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Valley Spring

A Grade II Listed Building in Combe Down, Bath and North East Somerset

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.3567 / 51°21'24"N

Longitude: -2.3613 / 2°21'40"W

OS Eastings: 374938

OS Northings: 162021

OS Grid: ST749620

Mapcode National: GBR 0QP.XGS

Mapcode Global: VH96T.1518

Entry Name: Valley Spring

Listing Date: 3 August 2011

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1401001

Location: Bath and North East Somerset, BA2

County: Bath and North East Somerset

Electoral Ward/Division: Combe Down

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Bath

Traditional County: Somerset

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Somerset

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Summary

A house completed in 1968 to a design by the architect Peter Womersley for his brother John and his family.

Description

A house built in 1968 to a design by the architect Peter Womersley, for his brother John.

MATERIALS: the house consists of three flat-roofed pavilions with plate glass walls set between tall red brick towers in Flemish bond, with the roofs and floors resting on tall U-shaped piers.

PLAN: The building has a linear free-flow plan set along the north-east/south-west axis. The central brick tower incorporates the stairs, and is set between two-storey pavilions, with that to the south-west incorporating the dining room and kitchen, with two bedrooms and a bathroom above it on the first floor. The north-east pavilion contains the former children's playroom / study, with two smaller bedrooms and a bathroom, with a large living room above it. The flat roof above the living room formerly served as a sun terrace, and is accessed via the central stair tower. The third pavilion, attached to the south-west, contains a single storey one-bedroom flat with its own entrance. A flat-roofed carport projects from the north-west, front, elevation.

EXTERIOR: The glass pavilions have horizontal timber cladding to the eaves and floors, now cream coloured, but originally painted dark brown. Two of the original frameless plate glass walls with distinctive mitred corners have survived, including a number of the original louvred ventilation windows. These were introduced to offer uninterrupted views of the surrounding countryside and to see from one room into the next. The others have been replaced with UPVC framed windows using the existing openings.

INTERIOR: The internal layout including most of its finishes and a number of original features and fixtures, has survived intact. The living room has a square-shaped snug, with built-in tiled seating around a large brick fireplace. The majority of ceilings are faced in sycamore, with the original ceiling lights surviving in places. Where exposed, as in the master bedroom, the ceiling beams, clad in sycamore, are resting on exposed U-shaped concrete supports to the brick piers. The U-shaped piers in the main bedrooms, children’s playroom and the annexe contain full height built-in wardrobes faced in sycamore. The stairs have chunky timber handrails to the inner walls, and the treads are covered in black marmoleum tiles with hardwood nosing.

SETTING: Valley Spring occupies a rural site on the southern outskirts of Bath. It is built on a terrace set on the slopes of a south-facing hillside, offering panoramic views over Horsecombe Vale, a wooded valley which stretches out in front of it. The house is approached by a private drive leading off Southstoke Road leading along the hillside in an easterly direction, before it turns back on itself to lead down to the forecourt and carport attached to the front of the house.

History

Valley Spring was built in 1968 to a design by the architect Peter Womersley (1923–1993) for his brother John, managing director of Bath Cabinet Makers (BCM) and Arkana, which specialised in contemporary furniture. The Arkana factory has since been demolished, but the former BCM Factory, built in 1966-7, on the Lower Bristol Road has survived (listed at Grade II).

In 1965 John Womersley had bought a plot of land south of Bath city centre, which offered exceptional views of Horsecombe Vale. Since the late C19, this land had been occupied by a series of watercress beds and orchards, and by the early C20 it had become a nursery garden with a large group of green-houses situated on a terrace created by a stone retaining wall. The greenhouses were to be cleared, but the terrace with the retaining wall, the woodland belt with the approach from Southstoke Road, and part of the orchards, were to be retained. The house was designed for a family of five, with separate quarters for two teenage children, a large living room to accommodate the family and their guests, and for John to listen to classical music through a large built-in speaker system. Peter Womersley’s proposal drawings for Valley Spring show a free plan house set into the south-facing hillside, with a central stair tower. To its east and west it shows a two storey block containing the principal rooms, with a single storey annexe, a self-contained flat for Womersley’s mother, attached to its west.

The first planning application for Valley Spring, submitted in June 1966, was refused by Bath City Council on the basis that the design and materials would be unsuitable; the Council stipulated the use of local stone instead of brick. It was not until December 1967, following a successful appeal in which the latter requirement was withdrawn, that permission was granted. The working drawings were completed by Peter Womersley’s colleague Joseph Blackburn, and works on Valley Spring started in 1968 by Dudley Coles, a local contractor. The house was completed in the autumn of that year. Womersley’s proposal drawings include a carport, but this element was not built until the mid-to late 1970s. In the grounds below, to the south of the house, a large pond was created with a stone rubble edge. In the later C20, under new ownership, a plain, timber-clad rectangular-shaped stable block was built to the north-east of the house, along the drive behind the stone retaining wall.

Valley Spring was regularly used to stage Arkana furniture for promotional photos. In 1971 Valley Spring was published in June Park’s book ‘Houses for Today’. In October 1972 it featured in Ideal Home magazine and in January 1973 an article appeared in ‘Brick Bulletin’ published by the Brick Development Agency.

Peter Womersley is widely perceived as one of Britain’s most important C20 architects, and best known for his domestic work in the modernist style. From 1946-51 he studied architecture at the Architectural Association in London, and in 1952 he was admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects. Prior to Valley Spring, Peter Womersley had already built two houses for his brother, including Farnley Hey in West Yorkshire of 1954-5 (listed at Grade II). Peter Womersley lived in the Scottish Borders, where a number of his buildings are located, including High Sunderland, a house built for the textile designer Bernat Klein in 1958 (listed in Category A) with an adjacent Studio added in 1972 (also listed in Category A).

Wickens (2005) claims that Valley Spring is the only post-war Modern Movement house built within the city limits of Bath. He states that it differs greatly from Womersley’s earlier domestic work, and that it was probably influenced by Richard Neutra’s Bailey House in California of 1948; the Japanese architect Kiyonori Kikitake’s Sky House of 1958, in Tokyo; and by Phillipo Brivio’s Villa Corinna in Ticino, Italy of 1963, to which it shows a great likeness.

Reasons for Listing

Valley Spring, Southstoke Road, Bath is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architect: it is a good example of a modernist house designed by the nationally important architect Peter Womersley, built for his brother John in 1968.
* Architectural interest: it displays clear quality in design as expressed in the use of its materials, the sculptural quality of its massing, and its successful and interesting visual interaction with its surrounding landscape.
* Intactness: the house has survived mostly complete, and the replacement of many of its windows, although unfortunate, has not overwhelmed the quality of the overall design.
* Interior and plan: Its linear free-flow plan and its bespoke carpentry, fittings and fixtures, clearly reflect the modern life-style and specific requirements of its first occupants.
* Historic interest: it is a rare example of 1960s modernist domestic architecture in Bath.

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