In the late seventeenth century, the fame of Epsom Spa brought many London merchants to this part of Surrey, and gentlemen's residences were constructed for them. One of these lay near the old farm of Ewell Court, and was called Avenue House from the avenue of elm trees which approached it from Kingston Road. It was a neat, square house with the door facing south over the lawn towards the river.
These paintings are said to be of Avenue House, Ewell. The artist is thought to be J Stokes Dean and date from the 1830s. The current owner(s) of these paintings is not known.
By the eighteenth century Avenue House had come to the family of Bridges, who made their money from the gunpowder mills on the river Hogsmill. A Scottish manager, John Carr Sharpe, was brought in to oversee the works, using the house as his headquarters. He kept the old building, but added two wings on either side. Then in 1875 the mills, which could not meet new legislation on safety requirements, were closed down. Four years later, John Henry Bridges married Edith Tritton, and decided to create a new home for them both.
Entrance Lobby Fireplace and Crest detail Images courtesy of Peter Reed 2007
He commissioned a local architect; this was J. Alick Thomas, an enthusiast for the Old English style, who had only just started in practice. Thomas transformed the building, while leaving its old core intact. The entrance was moved to the side and the front rooms were enlarged to give a better view over the terrace to what had been the millpond, but was now an ornamental lake. Stonework and panelling were embellished with the letter B and an anchor, reflecting the Bridges' motto . 'Heaven My Haven'. The name 'Ewell Court' was given to the rebuilt house, though it really belonged to the old farmhouse down the road (demolished in the 1930s).
Painting of Ewell Court House (date and artist are unknown) The painting was owned by the late Kenneth Bond, the son of J H Bridges's daughter Rose, who very kindly lent it to local resident and keen historian Carol Hill to enable her to copy it. The back of the painting is captioned "This was the south front of the old house before grandfather ruined it. It was roughly square shaped with a courtyard at the centre." Photograph courtesy of Carol Hill.
The B and Anchor embelidhments Images courtesy of Peter Reed 2007
The Bridges supported the growing community of West Ewell - they helped build All Saints Church, acted as JPs, organised cricket matches, and held fetes on the lawn. At the beginning of the twentieth century they enlarged the house again, adding a gun room and new servants' hall. There was also an accumulator room for their own electricity supply, generated by a dynamo in one of the old mill buildings. The Bridges were followed at Ewell Court by the Stoddarts, who were unable to keep the house going, and sold it to the Council in 1935.
Interesting Door Furniture & detail Images courtesy of Peter Reed 2007
Other Door Furniture & Window Catch Image courtesy of Peter Reed 2007
During World War II, the house was the centre of Civil Defence for West Ewell, with ambulances, First Aid, and Air Raid Wardens all stationed here. A large gas decontamination centre was built to the west of the house, near the fountain. Peace saw the demolition of this building, and the construction of a health centre nearby.
Gas Lamps were installed before the house produced it's own electricity Image courtesy of Peter Reed 2007
Dining Room Fireplace Image courtesy of Peter Reed 2007
In 1879 Henry's grandson, John Henry Bridges (JHB), married Edith Tritton, the daughter of a banker and moved into Avenue House. JHB commissioned J.Alick Thomas of Whitfield and Thomas to build him a new house on the site. It was a three storey red brick structure in the 'Old English' style with 'Elizabethan' decorative elements. Parts of the original Avenue House were incorporated into the new building, some of this can still been seen inside the building today. There is a stone plaque set into the west wall of the house, where a verandah once stood; recording the date of the construction of the 'new' house and the name was changed to Ewell Court. This caused some confusion as there was Ewell Court Farm nearby with which there was no connection.
The Landscaping of the estate
In 1892 permission was given for the footpath that passed beneath the windows of the new house to be moved to the far side of the lake, outside the boundary of the garden.
The landscaping of the garden and lake appears to have been carried out by the company James Pulham & Son.
The company specialised in artificial rockwork landscapes. The rocks and boulders were formed by a central core of masonry being covered with a render, Pulham's 'Stone Cement', to produce a textured finish with variations of colour that mimicked natural rock. They designed and constructructed conservatories, ferneries, grottoes, pools, dripping wells and caves. The Pulhams also developed a form of terracotta that was used for pre-cast architectural ornaments such as vases, seats, fountains and balustrading.
The perimeter of the lake was realigned to incorporate a walk with decorative foot bridges, and the water outlet from the lake made into an attractive feature of a winding stream tumbling through rocky outcrops of 'sandstone' and plunging into pools before reaching the shallow sloping open meadows where the waters were carried beneath the ancient Packhorse Bridge joining the Hogsmill.
The banks of the lake were supported with rockwork, and the cascades and rock pools were formed from the same materials. A conservatory was built adjoining the house on the south west side. Further to the south west of the house was a terracotta pond edged with urns, with a fountain at the centre.
Pond and fountain date back to between 1892 and 1905, although it was used for advertising in 1925.
Claude Hitching, the leading authority on Pulhamite work, was invited by ECHO to visit Ewell Court House in July 2008. After viewing the gardens he confirmed that the various structures were made of Pulhamite. Studying the 25" OS maps from 1866, 1896 and 1913 and a building plan of 1907, he was of the opinion that the lake, rock and water garden, conservatory and fountain were probably installed between 1892 and 1905, with the grotto added sometime before 1913.
A photograph of the "Ewell Fountain" appears in the 1925 Pulham catalogue.
Fountain in Ewell Court c1925 Source Pulham catalogue of 1925
Fountain in Ewell Court 05July2007 Image courtesy of Peter Reed
For further information on the Pulham connection with Ewell Court see Claude Hitching's new web site at www.pulham.org.uk
In the autumn of 2003 Epsom & Ewell Borough Council resolved to dispose of Ewell Court House for residential development. Local residents opposed to this policy formed The Ewell Court House Organisation (ECHO). An ECHO business plan identifying a mix of commercial and community uses for the site, and demonstrating financial viability, persuaded the Council to reverse their decision.
Following an extensive refurbishment programme Ewell Court House is now a thriving centre being used for adult education, weddings, business offices, children's nursery, garden centre, library, community clubs and activities, and events including a Xmas Ice Rink that in 2006 attracted 4000 people. The venue is promoted by ECHO and managed by Epsom & Ewell B.C.
This venue is proof that local residents can form partnerships with Local Authorities to transform underperforming buildings, given enthusiasm, business acumen, and imagination.