Avenue House, 4 Newland Street, 1757. Dated building 4

Dated buildings are the ones which have a date written on them, usually the date when they were built.  The dates usually seem to be accurate, except for the Spread Eagle (number 1).

This is part of a survey of Witham which was carried out by Janet Gyford in 1990-1992. There are more explanations at the end of this post.


4.
1757 – ‘Avenue House’,  4 Newland Street (re-building the front wall of the house)

Inscription:
1757
   W
W  M

Photos:
P54/4, P54/5, P88/6.

Xeroxes included:
– Title page of James Taverner, An Essay upon the Witham Spa, 1737.
– Poem on the death of William Wright Esq. (Chelmsford Chronicle, 9 June 1769)
– Part of engraving dated 1832 by George Virtue.
– Part of sale particulars dated 1874 (E.R.O. D/DBs T111).
– Part of sale particulars dated 1929 (E.R.O. Sale Catalogue B419).

Building Plans: none

General
To start with, I’ll talk about what happened before the new frontage was built in 1757. The house was originally a ‘medieval timber-framed building, possibly C.16, which was largely rebuilt in the late C.16 – early C.17’. The 16th century part of the building includes two windows at the back. The door case and its shell hood are early 18th century. The hood was extensively restored in the 1930s by local carpenters. There are 18th century details inside including a staircase.

The house was bought by the clothier Robert Barwell the elder of the Grove in about 1684, as part of the takeover by him and his family of the whole of this northern end of Newland Street (see the entry for Grove House, 1 Newland Street, in 1973). He rented it out to Samuel Williams, a maltster.

By 1705 Robert Barwell had sold the house to his grandson, Thomas Waterhouse, who had ‘pulled it down and new built it’ and lived in it himself. He had formerly been a clothier also, but by this time was a gentleman, and one of the ‘principal inhabitants’ of Witham; he was churchwarden in 1703 and on other later occasions.

This corresponds with the time when the house was ‘largely rebuilt’, according to the building structure mentioned above. The style of brickwork with black ‘headers’, was very popular in Witham in the early 18th century. It is still remains on the end of the house and was probably used for the front also at that time (see photo P55/2).

Thomas Waterhouse sold his properties and moved away in about 1730.The house changed hands twice quickly, and was then occupied until about 1748 by Martin Carter, a prominent local lawyer who had a hand in the establishment of the spa in Witham (see below). When the 1742 Window Tax was assessed, this house was shown to have 30 windows. He then moved to what is now the Witham library building nearby.

So Avenue House was advertised to be let or sold, described as ‘a very good house, with a Brick Front … containing five rooms on a Floor, with very good Garretts, Lawndry, Brewhouse, Wash house, Stable, Granary and other convenient Outhouses, and a garden partly wall’d and well planned with Fruit Trees of the best kind’.

By 1753, Avenue House was reported to have been divided into two tenements, though it is possible that one was the adjoining house, which is said to be 18th century (now Newbury House, no. 2). The two occupants rented the accommodation. One of them was Timothy Skynner, a mapmaker; there were probably a father and son of the same name working in Essex between 1713 and 1767. In 1752 one of them drew a map of Blunts Hall farm in Witham. The other occupant was Widow Wright, whose husband had probably been John Wright, a wealthy Witham cooper who had died in 1749.

Their son, William Wright Esquire, had bought the property by 1753. He was previously a farmer at Benton Hall farm in Witham; was a churchwarden several times, and was a magistrate in the 1760s. His brother was John Wright, who left Witham to make his name in London as a coachmaker, and then returned to Essex to rebuild and live in Hatfield Priory in the adjoining parish of Hatfield Peverel.

By this time Witham Spa had been flourishing for nearly twenty years. It elevated the fashionable sensibilities of Witham, which had an effect on buildings like Avenue House in the centre of the town. The spa was established by Dr James Taverner in 1735 (see xerox). The spring itself was in Powershall End, and many of the associated assemblies, balls and concerts took place in that area, in addition of course to the taking of the waters.

The Advertisements said that ‘the virtues of this excellent Spa … have been already experienced by many Patients, who have received the greatest Benefits from their Use in some very deplorable Cases, and upon the Recommendations of some of the most eminent Physicians in London, as well as others’.

The visitors were able to lodge in the more commodious Newland Street, because if they did not have ‘the convenience of an Equipage’, they were provided with ‘a Hackney Chaise or Coach … to convey them to and from the Spa at an easy expense’. So the whole town was affected by the pressures to impress the fashionable visitors, or what Dr Taverner called ‘any person of a genteel Appearance and Behaviour’.

Even in the adjoining parish of Terling, property was advertised as being ‘about two miles from Witham Spa’. After the advertisements for the Spa ended in 1754, elegant activities continued in the town, in particular a series of ‘Concerts of Musick’ and Balls, some of which were accompanied by ‘an elegant and genteel supper’.

In these circumstances, William Wright and his wife Mary must have found Thomas Waterhouse’s fifty-year old red and black building to be rather unfashionable. So, soon after their purchase they copied the practice of many of the other house owners of Newland Street, and had a grand new front added to the building, of more refined all-red brick, with an imposing parapet at the top.

It is their initials, W and M.W., that are shown on the rain-water head, with the date 1757. The new pipe-work would have been necessary to take away the water collecting behind the parapet. The arrangement, with the husband and wife’s initials together and the initial of the surname above, is the usual one for such inscriptions (see also the entry for 134 Newland Street in 1779).

William Wright died in 1769, and a eulogistic poem appeared in the local newspaper, concluding that ‘posterity his merits shall proclaim, and tho’ he’s dead for e’er shall live his name’. His will shows what extensive properties he had acquired, with land in Witham, Great Totham, Little Totham, Wickham Bishops, Mundon, Latchingdon and Althorne, and the advowsons of Asheldham and Althorne churches; these were bequeathed to his sons William and Thomas. He left £1000 each to his nieces Ann Luard and Elizabeth Firmin. His widow Mary stayed in the house for thirty more years until her own death in 1801.

In 1806 the house was bought by Henry Du Cane, a retired clergyman who lived opposite at the Grove, and was a relative of Peter Du Cane of Braxted Park. For some time thereafter, both no. 2 and no. 4 were lived in by single or widowed women members of the Du Cane families. For instance, in 1851, Eliza Du Cane, widow, lived at no.2, whilst no. 4 housed Louisa and Anna Maria Du Cane, unmarried sisters aged 68 and 67, with a footman, cook, housemaid, under-housemaid and groom.

This northern end of the street, away from the river and its smells, was one of the most genteel parts of the town, and Avenue House has a prominent position in an early 19th-century engraving of the area (see xerox; Avenue House is the large building behind the group of people; no. 2 which adjoins it is hidden in the trees to the right). The 1874 Sale Catalogue described its ‘commodious’ accommodation. There was an entrance hall, dining room, drawing rooms, seven bedrooms, dressing room, W.C., four attics, kitchen, larder, scullery and cellars.

Gas and water were laid on, and there was also a three-stall stable, coach-house and brew-house, a productive walled garden, and a right to a pew in the parish church of St. Nicholas (see xerox). The 1929 catalogue gave more details and referred to the ‘wide period staircase’ (see xerox).


References
(Department of the Environment – Historic Buildings: Survey Report, Witham Urban District, c.1970; information from Mr F Gaymer; E.R.O. (Essex Record Office) D/DBw M various (manor no. 89); E.R.O. D/NC 3/30; E.R.O. D/P 30/25/22; 30/25/45; E.R.O. Q/SR 544/40; E.R.O. D/P 30/25/87; E.R.O. D/DP E136; E.R.O. D/Z 3; A.S. Mason, Essex on the Map: the 18th Century Land Surveyors of Essex, 1990; E.R.O. T/M 35; E.R.O. D/P 30/14/1; E.R.O. Q/SBb 233/4; E.R.O. D/P 30/25/71 & 72; conversation with Mrs F Cowell in 1989; Ipswich Journal, 29 May 1742, 2 May, 11 June, 30 June, 1743, 31 May 1746, 28 May 1748, 12 June 1756, 10 March 1759, 19 January 1760, et al; Chelmsford Chronicle, 9 June 1769; E.R.O. D/ABR 26/143; P.R.O. (Public Record Office) HO 107/1783, f.196 (1851 census returns); E.R.O. D/DBs T111; E.R.O. Sale catalogue B419).
_______________________________________


Notes about the survey.

Dated buildings are the ones which have a date written on them, usually the date when they were built.  The dates usually seem to be accurate, except for the Spread Eagle (number 1).

This survey of Witham was carried out by Janet Gyford in 1990-1992. Ray Powell of the Victoria County History had suggested such surveys as a project for Essex.

The numbering is in date order.

The original version of the survey is in the Essex Record Office as D/DU 1394 addl. Accession A8888. That and my own (Janet Gyford’s) own copy contain numerous illustrations. Not knowing whether I will ever manage to include the illustrations in this web version, I am putting just the words here in case they might be of interest. I find that they were quite detailed.

Beware that some of the written information will be out of date, for instance about who occupied certain buildings.

If you would like to find some relevant photos, you could try putting the name of the place you want and/or the street, into the Search or Menu box at the top of this page.

This work would not have been possible without the kind and very generous help of my friend Carol Asrari, who took my grey typing of 1992, and retyped  this very smart web version from it- how different were those days.

JG 2020

 

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