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History of Old Forde House

"This historic building has provided hospitality for kings, queens, princes, princesses and numerous lords and ladies since the reign of Elizabeth I.

The house faces south overlooking an expanse of lawns. Part of the few acres that have been retained from the large estate in which it once stood.

Forde House is named after a ford in the Aller Brook which carried the road to Shaldon, St Marychurch and Aller, and lies within the ancient parish of Wolborough. Prior to the dissolution of the monasteries, Wolborough belonged to Torre Abbey and it is probable that Forde had been one of the Abbey's large granges which paid it tithes on its produce.

John Gaverock had been the Abbot's steward and for his services had received an annual salary of £3.00. Torre Abbey was dissolved in 1539, during the reign of Henry VIII, and soon after, in 1545, the King sold the manor of Wolborough to Gaverock and his wife for the sum of £592 14s 2d. When Gaverock became lord of the manor he set about building himself a new manorial home at Forde. The origin of the older building at the rear of the present Forde House is obscure, but it is probable that it is the house erected by John Gaverock after he acquired the manor in 1545.

John Gaverock's three daughters inherited Forde House and, towards the close of the sixteenth century, sold it to Richard Reynell of the Middle Temple, an eminent lawyer and officer in the Court of the Exchequer, a son of Richard Reynell, the lord of the adjoining manor of East Ogwell. He married Lucy Brandon whose father was sometime Chamberlain of the City of London. Soon after Richard and Lucy Reynell had acquired the manor they set about building themselves a fine new house at Forde.

The present house bears the date 1610 and is built in the shape of the letter E, commonly thought to be in honour of Queen Elizabeth 1, who had just died. It is, architecturally, a plain, substantial structure built of roughcasted stone in the Elizabethan style. The grounds once included a deer park which was later to disappear beneath the inroads of the railway; the area of Newton Abbot now known as Decoy did in fact include a decoy for trapping wildfowl.

The facade of Forde House is some 100 feet in length and has two gabled wings and another gabled projection, narrower, but carried up to the same height, which forms the entrance porch. the most striking external feature is the two ranges of square-headed windows, seven of the upper and six of the lower range. These windows are all uniform size and design, each being partitioned by mullions divided midway by a transom, all of massive stone.

The main features of interest inside the house are the finely carved panelling, the oaken staircase and the massive oak doors and, above all, the magnificent ceilings. All the front rooms, including the porch, have finely decorated plaster ceilings, with much renaissance ornament on them, the lower ones flat and the upper ones coved. Several of them are extremely beautiful. Perhaps the most chaste of all is the one in the dining room, where broad interlacing bands of leaf ornament enclose square and diamond shaped forms to cover the entire surface and frieze thirty inches in depth is studded with oblong panels within scalloped plate borders.

The arms of the Reynell family were formerly displayed above the entrance porch and can yet be seen in stained glass in the hall, together with those of later occupiers, Waller and Courtenay. In the drawing room, the arch above the southern window contains the sculptured arms of Reynell impaling Brandon, thus giving equal honour to both their families.

In 1622 Richard Reynell of Forde was knighted by James 1. In that year too a marriage was arranged between Sir William Waller, a man with a military reputation, and Jane, only daughter of Sir Richard and Lady Reynell; the marriage took place at Wolborough Church. Sir Richard died in 1634 at the age of 76 and is buried in the magnificent monument in the chancel at Wolborough Church together with Lady Lucy, who died in 1652, aged 74.

Lady Reynell was described by a nephew as 'religious and virtuous' and proof of this is the Widow's Almshouses which survive to this day in Newton Abbot and were founded by her as a refuge for four clergymen's widows. The conditions for a tenancy in these almshouses were laid down by their pious founder as follows:

'They shall be noe gadders, gosuppers, tatlers, talebearers, nor given to reproachful words, nor abusers of anye. And noe man may be lodged in anye of ye said houses; nor any beare, ale or wyne should be in anye of ye said houses.'

King Charles I visited Forde House in 1625, the year of his accession to the throne, on his way to Plymouth to inspect the fleet. The King's retinue began with Villiers, Duke of Buckingham and four other peers and ended with a jester. The King stayed overnight and enjoyed dinner which was probably laid in the hall. This was followed by a court which the King held in the dining room, where he knighted the host's nephews, Richard Reynell of West Ogwell and Mr Thomas Reynell, his brother, the Kings's own server; and also Mr John Yonge, eldest son of the diarist Walter Yonge.

The King returned to Forde some eight days later to stay for two nights. On both occasions the King slept in the first floor rooms adjoining the drawing room which was probably the Reynells' own bedroom. A list of the food supplied for the King's second visit was kept and reads as follows:

'A buck, a doe, a hunted tagge (a doe of a year old), a mutton, killed and dressed.
The fish consisted of 160 mullets, 42 whiting, 4 salmons, 7 peels, 7 dories, 21 plaice, 26 soles, 48 lobsters, 550 pilchards, etc.
Among the fowls and game, 69 partridges, 5 pheasants, 12 pullets, 14 capons, 112 chickens, 4 ducks, 6 geese, 37 turkeys, 69 pigeons, 92 rabbits, 1 barnacle, 1 hernshaw, 12 sea larks, 11 curlews, 258 larks, 1 heath pult, 2 nynnets, 6 seapyes, 1 stone curlew, 4 teals, 3 peahens, and 2 gulls.
6 oxen, 5 muttons, 2 and a half veals, besides several entries of ribs of beef, quarters of mutton, chines, tongues, sides of lamb, and a Westphalia gammon.
The liquor - 2 hogsheads of beer, one barrel of canary wine, and 35 quarts of white wine.
The entertainment cost of £55.5.0'

In 1646 Sir Thomas Fairfax, accompanied by his lieutenant-general, Oliver Cromwell, stayed at Forde House on their way to capture Dartmouth. Lady Reynell was approaching 70 years of age; we may surmise that the Parliamentarians were somewhat unwelcome guests at Forde, which twenty years previously had entertained a King. Lady Lucy was a churchwoman, in contrast to her son-in-law Sir William Waller who favoured the Presbyterians and sided with the cause of Parliament; he soon became a major-general and was successful in several important actions. Relations between mother and son-in-law at this time must have been somewhat strained.

The young heiress of Forde, only daughter of Jane Reynell and Sir William Waller, married Sir William Courtenay, lord of nearby Powderham Castle, in 1648, the estate thereby passing to the Courtenays. Margaret bore Sir William nineteen children and they seem to have resided chiefly at Forde.

It was in the year 1688 that William, Prince of Orange sailed from the Hague and landed at Brixham to lead his army to the capital. Two days after his arrival the Prince reached Newton Abbot. It was market day and the Prince's intention to become King of England was proclaimed for the first time, and the populace was addressed from St. Leonard's Tower in Wolborough Street, where the bells were afterwards rung in celebration.

Prince William proceeded to Forde House where he found that Sir William Courtenay was 'not at home'. Although the cautious Sir William had left instructions to his staff to provide food and accommodation for the Prince, he had decided not to welcome him personally. He supported the Prince's mission but reasoned that if he should fail, he should not find himself in a compromising position. Prince William stayed overnight at Forde House in the first floor room known ever since as the Orange Room.

During his stay the Prince's forces were stationed on nearby Milber Down and Aller Brake. His army numbered in all about 30,000 men and included cavalrymen in full armour and many foreign contingents, such as negroes, Finlanders and Swiss.

Margaret Lady Courtenay died in 1692 some four years after this last distinguished visitor and Sir William Courtenay in 1702. Both are buried at Wolborough where, however, there is no memorial to them. Forde House continued to be owned and used as a residence by succeeding generations of the Courtenay family until 1762 when the place was let.

In 1860 Forde House was let to Mr. J.W.Watts who held the office of High Sheriff of Devon in 1890 and died in 1904. Forde House was sold in 1936 and again in 1938 to the Sellick family when it became the base for an antique business and was thus used until 1978 when it was acquired by Teignbridge District Council who have undertaken the restoration of this famous house, and all its historic connections."

(Roger Jones, Librarian, Newton Abbot - 1980)

© - Teignbridge District Council, Forde House, Brunel Road, Newton Abbot, Devon TQ12 4XX