Occupational Patterns of Seaside Houses

By Douglas Fraser           

There is much debate about the impact on a community of having a substantial part of its housing stock used for second homes and commercial holiday letting.  But this was the basis of the growth and prosperity of towns like Tenby in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  What can be found about the historical pattern of occupation and does this have any lessons for the future?  In this paper I look at the people who lived or stayed in Lexden Terrace in Tenby.  Described as “Tenby’s finest C19th work”, Lexden Terrace comprises six Regency style, Grade II* houses near the harbour and overlooking the sea – exactly the kind of properties that were built to attract the well-heeled from outside the area.

In the Beginning

 Front of Lexden Terrace showing the gated entrance to numbers 1 to 5.

 No.1 is on the right hand side.

 Numbers 1 to 5 Lexden Terrace were built between 1843 and 1846 by Captain John Rees, a local man who had made his fortune in China as Commodore of the Jardine Matheson Opium Fleet, and retired to Tenby in 1842.  Rees developed the terrace for his own occupation, lived in No.1 and looked for residential rather than short term tenants for the other properties.   Such was James Pickering Ord who signed a lease for No. 5 on 3rd April 1846 for a period of seven years at a rent of £45 a year.  Ord died in Lexden Terrace in 1863 at the age of 72.  The Tenby Observer and other sources show him as a resident.  He was a man of independent means living with his wife and daughter, and four resident servants; the family had lived in Bath before coming to Tenby.  Agnes Dynely who took the lease of No. 4 for 7 years at about the same time was a very similar tenant.  Born about 1775 in Devon, her name also appears as a permanent Tenby resident.  But Rees was less successful with the other properties. In March 1845  No.3 was let to Robert Harris, initially for a year at £52.10s  a year, but he said that he would extend to 7 years if the rent were dropped to £45.   Just a year later Rees encountered a stranger on the pleasure ground (the common garden) who on enquiry claimed to be Colonel Bagnold, the tenant of Harris. Rees was incensed and summoned John Gwynne, his solicitor, to examine the provisions of the lease with a view to expelling the subtenant, but all that he felt able to do was to serve a notice on Harris saying that “the lodger …… not to have the pleasure of walking on the pleasure ground and that should any damage be done to the water closets and pipes” Harris would be held responsible.  Gwynne was also sent to speak to Colonel Bagnold, reading out the paragraph in Harris’ lease which expressly forbade friends to walk in the garden.  The Colonel “seemed very much surprised” and said that he would refer to his landlord.  The eventual outcome is not recorded but Harris did not retain the property for 7 years and Rees stopped trying to restrict the occupation, building a wall across the pleasure ground to separate his house at one end from the rest of the terrace.  No. 2 was occupied by John Bowers in 1850 although I cannot establish on what basis. Numbers 2 and 3 then had a series of short-term tenants although it is not clear whether they rented directly from John Rees or from a head tenant.  By 1853, No. 2 was in the full holiday business with new families coming each month.

No. 6, now Lexden House, was built later than the rest of the terrace, replacing the home of the Williams family which had immediately adjoined John Rees’ Lexden Terrace.    George Williams lived on the proceeds of lodging houses and owned property in the High Street, St Mary Street and St Julian Street.  When George died, he left his property to his wife, Sarah, and his four younger children, Sarah, Rachel, Bridget and John.  The three daughters remained unmarried, lived in the High Street and then St Mary Street, and described themselves as lodging house keepers. After their mother died, Rachel leased from her sisters and her brother their share of the old family home adjoining Lexden Terrace.  She had this demolished and a house built on the site designed to harmonise with John Rees’ development, but otherwise including as many lettable rooms as possible.  I do not know exactly when the house was built but Rachel obtained the site in 1844 and the project was complete when she drew up her will in April 1850.  But she did not enjoy her new property for long.  Rachel died in June 1850; the eldest sister, Sarah, had died in the preceding March, and so the youngest, Bridget Reynolds Williams, inherited all but the residual interest that remained with her brother, John.  Bridget Williams never lived in No. 6 Lexden Terrace herself.

View from Castle Hill showing Lexden House.

 An analysis of the visitors listed in The Tenby Observer between 1853 and 1860 for both numbers 2 and 6 shows that the season ran for six months, from June to October, and the periods were mainly for three or four weeks.

There was generally a single family at a time at No.2, and never more than two, whereas there were up to four at a time at No. 6.  We cannot say anything about how full the properties were over the course of a year since, although there were times when no name was given, the names that we have are only of those who left their cards with the Tenby Observer.  Only numbers 2 and 6 have the appearance of being used systematically as holiday lets; there were some reported visitors for the other houses but these look like the friends and families of those living there.

John Rees died in 1855 and his widow, Emma, and their daughter, Emma Knox, lived at No.1 until Emma herself died, at St Tropez, in 1861.  In 1862 Emma Knox married Frederick Maitland and they went to live in London, retaining Lexden Terrace as a purely commercial investment.  The houses were eventually sold in 1922, mainly to the sitting tenants.  Bridget Williams died in 1870 having sold No. 6 three years earlier.

The Rest of the Nineteenth Century

On 15 February 1862 Joseph Craven of West House near Bradford, rented No.1 Lexden Terrace for three years at £55 a year, and in 1864 took a 21 year lease.  Craven was a worsted mill owner  who had been advised for his health to winter in a softer climate; he spent his winters in Tenby and his summers in Yorkshire.  Joseph Craven, born in 1826, was one of the principal benefactors of the Independent Church at the Old Tabernacle (now St John’s), supplementing the minister’s salary by £100 a year for a long period.  He introduced the architects Paull and Robinson for the building of the new church and contributed £100 to the cost.  He also contributed to and underwrote the building of the manse and gave £100 to the Hounds Lane Schools. In 1884, his sons, Frederick and Arthur Craven, took a lease for a further 21 years: the Cravens rented the house for a total of sixty years before buying it in 1922.  It was for most of the time a second home although in 1923 Frederick was a magistrate in Pembrokeshire. The property was also used from time to time by other families – either friends of the Cravens or possibly commercial sublets.

 

As noted above, the early tenants of No.2 stayed for a year or less but by 1870 there was a long term resident. Charles Prust, his wife Jane, three unmarried daughters, son, four servants and a parrot moved from Haverfordwest to Tenby.  Son Robert became the leader of the “Red Indian” tribe that ranged over the Burrows.  Young Prust’s greatest acolyte was the young Augustus John who was disillusioned when Robert lost his nerve after the two of them had started a fire in a wood.  In 1877 the Reverend John Phelps of Carew Vicarage took the house at a rent of £60,  followed in 1880 by Major General William Graves, retired from the Indian Army, and his family.  In 1885 Francis Girardot signed a lease for 3½ years at £50 a year.  He was at Victorian hero and the originator of the saying “Women and Children first”, from the incident in which he was instrumental in saving the lives of all of the women and children on a sinking troopship whilst three quarters of the men died. His successors were James Fitzgerald, retired Colonel in the Indian Army, and Charles Spark, Chief Clerk of HM Dockyard at Pembroke Dock. Harry Neame, of the brewing family, who was married to a cousin of Emma Maitland, was the last occupant of the century.

Like No. 2, the early residents of No.3 Lexden Terrace appear to have been of relatively short occupation but in 1853 George James took a 21 year lease and became a Tenby resident.  The James family were landowners from Haverfordwest and George’s widow, Martha, was still living at No.3 in 1871.  The principal visitors during the time of the James were the Misses Prust from Haverfordwest; no doubt this led to the Prust family itself renting the house next door (No. 2).  In 1877,  on the expiry of his lease for No.2, Charles Prust moved into No.3.  In 1880, Caroline Floyd, a London resident, took a 7 year lease at £60 but used the house as a second home.  Staff Commander William Edwin Archdeacon, a leading naval cartographer rented No.3 at £50 per annum in 1886. His granddaughter Nina Hamnett, born there in 1890, became a well known artist and bohemian.  Brigade Surgeon John Shaw in charge of the medical aspects of Penally Barracks and St Catherine’s Fort, was the last tenant of the century, renting in 1893 for 7 years at £50;  he could have observed St Catherine’s Fort without moving from his own drawing room.  From 1853 to 1900, No.3 was the sole or principal residence of all tenants with the exception of Caroline Floyd.

We have already seen that Agnes Dynely took a seven year lease on No. 4 in 1846 but did not renew it, moving instead to Rock House nearby.  Thomas Howell, a mariner of Tenby, signed a lease for 7 years at £50 in 1858 and sublet the house for a series of shorter periods.  Howell was followed by the Reverend Daniel Anthony in 1866 and Henry Ford took an annual lease in 1872 at £50:10s, renewing it in 1873 for a further five years.  In 1880 John Bancroft, HM Inspector of Schools, took a one year lease with a view to staying long term.  Ten years later he was still there with four children but in 1893 decided not to renew the lease because of a poor standard of maintenance.

 

Number 5 which had been rented by James Ord since its completion, was leased in 1863 for 7 years by the Reverend John Hooper, Rector of Upton Warren, Wenlock. He became a yearly tenant between 1870 and 75, and was succeeded by George Haig who took the house for 7 years for £65 in 1877.  In 1883 Ernest Knowling, a medical practitioner from Devon aged just 26, took the house for 7 years and was still there in 1891 with wife and two children.  Hooper and Haig must have regarded the house as an investment or holiday home since we find others living there at the time of the relevant census.  Harry Neame was in No. 5 at the time of the 1901 census – it looks as though family members very sensibly took the opportunity for a holiday created when the houses were unlet.

From the beach c1900

Bridget Williams sold 6 Lexden Terrace in 1867 to Charles Henry Smith who also bought out her brother John before embarking on a process of improvement.  Smith was a coal mine owner from  Llansamlet near Swansea, selling his colliery interests when he retired to Tenby.  He had been Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1839 and mayor of Swansea in 1845.  From the Tenby Observer we see that Smith holidayed in Tenby before settling there.  From the deeds in the Tenby Museum we know that he had a hand in many of the financial speculations of Tenby, and purchased shops in the High Street as an investment.  He became a magistrate and was Mayor of Tenby in 1875, 76 and 77.  Smith undertook a significant modernisation and upgrading of No. 6, and purchased the next door property (on the harbour, not Lexden Terrace side) demolishing it to improve access and create a larger garden.  He also named the house, “Lexden House”.  By 1871 Smith and his wife, Emily, had a resident establishment at Lexden House of footman, cook, kitchen maid, parlourmaid, and Emily had a nurse. Emily died in 1871 and Charles in 1878.   In 1873, Charles had married Georgina Willis, who continued to live at Lexden House until her death in 1893.  The property was left in trust for the benefit of Smith’s four granddaughters; they chose not to live in Lexden House which was let briefly before being sold to Edward M. R. Bryant, a general practitioner from Pembroke, in 1900..

Although a certain amount of guesswork is necessary in interpreting the above, about 60% of the occupation of the Terrace during this period (based on 292 available letting years) was by people for whom it was their sole or principal residence.  About 25% of the total provided second homes and some 15% were holiday lets. Fewer than 10% of total occupation was funded by locally earned income, the balance of the occupants’ income coming from independent sources or being earned outside the area.

Twentieth Century

Rents in Lexden Terrace had reached £65 a year during the nineteenth century, but by its end they had halved, during a period when average rents across England and Wales rose by 40%.  In 1896, Frederick Craven negotiated a renewal on No. 1 by stating that several houses were empty and that Lexden House was only achieving a rent of £35.  Lexden House sold in 1900 for £1000, half of what had been paid (in total) in 1867.  In the 1901 census numbers 1, 3 and 4 were all empty.  The amount of living-in servants also gives an illustration of how circumstances had changed – instead of the establishments of four servants that were seen in the middle of the previous century, there were two at No. 1 and at No, 2 and one at Lexden House in 1901.  Why was this? A number of factors appear to be involved.  The Georgian terrace was deeply unfashionable by the end of the nineteenth century and Tenby itself had moved downmarket.

Despite this, Frederick Craven continued to rent No. 1 until the Maitland Trust (the family trust of Emma Maitland) sold it to him in 1922.  The Cravens continued using the house until 1939 when they sold to Geraldine Lawrence, a society hostess based in Chelsea.  It was a holiday house for her and her guests which constituted much of the artistic and literary life of London.  After she died in 1962, Geraldine Lawrence’s executors sold to Irene Clink, a local widow.  In 1922 No. 2 was sold to Mrs Martha Fisher, a teacher who was still living there in 1939, and in 1987 to a local builder, Mike Webb.  Number 3 was sold in 1922 to the sitting tenant, Arthur Cowtan who owned a piano shop in Tenby and after he died the house was used by his cousins, the Musson family, as a holiday home.   In the early 1990s the Mussons sold to the Prestwich family which started to restore the house as a family home.  Number 4 was sold in 1922 to Mrs Jessie Leigh of Cowbridge and after her death to a succession of local people.  At the beginning of the century Eva and Ernest Aves, daughter and son-in-law of Emma Maitland, used No. 5 for a period until it was rented to Edwin John, a retired solicitor and father of Augustus and Gwen.  John bought the house in 1922 when it came on the market, and after his death in 1938 it exchanged hands no fewer than nine times before being bought by Mike and Brenda Vaughan in 1986.  Lexden House had the more fortunate history in this period.  Having been bought by Dr Edward Mansel Bryant, non-practising surgeon and amateur inventor, in 1900 it stayed in the same family, relatively unchanged, until 1991.  Bryant lived at Lexden House with his housekeeper, Maria Thomas, whom he married, until he died in 1944.  The house was left to a close relation and after he died in 1991, it was under threat of conversion into flats.  Lexden House was bought by Thomas Hutton and his wife, Marion, who already had a second home in Tenby and decided to save Lexden House and to live there.

Back of the Terrace over the Pleasure Ground.

During the twentieth century Lexden Terrace experienced great changes to its condition and experienced major social mix.  Some of the houses remained principal homes, some second homes and some were investments.  At various times numbers 1, 4 and 5 were divided into flats, and Lexden House faced that threat.  There is not sufficient information to analyse the mix of occupation for the period as a whole, but towards the end of the century all of the houses were in single owner occupation and were the sole or principal homes of those who lived there.   Only one resident earned his income locally. The others had independent incomes or brought their earnings from outside into Tenby, making a significant contribution to the local economy and to the community..

The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park took the opportunity to make a number of shrewdly targeted grants to encourage the restoration of selected properties.  This gave the other owners and their successors the confidence to themselves invest on restoring the houses. Being Grade II* this means authentic materials and CADW approval at each stage.  The terrace is probably better maintained today than it has been for 150 years, and is an ornament for Tenby.  It is clearly important that such historical properties are well restored and well looked after. But there has been a consequence – since the beginning of the present century, house prices in Wales as a whole have increased by a factor of 2.5, whereas those of Lexden Terrace have quadrupled.  Possibly as a result, half of the properties are no longer homes but are exploited commercially for holiday letting – a reversion to the use of numbers 2 and 6 in the middle of the nineteenth century.  The occupants of the three remaining houses also own them, but for none of them does Lexden Terrace provide their only residences.  Is occupation by holiday makers, who can sometimes be a little raucous, compatible with that by residents?  The historical record is mixed, the uses did coexist but it may be significant that occupation of the terrace did not really settle down until after No. 2 acquired a long term tenant.  It would be sad if the growth of short-term letting reduced the attraction of Lexden Terrace as homes, even second homes, and hence if Tenby were less able to attract the modern equivalents of the Cravens, Geraldine Lawrence, Charles Smith or the Huttons, who have done so much for the town.

 

 Principal Sources

Fraser, D.  A Legacy of Opium, Tenby Heritage Publications, (Tenby 2010).

Marion Hutton  History of Lexden Terrace, (private c1997).

Lloyd, Orbach and Scourfield,  The Buildings of Wales – Pembrokeshire, Yale University Press, (New Haven and London, 2004).

Maitland Trust Papers –  D/EE/17 – Pembrokeshire County Record Office.   This is a very extensive set of documents relating to the management of the property left by John Rees, mainly between 1855 and 1922, deposited by Eaton Evans, the successors to Evans, Powell and Matthias. It is the source used most for this paper.

Lexden House conveyances.

Papers from the Lock archives held in private hands.

Wills Proved in St David’s – Pembrokeshire Record Office.

Rees Papers- D/EE/55 – Pembrokeshire Record Office.

Old Tenbyite – Tenby Observer 8 February 1957.

Various deeds and maps in the Tenby Museum, including a schedule to the Lock papers, extracts of the St Mary’s Register and extracts from the Tenby Council Minutes.

Deeds and documentation relating to Lexden Terrace held by Richard Walker formerly of No.1.

Census for 1841/51/61/71/81/91 and 1901/11 – National Archives.

Birth Marriage and Death Records – General Register Office.