Though Walter Bagehot’s main connection was with Langport in rural south Somerset – where he was born in 1826, spent much of his life, and, in 1877, died – he also lived in several other places during his life, in Clevedon, Bristol and in various parts of London.
BAGEHOT IN LANGPORT
Bank House, Cheapside, Langport: Bagehot's birthplace (1826-1836)
Walter was born in Bank House, on the south side of Langport’s main street on 3 February 1826. This building was the headquarters of Stuckey’s Bank, in which his father, Thomas Watson Bagehot was a partner. It is a Grade II listed building (first listed in 1959), and above the door is a stone plaque commemorating Walter’s birthplace, unveiled on 25 March 1916 by Viscount Bryce, the eminent Liberal politician, lawyer and diplomat. Walter’s family lived there until their move in 1836 to Herd’s Hill. For many years, the building housed solicitors’ offices, and currently, now called Bank Chambers, is occupied by some small businesses and a residential flat.
Herd's Hill: Bagehot's family home in Langport (1836-1877)
Click on an image to enlarge it and display the caption
- There have been several spellings of the names of both the house and the hill on which it stands, mainly variants of Herds/Hurds Hill, with and without an apostrophe. During the Bagehot period, c1820s-1930s, the location and the house were both generally known as Herd’s Hill. The name changed to ‘Hurds Hill’ some time in the late 20th century
- Though almost always referred to as being in Langport, the Herd’s Hill area is actually in the parish of Curry Rivel, in what is known as Langport Westover, across the River Parrett from Langport proper.
- More information about Herd’s Hill can be found in Hurds Hill: a brief history of the family home of Walter Bagehot. Details are on our Publications page.
The Hill before the house
The hill upon which the modern Hurds Hill house stands owed its historical importance to the local geography of the area. It looms over a strategic river crossing of the River Parrett (now the Bow Bridge) which for centuries operated as a natural border between different tribes or communities. This was especially so in ancient times when more of modern ‘Somerset’ remained under water for some or all of the year. With Langport Hill (now The Hill) on the east side, Herd’s Hill on the west side was a natural defensive position for a frontier settlement. There are brief references to finds and traces from the prehistoric and later – including Roman – periods on and around Herd’s Hill.
On Herd’s Hill itself, west of the present house, sat the St. Mary Magdalene Leper Hospital, which was founded around 1280. By the early 14th century, it was an almshouse, which lasted until the mid-1500s. East of the house there was a church for Westover, mentioned as early as 1401. Substantial medieval settlements grew below the hill at Southwick (Frog Lane) and Langport Westover.
There is a rather fanciful story that, at the English Civil War Battle of Langport on 10 July 1645, a famous eye-witness to the campaign, Richard Baxter, a chaplain in the Roundhead Army, actually stood on Herd’s Hill with the victorious commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, and viewed the desperate Royalist retreat through Langport.
Building Herd's Hill
In the era of enclosures and the accumulation of small plots into larger farms and estates, the Stuckey and Bagehot families, who were related by close family and business connections, gradually bought up the land (much of it church land) on and around Herd’s Hill. Contemporary records show that even in 1820 the site of the present house was still arable land.
Herd’s Hill house was built by Robert Bagehot, Walter Bagehot’s grandfather. He and his wife Mary found the damp atmosphere of Langport unhealthy and, by January 1825, had selected a hill site for their new home. Following the commissioning of plans from local architects, based on suggestions by Walter’s father, Thomas, an architect from Bridgwater called Carver was chosen, though his original grand designs were somewhat modified. Work was begun in February 1826, a few days after Walter’s birth in Bank House (now Bank Chambers), Cheapside, and he was brought as a babe in arms to the laying of the foundation stone.
Building progressed slowly, but by 1 August 1827, Mary Bagehot wrote: “Our house is nearly finished, but there are some of the niceties about which I would willingly superintend but not having my own carpenter, in many things I fear I shall fail, for they do not put up houses in the country with the attention to comfort they do in large towns, we are now having it painted and the court and offices are being paved, the garden is about to be formed.” By November, Robert and Mary Bagehot had moved in.
The Bagehot family home
When Robert died in 1836, his son, Thomas Watson Bagehot, Walter’s father, moved from Bank House to Herd’s Hill. It is said that he took his mulberry tree with him, and the garden still has a mulberry tree, though possibly not the same one. He was one of the earliest customers of the famous Kelways Nurseries, which was founded in Langport in 1851.
Walter himself, as a student (in Bristol and London), banker and journalist, and especially after his marriage in 1858 to Eliza Wilson, lived in many different properties over his lifetime (see below). However, he always spent large periods of time at Herd’s Hill, such as when he abandoned a proposed law career in London in 1852 to work in the family’s Langport Bank and to be with his ill mother (who died in 1870). He put his stamp on the house and estate, and redecorated his library with wallpaper and furniture from the renowned Arts & Crafts designer William Morris in 1871. The railway arrived in Langport in 1853, with the station erected, conveniently for him, at the foot of the Hill (now subsumed by the Westover Trading Estate by the bridge). He could walk down a private path and gate (still visible at the corner of Frog Lane) straight into the station.
Bagehot died in March 1877 in Herd’s Hill, having come down from London to spend Easter with his family, though seriously ill. His father died in 1881, and bequeathed his property, including the Herd’s Hill estate, to Walter’s widow, Eliza. She spent much time and effort improving it, assisted by her sister, Emilie, who had married Russell Barrington in 1868, and who gradually came to exert a strong influence over Eliza, especially by moving into Herd’s Hill, which became a frequent haunt of the various members of the Wilson clan. A major refurbishment in 1882 included tiles by William de Morgan (a colleague of Morris) in the fireplaces. Emilie was the driving force in the use of Morris and de Morgan in the Bagehot homes in Langport and London.
Emilie also encouraged the reclusive Eliza to make the house and estate more open to the local community, through social and cultural events, including music and lectures, what one later commentator described as Emilie’s effort, “to bring a bit of Kensington culture to the local Langport inhabitants.” There was also a regular stream of visitors from their more elite metropolitan social circle.
When Eliza died in 1921, her will had bequeathed the bulk of her estate, including Herd’s Hill, to Emilie for her use during her lifetime, and on her death, to her son, Guy Barrington. Emilie died in 1933, and Herd’s Hill and its contents were sold at auction the following year. The Bagehot link had ended.
The post-Bagehot era
The house and the wider estate, around 65 acres in total in 1934, has passed through various owners, in the last 90 years. Initially it was a private house, the first owner being Brigadier Henry Courtenay Hawtrey (1882-1961), who was for several years until his retirement in 1934 Aide-de-camp to King George V, and who won the gold medal for the 5-mile run at the 1906 Athens Olympics.
It was sold by auction in 1970, by then comprising about 30 acres, following the financial demise of its rather colourful owner at the time, the Russian émigré businessman Alexander Ilytch Shenkman, who had come to Herd’s Hill about 1964. When it was sold again in the early 1980s, to be operated as a residential care home for around 30 residents, the estate connected to the house was only 7 acres. The House, by then known as Hurds Hill, became a Grade II* listed building in 1988. On and around the Hill itself are various houses and other properties no longer connected with the current Hurds Hill estate.
The present owners bought the house and grounds, now about 4 acres, in 2011, and, after extensive renovation, have returned it to a private house, and added a business school. They have supported the Bagehot Memorial Fund’s efforts to commemorate the life and legacy of Walter Bagehot, and have made the property available for Bagehot-related events on many occasions over the last decade.
OTHER PLACES WHERE BAGEHOT LIVED
Park Row, Clifton, Bristol (1839-1842)
While attending Bristol College, Walter boarded with Rev John Edward Bromby here.
39 Camden Street, London (1842-1846)
As an undergraduate at University College London, Walter boarded with UCL’s Professor of Philosophy, Rev John Hoppus.
6 Great Coram Street, London (1846-1852)
Walter lived in lodgings here while a postgraduate at UCL and then while at Lincoln’s Inn, reading for the Bar.
9 Spring Gardens, Charing Cross, London (c.1852?)
Letters written in the summer of 1852 gave this address, so Walter may have lodged there near the end of his first period in London.
41 Rue de Vaugirard, Paris (1851-1852)
During his stay in Paris from August 1851 to the summer of 1852, he lodged with the Bein family.
The Arches/Bella Vista, Clevedon, Somerset (1858-1861)
The first marital home following Walter’s marriage to Eliza Wilson. ‘Bella Vista’ was rented from Sir Arthur Elton of Clevedon Court, and renamed ‘The Arches’ by the Bagehots. It is now demolished, and the site is part of a residential area on Strawberry Hill, near the present Highdale Road.
11 Prince's Terrace, Ennismore Gardens, London (1861)
While the Bagehots waited for 12 Upper Belgrave Street (see below) to be vacated by its existing tenant, they rented the house of the economist and friend of his father-in-law, James Wilson, Bonamy Price (1807-1888) from May to November.
4 Lower Grosvenor Street, London (1861)
Moved to Miss Prudhomme’s lodgings, while waiting for their ‘permanent’ move.
Miss Bagnall's lodgings, address unknown (1861)
A final move before taking up residence at 12 Upper Belgrave Street.
12 Upper Belgrave Street, London (1862-1869)
When Walter had to move his base to London after becoming editor of The Economist on the death of his father-in-law, James Wilson, the Bagehots shared the Wilson family’s town house for 7 years. A blue plaque to Bagehot was unveiled on 26 July 1967 by the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. (Needs a link to Memorials)
The Poplars, Wimbledon (1870-1874)
After the Wilson household broke up following the marriages of two of the daughters, the Bagehots moved to The Poplars, which had been leased by Russell and Emilie Barrington after their marriage in 1868. The Bagehots took over the lease in September 1871, and gave it up in November 1874.
77 Cornwall Gardens, South Kensington (1873-1874)
Because the commuting from Wimbledon to London was so exhausting for Walter, the Bagehots leased a London property for the winter of 1873-1874.
52 Rutland Gate, South Kensington (1874-1876)
This was leased by the Bagehots for a year while they looked for a permanent London home.
Park Lodge, Wimbledon Common (1875)
In the summer of 1875, the Bagehots exchanged houses with his sister-in-law Julia Wilson and her husband, William Rathbone Greg, for a month.
6 St George's Terrace, Camden (1876)
The Bagehots stayed here for a month while waiting to move into Queen’s Gate Place.
8 Queen's Gate Place, South Kensington (1876-1877)
This was bought in September 1875, and was decorated by William Morris and William de Morgan, though not completed by Bagehot’s death in 1877.