The Ridge


Location   Wotton-under-Edge
Year demolished   c.1934  
Reason   Insufficent wealth, dereliction  
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Text written by, and copyright of, Nicholas Kingsley - many thanks

The Ridge estate at Wotton, which in medieval times had belonged to Kingswood Abbey, passed at the Dissolution of the Monasteries to the Poyntz family and descended with their Newark Park estate until the 18th century. It then changed hands a number of times before being bought by Edward Sheppard, a clothier from Uley, in 1805.

The early 19th century was a period of widespread, if fitful, prosperity in the Gloucestershire clothing industry, and work on the creation of The Ridge and laying out the grounds may have taken place over an extended period as a result. Nothing seems to have happened until at least 1810, when Sheppard was assessed for rates only on a farm, but probably began about that time as Sheppard sought a footpath diversion order - suggesting he was beginning to layout a park - in 1811. The plan he submitted shows the footprint of a gentleman's house which already incorporates key elements (the long conservatory and the two bow fronts facing north-west) of the eventual design, but is not the same as the eventual layout. In 1814 the description of the property in the rating records changes from 'Ridge Farm' to 'House and Offices' so the shell of the building was probably then either complete or under construction.

In 1816, a press report gives The Ridge as Edward Sheppard's address for the first time, so enough of the house must then have been complete for him to occupy it. Another footpath diversion order plan dated 1817, which shows only half the house, shows enough to make it clear that the layout was the same as that projected by 1811, but a lodge had been built and the environs had been transformed in a gentleman's park, with shelter belts and plantations of trees. It is thus pretty certain that a significant part of Sheppard's scheme had been carried out in the 1810s. This is puzzling because since the publication of Delineations of Gloucestershire in 1825, the architect of Edward Sheppard's new house has been recorded as George Stanley Repton (1786-1858), son of the landscape gardener, Humphry Repton, who after many years as a pupil and assistant in the office of John Nash, finally set up on his own between 1818 and 1820. It would seem, therefore, that Sheppard, having begun by remodelling and extending the existing Ridge Farm or building a new house on its site, decided that it was not satisfactory, and turned to Repton to convert the - possibly incomplete - building into something grander.

As early as 1810 Nash wrote to a client that he wanted to give Repton freedom to design “a Moiety of all Cottages farm houses & picturesque buildings” for which commissions might come to their office, but it seems unlikely that Nash would have allowed Repton to design a major new house as early as 1814. It was, however, not unusual for architects to pass on an important commission to favoured former pupils when they set up on their own, to help them establish their own practice, and it is possible that this is what happened at The Ridge. Another possibility is that Repton's elder brother John Adey Repton, who had a number of commissions in Gloucestershire at this time, was originally approached about work at The Ridge, and passed on the commission to a brother just starting to build an independent career.

The house that resulted from Repton's involvement was on a very considerable scale, and the commission must have helped to establish his career. Clearly it was a building he was proud of and of which he showed drawings to later clients, for the RIBA has a plan and elevation on paper watermarked 1825, which must have been made for such a purpose. The main block of the house was almost square, but the north front, which overlooked spectacular views, was extended to either side by four‑bay blank arcades concealing a conservatory on one side and service accommodation on the other. These terminated in single‑bay pavilions, again blind to the north, but lit by windows in their return elevations. The central block was itself in three parts: a two‑storey three‑bay centre with a concealed roof and balustraded parapet, and flanking, slightly projecting, wings which had an additional attic storey and pitched roofs running in templar fashion from front to back of the house. These wings had shallow curved bow windows. It is apparent from the plans and later views of the house how the building of the 1810s was simply incorporated into Repton's scheme. His main innovation was to create a new entrance front on the south side, with the tall earlier wings framing a broad Ionic portico rising the full height of the central three bays. All the ground‑floor windows on each front were pedimented, and from the corners of the south front quadrant walls curved out to enclose a forecourt and conceal the rear view of the kitchen court. On the west, the glazed, south‑facing side of the conservatory looked out onto an enclosed flower garden laid out in the Gardenesque style, while to the west the buildings of the service court incorporated the earlier L-shaped range.

Although no illustrations seem to survive to show how the interiors of The Ridge were decorated, an excellent and detailed plan of the house was published when it was sold in 1837 after Edward Sheppard became bankrupt. Along the north front, a suite of three rooms (drawing room, library and dining room) of varied shapes inter‑connected through wide folding doors. The 60ft conservatory opened from the drawing room in what was coming to be the usual way. Behind this sequence of rooms ran a passage open on one side through an arcade to the unheated entrance hall. From the hall itself, a top‑lit oval staircase hall containing a cantilevered stone stair opened to the east, while on its west side was an elaborated columned niche. A subsidiary stair occupied a similar position on the other side of the hall, and the ground floor also contained a breakfast room and justice room, poked rather awkwardly down a corridor behind the second staircase.

The size of The Ridge, and the grandeur of its bow‑ended dining room and lengthy conservatory announced Sheppard's wealth to the world; the book‑lined library and provision of a justice room signalled his politeness and his aspiration to the magistracy. But Sheppard's was a fortune founded on industrial wealth, and ultimately he proved vulnerable to the collapse in the clothing trade which took Paul Wathen, Daniel Lloyd and other local clothiers into bankruptcy. The Ridge was auctioned at the Old Bell Inn, Dursley, in 1837, and was bought by George Bengough, an heir to the Bristol City Bank and Cadell publishing fortunes. He added a second lodge and built a delightful cast-iron bridge in the grounds in 1840 and a chapel at The Ridings in 1841, and apparently also made some changes to the house. An early 20th century photograph of the garden front shows raised parapets in lieu of the pediments on the wings, and that the pediments on the ground floor windows had also been removed. There seem, however, to have been few other changes to Repton's design, at least externally.

The estate descended in turn to George's sons, George Henry Bengough (d. 1865) and John Charles Bengough (d. 1913). The latter passed the house on to his son, John Alan George Bengough (1859-99) in 1884, but after he died his widow and her children moved out and The Ridge seems not have been occupied by the family again. The house reputedly became a residential hotel or country club before the First World War, and was then occupied for some years by a local solicitor. In 1913 the estate passed to John Crosbie Bengough (1888-1916), whose death in the First World War landed his younger brother, Nigel James Bengough (1895-1980) with two lots of death duties to pay. As a result, outlying parts of the family estates around Almondsbury and Cirencester (Glos) and Shirenewton (Mon.) were sold in 1918, and further farms followed in 1925 and 1927. By 1921 The Ridge itself was unoccupied and deteriorating, and efforts to find a new tenant were unsuccessful. After lengthy negotiations, it was finally sold to Charles Kingsley Cory (1890-1967), who already owned adjacent lands. A few years later, he demolished it except for the carriage courtyard at the east end of the complex. The exact date of demolition is uncertain. A press report in 1933 stated that it was intended to demolish the house, but not until May 1937 does another report mention that demolition had taken place; some of the doorcases are said to have been reused in the extension and refitting of Stancombe Park (Glos), which seem to have been underway in 1936.

In the 1960s the abandoned and ruinous carriage court was restored as a holiday home for Raymond Cory, but when his daughters came to sell the estate in the early 21st century, they increased the value of the property by obtaining planning permission for the building of a new classical country house on the site of The Ridge, to the designs of Peter Yiangou. This would have emulated the external appearance of the Repton house - without being a precise copy - but not its internal layout. The scheme would have incorporated the existing house in its outbuildings. The scheme was widely publicised as an interesting proposal at the time. However, in 2014, after the property had been sold to The Ebony Trust, they commissioned a smaller scheme in an earlier 18th century style from Quinlan & Francis Terry which was also given planning permission. Unfortunately, neither scheme has been proceeded with at the time of writing, although some minor additions and improvements have been made to the existing house.