The Well Head stands on the south side at top of the Street with a frontage that dates back to the 1930`s. Behind it is a much older building whose history I will attempt to reveal in this article. The famous historian - Reginald Pavey who did so much in his life to record the villages history was to live in this house from 1926 until 1973. It is him I have to thank for providing the framework for the article. For he had the original deeds and in one of his note books listed them back to 1683 when it was owned by William Balston’s widow. Unfortunately, they have since been lost in time and I have tracked down all the information I can from old deeds, documents and records to fill in the gaps.
I am confident that as with many other ancient houses in the village, that there was a building on this site dating back to 1290 when the Abbot of Forde created a Borough in the village. This gave the opportunity for villagers to have their house with a half acre plot behind on both sides of The Street. In time many were amalgamated into acre holdings as this was more viable. After the dissolution of the Abbey, the village came into the hands of the wealthy Sir William Petre. He carried out a detailed survey in 1564, which can still be seen in the Devon Record Office. It lists all the properties and his tenants in that year and is invaluable in tracing their history back. It shows that “John Balston (dead) holds one burgage and his son, Anthony Balston was now the tenant paying 6d rent a year”. This earlier house may still be incorporated into the property whose original walls are very thick. The Balston’s were an important family and in 1575 Anne Balston’s Will of 1575 lists a number of bequests to her family and friends. In 1642 William Balston appears on the Protestation List for the village. It is this gentleman who on his death in 1671 provides us with a link to the original deeds. For the first record in 1683 shows that his widow had inherited the property and sold it to George Mantle in that year. He was only their briefly and three years later sold it to William Hodder for £106. This gentleman was to die in 1695, and left the house to his wife, Mary, who soon after takes out a mortgage of £14 on it. The deeds reveal that she took further mortgages out in 1700 and 1708. She finally sold the property in 1711 to John Minson of Eype for £58, almost half what her husband had originally paid for it.
In 1735 John had earlier purchased from Anthony Ellesdon “all that cottage called Guppy’s tenement, consisting of a messuage, garden and meadow called Commin Close containing an acre and common pasture in a common called Langmoor with the appurtenances were formerly in the possession of George Mantle. Guppy`s Tenement was the adjoining house (now Melbourne House), whose land was later bisected by the Old Lyme Road. He died in 1744 leaving the house to his wife, Anne. His Will can still be seen in the Dorset Record Office. He is described as a Husbandman (free tenant farmer) and it is witnessed by Edward Bragge (the Rector), John Keeth of Charmouth, William Chappell (Yeoman), John Goreing, (Inn holder).and also William Walter who was to later purchase the property from his son Robert Minson, for £71 in 1747.
William Walter is described as a Mariner in the deeds and takes out a mortgage with Benjamin Follett of Lyme Regis, a Lawyer and Town Clerk, He is shown as marrying Mary Thorne of Charmouth in 1740. He is only their briefly and sells the house to the local blacksmith, Samuel Burrow in 1751.William remains in the village and his death is recorded in the parish records in 1759.
Samuel Burrow lived in a house where 1-3 Hillside is today and although described as a Blacksmith, he seems to also be somewhat of a developer and buys a number of properties in the village. These include what are today - The Elms, The George Inn, Fernhill, Swiss and Bluff Cottages. To finance these, he borrows from the wealthy Walter Oke from Axmouth with a large mortgage. The original document regarding this is in the Dorset Record Office (DD/AL 29/8) and is very descriptive. An abstract is as follows:
“Walter Oke, the elder of Pinney, on the one part and Samuel Burrow of Charmouth, Blacksmith of the other part and Nicholas Warren of Mincombe in the parish of Sidbury in Devon of the third part did mortgage in 1743 into the said Walter Oke, the elder all that said tenement by payment of £200 and interest. Now due £208, in the consideration of £104 paid to them by the said Nicholas Warren .. and all that dwelling house, garden and orchard hereunto belonging containing by estimation one acre or more thereabouts formerly in the possession of Mary Hodder, Widow afterwards of John Minson, since of Ann Minson, his widow, then of Robert Monson and late of William Walter, Mariner. Premises are situated in Charmouth aforesaid and are now in the possession of Samuel Burrows.
This document is important in this article as it confirms the progress of the house through various hands as revealed in the original lost deeds.
Amongst the entries in the 1754 Poor Rates for Charmouth is that for Samuel Burrows - Parsons Estate (Elms), Walters (Well Head), Hodders (Swiss and Bluff Cottages) & the George (George Inn), House (1-3 Hillside), Burgage & Langmore (Fernhill). He wasn’t to keep them long and by 1758 were in the hands of Walter Oke. He in turn sold “The Well Head” to Matthew Palmer of Plymouth, and in the same year it went from Samuel Palmer to his sister Mary Palmer. She was to live there until in 1770, when she sold it to John Adcock from London for £105. Again, the deeds are useful as they reveal that he was to lease it to Hurst Timberlake the following year. The Land Tax lists do not start for the village until 1780 and it is the following year that Lieutenant James Warden is shown as renting it from John Adcock.
James may well have taken on the fine house before then, as this is the earliest year that we have a record of. For it was in 1779 that James married Elizabeth Newell Puddicombe Crowcher who was at that time living in Chideock. Both were widowed and comfortably off and chose no doubt to move to the next village, where Elizabeth’s family owned Wood Farm. James Warden and his new wife Elizabeth were to continue to live in the house until 1788, when he came into a sizeable inheritance from his Aunt - Hannah Parkes and would go on to buy the Manor of Charmouth and ultimately end his life in a Duel in 1792.
In 1783 James Upjohn of Dorchester surveyed the village and provided for Francis Phipps Henvill, the Lord of the Manor a fine map. Sadly, this has disappeared in the passage of time, but fortunately Reginald Pavey took detailed notes from the accompanying record book. This shows that John Adcock`s house stood on 2 roods 15 Perches of land. The following year the property was sold to Lucius Bragge of Axminster, who was born in 1739 to Rev. Edward and Martha Bragge, Rector of Charmouth. He was not to own it long as he died in 1786 and the house was inherited by his brother John Bragge who already owned a number of properties in the village. He rents the house, which was now called “Adcocks” to a number of distinguished residents including Rev. James Wilson and Samuel Taunton Esq. It is John who on his death in 1807 leaves Cockwell and Hanscombe Farms in Whitchurch and the house to his son, William, a Surgeon from Bristol who takes up that position in the village. He lives at "The Court" with his wife Hester Mary and have a son William John Bragge who is shown living there before his death in 1839. Their gravestone can still be seen today near the Altar in the centre aisle of St. Andrews.
We now come on to the aptly named, John Bull who with his family were to own the house for over 60 years. In 1808 he paid £600 to Rev. Brian Coombes, the Trustee, for the house, which was a substantial amount at the time and £10 for the fittings. He was described as a Gentleman in a village Census carried out in 1813 and was shown to live there until his death in 1820. In his Will he leaves his substantial Estate which includes property in Axminister and Whitchurch Canonicorum to his nieces Elizabeth and Sarah Shiles. They never marry and live their lives in a house on Lyme Street in Axminster. Their father, Henry, a Clothier, had married, Elizabeth, sister of John Bull at Thorncombe in 1786. It was he who until his daughters came into their inheritance appears on the village Poor Rates List paying 6 1/2d for the house. He leased it to Henry Lambert and later Mrs Griffiths. She was the widow of John Grifiths, whose marble memorial can be seen in St. Andrews. He was a famous Surgeon, whose clients included King George III wife, Charlotte.
There is a significant change in 1825 when the Poor Rate is doubled to 1s.3d. His daughters, Elizabeth and Sarah are now the owners of what must have been a more substantial property which included a Coach House and Stables. Early photographs show it with a five bay Georgian frontage which must have been carried out in that year. They never live there, and the Poor Rates list a number of different tenants renting the house.
The Tithe Map of 1841 is important as it shows the boundaries of the plot which is 1 rood 30 perches (almost ½ acre), which is slightly more than the 1783 survey. It coincides with the Census carried out in the same year and from that we see that Elizabeth Edwards, aged 92 was renting the house. She is shown as being of Independent Means and was to live there for another 5 years and died in 1846, aged 97, which is remarkable for those times. The Poor Rates for the following year have William Potter renting the house. He appears on the 1851 Census as a Shoemaker, who later takes on a house across the Street to run his business from. It is often only from the Censuses carried out at the beginning of each decade that it is possible to gain information about a property and in the next census of 1861 it is shown as unoccupied.
In 1863, Miss Elizabeth Shiles died in Axminster, aged 75 and five years later, her sister, Sarah passed away, also aged 75, leaving a substantial Estate. This was the end of an era and in due course the house was to be sold by the trustees.
The property was renamed “Bruton House” in the 1871 Census when Emilia Bond, a Widow of Independent Means, living with her servant, is shown as renting the house. She is only there briefly as in the same year, Mrs Anne Snowdon takes on the lease, with her young daughter, after the death of her husband, Thomas, a local Coastguard who had died the previous year aged just 43. She was joined by Captain Henry James Grant of Langmoor. When he died there in 1872, aged 49, he was buried with full naval honours by the Coast Guards in the Churchyard. The Bridport News reported that:
“The funeral was attended by a large number of people and friends of the deceased, several officers, and between 30 and 40 Coastguardsmen, besides a number of gentlemen and tradesmen from Charmouth and the neighbourhood The tradesmen of the town closed their shops, and the blinds in the private houses were lowered, during the whole of the morning as a testimony of esteem towards the deceased. He was buried with full naval honours by the coast guards and was buried in the churchyard”.
There used to be a large stone anchor on his grave. Anne Snowdon continued to live at Bruton House as Housekeeper to the brother, Charles Grant, who was described in the Census as an “Imbecile”.
It is difficult to know exactly how the house got its new name, but when it came up for sale in 1874, both the Estate Agents and Solicitors were based in Bruton.
It is described as follows:
“Bruton House. Charmouth. Dorset
To be sold by Auction by Mr. T.O. Bennett, junior at the Coach and Horses Hotel, Charmouth, on Tuesday the 21st of July, 1874, at 5 o’ clock in the evening, subject to conditions to be then produced, the under mentioned Desirable Property comprising all that convenient and commodious villa Residence known as “Bruton House” together with the small stable, Coach house, and other outbuildings, and large and productive garden thereto belonging, situated on rising ground in the picturesque and favourite watering place of Charmouth, about two miles from Lyme Regis, and seven from Axminster and Bridport, held for the residue of a long term of 1000 years absolute.
Bruton House is a pleasant and healthy Residence commanding from the garden bold and extensive sea views. It contains five bedrooms with back and front staircase, the roof being well adapted for the fitting up of two roomy attics, dining and drawing rooms, the latter 19 ft. by 14ft. 3ins. With French window opening into garden, and the usual convenient domestic offices.
There is an excellent supply of pure Water on the Premises, and the Rates and Taxes are moderate.
To view apply to Mr. W. Hoare, builder, Charmouth. Further particulars may be obtained of Messrs. T. O. Bennett and son, Land Agents, Bruton, Mr. Charles Russ, Solicitor, Castle Cary, or of Mr. William Bennett, Solicitor, Bruton, Somerset.
The 1000 year lease that is referred to is probably one of the many given, when properties in the village were sold by Sir John Petre in 1575, which included the Elms. The annual rent to the Lord of the Manor was just 5 farthings.
The new owner of Bruton House was George Richard Turner of Newlands, who continues leasing the house to Charles Grant who in the 1881 Census is aged 52, living with Ann Snowdon, aged 44, his housekeeper and her daughter, Ethel, aged 17.
After the departure of Charles Grant in 1882, Bruton House was to be home to Reuban Darrant, aged 48 and his family. He had earlier rented Wood Farm in Charmouth and later leased “Foxley Farm”. The farmhouse for this was in what is “Foxley Cottage” and “Badgers” today. There was 22 acres of land behind it stretching from Old Lyme Road to Higher Sea Lane. In 1857 he had married Amelia Jane Salisbury, whose parents owned Sea Horse House and were to have five children.
They seem to have rented Bruton House for the summer months as their name appears regularly as welcoming visitors to their house. There is a marvellous photograph of Mrs Harrison and Miss Harrison (Mrs Mann) in the garden when they stayed there before “Little Hurst” was purchased in 1889.
He rents both Bruton House and the adjoining Foxley Farm which comes up for sale in 1900 with him as tenant. In 1907 the freehold of the house was offered for sale in Auction by Tom Brown and Tom Edward Bennett Brown with other properties and is sold for £605 to the wealthy Douglas Pass of Wootton Manor.
Reuban died in 1912, aged 80 and his widow stayed in the house until it was leased in 1921 by Francis Harvey and Constance Mary Davies. In 1924 the freehold was offered for sale by Douglas Pass and the particulars describe it as:
“The valuable small residence known as Bruton House situated on the main street of the village in all about 2r 23p Messrs Rawlence and Squarey are instructed to sell by auction ( unless previously sold by private treaty at the Coach and Horses, Charmouth on Wednesday June 25th 1924, at 1 pm precisely vacant possession on completion.
It consisted of Ground Floor - Hall, Drawing Room, Dining Room
First Floor - four bedrooms, Dressing Room and Lavatory
Second Floor - Attic Bedroom and Box Room.
Domestic Offices - Kitchen, Back Kitchen and Larder”.
Outhouses - Coach House or Garage for small car, Wash House with copper, Coal Store, lavatory and Store.”
Finally, on the 30th July 1926, Ellen Adams of the Ship Hotel, Faversham sold Bruton House to Reginald Pavey of Clifton for £1650. Of this sum £650 was paid to Alfred Pass of the Manor Wootton Fitzpaine to repay a mortgage on the property.
He had been born in the village in 1884 and lived for a while at Charmouth Lodge, then called the Limes. After a time as a teacher at Clifton Preparatory School he returned and spent the rest of his life here living at the Well Head. He renamed it after a large stone wellhead that was given by his old school, as a retirement present. It still can be seen in the garden and has the date of 1926 on it when he retired at the early age of 42. He lived in the house with his two sisters – Alice and Marguerite Pavey as well as his mother until the time of her death in 1937.
The Dorset Record Office has plans that were submitted in 1930 for a bathroom and other changes to be carried out by Ernest Gollop of Old Lyme Hill. It was no doubt he who was to reface the building from its Georgian frontage to one more contemporary for that era and incorporate the stables on west side. The other barn on the east side was to become “Waverley Cottage”. We have him to thanks for the marvellous collection of photographs, documents and notes relating to the village which he gave to the Record Office in Dorchester before his death in 1973, aged 89. In one of these he writes as follows:
“The Well Head", is an old Jacobean cottage. Originally it had two rooms downstairs, about 12 ft. by 12 ft. and two bedrooms upstairs. The outside walls were between two and three feet thick built of large beach stones. At some later period, a lean-to room was added on the south and the space between the cottage and that above roofed over. It was thatched and the original tree rafters can be seen in the attic. During the latter part of the nineteenth century Reuben Durrant lived here and farmed Foxley. One of the front rooms the kitchen and the lean-to the dairy. The stable between the two houses. There was no garden or railings in front of the house, and it is difficult to judge how much garden Reuben cultivated. At the top was a gateway into his fields, which now does not exist. Early in this century the house was considerably altered. The kitchen had a large window thrown out and became the dining room. The dairy then was turned into a kitchen and a small scullery added. The drawing room was enlarged by an addition of a large window facing the garden. Then was converted into a passable sitting room, with an entrance from the drawing room. In making alterations it was discovered how thick the walls were and the great size of the beach stones. The house looks larger than it is, there are only two good bedrooms and a dressing room. An attic runs the whole length of the house”.
After his death, the house was occupied by his gardener, Harold and his wife Vera White until being sold by the executors to Mike Lake and William Reeves in 1976. They resold the house with a smaller garden to David and Margaret Bettes (the present owners) after keeping back a portion of the field on which part of Downside Close was later built.