The History of Beaumont House

Category: News

Beaumont House is that rare survivor in an inner city area, a gentlemen’s residence in its own wall enclosed park. Its imposing entrance gates are still opposite St. Jude’s Church, though the carriage drive has given way to municipal paths. Since the last private owner died the house has been the borough museum, a chest clinic, and is now the home of Nash & Co Solicitors.

About Beaumont House

When the centre block of the house was built, about 1800, the town’s east gate had only been pulled down about thirty years earlier. The gate stood by the Woodman Inn, on the main Exeter road, which ran up the north-western boundary of Beaumont House. South of the little lane which ran in front of the house was a friary, a private house carved from the domestic buildings of the Carmelite Friary. East of the park was Tothill House, where the Culme family lived. They owned a great stretch of land from Cattedown to Compton.

Previous Owners

We first know of Beaumont House from two bills of sale. That of 1785 only offered ‘a newly-built barn, stable and garden plot’. In 1820 a dwelling house was included. The vendor each time was the manor of Sutton Pill, and the leasees, the Julians, a Plymouth family rather given to property dealing. In 1820 the buyer was Thomas Bewes, the price £750.

The Bewes were originally Launceston Merchants but successive sons had acquired estates in east cornwall and even the Sutton Vautor manor in Plymouth. By 1736 John Bewes was living in Hoegate Street and was mayor of the town in 1755 and 1764. His son Harry married a daughter of Peter Tonkin, who has the naval Victuallling Office contact to transport supplies out to ships in the sound. Their son in turn married a daughter of John Culme of Tothill.

John Culme was the leader of the reformers in Plymouth fighting to break the rotten borough practices which controlled Plymouth right through to the eighteenth century. When John Culme stood for parliament on the reform ticket in 1780 it was the only second contended election in the town since 1698. But he died in 1804 and his son in law Thomas Bewes took over the leadership, spending a lot of money in vain as a candidate in the General Election in 1806.

His wife died in 1809, leaving him with a young family. Thomas Bewes moved to Tothill House where his late wife’s spinster sister could look after the children. When he married again in 1813, he could hardly take his new wife into his old wife’s family home, so he took over Friary House from Sir Michael Seymour, a dashing and highly successful frigate captain. All these families were inter-married; Seymour’s son married a Bewes daughter and three other Culme girls married Beweses.

The First Solicitors in Beaumont House

Then in 1820, Thomas Bewes bought Beaumont House. It was probably he who added the east wing to the original eighteenth century centre block. At this time the name Beaumont House first appears; probably chosen by Thomas. The House still commands a pleasant view of Sutton Harbour and the Hoe; in those days the foreground was far less developed. A daughter by his first wife married a Boger whose family had long been agents for Mount Edgecumbe. This Debbie Boger was a solicitor and Charles Theodore Bewes, probably a young brother in law joined the practice in 1829. By 1850 he was head of the firm; it subsequently took the name of Bewes & Dickinson, finally Bewes, Dickinson and Scott. The last Bewes in the practice, Arthur Reginald, served his articles with the firm but did not become a partner as the firm has lost the Mount Edgecumbe business in the 1920s. Now the firm had been taken over by Lawrence Spear & Co.

Going back to the 1830s, local interest flared in reform with the great Bill before Parliament. There was a meeting of 30,000 people on the Hoe in support of the Bill, and when the first reform election came Thomas Bewes and the wine merchant John Collier were returned unopposed. Bewes held the seat until 1841, when he retired. He died at Beaumont House in 1857 and was buried at Duloe, on one of the Cornish estates, where both his wives and many of his children were buried.

His heir was the Rev. Thomas Archer Bewes, born in 1803 to Bewes first wife. He was ordained in 1826, was a curate at Duloe for eight years and then moved to Toland, near Taunton. He settled in Beaumont House, became a benefactor of Charles Church, sometime president of Plymouth Dispensary and gave a stained glass window to the new Guildhall of 1873. Tothill was passed to Culme’s niece who married a son of Sir Michael Seymour. He had changed his name to Culme-Seymour to preserve the Culme name, and it is still remembered in Seymour Road and Culme Road in Mannamead, both built on land sold by the family. This Culme-Seymour was also a priest. In 1876 he gave the land of St. Jude’s Church and both he and Thomas Archer Bewes were generous benefactors to the new Church, consecrated in 1876 and made a separate parish the next year.

The Introduction of houses around the area

Bewes never married so had no children to inherit. In 1882 when Tothill Road was driven along the east side of the park he bought a strip of land from the Culme-Seymours west of the road to complete the park, and probably built the enclosing wall. In 1890 Tothill House was pulled down and houses began to enclose Beaumont Park. In 1891 the London and South Western Railway built their Plymouth terminus on the Friary Land south of Beaumont House. Friary station remained in business until 1958. Now the site is occupied by a housing estate.

In 1896 Tothill Lane, on the south side of Beaumont House, became an important thoroughfare with tram lines laid along it for horse drawn cars, and became Beaumont Road. In 1899 this became the first tram route to be electrified. There are reminders of the tram days still in the south wall of Beaumont House, though the last tram passed in 1936.

Beaumont goes public..

When Thomas Bewes bought the last piece of land in 1882 he stipulated in the deeds that it was to be held until taken over by the Borough of Plymouth with the rest of the park. He was aware that new laws concerned with the health of towns made it possible for local authorities to create recreation areas. Bewes died in 1892 and his trustee duly sold Beaumont House and Park to Plymouth Corporation for £26,000. The park was opened as the town’s first recreation ground, after the Hoe. In 1887 the town had resolved to create an Art Gallery and Museum to mark Queen Victoria’s jubilee. When Beaumont House became a Corporation property it was an obvious choice as the temporary depository of the museum collection. An opening exhibition was held in August 1898 with just over a hundred pictures, mainly of local scenes and on loan. When the museum was open to the public on Sunday afternoons in 1899 ‘the working classes forthwith attended in large numbers to view the pictures and curiosities’. From 1900 a halfpenny rate was granted for the museums upkeep. That year attendance numbered 42,072, a daily average of 136. Various rooms were allotted to objects of art, archaeology, local history, crafts, ethnology, wild life and geology.

The first curator was T.V. Hodgson and one of his first successes was to acquire a number of artefacts from the excavations at Harlyn Bay in North Cornwall. One was the Kistvaen complete with crouching skeleton, still in the entrance hall of the present museum; still a gruesome joy to children. In 1900 Tom Hodgson resigned on being appointed biologist to Captain Scott’s first Antarctic expedition, in company with such heroes as Shackleton and Wilson.

In 1903 the Council was getting cold feet over the cost of building a permanent Museum on the allotted site in Tavistock Road, and it was resolved to make Beaumont House the permanent museum, with a west wing added. But nothing was done, and in 1905 the museum grant was cut by £200. Then in 1906 Andrew Carnegie offered Plymouth £15,000 to build a public library. The Corporation decided to build a museum alongside, in Tavistock Road, at an estimated cost of £13,000. £6,000 was raised by public subscription, and in 1910 the new building was opened, with Tom Hodgson back as curator. Beaumont House stood empty again.

Under 1911 regulations the local authority has assumed responsibility for the treatment of tuberculosis. So the empty Beaumont House became a TB Dispensary in 1916. It housed the central administrative offices for the various TB Sanitoria, had examinations room, reported cases to the Medical Officer of Health, and organised treatment. Dr H.T. Chatfield was the Clinical officer from the early 1920s until his retirement in 1948. From 1939 Beaumont House also worked as an out patient department and housed a school dental clinic, offices for health visitors and during the war the library of Plymouth Medical Society. X-ray equipment was installed in the east wing.

In 1948 everything was handed over to the new National Health Service. Dr Geoffrey Sheers, who arrived in 1949, described the facilities he found as ‘unspeakably primitive’ with no chairs for patients and queues of seventy people at a time awaiting attention. There was no privacy.

Conditions improved considerably under the NHS, and Beaumont House became a chest clinic and multi purpose health centre dealing with lung cancer, asthma and bronchitis. TB had been largely eradicated by modern drugs. But by 1988 the building was increasingly decrepit with the NHS unable to afford repairs. A new chest clinic was opened at Freedom Fields, and Beaumont House handed back to Plymouth Corporation.

The Development of Beaumont

In the late 1980’s a developer named Graham Tyson, became interested in the property and entered into discussions with Plymouth City Council to restore what was by then, an empty and rather tired looking building. Mr. Tyson’s company undertook what was virtually a rebuild of the property. They reduced the building to a shell of masonry, built a steel framework inside it and completely rebuilt the interior. A new entrance was opened to Beaumont House, by chance right opposite the north entrance to the medieval Friary, the cobbled roadway of which was only discovered when Beaumont House was being rebuilt. Finally the west wing was added, balancing the east wing which had been added nearly two hundred years earlier. The property was brought up to institutional standards, the gardens were landscaped and parking was provided. Nash & Co moved into the property in April 1992.