Sampson Society

Sampson Society Appreciation Visit - 17 September 2013

At first sight, Nutbourne appears slightly different to other houses in Bickwell Valley. Most of the houses in the Valley were designed in a loose form of Arts and Crafts, with half timbering a common feature. The delicate detailing of these houses contrasts with the more solid appearance of Nutbourne. Architecturally, Nutbourne is probably more typical of a late Victorian or early Edwardian villa.

There are 2 other houses in the area which have similar design features - Burnside at the top of the Valley and Silver Howe on Boughmore Road. It is interesting that each of these houses could be accessed without the need for construction of the Bickwell Valley Road. Burnside took its original access from Broadway and Silver Howe when first built would have gained access from Boughmore Lane. (Boughmore Lane, now little more than a muddy footpath was the access for all the houses in that area before Boughmore Road itself was built in the mid 1920’s)

It was also possible to gain access to the site of Nutbourne before the Bickwell Valley Road was built, since there was always a short spur road to the site from the junction of Convent Road. It was from Nutbourne onwards that the Bickwell Valley Road was built in 1900. (The character of the new road with its formal pavements and verges contrasts with the original section which has more of the feel of a country lane).

We know that Burnside, although built in 1904, was actually designed in 1896. It is also conceivable that both Silver Howe and Nutbourne were both designed in the 1890’s before Sampson became more heavily influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement. Indeed, the design feel of Nutbourne can be traced back to that of the 3 houses on the Esplanade (now the Kingswood Hotel) which in 1891 was Sampson’s first building in the town. Whatever the date that Sampson actually penned the design, Nutbourne appears to have been built around 1904, by which time Bickwell Valley was already partially developed.

As is usual with Sampson’s houses, Nutbourne was sited close to the northern site boundary, with gardens extending to the south and west. The gardens were originally much larger; in the 1980’s part of the land was sold off and an additional house built in the grounds.

Render is the main external material, although originally there was a brick plinth which ran around the whole house. Traces of this can still be seen in the porch where the soft orange brick with its fine detailing is still visible. The dominant feature to the front of the house is the 2 storey projection which contains a generous porch area at ground level. To each side are 2 balconies with cast iron railings and substantial timber supports. The porch was probably an open area at one time, but the 2 sides have now been glazed to provide protection from the weather. The forward projecting gable includes a decorative fascia.

In common with many Sampson houses, the roof is a dominant feature and covered with plain clay tiles, with decorative ridge tiles. As usual there are deep roof overhangs with exposed rafters. The roof incorporates a mix of gables and half hips.

The front door is original, and still includes some of the original coloured glass. This leads into the hallway, which in true Sampson fashion is placed fairly centrally in the house and of square proportions. The hall contains some fine original floorboards, and of course the staircase to the first floor. The hall gives access to the main living room on the south western side of the house, positioned to gain maximum sunlight and views out over the garden. It’s uncertain whether the bay is original or not. As the window furniture is slightly different to that on the main window at the front of the house, it’s possible that the bay is a later addition. It’s worth noting that the original timber windows remain throughout the house, with nicely detailed handles and stays.

Across the hall is the second reception room, used as a dining room. This is also south facing with views across the garden.

From the back of the hall, access is gained to the servant’s corridor, which, together with the landing above, formed the back of the original house. The service corridor leads to the kitchen and one other room. This may have been a morning room, but since it is accessed from the service corridor, is more likely to have been used by the servants. The window to the east overlooks the entrance area and avoids views over the owners private garden areas to the south. The kitchen projects from the back of the house together with the first floor above, and has been extended by about a third from the original size. In a similar way the living room also projects further back from the rear wall of the original house. The area between these 2 projections was originally a yard, but this has been infilled with a 2 storey extension, originally flat roofed, but recently covered with gable roofs. On the ground floor, this newer part of the building is used as a study.

The staircase includes a half landing where there is a recess in the original back wall. This, together with a similar recess further along the landing, marks the position of a window which would have overlooked the back of the house. Sampson always liked to provide as much natural light as possible to his staircases and was particularly fond of large windows on the half landings. This feature would have been removed when the extension was built.

The house was built with 3 principal bedrooms, with a fourth bedroom possibly designed for a servant. The master bedroom is located over the living room and was originally a through room, the full depth of the house. It now includes an en suite bathroom at the rear.

The other principal bedrooms lie above the large porch area and the dining room. The cast iron fireplaces have survived as a feature in these bedrooms, together with the servant’s bell push. (there is also a bell push in the living room and the board is in the kitchen). All three principal bedrooms have south facing windows taking advantage of sunlight and views out (a key feature of Sampson houses).

The fourth bedroom lies at the end of the landing adjacent to the bathroom. The location of this room in the house, and its outlook to the east overlooking the driveway entrance suggests that this was probably designed for use by a servant. (There are no attics in which to hide away the servants!)

The 2 storey extension over the back of the house includes a further bedroom which is undoubtedly modern in appearance, contrasting with those in the original house.

Unfortunately we have been unable to track down the original house deeds, so we do not know who the house was built for. However, the 1911 census entry for Nutbourne, show that the occupiers in that year were Alexander Lewis Kirk and his wife Amy Kelty Kirk, together with 2 servants, a parlour maid and a cook.

Alexander Lewis Kirk was born in India on 21st December 1854. He was the son of a Scottish doctor, Kenlock Winlow Kirk. Throughout his working life his father was employed by the East India Company. He held various posts, including that of medical adviser to Sir Charles Napier, the British Army Commander in Chief in India. He married in 1843,and with his wife Ellen had 7 children, all born in India. Alexander was the youngest.

Winlow Kirk’s last posting for the East India Company was as Superintending Surgeon to the Gwalior contingent. We know a great deal about life for the British stationed at Gwalior, because a diary was kept by Mrs R M Coopland, the wife of Rev Coopland, a chaplain to the East India Company. The diary was later published in Britain under the title “A lady’s escape from Gwalior and life in the fort of Agra during the Indian Mutinies of 1857”.

Mrs Coopland recalls meeting Dr Kirk for the first time in January 1857, describing him as a “thoroughly kind hearted Scotchman”. Ellen Kirk was not present at this first meeting as she had gone to Calcutta to see her children off on their way to Scotland. However, only the older children returned to Scotland; Alexander stayed behind in India with his mother.

During the Spring of 1857 various Indian regiments mutinied and there was great concern in the British community at Gwalior. Mrs Coopland recorded that there were some 20 British officers and their wives at Gwalior in charge of 5,000 native troops, the most trusted of whom had already been despatched to assist in protecting Agra. It seemed only a matter of time before the mutiny broke out at Gwalior and certain death would follow.

In the event the rebellion at Gwalior broke out on 15th June 1857. The mutineers set out to destroy all houses occupied by the British and to murder all British males, including children. Of Dr Kirk, Mrs Coopland wrote:

He was much beloved, both by his brother officers, and by the sepoys under his care, for his benevolent disposition and goodness of heart: his kindness to the sepoys in sickness has been much commended; and it was generally thought, that if a rising took place, he would escape, being so much liked by the natives; but his death proved how delusive was the confidence to be placed in these black-hearted wretches. The doctor who had ministered to their necessities and comfort when in hospital, who had cured them when sick, and tended them when convalescent, these miscreants shot before his wife, and beat out his brains with the butts of their muskets.

The same fate befell the other British officers at Gwalior, including the chaplain, Mrs Coopland’s husband. The group of surviving women met in the evening to decide what to do as the station was in ruins, the buildings ransacked and on fire. Mrs Coopland recorded in her diary:

Then poor Mrs Kirk with her little boy (ie Alexander) joined us. She had that instant seen her husband shot before her eyes, and on her crying ’Kill me too!’ they answered ’No, we have killed you in killing him’. Her arms were bruised and swollen; they had torn off her bracelets so roughly; even her wedding ring was gone. They spared her little boy saying ’Don’t kill the butcha (ie little one) it’s a missie baba’ (ie girl). Poor child, his long curls and girlish face saved his life.

The women decided to leave for Agra (a distance of about 80 miles) and made the journey initially on carts pulled by bullocks, but had to resort to walking much of the route. After 5 days, by then numbering about 20 women and children, they reached the relative safety of Agra.

The Indian Mutiny eventually ended and, coincidentally, it was at Gwalior that the last rebels were defeated on 20th June 1858.

Mrs Kirk returned to Britain with Alexander to join her other children and appears to have settled in Bath. However, despite Alexander’s experience as a child, he returned to India as an adult in the 1880’s and married Amy Kelty Macleod in Ceylon. Amy Macleod was also born in India, but her Scot’s ancestry could be traced to various Kings of Man and the Isles going as far back as the 10th century. They had one son who was born in Ceylon.

Alexander ran a tea plantation and in the 1911 census here at Nutbourne, aged 56, he described himself as a retired Ceylon tea planter. In later life the family must have moved away from Sidmouth as Alexander died at Hove in 1927. Amy spent her last years at Bournemouth, where she died in 1951.

Martin Mallinson September 2013