Discovering Belmont House
For many years I’ve walked past the forlorn and faded looking house that I now know is the former home of the celebrated author John Fowles. I’d often peered through the tall iron gates and wondered who owned it and why such a grand looking house in such a prominent location in Lyme Regis was left empty.
So I am sure there were many people who were as delighted as me when hoardings appeared in 2013 and signs went up to explain that work was going to start on the restoration of Belmont House in Lyme Regis by the Landmark Trust.
The house known as Belmont was built in its current style 1784. The then owner Eleanor Coade made her fortune by reviving a stone makers in London where sculptors and craftsmen produced artificial fired decorative stone which became known as Coade stone. She was an excellent sales woman and the stone was used by the great architects of the time to adorn many buildings such as Brighton Pavilion and her own holiday home in Lyme Regis.
Subsequent owner, Dr Bangay and his family, extended the house and built the wonderful observatory tower. Astronomy was popular late in the 19th century as more and more was being learnt about the natural world.
Fast forward to 1969, the house in need of renovation work was bought by author John Fowles and his wife who subsequently refurbished and added to it. He lived there for 37 years and after John Fowles’ death the house eventually came into the hands of the Landmark Trust.
Having fallen into a severe state of disrepair, the restoration project took 18 months and was completed in 2015. The work took longer than it might have otherwise needed because the decision had been made to remove the modern extensions and return the house to it’s late Georgian form. Only the unique observatory tower was spared (which had been awkwardly connected to the main house).
The wonderful Coade stone at the front of the house has been restored, the original floor plan reinstated and a vast amount of period detail restored or replaced. However this is no museum, it has been done in such a way to make it a functional house with bathrooms and a kitchen, making it suitable for self catering holidays. The Landmark Trust has historic properties all over the country that are available to hire out.
Belmont House has proved remarkably popular and is well booked out for next year already, partly due to the property featuring on the TV show ‘Restoring Britain’s Landmarks’ which followed the progress of the work and the amazing team of experts that are dedicated to these projects.
Beautifully Restored Rooms
The French Lieutenant’s Woman
The John Fowles connection is a massive boost for Lyme Regis as is of course the famous film based on his book. The French Lieutenant’s Woman with Meryl Streep, released in 1981 was filmed there to great local excitement. I seem to recall my uncle was employed to provide rain over a cliff from a tanker! I also clearly remember going with my parents to watch the film. We queued outside The Regent along with many other eager and curious locals. We got to the ticket desk and the cashier asked my age, completely oblivious to the 12 age rating my father replied that I was 11! We headed home despondently. I am now going to confess that I have never actually seen the film (anyone got the DVD I can borrow?)!
Belmont House was open last weekend for the second time this year for the public to look around. The first open weekend back in May attracted over 3000 visitors through the gates. We arrived early on Sunday hoping to beat the crowds, although already there were 20 or so people queuing in front of us.
It was a good plan as we were able to head up into the observatory tower without waiting for too long (4 at a time only and a steep staircase inside). The observatory has a beautiful telescope and a wonderful old system of cogs and levers so that the roof turns round depending on which part of the sky you want to observe through the opening.
A wonderful old telescope has been installed in the rotating observatory
So in summary, if you are interested in old houses, John Fowles, Coade stonework or like me just wanted to see what had been going on behind the façade for two years then make sure look out for next year’s open weekend or get out your credit card and book a stay!
It was interesting to look around and there are some lovely features in the house as well as a fabulous view from the upstairs living room and balcony out to sea. It must have been a wonderful place to live and is certainly worth a visit.
Finally, next door to the house is an old stable block that is open every Friday from April to October 2pm – 5pm. This has an exhibition showing pictures of the progress of the restoration project and some artifacts such as an old type writer. I need to go back another day when I have more time to read the boards.
So overall yes it was worth a visit. Points to note. No dogs in the house and apart from the ground floor this property is not suitable for wheel chair access as there are stairs to climb. Being honest it’s not really of much interest to young children but if you can go with a friend or partner they could play in the garden while you take turns to look around.
Thank you for reading my blog posts. If you enjoyed this then if you’ve missed it why not read my recent post about Discovering Axminster or take a look at some of the local walks we have written about. You can sign up below and receive notification of when a new blog post is live online.
Next open days for Belmont House are Saturday 9 and Sunday 9 September 2018 – 10am to 4pm as part of the nationwide scheme of Heritage Open Days