A grand house and grounds near the Saltash estuary. Parts of Port Eliot are extremely old – there are fragments dating from the 4th, 9th, 10th and 13th centuries, but most of the house dates from a makeover by Sir John Soane in the 18th Century. It was previously known as Port Priory. The estuary water used to be closer, but was diverted by a dam in the 18th century.
A notable feature of the contents is a series of family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds. They belong to the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, having been accepted in lieu of death duties, but remain in the house on condition that they are available for viewing on 100 days per year. There are a number of fine rooms with contents including valuable furniture – the Morning Room, Drawing Room (library), Big Dining Room and the Round Room. I don’t recall seeing the Conservatory annex.
The Round Room was designed by Sir John Soane and is considered one of his outstanding achievements. It is painted with a 20th century mural by eccentric artist Robert Lenckiewicz, which is regarded as his masterpiece. It depicts dozens of people known to the Eliot family and is an outstanding work. In the same room is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, restored and presented like an art exhibit.
A look on Google Satellite makes the house plan, with its two almost separate blocks, clearer.
I found that all the house guides (stewards) were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The house is still a family home, and visitors may see family possessions lying around – and the family dog. There are extensive grounds, which I did not have time to fully explore.
Visiting – the house is about 200 yards north of St Germans village on the B3249. Approaching from this direction you will come on an entrance with gateway and lodges forking to the right, at a small car park. The pedestrian entrance is here. You could park here and walk down past the church, as the house (behind the church) is much closer than it looks. I’m still not sure what they expect car-borne visitors to do – apparently there is another entrance and car park 1Km further on, to the west, which you’d come on first if approaching from the A38. I visited on a day of low visitor numbers (they do have an annual literature festival), and not finding anyone to ask, I drove through the gate and parked in front of the house. There was plenty space and nobody objected. Important Notice: The owner of Port Eliot is in negotiations to sell the house to a trust run by Prince Charles. The implications for visitor access are unclear, but the interior will no longer look like a family home. As with privately owned mansions in general, the message is: Visit It While You Still Can.
For interior photos see Port Eliot website.
A white manor house sits in green meadows surrounded by woodland. The L-shaped house, with many gables and tall chimneys, retains most of its medieval features. The dining room (former kitchen) has a fireplace opening formed of four tons of Dartmoor granite. The hall is the only spacious room. On the walls of an upstairs room is preserved a late medieval pattern of stencilled black fleur-de-lys. Also upstairs in a panelled room is some fine seventeenth-century plasterwork in high relief, looking well preserved. There is a collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings and Arts & Crafts furniture. Much of the furniture is 18th century and listed on room cards. The chapel, which has an array of carved wooden bosses on the ceiling, should not be missed.
The interior was interesting. Outside, one can walk round with the guidebook and look at when each part was altered. Extensive woodlands surround the house. I finished my visit by exploring these, and found a back exit which eventually leads into a housing estate.
The house is half a mile from Newton Abbott town centre, on the Totnes road. The opening dates and times are somewhat restricted. The signs on the main road are inconspicuous. Note that there are no toilet facilities or tea room on site.
Good news: you can park at the site from 1.30 for the opening at 2:00 pm. It’s possible to get there by train, but I found that, unless you figure out the bus routes, it’s rather a tedious walk from the station and you need to know what foot route to take. Leave the house grounds on foot the same way you came in, if you don’t want to get lost in a housing estate.
The Seaton Tramway is a 2 ft 9 in (838 mm) narrow gauge electric tramway which operates over part of the route of a former London & South Western Railway branch line to Seaton, Devon. The tram line was established in 1970 by Claude Lane.
The line runs from Colyton village to Seaton, with an intermediate stop at Colyford. Currently while the new station in Seaton is under construction, trams terminate at the Seaton Riverside depot, with onward travel by shuttle bus. As compensation for the shortened run, on the return from Seaton a conducted tour of the tram depot is currently included.
The tram ride is very enjoyable, as a top deck seat ensures views of the countryside and the riverside wetlands between Colyford and Seaton. Around a dozen trams may be seen at the tramshed. The tram service runs every half hour or so in season. There is free parking at Colyton station.
For the technically minded, the trams operate on 120 volts DC, fed from batteries which are trickle charged.
The village of Colyton is worth a visit, as is the old part of Seaton.
Mottisfont was originally an Augustinian priory. After the Dissolution the monastic buildings were largely dismantled or incorporated into a large Tudor mansion with two courtyards. Little now remains of the Tudor mansion. In the 18th century most of the Tudor buildings were demolished and a three-storey south front constructed, giving the building much of its present-day appearance. The Stables were rebuilt in 1836.
Successive owners made changes to the interior. in 1934 the house was bought by the Russells who repaired and modernised the house, changing the function and fittings of many of the rooms.
The principal rooms on the ground floor are open to visitors, and some upstairs rooms are open as exhibition spaces, and maids’ rooms can be seen on the attic level. The ground floor contains a collection of paintings, notably the Derek Hill collection. The Russells converted the original entrance hall into a grand saloon with spectacular trompe l’oeil murals by Rex Whistler.
At basement level, vaulted cellars and other features from the old priory can be seen. One cellar contains a poignant sculpture of estate workers disappearing into the wall, a reference to WWI.
Outside the house is a 20th century parterre. Further afield are a walled garden, a winter garden, the river and other features. The Trust manages an estate of over 1600 acres.
Mottisfont is well worth a visit, which could extend to over half a day.
The Rosemoor Gardens are situated in a valley near Torrington, spanning both sides of the A3124. Most of the garden sections are devoted to flowering plants, but there are also some fruit and vegetable sections. If you want to see all the gardens, it is suggested that you start in the ‘far’ section at the other side of the road through the tunnel. This is the original part of the gardens and contains the original house. The house is not interesting and is converted into holiday lets.
Plants are mostly labelled so that you can identify them and maybe buy a specimen in the shop. The gardens contain both formal and informal plantings. On arrival you will probably be handed a leaflet with a numbered trail to visit interesting plants in bloom. This is a way of touring the garden if you don’t want to look at everything.
The gardens are well worth a visit if you are a serious gardener.
Parking – the car park is on the left as you arrive, but if you have a problem with going there, note that the ‘Accessibility’ parking to the right includes spaces that can be used by the non-disabled as required.
Markers Cottage is a medieval cob house that retains many original features. Originally it had a hall open to the roof and a cross passage. Smoke blackened thatch can still be seen in the attic. A medieval wood partition has paintings on it, and upstairs a section of decorative plasterwork is preserved.
Later the cottage was given a first floor and sub-divided. The garden contains a charming cob summerhouse (a Millenium project).
The cottage is well worth a visit if you are in the area. I suggest you combine your visit with a visit to Clyston Mill in the same village of Broadclyst.
The discreet National Trust signs in the village will take you to the village car park. Look for the sign indicating how to walk to the cottage. There is no onward signage: essentially you walk to the far end of the car park, exit in the RH corner, turn left and proceed along the edge of the playing field till you reach a street with a yellow painted thatched cottage in it. You can drive to the cottage and park outside: exit the car park turning left, then right & right into Town End street. You should be able to park outside (except during the school run!).
Clyston Mill is an 18th century watermill on the outskirts of the village of Broadclyst. It has an undershot waterwheel, which drives gearing driving two sets of millstones. Visitors can access two floors and see the mechanism. The mill is still in working order and can grind corn into flour. Working is dependent on the level of the river, as flood levels prevent the undershot wheel from functioning.
It is possible to combine a visit here with a visit to Killerton House, several miles away. The Mill is well worth a visit if you are in the area.
On driving into the village you should see a discreet National Trust sign. This in fact leads to the village car park. Park here and look for the signage directing you by foot to the mill. There is an adequate trail of signage which leads you across the main street, past the church, across a meadow, through the grounds of a private house, to the mill.
The Old Post Office is part of the Killerton estate, and a visit to it can be combined with a visit to Killerton House and grounds (Q.V.)
The Old Post Office closed in the 1960’s and is housed in a thatched cottage about half a mile from the Killerton house car park. It is displayed as it might have looked in the 1960’s with period counter and packaged products. There is also a small cottage garden and outbuildings with a pigsty and (replica) pig.
Well worth a visit of about half an hour.
You can walk to the cottage from the house grounds – the footpath heads in the opposite direction to the house and crosses a road. It is also possible to drive there if you turn left out of the house car park exit and then first right at a small grassy triangle. There is limited parking on a loop road outside the cottage.
The cottage has its own postcode.
Invitation to View
I visited Shilstone under the ‘Invitation to View’ scheme. Unusually for ITV, the visit was hosted by the Devon Rural Archive who are based in the adjoining outbuildings, and not by the house owners, the Fenwicks. Shilstone also trades as a wedding venue, so if you want exterior pictures, go to the Shilstone House website.
The Fenwicks bought a Grade II listed farmhouse on the site and rebuilt it, preserving the most intact wing and reconstructing the remainder, which was ruinous or non-existent. The result looks from the outside like a complete period building, but inside looks like a modern replica (which is what it is).
Some wings are two storey, and others (with lower ceilings) three storey, and the interiors are styled after different periods from Tudor to Georgian. There is an interior courtyard. One of the rooms contains panelling from a Jacobean house that originally stood on the site.
The Shilstone restoration may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is an impressive building.
In the Archive building is a small exhibition which includes pictures of ‘before’.
Island Hall was built in the 1740’s as a riverside mansion. After some changes of ownership is was requisitioned during the Second World War and used by the WAAF and then the RAF’s Pathfinder Squadron. After the war, the local authority took over the house and grounds under the Emergency Housing Act, converting it into 15 bedsits and also using the Nissen huts in the garden. By 1977, a major fire in the south wing left the house in a very sorry state. In 1978 it was bought by Simon Herrtage, who carried out a programme of restoration.
The present owner, Christopher Vane Percy, bought the house in 1983. He is descended from the Baumgartens, one of the original owners. Percy and his wife Lady Linda have continued the restoration and created the mature gardens.
The gardens extend over three acres, including an island in the Ouse reached by a Chinese bridge (second replacement of the 18th century original). The gardens are mostly laid out as lawns, and are shaded by a number of mature trees including a fine cypress visible from various angles, and various stands of shrubbery. All the garden planting dates from after 1983.
The main house has the same frontage front and back. The rear entrance, leading into a double height staircase hall, was the main entrance at a time when most guests arrived by river. The room continues through to the front door. This hall is attractively decorated and has a plasterwork frieze (restored). It has a stone-flagged floor, a screen of Doric columns and a handsome carved oak staircase. In the north wing are two rooms with wood paneling. On the first floor to the front is a fine reception room, and the tour includes two bedrooms in the north wing. The interior and its contents have a most pleasing appearance throughout.
Though the mews house with cupola looks original it has in fact been substantially restored and the cupola is a replica.
I visited the house through the ‘Invitation to View’ scheme. The house is not identified on the street other than by its appearance (see photos). Entrance is via the yard to the left. There is a free car park about 100 yards away on the same side of the road.
By the 19th century, difficulties in administrating relief for the poor caused parishes who were responsible for poor relief to start adopting a new system. Instead of being helped in their homes, the poor requiring relief would be required to enter a workhouse where conditions were spartan and they might be required to work – or do without. The overt object of this was to discourage the poor from claiming.
Southwell was one of the pioneering parishes to adopt this scheme. It was championed by the Rev. John Thomas Becher, who wrote a pamphlet called The Antipauper System. The Southwell workhouse was founded in 1824.
This system was found to be much cheaper and was incorporated in the New Poor Act of 1834.
The Southwell workhouse was acquired by the National Trust in 1997, and is the most complete in existence. Various parts of the buildings have been restored to their original appearance.
The tour starts with a short video, then one can visit outbuildings at the back, before touring various rooms in the main block. Some rooms have been restored for displays, and a few are left unrestored. The centre of the block was the Master’s accommodation. Rooms contain displays of the conditions in the workhouse for the various categories of inmate – the able-bodied poor, the aged and disabled, and the itinerants.
This makes a most interesting visit. The problem of what to do about the deserving and ‘undeserving’ poor remains vexed to this day.
Roche Abbey was founded in 1147 and housed Cistertian monks till it was dissolved on the orders of Henry VIII. The buildings were despoiled in 1538, but the walls of the north and south transepts remain impressive, and low walls remain elsewhere.
The remains of a gatehouse stand beside open ground in front of the main site.
A fee is payable to walk on the site but the standing walls can be seen from a path running alongside. Access to the site is by a steep, narrow and bumpy lane, navigable by car.