21 Bath Street: The history of a house

Beginnings

In 1784 Benjamin Satchwell and William Abbotts discovered a spring in Bath Lane in the hamlet of Leamington Priors, and 2 years later opened Abbotts Original Baths. At this time, much of the hamlet and surrounding land was owned by a handful of wealthy families, including the Wise family.

bathstplan1783In 1783 Bath Lane (not named on the plan), running south to north from the Warwick to Southam turn pike road (later High Street), was just a muddy, rutted lane lined with hedges, with fields and orchards on either side. On the west side there was also a row of “cottages occupied by Mr Wise’s labourers” (number 28 on the plan), later the site of number 21 Bath Street and adjacent buildings.

By about 1806, a guide book said “In Bath Lane there are but 2 buildings, the New Inn and Abbotts’ Baths, then a gaping space (the site of number 21) between these and Wise’s Baths in High Street. The Lane is rough and unprepared, deep cart ruts in the middle with hedges on each side, an open dike on the East.”

bathst1820m0168An 1820 map of Matthew Wise’s Estate shows that the area south of the river was still very rural with gardens, orchards, farm cottages and fields. Bath Lane has become Bath Street. There is still an empty site between Wise’s Baths on the corner of Bath Street and High Street and the next building, the Parthenon or Assembly Rooms. However, written documents suggest that there were buildings (probably not the labourers’ cottages) already on the site of number 21.

Early development

Church Wardens’ rate books name Mrs Surcombe as a ratepayer on the site from at least 1813. At some point the piece of land had been divided into separate plots and some buildings erected, for in June 1825 Elizabeth Surcombe, a pastry cook and confectioner, took out a 99 year lease “on a plot of land in Bath Street together with buildings”. Two years later she purchased the plot leasehold from the Wises. Elizabeth Surcombe carried on her trade and lived on the premises.

bath_st_1822

Bath Street as it was in 1822, before the present property was built on the far right hand side beyond the Assembly Rooms.

The 1820s and 30s saw a building bonanza in Bath Street as everywhere else in the town. By 1828 there were already many businesses in operation and the 1830 West’s Directory states “Proceeding along Bath Street, a scene of the most animated and lively description presents itself on the left in the splendid Library, Assembly and Concert Rooms of Mr Ebers, as well as from ranges of establishments and shops of every description that would not disgrace the Metropolis …”

Number 21 Bath Street was built between December 1833 and March 1834

Elizabeth Surcombe died in 1830 but the business was continued by her nieces, Elizabeth Surcombe the younger and Hannah Heard. The property had to be sold to raise funds to satisfy the terms of the will and was purchased in 1833 by James Hill, a plumber and glazier, who continued to lease it to the new occupants.

By March 1834 James Hill had pulled down the house and buildings occupied by Elizabeth Surcombe the elder, acquired an adjacent plot and built a terrace of 3 four storey houses to be known as 21, 22 and 23 Bath Street. Elizabeth and Hannah continued to occupy and run their confectionery business at number 21. As well as the house they leased the yard, ground and outbuildings, including an ice house.

bathst1834m020This plan of 1834 shows that more streets have been laid out and the fields and orchards have disappeared.

indplan_1834“A ground plan of land comprized in the indenture of 18th March 1834 leased to Misses Surcombe and Heard containing 333 sq yds”. The plot now belonged to James Hill.
jh_prop_1834This plan shows part of the property belonging to James Hill and the first instance of the plot numbered 21. The adjoining number 22 plus another (23, not shown) made up the block of 3 houses.

The life of number 21

Elizabeth and Hannah occupied the house for the next few years.

teaElizabeth Surcombe and Hannah Heard placed this advert in The Leamington Handbook, a guide book, in 1843.

During this time the railway arrived. In 1847 a piece of land at the back of number 21 which included the ice house and some outbuildings, was purchased by the London and North Western Railway Company, the second railway company to establish a line through the town. In 1852 they built a second bridge to take the railway, spanning the corner of Bath Street and High Street and cutting through land behind numbers 21 to 23. Wise’s (by then Curtises’) Baths were also demolished.

1847receiptReceipt from LNW Railway Co for purchase of land from Elizabeth Surcombe, Hannah Heard, James Hill, etc.

rlwy_land_1847Plan showing land bought by the LNW Railway Co. Land belonging to no. 21 is shown in red.

Elizabeth Surcombe died in 1849 but Hannah continued to occupy the house until about 1858. In 1855 it was put up for sale by auction.

Find out more about the Surcombe and Heard family.

The advert which appeared in the local paper for the auction of no. 21.

The advert which appeared in the local paper for the auction of no. 21.

Notice of auction of 21 Bath St published in the Royal Leamington Spa Courier and Warwickshire Standard in October/November 1855

The house became a lodging house for a while and between October 1859 and March 1860 Nathaniel Hawthorne, a well known American writer, and his family were tenants. His wife Sophia wrote that they had “taken apartments in an unfashionable part of this fashionable Royal Spa, but the rooms are pretty comfortable, excepting that we are close upon the railroad and have constant thunder … of the steam demon”. In fact this part of town south of the river had been in decline and become unfashionable almost as soon as it began to be developed because of the rapid growth of the town on the north side of the river.

bathst1863m0189Plan of the Wise Estate 1863 showing the impact of the railway bridge on Bath Street and High Street.

Later in 1860 the house was taken on by Robert William Collier, linen draper. He and his wife raised 8 children there. After Robert’s death two of his daughters continued the business until 1920. These 60 years comprise the longest period of occupation by one family or business.

In 1875 Bath Street was renumbered and number 21 became number 60.

The twentieth century

rlwybridge1910Bath Street in about 1910 showing the railway bridge of 1852 which cut across the rear of no 21.

Frank Smith & Co, dressmakers and costumiers, occupied the premises until 1932. He made several alterations to the ground floor both to the shop front and to the show room at the back of the premises.

fsmith01Advert placed by Frank Smith in a programme of 1927 for the Leamington and County Open Competitive Music Festival.

After a brief spell in 1933 as an amusement arcade, number 60 once more became a shop, that of Frank E Langley, draper. From 1950 to 1962 John Peel had his house furnishing shop, selling ‘fine furniture’, giving way to Milletts clothiers until about 1972.

In 1968, the effects of the Beeching Plan were felt when the railway line which had cut across the land at the back of number 60 was closed and the bridge demolished where it cut across Bath and High Streets.

bridgedem1968Demolition of one of the railway bridges shown from High Street. The end of 60-64 Bath Street can be seen to the right of the crane in the background.

Since 1973 number 60 has been occupied by the Coventry Building society.

cov_bldg_soc

No. 60 Bath Street as it is today.

The Coventry Building Society caused further changes to be made to number 60. The front on the ground floor was altered and bears no resemblance to the original. Sometime after this, listed building status was granted. Further ‘internal alterations to provide solid walling at rear of existing windows on rear elevation’ were made in 1997. In other words the rear windows have been blocked up and blacked out, presumably for security reasons.

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