Category Archives: DEVON

KNAPPE CROSS

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.

Knappe Cross - The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - Jun 3 1938 - BNA
Knappe Cross. Designed by William Ansell, a member of the Arts Workers Guild of which he was master in 1944. It was described in 1909 as… ‘extremely simple, projecting mouldings being avoided and good material and proportions being relied upon for effect.’ Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

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.”

E Petrie Hoyle - Sue Young Histories
Dr Ethelbert Petrie Hoyle (1861-1955). Image: Sue Young Histories.

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.

Knappe Cross - The Country Houses of Devon
Knappe Cross. Designed in 1908 by William Ansell and built by Dart and Francis of Crediton. Ansell later became President of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Image: The Country Houses of Devon.

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.

Knappe Cross - Western Morning News - 9 Oct 1926 - BNA
Sale notice from October 1926. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

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.

Knappe Cross - Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News - 15 Apr 1938 -BNA
Knappe Cross Hotel opened in 1938. This advertisement from the same year appeared in newspapers across the country. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

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.

OLDWAY

Built by the Singer family to take advantage of Devon’s mild climate and cosmopolitan society. One hundred years after use as a military hospital it faces an uncertain future.

Oldway Mansion - The Victorian Society
The tradition for building large villas in the hills overlooking Torbay began in the late 18th century. Image: The Victorian Society.

On the day that The Victorian Society has released their Top 10 Endangered Buildings List 2018, we take a look at Oldway Mansion at Paignton, the only country house to feature on this year’s listing.

One hundred years ago, life at Oldway was very different, if not more traumatic. American women were rendering generous and greatly appreciated help here to the wounded Allies’ forces, the house renamed as the American War Hospital. It was one of the finest and best-equipped in the whole range of Red Cross undertakings. Mr Paris Singer, who was well known as a skilful aviator, had given over his palatial residence with its hundreds of rooms and beautiful grounds, an ideal home for the wounded. Dr Penhallow was the chief surgeon, and a staff of over a hundred and fifty nurses carried on the work under Colonel Gunning.

Oldway - The Illustrated War News - Jan 3 1917 - BNA
Paris Singer rebuilt Oldway between 1897 and 1910. Four years later, he converted the mansion into a military hospital, after which he never lived here again. He departed for America where he developed the resort of Palm Beach. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

This glorious house of 1873 was built by George Bridgman as a private residence for Isaac Merritt Singer, founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company, and later rebuilt by his third son, Paris Singer, in the style of the Palace of Versailles. Following the end of an affair with dancer Isadora Duncan in 1917, Paris Singer went to live in the United States. Oldway Mansion became the Torbay Golf & Country Club in 1929 and was bought by Paignton Urban District Council in 1946.

Oldway - The Illustrated War News - Jun 3 1917 - BNA (2)
From The Illustrated War News. January 1917. The wounded soldiers seen in this photograph were enjoying a came of cards on the terrace of Oldway. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.
Oldway - The Illustrated War News - Jan 3 1917 - BNA (1)
From The Illustrated War News. January 1917. Oldway, at Paignton in Devon, was being used as the American War Hospital. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Following many different functions during the later 20th century, it was used as council offices from 1946 until 2007 when the council announced its intention to sell the building as it had become too expensive to maintain. This proved controversial with residents who wished it to continue being a public space. In 2012, plans for the building to be converted into a luxury hotel and sheltered retirement flats were approved by the council, but works never started. In 2016 there emerged a legal dispute between the developers and the council over the leases, which developers claimed had caused the delay on the redevelopment. This heated legal dispute ultimately brought an end to the planned development, leaving the council once again with the issue of how to proceed with the empty listed building.