Its aim being to breathe life back into buildings of key historical interest. One of the buildings featured in the programmes – and this is when my ears really pricked up - was Belmont House in Lyme Regis. It was the beautiful Regency house with intricate carvings. Although Belmont House isn’t usually open to the public, the trust holds open days where you can have a look around. Happily, one of these was when I was in Devon recently, so I went along.
Chair and mirror
It was well worth the visit. What a spot for history and literature buffs and anyone who enjoys a sea view!
The house is now restored to its original Regency floor print and is dressed in a cunning mix of historically appropriate furniture and modern luxury and convenience. It’s now an upmarket holiday let.
Built in 1784 for Eleanor Coade (more about this remarkable woman later) it was designed as a small seaside villa and has views across Lyme’s famous Cobb sea wall and to the Jurassic Coast beyond. Even on the dull, rain-washed day I visited, the views were impressive. It consists of several bedrooms, grand dining and drawing rooms, a modern kitchen to die for and an ornate balcony. The outside is decorated with the highly detailed Coade stone mouldings by which Eleanor Coade made her fortune.
I’ve known the house for as long as I’ve been going to Lyme.
For much of that time it’s been shrouded by overgrown trees and its Regency symmetry despoiled by a more modern extension. For me it held a certain fascination as, for a time, it was the home of writer John Fowles. I came to John Fowles’ work because of his connection to Lyme Regis. I distinctly remember the film of his novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman being made in the town back in the ‘80s. I was probably too young to read the novel and fully appreciate it but I had a go anyway. It led me to The Magus – a challenging book but one which lingers in the memory.
John Fowles was born in Essex but, like many, was drawn to Lyme.
I think it was his obvious joy and passion for the town which endeared me to him. He was curator of the local museum and wrote several histories about the area.
I’m besotted with Lyme Regis so John Fowles gets my vote. And, of course, to a little girl with a vivid imagination, the idea of a mysterious and slightly scary writer sitting at his window, gazing over The Cobb and writing, appealed enormously.
View from one of the windows
There’s a display about the writer and Belmont’s other famous inhabitants on display in the stables adjoining the house. The house has a rich history of remarkable owners and tenants. Eleanor Coade’s factory produced a type of artificial stone which adorned many Regency buildings. As it was highly durable and suited to elaborate moulding techniques, it was extremely popular for decorative use. Although she lived and worked mostly in London, Eleanor Coade retained Belmont House and used it to show off her Coade stone sculptures.
She never married and was arguably one of the most successful Regency entrepreneurs – male or female. Her Coade stone can be found on many of the more important buildings in London.
Carvings around window
Dr Richard Bangay bought the house in 1881. He moved his family from Manchester to the south coast in a search of a healthier climate. An astonishing man, he began life as a lowly crow scarer, worked as a miner while educating himself, elevated his social standing and became a doctor! Dr Bangay added two large gable wings, several conservatories and an observatory tower as he was a keen astronomer. You could climb the tower during the open day and it affords spectacular views across The Cobb. It houses a modern telescope and features a roof which slides open in order to observe different parts of the night sky.