Lansdown House (formerly East Hayes and Joseph Pitt House), Pittville Circus Road (built 1843-4)

East Hayes was the first house to be built in Pittville Circus Road. There were four distinct phases to its existence in the first hundred years of its existence. It was originally built for the Rev. John Browne (curate of Trinity Church) and his large family, with money raised by his parishioners. After his death it housed a successful boarding school for girls for thirty years, run by Mary Scott. At the beginning of the twentieth century it was sold to Thomas Horsfall, a retired Indian civil servant, and for over forty years it was once more a typical grand family home. From the middle of the Second World War it went through several dramatic changes, being turned into flats and subsequently forming part of Sunnyside Maternity Home. Since the 1960s it has been used as offices.

1830: As part of the 1806 Cheltenham Inclosure Award, Joseph Pitt the elder (1759-1842) acquired several large tracts of land in the fields to the north of Cheltenham. In 1830 he sold these to his son, Joseph Pitt the younger (1796-1869), for £2,900. They included twenty-seven acres of arable land, formerly part of Whaddon Field. East Hayes was later built on part of this land.

1839: Joseph Pitt the younger sold just over fourteen acres of this land to James Hinton Bowly of Cheltenham for £2,100. The two men had close business connections. Bowly (1797-1873) was a banker and a partner in the County of Gloucester Bank. This had been established in 1836 by the merger of two other banks, one of which was Pitt & Co., whose founders (in 1790) had included Joseph Pitt senior and Devereux Bowly (James Bowly’s father). Bowly was responsible for developing at least part of Pittville Circus Road.

The Revd. John Browne and family, 1844-57

1842: In this year the congregation of the Revd. John Browne at Trinity Church raised over £1,500 in a matter of weeks “for the purpose of enabling Mr. Browne to exchange his present house for a more commodious one” (Cheltenham Looker-On, 5 March 1842). The Revd. Browne, originally from County Cork, had been the Curate at Trinity since the mid-1820s and lived with his large family at 2 Pittville Lawn (now no. 31).

“As an evidence of the regard they bore him, when, in the year 1842 – in consequence of the increase of his family – Mr. Browne contemplated removal from the house he then occupied, the members of his congregation privately entered into a subscription to purchase him a larger one, and presented him with East Hayes, as a testimonial of their personal attachment to him and of the grateful appreciation they entertained of his public services as their friend and minister.”
Cheltenham Looker-On, 1 August 1857

1843: The Revd. John Browne bought a building plot of 1.5 acres on Pittville Circus Road from James Bowly for £250. The plot faced the road which had recently been built by Bowly. To the west it bordered other land owned by Bowly (later the site of Queensholme) and to the east it bordered land bought by Thomas Blizard and Matthew Lane (soon to become the site of Vallombrosa).

1843-4: East Hayes was built by Pittville builder Edward Cope for the Revd. John Browne. It was the first house to be completed on Pittville Circus Road. The reason for the choice of East Hayes as the house name is unclear.

1845: George Rowe, in his Illustrated Cheltenham Guide, sketched the newly completed East Hayes, writing:

“The house is a plain but handsome erection, and when the plantations around it are advanced to maturity, and similar mansions erected on the adjacent plots of building ground, this, as an extension of Pittville to the eastward, will become a most desirable site for genteel residences.”

East Hayes in 1845 (George Rowe)
1847: By 1847 the Brownes had neighbours in Pittville Circus Road. Vallombrosa (now Homespring House) was occupied by 1847, so must have been built shortly after East Hayes.

1851: The 1851 census shows the size of the household at East Hayes at this time. The house had thirteen bedrooms and there were sixteen people living in it – the Revd. Browne and his wife Maria plus their three sons, six daughters and five live-in servants. The nine children ranged in age from 3 to 18.

1857: The Revd. Browne died in July 1857, leaving his estate to his widow, Maria. The trustees of his will were the Revd. Francis Thomas Hill of Clifton, Lt.-Col. George Schreiber of Cheltenham, and Edward Jefferies Esdaile of Cheltenham.

The Cheltenham Looker-On, 2 February 1858
1858: The trustees of the Revd. Browne’s estate leased the house to Hannah Morrison, a widow, for £170 per annum. She is shown as the occupant in the 1859 directories.

Mary Anne Scott and East Hayes School, 1861 – 97

1861: Mary Anne Scott (1821-1896) opened a boarding school for girls at East Hayes. She came from Yorkshire and was the widow of Henry E. Scott, a civil engineer born in India. No lease or sub-lease to her has been found. The 1861 census shows her living at East Hayes, aged 38, with her two young daughters Caroline (10) and Rosanna (7). The house is also home to 18 boarding pupils – ranging in age from 7 to 18 – two teachers, and six domestic servants. The pupils clearly come from a diverse range of backgrounds as their birthplaces include Hong Kong, Italy, Australia and India, as well as many parts of Britain.

1868: By 1868 Queensholme, on the west side of East Hayes, was occupied.

1869: Joseph Pitt the younger agreed to sell a piece of land to the north of East Hayes to Mrs Scott – possibly to provide additional space for a stable. The sale was delayed by Joseph Pitt’s death, at which point the land passed to his brother, the Revd. Charles Pitt. The sale eventually went through in 1870 for £120.

1871: In the 1871 census Mary Scott’s school had 19 pupils aged between seven and seventeen. Three of her own children – Rosamond (17), Alice (14) and Laurence (12) – were also living there and her sister Charlotte Kilby was helping her to run the school, along with three teachers. There were also three live-in servants.

1872: The first Oxford Local Examinations were held in 1858, but girls were not allowed to sit the examinations until 1870. In 1872 it appears that a pupil of Mrs Scott’s was one of the first girls in Cheltenham to take the examination, being placed in the second division of the senior exam. (The “junior” and “senior” exams roughly corresponded to today’s GCSEs and A-levels, with pupils examined in a range of subjects; “local” simply meant that the exams could be taken at local centres.) Mrs Scott continued to enter her pupils successfully for these examinations.

“A. Edwards, of Liverpool, entered as educated at East Hayes, and therefore we presume a young lady, placed in the Second Division.”
Cheltenham Looker-On, 31 August 1872

1872: Although Mary Scott had occupied the house for twelve years, it was still owned by the estate of the Revd. John Browne. In 1872 the trustees of his will finally sold the house to Mrs Scott for £3,100. In order to buy the house, she took out a mortgage of £2,700, repayable at a rate of 5% per annum. She had paid this back by 1887, at which point she owned the property outright.

1881: By this year the number of pupils had fallen to eight. Possibly Mrs Scott, now 58, was more preoccupied with her family. Her daughter Rosamond (27) was now married, but seems to be living at East Hayes with a new baby; a grandson aged 7 and a niece aged 15 are also living there.

1885: Another grandson of Mrs Scott, Arthur Kilby, was born at East Hayes. During the First World War, he was awarded the Military Cross for his actions at Ypres in 1914 and the Victoria Cross for bravery in action on the first day of the Battle of Loos in 1915. A plaque at the house commemorates him.

1889: Despite supporting women’s education, Mrs Scott was not a supporter of women’s suffrage. In 1889 she was one of a large number of Cheltenham women who signed a letter protesting against the extension of the franchise to women.

1889: At the beginning of 1889 Mrs Scott advertises for pupils.

But by the end of the year it was clear that she was trying to sell the house.

1891: At the time of the 1891 census Mrs Scott was not in residence at East Hayes. The occupants are an elderly couple, William and Emma Robins, who are living there as caretakers together with Mrs Robins’s sons Tom (26) and John (16), both working as grocer’s porters, and her daughter Louisa (21), a domestic servant.

1892: In 1892 Mrs Scott tried once more, unsuccessfully, to sell the house:

facing South, with frontage of about 230 feet to the Pittville Circus Road. This important residence comprises on the Ground Floor, Drawing Room, 25ft by 19ft; Dining Room and Library, each 23ft by 19ft; Morning Room, Smoking Room, Butler’s Pantry, Lavatory, &c. On the Upper Floors, 12 Bed and Dressing Rooms and Bath Room. On the Basement Floor, 4 Servants’ Rooms, Kitchen, and other Domestic Offices. Attached are Lawn Tennis and Pleasure Grounds, prettily interspersed with ornamental trees and shrubs; Kitchen Garden, well planted with fruit trees, large Laundry fitted with Bradford’s revolving drying rack, and Stove Greenhouses and other Outbuildings.
Cheltenham Examiner, 16 March 1892

1893: After failing to sell the house, Mrs Scott continued to live at East Hayes until her death. Her son Laurence, an artist who exhibited on a number of occasions at the Royal Academy, lived with her. He gave painting and drawing classes at East Hayes and also exhibited there.

Cheltenham Looker-On, 4 November 1893
She also advertised for boarders:

East Hayes, Pittville Circus Road.
MRS. SCOTT wishes to receive Two or Three permanent BOARDERS, or to LET some pleasant ROOMS, Unfurnished. Her House is detached, spacious, and warm, and has a large and beautiful Garden.
Cheltenham Looker-On, 25 November 1893

1896: Mrs Scott died on 4 December 1896.

1897: Mrs Scott’s executors sold the house to Alfred and Sidney Billings, local builders, for £1,450. According to the Gloucestershire Echo, the builders “spent a large sum of money in converting it into a first-class residence”. They certainly made a good return on their investment; having bought it for £1,450 they sold it a few years later for £2,800, a profit of 93%.

1899: While the Billingses were refurbishing the house, a proposal was received to build a recreation ground close to the property (it is still there today). A letter to the Gloucestershire Echo raised objections:

“On that side of Pittville Circus-road nearest to the proposed recreation ground there are ten houses. Five of these are occupied by the owners themselves, and all are highly rated. One of these (East Hayes) has recently been purchased by Messrs Billings, who have spent a large sum of money in converting it into a first-class residence. Is it fair to them and to the other owners to whom I have alluded that their property should be depreciated in value – as it certainly will be – by the establishment of a playground for children and others in their immediate vicinity?
Gloucestershire Echo, 21 September 1899

Thomas & Magdalene Horsfall and family, 1901 – 42

1901: East Hayes was sold in 1901 to Thomas Horsfall for £2,800. The census shows him living there, aged 45, with his wife Magdalene (39), their daughter Kathleen (19) and Magdalene’s sister, also called Kathleen. In many respects he was a classic Pittville resident of his era. He had retired from the Indian Civil Service in 1900 after having been in India for twenty-four years; his wife, her sister and their daughter were all born in India. He later became a local magistrate in Cheltenham. In 1901 there were four live-in servants at the house – a cook, a parlour maid, a house maid and a kitchen maid.

1915: On 10 March the Gloucestershire Echo reported the death by drowning of Isabel Hopkins, a 17-year old servant who had walked out of her job as a “between maid” (or “tweeny”) at East Hayes. A between maid was roughly equivalent in status to a scullery maid, and often paid less. She could be required to wait on senior servants such as the housekeeper or cook, and this often led to friction in the employment relationship, which seems to have happened with Isabel.

Gloucestershire Echo, 12 March 1915

Isabel had been at East Hayes for about three months, but did not enjoy her job. In a letter to her parents she said that she was going to leave as she could not put up with the cook, who was always nagging her.  She walked out of East Hayes on the morning of 23 February after handing in her notice the previous day and was missing until 9 March, when her body was discovered in a brook six miles away.  In her pocket was a letter from her mother rebuking her for leaving her job and telling her how hard it would be to find another post without a good reference. The inquest was unable to decide whether or not Isabel had taken her own life, and the verdict was simply “found drowned”. A full account of the inquest is in the Gloucestershire Echo for 12 March 1915.

Pittville Circus Road in the vicinity of East Hayes in the 1920s

1933: Thomas Horsfall died in October 1933, aged 78.

1939: At the outbreak of the Second World War Magdalene Horsfall (now 78) and her sister Kathleen (70) were still living at East Hayes with three servants. In 1940 the All Saints Scout troop held their fete in the gardens.

1942: Magdalene Horsfall continued to live at East Hayes until her death in July 1942, aged 80. The house was advertised for sale in September.

“The detached residence contains 8 Bedrooms (2 with basins); 2 Dressing Rooms; 2 Bath Rooms; 3 Entertaining Rooms and panelled Dining Room; complete Domestic Offices, 2 Maids’ Bedrooms and Bath Room, etc. Outbuildings, glasshouses and delightful matured grounds. All main services, central heating throughout. Vacant possession.”

The contents of the house – including “many rare and antique items collected over the last 40 years by the owner” (Gloucestershire Echo, 10 October 1942) – were sold at auction in October.

Conversion to flats and a maternity home, 1943-8

1943: After Mrs Horsfall’s death it appears that East Hayes, like many of Pittville’s large houses, was turned into flats, with a very different type of occupant from those who had lived there in the past. In 1943 a Mr Edward Ireson of the “top flat” at East Hayes wrote to the Gloucestershire Echo describing himself as “not a Cheltonian, but one of the many transferred workers in this district”. The letter continues “I should like to remind all Cheltonians that hundreds of poor people came to this town with only the clothes they stood up in”. In 1943 Mr Ireson and another resident of East Hayes, Stanley Woolnough, were fined for not observing the blackout regulations.

During this period the “small ads” which mentioned East Hayes were very different from those of previous years, which had consisted mostly of advertisements for housemaids and gardeners:

“Watchmaker’s pivoting tool urgently reqd. Also wristlet watches for spare parts. – Stan Woolnough, East Hayes, Pittville Circus-road.”
Gloucestershire Echo, 24 February 1944

“For sale, one cross with Flemish Giant and Belgian Hare doe, and one Belgian Hare with four little ones, cross with Flemish Giant, for £2. – F.J. Parker, East Hayes, Pittville Circus-rd.”
Gloucestershire Echo, 29 February 1944

“Wtd., urgently, lady’s modern cycle. Woolnough, East Hayes, Pittville Circus-road.”
Gloucestershire Echo, 21 April 1944

1945: Four separate occupants are listed in the 1945 electoral register: Hilda Slickleman, Phyllis Baker, Freda Blackett and Edward Porter.

1946: An article in the Gloucestershire Echo for 24 May 1946 suggests that ownership of the property was an issue in a divorce case of a Mr and Mrs Jackson.

1948: By 1948, East Hayes had been sold to Gloucestershire County Council’s Public Health Committee and was part of Sunnyside Maternity Hospital along with Pengwern, Worcester House and Sunnyside itself, on the opposite side of Pittville Circus Road. Later it appears to have been used as a nurses’ home.

1960s onwards: used as offices

1960: In 1960 Cheltenham Borough Council granted permission for the “use of nurses’ home as offices”. A succession of companies occupied the premises.

1970s to date: From the 1970s until the 1990s the building was known as Joseph Pitt House. It was re-named Lansdown House when Lansdown Insurance Brokers relocated there from the Promenade. In 2014 Lansdown Insurance Brokers became part of the Ecclesiastical Group of Companies – appropriately enough, given that the building had originally been constructed for the Revd. John Browne.

Hilary Simpson

With thanks to Steve Blake and Martin Renshaw for their contributions