Pitfour House is a large Grade II Listed Georgian fronted building situated in the High Street. The House was formed by the amalgamation of three smaller cottages with a number of later extensions. The age of the original cottages is is mid-17th century, but it is thought that they were extended, altered and refaced about 1800. Indeed, this period marked the development of some of the larger properties in Timsbury – Parish’s House (1816), Hillside House (about 1800), Vale House (1802), The Rectory (1821) and Greenhill House (about 1800).
The earliest reference to ownership and occupation of the site of Pitfour House dates from the 1784 map of Timsbury, though it is likely the buildings then did not take the form that is Pitfour House today. John Crang is identified as the owner and occupier and members of the Crang family remained there until 1902. It seems that the name comes from the Pitfour Plantation in St James Parish, Jamaica. The Crang family were directly connected to the owners of the plantation. Pitfour Plantation was owned by Elizabeth Lawrence Hay in 1811, following the death of her husband Alexander Balcarres Hay. Their daughter Susannah Lawrence Hay married John Crang’s son, James, in 1808. Susannah Lawrence died in 1844 so when her mother Elizabeth Lawrence Hay died in 1847, the Pitfour Plantation passed to Susannah and James’s son Findlater Crang.
The Crang family played a prominent role during the 18th and 19th centuries in both the industrial development and local community of Timsbury. William and John were sons of John and Mary Crang. A plaque inside St Mary’s Church details the history of the family in the second half of the 18th century. The birth date of William is uncertain, John was born in 1748. By 1791 both William and John were actively involved in the growing coal industry of the Timsbury area.
John Sambourne’s will of 1571 provides the earliest known reference to coal mining in Timsbury. However, by 1610 another source stated the works at Timsbury were near worn out, and all smiths use the coal of Clutton and none of Timsbury’s. These would refer to the many shallow bell pits that mined coal seams that were relatively close to the surface. During the 18th century, many of these mines were superseded by deeper and bigger pits that were developed to meet the rising demand for coal.
On 24th January 1791, the Timsbury Coal Proprietors, which included William and John Crang, Samborne Palmer, Jacob Mogg, Alexander Adams and James Savage, signed the articles of a 200 year partnership. This group has been described as the greatest coal mining partnership in the development of the Somerset Coalfield. The Timsbury Coal Proprietors promptly began mining at Upper Typing, New Grove, Hayeswood and Upper Conygre in or soon after 1791.
Before this development, it would appear that Timsbury was a small village in a predominantly rural environment. The Coal Proprietors were adventurous and successful. During the 19th century the Timsbury mines became the largest suppliers of coal to the consumers of Bath. The lives of the inhabitants of Timsbury were becoming increasingly dominated by coal mining and its associated infrastructure, initially the Somerset Coal Canal and then the railway. The growing wealth of the coal mine owners probably explains the development of Parish’s House, Hillside House, Vale House, Greenhill House and Pitfour House.
William Crang and his brother John were at the forefront of this industrial development of Timsbury. The Crang family lived in North Devon in the first half of the 17th century, but by 1746 they had moved to Timsbury. It is not possible to determine whether they moved into the cottages that became Pitfour House. By 1841 William Crang’s son James, is living in the House. He was born in Dunster in 1781. Between 1809 and 1811 he was living at Hanham, near Bristol where his daughter Elizabeth and son Findlater were born. By 1822 he had moved to High Littleton where Frederick and Susanna were born. It must have been soon after 1827, when Susanna was born, that he moved to Timsbury and Pitfour House.
John Skinner was rector of the parish of Camerton from 1800 until his death in 1839. His diaries present a clear picture of life in a rural community at this time. He records many of the social problems prevalent at that time – poverty, drunkenness, the terrors of consumption and strikes at the coal works. James Crang is mentioned on a number of occasions. Very early on James’s occupation is made apparent – he was the Apothecary. The diaries record the details of a number of occasions that James administered both the wealthy and poor of Timsbury. There is a marked tradition in the Crang family for a career in the medical profession. Both James’s sons Findlater and Frederick became surgeons; then Findlater’s son, John, is described as a medical student in the 1871 census.
A further example of the work of Findlater is given after the flood of Hayeswood mine on 4th February, 1845. Nearly 100 men were caught underground and seven men and four boys were drowned before the rest could be evacuated. On 10th February, a special meeting of the proprietors recorded ‘their great sense of the intrepid and humane conduct of Findlater Crang Esq. in descending and remaining underground and by his energy and example encouraging the men in their attempt to recover the bodies of those who perished.’
The census information for the period 1841 to 1891 is particularly interesting for showing the nature of the household at Pitfour House during the second half of the 19th century. It is possible to speculate on the differences between what would seem to be a full and thriving household between 1841 – 1871 and the rather solitary existence that Findlater had in 1891.
The second half of the 18th century brought many changes to the village. The number of coal mines had decreased, the last closing in 1916. This had a profound effect on the local community. Pitfour House ceased to be the large family home that it was earlier in the century. It used to be surrounded by a number gardens and an orchard. Some of this ground was sold some years later for the building of Pitfour Terrace. Findlater Crang died on 5th April, 1892. The house passed to his son John James Gunning Crang. John Crang lived there until he died on 6th March, 1897. For a few years his widow Annie Crang remained in the House. In 1901 the Witcombe family live in Pitfour House. Then an indenture dated 23rd June, 1902 outlines the sale of Pitfour House to Henry Graham Nash, Gentleman from Bristol. The building is described as a small cottage, garden and stable known as Pitfour House! At the time of the sale Annie Crang has moved to Carrisbrook Villas, Oldfield Park, Bath. This appears to be the end of the connection with the Crang family. Presumably Pitfour House had become too large for Annie Crang or other members of the family had moved away.
By the time of the 1911 census the house had been divided and three separate families lived there – Charles James (3 rooms), Billy Beacham (3 rooms) and Gilbert Harrison (6 rooms). When Henry Nash lived in the died in 1933 it then passed to his wife Louisa Jane. On her death in 1941 their son Albert Henry Nash acquired it. Bert Nash was a farmer in Radford, but decided not to live there. At this time the house was divided into two, with Fred and Olive Newth living in the eastern half and Billy and Sarah Beacham, the local postman, living in the western half. The large hall was partitioned to allow access to the different sections of the building. The Newth family remained in their part of the building for many years. Billy Beacham’s nephew Lindsey moved into the western half and was still there in 1957. The Beachams were followed by Colin and Linda Rymes and then the Jarvis family.
Bert Nash sold the House to a Mr Bruce, a solicitor from Chew Magna. He lived in there for 2-3 years after which the house was sold around 1968 to a Captain Hill. He lived in the House for about 11 years. Soon after, Fred Newth died and Captain Hill acquired some additional rooms from the Newth section of the building. Later, when the House was bought by Richard and Patricia Beauchamp, further rooms were transferred to the western section. When Mrs Newth died Pitfour House returned to its former state of a single building.