The Old Court, a square horseshoe-shaped building facing north towards the river and situated at the western end of Avoncliff, was built as a group of weavers’ cottages during the late 18th century. Over the years, The Old Court has changed use from the Bradford Union Workhouse from 1836 to 1914, a convalescent home for the wounded soldiers during the 1914 Ð 18 war, a residential hotel known as the Old Court between 1922 and 1948 and a conversion to 14 self-contained flats from 1952 to 1987 when it was eventually developed into 12 separate houses and changed its title to Ancliff Square the name it holds at the change of the millennium.
Few records remain of its origins as a Weavers Residence: it was reputed to have been built around 1762 by a clothier, William Moggeridge, owner of the Dunkirk Woolen Mill at Freshford, to house between 14 and 17 families (there is evidence of 17 doors) of hand-loom weavers. The men used the top of the building, which gave them the best and longest light, to weave broadcloth, while the women and children spun and carded the wool on the other two floors, which were also the living accommodation. When completed the cloth was dyed and dried in a domed drying house, which still stands behind the main building.
With the introduction of machinery into the Weaving Industry, hand-looms became redundant and the traditional hand-weaving woollen industry declined. In 1836, the building was brought and converted into the Bradford Union Work House which subsequently housed 240 inmates. A chapel extension was added which also contained the dining halls and kitchens.
The 1851 census recorded that on 30 March there were 249 occupants of the Bradford Work House – 13 officers and 236 paupers. Twelve of the latter were identified as weavers or clothworkers including one Ezekiel Troyford, aged 81, probably one of the many of the buildingÕs previous inhabitants unable to adjust to the Machine Age. Another clothmaker, Theresa Love, aged 19, may have been responsible for the faintly discernible inscription ÔLOVEÕ inside the beehive-shaped stone building used as a drying house for the woollen cloth. In Workhouse days, it was used as a lock-up and mortuary. In a report by the Poor Law Inspectors dated 1864, the inspectors cited the following observations among many: “ÉTwo wards are fitted up on each side of the house exclusively for infectious cases É.. The adult inmates are supplied with flock beds, the children with straw beds. Washing troughs are provided in all wards É.. The men are employed in garden work and breaking stones; the women in washing and needlework É.. There is a paid nurse É.. assisted by pauper nurses É.. There is a chaplain É..”
The building ceased to be workhouse in 1914 and, during the First World War was used briefly as a convalescent home for wounded soldiers. The wards were named after districts around Bradford, the people of each district being responsible for the social welfare of the men in the ward of its name. The wounded were brought to Avoncliff by rail, and daily a Red Cross boat ran along the Kennet and Avon Canal, into Bradford, taking convalescing men into the town. Mr. Ted Powell, of Bradford-on-Avon, has told me how he and his sister ran from Bradford to Avoncliff with a horse and led the horse, pulling the boat back to Bradford, before they went to school. In Mr. Powell’s words, “In summer it was fun, but in winter it was a terrible job!” One of the former patients recalled that patriotic inn keepers in Bradford would often provide the soldiers with free beer and, returning by barge along the canal they were greeted by sympathetic nurses with stretchers to carry the legless back to their wards.
Its conversion in 1922, when it became The Old Court Hotel, saw the chapel converted into a ballroom and restaurant and later, during the second World War, valuable artifacts from the British Museum were stored for safety in its basement. The Hotel had a fine porter’s lodge, with a bell tower and a clock, which was sold for £16 when the lodge was demolished, and later resold at Sotheby’s for £16,000. There was no need to go outside Avoncliff for entertainment – the hotel provided for all tastes; tennis, croquet, table-tennis, and billiards, as well as having a fine dance floor. It was called “A Gem in the Avon Valley”.
The Old Court Hotel closed in 1948 and the building remained empty until 1952 when it was bought by the Dell family who started converting it into 14 flats to house themselves, their eight grown-up children and their families their plans were abandoned before completion. Following 2 more brief changes of ownership, the property was acquired by Anthony & Prudence Dunsdon in 1971. They took residence in 1972 with their 7 children (Isabel, Aidan, Julia, Alice, Thomas, Phillip and Edmund) and spent the next 18 years, using mainly re-claimed materials, to improve the interior of the building. In 1987 they decided to return the flats into individual homes based on the original weavers cottages. They commissioned Bath architects Tim Organ & Hans Klaentschi to carry out the project which involved gutting the interior without altering the character of its grade 2 listed facade. Builders PRC took nearly 2 years to complete the development, depositing huge quantities of soil on the 2 acre plot (originally the work house gardens and site of the school for the children of its inmates).
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