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Hillside: Middle Rank and Tory

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

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Chapel of St Mary Tory, Bradford on Avon

The chapel of St Mary Tory, Bradford on Avon

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The steep hillside on the north side of the town, beneath the Budbury plateau, was developed piecemeal for housing in the 17th century out of the estate belonging to the manor of the Methuen family -the house later called The Priory in Market Street. Until the late 17th century, the only building here was a chapel that had been built at a high point of the hill. It still stands there, restored and called St Mary Tory, taking its name from the old word tor that denotes a prominent hill, like Glastonbury Tor.

The chapel has a house attached to it and has often been referred to as a hermitage and as a hostel for pilgrims. It was referred to as “St Leonard’s hermitage or chapel” in 1578. 

Three new terraces of houses were laid out for the Methuens: Newtown at the bottom, Tory or Top Rank at the top and Middle Rank between them. There are no roads, only footpaths, in front of Tory and Middle Rank, but all three ranks benefit from facing south and have a microclimate that is warmer than the surrounding area and sheltered from winds from the north.

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Tory

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Tory, Bradford on Avon

The first rank of houses from the chapel (33-37) was built by quarrier-mason Henry Jones from 1795 with pedimented doorways on tuscan-style columns

Tory, Bradford on Avon

The second rank (26-32) is slightly curved, with canted bays at both ends and the centre emphasised a little, like a miniature Bath crescent.  It was built by Henry Jones’ brother John and was only completed in about 1812. The nearest three houses belonged to the Bowes-Lyon family in the 1920s, so were the holiday home of the future Queen Elizabeth, wife of King George VI. Both these top terraces are listed as Grade II*.

Tory, Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire

Houses further down Tory are of various dates, from about 1700 until the 1850s. One was even added in the 1990s. Several of the houses, especially those at the Conigre Hill end, were threatened by the Urban District Council with demolition and replacement with modern buildings in the late 1950s. However, a national outcry resulted in refurbishment as council-rented homes -houses and flats- instead.

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Middle Rank

Middle Rank

The houses of Middle Rank are are of the very end of the 17th or earliest 18th centuries, many with mullioned windows and gabled fronts, which was rather old-fashioned for that time. Much that can be seen today is largely a rebuilding that dates from the 1960s. The houses were in a very bad condition through neglect and some of them had been derelict and had lost their roofs by the end of the 19th century.

The Grove Meeting House (Zion Chapel)

Probably the oldest building in Middle Rank is the Zion Baptist Chapel at the east end, with its present entrance on Conigre Hill. This started life in 1698 as The Grove Meeting House, a Presbyterian chapel which had become Unitarian by the end of the 18th century. Its congregation declined and it became the Sunday School of the Zion Chapel on the opposite side of Conigre Hill. The Conigre Chapel itself was demolished in the 1950s and the congregation migrated to the Grove Chapel; Conigre Chapel’s place is now a car park.