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Mignon House - 9 Abbey Green. Bath

No. 9 Abbey Green later known as Mignon House stands on a site that can trace its history back nearly 2000 years. Beneath its foundations stands a Roman Town House whose remains have appeared at various times in the past as shown on the plan of the area around it. Perhaps the most exiting was that revealed in the cellar of the neighbouring property, Crystal Palace in 1981, by the then landlord, Roy Wain, who became a celebrity when he uncovered several skeletons and a Roman mosaic. It was decided not to try to move the mosaic, but to preserve it underneath a layer of polythene and sand, where it remains today. A photograph above shows the fine detailing of this section of the floor.This was later shown to extend into the cellar of Elton House, Swallow Street and no doubt below Mignon House.
There is a gap between the Roman occupation and the establishment of the Abbey. Again the site was to become famous, when in 1100, John De Tour created a walled enclosure around the Abbey for his Priory and built a Palace for himself and subsequent Bishops. Although well documented, sections of its foundations and walls came to light in 1981 when the area behind Mignon House was excavated by the Archaeologists and a plan and impression of how it may have looked were drawn up as shown here. A later Bishop was unhappy that townsfolk were using the adjoining church of St James and had it rebuilt outside the Priory Walls and used the former building as his private chapel. As the centuries past, the Palace was to be little used by the Bishops and was given to the Priory who rented it out until the Dissolution in 1538 and it was demolished and used as a source for stone.
The Saville map of Bath dated to 1600 reveals a birds eye view of the City in Tudor Times. When the area around what was to become Mignon House is enlarges you can see a section of the Bishops Palace on which it stood is still there facing on to a large expanse of grass, from which it was to get its name - Abbey Green. There is a marvellous depiction of how the huge gate house looked which allowed visitors into the enclosed area surrounding the Abbey. It had its own gate keeper who lived above it. Behind Minion House was a large knotted garden that stretched back as far as Stall Street. The garden of the site of Crystal Palace is clearly seen and that of Elton House set back as the site is today next to it.

The former Priory after the dissolution was bought by the Colthurst family who were to live in the Prior`s Palace next to the Abbey and create a large walled garden around it as clearly shown on the Saville Map. Their fortunes were to decline and they had to mortgage the estate to John Hall, whose wealthy family had long lived in Bradford on Avon. His son also John Hall realised the potential of the area with its nearness to the Baths that were proving popular by then with visitors and embarked on what was to become Bath`s first development. He split the sites into plots which he kept on 99 year leases that passed through three generations. These were then built upon by the tenants along the frontage. We are fortunate today that one of these in the form of Sally Lunn’s has survived with its neighbour to allow us to visualise how it once looked. They both stand on North Parade Passage, formerly known as Lilliput Alley, whose history is well recorded. For most of the properties you see today, although altered date back to 1618-22.
This is also the time when John Hall ll gave a number of 99 year leases around the border of Abbey Green amongst which is that to John Wiltshire, a Carpenter. He was to build a large gabled building on this site whose timbers still are incorporated into Mignon House. The adjoining plot on which Crystal Palace now stands was leased to Thomas Cotterell, a joiner in 1616.

We are fortunate in that a depiction of how this once looked has come down to us. For in 1690, Thomas Gilmour produced a Birds Eye plan of the City. Around the frieze are a number of illustrations of houses and Inns, which includes Mr. Webb’s Lodgings, the tenant at that time. The same plan shows the Ancient Gate leading into the Green and a row of gabled houses, which included Mr. Webb’s Lodgings and Minion House.
.Although it was John Wiltshire who built the original Minion House in 1616, the owners of both this and all the other properties in the former Priory Estate were the Hall family. On the death of John Hall lll in 1711, his estate which included other properties went to Rachel Bayntum, who became Countess of Kingston in that year as a result of her legacy. Her husband died, it is said of smallpox, in 1713, and she herself in 1722. Her son Evelyn succeeded in the Bath estate, and to the dukedom on the death of his grandfather in 1726 ( the dukedom was created in 1715).
The Duke dies in Bath in 1773 and the estate passes to his Duchess, and after her death in 1788 to the Dukes nephew Charles Meadows, who took the family name of Pierrepont and was created Viscount Newark in 1796 and Earl Manvers in 1806. A major sale of the Manvers properties in Bath, including rents was made in 1874.
The Dukes of Kingston who lived at Thoresby Hall in Nottingham kept meticulous records for all their many properties. Fortunately theses have survived and are kept at Nottingham University. It is from their leases of Mignon House that it has been possible to detail its early history in depth. Even more useful are two estate maps from 1825 and 1750 which are kept in the Bath Record Office.
The earliest Lease tells us that “John Hall of Bradford on Avon in the county of Wilts, Esq. since deceased gave unto John Wiltshire of the city of Bath in the said County of Somerset, Carpenter since also deceased of the messuage or tenement here in after mentioned for the term of four score & 19 years determinable on the several decrees of the said John Wiltshire, John Wiltshire his Son (both since deceased ) & William Wiltshire his brother”. It shows us that a 99 year lease had been given to John Wiltshire and his descendants for a small ground rent on a plot of ground on which he would have had built a house in which he may have lived or rented out. The Wiltshire family were very wealthy and influential in the city. Again, returning to the document we learn that it had been renewed in 1684 by William Player and again in 1734. It was in this year that the Duke of Kingston, who had inherited the Estate: “made & granted to John Chapman Scott & Robert Robins of the same messuage for the term of four score and 19 years to commence from and immediately after the end expiration or other sooner determined of the said term of four scare and 19 years”.

It would seem John Chapman Scott had taken out a new 99-year lease on the property and was paying £5 a year ground rent to the Duke. From studying the City Records we find that he was a Cordwainer (Shoemaker) who had married Elizabeth Chapman. a Widow in 1716. They were to be blessed with a daughter, Sarah who was baptised in St. James Church in 1722. Records for Bath abbey show that John Chapman Scott was buried there in 1734. His widow, Elizabeth was to renew her lease with the Duke soon after and again the Lease informs us
 This Indenture made the 25th day of December 1742 Between the noble Evelyn, Duke of Kingston upon Hull of the one part & Elizabeth Scott of the Parish of Widcombe in the County of Somerset, Widow of the other part Witnesseth that for in consideration of a good and perfect surrender already had and made by the said Elizabeth Scott. If Sarah Scott, the daughter of the said Robert Chapman Scott should so long live and in consideration also of the sum of £35 of good and lawful money of Great Britain to the said Duke of Kingston”. The Lease had now been changed after she paid the Duke £35 for it to include her daughter, Sarah and continued paying him £5 a year ground rent. It also shows us that Elizabeth was then living in Widcombe, on the edge of Bath and was no doubt leasing 9 Abbey Green. When she died in 1758, she was buried with her husband in Bath Abbey. This was also to be the year in which her daughter, Sarah Scott was to marry John Brabant of Bradford on Avon, a Cabinet Maker, who was shown as a widower on the license for the ceremony held in St. James Church in Bath.  
The 1742 Lease shines a light on the state of the property in that year as follows: All that ruinous messuage or tenement formerly a moiety of a ruinous messuage or tenement formerly in the possession of William Player and now of the said Elizabeth Scott her under tenants or assigns and is bounded on the north west side by a piece of ground formerly belonging to Richard Westmacott and now of Francis Cornish and adjoins a messuage formerly in the possession of one Robert Webb and now of William Hull Esq. and John Harrington Esq. Under Tenants or assigns on the North East side and adjoins a messuage in the possession of Mary Crouch, Widow her undertenants or assigns being the other moiety of the said Messuage on the South West side the Abbey Green on the South East part therefore situated and being in the City of Bath, forever paying to the Duke of Kingston the yearly rent of £5
Although we have the detailed 1750 Estate Map of the Kingston Estate to refer to as an indication of how Minion House once looked. There is also a lease held amongst the collection at Nottingham University for the neighbouring House dated 1746 with a measured plan of both properties. It shows the gabled fronts depicted on Gilmours Map and a passage through Minion House to the Three Tuns in Stall Street. This was a massive Inn Fronting on to Stall Street whose stabling covered the area to the rear of Abbey Green where Swallow Street is today. The passage survived until 1810 and the small side window on the right with its passage on the other side is still a remnant of it today.
Sarah Scott was the only child of Elizabeth Scott was to inherit Minion House on her death in 1757.
It was in 1758 that she had married John Brabant, from nearby Bradford on Avon. This was a fortunate marriage for although described as a Cabinet Maker he was also somewhat of a developer. He would buy it lease plots of ground and would be instrumental in having houses built on them and sell them on or lease them to wealthy patrons. This is clearly shown in 1765 when with his partner Mark Davis he took out 99 year leases from John Wood the younger for nos. 21 and 22 Circus in Bath. He built the houses and on completion sold no.22 on to Major John Andre. It is interesting seeing the list of houses that form the famous Circus that no’s. 1 and 2 were built by Thomas Jelly. This gentleman was famous for the large number of properties that he designed for the Duke of Kingston’s tenants in the 1770s. These include The Duke of Kingston’s Bath and Gallaways buildings. In fact if you look round at many of the properties around Abbey Green you will see very similar designs, especially the parapets. The block which incorporates Number 1 Abbey green is a prime example known to have been built by him. The English Heritage Listing for Minion House confirms Thomas Jelly as the architect.
Thomas Jelly was a partner with Thomas Baldwin who was the architect for the adjoining property now known as The Crystal Palace, which has its upper storey demolished in 1935.
Minion House was probably built in 1774, when John Brabant first appears in the City Rate Books for that year. We know that it was finished by 1780 as he is advertising to lease the 17 room House well situated for a private family, lodgings, or trade. He himself was based in the Union Passage where he had his Cabinet and Toy Shop. ~~A magnificent pen and ink/water colour depiction of Abbey Green in 1785 by James Blackamore is on display in  a cabinet in the Victoria Art Gallery. Although it covers most of Abbey Green`s buildings towards the Abbey, it only shows the doorway and floors above Minion House. It is surprisingly accurate when compared with the same view today and reveals how little the area has changed over the centuries.
There are a number of advertisements in the Bath Chronicle referring to John Brabant and it seems he was later to be famous as a “Medical Electrician”, a novel way of curing diseases.Sarah Brabant died in 1798 and John in 1805. His Will shows him still owning Minion House(9 Abbey Green). He leaves this and other items to his nephews and nieces.His death marks the end of a long association of the Brabant and Scott’s with the House.
Directories and Rate Books provide a sequence of various occupants from 1800 until 1841 as follows: 1800 Samuel Davis(Hairdresser), 1812 Johnson(Carpenter), 1815 Thomas Coubold, 1819 Parker(Ivory and Hard Wood Turner), 1825 George Bonham, 1828 Mrs. Bailey, 1833 Henry Skeate (Currier of Leather), 1833 Edward Cole.
 
From 1841 it becomes much easier to obtain information about Minion House as this is the year that Charles Morgan and his family appear in the Census. It would seem from then onwards that ground floor would be a shop and the floors above rented out. Charles is aged 36 living his wife, Eliza, aged 33 and their 12 year old daughter, Mary Ann. The 1851 Census shows them letting the floors above to various tenants including Sarah and Caroline Gale, who are Straw Bonnet Makers and Elizabeth Blackmore, a nurse
. The 1858 Directory for Bath reveals that John Waite (A Jeweller) and his wife (Artist in Hair) are the new tenants, who are only there a short time.
 
The 1861 Census provides us with a new tenant, Thomas Curtis, A Taylor, living there with  his family and renting the floors above. His family were to be there for over 100 years.
There was to be a massive auction in 1873 of all the ground rents and properties the former Dukes of Kingston owned in Bath. It was their descendants, the Manvers who still owned the freehold of Minion House. The original £5 a year the tenants were paying in 1746, had remained the same and was now a relatively small amount. It was bought by Edward Wallace Rooke of 37 Gay Street, Bath as an investment. He was to later sell it in 1886 to his tenant, William Andrew Curtis for £230, who took out a mortgage to raise the amount.
The 1911 Census gives us a snapshot of his family and those who were renting the floors above the shop. At that time William who was the son of Thomas who had take on the lease in 1871 was aged 54 carrying on his fathers business as a Tailor Trousers Maker with his wife Annie, aged 52. They had six children living them at number 9. They leased the upper floors as four flats consisting of single rooms to a number of tenants.
 
William continued living there until his death in 1933 when he left the building to his two sons. His daughter, Violet is running the premises as a Grocers and General Trader by then and continues renting it from her brothers. Finally in 1948 she borrows the money to purchase the freehold from them for £600. She lives and works there until her death in 1968, aged 82. She leaves amongst her bequests, number 9 to her brother, Vincent and sister Flossie. They in turn sell it for £4200 to Winston and Irene Moses from Chelsea. They extend the shop front and open it as an Art Gallery
 
In 1979 Guy Marsh purchases it from them for £60,000 and opens it as a Jewellers. Thus the shop goes full circle to what it had been in 1840. They continue there until 2004 when they lease the shop to R.E.Tricker, a famous shoe shop patronised by Prince Charles. The building is later sold by them to Neil and Paul Mattingly who at the end of Trickers lease open it as a gift shop called Bath Retro Store, which it remains today.