Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

Belmont House, Lyme Regis, Dorset

This is a house with some very interesting history attached, not only locally but also from my own personal point of view. A simple two-storey Georgian seaside villa built in 1774 by Simon Bunter, it was originally known as 'Bunter's Castle'. Passing to the Coade family and renamed Belmont House, it was later added to during Victorian times, and was the home of two of the town's most celebrated residents.

The first of these residents was Eleanor Coade, the inventor of the Coade Stone; the house given to her by her uncle in 1784. Her family originally lived in Axmouth, Devon, where she was born, but later moved to London. The rich decorations of Coade Stone on the facade were created by her own factory in Lambeth.

There is a lot of conflicting history about Mrs Eleanor Coade, not least because she shared her name with that of her mother. However, Eleanor never married, but as a business woman in Georgian times she was given her prefix as an honory title. Owning a business was not considered a suitable occupation for a single lady!

The second famous resident was the author John Fowles. Although a prolific writer, he is probably most well known for his book  'The French Lieutenant's Woman', the story of which was set in Lyme and was completed and published whilst he lived at Belmont House. The film of the same name was also made in Lyme Regis. By then, of course, the house had seen some alterations during Victorian times with the addition of further buildings plus the tower to the rear.

A Grade II Listed house, it was taken into the care of the Landmark Trust in 2007 at the request of Mr Fowles’ widow Sarah, to fulfil his wish that the house should be maintained and made available for others to enjoy.  It was John's wish that it would be made into a writer's retreat. Sadly, Landmark Trust was granted an application to demolish the Victorian additions, bringing it back to it's original standing as a Georgian seaside house and retaining the tower as a stand-alone edifice.

As soon as I discovered that the house was about to be so drastically altered, I was keen to visit and take photos of it. However, this wasn't my first visit...

During my final year at University in 1994/5 I produced an animation for my main project, and it was something I wanted to continue with. After graduating, I had the idea of making an animation about the Undercliff between Axmouth and Lyme Regis, and as part of my research I wrote to John Fowles. He replied to my letter and invited me over to visit him, which I did. He was a lovely man and showed me around Belmont House, including his studio, where he wrote his books on an old Underwood typewriter overlooking the sea. I've never forgotten that visit and I felt very sad that part of his heritage was soon to disappear.

The beautiful old building in the grounds (above) was the original stables and coach house, which has been retained by Landmark Trust and made into a museum.

The observatory tower was originally built by one of the owners of Belmont House, a Victorian gentleman called Dr Richard Bangay. A local GP, he also had a passion for astronomy. The machinery that opens the dome and moves the telescope has been retained and the whole tower restored, now standing on it's own since the additional buildings have been removed. These photos were all taken before the restoration of course, so the tower (below) is shown with part of the later addition that attached it to the main building.  

A few more pics along with these can be seen in the Photo Gallery album. I also have a video on YouTube showing a slideshow of all my Belmont photos set to music; link below.

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