Spa Hotel (also known as Spa Nurses Home, Vellore)3025

Bath, England, Bath and North East Somerset

Brief Description

The Spa Hotel has the garden of a grandiose mansion, laid out between 1836 and 1858. There are mixed specimen trees and shrubs surviving, together with a temple and pool, grotto, second pool and walled kitchen garden, recently made into car park.

History

The Spa Hotel was originally built in as the main residence of General Augustus Andrews. From 1879 to 1909, the site was a boys' school, then was afterwards a hotel. In 1939 it was commandeered for Admiralty use. After the war, the site was once more a hotel for a brief period, before being sold to the South Western Regional Hospital Board to become the `Spa Nurses Home'. The site went back into hotel use again after 1985.

Detailed Description

The principal building dominates the eastern side of the site and is north-north-west to south-south-east in alignment. The entire site forms part of the gently sloping south side of the Avon valley below Bathampton Down.

The main entrance to the site is from North Road via a sweeping tarmac driveway up to the front of the building and beyond to the Georgian annexe (previously Darlington House) and from Sydney Road to a southern driveway no longer in use.

The principal garden area lies to the north-west of the house and consists of fairly level lawns and small areas of quite dense woodland planting. The whole is broken up by a series of paths, currently tarmac, in addition to a formal area approached from two flights of steps below the house.

The majority of the shrub planting includes popular Victorian choices such as Aucuba Japonica, Viburnum Tinus, Bay, Lonicera Nitida, variegated Ilex, whilst a number of fine exotic specimen trees include a number of Sequoias, Fagus, Taxus Baccata and a pair of Ginkos close to the main entrance.

To the south of the house beyond a collection of out-buildings and stables lies a large walled kitchen garden. This is now overgrown, but formerly included espalier fruit trees, cold frames and a row of glasshouses.

The original layout of the grounds to the east of the main building is unclear until the time of Bath College ownership. Much of it was covered by a tennis court and the remainder left overgrown in the 1980s at the time of the last survey.

The entire site was in a state of some decline when last surveyed, having remained unoccupied since the closure of the Nurses Home. The main driveways and paths throughout the gardens, which might once have been gravel covered were covered by cracked tarmac and only the long living perennial planting, in particular a number of specimen trees, appear to have survived from the early garden layout.

The proposed conversion back to hotel use has since taken place, and the site is likely to be rather different in appearance now.

Features
  • Grotto
  • Description: This is one of the most extravagant of General Andrews additions to the gardens, thought to date from the early 1850s and costing #1000 to construct. It is a circular pile of tufa-like rocks with blocked pointed doorways and windows. It is surrounded by a path marked out by boulders, with two rustic arches linking with grotto and what was once a pool at the east end. The whole was entirely overgrown and in need of cleaning at the time of the last survey. At the sale of the house in 1858, shortly after the grotto?s construction, it was described `as a place where in the heat of summer, the most delicious quietude and repose may be enjoyed?.
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  • Doric Temple
  • Description: Greek Doric ashlar temple with pilasters and columns in antis, triglyph frieze, pediment with anthemion crest and acroteria to returns. Mosaic patterned tiled floor with plait design edging. Faces directly over formal pond. It is in a relatively good state of repair.
  • Pool
  • Description: Semi-circular dressed Bathstone pool now overgrown with water plants but still containing water. It serves as a central feature between the two flights of steps to the main lawns.
  • Kitchen Garden
  • Description: Walled kitchen garden, now a car park.
  • Greek Revival Mansion (featured building)
  • Description: The house was built in the early - mid 1830s for General Augustus Andrews and originally named `Vellore?. It is a vast Greek Revival ashlar mansion consisting of a two storey block with set-back Greek Doric colonnaded link. The original home was added to to produce the second two storey block and later the late-19th century four-storey wing to give it a rather unsymmetrical facade.
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  • Garden Building
  • Description: This is a two-storey coach house with extensive stabling, dating from the same period as the house but unlisted. It was used more recently for stabling horses in the Rex Harrison film production of `The Scarlet Pimpernel?. It is in fair condition but some renovation work is required.
  • Structure
  • Description: This feature is the tennis court. It was built for the Nursing Home, tarmac surfaced and now in a very poor state of repair. It is surrounded by a close link metal fence.
  • Glasshouse
  • Description: Dressed Bathstone and timber construction with modern breeze block repairs. The glasshouses were derelict when the site was last surveyed. The remains of the former heating system are still evident in adjacent out-buildings.
  • Pond
  • Description: Lying to the front of the temple (F3) and surrounded by over?grown shrubbery, this formal pond would present an attractive reflection of the temple if cleared. It is also known to have been used as a swimming pool by the pupils of Bath College.
  • Pond
  • Description: Pond similar to the formal pond, having dressed Bathstone construction. It is now soil-filled and used as a raised bed. The existence of a fountain with water pipe indicates its intended use as a pond.
  • Fountain
  • Description: This is a fountain with water pipe within the soil-filled pond.
  • Bed
  • Description: This is the remains of a formal bed. It is a central circular bed, much of it taken up by a flat central stone feature. It is flanked on either side by two crescent shaped beds now grassed over but still clearly visible.
  • Lawn
  • Description: This is the main lawn, including the principal specimen tree and shrub planting.
  • Steps
  • Description: There are two grand flights of steps leading from the terrace to the main lawn. The steps have decorative pillars surmounted by ornamental stone urns.
Specimen Tree
Access & Directions

Directions

From the M4 take junction 18, following the A46 for Bath. Turn right on the first large roundabout and follow the A4, then left onto the A36.

History

Detailed History

The Spa Nurses Home was originally built in as the main residence of General Augustus Andrews C.B. and was at that time named ‘Vellore'. The architect and garden designer remain unknown.

Augustus Andrews lived in the property from 1836 until his death at 79 years of age in 1858. The name ‘Vellore' resulted from the fact that General Andrews had had custody of Typoo Saib's children in Vellore, India from where he returned to England in the 1830s.

A record of the homes sale in 1858 remains in the Bath Chronicle and Herald (25 March 1858), and records in detail the rooms and numerous outbuildings. It also lists the furnishings, pictures, jewellery and so on. The conservatory, of which no trace remains, was said to contain 2,000 exotic plants, in addition to the rare English and foreign shrubs, trees and plants which filled the remainder of the gardens.

The Reverend Charles Kemble MA bought the house in 1860, and his family were there until 1874 when it was purchased by a Lady Morrison who sold it again three years later.

It subsequently became the property of Bath College, a small public boys' school founded in 1879 by the Reverend T.W.Dunn (see The Times, 14 August 1934) and at this time was considerably enlarged. Over the years the school saw a decline in fortunes. In 1909 it faced closure, and was sold by auction for £1260.

The next mention of the building was in 1915 when the Bath Directory refers to the site as the Spa Hotel owned by the Bath Hydropathic Company (The Bath and West Evening Chronicle, 27 April 1977). It remained a hotel, with minor interruptions including the brief residence of Haile Selassie, Emperor of Abyssinia, in 1936, until 1939 when it was commandeered for Admiralty use. During this period Churchill, amongst others, was involved in high-level naval decision-making in what became known as the ‘Admiralty Room'.

Not until 1948 was it returned to the hotel, re-opening for a mere 18 months from 1949 to 1950, before being sold to the South Western Regional Hospital Board to become the ‘Spa Nurses Home'. Thirty-five years later, in 1985, the building was sold again, this time to Geo Wimpey. Wimpey themselves sold it a year later to Trust House Forte, who were planning to renovate the building and reinstate it once again as a hotel when the site was last surveyed in the 1980s.

All the primary features of the garden layout are thought to date from the time of General Andrews occupancy between 1836 and 1858. One of the later additions was the grotto built at a cost of £1,000 shortly before his death.

Subsequent alterations included the enlargement of the property by the purchase of Darlington House and surrounding land in 1911 and the construction of a tennis court by the Nurses Home. The original private house built by A. Andrews was similarly extended, in particular by Bath College who were responsible for the late-19th century four storey wing south of the main house.

Period

  • Victorian (1837-1901)
Contact
References

References

Contributors

  • R.E.S Wilson

    1

  • Avon Gardens Trust