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Belcombe Court

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

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Belcombe Court

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Belcombe Court, situated to the west of Bradford on Avon on the road to Avoncliff and Turleigh, is a rather rambling mansion, set in ornamental gardens and landscape park that grew from the 18th century under generations of the Yerbury family of clothiers.

Formerly known as Belcomb Brook House, the early house was first built in about 1722 next to a stream that issues from the short steep-sided valley -or combe- that gives the house its name. John Yerbury (1678-1728) began the project by buying land in a field called Hareknap from his father-in-law Samuel Davison, a Freshford clothier, in 1719 and went on acquiring parcels of land between the Turleigh and Winsley roads until he had built up an estate suitable for the gentleman he had become. His son Francis (1706-1778) continued consolidating the property, including woollen cloth workshops and in 1734 engaged John Wood the Elder (1704-1754), the architect of the Royal Crescent, Queen Square and much else of Bath, to design extensions in the latest neoclassical style. Other parts were added in the 1750s, including a domed cylindrical pigeonhouse, a detached barn in gothic style and housing for staff. His son John William (1750-1824) became a major clothier in partnership with others and continued to embellish the house and its grounds. However, his son John William II (180-1858) moved to Bath and let the workshops and his son John William III became a distinguished soldier. From then, the house was frequently let and the house, farm and whole estate was put up for auction in 1894.

At that time the house and grounds, of 44 acres  were occupied by Thomas Moore Esq, whose tenancy ended at Michaelmas that year (29th September). The farm was separately tenanted by Frank Hale, apart from some fields that had been let to the Wilkins brewery family. Hare Knapp field on the Winsley Road, was called “A capital close of building land”, but it was not built on until the 1960s. The whole estate amounted to 111 acres in 1894. The Yerbury family connection ended in 1903 and in 1904 it was owned or occupied by J.S. Worthington esq. and several of the outlying fields and the farm were put up for auction. In 1915 horticultural engineer and architect Alfred William Newsom Burder FSA  (1850-1944) was living there and was followed by William Henry Watkins (1877-1964), who bought it in 1935 and lived there until about 1953, but owned it for the rest of his life. The gardens were restored by Mr & Mrs A.J. Woodruffe and the property was sold in 1989. Currently (2020), it is owned by film and television director and producer Paul Weiland.

It is a Grade I listed building.

The park and gardens are listed Grade II* and contain the features of an 18th century ‘romantick’ landscape: a small lake, a round tempietto and grotto and now , of course, there is a modern swimming pool.

 

Belcombe Court, Bradford on Avon

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The western fa├žade of the house, looking across the pond that is fed by Belcombe Brook. The earliest part is at the centre, between the two pediments, with mansard roof, but altered by the addition of a 19th century three-window bow and a large window above it. To the right is the wing that was added by John Wood the Elder in 1734 and to the left a balancing pedimented addition with another single-bay wing at the end.

Much of the information on the house and the Yerburys comes from a thesis “Clothiers to gentlemen” written by Matthew Slocombe; there is a copy in Bradford on Avon Library.

The house and garden have been featured several times in Country Life–  22 December 1950, vol. 108,  pp. 2146-50; 112 3 October 1952, vol. 112, p. 1018; 20 July 1989, no. 29, pp. 72-5.

For architecture, see: John Wood the Elder 1765, Essay towards a description of Bath; Nikolaus Pevsner, Buildings of England: Wiltshire, revised by Bridget Cherry 1985, p. 138.