A large villa designed by Ernest George and Harold Peto in 1889-1890 for Sir William Wills (later Lord Winterstoke).
Reasons for Designation
East Court, Brockenhurst Road, Ramsgate is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:
* the design, by the noted architectural practice of Sir Ernest George and Harold Peto, was built in an advanced style which reflected the liking for more informal living in late-C19 England and the tastes of the international businessman, William Henry Wills and his wife;
* the building has a striking and original appearance which successfully combines a variety of influences;
* the house was carefully planned to fulfil its function of a holiday home, and retains all of the principal elements of its original layout as well as fixtures and fittings designed by the architects;
* the architectural style remains loyal to native vernacular traditions while acknowledging the wider influences which trade and improved communications made possible.
* it is a good example of a late-Victorian house, for a wealthy businessman and his wife, reflecting their aspirations and lifestyle and the developing technology of the time which anticipates the Edwardian era.
* with the adjoining Grade II Stable Block and the various buildings of Winterstoke Gardens (all Grade II).
Ramsgate is situated on the east coast of the Isle of Thanet, facing France and the Low Countries. Originating as a fishing village within the medieval parish of St Laurence, Ramsgate’s development from the C16 was driven by the strategic importance of its coastal port. Ramsgate became associated with the Cinque Ports as a limb of Sandwich from the C14. Late C17 trade with Russia and the Baltic resulted in a wave of investment and rebuilding in the town. In 1749 the construction of a harbour of refuge from storms in the North Sea and Channel was approved, and a cross wall and inner basin were completed in 1779 to the design of John Smeaton. Later improvements included a lighthouse of 1794-1795 by Samuel Wyatt and a clock house of 1817 by Wyatt and George Louch.
From the mid-C18 Ramsgate became increasingly popular as a seaside resort, its expansion being accelerated by road improvements and faster sea passage offered by hoys, packets and steamers. An assembly room, warm water baths, subscription libraries and places of worship were joined by new streets such as Effingham Street and speculative crescents and squares on the East and West Cliffs such as Albion Place of about 1791-1798 and Nelson Crescent of about 1800-1805. During the Napoleonic Wars Ramsgate became a busy garrison town and a major port of embarkation. Ramsgate’s importance in the 1820s is attested by its patronage by the British and European royal families and the creation of a separate parish by Act of Parliament, served by the large Church of St George (1824-1827). The harbour is the only one in the British Isles which has the designation ‘Royal’, granted by George IV.
The arrival of the South Eastern Railway’s branch line in 1846 opened up Ramsgate to mass tourism and popular culture, bringing a range of inexpensive, lively resort facilities intended for the sorts of middle- and working-class holidaymakers depicted in WP Frith’s painting ‘Ramsgate Sands’ of 1854 (Royal Collection). Wealthier visitors were accommodated at a respectable distance from the town in developments such as E W Pugin’s Granville Hotel of 1867-1869. Competition with other Kentish resorts stimulated a series of large-scale improvements in the late-C19 and early-C20 including the construction of Royal Parade and landscaped stairs and pathways at the eastern and western ends of the seafront to join the upper promenades to the Undercliff walks. New schools, hospitals and services were also built. The thriving town attracted diverse faith communities; Moses Montefiore founded a synagogue and a religious college at East Cliff Lodge, while A W N Pugin built St Augustine’s Church and the Grange as part of an intended Catholic community on the West Cliff.
In 1940 the harbour was the point of return for many of the small boats involved in the evacuation from Dunkirk and war-time precautions included the digging of extensive air raid shelter tunnels in the chalk beneath the town. Ramsgate remained a popular holiday destination until the advent of cheap foreign travel in the post-war decades. Falling visitor numbers were exacerbated by the decline of the town’s small trades and industries, fishing and boat-building. However, a ferry and hovercraft port and the large marina created in the inner harbour in the 1970s have continued to bring life to the area.
East Court (which was originally called East Hill) was built in 1889-1890 by Ernest George and Harold Peto for Sir William Henry Wills, later Lord Winterstoke. Wills had a fondness for the sea and one of his prized possessions was a large motor yacht called The Sabrina. His business in the tobacco industry, in which his family had extensive interests, caused him to travel in America, where he may have become acquainted with the 'shingle and stick' style of architecture which was itself associated with Norman Shaw's brand of neo-vernacular. Hilary Grainger (see SOURCES) believes that the commission is likely to have come through Peto's connections.
The house was owned by the Wills family until 1932, it was inherited by Dame Janet Stancomb-Wills who, in addition to being the first female mayor of Ramsgate, was also the patron of Sir Ernest Shackleton who was a frequent visitor to the house. From 1933 until 1952 it was owned by Sir John Bayley and from 1953 to 1982 by the Church of England Children's Society, followed by the East Court School for Dyslexic Children until 2009. It is now a family home.
A large villa designed by Ernest George and Harold Peto in 1889-1890 for Sir William Wills (later Lord Winterstoke).
MATERIALS: red brick laid in Flemish bond and green Westmorland slates covering the walls of the first floor and attic and the roof, with timber and moulded brick dressings. The building has cavity walls as a protection against the potential damp of its position facing south towards the sea.
PLAN: two storeys and attic. The principal ground floor rooms are placed around a large living hall with the principal staircase to its north. The short entrance corridor and porch are on the east side of the building. The drawing room, study and library face south and the dining room and former billiard room are on the western side. The service wing extends towards the north on the eastern side. Principal bedrooms at first floor level are also grouped facing south and west.
EXTERIOR: the south front, facing the sea, has three bays at ground floor level. To left and right are angled bay windows which incorporate arched central lights in the manner of Sparrow’s House Ipswich. To the centre is a Serlian window. The left bay continues at first floor level, but there is a jetty to right of this and the first floor has a deep, recessed balcony to the centre, with exposed oak posts and balustrade. To right again is an oriel window supported on oak brackets. Above this are deep eaves at left, while the centre and right bays have an attic storey which projects by another, deep jetty. Running across both is one continuous oriel window of twelve lights supported on oak brackets. This supports two projecting gables, faced with fishscale slates, and between these is a metal hopper that bears the initials ‘WHW’. A chimney stack astride the ridge at left has moulded bands and a blind arcade to its sides.
The western front, facing the garden, has three gabled bays. The left one projects and has an angled bay with arched central light at ground floor level, as seen on the southern front. This is placed beneath the overhanging first floor which has a first floor oriel supported on oak brackets and an overhanging gable. To right of these is an open veranda with a lean-to roof supported on square oak posts with moulded brackets to the top. The first floor has two mullioned and transomed windows with three lights, above which are two jettied gables. All three gables on this front are faced with fishscale slates. Slightly recessed at left is the wall of the single-storey billiard room which has a pair of half-glazed doors flanked by single lights set beneath a moulded- brick, pedimented panel. This block has a parapet which ramps up at either side and has a ball finial at left.
The eastern front has a broad, projecting chimney stack at left which has offsets and a small window to its bottom right. To the top is a blind arch, supported on moulded brick brackets. To right of this is the entrance porch which has the appearance of a lych gate, with oak gates and a gabled roof with exposed oak carpentry. The flanks of the porch have glazed panels to the upper walls with circular, stained-glass quarries. Windows at first floor level are three and four-light casements and there is a gabled oriel to the attic. The single-storey service wing extends to the right.
INTERIOR: the entrance corridor on the east side of the house has a marble floor with coloured border, panelled walls and a screen with stained glass panes separating it from the staircase hall, including the words ‘PRO ARIS / ET FOCIS’ (for altars and hearths). The hall, which was intended and used as an extension of the reception rooms, also has a variegated marble floor with red marble borders and wooden panelling to its lower walls. The fireplace on the southern wall has an arched opening and a wooden overmantel with loosely Jacobean pilasters. The open-well staircase has panelled newels with Jacobean-style finials and turned balusters. The mullioned and transomed window on the half landing has stained glass panels representing the four seasons with a central image of Ceres. Above are the initials of William Henry Wills and his wife, Elizabeth Perkins Wills, flanked by representations of tobacco flowers (Nicotiana Tabacum) and sunflowers (Helianthus Annuus).
The drawing room faces west over the garden and south towards the sea. It is L-shaped and has panelled walls, a moulded plaster ceiling and parquet flooring. Above the hearth and recessed in a ceiling panel, is an original electric light fitting with frosted glass panels and a metal frame.
The study has dark wood panelling to the lower walls and fitted bookcases, designed by the architect. The larger library also has fitted bookcases, a beamed ceiling with decorative plaster panels and both rooms have an overmantel with Jacobean pilasters, as in the entrance hall.
The dining room has light oak panelling to the lower walls and a fireplace and overmantel of full height. To the eastern wall is a fitted sideboard, designed by the architect with shelf and glazed cupboards to its upper body. The ceiling has wooden beams and plaster panels. A door at the south-western corner leads to the veranda on the western front.
The former billiard room has been converted to a kitchen. The walls and ceiling are panelled and the deep, quadrant coving of the ceiling rises to a central rectangular lantern. A part of the panelling is missing, replaced by a tiled splashback, and the floor has been re-laid with marble tiles. The original fire surround and hearth are still in situ.
Several of the service rooms have original fitted cupboards, shelves and hearths. The butler’s pantry has a new fixed dresser and flooring and now serves as a utility room. The original plate safe is in situ. Plaster has been removed from the walls and ceiling of the original kitchen. The former wood and coal stores have been reconfigured to form a cloakroom and lobby to a garden entrance. Original service ducts with trapdoors let into the floor survive in various rooms, as do electric fuse boxes, recessed in the walls and with wooden surrounds and wire mesh door panels. In the corners of several rooms are boxed-in enclosures with flap lids. These are believed to be 'Tobin' tubes for ventilation.
The first floor landing has a fire surround which is in keeping, but has been fitted in the early C21. First floor bedrooms have simple cornices and second floor bedrooms mostly retain their original fireplaces. The master bedroom, above the drawing room, has a window seat and an imported fire surround.