Last September on a hot afternoon Ned and I were dragging our suitcases up Pound Street in Lyme Regis and rested for a moment in front of a beautiful 18th century villa set back from the road. We’d been staying with friends near Bridport and we wanted to spend a day or two in Lyme before going back to London lazing through the beautiful bookshops, sauntering around on the beach and pretending to be either Meryl Streep or Louisa Musgrove on the cobb. Actually, that last bit was just me. Ned had to pretend to be Jeremy Irons or Captain Wentworth. Anyway, moving on…
The house looked neglected and run down but it was still beautiful, as you can see. We stood there for a few minutes imagining the rooms inside; arguing about where Ned would have his piano and if my study would have a sea view. Rooms allotted and the house added to the ‘Imogen and Ned fantasy property portfolio’ we sighed and continued our climb to our bed and breakfast. Now it turns out if the Landmark Trust get their way, we may be able to stop climbing at that house after all and drag our bags inside. We wouldn’t have it all to ourselves all year round, but that’s ok. We’re nice like that. It’s called Belmont and they are raising funds for its restoration
If you don’t know the Landmark Trust, have a visit to their site. They are a charity who have saved and restored more than two hundred historic properties in the UK in order to open them up as self-catering accommodation. Some are small enough to suite couples, other properties you can rent out with a group of friends. There’s even an island I’ve got my eye on. Anyway, I’ve been mooning around on their website enough to end up on their email mailing list and a few weeks ago I opened one up that was appealing for funds to restore the latest failing treasure they had found. Surprise, surprise it was our seaside villa. It was built in 1774, so it would have been at its most beautiful just when the Crowther and Westerman mysteries are set and, now this is what would really impress Harriet, it was built by an independent business woman named Eleanor Coade. She had made her fortune selling an artificial stone, Coade Stone, that you can still see all over London, this Lion on Westminster Bridge for instance. Tomorrow night I’m off to a talk about her and her work, and I’ll be writing about it on The History Girls blog on the 21st.
Of course, knowing who built it and when was enough to have me reaching for the chequebook, but the interest in the house doesn’t end there. In the twentieth century it was the home of one of our best novelists of the 60s and 70s, John Fowles. He lived there from 1969, the year that French Lieutenant’s Woman was completed, until his death. A historic home for a historical novelist. Lucky man. The Landmark Trust need 2.1 million to restore Belmont and you can find out exactly what they plan to do here. As well as opening the house to paying guests they also hope to place a permanent exhibition in the stables which will be open to the general public so that everyone can rest on the way up the hill and find out about this beautiful building and the remarkable people in its history. Please consider supporting the campaign.