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Otterhead Estate (also known as Otterhead Estate and Lakes, Otterhead Lakes Local Nature Reserve)

Introduction

The site was the heart of a 1,700 acre estate formed from 1817 onwards as the pleasure grounds of Otterhead House. The major landscape features are the River Otter and the Otterhead Lakes. There are successive floral displays beginning with snowdrops followed by narcissi and bluebells and ending with American rhododendrons in July. Built features include garden terraces and two walled gardens (currently closed).

Visitor Facilities

Free car park. An alternative new path from the car park bypasses steps. The steps have been rebuilt and a handrail added. Paths and drives are often steep, muddy and uneven.

Location, Area, Boundaries, Landform and Setting

Situated in a particularly steeply sloping part of the valley of the River Otter within two miles of its source, the site was the heart of a 1,700 acre estate formed from 1817 onwards as the pleasure grounds of Otterhead House (demolished in 1952). The valley location means that most built features are terraced. The two walled gardens are at present closed due to safety concerns. Long-lost paths are being cleared for eventual re-opening. It is believed that some of the garden terraces are hidden under lake dredging's but whether the underground fernery still survives is not known.

The major landscape features are the River Otter, the Otterhead Lakes, formerly at least seven in number but now with only two holding water and two leats, all giving the impression of a very neglected one mile long water garden. There are successive floral displays beginning with snowdrops followed by narcissi and bluebells and ending with American rhododendrons in July. Potential constraints are local nature reserve designation and being a mains water catchment. Otterhead, with multi interests and multi habitats, is also an educational resource.

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

Access contact details

The site is freely accessible at all times.

Contact Friendsofotterhead@gmail.com for more information.

Owners

Wessex Water

Operations Centre, Claverton Down, Bath, BA2 7WW
History

19th Century

Between 1817 and 1864, an agricultural landscape with orchards and woodland, as well as a farmhouse possibly centuries old, had been transformed into the pleasure grounds of Otterhead House built in the Early Tudor style. It is possible that one lake had been constructed for milling purposes in medieval times but by 1864 there were two. It is likely that the valley landscape at Hestercombe was the inspiration for the grounds at Otterhead as William Beadon, a Taunton surgeon, inventor and radical politician, had lived at Gotton House, West Monkton, close to Hestercombe.

Sir John Mellor, a Justice of the Queen's Bench, and his family bought Otterhead following Beadon's death in 1864. By 1890 several more lakes had been constructed. The next owners were the Lewis Lloyds from Radnorshire who had been forced to move as much of their estate had been acquired for the Birmingham Corporation's Clairwen and Elan valleys reservoirs scheme.

20th Century

There would have been little or no incentive to develop the gardens after 1904 as the residents at Otterhead from then until 1938 were a succession of tenants, the last from 1916 being Sir William Goschen, the financier.

The last gardener was dismissed by Taunton Corporation following acquisition of the site as a mains water catchment. What remains today is therefore a Victorian or early Edwardian landscape. There have been many losses of buildings and other features, but others have survived, in some cases hidden or even unrecognized.

Period

Victorian (1837-1901)

Features & Designations

Designations

  • Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

  • Reference: Blackdown Hills AONB
  • Local Nature Reserve

Key Information

Type

Estate

Purpose

Nature Reserve

Principal Building

Recreational

Period

Victorian (1837-1901)

Survival

Part: standing remains

Hectares

97

Open to the public

Yes

Civil Parish

Otterford

References

Contributors

  • Roy Coombs