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Bystock Court, Exmouth

Description: Bystock Court

Grade: II
Date Listed: 29 May 2012
English Heritage Building ID: 1408535

OS Grid Reference: SY0232383532
OS Grid Coordinates: 302324, 83532
Latitude/Longitude: 50.6433, -3.3828

Locality: Exmouth
Local Authority: East Devon District Council
County: Devon
Country: England
Postcode: EX8 5EQ

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Listing Text


Bystock Court, a country house built in 1907 to a design by Wimperis and Best, with a multi-phase service wing, partly pre-dating the principal part of the building. The post-1914 additions to the north end are not of special interest.

Reason for Listing

Bystock Court is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: as a good example of a modest country house in Edwardian neo-Baroque style, with confident deviations, by a noted architectural practice;
* Legibility of original plan: for its intact plan form, in which the original room uses can be identified, demonstrating the requirements and habits of the original owners;
* Interior survival and quality: for its remarkably complete set of high-quality internal and external joinery and fittings, including original panelling, chimneypieces, chandeliers, wrought-ironwork and glazing;
* Group Value: with the lodges to east and south, one of which is listed at Grade II.


A house at Bystock was owned by a branch of the Drake family from the C17, and probably earlier. From 1742, and for most of the C18, Bystock belonged to successive members of the Jackson family. A new house, taking the form of a symmetrical villa, was built at Bystock circa 1800 by Edward Divett (d. 1864), one time MP for Exeter; by 1838 there was a service wing to the north, and this was extended later in the C19. In 1871 John Pablo Bryce (1846-1902) of nearby Marley House (now demolished) bought the house from Divett's trustees. Bryce, born in 1846 in South America, where his Scottish father had established a bank, was High Sheriff of Devon in 1896; he died in 1902. Bryce added a large block at the south end of the building in a loosely neo-Jacobean style, with full-height bay windows, providing a ballroom and other large public rooms.

In 1905 the house was bought by Frederic Coleman Hunter (b. circa 1865), youngest son of William Hunter (d. 1883), owner of the Kimblesworth Colliery in the Durham coalfield; his preparations for altering the house were disrupted by a fire which badly damaged the building in March 1906. The principal part, on the site of the circa 1800 building and the southern extension, was entirely replaced in 1907 to a design by Wimperis and Best of London. At the same time, the southern portion of the existing wing, which had been damaged by the fire, underwent substantial rebuilding, with changes evident to the fenestration, though the floor plans remained largely unchanged; an extension was also made at the north-east end of the building. In 1914 Ernest Ellis of Exeter and Exmouth was employed to build a further extension to the north, and alterations were made to unify the appearance of the wing.

The Wimperis and Best partnership was dissolved circa 1910, when Edmund Wimperis became architect to the Grosvenor Estate. Wimperis formed a partnership with W B Simpson in 1913, joined by L R Guthrie in 1925; this firm was responsible for numerous London buildings in an eclectic range of styles, including the neo-Classical multi-storey car park in Balderton Street (1925-6, Grade II), the Cambridge Theatre, an early London example of the Moderne style (1929-30, Grade II), and several private houses in Mayfair, mainly Classical or Baroque in inspiration.

During the Second World War Bystock was used as a convalescent home for Polish servicemen. In 1965 an Interdenominational Community Centre was opened at Bystock Court by a Christian association, and since 1983 the house has been a care home for people with learning disabilities and mental health needs.

The 1838 tithe map indicates that the house then stood within 172 acres of garden, orchard and woodland, as well as farmland, the full estate being considerably larger; this area was extended to 223 acres by the time of the 1905 sale. The land to the south and west of the house is now mainly built over, but extensive areas of woodland remain to the north, largely keeping the names they have had since the time of the 1889 OS map, or earlier. Major improvements were made to the gardens and pleasure grounds by John Bryce in the 1870s and 1880s, including the erection of a number of garden structures, and the planting of specimen trees, a number of which remain. The most remarkable work of this phase was the construction in circa 1880 of a large 'rockery', to the west of the house by the German landscape gardener, F W Meyer, employed by Robert Veitch, the prominent Exeter nurseryman. The rockery, fed by a series of ponds which may have earlier origins as fishponds, was described in the contemporary gardening press as being of exceptional size, including a 12-foot cascade and a large cavern studded with stalactites and stalagmites. Now in a ruinous condition, elements of the original design may still be identified. An overgrown rectangular yew enclosure, located to the east of the ponds, dates from the early years of the C20. The pleasure grounds in general are now much overgrown and altered, and a number of new functional buildings have been erected. The former kitchen gardens, to the east of the house, have been built over. Of the three lodges built by Edward Divett in the C19 - one marking the eastern entrance to the estate, and two at the south entrance - the eastern lodge is listed, whilst one of those to the south was de-listed having been moved, and the other is thought to be considerably altered.


MATERIALS: red brick, with Portland stone dressings. Hipped slate roofs and brick stacks, stepped at the head. Timber horned sash windows with broad ovolo-moulded glazing bars are set flush with the brickwork; there are French windows to the ground floor. An account of the building published in the architectural press in 1908 identifies the sources of many of the fittings in the 1907 building, supplied by leading craftsmen and manufacturers: the leaded lights were the work of R Crittall & Co, the rainwater heads were made by Thomas Elsley, the principal plaster ceilings were by George P Bankart, special woodwork was by George Jackson & Sons, chimney-pieces were by Longden & Co and George Jackson & Sons; chandeliers and electric light fittings were supplied by F & C Osler, and door furniture, to the architect's designs, was by J. Gibbons. The majority of these fittings, together with a large proportion of the original joinery and panelled doors, remain in-situ.

PLAN: the main part of the house, to south, is of two-storeys, and rectangular on plan, with projecting bays – square to the east, and curved to the west. The long north wing is slightly narrower, and rises to the same height as the principal building, but a mezzanine level is expressed by an intermediate row of windows.

EXTERIOR: the main part of the house is characterised by a number of Baroque features: there is a projecting stone dentil eaves cornice, with a balustrade above, and the windows have stone keystones and sills with brick aprons. The bays are defined by wide, rusticated brick piers, which clasp each corner, and mark the northern ends of the building, where it meets the wing. The eastern, entrance elevation has two central bays, with a square bay projecting to either side and a further narrow bay at the northern end containing two elongated windows above a doorway. The main entrance is in the right-hand projecting bay: the stone doorcase takes the form of an aedicule with two engaged Ionic columns (the volutes projecting in a variation sometimes known as the Scamozzi order) supporting a broken pediment; within this a cartouche with laurel swags contains Hunter's arms – a vertical spear with pendant stringed buglehorn, between two roses; the crest, above, is a stag's head between two roses. The door is framed by a semi-circular arch with a scrolled keystone; the oak door in its broad frame is Jacobethan in style, with nailhead decoration, the frame having eared corners, and the door a Renaissance arch. The fanlight is inspired by complex Jacobean windows, such as those in the celebrated façade of Sir Paul Pindar's house (now in the Victoria and Albert Museum), having balusters in silhouette with projecting drops separating canted leaded panes of textured glass, incorporating a central lantern for electric light. The other openings on the ground floor are also full-length, the French windows having multi-pane surrounds. The south front has a central full-height curved bay containing a French window with a squared fanlight; a similar door opens to a wrought-iron balcony immediately above; each opening is flanked by a pair of windows. There is a single bay to either side of the projection. The west front has two curved bays – one centrally, and the other to the right; these take the same form as the bow to south. To either side of the curved central bay, a wide, full-length glazed opening, as on the east front, with a window above. To the left is a narrower bay, containing a glazed door with a window above.

The northern wing consists of four main sections, of different dates; the windows in the wing have flat brick arches, and the sections have been unified by a parapet with lozenge detail, originally belonging to southern section, but extended in 1914; the top of the parapet is level with the eaves of the main Wimperis and Best building. Immediately to the north of the main building, a five-bay block, partially rebuilt, and refenestrated, after the fire. Further north, a block of a single bay, slightly projecting, dating from before the fire, and north again, a three-bay block, built in 1907; these two portions of the building are joined on the eastern elevation by a three-centred arch at ground-floor level, previously leading to an enclosed yard, with an arch added in 1914 at parapet level. At the northern end of the building, the four-bay block of 1914, projecting slightly in the eastern elevation. The northern end has received a number of more recent alterations and additions, to both east and west elevations.

INTERIOR: the 1908 published account of the newly-built Bystock indicates the names of the rooms, whilst a plan of 1907 gives further information about their use, so it is possible to refer to them by their original designations.

The main doorway opens to the Vestibule, with a chequered marble floor, from which doors open in three directions. To the north, a Lavatory with two WC cubicles; the marble floor continues into this area, which holds the only surviving sanitary ware, in the form of the central marble-topped double washbasin and other fittings; the WCs have been replaced. To the west, the former Flower Room, now converted for office use. To south, the oak-panelled Hall, baronial in overall conception but realised in a Baroque style; the space consists of a top-lit, galleried central square, with passages to east and west, containing doorways to the adjoining rooms, and a staircase to the east. The central area has raised and fielded panels separated by pilasters standing on tall plinths which rise with pronounced entasis to capitals with egg and dart moulding. These become square columns to form the open screens that demarcate the passages. Square columns rise on the north and west sides at gallery level, having Scamozzi Ionic capitals of mahogany, with husk drops. The two blank sides of the gallery are punctuated by pilasters, corresponding to the columns. Set back between two corner pilasters is the panelled dog-leg staircase, framed by the flanking bays; in each bay is an oriel window with a bronze frame holding bevelled glass panes, lending a Jacobean flavour to the design, with the window on the right lighting the stair. The stair has a closed string with turned balusters, and a chamfered newel with elaborate stops. The stair opening is marked by plinths with consoles at ground-floor level, and by torcheres raised on consoles at gallery level. The gallery is edged with turned balusters, now topped by a Perspex screen, between the columns. Above the frieze, a dentil cornice. The round lantern, with colourless textured glass set in a curvilinear design, is encircled by elaborate acanthus plasterwork. From the centre hangs a large brass chandelier, part of the original fittings of the house. The hall fireplace, in the southern wall of the ground floor, has a complex surround, with an eared bolection inner moulding of coloured marble, and an oak outer moulding carved with acanthus leaves; a blank central panel supports a high shelf, and green-glazed tiles line the interior and hearth. The principal ground-floor rooms retain their original form and much of their decoration and fittings: the French windows have full-length folding shutters, there are plaster cornices and wall decoration, and a variety of fireplaces in an early-C18 style, consisting of an eared architrave enclosing an inner surround of marble, with an enriched frieze, and a cornice forming a shelf. The former Billiard Room, entered from the hall to the east, is the most altered, and has lost its fireplace, but retains its cornice, window shutters, and parquet floor. Opening from the south-west corner of the Hall is the Drawing Room; here, the fireplace has a foliate design to the frieze, which is broken by a panel with floral carving, whilst the walls and ceiling have plasterwork decoration. At the west end of the hall is the Morning Room, its curved bay window at the centre of the garden front; the chimneypiece here incorporates coloured marble, and has an enriched frieze. The Dining Room, accessed from the north-west corner of the hall, has a particularly elaborate chimneypiece, with a bolection-moulded surround enriched with acanthus, and a shelf supported on scrolls. There is a modillion cornice, and the ceiling has a plasterwork moulding richly decorated with fruit. An opening has been cut in the north wall, communicating with what is now the kitchen, formerly the Library (also referred to as Mr Hunter's Business Room). The Music Room occupies the southern part of the ground floor, with windows on three sides; the eastern section of the room formerly housed an organ, and is now without noteworthy features. The Music Room is punctuated by fluted Scamozzi Ionic pilasters which define the corners of the room, and of the recessed door and window openings; above is a pulvinated frieze enriched with bay-leaves, and a cornice with egg and dart moulding. Plaster mouldings frame the wall spaces, and the ceiling is decorated with a delicate plaster moulding of acanthus and fruit. Each doorcase is shouldered, with an overdoor panel of crossed palm fronds, and a cornice. The chimneypiece has a pulvinated frieze of wreathed laurel.

On the first floor, doorcases leading from the gallery have eared frames with cornices above pulvinated friezes; the doorway leading to the north wing is surmounted by a multi-paned opening in an eared frame with husk drops. In the 1907 part of the building the first-floor rooms are much less lavishly decorated than those on the ground floor, but the scheme largely remains - with each original room retaining a fireplace and cornice - despite some later partitioning and other alterations. The southern rooms, connected by two top-lit passages, were originally occupied by Mr and Mrs Hunter; the majority of the noteworthy features are in this area. What was Mrs Hunter's Bedroom, at the centre of the east front, has a chimneypiece with a shelf resting on a row of scrolled brackets – the same model appears in the principal guest bedroom to the north-west. In the south-east corner is a room planned as a Study, with what were formerly Mr Hunter's Dressing Room and a bathroom further west. A large room, formerly Mrs Hunter's Boudoir, occupies the south-west corner; the chimneypiece has an overmantel in the Edwardian manner, a decorative ceiling, glass-fronted cabinets beneath the windows, and a broken-pedimented overdoor incorporating what appears to be a C18 cameo panel. On the west front, one wall of what was Mrs Hunter's Dressing Room is fitted with angled mirrors set to either side of the fireplace; one of the flanking cupboards has been removed as a result of the partitioning of the room.

The north wing of the house has received far more alteration than the southern section. On the ground floor, service rooms have been substantially modernised and retain few traces of their original use: the former Servants' Hall retains only a large cupboard; what was the Housekeeper's Room has a moulded timber chimneypiece and a cupboard, whilst in the original Kitchen, at the north end of the house, an alcove indicates the former position of the range. The cellars remain in much their original form, and retain brick wine bins. The mezzanine floor provided bedrooms for servants; these low-ceilinged rooms are extremely plain, and do not retain original features. The first floor of this part of the house originally accommodated guests and children, with bedrooms towards the south, and nurseries to the north, with a long schoolroom occupying the north-east corner. Several of these rooms have been subdivided, and few original features remain.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: against the 1907 part of the house to south and west is a wide brick terrace, approached by steps, and edged by a stone balustrade with stone urns marking the openings and obelisks marking each corner.

At the southern entrance to the site stand a pair of granite gate piers with quadrant walls, thought to have been associated with the earlier house.

Source: English Heritage

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.