Belmont – the most beautiful house you’ve probably never heard of
Dorset has many hidden treasures – not least Belmont, a Georgian villa with stunning interiors, spectacular coastal views and a famous literary connection. If you’re lucky, you might even get to stay there…
From the window of his writing room at Belmont – the grand Georgian house in Lyme Regis – John Fowles had an enviable view.
The author of The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Magus could look out onto his beloved garden and the sea beyond. According to his biographer, Eileen Warburton, “French doors opened onto a south-facing balcony where vines eventually twined and birds alighted. The pounding of keys on his small portable typewriter thudded audibly through the house.”
You can enjoy a similar view from the window today….
…But you can enjoy more beautiful interiors even than Fowles could – thanks to the stunning restoration work carried out in recent years by the Landmark Trust…
If it looks idyllic, it hasn’t always been.
When Fowles and his wife, Elizabeth, bought the house on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast in 1968 it had stood empty for a decade. John Fowles wrote in his diaries that he loved “the peace and quiet after London, the feel of the house, almost a gratitude that something is going to happen after its ten empty years.”
But soon, he uncovered the reality of “rotting wood, leaking drains, broken joists” that would take months to rectify. It was cold, damp, and gales blew the trees down. Above all, he adored his garden — an acre of wilderness that he had to hack through to discover “old paths and walls; a bed of spring irises, clumps of day-lilies, an old cast-iron seat”.
Buying Belmont House came at the time of Fowles’ greatest success. On the same day that he put in an offer of £18,000 for the house, he received what must have been a telegram from his publisher, Tom Maschler. It’s the kind of message that — sent in an email these days — any author would envy: The French Lieutenant’s Woman is magnificent no less. Congratulations. Letter follows. Love, Tom.
He went on to be offered an advance of £8,000 — almost half the cost of his Georgian villa — for a book, set in Lyme Regis, that he’d thought his editors wouldn’t like. In those days, it was one of the highest advances ever paid for anything other than the thrillers of Ian Fleming and Len Deighton.
But — typical author — he still wasn’t happy. Other writers snubbed him, envious of his financial and literary success. And maybe of his lovely house, too.
How you can stay at Belmont
Ten years after Fowles’ death, the house has once again been restored, this time taking it back to its Regency appearance. Belmont was once owned by Eleanor Coade, a remarkable eighteenth century woman who ran the Coade Stone Manufactury, a company that produced popular Adam-style ornaments, which she used in the design of her own home.
If you fancy writing a great novel by the sea, you can rent out the whole house thanks to the Landmark Trust — but it’s so popular you’ll have to plan in advance: only a few dates in 2018 are still available.
But if you’re not lucky enough to hire the house, the Landmark Trust is also opening it to the public this September for two Open Days. There’s also an exhibition on the house’s history that’s open on some Friday afternoons in the summer. More information here.
Even if you don’t get to enjoy Fowles’ own inspiring view, from anywhere on the clifftops of Lyme Regis you can see splendid views of the Dorset coast.
And of course, you could always stand on the Cobb in a big cape looking mysterious and channeling The French Lieutenant’s Woman herself….
For details of how to book your stay at Belmont House, visit the Landmark Trust website here.