05 – Butleigh Court

The Old Court
The New Court (rear view before partial demolition)
The Revel of 1906

Christopher Symcocks (1535-1608) occupied the Manor from 1569, then his family sold it in 1653 to John Webb (1611-1672), the assistant to Inigo Jones, architect, whose ‘daughter’ he had married. From the Webb family it passed to James Grenville (1715-1783) in 1738. His son James (1742-1825) became Lord Glastonbury in 1797 and he much enlarged the estate, leaving it to his first cousin Thomas Grenville (1755-1846). Thomas didn’t want it – so, in 1825, the manor house, several thousand acres and Glastonbury Tor passed to his sister’s son, the Rev. George Neville (1789-1854), on his taking the surname Neville-Grenville. The old Manor House had seen many alterations and repairs in the previous century but, in 1846, the year he became the Dean of Windsor, George had it demolished. The new Butleigh Court was designed by John Chessell Buckler (1793-1894) in neo-Gothic style reflecting elements of Windsor Castle and Hampton Court. The Dean died in 1854 before it was completed. George’s son, Ralph Neville-Grenville (1817-1886), had married Julia Falkland in Butleigh in 1845 and by 1858 with their, then, eight children moved in to the Court. Ralph’s eldest son and heir was Robert Neville-Grenville (1846-1936) – a true country squire but the last occupant of the Court. The estate was sold after his death and the empty Court became derelict. The developer who bought the derelict Court demolished part of the building and, in 1978, converted the remainder into four separate dwellings.
Ralph and Robert Neville-Grenville were agricultural pioneers, being the first in Somerset to improve their land with chemical fertilizer in 1846. They acquired the earliest steam engine exhibited at the Bath & West Show in 1872 and Robert built up a fleet of steam rollers, tractors, ploughs and engines. At Cambridge University in the 1860s, as a student, Robert built his own steamboat the ‘Puffing Billy’. He was the first graduate to get an engineering degree and his friend was George J. Churchward, later an engineer for the GWR, who was to design the ‘Butleigh Court’ steam locomotive No. 2934 of the Saint Class in 1911. In 1875 Robert designed and built the Grenville Steam Carriage – Britain’s oldest steam car, which still survives in working order. He also designed and had built his own steam Yacht the ‘Otter’ in 1895, which he sailed in the Baltic and Mediterranean. In 1893, at the Estate farm of Lower Rockes, he set up a cheese school and was instrumental in the founding of the National Fruit and Cider Institute at Long Ashton. He was on the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society and also the Bath and West of England Agricultural Society, head of the Drainage Board for the County of Somerset, chairman of Somerset Catchment Board and chairman of the Upper Brue Drainage Board.
In 1906, four performances of the Butleigh Revel were held here. A cast of over 300 (mostly from Butleigh) entertained audiences of more than 8,000 with stories of the history and mythology of the area. For more information, see www.butleigh.org