The Courts, Holt

Holt, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire



Courts Holt house


The Courts is an early Georgian House, the site of a woollen cloth factory and a 20th century garden in the centre of the village of Holt, owned by the National Trust. The garden is open to the public.

The origin of the name is not known, but seems to suggest the location of the manorial court of a manor or sub-manor of Holt. Robert de Holt, whose family took their name from the village, was lord of the manor with a grant of free warren and an annual fair in 1252. The location of the original manor house is not known, but at some time moved to the present Holt Manor, which is some way out of the village, to the north.

A house that existed here was purchased by John Phelps, a clothier, in 1703 and by 1731 he had built the present house. It may incorporate parts of a building of the 16th and 17th centuries which had belonged to the Chapman family and then the Shewrings (there is a monument of 1690 to John Shewring in the church). Phelps was operating a dyehouse and workshops there. The fa├žade of the house, faced with ashlar, is in a baroque style with a central doorway between tuscan columns under a segmental arch pediment, flanked by narrow round-arched windows. The central window of the floor above is also emphasised, with ionic columns, a scrolled broken pediment and similar flanking windows. Above is more like a gable than pediment. The other windows have their own scrolled broken pediments. Sir Nicholas Pevsner, in his Buildings of Wiltshire, thought it was over-done. The other sides of the building are much plainer.

Holt Mill cloth factory

The woollen cloth business was sold to Henry Halliday in 1769 and he was followed by his brother Robert of Bradford in 1787, then John Newton of Freshford in 1791. In 1797 it was bought by John Davis, who may have been the one who built a large 5-storey factory that had a water wheel of 12 feet diameter and 3 feet width. The wheel was only driven from a pond on the other side of The Street that was fed by the small brook and had to be supplemented by a steam engine. Davis and his partner Thomas Hughes Lloyd became bankrupt in 1812 and the factory and small dyehouse were advertised for sale in the next year. However, John Edwards Davis (a son?) was operating the factory in 1826 and employing 95 hands, including children, in 1834. By 1842 he was operating the factory, a dyehose leased from the lord of the manor, Thomas Watkin Forster, two steam engines and the 10 hp wheel (when there was enough water to drive it). In 1875, with the decline of the local woollen industry, Davis sold the heavily mortgaged factory to the Joseph Gordon Jones and David B. Little. They only lasted ten years before becoming bankrupt and the property was bought by William, grandson of John Davis, in about 1890 and he demolished the factory.

The Gardens

The Courts Garden, Holt

In 1902 Dr, later Sir George Hastings, an eminent London medical man, bought the Courts and set about transforming a brownfield site into an Arts & Crafts garden. He was only there for three years, but had laid out the structure of the garden, which was elaborated after Major Clarence and Lady Cecilie Goff acquired it in 1921. Much of the planting scheme was the work of Lady Cecilie. The Goffs gave it to the National Trust in 1944, although their daughter, Moyra, continued to live there and organise the gardening,  including developing the arboretum, until her death in 1990.

The gardens cover seven acres, including the site of the factory, the land on which the dyehouse had stood and the largest areas which had belonged to and had been leased by John Edwards Davis from Anne, widow of Rev Benjamin Richardson the former Curate of Bradford, and partly from the Dean & Chapter of Bristol Cathedral.