The Crootes were one of mid-Devons’s oldest families. A George Crowte was living in Lapford in the 1620’s.
In the nineteenth century the family were land agents representing, amomgst others one of the areas largest land owners, The Earl of Portmouth. The offices of Croote and Son were based in Lapford. In the 1820’s William Croote bought Lapford Mill (above) including the and the family owned. The family aquired some 208 acres of land in Lapford and numerous properties which were sold off in an auction at The Malt Scoop Inn in 1910.
The family were known for their generosity to the residents of Lapford. Money was distributed to the poor of the village through at least two charities—
- The Croote-Kelland Charity distributed money in every alternative year for the benefit of the poor of Lapford in clothes linen, fuel, tools, medication, food or temporary relief in money in the case of “unexpected loss, urgent distress or sudden destitution”.
- The William Croote Charity distributed to the poor of Lapford each Christmas.
William Croote (1776-1865)
William was born at North Tawton but moved to Lapford where he established the land agency business. He aquired Lapford Mill from the Gater family in about 1820. By 1840 he owned some 183 acres of land and property in Lapford. He lived for many years at “High Mills” (possibly Lowerfield house?)
William was principle land agents for the Earl of Portsmouth. This role involved administering the Earl’s daily affairs, overseeing the farming of his lands and collecting his rents. It was a well paid role.
In 1848 he donated the land for the building of Lapford Congregational Chapel and allowed a property in the cente of the village to be used rent free as a manse for the the minister. This became known as Chapel Cottage and is now Barton View (right). It was subsequently donated to the church.
Around this time William handed the family business to William, jnr. and retired to a property in the village centre shown on the 1851 census as “New Houses”.
He died in the village age 90.
William Croote (1811-1876)
William was born in Lapford and lived at High Mills for most of his life, later moving to Low Mills. Like his father he was a stauch liberal, congregationalist and keen benefactor. He gave the land for Zeal Monochorum Congregational Church and oversaw the building works.
There was a very large gathering for William’s funeral in 1876—numerous clergymen, “dissenting Ministers”, yeomen and many tenants of the Earl of Portsmouth. The Earl was overhead saying
“No agent ever severed an employer more faithfully and honestly than poor William Croote served my father as me.”
George Croote (1856-1934)
William never married and his large estate of Lapford land and property went to his nephew George.
George was born in North Tawton and educated at North Tawton middle-class school—an establishment that his father George Henry snr (1821-1867) had helped to found. He was just 11 when he inherited his own father’s estate and 20 when he further inherited from his uncle William. A wealthy man, George decided to emigrate to Graaff-Reineff one of the oldest towns in South Africa. It was centre of British Boer war operations and a place where a land agent could capitalise his wealth.
He had a love of cricket and in 1899, age 43 he played at the Graff-Reineff Botanical Gardens cricket ground for Middle South Africa against a touring team from England. Just a week later the same tourists fielded a team for the very first official England vs South Africa test match.
Age 54, with little connection to his Devon roots, he decided to sell his Lapford inheritance and on May 25th 1910 208 acres of Lapford land and various properties were sold at an auction in the Malt Scoop Inn. So the long association of the Croote family with Lapford came to an end.
However the Gater family from whom the Crootes purchased Lapford Mill in 1820 have recently returned the mill to theor family ownership and the mill wheel is now turning again …the circle of life!