A little-altered villa built in 1857 for, and believed to be designed by, the painter John Berney Ladbrooke, with many original features associated with the artist.
Reasons for Designation
Ketts Castle Villa, the flight of steps, and the gateway to St Leonard’s Road, designed and built in 1857, are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* it was designed for, and probably by, the landscape artist John Berney Ladbrooke, 1803-1879, and still displays strong associations with the artist.
* it is an accomplished design, in an eclectic style, incorporating Tudor-revival elements, with many features that display high-quality craftsmanship both externally and internally;
* the house has been little-altered, and the elevations, original plan-form, fixtures and fittings are all well-preserved;
* the gateway to St Leonard’s Road is a striking design, and this and the steps down to the sunken lawn form a coherently-designed ensemble with the house.
* the house, steps and gateway share group value with the garden at Ketts Castle Villa, as an integral part of the artist’s design, which is included on the Register of Parks and Gardens at Grade II.
John Berney Ladbrooke, 1803-1879 was an artist in the Norwich School of Painting. This was a movement in British landscape art founded in 1803 by a small group of self-taught, working-class artists based around Norwich. Other members included John Crome (by whom John Berney Ladbroke was taught) and John Sell Cotman. John Berney Ladbrooke was the son of Robert Ladbrooke, one of the founding members of the movement. The school’s works included landscapes and scenes of rural life, which some commentators have described as a forerunner to French Impressionism, and precursors to the Newlyn School of Painting in Cornwall.
John Berney Ladbroke exhibited at the Royal Academy three times between 1821 and 1843. The Norwich industrialist J J Colman became a great patron of the artists by buying most of their works and exhibiting them in Norwich. It is thought, however, that this is the reason the artists and their movement did not achieve such great fame nationally as they might have done, or as their contemporaries Constable and Turner. In 2000 their work came to national attention as the Tate Gallery held an exhibition of the school’s major works.
Ketts Castle Villa was built in 1857, for the artist in his maturity. The area is named after Alderman Robert Kett who led a popular uprising in 1549, and the nearby C12 chapel of St Michael (now just a wall remaining) was known as “Ketts Castle” as it was occupied by Kett during his rebellion. The immediate area is known as Ketts Heights, and is situated on a wooded escarpment with a commanding view down to the city of Norwich. As a landscape painter it is likely that the artist chose to situate his house here for the views. The area was special to members of the Norwich School of Painting, and members of the group had painted a number of views from Ketts Heights, and of Mousehold Heath, just north of the house.
It is not known if there was an architect involved in the design, but there are many features in the house bearing the initials JBL, indicating that it was built for, or designed by, the artist. In “East Anglian Painters” Harold A E Day attributes the house to Ladbrooke himself, though there is no record of him receiving any formal training as an architect. The house is clearly positioned to make the most of the views, and in particular to allow for the artist’s studio tower to make the most of the view down towards Norwich, the trees in the garden below, and of the distant ruins of St Michael’s chapel to the west.
The artist also created a garden on the steep hillside, incorporating reused medieval masonry, believed to be from the remains of the nearby St Michael’s chapel, and perhaps also the nearby St Leonard’s priory (now a scheduled monument), or both.
The house has been little-altered, although there was originally a small spire on the turret to the artist’s studio, which is said to have fallen off in the 1950s. It can be seen in a late-C19 sketch of the house owned by the current owner (2020). Other than this, the only addition is a small extension over the bay window to the north-east, to extend the room above it, with a flat roof.
MATERIALS: red brick with ashlar stone window and door surrounds, and slate-clad roofs.
PLAN: the building has an irregular plan, and is of double-pile construction, with double-span pitched roofs. The south range, containing the principal elevation, is rectangular with a small central projection for the entrance porch and tower above. The parallel north range is smaller, and of irregular form, with a canted bay to the north-east, and a rectangular projection to the north-west. There is also a small rectangular projection to the west end of the south range.
EXTERIOR: the principal elevation is symmetrical, of three bays, and two storeys with an attic. The projecting central bay has three storeys, surmounted by Dutch gables on three sides, and two lead-covered, crenelated pinnacles. There is a stone string course between the ground and first floor, and on the second floor of the central bay, at eaves level.
There are large, clustered Tudor-style brick chimneys to the north-west, south-west and south-east; the south-west and south-east elevations have offset stacks. The stack to the south-east bears a framed, stone panel with a pastoral scene. The stack to the north-east has a terracotta panel with the inscription “JBL, AD 1857”.
The windows to the principal elevation are all mullioned, those on the ground floor are three-light windows with hood moulds. Those on the first floor are two-light, mullioned and transomed. The front doorway is a four-centred stone arch with decorative mouldings, and flushwork over the door. The door is timber with decorative strapwork hinges.
The windows to the north and west elevations are timber, beneath flat arches, except for those to the north-east which form a two-storey canted bay. There is a single-storey lean-to to the north-west.
The west elevation has a three-light window at ground and first-floor level, and a terracotta panel with the artist’s initials “JBL” on the north gable end.
The east elevation is blind except for two small windows at attic level. The steeply-pitched, double-pile gabled roofs are coped and laid in alternating bands of plain and fishscale slates. The roofs above the north-east bay and the single-storey lean-to are covered in plain slates.
INTERIOR: the front entrance lobby contains red and black chequered floor tiles, and leads to double doors with glazed panels, with an original mechanism that opens both doors simultaneously. The ground floor has a central entrance hall leading to the staircase, with reception rooms either side.
The staircase to the first floor is a dogleg with an open-string and plain, slender balusters, two per tread. It has carved lions, holding shields, standing on ball finials to the bottom newel posts.
The interior contains a number of original features including coving and ceiling roses to the two principal rooms on the ground floor: the room to the east contains a Tudor-style stone fireplace, complete with its grate, with highly decorative floral motifs incorporating shields with the initials “JBL".
All internal doors are the original panelled doors, and all glazing is the original metal-framed except for the glazing in the sides of the entrance porch, and skylight.
The central area to the second floor is believed to have been John Berney Ladbrooke’s studio. This central space would usually be a landing, but it has glazed internal windows to allow light to pass through from the two rooms either side. The windows may have been inserted in the 1960s. There is a skylight to the north (with modern glazing, but believed to have always been a skylight), and to the south the space opens into the top of the turret, with windows on three sides. There are heavy beams with chamfered knee-bracing in the rooms either side.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: approximately 2m from the front door is a flight of five stone steps down to the lawn, flanked by walls and piers in blue brick, with stone coping, and ball finials to the lower piers.
The original main gateway to the property from St Leonard’s Road is of knapped flint and yellow brick, with brick crenellations, surmounted by a stone panel with a shield said to have borne the family coat of arms, though it is much weathered (2020). The gateway contains a Tudor-style arched opening, and a wooden gate with three panels to the lower part, and a wooden latticed opening in the upper part.