Posts Tagged ‘HistoryOfEnglishVineyards’

The Vineyard at Walcot near Bath

January 15, 2016 3 comments

The Citty of Bath. Lens, AB. 1727. The British Library.

The vineyard at Walcot near Bath was in existence by 1590 when Queen Elizabeth granted the charter to the City of Bath.[1]  In detailing the boundaries of the city the charter describes “from thence unto the highway leading from Weston towards Walcot, so continuing by the said way unto a close of pasture commonly called the Wyniards, and from the said close”.  The Reverend Canon Ellacombe mentions this vineyard in his paper “The Vineyards of Somerset and Gloucestershire” (1890).[2] Noting that the charter was the “only old record” that he could find on the vineyard of Bath he felt the description “looks as if even then the Vineyards were discontinued and the land put into pasture.”  Reverend Ellacombe references Savage and Meyler’s “Map of Five Miles Round Bath” (1805) which only details the vineyard at Claverton.  Had he seen Thorpe’s first map “An Actual Survey of the City of Bath” (1742) he would have also seen the old Bath vineyard laid out.


The vineyard at Walcot. From Thomas Thorpe’s map of Bath. 1742.

It is not yet clear whether a vineyard was tended either in the late 16th century when the charter was granted or throughout any of the 17th century.  We do know there was a vineyard from which wine was annually produced during the first half of the 18th century.  A late 19th century guidebook to Bath even described it as a “commercial vineyard”.

Walcot is located just north-east of the center of Bath.  In 1730 it was a small village of some 80 houses but has now been absorbed as a suburb of Bath.  Outside of the vineyard, it was an unremarkable village.  A few decades after production ceased, Daniel Defoe only notes of Walcot in 1761 that “many Roman Antiquities have been found”.[3]

According to several sources the vineyard was “celebrated”.  I can only imagine that the proximity of vineyard to the center of Bath and its placement along a road readily allowed visitors.  There were apparently enough visitors for it was simply known as the vineyard at Bath without any reference to the owner.

Richard Bradley, a professor of Botany at the University of Cambridge, wrote extensively of “the celebrated Vineyard near Bath, which has made so much Noise in the World” in his book A General Treatise of Husbandry & Gardening (1726).[4]  The vineyard of some six acres “lies upon the side of a steep Hill, facing the South, the Ground very rocky or stony: In this place, the Vines are planted in Lines about six Foot asunder and are treated much after the manner that Vines are manag’d about Germany.  The sorts of Grapes here planted, are the white Muscadine, Muscadine, and the black Cluster-Grape; and though they are not proper Wine-making Grapes, nor the most early in ripening, yet there was made sixty-six Hogshead of Wine”. James Tunstall in Rambles about Bath and its Neighbourhood (1876) describes “Two vines, planted together, were trained on stakes, at right angles, six feet apart”.[5]

These types of grapevines were certainly known in England.  These vines are listed in John Rea’s Flora: seu, De Florum Cultura (1665).[6]  John Rea, an English gardener, felt the black Cluster Grape was the best choice for English vineyards as it was the first to ripen.  The white Muscadine Grape, ranked second, ripened “well most years” with the red Muscadine Grape, ranked fourth, “not so apt to ripen with us, requiring more Sun.”

There were ripening issues with these varieties at this location.  Richard Bradley visited the vineyard on July 26, 1722 and found “the Vines were then hardly in Blossom, so that little could be expected from them”.  He did have an upbeat attitude for it was an “extraordinary Summer”.  He held that the vineyard site at Bath was more advantageous than Thomas Fairchild’s vineyard at Hoxton and John Warner’s vineyard at Rotherhith.  Fairchild’s fruit ripened ten days earlier than at Bath.  Even Warner’s fruit was almost fully grown too.  Richard Bradley concluded that the difference must be due to “the Sorts of Grapes, as well as from the Management of them” which resulted in a vineyard that did not “bear as constantly”.

From three different accounts we learn of the yields for four vintages from 1718 through 1736.

1718 – 66 hogsheads of Wine[7]
1719 – 69 hogsheads of Wine[8]
1721 – 3 hogsheads of Wine[9]
1736 – 80 hogsheads of Wine[10]

A brief observation published in the Bath Herald during 1815 notes an entry found in an old book of “Chronology” stating, “There is a Vineyard at Bath, which (though not above 6 or 7 acres of ground) yielded not less than 80 hogsheads of excellent wine in the year 1736.”[11]  The old book appears to have a tie to Samuel Trowell’s  A new Treatise of Husbandry, Gardening, and other Curious Matters relating to Country Affairs (1739) which mentions 80 hogsheads of wine coming from the “Plantation of about seven Acres” which was “near the Bath”.

As for value the, 66 hogsheads from 1718 sold for £660.[12]  The following year, the 69 hogsheads from 1719 were shipped from Bristol, to where is not stated, at £10 10s per hogshead for a total of £702 9s.  Richard Bradley wrote that “no one would dislike an Acre that will yield him yearly above” £100 per acre.  The Bath vineyard could certainly yield a large revenue.  Richard Bradley felt the black Cluster Grape yielded the least amount of juice.  If it were planted with “a more juicy Kind” then revenue could reach £150 per acre. However, if well-tended even £50 per acre could yield profits.

Samuel Trowell wrote in 1739 that the vineyard was “planted with Burgundy, Champagne, and Frontiniack”.[13]  This entry either incorrectly states the varieties planted, for every other account mentions the Cluster Grape or Muscadine, or it implies that the vineyard was replanted.  If so this could have spelled doom for Richard Bradley did not recommend Frontigniac for planting in England.  He found it “will not ripen in the open Ground” and that it required planting against a wall.

Late 19th century guidebooks to Bath indicate that “The crops began to fail about 1730” and in another case the vineyard was “done away with about 1730”.[14]  James Tunstall is more specific, he states that about “1730 the crops began to fail, the reasons assigned for it being that, as the spring seasons were more backward than they used to be, the grapes did not mature before winter.”  He found this “as shewing the change of climate that has taken place.”

Two 18th century accounts suggest all or some of the blame on the lack of care taken by the owners instead of the climate.  Thomas Hale wrote, “The Bath vineyards might serve as a better example to the husbandman who should consider only profit for them the juice of the grapes was fold there as it was pressed from the fruit and the owners had no farther care than managing the ground and gathering”.[15]  He continues that the vineyard at Hammersmith and vineyard at Bath “might have been better managed, and their profit rendered three-fold”.  A later account of England Vineyards suggests both the vineyards at Darking and Bath “turned to little account, either from cultivating a sort of grape unsuitable to the climate, or for want of skill in management.”  [16] A most interesting reason for the demise of the vineyard appears in the property alternation application for an 18th century house in The Vineyards.[17]  It states the land had “previously been used as a vineyard until c1730 when the springs, which watered it began to fail.”


The former vineyard at Walcot. From Thomas Thorpe’s map of Bath. 1787.

Whether it be due to poor management, the grape varieties, the climate, or lack of irrigation, I can find no further references to a productive vineyard after 1736. The buildings of Harlequin Row appear to be among the first that went up in the former vineyard beginning in 1765.  The area became known as “The Vineyards” which also saw the building of The Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel in 1765.

[1] The Municipal Records of Bath, 1189-1604. 1885. URL:
[2] Ellacombe, Reverand Canon. “The Vineyards of Somerset and Gloucestershire”. Proceedings of the Bath Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, Volume 7. 1893. URL:
[3] Defoe, Daniel. A Tour Thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain. (1761). URL:
[4] Bradley, Richard. A General Treatise on Husbandry & Gardening. (1726). URL:
[5] Tunstall. Rambles about Bath and its Neighbourhood. 1876. URL:
[6] Rea, John. FLORA: seu, De Florum Cultura. 1665.
[7] Bradley (1726).
[8] Major (1879).
[9] Bradley (1726).
[10] Trowell (1736).
[11] Newspaper article noting the discovery of a vineyard in Bath, 1815. From the Bath Herald September 30th, 1815. Bath in Time. URL:
[12] Bentley, Samuel. Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century. 1812. URL:
[13] Trowell, Samuel. A new Treatise of Husbandry, Gardening, and other Curious Matters relating to Country Affairs. (1739) URL:
[14] Major, S. D. Notabilia of Bath. (1879). URL: and Peach, Robert Edward Myhill. Street-lore of Bath. (1893). URL:
[15] Hale, Thomas. A Compleate Body of Husbandry. 1759. URL:
[16] “A slight Sketch of English Vineyards” The Gentleman’s Magazine, Volume 57, Part 2. 1787. URL:
[17] Pre Application Advice request Form Harlequin House, 8 Vineyards BA1 5NS. Date 11.09.2015. URL:

“inform’d by Gentlemen who have drank considerable Quantities of it”: The vineyard at Claverton Manor

January 13, 2016 Leave a comment

My interest in the 17th and 18th century vineyards of England was captured through reading about vines sent to colonies in America, the return of botanic specimens, and accounts of English wine sold for profit in Jakatra. This is a period of great development in landscape architecture with a corresponding rise of nurserymen.  I cannot help but wonder where the vines for the various vineyards were sourced from, were any landscape architects or nurserymen involved, and even wonder what the wine tasted like.

The history of English vineyards was chronicled during this period as well.  It has also been detailed over the last century in such books as Hugh Barty-King A Tradition of English Wine (1977), George Ordish Vineyards in England and Wales (1977), Stephen Skelton The Wines of Britain and Ireland (2001), and Richard C. Selley The Winelands of Britain (2008).  Hugh Barty-King’s book remains the most thorough published history.  I hope to contribute towards this history through digital research (for now) by occasionally publishing posts about specific vineyards.  I start off with the vineyard at Claverton Manor near the city of Bath in Somerset, England.  I begin here for no other reason than I have fond memories of visiting the city during my university days.  If anyone happens to be visiting the Bath Records Office do let me know!

Prospect Of The City of Bath, Buck, 1734. The British Library. Shelfmark: Maps K Top 37.25c

Prospect Of The City of Bath, Buck, 1734. The British Library. Shelfmark: Maps K Top 37.25c

The Vineyard at Claverton Manor

Claverton Manor is located nearly two miles east of Bath where it is home to the American Museum in Britain. The current structure dates to the 1820s when John Vivian, having demolished the old manor house in 1816, built the new house, gardens, and parkland.  It is during the existence of the old manor house that Claverton was home to a famous vineyard.  With the first published account in the 17th century this vineyard appears to have survived until the very end of the 18th century.

Claverton House near Bath ye Seat of Skrine esr 1738. Published 1811. King George III Topographical and Maritime collections. The British Library.

Claverton House near Bath ye Seat of Skrine esr 1738. Published 1811. King George III Topographical and Maritime collections. The British Library.

The old manor house was begun around 1588 for Sir Edward Hungerford from whose family it passed to Sir Thomas Estcourt.[1]  He sold the estate to Sir William Bassett in 1608.  The sale included the house, church, and a “productive vineyard”.[2]  The old manor house was then completed as late as 1625.[3]  Sir William Bassett is described as having “represented Bath in almost every Parliament since 1669, and his reputation for drunkenness and debt made him no less worthy a choice to the corporation in 1690.”[4]

Whether Sir William Bassett’s thirst for drink inspired him to own a vineyard is not known but it is under his name that the vineyard became widely known.  The earliest description of the vineyard comes from John Aubrey who famously wrote about it between 1656 and 1691.  His first sentence has been extensively quoted, “Sir William Basset, of Claverdoun, hath made the best vineyard that I have heard of in England.  He says that the Navarre grape is the best for our climate, and that the eastern sunn does most comfort the vine, by putting off the cold.”[5]

Sir William Bassett passed away in 1693.  Eight years later, in 1701, the Basset family sold Claverton Manor to Robert Holder.  It was later reported that the sale price of £21,367 included £28 for “four hogsheads of wine of the Vineyards of Claverton.”[6]    The vineyard continued in existence for John Mortimer wrote in his book The Whole Art of Husbandry (1708) that the production of English wine should be encouraged by,”the Essay of the Vineyards of that Worthy Gentleman Sir William Basset’s near the Bath should incourage; since I have drank Wine made of his Grapes (as I have been informed) that I think was as good as any of the Wines that I have drank either in Paris or Champaign.”[7]  This passage is referenced in Philip Miller’s The Gardeners and Florists Dictionary (1724).[8]

From Robert Holder the estate was sold to Dr. William Skrine in 1714.  The vineyard continued to flourish under new ownership.  Aaron Hill wrote in 1716 as “Proof of which Fact, we need only mention Sir William Basset’s known Vineyard near the Bath”.[9]  Stephen Switzer writes in Ichnographia Rustica, Volume II (1718), “when in several parts of Somersetshire there are, at this Time, flourishing Vineyards; and the Vineyard of the late Sir William Basset, in that county, has annually furnish’d  some hogsheads of good body’d and palatable Wines, which I have been credibly inform’d by Gentlemen who have drank considerable Quantities of it with the greatest Satisfaction.”[10]

Francois-Xavier Vispre Dissertation on the Growth of Wine in England (1786) largely quotes Stephen Switzer with regards to Sir William Basset’s vineyard.  Three years later, William Speechly in A Treatise on the Culture of the Vine (1789) quotes Vispre on the Claverton vineyard.[11]  References to Stephen Switzer continue to be published into the 19th century.[12]  John Evelyn’s Sylva (1664) is considered one of the most important books on forestry.  His 1706 edition was spelt Silva and contained the new section “Dendrologia, Pomona”.  Updated editions continued to be printed after his death until the 19th century.  Curiously enough it is not until the 1786 edition that there the reference “Claverton, famous for Sir W. Basset’s vineyard, producing forty hogsheads of wine yearly.”[13]  Perhaps this line was added in response to Francois-Xavier Vispre’s dissertation.

The son of Dr. William Skrine sold Claverton to Ralph Allen of Prior Park in 1758.  Ralph Allen made a fortune through re-organizing the postal service in the 1720s. He then acquired extensive quarrying rights in the area around Bath.[14]  The use of his stone in building Bath earned him another fortune.  He showcased his stone through the design and building of Prior Park in the 1730s and 1740s.  During this period he became the mayor of Bath and a Minister of Parliament.

Bath and Claverton Manor. Thomas Thorpe. 1742. [16]

Bath and Claverton Manor. Thomas Thorpe. 1742. [16]

We learn from published excerpts of Francois-Xavier Vispre’s dissertation in 1791 that “There is an old vineyard, two miles distant from Bath, at a place called Vine Down (part of Coombe Down), near Mr. Allen’s quarries: this vineyard is surrounded by a wall: when it was planted, and when it began to be neglected, I could not be informed.”[15]  Indeed, a corner of the vineyard is near the two-mile boundary in Thomas Thorpe’s map “An actual survey of the city of Bath, in the county of Somerset, and of five miles round” (1742).[16]  In a description of Claverton published in 1791, there is no mention of a vineyard.[17]  I see no vineyard references in William Smith’s geologic maps “Area around Bath” (c. 1799).[18]  Nor is there any reference in an Ordnance Survey drawing from 1808.[19]

The Vineyard at Claverton Manor. Thomas Thorpe. 1742. [16]

The Vineyard at Claverton Manor. Thomas Thorpe. 1742. [16]

While the neglected vineyard at Claverton eventually died off, the vineyard walls survived.  Though I have not seen it in person, the vineyard is described as appearing in Savage and Meyler’s “Map of Five Miles Round Bath” (1805).[20]  Reverend Ellacombe provides the following description, ”The site can be easily made out and it is a garden attached to the Vineyards Farm. It is enclosed on three sides by an old wall, and it contains an old building which Mr Skrine considers to have been the wine-press”.

The Vineyard at Claverton Manor. Thomas Thorpe. 1787. [22]

The Vineyard at Claverton Manor. Thomas Thorpe. 1787. [22]

It is not yet known when the vineyard was walled in.  In a published report detailing the Walled Garden of The Old Rectory at Claverton, it is believed that the garden walls were built before 1760 by Ralph Allen.[21]  In the case of the vineyard, it appears nearly identical in shape in both Thomas Thorpe’s 1742 and 1787 maps of Bath.[22]  To me the vineyard appears walled in with a little building at one end.  Either the vineyard was originally walled in, perhaps to check the eating of grapes by both two-legged and four-legged individuals, or it was done so later on by the Basset, Holder, or Skrine families.  Hugh Barty-King writes that in 1966 the wall of the vineyard was still standing.  The name survives as well through the property names of Vineyard Cottage, Vineyard Farm, and Vineyard Bottom.

Vineyard Farm. Ordnance Survey Map. Somerset XIV.11 (includes: Bathford; Claverton; Monkton Combe; Monkton Farleigh; Winsley). Surveyed: 1883. Published: 1886. National Library of Scotland.

Vineyard Farm. Ordnance Survey Map. Somerset XIV.11 (includes: Bathford; Claverton; Monkton Combe; Monkton Farleigh; Winsley). Surveyed: 1883. Published: 1886. National Library of Scotland.


[1] Meehan, John Francois. More Famous Houses of Bath & District. 1906 URL:

[2] “The History of Claverton Manor”. American Museum in Britain. URL:

[3] Peach, R. E. Historic Houses in Bath. Volume II. 1884.

[4] BASSETT, Sir William (1628-93), of Claverton, nr. Bath, Som. The History of Parliament. URL:

[5] Aubrey, John. The Natural History of Wiltshire. 1847. URL:

[6] Ellacombe, Henry N. Plant-Lore of Shakespeare. 1896. URL: ttps://

[7] Mortimer, John. The Whole ART of Husbandry. 1708. URL:

[8] Miller, Philip. The Gardeners and Florists Dictionary. 1724. URL:

[9] Hill, Aaron. Essays, for the Month of December, 1716. (1716). URL:

[10] Switzer, Stephen. Ichonographia Rustica, Volume 2. (1718) URL:

[11] Speechly, William. A Treatise on the Culture of the Vine. (1789). URL:

[12] For example, Johnson George William. The Grape Vine: Its Culture, Uses, and History, Volume 1. (1847). URL:

[13] Evelyn, John. Silva, Volume 2. 1786. URL:

[14] Workman, Dave. “A Brief History of the Stone Quarries at Combe Down”. Journal of the Bath Geological Society, No. 23, 2004. URL:

[15] Letter to Mr. Urban from J. Elderton, July 18, 1791. The Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 61, Part 2. 1791. URL:

[16] Thrope, Thomas. An actual survey of the city of Bath, in the county of Somerset, and of five miles round. 1742. URL:

[17] Collinson, John. The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset. Volume 1. 1791. URL:

[18] Smith, William. Area around Bath. C. 1799. Shelfmark: WS/H/1/0/018 Oxford University Museum of Natural History URL:  and Smith, William. Area around Bath. C. 1799. Shelfmark: WS/H/1/0/019 Oxford University Museum of Natural History URL:

[19] Crocker, Edmund. Frome 19. Ordinance Survey drawing. URL:

[20] Ellecombe.

[21] Ross, Kay. “History Building Report on The Walled Garden of The Old Rectory Claverton Bath”. McLaughlin Ross LLP. December 2008. URL:

[22] Thorpe, Thomas. “An improved map of the villages, roads, farm houses, &c. five miles round the city of Bath”. 1787. URL: