UPDATED, UNOFFICIAL LIST ENTRY FOR POLTIMORE HOUSE.
The 1980s entry in the List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest for Poltimore House is very much out of date for two reasons. Firstly the 1908 west range was destroyed by fire in 1987, after which the house was subsequently pillaged with many of its finer decorative elements stolen or now in store. Secondly, since the list entry was compiled, the house has been archaeologically examined alongside extensive documentary research and tree-ring dating. This work has enabled a much fuller understanding of the house’s architectural development. A revised and updated version of the list description incorporating this information has therefore been compiled by the Poltimore Estate Research Society in 2021and is set out below. This description is of course wholly non-statutory. It is hoped that a formal revision of the list entry will be carried out in the future.
SX 99 NE POLTIMORE
5/154 Poltimore House – first listed 11.11.52. NGR: SX9676796399
Mansion of the Bampfylde family (after 1831, Lords Poltimore). It has a complex architectural history commencing in mid C16, substantial alteration and additions in the early C18, internal and external remodelling c1837 and an added western range of 1908-10. The last was largely destroyed in an arson attack in 1987 and the house was subsequently pillaged with many of its finer decorative elements stolen or now in store . The house is now largely derelict although protected by a temporary roof supported on scaffolding. Since the list entry was compiled in the 1980s the house has been examined and researched by Keystone Historic Building Consultants and documentary research has been carried out by Professor Henry French. This work has enabled a much fuller understanding of the house’s architectural development. The house is oriented north-west to south-east but for the purposes of this description a north-south orientation is assumed.
An L-shaped Tudor section is incorporated in the rear and east ranges of a large mansion that has undergone considerable expansion, enclosing and ultimately almost completely filling an internal courtyard. This Tudor section of the house is dated by dendro analysis of the roof trusses to 1559 and comprises what is has been identified as the kitchen, hall and parlour of the Tudor house. Few internal details survive from this period although externally the north gables of the north range still contain mullioned windows of this date. This elevation was drawn by Edward Prideaux in 1716 and 1727. The kitchen is believed to have occupied what is now the central room of the north range where a very large fireplace was exposed in works in the mid C20. The parlour and hall (rooms cited in a will of 1593) are thought to be what subsequently became the dining room and saloon which occupy the majority of the east range. In the angle of the north and east ranges is a stair turret which is probably of this period but which was given a new stair in the early C18. There is documentary evidence that there was also a Tudor south range but this was entirely replaced in the early C18 by the existing south range erected by Sir Coplestone Warwick Bampfylde 3rd baronet in 1726/7 (dendro date and documentary evidence). Before C19 alteration this range contained a central entrance hall flanked on one side by a kitchen and on the other by a parlour, all cellared. Its elevation was drawn by Edward Prideaux in 1727. The west range containing more domestic accommodation was probably constructed shortly after the south range, although its archaeology is obscure as it was much rebuilt in the early C20. Its construction completed a quadrangle enclosing a courtyard. In the mid C18 the saloon was given a lavish decorative scheme with fine plasterwork, elaborate door cases, large pier glasses and a grand fire surround. Circa 1837 the house was given a makeover internally and externally to the designs of John Hayward who showed a water colour of the proposed exterior work at the Royal Academy. The principal rooms and the entrance hall in the south range were completely refurbished, both rooms being given pillared internal porches(although these may have been created later in the C19), while a grand imperial staircase with wrought iron balusters (stolen) was constructed at the rear of the entrance hall by building out a large ‘box’ into the courtyard . Externally a heavy pillared porch was added over the central entrance and the principal elevations were given a balustraded parapet carrying urn finials topping flat rendered pilasters. In 1872 an extension to the dining room on the east side of the east range was built to the designs of Benjamin Ferrey and it is likely that the L-shaped extension at the NW corner of the house was also constructed at this time. High panelled chimney stacks (now all removed) were also probably added then. In 1908-10, a new parallel range containing a ball room was attached along the length of the western range, doubling the latter’s depth. This was largely destroyed by fire in 1987 leaving only a shell. In 1908-10 the service buildings, which are largely freestanding on the north side of the house, were also rebuilt. These consist primarily of a long single-storey kitchen block, which has been recently refurbished, facing a now derelict range which contained a laundry and other service rooms. Immediately behind the house on its west side is a long single-story building clad in felt which was erected as a school chapel after 1923. The house was given up as a residence by the Bampfylde family in 1913 and was put up for sale in 1921. It failed to sell and was leased out in 1923 as a private girls boarding school, Poltimore College, until 1939. During WW2 it was occupied by Dover College. In 1945 it was bought by Dr Richard Fortesque-Foulkes and converted to a private hospital, which was subsequently acquired by the NHS in 1962. The NHS sold it in 1975 and it became a residential home which failed in 1987, leaving the building empty, at which point it was vandalised and many of its fittings stolen. It is now owned by a trust with the ambition of repairing it for a new use.
Historical note: the treaty for the surrender of Exeter to Parliament (April 1646) was negotiated at Poltimore House.
The whole building is constructed of stuccoed rubble, all painted white including the masonry stonework details. Slate hipped roofs. Late C17 or C18 rainwater heads to main ranges. The whole of the parapet has been covered in bitumen as has much of the slating. The outbuildings to the north of the house are partly constructed of red sandstone rubble and partly of red brick; the rear and north gable walls of the kitchen block are rendered.
2 storeys and attic throughout with the single-storey exceptions of the rear service range, the dining room extension and the school chapel.
South Front. The original 11-bay front remains much as it appears in Edmund Prideaux’ drawing of 1727. Central 3 bays project slightly. All corners with rusticated quoins; pilasters (C19 additions) mark each bay; plat band, moulded cornice and parapet. 9 dormer windows just visible above parapet; no longer gabled as in Prideaux drawing. 2 axial stacks. All stacks are rendered, truncated and capped. Original entrance arrangement has lost its architrave and is obscured by porch of 1837 with 2 Doric columns in antis. Studded double doors each with central handle roundel under segmental fanlight. At the left end of the front range is a 2-bay addition of 1908-10, set back slightly, its parapet marginally higher, also treated with rusticated quoins. This is now only a shell following a fire. All windows with timber hornless sashes, 9 panes above 9 panes to each window above, the lower window sashes with 2 panes and margin panes.
East Front: 7 bays, similar design as front range and of the same date, masking the Tudor core. Ground-floor windows 2 panes to each sash, plus margin panes; first floor windows four panes over four. Rusticated quoins, 2 blocked windows at ground floor south end. 6th and 7th bays occupied by a flat-roofed, balustraded C19 single-storey extension, with two sash windows in its east elevation and a sash window in both ends.
North (rear) Front: Eastern half contains 3 separately gabled Tudor bays over a 7 window range of sash windows in ground and first floors, sashes hornless, 2 with 12 panes to each sash; 2 with 12 above, 8 below; 4 with 6 per sash. Original 3-light 4-centred headed windows remain in gables, stone jambs and mullions with cavetto mouldings, some lights retaining leaded panes, 28 to each light in the left-hand gable, 8 to the others, all with cames. To the right of the gabled Tudor range the western half of the elevation breaks forward slightly and is continued under a parapet; it contains three further sash windows on the first floor, the right-hand one narrow , the others 8 over 6 panes and 6 over 6 panes per sash. A low single storey wing (not described here) containing service rooms projects north from this section. This links to a derelict two-storey house (not described here) attached to the laundry building (q.v.). At right hand end of this section is a rear doorway to the house and steps down to the cellars in the angle formed by a two-storey wing with a hipped roof projecting to the north here. This has a rubble ground floor under a rendered first floor with two first floor sash windows in its east elevation and a single one in its north elevation, all 4 panes per sash. This wing is continued to the west by another 2 storey wing also ending in hipped roof and which projects beyond the line of the derelict outer west range which appears to have been built up against it. The ground floor of the north elevation of this wing facing the kitchen yard is fronted is single story brick and slated lean-to section containing three sash windows each sash with 2 panes. The brickwork of this section is bonded into that of the abutting kitchen range.
West Front: This front is now roofless following a fire. The roof was independent of the main roof, separated by a valley and hipped at its south end, gabled at its north end. The front has 7 bays which still contain the remains of sash windows (6 panes to each sash). Its parapet matches that of the south front. The north end of this range abuts the hipped end block which completes on the west the north range of the house. This block projects forward from the line of the west range and the projection is fronted by a rusticated pilaster. It has two sash windows in its west elevation on the first floor and three blocked windows below. The latter face into a small walled courtyard with rusticated round arched entrances north and south and rusticated quoins .
C19 outbuildings north of house include the single story kitchen range to the west of the laundry range . The former has seven sash windows on its east side each under its own gablet incorporating decorative timber bracing and decorative bargeboards. The gable ends of this block have projecting eaves supported on decorative timber bracing and with scalloped and fretted bargeboards. The gable walls have flat rusticated pilasters. The derelict laundry block opposite has a similar decorative gable facing west.
Internal courtyard: internal elevation of Tudor north range: one 3-light window (as those in north elevation) in a rear gable with mullions and transoms; two more visible at first floor level, part of C17 mullion and transom window at ground floor level. Angle stair-turret in north-east corner, probably C16 but altered in late C17, polygonal, with two 3-light stone sunken-chamfer mullioned windows to basement, 1 to ground floor, 2 to first floor and 3 to attic; 10 leaded panes per light with cames.
Interior Ground floor : (described in clockwise order starting with dining room in north-east corner).
Dining room: mid C18 fire surround with central mask between floral swags, eared architraves and side volutes removed revealing hacked-back C16 Beerstone fire surround with strapwork ornament. Dining room extension to east (1872) has remains of copy of C17 plaster ceiling lost from dining room. On wall in corridor section between dining room and saloon are plaster C18 swags.
Rococo salon, perhaps of the 1740s, occupies central 3 bays of right-hand (east) side, possibly occupying the site of the Tudor Hall, has an interior of high quality: modillioned cornice, ceiling with central sunburst (containing face, perhaps of Apollo), with foliage surround with swirls and herons; oval wall mirrors between windows with foliage and heads; end panelled doors with moulded architraves and broken pediment(removed), west side doors similarly treated but with no pediment (removed); 2 large mirrors to inner walls with festoons and cherubs’ heads; white marble chimney piece with wooden surround on scrolled brackets with centrally placed hound’s head (removed) .
Red drawing room: (east of entrance hall), with late C19 Adam decorative style plaster and woodwork detailing and ceiling with roundels and corner panels containing classical scenes. 2 fluted columns forming internal porch; moulded cornice; (late C18 marble fire surround with fluted half columns removed).
Entrance Hall: 1837 Hall entered through C18 door with fanlight; 2 rows of Ionic columns stand at foot of Imperial stairs with metal openwork balusters now stolen. Corinthian columns and pilasters to landing above.
Library to west of entrance hall less elaborate with 2 composite columns forming an internal porch, and marble fire surround with large consoles and central female classical head (now removed).
Other interior features: Tudor-arched stone door surrounds chamfered with pedestal stops survive, one at the base and two at the head of the turret stair. C16 roof trusses survive over the north and east ranges ; these are tie-beam trusses with clasped purlins. Internal Original C18 roof to south range survives (Mercer). A large, damaged Tudor arched fire surround has been exposed in the hall chamber. The first floor has a few doors of early C18 type remaining but most of the joinery is C19 and much of it has been removed. The stair turret contains an open-well closed-string staircase running through 3 floors from basement to attic: square-profile newels with moulded caps surmounted by balls, and pendants, with turned balusters.
Before being burnt out, the 1908 Ball Room and other principal rooms in the west rang had neo-classical detailing which was elaborate in the Ball Room itself with a rich plaster cornice and where there was an C18 reused marble fire surround.
Eric Mercer (RCHM), 1978. Photographs in Historic England Archive.
Historic England: Poltimore House, Poltimore, Devon: Dendrochronology Dating File EHC01/216/2145 2005
J Fortescue-Foulkes: From Celtic Settlement to 20th Century Hospital. The Story of Poltimore House (1971).
Jocelyn Hemming: A Devon House: The Story of Poltimore (2005).
Jocelyn Hemming : The House that Richard Built. Six Centuries at Poltimore House (2013)
Jocelyn Hemming: A Rococo Masterpiece. The Saloon at Poltimore House (2017)
National Archives C11/322/10 Bampfylde v. Bampfylde, 172 (Contractual dispute of 1727/8 with the builder Moyle)