Reprinted from Newsletter 94, dated 2000 February

Coombe House: then and now …

Coombe House, the home of Colin Wells-Brown and Alan Gloak, is situated a quarter-mile up Bove Town, a steep hill above Glastonbury High Street. Parking nearby is very limited, so please park in the centre of the town and walk or take the Tor Bus from St Dunstan’s carpark.

It is an old house with the young garden beginning to show architectural maturity — walled formal, herbaceous and romantic shrub gardens, elegant grass garden, some tender and unusual plants, vegetable garden, orchards, nut walk, water features and pergolas. New for this year is a bastion with a view to a green elysium. In all, the grounds comprise about two acres with delightful views and ambience.

A long stone house. It looks to be in a relatively poor state of repair. The garden in the foreground is plain grass with a few bushes. Some trees in the background and foreground are bare of leaves.
Coombe House as it looked in 1992, from the Chalice Hill direction …
The same stone house after renovation. Some bay windows have been added, and part of the house has been painted. The ground floor has been significantly altered. The garden has had a significant transformation, with some new stone walls and many new trees, flowers, and other plans. In the foreground are some stops up to the garden, flanked by sculpted planters. The trees in the background and foreground are larger than before and are no longer bare.
… and in 2000 after renovations, and the new garden settling in.

I am sure if you are acquainted with Coombe House you will recognize this description, as in the national gardens guide. But have you ever turned and looked back at the house and puzzled as Colin and I did when we first saw the house in the spring of 1992?

Here is a large house with a history. Its mixture of Georgian and Victorian architecture is based (as we now know) on what was once a medieval cottage on a plateau on the old Roman road — later a turnpike road — now called the Old Wells Road. The site had obviously been occupied for a very long time.

Our knowledge of the house goes back only to 1839 when a Major Roach (believed to be same man recorded on a plaque at the foot of the tower of St John’s church) took a lease on a hereditament in Bove Town from a Mr Pratt of Glastonbury and two gentleman from London called Graham. We believe Major Roach at that time owned the old house now known as Preston Manor. We can only guess why he purchased the property, but the Roach family owned it until 1904, when the property passed to Walter Way from Wells. This gentleman owned it until around 1910, when it became the family home of Colonel Clayton, who we understand had returned from India with his wife, two sons (soon to die in the 1914–18 war) and three daughters.

The Claytons owned Coombe House until the late 1940s, when the last Miss Clayton’s heirs sold the property to Mr Williams. He and his family lived there until the late 1980s, when it became the home of Peter Goad. Then in 1992 on March 17 Colin and I saw the house for the first time and bought it on July 12.

What sort of house had we purchased? It could easily be described as a Heinz 57. Thick internal walls hid a very old building. The elegance of the late-Georgian wing puzzled us also. But all was revealed when Sue Openshaw presented us with a watercolour of an old thatched cottage, which had, tacked on the end, a grand Georgian wing.

Now some of the mysteries seemed to slot into place. Had the Roaches purchased the cottage as a dower house, and did they build on the Georgian wing, and then in the late 1800s did they pull down the cottage and on its footprint build the Victorian house ?

When we purchased the house it was being lived in by two families and it had been effectively split in two. Our first job was to turn it back into one house. This was not so easy as we had first thought. For a start the heating was all at the west end of the house; we wanted it at the east end. The drawing room had a dividing wall; we wanted it put back to its original dimensions. We wanted the garden doors to open out, not in — and so on.

Colin then decided that the house front would be greatly improved if we added battlements on the two projections. And the back needed a bay window. The internal layout in our opinion needed changing, and so with the help of a good local builder (who still seems to be with us) we set to work.

Each room had its own folder with a scale plan inside, a plan for all wall and electrical points, wall lights and samples of the wallpaper, carpet and colour card of paint — nothing was left to chance. On moving day each room had a detailed plan of where each piece of furniture was to go, and the whole house was in place some six hours after the first piece came off the first of three large pantechnicons. It also helped that each piece of furniture and each box of belongings were colour-coded and marked with a room number.

Coombe House has now become a most comfortable place to live in, and Glastonbury has also worked its charm on us. We very much like the people and town and have great delight in showing our friends from around the world its charm and byways. But also we have great pleasure once a year in welcoming you, our friends of the Conservation Society, to come and share a short time with us here at Coombe House.

Thursday August 3 is the date to book for this summer!