Mountfield House is the iconic building which stands above Millenium Green and is the location of the offices of Bridport Town Council. The site of Mountfield formed part of the estate of William Downe, a textile merchant. In 1786 he purchased land stretching north from Rax Lane to Coneygar Hill. In 1789 he built Downe Hall, followed by Mountfield House in about 1812.
It was Downe’s intention that the various houses that he built should be occupied by members of his extended family. In his will he bequeathed Mountfield House to his daughter, Elizabeth Atkins. On his death in 1810, he appeared to be a successful merchant but his executor, Joseph Gundry, discovered that Downe’s liabilities exceeded the value of his assets. Downe’s main source of income was from his warehouses, but the business had been adversely affected by the Napoleonic Wars early in the century. In the course of the administration of the estate, the Court of Chancery declared that the estate was insolvent and ordered that the estate be administered for the benefit of the creditors. There followed years of litigation leading to a sale of the assets by auction in 1823.
The purchaser was Henry Templer, a Captain in the East India Company until monopoly trading ceased in 1834 who then went on to lose much of his fortune in an unsuccessful railway investment. His son Henry August Templer, a lawyer practising in Exeter, and the then Mayor of Bridport, on 1 June 1859, presided at the meeting which passed the resolution to form the Bridport volunteers, as they were afterwards known. Mountfield House remained in the ownership of the Templer family throughout remainder of the nineteenth century.
The property was sold in 1915 to Lonsdale Holden and the Holden family owned the property until 1953 when it was sold by Andrew Holden by public auction. In the auction particulars, the property was described as a “charming detached residence with two acres of sheltered gardens tennis court and two glasshouses and containing seven principal bedrooms bathrooms and dressing rooms”
Mountfield was occupied by troops including American soldiers and nurses during the Second World War and from the late forties by the Grove School for Girls. The school was still in occupation at the time of the auction.
The ownership of the purchaser was short lived because in 1954 the property was sold to the Bridport Rural District Council for £6000.
The Rural District Council occupied the building until the local government reorganisation in 1974 which resulted in the dissolution of the Rural District Council and the transfer to the Dorset District Council. The Council did not make full use of the building and by 1997 it was half empty and only partly in use. An option of selling the building arose but discussions then took place with the Bridport Town Council. The idea of the two councils sharing the same building was appealing because it was thought that it would promote more cooperation between the two bodies. This resulted in the Town Council purchasing the building. There were however insufficient funds to purchase the surrounding gardens which were acquired by a new trust – the Millenium Green Trust.
Today Dorset Council remans in occupation of part of the building as a tenant of the Town Council to enable it to continue providing its services locally. Mountfield is also the location of the Registry Office and Marriage Room which is reputed to be the most beautiful in Dorset.
It is great to have Mountfield full and functioning again. Town Council Staff are all back in their offices instead of working from home and Town Council meetings are once again able to be held face to face instead of via screens.
D-Day Commemoration 2021
As mentioned above Mountfield House was occupied by American soldiers during WW2. The 2nd battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division was billeted in Bridport between 1943 and D-Day 1944.
It was therefore fitting that the annual D-Day Service on Commemoration was held beside the memorial to the brave soldiers who left Bridport to storm the beaches of Normandy as part of the largest invasion force the world has ever seen on 6th June 1944, 77 years ago.
The Service of Commemoration was led by Reverend Pete Stone, whose powerful words were a fitting tribute and testament to the bravery of the young men, so far away from their homeland, who left Bridport in the prime of their lives to give everything in order to free the world from tyranny.
Local historian Jane Ferentzi-Sheppard spoke of Staff Sgt. Ray Lambert, who died in April of this year, at the age of 100-years-old. Staff Sgt. Lambert was one of the last surviving soldiers from the first wave of the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach and was stationed in Bridport prior to the landings. His brother was stationed in Walditch and they were able to see with each other on occasion prior to embarking.
Jane also spoke about another soldier who had married on the morning on June 6th only to be killed in action within days. His daughter was born later in the year.
It is these deeply personal accounts that bring home the incredible sacrifice that so many young men and women made and the true horror of war.
An Ice House or is it?
The excavation of an inauspicious pile of stones partially covered with soil in the grounds of Mountfield House has revealed a mystery building. The jury is still out over the purpose of the small building located on the right at the start of the footpath up Coneygar Hill. Volunteers have cleared away a lot of the accumulated soil and vegetation to reveal the structure. The team has also been looking through old documents at the Dorset History Centre and consulted with the County Conservation Office. The photographs below show the front and rear of the small building, the three beautifully constructed niches in the rear wall and the elaborate pebble floor.
As to the exact purpose of the building more work needs to be done before a definitive decision is reached. If you know anything about this building or have seen a similar building please get in touch with the Millenium Green Trust via: [email protected]
The green space outside Mountfield House is managed by the Millenium Green Trust and is enjoyed by many as a place of recreation and relaxation. Yoga groups meet throughout the summer and there are a series of events planned over coming months starting with the Food Festival on Saturday 19th June.
The Millenium Green Trust garden volunteers have been doing a great job in and around the raised bed area and in the gardens to the front of Mountfield.
The tulips looked fabulous in May, and although they have now finished, there are plenty more colourful displays coming along in the gardens to see us through the year.
Back in February, the Millenium Green garden volunteers planted over 80 small tree whips and 2 larger oak saplings, with the help of the Bridport Tree Group. This was followed up in March with a further 40 whips, all designed to provide a transition zone between the mature woodland and the meadow on Coneygar Hill.
Recently a group of volunteers carried out some clearance and weeding to make sure the young trees can grow without too much competition. General tree care was carried out and we are pleased to say that all but 4 of these young trees are in leaf and growing well. Of course all the recent rain has been a real benefit after the dry April when some watering was necessary. If you would like to join the volunteer team contact: [email protected]
Musicians @ Mountfield
Will Austin the Town Clerk spotted these two excellent musicians making great use of on of the benches to have a practice. Click on the link to admire their musicianship.
Wildflower Memorial Meadow
From bare earth earlier in the year the Wildflower Memorial Meadow, planted in memory of the men and boys of Bridport who served in the Great War 1914 -1918 is already looking bountiful and what better tribute can there be than the scarlet poppies standing proud. Sheila Meaney and her team have done a splendid job with this. If you would like to lend them a hand contact: [email protected]
Sunday 27th June – The Barking Mad Fundraiser. An afternoon of miscellaneous entertainment and some serious chat in order to raise funds for my two charities, the Cupboard Love Foodbank and the Burrough Harmony Centre.
The past fifteen months have been extremely challenging for everyone but for increasing numbers of people the struggle to put food on the table has become a sad reality. The Cupboard Love Foodbank has seen a significant rise in the number of families in Bridport that have become reliant on their services.
In times of stress, mental wellbeing is severely tested. The Burrough Harmony Centre provides a friendly, welcoming, informal service offering peer support, information, signposting and a variety of enjoyable activities to local people who are living with a mental health problem. For anyone reaching a mental health crisis it provides a non judgmental and safe space to talk and be listened to.
I hope that you will be able to join me on the day and help raise much need funds for these really valuable local charities.
Tickets available from Bridport Tourist Information Centre (01308 424901)
My thanks to Sue Arnold, Will Austin, Sheila Meaney and Brian Parker for information contained in this Blog.