In the early C19, Lapford’s fortunes were suffering from a decline of the serge weaving industry. Fortunately, the building of a new turnpike road through the Yeo valley in 1830, and the coming of the railway in 1854, provided new commercial opportunities. Moreover, they brought improved accessibility to local hunting grounds, bringing a timely influx of wealthy ‘sportsmen’ some of whom became village benefactors.
Lapford, so long a backwater agricultural community, began something of a transition. It’s best properties could now be marketed to the wealthy in city newspapers and national journals with would-be buyers tempted by the promise of excellent hunting, freshwater fishing, good health. Fine views were also part of the Lapford’s genteel appeal. An uninterrupted aspect to the hills of Dartmoor could, in those days, be appreciated from most parts of the village and the now green fields of the Yeo and Dalch valleys were interspersed with fields of barley and wheat. Acres of orchard were pocketed around the village centre.
The village’s “bad apple”, the brutish and murderous Parson Jack, died in 1861 and afterwards the village blossomed with a new air of respectability. The conversion of William Clarke’s smithy to a private school brought a new ambience: the chanting of Latin and Greek replaced the sound of the blacksmith’s hammer; youthful up-country accents were heard alongside mid-Devon vernacular; the sound of the leather on willow echoed from the school cricket pitch.
Sheep farming and serge weaving had once bought the village modest prosperity and this was reflected in a handful of properties fit to be gentlemen’s residences. Lowerfield House, for example, had been built as a ‘mansion’ by work master William Snell who profited from the toil of the village’s serge weaving community. But more quality homes were needed. Properties like Highfield House, Prospect Cottage, Prospect House, Barton View and Hill House were all built to meet this demand—roomy, detached, slated and in striking contrast to the village’s traditional cob and thatch rows.
Good money could also be made upgrading suitably located properties to appeal to wealthy buyers. Wood Farm, for example— once remote and only accessible via West Farm along a 1½ mile track—now found itself close to both the new turnpike and to Lapford Station with links to London. The farm’s woodlands were not only prime hunting grounds but had kudos, neighbouring those of the Earl of Portsmouth. Farmer William Cann transformed the woodland farmhouse, described in 1851 as a “snug cottage” to an estate house with servants quarters and stables. Trees were felled to provide a view to Dartmoor and the estate size doubled to 140 acres. Wood Farm was now Lapfordwood Estate.
Existing residents were probably bemused at the village’s newfound gentry appeal and the high prices achieved at sale for desirable properties.
To any gentleman fond of field sports, or seeking health, the value of such a property is incalculable.
William Croote & Son based its land agency office in the village. They, specialised in the sale of quality property to the gentlemen and affluent yeomen. Demand for property was high and the Crootes became wealthy, spending some of their money acquiring a portfolio of properties and land in the village. The families small fortune was eventually lost in South Africa digging for gold close to what has become the world’s richest seam. See The golden road to Lapford, Soweto
Some wealthy incomers sought smaller properties. Long before the bungalows of Highfield Estate, came gentlemen’s’ bungalows bijou but highly fashionable reminders of the verandaed bungalows of the Indian Raj. The word bungalow when introduced to the British language oozed class. They typified the Arts and Crafts style: wooden, nostalgic, simple structures, rurally located for healthy living.
The Bungalow at Nymet Rowland was raised to the ground only a few weeks after the luckless Charles Tipton moved in with his new bride. The Bungalow at Eastington was built in 1904 as a retirement home for Reed Partridge but he died soon after selling up his East Eastington farm. Newly weds John and Elizabeth Sheridon set up home there in 1906 before moving to The Bungalow at Lapfordwood five years later. John Sheridan was heir to Frampton—a magnificent estate in Hampshire with a 40-bedroomed Court House, 12 outlying farms, 103 cottages and vast parkland—yet his preferred residence was his thatched, verandaed bungalow on the edge of Lapford Wood, now Lapford Lodge Boarding Kennels. Major Walter Binney built a bungalow called Old Den in large grounds with fine views over Yeo Vale. With time his grounds were sold off to build the row of homes between Barris House and Heathfield. The Highfield Estate was built between Old Den and the Yeo valley. Having lost its land, views and rustic charm, Old Den was knocked down in 2019 for housing development.
For most of its history Lapford had been an relatively insular community. The arrival of well connected residents soon changed this. In fact Lapford’s list of links with influential people and historic events is really quite surprising
Lapfordians who changed the world
The parson, the poet and a Broadway play
The life and paintings of Eliza Wilson
Where’s Wally? The secret disappearance of Major Binney
Hugh Browning and the flower seller of Monte Carlo
LAPFORD’S HUNTING REPUTATION
There can be no doubt that the village’s proximity to well known hunts and good hunting country was Lapford’s primary attraction for many of the gentlemen residents who made Lapford their home. The village was well known in hunting circles thanks to the legacy of Parson Jack. He may have been loathed by many of his parishioners, but his fanaticism for hunting had secured him a place in hunting lore. His own pack of hounds “of the purest blood and first-class character” would wait patiently at the back of the nave, whilst their master preached to an almost empty church, before leaving on a day’s hunt. For all his infamy Parson Jack succeeded in putting Lapford on the map! The hunting and fishing grounds he established along the Yeo and Dalch valley were used years after his death ultimately benefitting the local economy.
Lapford ticked many boxes for the keen sportman. The ancient woodlands on the west of the parish were rich in game for shooting parties. The open farmland attracted hare and fox hunts. The local waters of “Devon River Country” were good for both trout and salmon fishing, and the convergence of the Yeo, Dalsh, Knightlybridge Brook and Taw within Lapford parish made the village an attractive venue for Otter hunt meets. The nationally known Eggesford fox hounds and the Cheriton Otter hounds were both local to Lapford and received strong village support. For hunts visiting from further afield, the railway enabled hounds to be easily transported into the village. The Yeo Vale Inn, next to Lapford Station, became a popular venue for hunt meets.
Membership of some local hunts was very expensive and participation by membership or invitation, was very much an indication of social standing. Fox and otter hunting were very much the preserve of the gentry glasses whereas hare-hunting remained the preserve of yeomen. In 1852, Lord Portsmouth entered into a heated argument with a local Yeoman farmer just before he ceremoniously cut the first turf to mark the start of the railway’s construction. According a reporter from The Western Times the yeoman expressed to the squire his regret that the railway “would interfere with the excellent pastime of hare-hunting— a great solace to yeomen”. The comment set Lord Portsmouth’s blood boiling and he roasted the yeoman in front of the assembled crowd. Lord Portsmouth, said the reporter, “does not care a dump for hare-hunting. He is a man of the fox”. Regular hare-hunting continued in the area into the Edwardian period but as something of a second division sport for farmers. Gentry classes preferring the chase of larger ‘quarry’—fox, stag and otter.