Repton & the Rich Apothecary New Light on Cote Bank

By James Russell

Originally published in Avon Gardens Trust Journal No.1, Summer 2006


Introduction

In his 1803 Observations on the Theory & Practice of Landscape Gardening Humphry Repton makes brief references to work carried out for one ‘William Broderup’ at a location near Bristol variously described as ‘Cote Bank’ or ‘Cotham Bank’. He tells us little about the commission except that he was assisted by his architect son John Adey Repton and that the site was one “where no house previously exists, and where the entire plan of the house, appendages and grounds has sometimes been called a creation”. In his 1989 Avon Gardens Trust booklet, Repton in Avon1, Stewart Harding identified Repton’s ‘Cote Bank’ with a house of that name, demolished in the 1930s on the southern edge of the village of Westbury-on-Trym, 5 km north of central Bristol (National Grid Ref. ST57207685).

Although the site of ‘Cote Bank’ lies barely 200 metres from my own doorstep, I had for many years been somewhat sceptical about this identification. While the house is clearly marked on an 1825 map of Westbury-on-Trym2 it seemed to be omitted from an earlier parish map of 1817 by the same locally based Quaker surveyors Y & JP Sturge, of which several versions are held in the Northamptonshire Record Office. Further doubts were raised by Stephen Daniels’ major 1999 study of Repton. While Daniels’ sketch-map of Repton’s Bristol consultations locates ‘Cote Bank’ south of Westbury3, his gazetteer (compiled in association with John Phibbs) places it at National Grid Reference ST 600880, some 11 km further north near the South Gloucestershire village of Elberton.4

William Broderip & Cote Bank

Recently I have looked again at my photocopies of the 1817 Westbury maps. On the largest and most highly finished version5 a note by the surveyors warns that “in a few of the Estates the interior divisions are not laid down, the Proprietors having refused permission to take the survey”. Close examination of a draft version of the map6 confirmed that details in the area around Cote Bank had indeed been left unfinished, and also revealed a faint, half-legible note mentioning Repton’s client, who can now be identified as William Broderip (c.1747-1826) a prominent Bristol apothecary. A good deal of information on Broderip’s life and career is to be found in G Munro Smith’s 1917 History of the Bristol Royal Infirmary, a sprawling treasure-trove of a book based largely on the antiquarian collections and reminiscences of Dr Richard Smith (1772-1843), Surgeon to the Infirmary from 1796 to 1843 and one of Broderip’s former assistants. These biographical details, which can be supplemented from other sources, help to provide a social and historical context for an otherwise rather shadowy Repton commission.

Medical practice in Bristol in the late 18th century was by modern standards very loosely organised and regulated, with much blurring of distinctions between the various grades of practitioner.7 Of these the most numerous were the apothecaries, whose main activity was the preparation and dispensing of medicines but who also carried out many of the functions of a modern GP. They were not supposed to charge for their medical advice and instead made their money from the sale of drugs, which they not unnaturally tended to prescribe in enormous quantities! Their practice overlapped with that of the surgeons, who also dispensed drugs as well as treating injuries, letting blood and carrying out the few operations then considered possible. At the top of the tree socially and professionally came the physicians, the holders of university degrees in medicine (which were however not always that difficult to come by).

In 1775, having completed a seven-year apprenticeship, the young William Broderip (known to his associates as ‘Billy’) was fortunate enough to be taken into partnership by Joseph Shapland (1727-1801), a well-established Bristol apothecary with a thriving practice in Queen Square.8 After Shapland’s retirement in the mid 1780s Broderip continued to prosper. He was said by his coachman to make up to 60 house calls a day, and his hard-pressed assistants were kept busy from morning to night preparing the huge quantities of pills and potions which he was able to persuade his patients that they needed.9 By 1800 he was earning around £4500 a year and was able to embark on the construction of a country house. This was Cote Bank, situated “on the brow of the hill leading down to Westbury, on the left hand side after you have passed Durdham Down and Cote House”. Richard Smith observed maliciously that it was popularly known as ‘Gallipot Hall’ (gallipots being the small jars then used for medicines) but acknowledged that “it was not less splendid and elegant on that account”.10 Here Broderip and his family lived and entertained for much of each year, surrounded by fine furnishings and paintings.

‘Billy’ Broderip, the upwardly mobile apothecary, was all too typical of the nouveau riche middle-class clients to whom the snobbish, socially conservative Repton had reluctantly to turn for work as more congenial commissions from the aristocracy and landed gentry dried up during the Napoleonic wars. Within a few years, however, Broderip’s own fortunes had begun to wane. Apothecaries generally were starting to fall out of favour as both the medical establishment and the public as a whole grew tired of their excessive and expensive prescribing policies. Broderip himself had come to be regarded with a mixture of jealousy and contempt by local physicians and surgeons, some of whom refused to deal with him. He also developed a drink problem, which made him “moody, touchy and averse to business”.11

By 1815 Broderip was forced to sell his collection of paintings, and soon after disposed of Cote Bank, retreating for the rest of his life to more modest accommodation at 14 Richmond Terrace, Clifton, “where he and his family kept much within doors, and seldom visited the friends they had known in better days”.12 His fine private ‘museum’ of shells and corals was auctioned off at Covent Garden in June 1819.13 Although by now seemingly a broken man, Broderip still maintained a small medical practice, and in his last years appears to have tried to improve his chances of work by raising his professional status. Up to 1820 his entry in Matthews’ Bristol Directory still describes him as an apothecary; between 1821 & 1823, however, he is shown as a ‘surgeon’ and from 1824 to 1826 as a ‘physician’.

He died on 19 October 1826, aged 79.14 His son, William John Broderip (1789-1859) had by now moved to London. Here, having evidently received a legal training, he became a well-respected stipendiary magistrate. The younger Broderip inherited from his father a strong interest in sea-shells, becoming a noted authority on the subject and forming one of the finest shell collections in the country, which was eventually sold to the British Museum for £1575 in 1837.15

By 1825 the Cote Bank estate was owned by Charles Thomas and occupied by Edward Gore Langton. It subsequently changed hands at least twice before being purchased in 1865 by Thomas Pease, whose family retained the property until 1918.16 Photographs published by Reece Winstone in 1985 show the well- maintained house and grounds towards the end of their occupancy, around 1905.17 Finally, between 1925 and 1929, it was used as a boys’ orphanage by the Sisters of Nazareth. In the early 1930s the house was demolished and the Westbury by-pass, Falcondale Road (named after a property near Lampeter owned by the Harfords of Blaise Castle) was driven in a broad swathe through the centre of the estate; by the end of the decade the remainder of the grounds had been engulfed by speculative housing.

Cote Bank: Architecture and Landscape

Cote Bank remains among the most difficult of Repton’s Bristol consultations to assess. All we can say with reasonable certainty is that around 1800 William Broderip built a country house on a new site near Westbury-on-Trym, and that before doing so sought the advice of Repton, who with his son produced a package of proposals encompassing both house and grounds. In the absence of a surviving Red Book, Report or extended published description we have no way of knowing what these proposals were, or to what extent Broderip implemented them. It remains possible, however, to review the available photographic and cartographic evidence for the appearance and layout of this vanished house and estate, and consider how far, if at all, Repton’s imprint is detectable.

Cote Bank House was located on the western side of Westbury Road, occupying a terrace cut into the crest of a limestone ridge overlooking the Trym valley. While nothing of its internal arrangements or decoration is known, its outline plan can be determined from the 1:2500 Ordnance Survey map of 188118 and its external appearance reconstructed from four of the early 20th century photographs published by Reece Winstone.19 Three main structural phases are distinguishable.

Reconstruction sketches of the east side of Cote Bank House, looking north-west (James Russell)
Reconstruction sketches of the east side of Cote Bank House, looking north-west (James Russell)

The original house built by Broderip around 1800 was a compact three-bay villa measuring some 18 metres from north to south and 12 metres from east to west, with a single-storey service range extending north for a further 12 metres. The main block was three storeys high with stuccoed elevations and shallow pitched slated roofs. External ornament was extremely limited. The first floor windows on the main east and west fronts were given flat Tudor-style hood-moulds. Above these ran a plain string-course; the second (attic) floor windows were plain except for emphasised keystones. On the west side, facing the valley, the central bay projected forward, the corners being rounded to create a flattened bow. On this side the ground floor was fronted by an elegant wrought iron veranda. On the east side the centre bay, containing the entrance hall and (presumably) the main staircase, also had a projecting rounded front but was only two storeys high, the space above being occupied by a tented lead-covered roof with a raised lantern, clasped by the higher side bays.

The house still seems to have been in this state when the 1825 survey of Westbury-on-Trym was drawn up. Probably around 1830 an extra bay was added to the south. This was in much the same style as the original house, with rendered elevations and rounded corners, but contained only two floors, probably with a single large room for entertaining on each. The tall first floor windows on the east and west sides were provided with rather heavy stone balconies.

The last major alterations to the house were carried out at some time in the mid-Victorian period, possibly after Thomas Pease purchased the property in 1865. A large two-storey wing, six bays long and faced in freestone with slightly fussy classical detailing was added to the north-east. To the south of this a single-storey outer hall was created, entered through a doorway flanked by unfluted Ionic columns, perhaps re-used from an earlier porch. A further single-storey extension masked the rest of the original east front at ground floor level. The 1881 0S map shows that a conservatory had by then been added to the south end of the building, which now straggled along the hillside for some 50 metres (160 feet).

For the purposes of this article only the original core of the house as built and occupied by Broderip need be considered further. While this presents some features of architectural interest, notably the bold treatment of the entrance hall roof, there is a certain mediocrity about its detailing and finish which makes one reluctant to associate it with either Humphry or John Adey Repton. In particular the use of Tudor-style hood-moulded windows seems incongruous in what is essentially a simplified neo-Palladian villa; one would not expect such a solecism from either Repton senior, who is known to have disapproved of stylistic mixing20 or his son, who was noted for his antiquarian interests.21 It is instructive to compare Cote Bank with another, rather better documented Repton commission at Brentry Hill, on the opposite side of Westbury village some 2 km to the north. Brentry Hill, built in 1802, was in many ways very similar to Cote Bank, a relatively modest house for another middle class patron, the Bristol merchant William Payne.22 Here, however, John Adey Repton produced a simple but elegant design of undoubted distinction, faced throughout in fine quality freestone with excellent detailing around the windows and doorway on the main entrance front. Next to it Cote Bank House appears decidedly second-rate.

Reconstructed plan of the Cote Bank estate c. 1825 (James Russell)
Reconstructed plan of the Cote Bank estate c. 1825
(James Russell)

While the evidence provided by the house is at best inconclusive, a slightly stronger case can be put forward for Repton’s involvement in the grounds of Cote Bank. The estate covered a roughly rectangular area of some 28 acres (11.3 hectares) extending westwards from Westbury Road down the side of the Trym valley to Stoke Lane. The accompanying reconstructed plan (right) is based largely on the Westbury map of 1825, supplemented by details from the Tithe survey of 184123 and the 1881 OS map. The site was a fine one, offering unbroken views across the bowl of the valley to the wooded ridge of Coombe Hill and Kingsweston Hill, as well as wider prospects westwards across the Avon to Portishead and Failand.

The Westbury Road frontage of the estate was abutted by two smaller properties which are both extant. Occupying its own small enclave in the centre of the frontage was Cote Bank Villa (136 Westbury Road) a three-storey, three-bay rendered box of no particular distinction, probably dating to the late 18th century. Further north, in the corner of the estate, stood ‘Southey House’ (156/156a Westbury Road) a larger two-storey residence which seems to have been built early in the 19th century on the site of the White Horse Inn, almost certainly the “filthy, old, barn-looking” former alehouse rented by the poet Robert Southey for twelve months in 1798-99.24

Cote Bank House itself stood aloof from its lesser neighbours, set back 40 metres from the main road and screened from it and them by a thick belt of trees and shrubs. The stable yard was however located next to Westbury Road immediately south of Southey House; here a plain two-storey block of outbuildings still survives in a somewhat dilapidated condition, occupied by a building contractor, as the last visible remnant of the estate. The main entrance to the property lay further south, near what is now the top of Falcondale Road. It was guarded by a lodge which does not appear on the 1825 map but is clearly marked on a plan of 1829 relating to a property across the road.25 From here a carriage drive ran north- westwards in a curve down the slope, allowing the visitor a first brief but exhilarating glimpse of the views across the valley, before rising again to enter the forecourt east of the house.

Cartographic evidence suggests that few modifications were required to the landscape in the southern half of the estate. Here a small promontory breaks forward from the main limestone ridge, providing a natural boundary to the property and framing and containing the views westward. More extensive work, clearly guided by an experienced hand, quite plausibly that of Repton, was however undertaken further north, below the windows of the house. Here the straight northern boundary of the estate was broken up by the creation of a rectangular walled kitchen garden halfway down the slope. This was approached from the terrace west of the mansion by a path winding through a belt of trees planted against the boundary; a southward extension of the same plantation screened the garden enclosure from the house above. Such walled gardens, with carefully designed routes leading to them, are a common feature of Repton’s schemes.26

South of the walled garden the 1825 map shows a small structure which can be identified from the accompanying schedule as the ‘gardener’s cottage’. The outline of the building shown on the 1881 OS map indicates that it was about 7 metres long and 5 metres wide, with its gable end facing east towards the house, and a projecting porch to the south. It is clear that it was carefully placed in the landscape to provide an object of interest when viewed from the house at the top of the hill. There can be little doubt that this was done at the instigation of Repton, who liked his landscapes to be peopled and his garden features to be useful as well as ornamental. An excellent local analogy is provided by the Woodman’s Cottage at Blaise Castle, part of Repton’s Red Book proposals of 1795-96. This was deliberately sited to be viewed from Blaise Castle House across the valley of the Henbury Brook, and to add a note of “motion, animation and inhabitancy” to its dark woodland setting.27

Extending southwards from the gardener’s cottage a straight field boundary shown on the 1825 map can be seen from the 1881 OS map to have taken the form of a sunken wall or ha-ha; this would have been invisible from the house and would have provided the illusion of an unbroken strip of grassland running down to the western edge of the estate. Here, at the bottom of the slope, the 1881 map shows a pond some 60 metres long. To judge from a surviving photograph28 this does not appear to have been a very inspiring water feature and was probably a post-Repton addition to the landscape; it does not appear on the 1825 survey and is only sketchily indicated on the 1841 Tithe map. Another secondary feature shown on the Tithe map is a narrow plantation running the length of the Stoke Lane boundary and clearly intended to mask a settlement of unpicturesque labourers’ hovels (nowadays, of course, transformed into highly desirable bijou residences!) which had sprung up on a triangular plot of land across the road. This development can however be shown from cartographic evidence and surviving date-stones (‘Waterloo Vale 1820’ on 76 Stoke Lane and ‘Willow Cottages 1822’ on Nos. 120-122) to have only started in the early 1820s, and as such would have been of no concern to either Repton or William Broderip.

Until further evidence emerges, little more can be said concerning Cote Bank. It is of course conceivable that Repton’s original Red Book for the site may still survive, carefully preserved by the descendants of William Broderip. There is a rather greater likelihood, given that the estate was broken up less than 80 years ago, that more photographs or drawings of the house and grounds may come to light. Illustrations of the entrance lodge and gardener’s cottage could prove particularly valuable in re-assessing Repton’s contribution here.


Acknowledgements

Preparation of this article has been greatly assisted by access to a collection of maps, transcripts and other material relating to Westbury-on-Trym formed in the 1970s by Dr J D Egdell, the then Chairman of the Westbury-on-Trym Local History Group.

Notes and References

  1. Harding 1989, 11-12
  2. Bristol Record Office P/HTW/P4(a)
  3. Daniels 1999, Fig. 223
  4. Daniels 1999, 259
  5. Northamptonshire Record Office 616
  6. Northamptonshire Record Office 623b
  7. Perry 1984, 1-5
  8. Smith 1917, 92-3
  9. Smith 1917, 250, 252
  10. Smith 1917, 253
  11. Smith 1917, 253
  12. Smith 1917, 255; Smith wrongly gives the address as 41 Richmond Terrace
  13. Dance 1966, 137 (note)
  14. Beavan 1899, 327
  15. Dance 1966, 137-8
  16. Hudleston 1939
  17. Winstone 1985, Plates 69-74
  18. Gloucestershire, Sheet LXX1 (8)
  19. Winstone 1985, Plates 69-72
  20. Carter et al. 1982, 75
  21. Carter et al. 1982, 129-30
  22. Kingsley 1992, 86-7; Daniels 1999, 236
  23. Bristol Record Office EP/A/32/41
  24. Cottle 1980, 11-14; Jackson 2005, 126, 128
  25. Jackson 2005, Fig, 2
  26. Carter et al. 1982, 62-3, 67-8
  27. Carter et al. 1982, 83; Daniels 1999,234
  28. Winstone 1985, Plate 74

Bibliography

  • Beavan A B: Bristol Lists, Municipal & Miscellaneous, 1899
  • Carter G, Goode P & Laurie K: Humphry Repton, Landscape Gardener 1752-1818, 1982
  • Cottle B: Robert Southey & Bristol, 1980
  • Dance S P: Shell Collecting: An Illustrated History, 1966
  • Daniels S: Humphry Repton, Landscape Gardening and the Geography of Georgian England, 1999.
  • Harding S: Repton in Avon, 1989.
  • Hudleston C R: The Westbury Road a Century Ago (You know your suburb… No. 3), Bristol Evening Post, 29 September 1939.
  • Jackson R: Pottery Production in Westbury-on-Trym during the late 17th & 18th Centuries, Trans. Bristol & Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, Vol. 123, 121-131, 2005.
  • Kingsley N: The Country Houses of Gloucestershire, Vol. 2 (1660-1830), 1992
  • Perry C B: The Bristol Medical School, 1984
  • Smith G M: A History of the Bristol Royal Infirmary, 1917.
  • Winstone R: Bristol’s Suburbs Long Ago, 1985.
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