The history of Lewtrenchard Manor or Lew House, as it was originally known, is rich and extensive. It is first mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086AD as a Royal manor owned by the Sheriff of Devon and leased to one of his relatives, a Rogerius de Mole, for a rent of £4.00.
Rogerius and his descendants are believed to have lived in the property until the beginning of the reign of Edward III in 1327, when the Trenchards took over. Although the Trenchards gave their name to the manor they lived there for a short period of time. It is believed that the name comes from ‘Les Trenchen’, the wood hewer.
The estate passed from the Trenchards to the Monk family from Potheridge, possibly through marriage and is first mentioned in 1556 as being owned by them. Sir Thomas Monk fell into debt in 1623 and ended up in Exeter jail. His eldest son, George would have inherited the Lew estate had it not been sold to pay off Thomas’ creditors. But George would not have had time to run an estate in Devon as he was already an Army general and soon became admiral of his fleet.
Initially during the Civil Wars George Monk was a Parliamentarian, but later changed sides to be a staunch Royalist. It is believed that it is mainly due to George and his uncle James, Mayor of Exeter, that Charles II was restored to the throne after Cromwell’s death. As Admiral of the Fleet, it fell to George to escort the king back to England and as a result he was given the title Duke of Albemarle. His portrait currently hangs in the front hall.
The Gould family acquired the estate from Sir Thomas Monk in 1626 and it is believed that Henry Gould built the beginnings of the house as we know it today. Henry Gould married Ann Wills and their initials are carved in the over mantle of the fireplace in the front hall, as well as the year in which they acquired Lewtrenchard. However, they mostly lived Floyer Hayes in Exeter until Henry’s death when Ann came to the Dower House of Lew to live out her widowhood in 1636. The Dower House was built by her son Edward for her. Sabine Baring-Gould believed that the Dower House was the original site of Lew House, before it was moved to higher ground sometime during Edward III’s reign.
The estate was then inherited by the third son of Henry and Ann, Edward Gould. Both his older brothers had died young. In 1667, Ann fell ill and died, supposedly of the plague. Edward himself died a few days later, also of the plague. Henry Gould, Edward’s son, then inherited the Lewtrenchard Estate.
Henry married Elizabeth Leggatt and they had two daughters, Anne and Susanna. Anne married well, but Henry did not approve of Susanna’s chosen groom, Peter Truscott, and refused attended their wedding. After the marriage on 6th October 1713, Susanna walked back from church to Lew House alone where upon she collapsed and died. Some say this was of heart failure and others say she was poisoned due to the feud between the families. She is believed to be the ghostly white lady who has been seen walking the driveway at Lewtrenchard.
Henry’s brother, William, married Elizabeth Drake, a relation of Sir Francis Drake. They had one son, William Drake Gould and inherited Lewtrenchard, as well as several other estates including Pridhamsleigh and Staverton. It is believed that William Drake Gould actually lived at Pridhamsleigh, demolished part of Lew House and altered the Lew Mill Farm and Dower House turning it into the miller’s house.
In 1740 William Drake Gould married Margaret Belfield, their portraits hang above the fireplace in the back dining room. They had two children; Edward and Margaret. In 1766 William died and Edward inherited the estates.
Edward, also known as ‘The Scamp’, was a gambler and according to local legends was one night nearly ruined by losing at cards. He lost badly at a game of cards and was so desperate that he disguised himself as a highwayman and held up his fellow card player. The victim of the hold-up recognised Edward and as a consequence of this Edward shot him.
He was arrested and engaged John Dunning, a local attorney, to defend him. Mr Dunning managed to get Edward acquitted by asking the witness how he knew it was Edward Gould. The witness replied that he could see clearly who it was, by the light of the full moon. The judge asked if anyone had an almanac in order to check that the moon was full that night. Whereupon Dunning said he had one in his coat pocket if someone would fetch it. He then proceeded to show that there was no moon that night and so the witnesses could not have seen that it was Edward. It was later discovered that Dunning had falsified this almanac to get Edward acquitted!
Unfortunately Edward had to pay Dunning with some of the estates he had inherited from his father. John Dunning then became Lord Ashburton and his son became the 2nd Lord Ashburton, however the title died off soon after.
Thankfully Edward did not lose Lewtrenchard as he had already mortgaged it to his mother. His mother, Margaret who was also affectionately known as ‘Old Madam’, worked tirelessly to bring the estate back to fortune. She is also thought to be responsible for extending the house backwards in 1770, producing a narrow dining area to the rear of the drawing room, now the front dining room. This continued into where the current back staircase is and connected to a corridor to the rear of the bedroom on the first floor.
Apparently Sir John Coleridge came to Lewtrenchard to see Margaret on one occasion and stopped to ask a harvester the way to Lew House to see Madam Gould. A voice replied from the top of a rick of corn – ‘You’ve found her, I am Madam Gould’. An extremely spirited lady for her time!
‘Old Madam’s’ daughter Margaret married Charles Baring, a member of the Baring’s Bank Dynasty and of whom ‘Old Madam’ disapproved of due to his strange religious beliefs. She was determined that Margaret and Charles would never inherit Lewtrenchard, but it would go to their son, her grandson, William Baring, on the condition that he added ‘Gould’ to his name. (This is Sabine Baring-Gould’s grandfather).
‘Old Madam’ died by the fire in the front dining room, having refused to be put to bed, on 10th April 1796. It is said that when she died all the shutters blew open in the house and the ghost of ‘Old Madam’ was seen by a farm hand under a walnut tree in the grounds. Her spirit is still said to haunt the manor, walking the gallery and keeping an eye on the comings and goings in her house.
William Baring-Gould did indeed inherit the estate. He did not care much for Lewtrenchard; however lack of finance convinced him to take it on. Although his father was a rich banker, and William and his brothers could want for nothing, William was always short of money. William was a popular, kind-hearted and good looking fellow, nicknamed ‘The Adonis of Devon’ for his looks. William and his wife, Amelia (née Sabine), had six children, four daughters and two sons.
After making some unwise investments William and Amelia were forced to live at Lewtrenchard. They had to sell Amelia’s preferred residence, Ivy House in Teignmouth, where she was very much a ‘society’ lady.
Amelia’s brother, General Sir Edward Sabine, was an Arctic explorer, and President of the Royal Society. There is an interesting story about him, that upon leaving on an expedition he promised to marry a lady, but on his return several years later the lady in question had married another and had a daughter. Sir Edward swore that he would return in 14 years time to marry the daughter. This he did, but by now the daughter’s father had died, so the mother lived with them, in what must have been quite a strange and strained household. Sabine Baring-Gould was very fond of his great uncle and used him as a go-between when he fell out with his father.
William and Amelia’s younger son, William Drake went into the army and served in India. His memorial stone is in Lewtrenchard Church and there is some mystery surrounding his early death in India at the age of 33. It was reported that he died of fever, but there are persistent rumours that he was murdered for his attentions to a lady whom he loved.
Their oldest son, Edward (Sabine’s father), also known as ‘the Silver Poplar’ due to his very blond hair, married the daughter of Admiral Bond, Sophie Charlotte, and had a very lavish socialite wedding in Exeter. He also like his brother served his country, serving in the Madras Light Cavalry in the service of the East India Company. His portrait, of him in his uniform, is in reception.
When Edward was newly-wed, he was out in his carriage, or gig, when disaster struck. The gig turned on its side, and his companion fell on top of him, dislocating his hip. Unfortunately this prematurely ended his career in the East India Company. It was a terrible blow for Edward, who remained very restless ever after. He dragged Sophie, his three sons (Sabine, William and Edward) and daughter (Margaret) around Europe, travelling endlessly to wherever took his fancy. Unlike his much loved father, Edward was a man of steel. He insisted that his three sons should learn maths, so that they could become engineers – an employment that, by some accounts, Edward himself wished he had pursued. Only William became an engineer, however it is believed he had a nervous breakdown as a result. His son Sabine failed hopelessly in the mathematical department and even to his dying day he could not work out the simplest mathematics. Travelling around so much, meant that the children scraped together an education where they could, although they became bilingual, indeed Sabine spoke eight languages!
Edward inherited Lew House in 1846, upon the death of his father, William. Unfortunately, Edward also seemed to inherit his father’s dislike for the house. Eventually, after fifteen years of wandering, Edward brought his family back to Devon, although it is believed that they initially lived in the nearby Bratton Clovelly, perhaps whilst Lewtrenchard was being cleaned up, as it was in a bad state of repair. Edward started the beginnings of the house as we know it today. He seemed to be short of money at this period and spent much time starting many mining projects near the house. Many of these foundered early on. There is a lake in the grounds at Lewtrenchard now, which used to be an old quarry.
Sophie Charlotte died in 1863 from cancer of the jaw, possibly caused by her false teeth which were said to be made from rhino horns. Sabine was devoted to her; she had a very gentle personality and never complained about her husband, despite suffering intensely whilst they travelling. Sabine said that she had a spiritual sensitivity that enveloped her mind and soul, shirking from anything evil or unlovely. There is a portrait of Sophie with her young son Sabine at the top of the main staircase.
After Sophie’s death Edward re-married to a young woman called Lavinia Snow, who was almost the same age as Sabine, and had two more children with her; Arthur and Leila. She was a greatly loved step mother and was affectionately known locally as ‘Granny Ardoch’. She outlived Edward, who died in 1872, by many years as she was so much younger than him. Lavinia and Sabine were friends into old age, and he took great delight in playing many pranks on her over the years. The one that caused the most consternation was when Sabine sent a ‘hoax’ telegram to her, telling her that her “fat pony” was to be enlisted immediately to help with the war effort. After Edward had died, she chose not to move into the Dower House, but instead moved to a house in Lewdown that had a fine view of Brentor Church called Ardoch Lodge, hence the affectionate nickname. Her presence is said to be still felt within that house today.
Sabine was born in 1834. He was a complex character; likeable and unlikable, sensitive and insensitive, but with a good sense of humour. He showed great Christian compassion to those who needed help, however he elicited fear in his children and behaved roughly towards his sons. He ran a totalitarian state in his home, where only his wife could control him, up to a point.
When he was younger he decided wanted to go into the church. However his father, Edward, threatened to disinherit Sabine if he took Holy orders. After a strong battle of wills with Edward, Sabine finally managed to convince his parents that he was no mathematician, although he did have a paid teaching appointment at St John’s College, Hurstpierpoint, Sussex from 1857 until 1864. He also taught in the choir school at St Barnabas, Pimlico for a few weeks, when he had a falling out with his father. This was an unpaid post, but he really went there to spend time with the Rev. Lowder who was a leading light in the Catholic Revival of which Edward strongly disapproved.
After Sophie’s death, Edward relented and finally allowed Sabine to enter holy orders; however it was not until 1871 that Sabine was told by his father that he would inherit. A major factor in that decision was the deteriorating mental health of his younger brother William (Willy) to whom Edward had intended to leave the estate.
He took Holy Orders in 1864, and became the curate at Horbury Bridge, West Riding of Yorkshire. It was where he is believed to have composed ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ in order to encourage the parishioners to climb the steep hill to the church on Sundays. It was here that Sabine met and fell in love with Grace Taylor, a mill girl, who was then aged fourteen. His vicar, John Sharp, arranged for Grace to live with relatives in York to learn middle class manners. Baring-Gould, meanwhile, relocated to become perpetual curate at Dalton, near Thirsk. He and Grace were married in 1868 at Wakefield. Her portrait hangs in the back dining room. They had 15 children, all but one of whom lived to adulthood.
Sabine then became the rector of East Mersea in Essex in 1871 and spent ten years there. In 1872 his father died and he inherited the 3,000 acre family estates, which included the gift of the parson’s living of Lewtrenchard parish. But the house was leased for several years before Sabine moved here with his wife Grace and their children. From 1876 onwards Sabine commenced a programme of building works, restoring the manor. In September 1881 Sabine moved back to Lewtrenchard and was joined by Grace and the children in October. When the parson’s living became vacant in 1881, he was able to appoint himself to it, becoming parson as well as squire or as he called it – Squarson! He did a great deal of work restoring St Peter’s Church.
He also spent a great deal of time restoring Lewtrenchard and the building work wasn’t completed until 1913 By then he had virtually rebuilt the entire house, bringing into existence the Manor we see today. He acquired windows, panelling, ceilings and even the new front porch from other houses on the estate and from other buildings in the area that were being demolished and renovated at the time, as it was the Victorian age of innovation. Sabine loved anything old and hated to see such good craftsmanship just be thrown away. Whilst the Manor had been extended backwards in the days before ‘Old Madam’, Sabine and his father before him doubled the size of this extension. Sabine went on to add the Cloisters across the courtyard and the rooms above.
He had a strange relationship with his sons, possibly the shade of his own childhood with his harsh father casting its influence. When his sons were around the age of sixteen, he flung them out and told them to earn their own living. Two of them left England for America as it was considered a land of plentiful opportunities. Their descendants still live and work their today.
He also forced his will on his daughters and one was coerced into a loveless marriage; strangely inconsistent as he flouted convention in his own marriage to a mill girl.
Sabine had almost superhuman energy, writing late into the night, standing at his high desk. Sabine’s bibliography consists of more than 1240 publications, though this list continues to grow as many pieces have turned up over the years. He also compiled a collection of many folk songs from Devon and Cornwall. He collaborated with Cecil Sharp on English Folk Songs for Schools during 1907. This collection of 53 songs was widely used in British schools for the next 60 years.
When his wife died in 1916, he had carved on her tombstone the Latin motto Dimidium Animae Meae (“Half my Soul”). Sabine was heart-broken and never fully recovered from her death. His own health declined, his own ability to walk any distance was also lost and he died in January 1924 just a few days short of his 90th birthday.
In 1924, when Sabine died, the estate passed to Edward the eldest son, and a successful businessman, and his wife Marian. Although they had made their way in America and were living in Minneapolis in 1897, they returned to London for the birth of their two youngest children. They lived at Lewtrenchard from 1924 until Marian’s death in 1931, after this Edward lived in London until his death, as he was not really a countryman at heart.
The estate then passed to Sabine Linton Baring Gould, but as he lived and owned a business in America and Lewtrenchard was managed by trustees. The estate is now owned by his daughter Dr Merrial Almond, who plays an active part in Lewtrenchard’s day to day life, although she lives mainly in America.
In 1949, the Paynter family opened it as a hotel, as it remains to this day. In 1988, Sue and James Murray and their young family made Lewtrenchard their home and created the hotel it is today. The hotel now owned once again by the Murray family, after 9 years away, Lewtrenchard Manor continues to impress and inspire its guests.