A history of Burston House (formerly Oakley Villas) at 11 Pittville Circus

The land that included Pittville Circus was originally part of the estate of the Earls of Essex (Capel family) and was bought by Joseph Pitt in 1800. The new road was soon called “Albert Circus” and this earlier name was in use by 1839-40 (almost certainly named after Prince Albert) when the landowner Edward Cope laid this area out beyond the original Pittville Estate boundary; he had bought the land from Joseph Pitt. Its name had changed to “Pittville Circus” by 1843, although it was also called just “The Circus” even as late as 1864. Cope also developed Pittville Circus Road. By 1846 Pittville Circus was more or less fully established apart from Oakley Villas. My thanks to James Hodsdon’s Cheltenham Gazetteer and to Steven Blake’s pioneering work on Pittville’s history.

The land that included Pittville Circus was originally part of the estate of the Earls of Essex (Capel family) and was bought by Joseph Pitt in 1800. The new road was soon called “Albert Circus” and this earlier name was in use by 1839-40 (almost certainly named after Prince Albert) when the landowner Edward Cope laid this area out beyond the original Pittville Estate boundary; he had bought the land from Joseph Pitt. Its name had changed to “Pittville Circus” by 1843, although it was also called just “The Circus” even as late as 1864. Cope also developed Pittville Circus Road. By 1846 Pittville Circus was more or less fully established apart from Oakley Villas. My thanks to James Hodsdon’s Cheltenham Gazetteer and to Steven Blake’s pioneering work on Pittville’s history.

Seals of Joseph Pitt and Edward Cope
In 1852 (The Times 6 September 1852) several residences and other sites in Pittville Circus were sold by auction at The Plough. Auctioneer George James Engall was acting for the late Edward Cope (builder). The properties had come to market after a court case, Clark v Cope. The residences Cope owned in Pittville Circus were Kyrle Villa, Sinclair Villa, and Apsley House, and near the Circus on Prestbury Road on the southwest corner of the 6-road junction and little roundabout he had Alwington Villa (this later became Christie College and is now a preschool nursery). Selkirk Villa in the Circus, a three-storey house with round tower dating from 1817 (situated next to Burston House and later renamed ‘Tresmere’ before ca 1938), was not mentioned. However, nine parcels of land were also offered and these fronted the Circus, Pittville Circus Road, Glenfall Terrace, Selkirk Street, and Glenfall Street. Also included in the sale was the central park in the Circus, described as ‘the ornamental area in Pittville Circus, which is forever to remain ornamental pleasure, or nursery, or garden ground, with a gravel footpath round the same, subject to such conditions as will be expressed in the particulars and conditions of sale’. It is possible that the semi-detached Oakley Villas were later built on one of these remaining parcels of land in the Circus sold at the auction.

The Circus contained (in chronological order) Selkirk Villa (now on site of present Tresmere) from 1837; Apsley House, facing the 6-road junction (later Steenicot, Luddenham, St Paul’s Vicarage, and now The Tower House) by 1843; Northlands (now Northland Apartments) by 1844; Apsley Villa from 1844 (now Nos 1 and 2 Apsley Lodge); Rosehaugh Villa (later St Idloes and Eglinton, and now Eglinton East/West House); Stanbrook (Stanbrooke) Villa (now Stanbrook House), and Sinclair Villa (now Rathlin) by 1845; Terhill House (now Terhill) from 1848; Kyrle Villa, where Edward Cope lived (later Phayrecot, Ash Priors, and now Priors Lodge) by 1849, from 1853-66 Ash Priors; Nos 1 and 2 Oakley Villas by c 1859 (its land being offered in February 1858) (now Burston House and Kingmuir); Heath Lodge by 1868 (name unchanged throughout).

Properties sometimes given as in the Circus but actually in the Circus Road were: Prestwich Lodge (now Star Court) by 1858; Vallombrosa (later Deanwood House, now Homspring House) by 1848. And some were simply nearby: Albert Villa by 1859; Kensington Villa by 1854 (actually in Selkirk Street behind the Circus).

It is interesting to note that some but not all of the houses in the Circus had coach houses or stabling. Burston House appears not to have had more than perhaps a small loose box. The Cheltenham Chronicle of 27 May 1862, describing the grand Kyrle Villa on over an acre of ground on the south side, spoke of ‘Good stabling for three horses, coach-house with lofts etc’.

The first record of the land and of this building, soon named Oakley Villas (1858-60)

The Cheltenham Chronicle for 9 February 1858 recorded a forthcoming auction by Engall & Sanders on 1 March 1858, at the Royal Hotel in the High Street, which included lot 4: ‘All that valuable piece of freehold building land, most eligibly situate in Pittville Circus, adjoining and on the south side of Selkirk Villa having an extensive frontage to the Pittville Circus and Circus Road of 366 feet, beautifully situate and well-adapted for the erection of first-class villas, having extensive and uninterrupted views of the Cotswold Hills, together with a right to use the Pleasure Garden in Pittville Circus.’ Judging by the 366-foot frontage, the site must have included the triangular open land next to the current Kingsmuir (today a block of flats, ‘Selkirk Close’) on Pittville Circus Road. Thus Oakley Villas must have been built between approximately April 1858 and December 1860 (when the next report confirms these houses) – presumably 1860 would be the more likely date.

First owner or resident (1860)

The Cheltenham Looker On for 29 December 1860 (and Cheltenham Chronicle of 1 January 1861) noted that Mr and Mrs William John Agg had moved to 1 Oakley Villas from 6 Segrave Place. 1 Oakley Villas (now Burston House) and No. 2 (later known as Kingsmuir) date from 1860 or so and therefore Agg must have been the first resident. Agg’s wife was Mary (née Morland), his daughter was Elizabeth A. Agg, and they employed a governess and three servants (butler, housemaid, cook). Agg himself (J.P., 1802-76) was the child of Major James Agg and Edith Gardner, which hints at the later line of Agg-Gardners in the town. The Cheltenham Chronicle for 27 June 1871 noted that the Aggs had moved to 5 Berkeley Place. Records survive at the Gloucestershire Record Office for the Deed of Trust from the Agg family for Burston and Kingsmuir 1899-1901 (ref D2172/1/8). The Agg-Gardners were trustees of the Co-operative Gloucester Bank by 28 May 1847.

The Agg and Agg-Gardner ownership of the house

Second owner (1871)

The Cheltenham Chronicle for 8 August 1871 noted the arrival from Hewlett Road of Mr and Mrs Samuel Julian to 1 Oakley Villas, new owners or tenants presumably. In May 1876 their daughter Catherine Maud married William Henry Garrard Goodlake in Cheltenham. Mrs Julian was still at the house up to 1878-9.

Subsequent owners (1877-83)

In the Cheltenham Looker-On for 13 October 1877, 1 Oakley Villas was advertised for rent, furnished: twelve bedrooms/dressing rooms, one bathroom, three reception rooms, and a greenhouse. It was offered again in April 1879, unfurnished. In 1880 Capt. Charles Petchell, R.N. moved in for approximately a year.

The 1881 census recorded widow Sarah Owen living at 1 Oakley Villas with daughter Edith Harriette Owen and one servant. By 1883 they had departed.

In the Cheltenham Looker-On for 25 March 1882 the death of Edith Alice Strick, aged 19, at 2 Oakley Villas (today’s Kingsmuir), was noted. In 1884 Mrs Strick was selling the contents. This study does not pursue the history of Kingsmuir fully. It is known that Mrs Walker owned or occupied 2 Oakley Villas in 1865.

In 1883 a new resident, William Simms-Bull lived at 1 Oakley Villas; he stood for the Council in October 1884, and became an Alderman. He had most recently lived at Northlands in the Circus, and earlier at Burston Hall in Burston, near Stone in Staffordshire and this led to the name change at 1 Oakley Villas; Burston Lodge and Burston House were other buildings near Stone. (My thanks to John Simpson for identifying this connection.)

The house renamed (1886)

In 1887 the property was still being called 1 Oakley Villas but had been named Burston House before 1 July 1886 (Gloucestershire Echo 1 July 1886). Interestingly, 2 Oakley Villas was already known as Kingsmuir by 8 August 1885 (Cheltenham Looker-On of that date) when it was noted as ‘late 2, Oakley Villas’.

The name Burston House was also used for houses in Aylesbury, South Cerney, Stafford (as above), Baldwin’s Hill near East Grinstead, Dial Road in Wandsworth, and Aston Abbotts during the 1870s–1960s.

A further line of owners and residents (1889-1914)

The Gloucestershire Echo for 23 May 1889 confirmed Alderman Simms-Bull still living at Burston House, and remained there up to at least 1891.

In an 1895 directory J. H. Cochrane was listed for Burston House. The Cheltenham Looker-On for 28 May 1898 recorded Mr Morris E. Cochrane, R.N. of Burston House going to HMS Cleopatra. The Cochranes were the new lessees and were still there in 1908. During their time at the house, in 1904 W. M.  Thorburn was also listed. There were three family members, and three servants. The family comprised James Henry Cochrane, his wife, and sons Morris E. Cochrane (married Charlotte Newton in 1908), Henry Lake Cochrane (married in 1905 at All Saints to Jean Isabel Seton), and a daughter.

The Cheltenham Looker-On for 25 July 1908 advertised Burston House, to be let for a year from September. It now noted eight bedrooms and dressing rooms, one bathroom, three reception rooms, domestic offices (presumably the basement’s 4-5 rooms), garden, and carriage drive. It was still being advertised in August, and in September. An expired lease then resulted in the sale on 30 September of furniture and effects. Papers relating to this sale are at the Gloucestershire Record Office (ref D4442/5/102). The auction catalogue listed a scullery, kitchen, butler’s pantry, housekeeper’s room, three ‘best bedroom’ (No. 2 being ‘back’), landings, drawing room, dining room, library, and entrance hall. The top floor had servants’ bedrooms, one chamber and a small bedroom, sitting room, and landing.

The 1908 auction catalogue, which describes the furniture once in the house
The next use of the house was the first institutional one, as St Anne’s Nursery College 1909–12. Pittville History Works (Friends of Pittville) has researched this group as follows. St Anne’s Church of England Nursery College had been established in 1900, as the nursery department of the “Dames of the Household” organisation created by Mrs Nixon, of Tivoli, Cheltenham, and supported by Miss Beale and others. The “Dames” movement attempted to address the “servant problem”, by encouraging women to enter service; the organisation suggested that female servants should be retitled “Dames” of their speciality, so a household cook would be a “Cooking Dame”, a general servant would be a “General Dame”, etc. The main movement came to nothing after a brief burst of enthusiasm, but its nursery offshoot did thrive for thirty years or more. In very late 1908 St Anne’s Nursery School took up residence in Burston House as an institution which trained young women to become nursery nurses, while at the same time taking in deserving infants with whom they could learn the skills of nursing. Miss Mabel Emily Holsworthy was head. The organisation was named after St Anne, according to apocryphal tradition the mother of Mary and the grandmother of Jesus, and so a patron saint of housewives, women who were pregnant or wished to have children, etc. The College only remained at Burston House until 1912, when it moved around the corner to larger premises at ‘Inholmes’, formerly a school, which was renamed St Anne’s, in Pittville Circus Road. At Burston House only eighteen nursery nurses could be employed to look after seven babies (1911 census), whereas at the new house there was room for twenty-six nurses and eleven babies. The College continued at St Anne’s until it entered voluntary liquidation in 1935.

1914: the house was seemingly unoccupied.

A long-standing freeholder, or perhaps the original builder (1919-22)

In the Gloucestershire Echo for 20 November 1919, the sale of various properties around Cheltenham from the estate of late owner Charles Winstone (1822-1909, married to Harriet Puckmore) was noted. Many of the houses were in Pittville Circus and the Circus Road. Burston House was described with outbuildings (presumably the conservatory seen on maps). Winstone, a builder employing at least 14 people, also owned Kingsmuir. The two houses were empty into at least mid 1920. Burston House fetched £1,100, but there were no bids for Kingsmuir.

1919-20: Albert George Hewitt and Eleanor Mary Hewitt.

1922: Ernest Hitchman and Mary Hitchman.

The Gloucester Citizen for 15 September 1922 noted Burston House up for sale again at £1,650 freehold. It had electric light, gas, a lift (error for loft?), conservatory, greenhouse, and 14 rooms. When it was offered in The Times for 6 September 1922 the description was ten bedrooms, three large reception rooms, bath, conservatory, tennis court, greenhouse, and ‘half mile from promenade’. (The tennis court is thought to have been in the vacant triangle of land next to Kingsmuir, possibly shared with it.) Even now at Burston House, by the left-side boundary wall not far in front of the garages, parts of the Victorian tile floor of the greenhouse or conservatory and another small building survive about a foot under the soil.

More occupiers (1922-2001)

By December 1922 a Mrs Haward was recorded at Burston House. On 7 February 1924 Mrs Elizabeth Haward, 75, wife of Charles Matchett Haward, died at Burston House. The widower’s family Douglas, Hector, and Ethel was there until 1926, with other members from time to time.

The Gloucester Citizen for 19 June 1923 indicated Burston House was for sale again at £1,400 freehold, with seventeen rooms (which was closer to a much earlier total).

It was approximately at this period that Burston House must have been divided into at least two apartments. In 1924, only the Haward family are shown on the Cheltenham electoral Register as living here, but in 1924 there were three households apparently in multi-occupancy: the Hawards, the Hoggs (John Alexander and Ellen), and the Mundys (John William Henry and Sarah Jane). This pattern of occupancy continues at least until 1945.

By July 1927 a Mr George Henry Henly was operating a car-hire business from Burston House, using an Essex saloon at 6d a mile.

The Gloucester Citizen for 12 September 1927 was the first to give the shocking news that Captain Henry Spencer Newton Courtney (39), motor engineer, son of a local retired clergyman, had been found dead at Burston House. His suicide occurred between 8-11 September in the dining room (presumably what is now the current Flat 3’s front sitting room) with the unlit gas fire turned fully on and the room door locked. The body was found by Leonard F. Porter (the ‘boots’, i.e. porter, at the Royal Hotel managed by Captain James W. Hampson, who was the deceased’s father-in-law). The death occurred whilst Courtney’s wife Barbara was visiting the Isle of Man with her parents. Porter, accompanied by a Mr Haycock, waiter at the Royal Hotel, had to come in through a spare-room window and then crawl along a ledge to the locked room’s window which was not bolted in order to be able to get in. (Another report claimed entry was gained to a bedroom window with a ladder and that the body was in the bedroom.) Financial difficulties and a war wound were said to be to blame for the death. Courtney kept his car at the Royal Hotel in Cheltenham (there was no garage at Burston House).

By 1928 the Hogg family had been here four years, including Alex Hogg Jr. The Cheltenham Chronicle for 31 January 1931 reported the death of Mr John A. Hogg, a pharmacist, at Burston House. In February 1931 furniture and effects were auctioned in the ground floor flat.

The Gloucestershire Echo for 6 October 1932 offered a second-floor (‘top’) five-room flat at Burston House. This could easily be the current Flats 5 & 6 without the modern attic rooms arrangement. A Mr Cox at the House advertised it. This same flat had been offered by a Mr Lindsay at Burston House in April.

The number of people moving into and out of Burston House from this period onwards was large and it would be appropriate to search elsewhere on the Pittville History Works website for greater detail. What follows is a snapshot of names found over the years. By now there were four flats, implying one flat per level. In 1938 a planning application for a garage was lodged.

In December 1933 a Mr Preston-Jones was offering to let for £55 three large rooms, hall, kitchen, and bathroom at Burston House (possibly Flat 4).

By 1936 a Mr and Mrs Sydney Howard Harrison were living at Burston House and were still there in 1945. In early 1937 a Mr Dennis R. Gorvin was listed at Burston House. In April 1938 Mr Albert Frederick Parry of the House died at his allotment. By 1939 the elderly Percy and Ethel Carpenter occupied part of the house and well as 1941 Marcus Carpenter, and also by 1939 Ethel M. Rowles, an equally elderly hat traveller. By 1939 Florence H. Groves (aged 86, with private means) was in one part of the house. Raymond T. C. Woodward was listed by 1939, and by 1944 the latter’s wife Mrs Dorothy Beatrice Woodward, still there in 1946. In 1945 a Mr Wilkes was living at the House. In September 1947 the absentee owner of the hall-floor flat (must be Flat 3), Harry Heacock, was granted possession from Miss Florence H. Groves (now aged 94) who had caused nuisance and annoyance. On 22 April 1947 Mrs Joan Mary Smith, wife of Cresens Smith, died at Burston House. In 1948 a Mr Alford was living at the house and a Mr John Anderson. No doubt this pattern continued for many years and the following deaths seem to support the notion that the house was more of a ladies residential hotel or nursing home: on 25 March 1957 Miss Florence Hilda Groves, died – she had clearly overcome the 1947 eviction; on 16 September 1962 Edith Hodenberg of Burston House died; on 10 April 1965 Miss Alice Scott of Burston House died; on 22 January 1967 Miss Margaret Ellen Scott of Burston House died; on 5 April 1968 Miss Margaret Annie Adelaide Delleany of Burston House died; on 11 April 1971 Miss Phyllis Colinssplatt of Burston House died; on 5 December 1971 the widow Mrs Alice Such of Burston House died; on 31 December 1971 Miss Gertrude Laura Hebditch of Petherton but recently of Burston House died.

In the years that followed Burston House continued as a sort of rooming house, with rooms divided up, and an external fire escape fitted. Many years prior to 1999, and after 1946, a row of six garages was built along the back boundary but set in, as today. The house was redeveloped again in 2000 into six apartments.

The redevelopment plans submitted in February 2000 undid what the house had become by 1981. Sarah-Jane Lea of Bournemouth was the architect for Montpellier Developments Ltd., of Edgware, Middlesex. This firm had also redeveloped the Tower House (and went bankrupt it seems). There were ten bedrooms on just the lower two floors alone at Burston House, as shown in the plan below. Council plans survive showing the upper floors in their 1981-2000 form but Ms Lea’s 2000 plans are now held at Burston House.

2000 plans, showing layout on lower-ground and ground floors
(see the CBC website for further drawings relating to this planning application
In 2001 an application was made by the developers to fit railings, but this was never undertaken. Today a hedge now fronts the property and the correct tall stone piers have been reinstated to match those at Kingsmuir, each end of the once-shared carriage drive.

Stone pillar restored outside Burston House

Historic England’s description of the two houses

Burston House and Kingsmuir architecturally are described by Historic England as:

Pair of semi-detached villas, now house and hotel. c1840-60. Stucco over brick with hipped slate roof, central and left stucco stacks; ashlar dressings to porch. Double-depth plan with side stairhalls. Exterior: 3 storeys on basement and with attics, 4 first-floor windows with 3-storey narrow entrance bays set back to sides. Stucco detailing includes quoins to angles; tooled architraves to windows, those to ground floor have open segmental pediments extended with cornice on corbel brackets; moulded first-floor sill band, projecting beneath windows and with feet, moulded second-floor sill band with decorative apron beneath windows. Ground floor has tripartite windows with 1/1 sashes, the centre sashes round-arched. First floor has tripartite window with 4/4 cambered-headed sash between 2/2 sashes and two 2/2 horizontal-pane sashes with cambered heads. Second floor has tripartite window with 4/4 cambered-headed sash between 2/2 sashes and two 4/4 cambered-headed sashes; outer 2nd-floor windows have eared surrounds. End entrances: flights of steps to 4-fielded-panel doors with overlights within round-arched recesses with vermiculated jambs and alternate vermiculated and plain voussoirs to head. Moulded eaves band surmounted by brackets to wide eaves. Attic roof lights at left. Interior: not inspected. Historical note: The Circus was laid out in 1839-40 by Cope on land purchased from Joseph Pitt. However the basic layout of the Pittville Estate was designed by John Forbes. (A. Sampson and S. Blake A Cheltenham Companion. Cheltenham, 1993, p.47, 96).

Garden features

The 1885 map below (and enlargement) is more detailed than the colour map which follows. The Circus was now complete and the buildings were, starting at top left anti-clockwise: Luddenham at the corner (now the Tower House, extended), Rosehaugh (now divided as East Eglinton and West House), the semi-detached Stradbrook and Sinclair (now Rathlin), Kyrle Villa (now Northlands), Terhill House, Ash Priors (now Priors Lodge), Heath Lodge (now replaced by eponymous apartments), Burston House and Kingsmuir (with Selkirk Close along the Circus Road next door added in the 1970s), Selkirk Villa (now replaced by Tresmere Apartments), and Apsley Lodge (now divided into 1 and 2 with the addition of an entrance portico on the right).

1885 map showing the housing in Pittville Circus now complete
In the 1885 enlarged plan (next), note the back gate in the bottom right-hand corner adjoining Kingsmuir. The small wall by the current wooden side fence has gone but the brick foundations are still there. Underneath in that area is a coal cellar. Clearly the greenhouse or conservatory at Burston House was substantial.

Close-up of the gardens at Burston House and Kingsmuir (1885)
  It is clear from the 1887 colour map (below) that the first conservatory or greenhouse was very close to the house (shown in green). Next to it is the small building referred to earlier with remnants still under the soil. The position of the greenhouse could explain the drain now visible in that part of the garden. At the front it is clear how the buildings shared the same in/out carriage drive.

1887 map, showing proximity of outbuilding to Burston House
A 1920s map, in black and white (below), shows two small buildings where garages 1 and 5 are approximately today, plus a replacement(?) greenhouse, i.e. lower down than the greenhouse or conservatory seen in 1887. The 1920s map also shows a small structure where we currently have our wooden side fence (it is actually the still extant underground coal cellar). The central park in the Circus used to have a central circular feature, plus a path all around the outer perimeter.

When the Royal Air Force photographed the Circus on 1 April 1946 (below), the only garden building was where garage 1 now is. Avonia next door had not yet been built. Selkirk Villa, also visible, survived until 1974. Next to Kingsmuir are the semi-detached cottages ‘Belgrano’ and Pejoda’, still there in 1954 but replaced by the current block of apartments in the 1960s or 70s.

Aerial view of Pittville Circus (1946)
In October 1999 (below; two photos), we can see the sympathetic(!) fire escape and where two doors were inserted into the side of the building. The fire escape was removed in 2000 and since then the front steps and parapets have been fully restored and the missing gate piers reinstated:

Left: Fire escape on Burston House (removed in 2000). Right: Lower portion of fire escape on Burston House

Remaining research

To find the name of the architect in 1859-60 and the name of the builder, and possibly a period report in The Builder.

2017: I have recently observed that Burston House many years ago lost a lot of the decorative detail around its side elevation compared to Kingsmuir, which is intact.

Decorative detail at side of Kingsmuir (left), but absent from Burston House (right)
Kingsmuir (below), showing architraves around the windows but removed at Burston House.

Architraves above windows at Kingsmuir
Tom Clarke, 2017-21

Further sources

Gloucestershire Record Office ref CW/BoxE/Pr37.97 Pittville Circus in 1943, south side; ref CW/BoxO/PR111.3 could be Selkirk Villa; ref D1388/111/102 covers 1-2 Oakley Villas, Pitacre Piece 1853-99, Chesterton William Flux a builder in Cirencester.