Abbotskerswell Village Trail-ABBPAST
In 2012 AbbPast launched its first Village Trail, 'The Diamond Jubilee' Trail, which was a gentle stroll round the main part of the village; to coincide with the publication of our 'Abbotskerswell Village History Series' we launched a longer Parish Trail in 2016. It is called 'The Heritage Lottery Fund' Trail. The Trails only give brief details of each site, full detail is available in the four Abbotskerswell Village History Series publications.
The revised 'Diamond Jubilee' Trail is printed in 3. Religion & Education and the new 'HLF Trail' is in 4. Pubs, Clubs & Governance.
'THE DIAMOND JUBILEE' VILLAGE TRAIL
In 2012 AbbPast celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II with an exhibition, and the creation of a Village Trail. This is a good opportunity to reprint the Trail, with a few slight improvements since our knowledge of our village’s history is a little better now. A more detailed version appears on our website at www.abbpast.co.uk.
The Square c.1910
The fertile valley in which Abbotskerswell is sited has been used as a settlement since the Bronze Age, when the trees were cleared and agriculture began. The Saxons continued the village’s growth when Carsewell, meaning where water cress is grown, was divided in two; shared between the King and the Abbot of Horton (explaining the ‘Abbots’ in the medieaval name). William I’s Domesday Book of 1086 noted that ‘Carsuella’ had 200 acres of farmland, needing 6 ox-teams and had a population of 100, including 10 tenant villeins. In c.1300 a village of 250 people with many farms and a stone church had developed. By c.1600 many of today’s thatched cottages had been built, the orchards planted, and farming was thriving; in 1839 there were 10 farms in the village. In Abbotskerswell you will find all that is best in the typical Devon village.
As you walk around Abbotskerswell you will be part of a 3,000 year old story of human habitation and development, beginning with the valley that provides everything early settlers needed: water, wood, shelter and farming land. The buildings highlighted reflect some 600 years of that story and are many and varied.
The starting point of the Trail, at the Park, leads to the Ladywell (1) which is considered to be a sacred spring. This is probably because its existence gave rise to the village’s site; historically it has also been thought to have healing properties for eye infections. Walking back past Barnfield Terrace (2) shows how the modern village has evolved, these were its first Council Houses, built in 1928. Another modern feature of the village is The Village Hall (3) built in 1973 mainly with volunteer labour, it replaced the 16th century version. As you walk towards the centre of the village its real character begins to unfold and this is reflected with c.1600 thatched houses. Town Farm and Town Cottages (4) were originally open hearthed houses, made from cob (a mixture of mud, clay and straw) on a limestone base with a thatched roof.
Opposite Town Farm is Church House (5) which was built in 1524 on land given by the Abbot of Sherborne. It served as the village hall and bakery for over four centuries. Behind Church House stand The Parish Rooms (6), which were rebuilt in 1980 from the parish baths provided by Rev. Arthur Dence of Court Grange. Clearly visible now is the imposing Church of St Mary (7), built on a Saxon site it was rebuilt in stone in c.13th, reconstructed with a nave, a chancel with a tower and aisle added in c.15th; totally renovated by William Butterfield in 1884 in memory of Capt. Marcus Hare. The impressive village War Memorial is inside the church. As in many Devon villages the Church Farm was close to the church and in 1839 was the largest of the 10 farms in the village. Today it is The Court Farm Inn (8) created in 1973 after it ceased to be a farm. Much of its farmland went to provide sites for the extensive modern houses that have been built on this side of the village. The interesting architect Mervyn Seal designed houses (9) built in 1968 on lower Wilton Way providing an alternative approach to village vernacular architecture.
A short, but steep, footpath takes you to an important house in the history of Abbotskerswell, Court Grange (10). Built in 1865 by Mrs Marcus Hare, whose family was to play an important role for 60 years as village patrons and benefactors. It was given to the National Institute for the Blind in 1928 for a blind babies’ home and eventually became a school for the deaf in 1963. This closed in 1999 and today it is housing.
Returning to Wilton Way you will find the interesting Society of Friends burial ground (11) which was used by the local Quakers from the 18th century. A walk through the 1960s and 70s houses takes you onto Odle Hill, past Rock Cottage, built in Tudor times and onto Carse Mill (12) which probably was never a mill! Turning up the hill you will pass a number of fine buildings constructed for the wealthy of Abbotskerswell in 19th century: Odle Hill House (13) and Westbury were owned by the Palk family who were local farmers and butchers. Further up the hill you will find a large imposing house, Mallands (14) which was built by another important family, the Henleys. They developed a ‘cyder works’ which by 1884 was employing 20 men; the vets are in the original cider making building dating from 1791. The remains of the works are to be seen behind the house, now an industrial estate, developed when Whiteways left in 1965.
Returning down the hill you will pass an area that is steeped in the past. Prospect Cottage (15) is the only remaining thatched cottage from a group of c.17th workers cottages in this area of the village. Of the same era is Monks Thatch (16), which was formerly a large farm, it is splendid example of the ‘Devon Longhouse’ the home of a yeoman farmer. On the right is Yeoman’s Cottage (17) once a pair of c.17th worker’s cottages and on the left stands the impressive Abbotsford (18) built in c.1600 as a farmhouse and given a Georgian facade in c.18th.
The Village School (19) stands high above the road in the centre of the village; it is a good example of an 1870s ‘Board School’. Further down the road you will come to a group of houses called ‘The Model Cottages’ (20). Nos 1 and 2 are splendid examples of c.19th century ‘model’, or good example houses, built by an enlightened landlord to improve living conditions for workers. In the centre of Abbotskerswell is The Square (21), here the coronations of Edward VII and George V were both commemorated by the planting of trees in the middle of the road. Sadly the last one, a pink hawthorn, was demolished by a lorry in 1952 and now it is just a roundabout! There were once 3 shops here. Heading up Buckpitt’s Hill you pass the Old Post Office before turning into Vicarage Road to find the now redundant Wesleyan Chapel (22) used between 1851 and 1937, and the end of our Abbotskerswell Trail.
The Post Office c.1910
'THE HLF' PARISH VILLAGE TRAIL
An early 20th century outing leaves The Square.
The Trail is around 5½ miles long and takes about two hours to complete at a gentle pace.
Our Parish Trail begins in The Square (1) which was once the commercial centre of the village; Orchard Café was built in 1929 as a Co-op store, across the road was Fey & Elliotts shop (now The Staging Post) alongside The Old Post Office which was The Post Office throughout the 20th century. Begin to walk up ‘Buckpitt’s Hill’ but turn right along Vicarage Road, past the now forlorn Wesleyan Chapel which was open between 1851-1937, and you will see to a splendid house now called Glebe House on the right. This is the old Vicarage (2) which was built in 1837 because the old one was too small for the vicar, William Kitson, and his family. In a strange reversal it would eventually be sold in 1977, because it was too big for modern vicars. The house’s once extensive stabling and coach house have also been developed as a house. Return towards The Square, turn up the hill and your left is Court Cottage; this was formerly the Baptist Chapel (3). Abbotskerswell had both a Wesleyan and a Baptist Chapel by the mid-1800s, previously both groups had met in members’ houses until they had their own chapels. The Baptists converted a house given to them in 1838. It closed in 1907 reverting to a house, but there are still remains of biblical texts on the inner house walls.
Across the road is the splendid Heathcot (4) built in 1811 in the Regency style. This was the period of history when King George III was ‘mad’ and his son, George, acted as The Prince Regent. It was probably built by William Creed whose family would dominate the village scene for a 100 years and will appear again on the Parish Trail. Continue up the hill and on the left is a group of cottages known Rose Cottages (5); although often changed, they probably date from the C17th, and have provided housing for working families for centuries. The C19th bread ovens, well and privies still exist in their gardens. John ‘Babbacombe’ Lee (The Man They Couldn’t Hang) was probably born here. Across the road at the entrance to Manor Gardens is the imposing house that was once Manor Farm (6); it was built in the 1840s by the Creed Family who were substantial land owners. The Tithe of 1839 shows that its owner, William Creed junior, owned 111 acres of land in Abbotskerswell. This was the last working farm in the village becoming a housing development in the late C20th when the Buckpitts left after a 100 years at the farm.
At the road junction turn right up the hill along Priory Road (once known as Nunnery Lane). The first thatched cottage is Park View (7) which played an important part in village history. It was in this cottage that John Phillips of the Aller Vale Art Pottery held craft classes from 1885, and they continued until his death in 1897. In these classes local people were taught the skills of working in wood, copper, brass and iron as well as needlework and designs for pottery. Up to 25 would attend the classes and many found employment in his pottery works. As you walk up the hill notice the fine view south westerly across the village; walking on towards Kingskerswell you will pass The Priory (8) which between 1861 and 1983 was a St Augustine’s Priory for up to 50 nuns. This Roman Catholic order bought Abbotsleigh House in 1860 and the Priory buildings were designed by Joseph Hansom. The fine Victorian Gothic Church, now The Forum, is the centre of the site. The site was purchased by Clennon Developments who created an impressive retirement village, retaining all the original buildings. As you leave the site notice another fine late C19th house across the road, this is Maristowe.
Continuing down Priory Road you now have a splendid view of Aller Vale (9), if rather spoiled by the new road, this was a vital industrial area in the parish. The parish boundary included The Zigzag Quarry, which is clearly visible, and Aller Vale until boundary changes in 1984. At the bottom of the hill is the Turnpike Road (10) that ran from Newton Abbot to Kingswear. Built in 1765 a tollhouse stood on the corner of the road until recently, a boundary stone marks its site. The farm you can see on the Decoy Road is the original Langford Bridge Farm. Turning right you cross Langford Bridge, which is a listed mid-C19th road bridge, over the railway line and under the new road bridge of the South Devon Link Road (11) which links Newton Abbot to Torbay and opened in 2015. At the roundabout you look down onto the former Aller Barton Farm, now the Barn Owl and Aller Mills (SUPA Power Tools), an industrial site for over 200 years.
Follow the Stoneycombe road towards Kingskerswell church and just before Whitpot Mill turn right up the hill on to Foredown Lane. Carry on passed Foredown Farm and follow the road round over the new road and down the hill to the railway bridge. As you pass underneath the railway bridge you re-enter the parish; notice the narrowness of the bridge, reflecting the nature of the road traffic when it was built in 1847 for The South Devon Railway (12) as it extended the line from Newton Abbot to Totnes and Plymouth Laira in 1848. In 1876 the SDR amalgamated with the Great Western Railway. Here the line goes up the notorious Dainton Bank which took two steam locomotives to haul heavy trains to its summit. One consequence of the arrival of the railway was the creation of Stoneycombe Quarry (13); this is a limestone quarry which the GWR owned for many years. Limestone was quarried for roads, building and limemaking and was worked by the Stoneycombe Lime and Stone Company. The cottages near the next bridge are Maddacombe Terrace built in 1924 by the company for its workers.
At the Maddacombe road junction take the middle road and head up the hill towards Whiddon. On the left is Whiddon House (14), probably built in the 1830s by William Creed in the Regency style. The last Creed there died 1903, although the house was owned by their descendants, the Carrs, until 1949. On your right is Whiddon Lodge, built for the Creeds’ estate workers, and also Whiddon Farm (15). This was built by William Creed in the 1850s as the farm for their Whiddon estate land, and like the house, tenanted until 1949. As you walk towards Two Mile Oak you go over the Whiddon crossroad, with Whiddon Cottages just up the road towards Stoneyhill. Stoneyhill was built in the 1920s and 30s for the quarry workers. As you approach Two Mile Oak look right across the valley and you will see the ‘new’ Ruby Farm (16). It was established in the 1960s by Melva Purkis after he sold Court Farm and reused the name of the old farm in the village that became known as Monks Thatch. This farm was on the site of the Singmore barns and the farmhouse was probably built by Reginald Walters.
Two Mile Oak (17) is a community within the parish which features an inn from the C18th, a nice example of a 1960s service station (that was WaterMota’s first Devon site) and some splendid 1930s bungalows on both roads. Now turn right back towards the village and on the left is The Cricket Club (18). This was formed in 1898 by Rev. F Gordon Campbell and has existed ever since, playing at Berry Meadow (Grange Road is built on this pitch), then the Manor Road and now on this site since 1975. As you walk along the main road you come to Abbotshill (19) with Denbury Diesels, the site of another 1960s service station, and Abbotshill Park which was established in the 1960s by George Hutchings. Next are Hillside Cottages built in 1907 by village baker Tom Cann.
At Abbotskerswell Cross turn onto Manor Road and walk past The Old Cyder Works, originally Henley’s Cyder Works (20), which was run by the Henley family from 1791 until 1933, when Whiteways took it over until it closed in 1965. The Henleys lived at Mallands until the 1970s. WaterMota moved to the site from Two Mile Oak in 1965 and became the world’s largest marinisers of diesel engines in the world before they left for Heathfield in 2005. The site is now home to a variety of industrial units including the recently built Henley’s Business Park. Continue along Manor Road (21), past Old Barn, noting its cob built walls, and on the left is Higher Langford, built in the 1920s by Fred Croydon. On re-entering the village you will pass the bungalows of the ‘Manorforde Orchard’ development of the 1960s, the 1930s former council houses of Laburnum and Orchard Terraces, and the dramatic 1960s chalet bungalows until you reach The Manor House (22). This fine house, rather hidden from the road, was constructed by William Creed in c.1850. The Creeds had lived in the village since the early nineteenth century, as a sad memorial in the church tells us, when William and Elizabeth lost three of their children, presumably to disease, within the space of 5 days in 1809. His surviving sons, William and John, held key roles in Abbotskerswell life. It was the young William who built the house and his son William also lived there, as the last Creed, until 1897. His sister Susan Carr and her children owned The Manor until 1951. All the Creeds were involved in village life as churchwardens, Board School Managers and land owners.
A gentle stroll down the hill brings you back to the starting point in The Square.