra of the 9th March she is annoyed with her mother for forgetting to reimburse her this extra cost:
I suppose my mother recollects that she gave me no money for paying Brecknell and Twining, and my funds will not supply enough.
Back to Belmont…Eleanor was a talented modeller in her own right and she exhibited at the Society of Artists between 1773 and 1780. As her mother’s name was the same as her own, it has for a long time been mistakenly assumed that Mrs Coade, her mother, ran the factory until her death in 1796, but , in fact,‘Mrs’ was a courtesy title given to any unmarried woman in business at that time, recent research by Alison Kelly ,who has written Mrs Coades biography, into bills in the firm’s archive show that Eleanor Coade , and not her mother, was in charge of the firm from 1771. Her “stone” has recently been analyzed and has been shown to be a ceramic material,which is why it has been more durable than stone, even though it has the appearance of it.
Belmont boasts many examples of her stoneware, and as her works are no longer in existence, it would seem that this house, where she lived, could be one of the main monuments to her taste, art and skill. These include the rusticated ornament around the entrance, below…
The swagged frieze around the parapet…
and the masks on the key stones around the building…
including this very appropriately nautical example which depicts Neptune, the god of the sea, which is to be found on the main entrance to the house:
The house was in existence when Jane Austen visited Lyme, in 1804, so it is very probable that she saw it when walking about the lower part of the town, on looking up towards the surrounding hills, and she may even has passed by it on one of her walks around the area.
The Landmark Trust’s plans for the house can be seen here, below, in a video of their house and its history. If you can help with any donations I am sure they will all be gratefully received.