A tour around Shilstone House in Devon Tuesday 13th March


Resident archaeologist Abi Gray, based with the Devonshire Rural Archive, was our guide around the house and grounds of Shilstone House in which grounds the Fenwick family set up and funded the DRA…which I have mentioned before and which is an amazing resource.

When owners Sebastian and Lucy Fenwick bought the property in 1997, Shilstone House was less than half the size it stands at today. Purchased as a rather rundown farmhouse reduced in size over many years from its former medieval glory, the Fenwicks had a vision of a Georgian house, but one with plenty of magic. What they did was to create a Georgian House which gave the appearance of historic development from the Tudor period onwards. So, both outside and within, you can see the Tudor style in one part of the house, flowing into early and later Georgian…all created with modern methods of construction….including breeze blocks and insulation for instance! The darker stone of the old farmhouse can be seen on the right of this pic…


and the house was developed around a small inner courtyard filled with flowers and scent


I must admit that I have always thought the building itself a little austere, and set into its hillside it seems to beckon damp and darkness, but not a bit of it. The inside of the house is full of light and an amazingly welcome space, and absolutely crammed with pictures including important originals (as you would expect with Lucy having been a Director of British Art for Sotheby’s!).


and the spaces are intimate and lived-in. Indeed it was made clear that this was a real family home used daily as a home should be, and not some impersonal shell (sorry NT….).


The library had a ‘secret’ hinged door loaded with books (just like our daughter Katherine’s in Edinburgh!).


and it goes without saying that original material was re-used wherever possible…..here for instance some of the three rooms-worth of Jacobean panelling with intricate carving has been painted over to lighten the whole aspect (and with the approval of English Heritage……).


and the views of Shilstone’s own gardens and estate are pretty good too….


Moving outside we saw on this wing the three ‘periods’ that had been created – from Tudor 1600 on the left through Early Georgian 1690 to Later Georgian 1730, the windows all changing to reflect the different styles.


We walked past some of the domestic buildings and then


into the walled garden which had a feature I had not seen before..a lowered wall on the South side to allow more sunshine and warmth into the interior…20180313_150128.jpg

The small banqueting tower was cute….20180313_150519.jpg

We then had chance to see the only known surviving example of a seventeenth century water theatre, which took place in the three-arched grotto seen here – above the series of ponds which were another feature of the grounds.


What struck most from our tour was the care and attention to detail of the Fenwicks and their craftsmen, and the delightfulness of the interior which was supremely welcoming. The nicest ‘modern’ house we have ever seen!!

On the way back through the beautiful South Hams countryside, we stopped briefly at Ermington so that I could take a picture of the extraordinary twisted steeple….I thought only Chesterfield had one. However, in Wikipedia there is a list of the twisted spires of Europe including seven in England.


When nearly home we stopped in a lay-by for me to take a picture of a feature we had often noticed….which seems to me to be rather like an ancient barrow. More investigation required.20180313_165653.jpg


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