On entering Lewtrenchard Manor (sometimes referred to as Lew Trenchard) you’d be forgiven for thinking that you’ve taken a step back in time. The magnificent Jacobean manor exudes an aura of calm and tranquility that’s rare to find in our breakneck paced modern world. Looks can be deceiving however, as much of the property is in fact a romanticised Victorian reconstruction by the late Rev. Sabine Baring Gould.
The stately home is steeped in history and is now open for everyone to enjoy. The property is currently a family-run hotel that has a warm friendly vibe, with roaring log fires and oak panelled rooms, the perfect environment to sample locally sourced cuisine. If you wish to see rates and availability for the hotel, check here.
Early History of Lew Trenchard Manor (formerly Lew House) to the 17th Century
The property was first mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) as a royal manor and leased to Roger de Molis (de Moels or Moles), a relative of the Sheriff of Devon. Just over a century later, during the reign of Henry III, the estate came into the possession of the Trenchard family from where the present day name arises.
During the early 17th century the then owner, Sir Thomas Monck of Potheridge, was forced to sell the estate along with a number of others he owned, due to a series of catastrophic financial decisions that had led to his imprisonment in the Debtor’s prison at Exeter.
In 1626, he was approached by an Exeter merchant, William Gould, who offered to clear his debts as long as he agreed to a number of conditions including the sale of the Lew Estate. Monck died in prison before the transaction was finalised but, Gould ended up with the Lew Trenchard Estate and constructed the house that is in situ today. It’s believed that an earlier Manor House once stood where the Dower House is built.
Gould’s eldest surviving son, George Monck (1608-1670), lost out on his inheritance, but later became a key player in restoring King Charles II to the throne in 1660 and was subsequently made Duke of Albermarle.
18th century Lew House and Margaret ‘Old Madam’ Gould (c.1711-1795)
Margaret Belfield married William Drake Gould in 1740 and had two children. Edward, a lifelong bachelor and profligate rake who died without issue and a daughter, also called Margaret who married Charles Baring, of the banking dynasty.
After the death of her son at the age of 47, Margaret took hold of the financial reins, or what was left of them. Her son’s gambling debts had taken much of the family’s Staverton Estate and so she moved to Lew House.
On discovering that Charles Baring and his wife went to a Meeting House, rather than a traditional Anglican Church the feisty Old Madam was appalled and disinherited him in lieu of his son – William. Remember that at this point in history a woman once married owned nothing. Absolutely everything that she had became her husband’s post marriage.
Sabine Baring Gould, in his Early Reminiscences 1834-1864 writes:
“Mr Baring, never, so long as I live, shall you set foot in Lew House. A pony and groom, a seat at my table, and a pew in the parish church and a bedroom shall be entirely and heartily at the disposal of my grandson, William. To him I will bequeath the estate. No it to you.”
and she kept her word!
It’s said that she still keeps an eye out on Lew House and her spirit is said to frequent the first floor Gallery….
William Gould (Baring-Gould) (1770-1846)
There was just one proviso before William could inherit Lewtrenchard and was that Margaret had insisted that the Gould surname be added to that of Baring thus creating a double barrelled name. And so, his name was legally changed in 1795 by Royal Licence shortly after her death.
William was by all accounts a personable charming person, but unlike his other family members, not particularly good with money. He and his wife Diana Amelia Sabine moved to Lew House , but not before a series of poor financial investments forced them to sell their preferred abode, Ivy House, in Teignmouth.
During their tenure little improvements were carried out due to lack of funds.
(Picture above shows a portrait of Diana Sabine’s ancestors in the Gallery)
The Early Years of Sabine Baring Gould (1834-1881)
The Lew Trenchard Manor that we see today is largely a creation of Sabine Baring-Gould, the grandson of William and Diana. He was born in Exeter and christened Sabine after his grandmother’s family.
At the age of thirty he was ordained and became the curate at Horbury Bridge in the West Riding of Yorkshire. It’s here that he met his future wife, Grace Taylor, who was the daughter of a mill hand and just fourteen years of age.
He married her four years later in 1868, once she turned eighteen, after having sent her away to be educated. It’s said that he may have been the inspiration for the play Pygmalion written by his friend, George Bernard Shaw.
Sabine and Grace were married for forty-eight years and had fifteen children, all of them bar one reached their majority.
Onward Christian Soldiers
Sabine Baring-Gould is probably best known for the words of his famous hymn Onward Christian Soldiers. However, he was accomplished in so many other fields that just listing them out makes you feel exhausted! There are over twelve hundred known publications by Baring-Gould and potentially more to still be rediscovered.
Apart from being a theologian, hymn writer and hagiologist – producing a 16 volume Lives of the Saints, he was also a prolific novelist. One of his earliest and arguably best novel is Mehalah: a Story of the Salt Marshes. Hard to imagine the gritty novel being written by the same hand that penned hymns and Lives of the Saints !
Saving the Old Folk Songs for Posterity
Out of all his prolific and diverse achievements, it was his compilation of numerous folk songs from around Britain, in particular Songs of the West (Folk Songs of Devon & Cornwall Collected from the Mouths of thePeople), that Baring-Gould felt was his piece de resistance. A letter from Henry Fleetwood-Sheppard that is pasted into Gould’s own journal reinforces this sentiment:
Dec 7 1897
My Dear Baring-Gould
I quite feel with you about S of W(Songs of the West). Whether the world endorse your opinion that it is you magnum opus I cannot say. You have done so much and in so many ways. But it certainly has a special value…when the time shall come for the whole question of English Folksong to be scientifically, comparatively and critically examined – then the worth of S of W will be felt.
Sabine Baring- Gould had realised that many of the old folk songs and ballads were being lost through time as they were just learned aurally rather than set down on paper. His intention was to keep the songs, ballads and just as importantly, the traditions and folklore from which they had sprung, alive for future generations. He did this by meeting with numerous old singers and writing down the lyrics of the songs whilst two musicians, Henry Fleetwood-Sheppard and Frederick Bussell transcribed the music they heard onto manuscript.
Archaeology and Dartmoor
With his passion for history, and Dartmoor, with a plethora of prehistoric monuments quite literally on his doorstep, it’s no wonder that the indomitable Baring-Gould was also a keen archaeologist. He wrote a number of books upon the subject, including A Book of Dartmoor (published in 1900).
Along with Robert Bernard he was instrumental in organising the first archaeologically based excavations of the numerous hut circles at Grimspound as well as many other sites around Dartmoor.
Lew Trenchard Estate and Sabine Baring-Gould
Upon the death of his father, in 1872, Baring-Gould finally inherited the 3,000 acre Lew Trenchard Estate and was ready to fulfill his lifelong aspirations that he mentions in his memoirs Early Reminiscences:
“…when I was a boy of seventeen I formed my purposes, and from their accomplishment I have never deviated.”
These aspirations were to restore the Church at Lew Trenchard, become its Rector and also renovate Lew House.
The Manor had been leased, and so he and his family continued to live in East Mersea, Essex, where he had been appointed rector the previous year. In 1876, he finally started the restoration and rebuilding project of Lew House which was in a pretty dilapidated state of disrepair and finally moved in with his family in 1881.
The refurbishment of both Manor and St. Peter’s Church, of which he became Rector in 1881, would continue intermittently right through to 1913.
Lew House Restoration and Refurbishment
Pevsner perhaps best describes the refurbishment of Lew House:
“An attractive but not specially Devonian house. It is indeed not the genuine article but an intriguing confection by Sabine Baring-Gould.”
The attractive porch with Tuscan columns and a date of 1620 looks an intrinsic part of the building but was in fact stripped from the property “Orchard Farmhouse” (now Orchard Barton) in the nearby village of Thrushelton. Baring-Gould also removed many other features from the farmhouse to add to Lew Manor including a number of the granite mullioned windows.
The spacious ballroom, where nowadays, weddings take place on a regular basis, was a large late 19th century addition to the property. This time the magnificent ornate overmantel was brought from rather further afield than the porch – namely Germany.
The majority of the heavily ornate ceilings are Victorian neo-Jacobean creations including that of the Gallery on the first floor. However, the Gallery also incorporates parts of an early original 17th century ceiling taken from a house known as No. 38 North Street in Exeter.
Just like the plasterwork ceilings, the oak panelling is a complete medley of original Jacobean work and that of late Victorian reproduction. The atmospheric painted panelled front Dining Room also known as the Parlour is a brilliant Baring-Gould reproduction.
The paintings of the Virtues and other allegorical figures are painted by none other than one of Baring-Gould’s own daughters, Margaret Rowe, who also painted the Rood Screen in Lew Trenchard Church.
Sabine Baring-Gould juxtaposed a huge number of eclectic features and additions to the original building, both within and without. In spite of this, he managed to create something extraordinary, an incredibly romanticised late 19th century version of Jacobean history – a sumptuous, but cosy Stately Home, which in itself is a total oxymoron. Yet another item to his already prolific legacy.
LYDFORD – Once an important Saxon settlement and home to a Castle that was the earliest purpose built prison in Britain. Today, you can visit the castle for free and wander among the pretty cottages that make up the village. There’s also a small pub in the village which serves local ales and beers.
WHEAL BETSY – The engine house is all that is left of a once prosperous tin mine and is the last of its kind to be seen on Dartmoor.
BRENTOR – The minute 13th century Church of St. Michael is perched atop Brentor and can be seen for miles around. Only reachable via foot from the small car park located below the ecclesiastical building, the church is free to visit and well worth a meander around.
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