Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire


Investment product (1)

To Stourport-on-Severn, to admire the locks, basins, bridges, and waterside buildings of one of England’s most fascinating canal towns. But as usual, my eye was caught by something I didn’t quite expect. This building is called The Tontine. The central part was an inn, and the flanking portions contain houses. There are more houses in the wings, which extend out from the back of the building to give the whole thing a plan like an enormous capital E. It was built in the 1770s, although the porch was added about 100 years later. The whole building is being redeveloped as houses, and is festooned with ‘For Sale’ signs. Its red brick and neat windows look well, and the rooms at the front enjoy views across the lawn to the River Severn.

But why was it called ‘The Tontine’? A tontine was what today might be called, to use a kind of language I usually avoid, an ‘investment product’. As I understand it, it worked like this. A group of shareholders clubbed together to buy an investment, such as a property, and shared the income. But there was a twist: the shareholders couldn’t sell their shares, and when they died, their shares passed to the other shareholders. The last surviving shareholder struck gold, inheriting the entire scheme. One presumes that the newly developed houses in the building are being sold with a more conventional tenure arrangement.

17 comments:

ChrisP said...

I spent an evening in that place on a canal cruise in the late sixties. It was truly dire and the beer was awful even by late sixties standards.
A tontine is the plot device in Robert Louis Stevenson + Lloyd Osbourne's The Wrong Box, one of the funniest books ever written.

peggy said...

I think if I can just learn one thing a day it is a day well spent. So Tontine is my learning for the today. Thanks
peggybraswelldesign.com

Philip Wilkinson said...

Chris: Thanks. I'd thought that a tontine might form the basis for a good story (possibly a comic murder story like Kind Hearts and Coronets without the coronets) but I'd not come across this book.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peggy: I agree, it's always good to learn something new, and I'm pleased when this blog tells people things they don't know. It tells me things too - I found out about the book The Wrong Box from Chris's comment above.

David Gouldstone said...

There's a 1966 film of 'The Wrong Box', directed by Bryan Forbes, with one of the best casts ever assembled: John Mills, Tony Hancock, Ralph Richardson, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Michael Caine, et al. Available on DVD, I believe.

CarolineLD said...

Agatha Christie's 4.50 From Paddington also uses the notion of a slightly different form of tontine in the plot.

Philip Wilkinson said...

More things to follow up. Many thanks to you both.

DC said...

I spent my childhood summer afternoons here in the 70's opening and closing locks for boaters while the parents had acouple in the Tontine. Happy memories.

Is its name, I wonder, of similar origin to the Cleveland Tontine near Stokesley, of which a history says: "Inn, 1802 on the new turnpike road from Yarm to Thirsk (now part
of the A19) Erected by public subscription. With the arrival of the stagecoaches the site was developed into an inn, by means of a "Tontine" *system to cater for the passengers, posthorses and stabling. Subsciptions were opened on 1st February 1804 and with the support of the Cleveland gentry, farmers and business people these soon amounted to £2500."

DC said...

More: British Listed Buildings tells us that:

HISTORY: The Tontine Hotel, originally known as the Areley Inn, was constructed for the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Company in 1772 as a centrepiece to their enterprise at Stourport The development of the canal basins and settlement at Stourport began between 1768-1771 with the construction of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal, engineered by James Brindley. With a terminus at Stourport, the canal provided a direct navigable route via the River Severn between Bristol and Britain's industrial heartlands in the Midlands. The requirement for the provision of commercial accommodation to cater for the businessmen, travellers and workers which followed the development of transport networks reached its heyday in the well-known grand railway hotels of the C19. The Tontine is the first expression of this close association between transport networks and the provision of services to cater for those using them and served as a precedent for the development of transport hotels. The design of the building may be attributable to Thomas Dadford, the canal company engineer. The interior underwent alterations in c1810 and further subdivision occurred in the mid c19, more change took place in the 1970s.

Commercial buildings of pre 1840 date are uncommon: this is an exceptionally rare building, being a very early purpose built lodgings house with a strong canal connection. The special interest principally consists of its historical rarity; its association with the canal context; its architectural form; the survival of its original plan-form and interior fixtures. The infilled additions between the wings to the rear are not regarded as of special interest.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Fascinating stuff, DC, for which many thanks. It's right of British LIsted Buildings to stress the link with the canal, which I'd have made something of too if I'd thought about it.

I'm sure the Cleveland one had a similar investment scheme. And I have another tontine up my sleeve, when I have a minute to upload it.

Peter Ashley said...

Cor blimey. I've recently written about a Tontine Farm out on Romney Marsh, mentioning The Wrong Box film. And then yesterday saw the novel for the first time at an antiques market. (Cue sci-fi music).

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ker-umbs. When I said to you that this place would be familiar, I didn't think it would be that familiar.

designslinger.com said...

what a scheme!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Designslinger: Indeed. Outrageous in many ways. When people decided to buy shares in tontines in the name of young children, many investors were put off, and this kind of investment scheme was banned in many parts of the world

Anonymous said...

Just adding another great author to the book list. A tontine is central to the plot in PG Wodehouse's book "Something Fishy." Called "The Butler Did It," here in the US.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Something_Fishy
-- Craig

Viviane said...

Very interesting. We bought the mid section with the basement where the barrels used to be in for the pub. Also the original bread oven is in place in my kitchen. So nice to read about my home and learn that some have good memories of the place.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Viviane: Thank you. It's always great to hear from people who live in the buildings I blog about, or who have some other close connection with them.