1000 Years of History

Tawstock Court is steeped in a thousand years of history. We have been visited by a King and a famous English Civil War General took over the house after a famous battle. 

The Tawstock Estate

The Tawstock Estate was mentioned originally in the Domesday Book. There has been a manor house at Tawstock Court since the late 13th century. The name ‘court’ derives from the fact that the lord’s manor was the administrative and judicial center, not just for Tawstock but for other manors over which it had jurisdiction.

The size or description of the above manor house at this time is unknown but it would have been an altogether smaller affair than the 1740 painting of Tawstock Court which was probably commissioned by Sir Bourchier Wrey, 6th Baronet.

The mansion in the picture was described as ‘the largest and best finished in the county’. It occupied an imposing site over the River Taw and Codden Hill with formal lawns and gardens extending down the hill towards the church. A pathway was accessed through the gardens towards the church through the pillared gateway and into the church.

This manor house in the picture was almost completed destroyed by fire on 10th November 1787.

Parks were a common feature of medieval manors and the earliest mention of a park at Tawstock is in the 1326 accounts. In the 16th Century it was a deer park for Barnstaple. It was noted ‘a fat buck’ would be donated to the Mayor by the Earl of Bath. It was dis-parked in 1733 and the land rented out to various tenants.

At its height, Tawstock Court estate had between 7,000 and 8,000 acres and 3 watermills. The name ‘Tawstock’ literally means ‘a place associated with water meadows on or near the River Taw’

A Glimpse into Tawstock Court’s History

After the Norman conquest large grants of land in Devon and Somerset were gifted by William the Conqueror to his supporters as a reward for their loyalty. One such follower was Geoffrey de Mowbrey who was rewarded with the estate of Tawstock Court. After his death his heir and nephew, Robert de Mowbrey inherited Tawstock Court but he was involved in an unsuccessful rebellion against William II. As a consequence, Tawstock Court was forfeited back to the crown and remained so until William II’s brother, Henry I, awarded Tawstock Court to Lord Judhel of Totnes.  Lord Judhel died without issue and Tawstock Court passed through the hands of many prominent families such as De Tracy, Fitzmartin, Audley and Fitzwarin, some names which are on the shields in the Study.

The Bourchier family made their home at Tawstock Court in the late 15th Century.

Key Points in the Bourchier Wrey Family History

  • John Bourchier (1470 – 1539) became the 1st Earl of Bath in 1536 during the reign of Henry VIII.
  • William Bourchier, 3rd Earl of Bath built the Elizabethan mansion – only the gatehouse dated 1574 still remains today having survived the fire of 1787.
  • The Wrey family were royalist supporters during the civil war and in 1644 Sir Chichester Wrey was imprisoned for 20 weeks in the Tower of London for his part in supporting the royalists.
  • In 1654 the title ‘Earl of Bath’ became extinct with no more male Bourchier heirs and Tawstock Court passed down to his cousin’s daughter, Lady Anne Bourchier who later married Sir Chichester Wrey, 3rd Baronet creating the Bourchier Wrey lineage.
  • The picture on the right shows the Bourchier Wrey family crest. The Bourchier Motto ‘Le Bon Temps Viendra’ means ‘The Right Time Will Come’
  • Sir Bourchier Wrey, 7th Baronet, rebuilt Tawstock Court in 1789 in a gothic style after the great fire of 1787 where he enlisted the help of the architect Sir John Soane. Many of his architectural drawings still exist in his London museum.
  • Sir Henry Bourchier Toke Wrey, 10th Baronet, made substantial changes to Tawstock Court, most notably the two wings forming a long courtyard with terracotta mullioned windows believed to have been made at Lauder & Smiths Barnstaple pottery. He also built the gatehouse to close off the courtyard, date 1885 above the arched gateway.
  • Sir Robert Bourchier Sherrard Wrey, 11th Baronet, was the last to live at Tawstock Court until 1917 and moved to Corffe having let Tawstock Court to various people including Sir Basil Peto, MP.
  • Rev. Sir Albany Bourchier Sherrard Wrey, 13th Baronet let Tawstock Court to St. Michaels Prep School in 1940 which had moved from Uckfield in Sussex due to the bombing in WW2.
  • Sir Castel Richard Bourchier Wrey, 14th Baronet, eventually sold Tawstock Court to St. Michaels School in the 1970s.

English Civil War

Tawstock Court has an interesting role in the English Civil War. During the conflict the future Charles II visited Tawstock Court before going into hiding. After the Battle of Torrington the Parliamentarian General Fairfax visited Tawstock Court and used it as a headquarters.

We have heard rumours from past pupils that during WWII lots of Parliamentarian armour was found in the old barn and was melted down as part of the war effort. We do not have any way of substantiating this but if true it make’s Tawstock Court’s history all the more interesting. 

Sir John Soane’s Lantern

One of the centrepieces of Tawstock Court is a Sir John Soane’s designed stairwell. Soane was a famed architect and visited Tawstock Court on the 11 February 1789. His main role was designing the lantern and some of the reception rooms at the front of the house. It’s part of the amazing history of Tawstock Court and you can view plans here.

Tawstock New Lantern
Tawstock Old Lantern