Notes on Penlea House

Picture kindly supplied and © The Blake Museum, Bridgwater

From the architectural style of the house, Penlea House was probably built sometime near 1850. It does not appear on the 1847 district Tithe Map. The first mention seems to come in passing in 1852:

Western Times 10 July 1852

BIRTHS July 1st, the wife of Samuel W. Browne, Esq., of Penlea, near Bridgwater, of a daughter.

Samuel Woolcott Browne (d.1881) was the son of Captain George Lewis Browne, GLB having served under Lord Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. In the 1840s Samuel had partnered with Joel Spiller to found a grain milling business in Bridgwater, which later moved to Cardiff. In the 1851 census he was living with his family in Friarn Street, so presumably moved to Penlea in the following year.

Penlea on the 1888 OS Map, shown in relation to Hamp.
Detail of the house and gardens

Liverpool Mail 23 May 1857

Freehold estate and residence for sale, one mile from Bridgwater, Somersetshire, a first-class Railway Station: Mr Lilly will sell by auction, at the Clarence Hotel, Bridgwater, on Thursday the 4th June next, at three o’clock in the afternoon, a very desirable estate and residence, called Penlea, consisting of 29 acres of the finest pasture land, with an excellent and commodious house well adapted for a gentleman’s family, with coach-house, stable, gardener’s cottage, walled fruit garden, lawn, shrubberies, paddock, yard, etc. For further particulars and a lithographed plan and front elevation of the House, apply to the auctioneer, or to Messrs Carslake and Barham, solicitors, Bridgwater.

Bridgwater Mercury 5 September 1860

Cuthbert Ritson, Esq, of Penlea House, Bridgwater, mentioned as a director of the Western Wagon Company (Limited).

A biography of Cuthbert Ritson can be read here.

Through the 1861 Census we gain a snapshot of his household at Penlea:

NameAgePosition in Household
Cuthbert Ritson44Head – Timber Merchant employing 100 men and 23 boys – born Durham
Elizabeth Ritson43Wife
William L Ritson12Son
Henry F A Ritson6Son
Ellen M Ritson5Daughter
Margaret E J Ritson3Daughter
Caroline Haysham26Servant – Nurse
Ellen Foster20Servant – Housemaid
Eliza J Brewer25Servant – Cook

Bridgwater Mercury 13 September 1876

GRASSLAND to be let, within one mile of Bridgwater, between 30 and 40 acres of old pasture, well supplied wih water situated round Penlea House, from Michaelmas next, for one year. Tenant to pay rates and taxes. The same may be viewed on application to Mr. C. Williams, the Lodge, Penlea, and offers made in writing to Captain Hartwell, Penlea House, Bridgwater, on or before 25th instant.

Captain Sir Francis H Hartwell, Royal Navy (did 1900 in London). Appears at Penlea in the 1881 and 1891 census.

Chard and Ilminster News 08 October 1898

Hampton and Sons will sell by auction, at the Mart,, London on Wednesday October 12th 1898, at 2 o’ clock precisely (unless previously sold), the very attractive freehold residential property, known as Penlea, Bridgwater, comprising a well-built and delightfully placed residence, approached by winding carriage drive, and overlooking a small grandly-timbered park and the notedly beautiful Quantock range of hills, large walled kitchen garden, shady lawns, miniature woods, stabling, two lodges; the total area of the property is about 35 acres. Particulars and conditions of sales to Charles E. Hagon, Esq., Solicitor, Bridgwater.

London Evening Standard 12 August 1899

Penlea and 45 acres, a residential property at Bridgwater, recently offered at auction by Messrs Hampton and Sons, has just been sold by them by private treaty.

Alfred Peace appears to have acquired the property here:

Lancashire Evening Post 11 June 1903

The marriage arranged between William Fallowfield, eldest son of Mr William Longrigg, Winderwath, Penrith, and Margaret, third daughter of Mr Arthur Peace, Penlea, Bridgwater, will take place on the 30th of July, at St Mary’s Church, Bridgwater.

Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 31 August 1912

RECENT WILLS: Mr Alfred Peace, J.P. of Penlea, Bridgwater, Somerset, managing director of Peace (Limited), Westquay, Cardiff (net personality £16,034) : £21,136.

Christchurch Times 14 September 1912

LOCAL WILL: Mr Alfred Peace, of Penlea, Bridgwater, of Messrs Pearce, Ltd., general merchants and steamship owners, of Bridgwater and Bournemouth, who died on the 3rd July last, aged 68-years, left estate of the gross value of £31,136 2s. 8d.

Truth 29 July 1914

Messrs Porter and Bowerman of Weston-super-Mare, in conjunction with Messrs Hughes and Sons, announce the sale by private treaty of the picturesque freehold estate known as Penlea, Bridgwater, Somerset, comprising a charming and commodious country residence, with lodge, cottage, stabling, farmer and 34 ¾ acres of parklike lands.

The Scotsman 23 August 1919

WILLS AND ESTATES Major J.F.V. Agnew, Royal Artillery, sometime of 22 Nightingale Place, Woolwich, Kent, afterwards at Broomrigg, Newbridge, Dumfries and latterly at Penlea, Bridgwater, Somerset, who died on the 19th April last at Bridgwater, aged 61 years, left personal estate in the United Kingdom valued at £4883, of which £1765 is Scottish estate.

Sometime around the Second World War, the house seems to have been divided into flats. By 1956 at least Penlea was either owned or leased by the General Post Office, whose workers were able to rent flats within the building (with thanks to Lynn Rogers for this information)

The house appears to have been acquired by the either the town or rural council after this, presumably as part of the effort to extend the housing schemes in the Hamp area. Much of the land around the house has been developed over the decades.

Between 1969 and 1971 plans were made to turn the site into an old peoples’ home, although these never came to pass. Instead the old house was converted into six large flats.

In 2018 Sedgemoor District Council, the owners, submitted plans to demolish the old house. These were approved in January 2021, primarily by District Councillors outwith the town.

Penlea House was demolished in January 2023, despite a public outcry.

The last portion of Penlea House bought down on 19 January 2023. Pictures kindly supplied by Ken Barker.

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MKP 2 November 2020