In June 1938. Ashley Courtenay, the resident hotel inspector for The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, visited ‘a new sporting hotel’, Knappe Cross in Exmouth, Devon, managed by Mr William Dedman and his wife Winifred.
“Driving up a narrow lane on the Honiton side of Exmouth you will come upon an imposing pair of park gates. It is a magnificent building designed in the best Tudor style by a famous architect, and its outside appearance, as it stands in its beautiful tree-girt grounds looking across the valley to the sea, a mile away, is truly impressive. Inside you will find rooms which are as magnificent in proportion as the outside of the building suggests.
“The furnishings are modern and very fine, but chosen to accord, perfectly with the natural dignity of the house. Every modern luxury of equipment, such as central heating and softened water, is here for your convenience, but the pleasant features of the more romantic periods of domestic architecture have been allowed to take their place.”
It was a new dawn for Knappe Cross, a country house that was completed in 1908 for Dr Ethelbert Petrie Hoyle (1861-1955) by architect William Ansell and built by Crediton builders, Dart and Francis. Hoyle was an American homeopathic doctor who was said to have enjoyed a generous income from investments in South African tin mines. It was a large house of red brick with stone dressings and clay tiled roof in Elizabethan style; an interesting design that attracted the interest of Architectural Review magazine.
In the end, Hoyle’s stay at Knappe Cross was short-lived. Shortly after moving in, tragedy struck when his son Michael died at birth, possibly casting a shadow over the mansion.
In 1910, Hoyle sold Knappe Cross to Augustus Arthur Perceval, 8th Earl of Egmont (1856-1910), whose family had been owners of Cowdray Park in Sussex which he had sold two years earlier. He was an interesting character. Born in Lancashire he had lived in New Zealand for a while, later becoming a naval cadet, a fireman and a caretaker at Chelsea Town Hall. Unfortunately, he died before taking possession of Knappe Cross, and it was his widow, Kate, daughter of Warwick Howell of South Carolina, who lived in the house.
By the 1920s the house was in the possession of Mr E. J. Spencer, passing in 1928 to George Ernest Wright of Pudleston Court, Hereford. He had been High Sheriff of Hereford in 1914 and was a director of the Lilleshall Company and John Wright and Co of Edgbaston in Birmingham. Wright died in 1933 and his wife, Matilda, stayed at Knappe Cross until her own death two years later.
Knappe Cross Devon Ltd was formed in 1938 as the holding company for the new hotel. However, the outbreak of war in 1939 meant it was an unfortunate and ill-fated move. There was little enthusiasm for a ‘sporting’ hotel and Mr and Mrs Dedman needed alternative revenue to keep the business solvent. Salvation came in 1941 when the Royal United Service Orphan Home for Girls (‘children of our brave sailors, soldiers and airmen’) moved from Devonport to the peace and quiet of Knappe Cross.
After the war the orphanage moved to the Army and Navy Villas at Newquay, in Cornwall, and Knappe Cross became a hotel again in 1946, this time under the management of Edgar Philip Jenkins. It became a convalescent home for the Post Office in 1952 and became a hotel again in 1981, before being converted into a nursing home, with a new wing added to the house in 1992.