CASTLE HOUSE, BRIDGWATER, SOMERSET
Castle House was built in 1851 for John Board, a successful local builder and manufacturer of bricks, tiles and ‘modern’ cements. It was intended to fulfil the roles of a family home, a showcase and an experiment in the pioneering use of the new materials.
Board’s development of his own Bath, Portland and Roman varieties of cement, combined with his expertise in brick and tile manufacture led him to explore the potential of pre-cast and in situ concrete. The reinforcement of his extraordinary floor and roof constructions with iron was revolutionary. While others (including William Aspdin, W.B.Wilkinson, A.B. Vabre) were known to be experimenting at the time, Castle House may represent the earliest known survival of modern reinforced concrete construction in the world.
After many years of neglect Castle House was in a perilous condition. In 1998 an application for demolition was expected. The threat of the wrecker’s ball triggered English Heritage to upgrade the building from Grade II to Grade II*. The SAVE Trust purchased the building at Public Inquiry in 2002, following which the project was taken forward by Kit Routledge of Richard Pedlar Architects with Brian Morton and Rik Fox of the Morton Partnership acting as structural engineers.
In April 2009, thanks to a grant from English Heritage Chris Balme of Acanthus Fergurson Mann was appointed to take over the reins as project architect. Chris has since been working hard in conjunction with the SAVE Trust to secure the long term future of this historic building.
With the help of another English Heritage grant, SAVE was able to purchase and erect new scaffolding (including a temporary roof) and carry out a full investigation of the building.
SAVE's regeneration consultant, Martin Davidson of Hannah Reynolds Associates, has now identified an end user for the building, the Bridgwater Arts Centre - and an outline scheme has been drawn up for its conversion into an arts centre. Sedgemoor District Council has generously donated the adjacent site to the SAVE Trust which will provide space for a new performance studio to support the work of the Centre.
English Heritage has continued to support the project and has provided another grant of £180,000 to carry out emergency works on the building. These will commence shortly.
The SAVE Trust believes that the building should be repaired and adapted in a way that preserves its special character and architecture - to make it a beacon for regeneration in this part of Bridgwater. SAVE also considers the improvement of the quality of the surrounding environment as essential, both the immediate setting of the historic building and the rest of Queen Street. It is hoped that the regeneration of the building and surrounds will raise aspirations and spark wider improvements in Bridgwater, a very fine historic town.
Bridgwater is a town with immense potential. It already possesses a rich stock of interesting and important historic buildings. Ambitious and intelligent planning could revitalise the town, in particular the riverside area, currently rather down at heel, but with the potential to become a street with a bustling café culture.
Historically in Bridgwater, brick and tile production was the local industry, taking advantage of its great natural resource, clay - which can be seen in abundance along the banks of the River Parrett. Wharves once extended downstream for about a mile, the only visible reminders being the beautifully crafted cast iron cranes and Ware’s Warehouse.
Castle Street was developed by the 1st Duike of Chandos in the 1720s. Its facing terraces of Grade I listed houses rival some of the finest streets in Bath (see Figure 3). The contractor was Benjamin Holloway who also built Lions House (also Grade I) an exquisite Baroque townhouse which looks out over the river (see Figure 4).
Bridgwater once had a fine medieval castle with a moat, and although physical remains have now been largely destroyed, parts of the castle have been revealed by archaeological investigations. Remains of the medieval wall have been discovered in Queen Street. For more information on Bridgwater click here.
Also of Interest
Not far from Bridgwater are a number of fine houses and landscapes including Halswell Park where two fine 18th-century follies, the Temple of Harmony and Robin Hood’s Hut, have been rescued and restored by the Somerset Building Preservation Trust.
Nearby National Trust properties include Dunster Castle, Stourhead and Montacute House - a magnificent Elizabethan mansion. For other National Trust days out in the area visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk
There are several properties of interest in Bridgwater on the open market for potential investors (see above for photos). The most noteworthy include 1 Castle Street (Grade I listed). The Watergate Hotel, Grade II listed was recently for sale but has recently sold. 1 Castle Street is for sale through Georgian Property, a charitable estate agency which benefits the Georgian Group. Tel 087 1789 1789, email firstname.lastname@example.org and Greenslade Taylor Hunt, tel 01823 334455. The Wesleyan Chapel, built in 1816, is also for sale with Lyndon Brett Partnership, 01278 450350, and is likely to feature in SAVE’s Buildings at Risk register.