Carved wooden panels

Our History

Arle Court was built between 1854-1858 for Thomas Walter Packer Butt on Grovefield, a 74 acre estate which was part of the small Manor of Redgrove.


A brief history

Manor By The Lake, or Arle Court as it was originally named has a fascinating history that dates back over 150 years. The name of the architect Thomas Penson of Chester, and the date 1857, appears on one of the stone shields located on the tower along with the names of Thomas Packer Walter Butt and his wife, Eliza Lutener Butt and their respective Coats of Arms.

Early documentation including architectural plans, accounts and documents are now being collated to form a picture of this Manor’s past. So far only a small amount of information has been discovered to point at the craftsmen responsible for the opulent interior. Penson, the architect had a drawing of Arle Court hung at the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1857, but despite considerable research, this has not come to light.

The original Arle Court was an Elizabethan building located in the area of Arle Road but over time this was demolished and replaced with this new Arle Court in in its present location.

The builder was Alderman George Parsonage, a native of Market Drayton, but five times Mayor of Cheltenham, who was a master builder of some repute. Sad to say, he does not seem to have received the recognition he deserves.

It is only thanks to a report in the Cheltenham Examiner on the 4th February 1857 regarding a dinner provided by Thomas Walter Packer Butt for the builder and the 150 workers, on account of the building being roofed in, that we learn that the building work had already been in progress for well over eighteen months.

The meal was held at the Beehive Inn, Montpellier and was one of several treats that had been enjoyed on several occasions. It was calculated that the house would be completed and ready to occupy after twelve more months:

When it will be a credit to all parties concerned. The new Mansion at Arle Court is a splendid specimen of the highly ornamented Elizabethan style and, when finished, it will be one of the largest and most attractive family residences in this part of the country.

The Manor in the 19th Century - Butt and Lutener Family

In 1848 Thomas Walter Packer Butt, affectionately known as ‘Squire’ Butt married Anna Maria, the second daughter of Dr William Lutener, surgeon of Dolerw, Newtown, Montgomeryshire (now Powys).

His brother, William Arthur Butt, originally bought the land now known as Grovefield at The Reddings, Redgrove and Benhall in 1834 to build a replacement home for his family, as the original Elizabethan Manor House on Arle Road was falling into disrepair. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 25 so ‘Squire’ Butt, inherited the 75-acre estate and realised the dream.

The newlyweds began their married life in Grovefield House where their first son Walter William Arthur was born. It seems after this event a decision was made to build the present Arle Court and by the time of the 1861 census, all trace of Grovefield House had disappeared and the Butts were living at Arle Court.

There is some dispute as to the date of build as a number of engraved stone tablets appear on the manor house. Their locations suggest that it was built over a four year period 1854-1858 – the additional wings being added as time progressed. This also explains the irregular layout of some of the building. Indeed history shows that the original entrance to the Manor was planned along the south side as this ties in with one driveway that connects with the old lodge houses still on the former Hatherley Lane to the west. It’s thought that the gate house that opens onto the main Gloucester Road bypass was one of the last buildings to be completed. More research is being undertaken in this area.

Richard Lockwood Boulton of Cheltenham is understood to have been commissioned by Thomas Butt to undertake the wood carving and marble work at Arle Court. His company employed 21 skilled craftsmen who were responsible for most of the elaborate work in the churches and cemeteries in the Cheltenham area, including the town’s most famous statue, Neptune Fountain.

His company R. L. Boulton & Sons employed L.E. Demair and a young apprentice by the name of HH Martyn. The former was the master craftsman responsible for most of the Manor’s features; two statues above the fireplace in the Maximilian bear his signature. Dated 1862, it suggests that the work took four years to complete. Both would have worked on the Manor’s many features. HH Martyn eventually set up his own company, HH Martyn and Co. Ltd, considered the best wood and stonemasons in the country. This company was commissioned to decorate many of the famous ocean liners including, its understood, RMS Titanic, RMS Lusitania and RMS Queen Mary plus many of the features in St Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament.

Some of the older work around the fireplace and opposite wall in the Lyderick date from the mid-1600s and were taken from the original Arle Court. The decor in the Manor during this period was typically ornate and heavy with colour. Some of the original silk wall panels over the doors have been preserved as examples to show how the Manor would have decorated during this period.

A number of photographs have been sourced which show that the manor and gardens have changed little since they were fist laid out. The grounds were shown to have orchards and open pasture land surrounding them but essentially the Manor itself remains almost identical. It’s undocumented who designed the gardens but several famous landscapers were very active in Cheltenham during the Victorian era. It is highly possible that guidance was provided by Edward Milner who laid out Cheltenham’s Sandford Park and the original Crystal Palace Gardens in London. Two Arle Court apprentices, George and Thomas Pockett, achieved later fame in Australia as designers and curators of many municipal open spaces including Alexandra Park and The Malvern Gardens amongst others in the Kew and Malvern areas of Melbourne. Thomas was awarded the OBE for Services to Horticulture.

By all accounts the Butt family enjoyed their time at the Manor, however, Squire Butt died in 1900 leaving the estate to his son. At the turn of the century land-owners throughout England were being hit by hard times as the whole social structure was changing and many large house owners found they were short of funds to maintain their impressive homes. In 1904 Arle Court and its contents went under the hammer in a two-day sale conducted by Bruton Knowles when a very valuable collection of china, porcelain and furniture attracted a large number of buyers.

The Manor in the 20th Century - Unwin Family, Sir George Dowty and Cheltenham Film Studios

Herbert Unwin, a Derbyshire born, Yorkshire businessman who had been living in Dowdeswell Court, purchased the house and estate in 1904. The brewery, coal mine and newspaper owner maintained it in a grand style and was particularly considerate to his staff. As a lover of hunting and a great supporter of the Cotswold Hunt, changes were made to the grounds – stable and kennels were added in the area which is now the Ballroom. It is thought that the archway to the ballroom formed an entrance into a courtyard where dogs and horses would meet for the hunt.

A clock was fitted to the clock tower and glasshouses and conservatories were also added, evidence of the latter has yet to be found. He was also responsible for adding the billiard room in what is now the Rock Bar along with the large fireplace and his initials can still be seen above the first-floor landing. He died in 1925 but his widow and family continued to live there until 1934. In February 1914 a large fire destroyed the 1st floor in the centre of the Manor House but it was quickly put out and the damage repaired.

In 1935 Europe was on the brink of war and the government had a requirement to produce fighting aircraft in vast quantities. Mr George Dowty, a local hydraulics engineer working with the Gloster Aircraft Company started up his own company and was tasked with the production of retractable landing gear for the aircraft.

He immediately purchased Arle Court and its 72 acres of grounds for £5,500 – just under the sum it had taken to build in 1847!

His expanding business and the war effort brought about inevitable changes; the house was converted into offices for the directors, and the part which had been home for Mr Dowty, wife Marguerite and his young family became a visiting suite for VIPs.

Due to the Manor’s setting by a beautiful lake it was fondly referred to as The Manor By The Lake by staff and visitors – over time the Manor was officially renamed, a title which it now carries through to the present day.

The house and approximately 15 acres of gardens continued to be maintained to the highest standard despite the rest of the grounds being covered by industrial factories producing the hydraulic undercarriage systems.

During this time the tower was modified to make it less obvious as a target, the tall dome being replaced with a flagpole. The courtyard and stables were roofed in a similar style to some of the surrounding buildings to turn it into a large entertaining space.

After the war, Dowty Aviation relocated to the far side of Staverton where now, merged as Messier-Bugatti-Dowty under the Safran Group it survives to this day. In 1956 Sir George Dowty received a knighthood for his part in the war effort. Not only did he preserve a wonderful house and its many acres of grounds but also played a large part in securing the freedom of the country in which he lived.

With the ‘take over’ of the Dowty Group by TI, Arle Court was for sale once again. It stood empty for some years until being purchased by David Bill of Ealing Studios as head quarters and film location set, renamed Cheltenham Film Studios. As a passionate admirer of gardens, he was adamant that the lake and gardens were maintained to a very high standard.

During this time three major feature films were shot at the Manor including Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie by Carlton Television. Other television programmes used the grounds and production facilities including Butterflies and Crossroads.

The majority of creative work was relocated to the modern block to the west of the Manor, leaving the House to become a private home, however, at the turn of the millennium many of the rooms in the Manor were converted back into offices with the ballroom sectioned into units for small businesses. In 2010, after Mr Bill announced his retirement, the Manor was put up for sale again.

 

The Manor in the 21st Century

Since the 1960s virtually all of the surrounding Dowty factories have been pulled down and developed into the retail and residential landscape you see today. Housing now occupies the land now known as The Reddings to the south and Redgrove Park to the East. The sports fields developed by Sir George are now independently run by the Pavilion.

Despite the needs of modern society the 7 acres of beautiful formal gardens, woodland and the stunning Manor House are secured in this wonderful oasis of countryside away from the busy world outside.

Purchased in 2013 by Tammy Madge and Michael Chittenden, a huge project was undertaken to restore the Manor back to its former 1858 glory with enhanced facilities to create an exclusive use venue for weddings, special occasions and business functions.

The Manor now has six wonderful function rooms, including the West-wing Ballroom that can hold up to 250 people. The multi-million pound investment has seen the addition of 12 luxury bedrooms and suites, the conversion of the original Jazz Bar into a opulent multi-room Rock Bar featuring a vintage-style jukebox and games room and private club room.

Today, guests who book Manor By The Lake and all that it offers have exclusive use of the Manor and grounds. It is all theirs for the whole duration on their stay.

We continue our search to find out more of this wonderful Manor’s exciting history and at some stage we aim to publish our findings in a definitive book. If you have any information or have history attached to Manor By The Lake please do contact the email the Marketing department at marketing@manorbythelake.co.uk.

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Manor By The Lake, Hatherley Lane, Cheltenham, GL51 6PN