This country house, described as “one of the finest houses in the South of England” was Anthony Salvin’s first major commission.
Mamhead House, in the Haldon Hills, Devon, is one of those country houses that hasn’t been able to find its identity in recent times. For many years we have known this Grade I-listed Tudor-Gothic property as Mamhead Park, and it has just been launched on the market at Strutt & Parker, price on application.
This is one of many houses that has stood on the estate. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the estate passed through several distinguished families. In 1547 it was bought by the Balle family. In 1672, Peter Balle, an attorney to Queen Henrietta Mara, was awarded a baronetcy for his services. Later, William of Orange billeted his supporters on the estate. It passed into the hands of the Earl of Lisburne who sold it to Robert William Newman, MP, in 1822.
Robert Newman was a senior partner of Newman and Co, general merchants of Dartmouth. Originally Hunt, Newman, Roope, Teague and Co, the company had buccaneered out to Newfoundland, and commenced selling salted codfish to Portugal in the 1500s, encountering wines of that country through bartering fish for wine. In time, the company built up its own shipping fleet.
When Robert Newman bought Mamhead Park for £106,000 the original house was built on low-ground, without the views across the Exe Estuary. He turned to Charles Fowler, an architect born in Cullompton and articled in Exeter, who produced several E-shaped plans for his client. Fowler probably intended to rebuild Mamhead Park on the site of the existing house. Alas, Newman rejected each plan, excited by new building styles and preferring a new house about 400 yards up a hill to the west of the old mansion.
Newman instead gambled on Anthony Salvin, an aspiring young architect, who grasped his first major commission. Built of mellow Bath stone, Salvin retained one of Fowler’s original ground plans into the design and construction commenced in 1827 and the shell completed by the following year. It was a slow-build. The new house was funded out of Newman’s income and its interiors weren’t completed until 1833.
Mamhead Park was a ‘marriage house’ for his new bride, Mary, and one befitting a man of his status. Robert Newman had become MP for Exeter in 1818 and became a baronet in 1836.
He was succeeded by his son, Captain. Sir Robert Lydston Newman, who was killed at the Battle of Inkerman in November 1854, and Mamhead passed to his brother, Sir Lydston Newman, whose son, a prominent churchman, was created Lord Mamhead in 1931.
He died unmarried in 1945, leaving life tenancy of the estate to his brother-in-law, Frederick Lumley.
On succeeding in 1948, Sir Ralph Newman, great-grandson of the first baronet, was able to buy back furnishings but eventually abandoned the idea of living on a grand scale.
In 1954, he sold the estate, but retained the house and 20 acres, choosing to let the fully furnished property to an evangelical organisation. Mamhead was sold to Dawlish College for Boys in 1963 and was acquired by a property company in 1988, who converted the house and stables into offices, at one time occupied by the Forestry Commission.
Mamhead Park returned to private use in 2000 and twelve years later was bought by a group of overseas investors, headed by Richard Fuller, for £8 million.
After considering various uses, including an ill-fated wedding business, the mansion is once again available to buy.
The sale also includes Grade II*-listed Mamhead Castle, also designed by Salvin as stables at the same time as the big house, a copy of a pele tower at 14th century Belsay Castle in Northumberland, and currently providing six office suites.