The Baronsdown Estate, which included the farms of Oatway, Weatherham, Shircombe, Winslade, Kents, Stagshead, Daws, Expark, Blackbeards, Baronsdown and Barlynch, was a rather magnificent place at one time. Baronsdown House was built by the Joyce family in about 1656 but the family lost most of their wealth after the formation of, and monopolisation of trade by, the East India Trading Company.
An entry for Brompton Regis in A Topographical Dictionary of England dated 1831 gives an insight to the history of the village at that time and indicates that Baronsdown House was built from the remains of Barlynch Priory. An entry in Kelly’s Directory of Somerset (1861) states that “the population was 979..... the chief crops were oats and turnips .... the landowners were the Earl of Carnarvon (Lord of the Manor), Stucley Lucas and representatives of the late Sir Thomas Lethridge. Baronsdown, the seat of Stucley Lucas, was situated in a very pleasant part of the parish surrounded by beautiful gardens containing most choice plants”
There were two carriage ways to the House, the main carriage way up from the Exe Valley Road and a second carriage way down from the top of Bury Hill at Louisa Gate. The estate also had three lodges.
At the entrance to the main carriage way, from what is now the A396, was Lower Lodge and about halfway up the carriage way was Middle Lodge which is where the estate gardener lived. At the entrance to the second carriage way, at the top of Bury Hill, was another lodge house which straddled over and across the entrance, for which we have no photographs.
When the estate was broken up and sold in 1919, the house was described as a 'moderate sized stone-built mansion approached by two carriage drives, with lodges and entrances’. The sales details give an excellent description of the house and its estate. Using hand drawn layouts provided by memory from Joann Barrett, who lived there in the 1950-60s as a child, and by the more distant memory of Dora Wood, who used to work there as a maid, we can show a reasonable approximation of the extent of the house.
From about 1925, the house was rented by Stanley and Mildred Bullivant who were very keen stag hunters. Although they lived in Kent, they moved to Baronsdown each year for the stag hunting season and employed household staff and gardeners to maintain the estate throughout the year. Up until WW2, the house and its grounds were kept in excellent condition. Hunting and shooting parties were regularly entertained and garden parties held. As well as some substantial outbuildings, the gardens were arranged in Italian style with woodland walks, a rock garden, ornamental ponds, a well and a tennis court. However, Mr. Bullivant had money invested in Germany and lost much of his wealth as a consequence of the war. The Bulivants moved out of the house in about 1940.
During WW2 it was used as a prisoner of war camp for Italians, who were sent to work on the surrounding farms and the house, gardens and grounds became neglected. It was listed as a hostel for the main camp (Camp 92) at Bampton Road, Tiverton. After this use by Italian prisoners of war and after they had left, it was re-opened to house 'C' grade German prisoners of war who were also categorized as Nazis. This category of PoW was segregated in a separate hostel on an order from the War Office.
The Foreign Office file held at the National Archives (FO 939/172) gives a few details as follows:
“a private house with its own dynamo. It is being opened on 13th July to accommodate the C grade [German] Ps/W arriving on this date. The hostel leader his deputy and the re-education staff have been selected by the Commandant from the main camp. Two small dining rooms serve also for re-education and recreational purposes.”
Later the building appears to have become a hostel with mixed categories of PoWs, with a comment made 19 November 1946:
“MORALE – Repatriation of party members has caused dissatisfaction. Morale otherwise fair.”
The walls of the top floor bedrooms were found covered in Italian newspapers after they had left and the heavy oak doors of the house were found to be badly marked.
From 1955/6 until the mid 1960s, John and Winifred Grove lived in the house with their son and two daughters and farmed the land with a large flock of black-faced cluns, a herd of cows and bullocks, pigs and a large battery of hens. Joann Barrett (nee Grove) remembers the House with much affection as she lived there during this time and her children were all born there: read an account of Joann’s memories here. An aerial photograph taken of the house at about this time, kindly provided by Joann, shows the extent of the buildings.
The house was sold and demolished in about 1967 - and all that remains are remnants of the triangular cobbled stable yard, where tethering rings for horses are still visible in the stable block walls and the building used as a tackroom is now used as office space. The ground where the house once stood is gradually subsiding into the cellars below but the view across the Valley can still be appreciated.
The lodge house by Louisa Gate was pulled down in the 1940s and Lower Lodge, at the Exe Valley Road entrance, is now a small pile of rubble.
Middle Lodge is gradually falling down and the roof and much of the walls and main chimney have gone. The chimney came down with the snow in 2013. In the grounds, only the bases of the greenhouses are visible but a crescent-shaped garden seat overlooking the valley survives and the original noble fir and redwood trees continue to thrive.
A footpath and bridlepath, called Baby Lane, run through Baronsdown from Louisa Gate to the Exe Valley road and halfway down the lane is a 20 metre excavation in the side of the hill. It has been suggested that this is the remains of a tunnel built by the monks at St Nicholas’s Priory to a point just below Louisa Gate, where an 18th Century observation tower was built (as a folly). However, it is more likely that it is the remains of a stone quarry or mineral exploration work and is now the home of greater and lesser horseshoe bats.
We are currently seeking to provide a much more detailed layout of the house and gardens based on the Sales Particulars in 1919 and Joann Barrett’s memory of the house in the 1950s/60s.