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Stratton House, 50 Bath Street

History

(see long history)

Stratton House dominates the small square that closes Bath (formerly Boar) Street since it was divided by Stratton Way in 1968/9. It was built in 1722 for Benjamin Tomkins and his wife, Sarah, as can be seen in the brickwork of the façade. Tomkins was a rich maltster. The house is in two parts, the original house to the left, and an extension dating from about 1800 to the right, sometimes referred to as Stratton Lodge. The railed roof platform was installed in 1974.

The main house has seven bays, the central one breaking forward with an elegant classical doorframe and delicate fanlight over the recessed door. It stands on a low stone plinth, but is mainly brick, laid in Flemish Bond, with contrasting colours shaped with frilly ends to the ground floor – a trademark of builder Samuel Westbrook that can also be seen at Brick Alley almshouses. The first floor lintels have simpler gauged bricks with decorated key blocks.

Inside, the staircase with twisted balusters is original.

The garden at Stratton House was extensive, and in 1910 had a fishpond with a stone grotto nearby. The latter survives in the car park of the County Council’s family and children’s centre on the north side of Stratton Way.

stratton_house_grotto_view_nd.jpg 

The grotto in 2018
© J Smith

 

 

 

 

Around 1728, Benjamin Tomkins moved out, having built a grander house – the Clock House in Ock Street –  and his eldest son, also Benjamin, took up residence in Stratton House. But when Benjamin senior died in 1732 he left Stratton House to another son, Joseph, who continued the malting business. There was a malthouse to the rear, along with an orchard, garden and stables. Joseph’s son William inherited Stratton house on his father’s death in 1753 and continued living there until he died in 1808.

From the census returns it seems that Stratton House was rented out for much of the nineteenth century, but in 1887 it was reported that, “The Mayor (Ald. Tomkins) gave a garden party at Stratton House on Saturday last.”  But by 1894 it was again offered for rent. Lady Alice Norman lived there from 1909 until her death in 1939, aged 93. Lady Alice had been active in the church and good works including the hospital and infant welfare. Since then it has been occupied by government offices, and now by Challenor and Son, a firm of solicitors.

© AAAHS and contributors 2020

(see short history)

stratton_house_fig_1.jpg

 

Figure 1 Stratton House
© D Clark 2018

 

 

 

Stratton House dominates the small square that closes Bath (formerly Boar) Street since it was divided by Stratton Way in 1968/9. It was built in 1722 for Benjamin Tomkins and his wife, Sarah, as can be seen in the brickwork of the façade. Tomkins was a rich maltster. The house is in two parts, the original house to the left, and an extension dating from about 1800 to the right, sometimes referred to as Stratton Lodge. 

The main house has seven bays, the central one breaking forward with an elegant classical doorframe and delicate fanlight over the recessed door. It stands on a low stone plinth, but is mainly brick, laid in Flemish Bond, with contrasting colours – bright orange-red being used for the central section above the doorway, the quoins and the window dressings, while darker glazed bricks are used in the walls between. The segmental lintels to the windows are of special bricks – shaped with frilly ends to the ground floor – a trademark of builder Samuel Westbrook that can also be seen at Brick Alley almshouses. The first floor lintels have simpler gauged bricks with decorated key blocks.[1]

The rear view (Fig. 2), however, tells a more complicated story. Behind the original house are two wings, both in Flemish bond brickwork, but that to the north has window frames flush with the brickwork and a plat band between the storeys, while to the south the frames are recessed and the sash boxes hidden, a fire safety requirement of the 1774 London Building Act. The tall windows and wooden covers to their external blinds suggest that this part was built in the early nineteenth century. 

stratton_house_fig_2.jpg

 

Figure 2 Stratton House, rear elevation
© D Clark 2019

 

 

 

Inside, the staircase with twisted balusters is original.

Around 1728, Benjamin Tomkins moved out, having built a grander house – the Clock House in Ock Street – for himself, and his eldest son, also Benjamin, took up residence in Stratton House. But when Benjamin senior died in 1732 he left Stratton House to another son, Joseph, who continued the malting business. There was a malthouse to the rear, along with an orchard, garden and stables.[2] Joseph’s son William inherited Stratton house on his father’s death in 1753, and continued living there until he died in 1808.[3]

stratton_house_fig_3.jpg

 

Figure 3 Stratton House with its garden in 1910 (Second Edition Ordnance Survey map 1910 at 25ins to the mile) 
© reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland http://maps.nls.uk/index.html and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License)
 

The garden at Stratton House (Fig. 3) was extensive, bounded on the north by what became Park Road and to the west by the present Abingdon School playing fields, and in 1910 had a fish pond with a stone grotto nearby. The latter survives in the car park of the County Council’s family and children’s centre on the north side of Stratton Way (Fig. 4).

stratton_house_grotto_view_nd.jpg

 
Figure 4 The grotto in 2018
© J Smith

 

 

 

 

The census of 1841 shows a physician called Charles Tomkins, probably William’s grandson, living in Boar Street, undoubtedly in Stratton House. However, he left Abingdon for Weston-super-Mare in 1851 and Stratton House became a school run by Henry Jackson Rhodes, a clergyman, described as ‘Curate of Drayton’. There were seven boarding pupils from homes as far apart as Market Rasen, Lincolnshire (where Rhodes was from) and Southampton, as well as more locally from Oxford, Donnington and Mapledurham. 

In 1861 James Sedgefield, a solicitor, who was also Registrar to the County Court of Berkshire and Clerk to the borough magistrates, was living at Stratton House with his wife and seven children, a visitor, a boarder and five servants. By 1871 it seems that the house – now in the renamed Bath Street – was occupied by Charles Hemming, a doctor and coroner for the Borough of Abingdon, with his wife Martha, five children and four servants. However, it still may have been owned by the Tomkins family, as in 1887, the Oxford Journal reported that, “The Mayor (Ald. Tomkins) gave a garden party at Stratton House on Saturday last. About a hundred ladies and gentlemen of the town and neighbourhood accepted invitations, and were hospitably received by his Worship and the Mayoress. Mr. Hales of the Queen's [Hotel] catered.”[4] In 1891 John Tomkins was “living on his own means” there with his family and two servants. He was a Justice of the Peace and Mayor of Abingdon six times before retiring from the Town Council in 1896 after thirty years’ service.[5]

By 1901, Tomkins had moved to St. Leonard's near Hastings, having in 1894 advertised for rent, ‘this excellent Family Residence with stabling, attractive grounds and Paddock.’[6] The first tenant appears to have been a Captain M M M Festing, who advertised, “Militia, Military, and Promotion Examinations. Stratton House, Abingdon, Berks. Captain M M M Festing (late XX Regiment), assisted by an experienced officer in applied Tactics and Law, prepares Militia Officers, University Candidates, and Officers for Promotion. Residential or Non-residential.”[7] By 1901, however, Stratton House was again a family home, occupied by Lewis Stone – a manufacturer of Office Furniture – his wife, daughter and four servants. 

By 1909, however, Lady Alice Claudine Norman, the widowed third wife of colonial administrator Sir Henry Wylie Norman, was living at Stratton House, now numbered 34 Bath Street, with a separate household in the Lodge at No. 36, which for a time was occupied by her daughter Grace, and her husband, Col. Richard John Strachey. Lady Norman (née Sandys) may have chosen to live in Abingdon because a widowed cousin, Edith Claudia Sandys (Mrs Harvey Reynolds) was living nearby – since 1893 – at The Gables in Bath Street.[8] Later, Edith’s sister, Julia Caroline Sandys also moved to Abingdon and lived at 30 East St Helen Street (now St Ethelwold’s). During her long residence – she died at Stratton House in January 1939, aged 93 – Lady Alice had been active “in all the philanthropic societies, especially the Hospital and the Infant Welfare, while for a number of years she was president of the Women's Constitutional Association. A devoted church worker, she was a member of the Church Council.”[9]

In 1942 the street directory records the occupiers as the ‘Convent of Nativity’ and after the war, Stratton House became government offices, recorded in 1949 as the “Ministry of Labour and N[ational] S[ervice] Hostel”. By 1951 it was described as the Inland Revenue (Valuation for Rating) office, and in 1958 as a Customs and Excise Office. In 1970, now re-numbered as 50 Bath Street, it had become offices for the Inland Revenue, and by 1983 its present occupiers, Challenor and Son, Solicitors, had moved in. 

Abingdon Town Council acquired Stratton Lodge in 1974 and, following conversion by the Thomas Rayson Partnership of Oxford, used it as their offices from 1974 to 2000. The platform on the roof dates from 1974 and was intended to be used for bun-throwing. (See County Hall for the custom of bun-throwing.)

The origin of the name of the house is uncertain. There are two important Strattons in the life of the Tomkins family. One of these is Thomas Stratton, a linen draper of Barking (Middlesex) the husband of Elizabeth Tomkins, a daughter of Benjamin Tomkins the younger who had lived in the house from 1728 to 1732. The other is Stratton St Margaret, Wiltshire, where Benjamin (the elder) owned an estate.[10] In his Will made before 1753, his son Joseph created what became the ‘Joseph Tomkins Charity for Baptist Churches’ which supported three churches, in Abingdon, Newbury and Stratton. We suspect that as Joseph lived in Stratton House from 1732 to 1753 and was clearly attached to the Wiltshire village, this was the reason for the name, which he probably chose himself.

See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

© AAAHS and contributors 2020


References:

[1] List description ref 1048924 (grade II*); Geoffrey Tyack, Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner, Buildings of England, Berkshire (2010), p.116. 

[2] Mieneke Cox, Abingdon, an 18th Century Country Town, (Abingdon 1999), p. 69.

[3] Cox, Abingdon, an 18th Century Country Town, p.72.

[4] Oxford Journal, Saturday16 July 1887. 

[5] Bromley Challenor (ed.), Selections from the Municipal Records of the Borough of Abingdon 1555-1897 (Abingdon, 1898), p. 384.

[6] Reading Mercury, Saturday 14 July 1894. 

[7] Army and Navy Gazette, Saturday 6th April 1895. 

[8 Jackie Smith, 'Abingdon’s First Woman Councillor: Edith Claudia Reynolds née Sandys' in  www.aaahs.org.uk/files/Newsletters/Autumn07.pdf (accessed August 2020).

[9] Reading Mercury, 21 January 1939.

[10] Cox, Abingdon, an 18th Century Country Town, p.70.

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Additional Details

Listing reference: 
List description ref 1048924 (Grade II*)
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