Our Story

An Interesting History

Our Story2019-04-07T12:38:21+01:00

The history of Lewtrenchard Manor is rich and extensive

Our Story

Mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086AD as a royal manor owned by Rogerius de Mole, the property passed into the possession of the Trenchard family during the reign of Henry III. Silver coins from this time have been found in the walls and below the floors of the house. The Monks of Potheridge later owned the property but during the reign of James I, Sir Thomas Monk fell into financial difficulties and was put into a debtors’ prison in Exeter. He sold the estate to Henry Gould in 1626 and the manor has stayed within this family for many generations. Over the years, Lewtrenchard Manor became the home of some rather colourful members of the Gould family, some of whom are depicted in the portraits displayed in the house.

In the 19th Century, the Reverend Sabine Baring Gould, an author and poet who famously wrote the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers, inherited the property. It was he who transformed the house to the wonderful manor it is today.

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 is now owned once again by the Murray family after nine years away, and Lewtrenchard Manor continues to impress and inspire its guests.

The history of Lewtrenchard Manor or Lew House

1300s – 1600s

The history of Lewtrenchard Manor is rich and extensive. It was first mentioned as Lew House in the Doomsday Book in 1086AD as a Royal manor owned by the Sheriff of Devon. It was leased to one of his relatives, 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 Trenchard family took over. Although the Trenchard’s gave their name to the manor it was not their main estate. It is believed that their name comes from ‘Les Trenchen’ – the wood hewer.

The estate passed from the Trenchard’s to the Monk family from Potheridge through marriage in 1556. In 1623, Sir Thomas Monk fell into debt and ended up in Exeter jail and as a result Lewtrenchard was sold off to pay Thomas’ creditors.

His eldest son, George Monk, who would have inherited the Lew estate, was Admiral of the fleet and it was mainly due to George and his uncle, James Monk who was the Mayor of Exeter, that Charles II was restored to the throne after Cromwell’s death.  As Admiral of the fleet, George escorted 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.

1662 Lew House, built by Henry Gould

The Gould family

1600s – 1700s

The Gould family acquired the estate from the Monk’s in 1626 and Henry Gould built the beginnings of the house as we know it today. Henry Gould married Ann Wills and he had their initials carved in the over mantle of the fireplace in the front hall. They mostly lived at Floyer Hayes in Exeter until Henry’s death in 1636. Ann then moved to the Dower House of Lew which was built by her son Edward for her. It is thought 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 inherited by Henry and Ann’s third son Edward in 1667, after Henry, Ann and their two older sons has all died of the plague.

Edward Gould married Elizabeth Searle and they had two sons, Henry and William.

Henry married Elizabeth Leggatt and they had two daughters, Anne and Susannah.  Anne married well, but Henry did not approve of Susannah’s chosen groom, Peter Truscott, and refused to attend their wedding.  After the marriage on 6th October 1713, Susannah was alone walking back from the church to Lew House when 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 he inherited Lewtrenchard, as well as several other estates including Pridhamsleigh and Staverton upon his Uncle Henry’s death. William Drake Gould lived at Pridhamsleigh, but he demolished part of Lew House and altered Lew Mill Farm and the 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 so badly 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 local attorney John Dunning 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. Dunning produced one from his coat pocket and proceeded to show that there was no moon that night so therefore the witness 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 then died off.

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 responsible for extending the house backwards in 1770, producing a narrow dining area to the rear of the front dining room (originally the drawing room), which is now the back dining room. This continued into where the current back staircase is and connected to a corridor to the rear of the main bedroom on the first floor.

Old Madam was an extremely spirited lady for her time. Once Sir John Coleridge came to Lewtrenchard to see her 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!’

‘Old Madam’s’ daughter Margaret married Charles Baring, whose family was of the Baring’s Bank Dynasty. ‘Old Madam’ disapproved of Charles 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).

Henry Gould

Late 1700s – 1800s

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.

Her grandson 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, Diana Amelia (née Sabine), had six children; four daughters and two sons.

After making some unwise investments, William and Diana Amelia were forced to live at Lewtrenchard. They had to sell Diana Amelia’s preferred residence, Ivy House in Teignmouth, where she was very much a ‘society’ lady.

Diana 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 for an expedition he promised to marry a lady, but on his return several years later the lady in question had married another and now had a daughter. Sir Edward swore that he would return in 14 years time to marry the daughter. This he did, but by then 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.

There is a portrait of the Sabine family on the Gallery.

William and Diana Amelia’s younger son, William Gould 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, 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. He was known as ‘the Silver Poplar’ due to his very blond hair. He had a very lavish socialite wedding in Exeter, marrying Sophia Charlotte, the daughter of Admiral Bond. Edward also served his country, serving in the Madras Light Cavalry in the service of the East India Company. There is a portrait of him in his uniform in Reception.

When Edward was newlywed, disaster struck whilst he was out in his carriage one day. The carriage 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 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 were all bilingual – Sabine spoke eight languages!

Eventually, after fifteen years of wandering, Edward brought his family back to Devon. They initially lived in the nearby Bratton Clovelly 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 was short of money and started many mining projects near the house, many of which foundered early on. There is a lake in the grounds at Lewtrenchard which used to be an old lime quarry.

Sophia 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 Sophia’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. 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 Baring-Gould

1800s

Sabine was born in 1834 to Edward Baring-Gould and Sophia Charlotte. 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 young he decided that he 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. He instead had 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 in 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 Sophia’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.

Sabine took holy orders in 1864 and became the curate at Horbury Bridge in Yorkshire. It was where he composed ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ in order to encourage the parishioners to climb the steep hill to the church on Sundays. It was also 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. Sabine, 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 over the years and all but one 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 estate, 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 their children in October. When the parson’s living became vacant 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.

Photo from early 1890’s before the ballroom was built,

which shows the original west wing

Restoring Lewtrenchard

1900s

Sabine continued 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 houses that were being demolished and renovated at the time. Sabine loved anything old and hated to see good craftsmanship just be thrown away. Whilst the Manor had been extended backwards in the days before ‘Old Madam’, Sabine doubled the size of this extension, adding the Cloisters across the courtyard and the rooms above.

He had a strange relationship with his sons possibly 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 descendents 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 which is in the front hall. 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.

When Sabine died the estate passed to Edward, his eldest son, a successful businessman. Edward and his wife Marian had made their way in America and were living in Minneapolis in 1897, when 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, Lewtrenchard was managed by trustees. The estate is now owned by his daughter Dr Merriol Almond, who plays an active part at Lewtrenchard, although she lives mainly in America. In 1949, the Manor was first leased as a Hotel and remains so to this day.