The Abbot’s Grange, the Residence of Mr F.D. Millet

Publication: Country Life, 14 January 1911

Readers of Country Life were recently introduced to a typical Cotswold building, Tudor House, which stands in the middle of Broadway Street, although it may not have been built till well on in the seventeenth century, is an epitome of the admiral designing and building that arose in this district when Elizabeth was Queen. Broadway must then have become a place of some wealth and importance, for it still boasts a large number of houses in this style. They give, indeed, so characteristic a stamp to the place that it was, no doubt, on this account that it was recommended by the late William Morris to the American artists who asked his advice, as was mentioned when Tudor house was the theme. It is rather curious, therefore, that the one American artist who has ever since made Broadway his English home, and has done so much to maintain and develop Broadway’s best traditions, is not the owner of a Jacobean house, but of two domestic buildings that illustrate the types prevalent in the district before and after the period that produced so much and such good work that we now recognise it as a definite local architectural style.

The Abbot’s Grange is a 14th century dwelling of much picturesque charm and archaeological interest, while Russell House dates from the day when the classic spirit had fully asserted itself. These two buildings, therefore, are of great importance in the history of Broadway, since they are outstanding proofs of its long continuance and of its many centuries of prosperity. Perhaps its most flourishing days with those of Shakespeare‘s friend “Will. Squele a Cotswold man” who although he is brought upon the stage in Henry IV’s reign, was really a contemporary of the dramatist, and if not of Broadway itself, lived close by. It is the main street of Broadway, lining the present high road from Worcester to London where it begins to breast the great hill that dominates the Vale of Evesham, that mainly contains the buildings of this period. Russell House is a sort of letter out later outpost standing at the edge of the rich and cultivated plain, and at first was a house of refreshment for travellers coming southward on the London Road. The Abbot’s Grange, on the other hand, stands not far from the western end of the village green, which is the point at which the wide street begins, and where the road to old are Broadway Church diverges westward. Time was when that road was the most more important way – the chief track to London and the south-for nearly all the buildings that have connection with mediaeval times – the Church, the Grange and the Court House-lie along it. The character of the main street is in such exact accordance with the name of the place that we may well jump to the conclusion that it was the “broadway” and that the place only dated from the time when the community settled on its edges. That, however, is by no means the case, for the manor, already known by this name, belonged to the religious community at Pershore from very Very early time-earlier than the day, somewhere about 972A.D., when King Edgar refounded that community as a house of Benedictines. It was probably this early connection with the Worcestershire Abbey that led to the inclusion of Broadway in Worcestershire, though it stretches tadpole-like into the midst of Gloucestershire. The Abbey had very large rights over it, holding the lordship of the manor, the tithes of the parish, the rents of the tenanted lands and a large demesne. It was worth 14 pounds 10 shillings a year when the Domesday surveyors wrote down Ipsa aecclesia tenet Bradeweia. The revenues increased with the enhancement of landed values till it reached £169 and 18 shillings and fourpence in Henry VIII’s reign, being the most profitable of the Abbey’s possessions at the time of the Dissolution and accounting for a quarter of its income. Here, from early times, was an abbatial grange-a farm settlement for the cultivation of the demesne lands, providing also accommodation for the Abbot’s own occasional residence, and a hall for dispensing of local justice. The present building is in all probability the successor of an earlier one. Yet its great value lies in its being older than the vast majority of the examples of domestic Gothic that remain to us, dating, not as they do from the 15th century, but from the times of the first three Edwards. If 1320 is rightly given as the date of the completion, we must owe it to William de Hervington, who saw all those three kings on the throne during the long period of his abbacy. Needless to say, the building has had a very checkered history. It was altered about 1600. After which it became for time the village poorhouse, and next was turned into cottages, so that, when Mr Millet gained possession, the hall had been cut up into four rooms on two storeys, a process which had led to a good deal of mutilation of the original features. It is well, therefore, not to be too positive as to its original plan. The hall is now very broad for its length, the size being about 19 feet by 25 feet, and it has been argued that it was once longer and that the roof originally consisted of three bays, and not of two as now. Yet in its present form it presents all the features that we should expect as being normal to its age. The entrance door is at the end of the east wall, and faces another on the west side, thus forming the customary through passage which would have been screened off from the rest of the hall by a wooden screen with a galley over. In the north wall there may be seem to doorways of ogival type giving into buttery and pantry, while a third larger door will have led to a detached kitchen. The roof is nearly all original, except that much of the great central principal had been removed when the cottage conversion took place. There was, however, ample evidence for its correct renovation. The grooves in the wall marks the place from which it had sprung, while enough of it remain to get the form and mouldings exact. The moulded wallplate, the wind braces and the purlins are all original. The hall is lit by two square-headed and double-lighted transomed Windows on each side. The tracery of some of them had suffered and had been removed, but the most interesting and charming of the four remains intact-a delightful example of original workmanship mellowed, as is the whole building, by the patina of age. It it is placed anglewise owing to the gable projection that formed a cellar below and an oratory above. Beyond it, in the south-east corner of the hall, is a door leading to a stairway the ascends to the oratory and to the Abbot’s room. This stairway is very curiously contrived, as half of its width is in the thickness of the wall, a retaining half-arch being thrown across to support the upper half of the wall at a height that just gives headway to anyone going up the stairs. The oratory is on a lower level than the Abbot’s chamber, and is entered from a little landing. It remains in its original condition. It is very small, about 7 feet x 13 feet, and was, no doubt, intended merely for the Abbot’s private devotions. It has an oak roof, composed of double rafters rising from a moulded cornice plate, the under rafter being shaped so as to form a set of round arches. The traceried window with pointed arch and a dripstone is of the same type as, but of smaller size than that at the west end of the Abbot’s room, which is the most important window in the building, the eastern window of the same room being composed of a pair of custom lancets, of which both heads are carved out of one great block of stone, with outer edges left rough and unwrought. The Abbot’s room is 13 feet x 26 feet, and, unlike the hall below, where the fire must have burnt on a central hearth, it possesses a chimney. The hearth was built up when Mr millet began operations, but he has removed the intrusive masonry, and has revealed a cavity which proves that there stood here a fine hooded fireplace. The chimney is corbelled out, but there is a second shaft that starts from the bottom and serves the room below. The Abbot’s room retains its original roof, which is of the same kind as that of the hall, but plainer. There are squints both from the Abbot’s room and the oratory into the hall. There is no doubt that the Gothic building continued southward beyond the Abbot’s room, although the present windows of the continuation are of Elizabethan character, and a charming room with Elizabethan wainscoting and carved freize occupies the upper floor. All of the lower part of the masonry, however, is original, and the whole of the wall that forms the south gable, into which is welded the jamb of a great stone archway, that no doubt led into the main court or farmery. Close by the outer side of this jamb, and having no reference to the interior Elizabethan disposition, is a tiny original window or squint enabling the porter to see who was it that rang the bell, which hung below a little pent roof, of which the spring still remains in the wall.

The greatest possible praise must be given to Mr millet for his admirable treatment of this priceless building. He has added nothing except by way of necessary repair or of legitimate replacement of such structural parts as had disappeared during the evil times of workhouse and cottage days. Fortunately, he did not Need the building as a habitation calling for modern accommodation. It serves as a set of studios, as rooms that form an admirable and realistic background to those pictures of old times and old manners of which he is such a master. To it he has added, very reticently and in old materials, a great studio that gives him the light and the space needed by an artist, and in every part, whether old or new, we find a rich and enchanting collection of furniture, implements and objects belonging to various periods. In the hall a good specimen of the triangular-seated chairs of turned wood, that began in mediaeval times and continued into the reign of Henry eighth is seen in front of a fine Jacobean table with the initials “G.B.” appearing amid the carving of the upper rail. Chairs and benches of the same type are near, while other chairs, leather-covered and brass-nailed, of the type that came in under Charles I and continue through Commonwealth times, group perfectly with them. Arms and armour of appropriate, if simple, kind hang on the walls. Ancient horn lanterns and pricket candlesticks associate with pewter plates and tankards and other objects belonging to the domestic life of our ancestors. The studio contains much of the same character, while in the Elizabethan room we see that the 18th century has not been forgotten, and that remarkably fine specimens of the chairs of Queen Anne and the first George find a place. The other rooms serve as additional stores and a more congenial or inspiring environment for the student of the art and ethics of the past and for the painter of historic subjects cannot well be conceived. Mr Millet has fully realised the surroundings that he wished for and were congenial to him, and in doing so he has preserved, revivified ready and given complete value to one of the choices and rarest of the late lesser mediaeval domestic buildings.