How Arthur Budgett must have enjoyed a spoonful of sugar! The invention of granulated sugar—avoiding the inconvenience of sugarloaves and sugarnips—had gifted him a silver-spoon of inherited wealth. When he moved to Lapford at the age of 30 he was able to enjoy a life of leisure.

Horses feature throughout his life story. Delivery horses enabled the building of his family’s wholesale empire; his risky investment in horse-drawn trams brought large dividends; and horses enabled him to indulge his passion hunting in Devon’s ‘River Country’. It was his son’s similar affinity with horses, that helped inspire one of the world’s most poignant and best loved equine novels: War Horse.

Appropriately, the rise of the Budgett family begins with the chance finding of a lucky horseshoe…

The Start of a Family Empire

Samuel Budgett (1794-1851)

In the 1820s, long before the arrival of supermarket chains, Samuel Budgett established one of the country’s first major grocery wholesalers — said to be the largest business in the West of England1. People were so fascinated by the story of his rise from relative poverty, that his biography, The Successful Merchant, was reprinted more than 40 times in its first 20 years of publication. It was the ultimate rags to riches story: the impoverished boy, who made his first profit on a horseshoe found lying on the street, and who became one of the country’s wealthiest merchants by developing wholesaling practices and codes.

As a young grocery apprentice, Samuel hadn’t seemed suited for the world of retail. Even his own brother had sacked him for lack of aptitude. He was a devout Wesleyan Methodist, and his ambitions lay in missionary work. But the need to support his parents persuaded him to try to make a success of the family grocery shop, located in the coal-mining community of Kingswood, 4 miles east of Bristol. The area was notorious for its gangs, crime, poverty and poor housing: “rough cottages, prolific of a rough population”. 2

Samuel recognised that large discounts could be obtained by purchasing in bulk, and began wholesaling grocery items — tea, coffee, flour, sugar and spices. By the 1820s, he had a large fleet of wagons with stabling for around fifty horses. His warehouse was an acre in size, fitted with lofts and cellars. Here he stored a myriad of bulk commodities from around the world:

a territory overgrown with tea-chests … a colony of casks replenished with nutmegs, cassia, and all spicery … piled-up boxes of fruit … a vast snowy region of flour … a land of coffee … a realm of molasses … a wilderness of cheeses … mountains of peas. Here tobacco abounds.” 3

He aided success by developing a strict business code based on his religious principles. It including the refusal speculate, or to give or receive credit.

He never moved from Kingswood, choosing to invest large sums in the education, recreation and well-being of the local community. Although he didn’t achieve his boyhood dream of becoming a missionary, his wealth enabled him to fund numerous missionary projects around the world.

Before Samuel came to national attention, Wesleyans were often viewed as a secular group whose strict principals prevented integration into many aspects of society, including the ‘dirty world of commerce’. Samuel broke the mould. He developed his religious beliefs into business ethics, promoting fair trade, honest deals, workers benefits and team spirit. Copies of The Successful Merchant flew off the shelf, and his principles gathered wide business acceptance.

Samuel Budgett (1794-1851).

A Spoonful of Sugar

John Payne Budgett (1809-1867)

Other members of Samuel’s wider family became involved in related business ventures and philanthropic work. John Payne Budgett (father of Arthur Budgett of Lapford) was Samuel’s cousin by marriage. He amassed his own fortune from one particularly lucrative commodity: refined sugar.

John had worked closely with Samuel at Kingswood, before fire destroyed the warehouses in 1842. At this time, household sugar was generally sold in conical sugarloaves4 of poor purity. Lumps were broken off in the home using sugarnips. To keep the cones dry, they were stored in the Kingswood warehouse over hot air heated by coal burning stoves. This arrangement was the source of the fire. As the sugar turned to molasses, an inferno erupted. One report describes a “torrent of black sugar which trickled down Tabernacle Road in a rapidly congealing glacier”.5

It may have been this event that led John Budgett to invest heavily in a new sugar refining method that could produce pure sugar crystals in the granulated form we know today. The method involved a centrifugal drier (revolutionary!), invented by Conrad Finzel and installed at great expense at his sugar refinery at Counterslip, Bristol. John’s investment enabled him to become joint managing partner at the refinery. He handled commercial affairs whilst Finzel and his son managed manufacturing operations. The new refining method avoided fire risks; it reduced drying times from weeks to just two-minutes; and it achieved 99.9% pure sugar. Moreover, the end product was dry enough to be sold in a paper bag and served with a spoon. It was a leap forward and the refinery stole a march on its competitors. At 1200 tonnes of sugar a week (valued at about £7M, today), Counterslip became the country’s largest sugar refinery. John’s financial backing and commercial knowledge were key to the success story.

Like Samuel Budgett, John was a generous philanthropist and donated, in particular, to orphan homes. He retained substantial personal wealth and bought Henleaze Park, a large estate in the most affluent part of Bristol. He also acquired the Finzel’s home Frankfort Hall (now known as Cleavdon Hall), on a cliff top with stunning views of the Bristol Channel and Welsh Hills. John died in 1867, aged 58, leaving his children to enjoy a wealthy inheritance

Colour lithograph depicting the premises of Finzel & Sons, sugar refiners, Counterslip, Bristol , c1865
©Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives

Frankfort Hall, whose sale in 1877, coincided with the arrival of the Budgett family at Wood House, Lapford. The hall had been built by Conrad Finzel from the proceeds of his sugar refining innovation. His successor, Conrad jr., fell into personal financial difficulties and John Budgett lent him £49,000 (about £5 million today) in exchange for the deeds of the hall. The loan was never repaid, and on John’s death in 1867, the hall passed into the hands of John’s children.

The sales particulars in The Times, record:

a carriage drive of nearly a quarter of a mile in length, with entrance lodge, placed on a gentle eminence, facing the Bristol Channel, commanding land and sea views of great and varied beauty, with very spacious and elegant conservatory, 100 feet in length“.

The grounds included , extensive lawns, broad terrace walks, several gardens and a lake with three islands.

Boating, Brewing and Bristol Trams

J. Arthur Budgett (1846-1895)

John Payne Budgett and his wife Hannah had eight daughters and one son, John ‘Arthur’ Budgett, who was a Lapford resident from 1877 to 1883. He was born at Prospect House, Kingswood Hill, close to the home of Samuel Budgett. Unlike Samuel, Arthur was born into wealth. He was gifted with a top education at Harrow School, then Oxford University.

Weighing under 8 stone, he took up coxing. In 1867 he coxed his college to victory in the Oxford University Boat Races. The following year he was out on the Thames coxing a team for the 25th Oxford-Cambridge Varsity Boat Race, but he never made the final selection.

After University he briefly went into the brewing trade with Thomas Wall Hardwick6. It was something of a rebellious move given his Wesleyan upbringing and the call for abstinence. He appears in the 1871 census as a brewer and maltster. ‘Hardwick & Budgett’ are recorded in property transactions7 8 but the partnership was short lived. Hardwick went on to create one of Australia’s largest brewing companies.

Arthur was one of a small group of men to make a risky investment in Bristol Tramways Company. He was part of the management board that established the city’s first tramline in 1875. By this time, the wider Budgett family had mostly migrated from working-class Kingswood to the affluent and picturesque neighbourhood of Clifton and Durdham Downs. It is interesting to note that one of the aims of the horse drawn tramway was to make the Downs accessible to the working class population of Kingswood and the eastern suburbs 9. Not everyone approved: there were “those who dreaded that their genteel suburbs would be invaded by the unwashed working families at holiday times”9. Arthur and his fellow directors also came in for criticism for providing travel on a Sunday, a move that offended religious views at the time.

Arthur was one of only seven directors and made a good return on his investment. Twenty years later the company became the first to run electric trams in a British city. At its height it had 237 tramcars running on 17 lines and carrying millions of passengers each year.

Arthur resigned as a director when he moved to Lapford.

Lithograph of Arthur Budgett by Vincent Brookes Day & Sons Ltd. It appeared as a full page picture in The Sporting Gazette, 13 January 1894, as part of a feature on Arthur. The journal placed him amongst Devon’s greatest ever “sporting worthies”.

The Draw of Lapford

Arthur, now a rich and highly eligible bachelor came to live at Lapfordwood in 1877, aged 30. His sugar inheritance ensured him a refined life! He was joined by two of his equally eligible sisters: Marion (26) and Ada (23).

The decision to rent Lapfordwood10 and then to sell the family’s grand Frankfurt Estate may seem strange, but it was probably a necessary move in order to apportion a sizable inheritance across eleven siblings11. Downsizing enabled a life of leisure.

Arthur Budgett had a specific reason for making the move to mid-Devon. Whilst stag hunting on Exmoor, he had come into contact with the Cheriton Otter Hounds. It led to him being offered a prestigious role, deputising for William Cheriton, as Master of the Cheriton Otter Hounds.

William Cheriton had built up his pack over thirty years and it had become one of the best known otter hunts in the country. He was a now getting too old to regularly ride and needed someone to run the hunt on his behalf. Arthur Budgett had youth, leisure time and hunting experience. Most importantly he had money which was needed for the hunts survival.

The role was not merely a ceremonial one: it involved many hours of hunt management and necessitated a move to Devon. The choice of Lapfordwood may have been influenced by family connections with the Densham’s of Bury Barton, Lapford12.

The house was a specific draw with sportsmen13 during the mid-C19 and early C20. It was was located on the edge of a large expanse of prime ancient woodland. Over the parish boundary to the west was the estate of The Earl of Portsmouth, with its famous fox-hounds, whilst Ellicombe Farm, home of William Cheriton and his equally acclaimed otterhounds, was over the parish boundary to the east. Additional kennels for the otterhounds were located at South Moulton Road Station (now known as Kings Nympton Station), just two stops away from Lapford Station.

Lapfordwood House (2018), known in the C19, as Wood House, or simply ‘Wood’.

Before the building of the Taw Valley turnpike road in the 1830s, Lapfordwood House was a remote farmhouse, accessible from the village along a narrow mile-long track via West Farm. With the coming of the railway in 1854, the farmhouse was converted into a gentleman’s residence. It became home to a string of wealthy sportsmen attracted by the area’s growing reputation for hunting and fishing. The house had access to hundreds of acres of ancient woodland and fish-laden rivers. Lapford’s appeal to sportsmen declined after poor river management and the denuding of natural woodland during WWI (replaced with the managed firs of Britain’s first Forestry Commission site).

In July 1877, soon after arriving in Lapford, Arthur obtained an order for the hounds to resume hunting the Taw Valley after a period of postponement due to local cases of rabies14.

The hunt was a costly affair. As the table below shows, Arthur personally contributed around 60% of the running costs — up to £139 a year (a typical labourers annual wage in Lapford was £35). Given the wealth of some of the gentry who enjoyed the hunt, it seems incredible that Arthur should have funded their hobby to such an extent!

YearExpensesShortfall paid by J A Budgett %
1889£176 8s 6d£58 1s 0d33%
1890£225 17s 6d£89 3s 6d40%
1891£136 3s 6d£72 2s 1d53%
1892£147 6s 6d£139 6s 2d49%
1893£152 7s 4d£105 9s 8d69%
1894£142 2s 7d£90 7s 0d64%
1895£126 14s 10d£89 10s 8d71%
TOTAL£1107 0s 9d£644 0s 1d58%
Expenses included £75 per season costs to William Cheriton for renting out his hounds — a nice retirement income! Data taken from Records of the Cheriton Otter Hounds, W H Rodgers (1925)

Arthur ‘carried the horn’ from 1877-81 and 1886-95. With his successful breeding programmes15 and generous funding of the hunts losses over these 15 seasons, it is small wonder that the official history of the Cheriton Otter Hounds16 record him as the Master of the hunt during these periods. However, during the lifetime of William Cheriton he was only ever referred to as the acting, or deputy master, in deference to the hunt’s respected founder.

Arthur was never short of ambition. He discussed on several occasions the possibility of transporting the pack to South Africa for a season’s hunting17.

In addition to their involvement with the Cheriton Otter Hunt, Arthur and his sisters hunted with the Earl of Portsmouth’s Eggesford Hunt and became part of the gentry scene. In 1878, Arthur was an overnight guest at the Earl’s prestigious lawn meet, enjoying a pre-hunt morning feast in the picture gallery of Eggesford House18.

Arthur Budgett (centre) with the Cheriton Otter Hounds.

“Mr Budgett endeared himself to all by his patience and perseverance in the field and his personal courtesy to all. His name is still a household word amongst the elder generation throughout the country, not least amongst the poorest class who always found a friend in him.”

Records of the Cheriton Otter Hounds, W H Rodgers (1925)

Life in Lapford

Horticulture The siblings were members of the Lapford Cottage Garden and Horticultural Society19 and sat on the organising committee of the annual Exhibition. Arthur won prizes in the first ever show in 1877, through to 1883. In 1880 he is recorded as contributing to the central display of hot house shrubs, palms and plants. The shows were fiercely contented and something of a rivalry developed between Canon Wilson (Rector of Lapford) and Arthur, his churchwarden. At the 1883 show,both men vied for the top two places in nearly every category, despite numerous other entrants.

St Thomas’ Church Arthur became churchwarden and a key figure in the Church Restoration Appeal20. In 1881, the Budgetts’ influence helped to attract local gentry to a Bazaar in aid of the appeal, whilst half-price train tickets attracted working class visitors from around the area. There were plays, band music (including Lapford’s own Fife & Drum Band), a popular Wheel of Fortune and four stalls of items for sale or auction. As a stall holder “Miss Budgett … wore a Normandy cap and an embroidered tennis apron”21. Together with a smaller Bazaar in the Spring, over £200 was raised. It paid specifically for the restoration of the church’s famous C15 rood screen.

The Western Times reports that the “Budgett Sisters” decorated the church with corn and flowers for the 1878 harvest thanksgiving22.

Western Times, 15 July 1881

Lawn Tennis In 1881, Arthur was involved in establishing Eggesford Lawn Tennis Club, initially located on Eggesford cricket field. Membership quickly increased and, as the rebranded “Mid-Devon Lawn Tennis Club”, it established its own courts 0.5 mile from Eggesford. Ada and Marion were also active members of the club.

At the first tournament in 1881, Ada won the Ladies Singles and reached the Mixed Doubles Finals with Arthur. The annual tournament grew to a four-day event on six courts and continued until about 1933. The club equipment and hut was sold off just before the outbreak of WW2.

At the end of 1883, the Budgetts left Lapfordwood. Ada and Marion returned to Bristol, whilst Arthur moved 8 miles down the main road to Bridge Farm close to the South Molton Road kennels of the Cheriton Otterhounds. He took with him two Lapford villagers, Jane and Eliza Burridge, to serve as his housekeeper and cook23.

The Budgetts had their own court at Lapfordwood and hosted occasional local matches. Subsequent owners of Lapfordwood –Major Dunning (1896-1901) and Rev C.H.G.Vivian (1901-1911) — continued the house’s association with lawn tennis. Pictured above: i) Tea and Tennis , probably at Lapfordwood, c.1907 (identites unknown). ii) 1904 map showing the site of the Mid-Devon Lawn Tennis Club courts, 0.5 mile N of Eggesford Station.

La Grippe

Arthur was missing from the opening meet of the 1895 season at Bury Bridge, Lapford. The fixture was usually one of the most popular, and his unexpected absence was a disappointment to the field of nearly two hundred people.

He had been taken ill following a recurrence of an epidemic commonly known as “la grippe” or Russian flu24 (recent research has indicated that it may not have been a flu at all but the first occurrence of a coronavirus in man). Worldwide it had killed over a million people including Queen Victoria’s oldest grandchild, changing the course of the British Monarchy25.

Only the previous year, 134 supporters of the the Cheriton Otter Hunt had presented Arthur with silver gifts at a specially arranged honorary luncheon26. Nobody could have foreseen the poignancy of the cheers for Arthur’s good heath and for his leadership for many seasons to come.

Arthur refused to rest and was soon back with the hunt but in poor health. It was several weeks before he was able to lead the hunt. The flu appears to have triggered internal complications related to an aneurism27. He died at 12 Holles Street, London28 on 31 July. He was 49.

What made Arthur’s death all the more tragic was that he fell ill just weeks after his marriage to Georgina Morland in Abingdon, Oxfordshire.

Medical science battles with the national pandemic, from an illustration in The Illustrated Police News, 23rd January 1892

His failure to properly recuperate may have been due to his eagerness to introduce his wife to his friends on the summer hunts of the Cheriton Otterhounds.

Georgina’s late father had been a partner in her family’s very successful brewery (today, the popular beer Old Speckled Hen is still sold under the Morland name). Through his marriage, Arthur rekindled brewing interests and his death certificate records him as a brewer.

Arthur’s death was announced by The Western Times on 1st Aug. Such was the local disbelief in the story that the newspaper printed an apology incorrectly rescinding the news:

the death of Mr A. Budgett, the popular Deputy Master of the Cheriton Otter Hounds, was, we are glad to learn, incorrect. The rumour was very prevalent, but we learn that Mr Budgett is better, and progressing satisfactorily.”

Bridge Farm where Arthur and Georgina lived prior to Arthur’s death.

He was equally beloved by many of a more humbler sphere, with whom his love of the country life often brought him into contact… a truer or kindlier heart never beat, and his memory will long remain green in those Devonshire valleys he loved so well

—North Devon Journal, 5 August 1895

Burrington Church clock was donated by Georgina Budgett in memory of her husband.

The Son He Never Knew

Arthur Walter Morland Budgett (1895-1981)

Arthur died, never knowing that his love of riding would be shared by a son, whose life came to to depend on horsemanship in the dark days of World War I.

Arthur Budgett jr, was born in Abingdon 15 weeks after his father’s death. He learnt to ride at an early age. In 1913 he moved to Swaziland where he helped farm cattle and ostriches. Like his father, he was a proficient horseman and early in 1915, he returned to England to enlist as a mounted soldier in the Berkshire Yeomanry.

He fought in the Eastern Mediterranean, including Turkey, Palestine and Egypt, where fighting was technologically less advanced than the Western Front, and old-fashioned cavalry charges – swords drawn – still took place.

The Berkshire Yeomanry were regularly involved in action with both soldiers and their horses suffering shocking casualty rates. In late 1917/early 1918 Budgett’s mother received the heartbreaking news that Arthur was missing, presumed dead. Several months later, having mourned Arthur’s likely passing, she received a seemingly miraculous letter from him. Arthur had, in fact, been captured and transported 800 miles to Central Anatolia, Turkey — a journey largely undertaken on foot. The letter had been handed to a train passenger travelling from Constantinople and had eventually been posted from Holland.

Arthur continued to serve after the war and was made Captain of the 99th (Bucks and Berks) Brigade in 1922.

Like his father, he had an interest in moving to Devon as as a sportsman. He came to Nethercott Farm, Iddesleigh in the 1930s and became master of Hatherleigh Harriers.

War Horse

When author Michael Morpurgo moved to Iddesleigh he was inspired by the stories told by Arthur, particularly those describing the use of horses on the battlefield during WW1, and the bonds that developed between soldiers and their horses. He was staggered to learn that a million horses were used by the British Army of which only 65,000 returned.

War Horse is largely based on Arthur’s memories and those of two other local men, Wilf Ellis and Albert Weeks. It was later adapted as a West End and Broadway play, and the Steven Spielberg film adaptation was nominated for six Oscars. The story became loved by millions.

Arthur died in 1981. Michael Morpurgo and his wife Clare now run their charity, Farms For City Children from Arthur’s old home at Nethercott Farm.

Arthur Budgett jr, photographed as a huntsman, army captain and, later in life, as a resident of Iddesleigh, Devon where his war stories came to the attention of Michael Morpurgo

Arthur would speak about the trust and the bond and he was the one who told me how he used to talk to his horse…

He said he couldn’t talk to anyone else about the things that really mattered – his fear, his longing to go home – but he could talk to his horse.”

— Michael Morpugro29

  1. Obituary of Samuel Budgett, Bristol Times and Mirror, 10 May 1851 []
  2. William Arthur, The Successful Merchant; sketches of the life of Mr. Samuel Budgett (1852), Ch.1 []
  3. William Arthur, The Successful Merchant; sketches of the life of Mr. Samuel Budgett (1852) []
  4. The conical sugarloaves were known in the trade as Titlers, and the fire broke out in the Titler room []
  5. The Budgetts of Kingswood Hill and their Bristol Family, D.P. Lindegaard, 1988 []
  6. Associated with the Hardwick & Co Brewery, previously Ashton Gate Brewery []
  7. Mortgage deed, property in Barrow Gurney by Hardwick & Budgett to the Bristol General Permanent Benefit B S., dated 1870. Offered for sale as item 84/230 by ancestordocs.co.uk (2022) []
  8. Indenture dated 1870 concerning the sale of cottages in Barrow Gurney by Elizabeth Stevens, widow, and her eldest son Abraham Stevens to Hardwick & Budgett. Offered for sale as item 166/21 by ancestordocs.co.uk (2022) []
  9. Western Daily Press, 27 October 1875 [] []
  10. Lapfordwood was rented from Warren Harries who had inherited it from his mother in 1876. Warren’s late father, Rev Thomas K W Harries, had purchased the house in 1858 []
  11. In addition to his eight sisters, Arthur had a half brother and sister from his father’s second marriage []
  12. Henry Densham was a churchwarden of Lapford at the time of the village’s infamous (and allegedly murderous) parson, John Radford. He was so angered by the unwillingness of the church authorities to discipline ‘Parson Jack’ that he felt he had little option but to leave the established church and become a dissenter. Unable to live in the same village as the parson, he eventually left the village for a new life in Bristol. Henry Densham and John Payne Budgett were like-minded wealthy non-conformists who lived in the same affluent area of Bristol. They attended the same chapel through which they both channeled money for good causes. It is reasonable to assume that William Densham and John Budgett were well acquainted. Henry’s brother, was living at Bury Barton in 1870s and this could therefore have been the source of information that Lapfordwood had become available for rent. The Budgett and Densham families later became connected through marriage: in 1924, John Budgetts’s nephew, Christopher, married William Densham’s grand-daughter, Evelyn []
  13. ‘Sportsman’ was a term commonly used describe those who enjoyed hunting and fishing. Its usage, in this sense, is now less common []
  14. 17 July 1877 – Western Times – Exeter []
  15. He crossed dogs from the Devon and Somerset Staghounds with purebred otterhounds []
  16. Records of the Cheriton Otter Hounds, W H Rogers, 1935 []
  17. “When we came out on the Norham Castle, Mr. Budgett, master of the otter hunt of which we were members at home, was a passenger to Madeira. Mr. Budgett and my cousin often discussed the question of bringing out the former’s pack for a season on the Great and Little Brak Rivers, but they decided it could not be done, one of the chief difficulties being that the otters were so fierce and numerous that they were quite capable of turning hunters to the hounds, instead of allowing themselves to be hunted.” from Storm and Sunshine in South Africa, Rosamond Southey, 1910 []
  18. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily, 06 November 1878 []
  19. Called the Yeo Vale Horticultural Society in 1878 to include other villages, before reverting to a village society in 1879 []
  20. Arthur appears to have rebelled against his strict Wesleyan upbringing. He had entered the brewing trade, advocated the running of Bristol trams on a Sunday and opted to attend Lapford church (then a high church) in preference to the well attended Congregational Church. Many Lapford villagers still had raw memories of their notorious Parson, John Radford — an obsessive fox-hunter, bully, prize-wrestler and alleged murderer. His roguish behaviour had driven most of the church congregation to the village chapel. It is therefore ironic that another huntsman Arthur—a member of one of the country’s most respected non-conformist families—should revese the trend and choose Lapford’s high church over its chapel []
  21. Western Times12 August 1881 []
  22. Western Times – Friday 25 October 1878 []
  23. They returned to Lapford after Arthur’s death and lived at Rosebank Cottage (now Challice Gate) []
  24. Sporting Gazette, 11 May 1895 []
  25. The Queen’s grandfather George, was crowned instead of his elder brother, Albert, who died in 1892 from the epidemic []
  26. Held at the Golden Lion Hotel, Barnstaple, March 1894 []
  27. Arthur’s death certificate states that death was caused by aneurism and exhaustion []
  28. Holles Street was off Oxford Street. It is interesting to note that Arthur died at the very time that the small side-street was being developed by an ambitious trader whose name would outshine that of the Budgetts in the retailing world. His name was John Lewis and the store he was developing on Oxford Street/Holles Street, just opposite the place of Arthur’s death, would become the flagship store of a new trading giant []
  29. Quoted from The Daily Record,  4 December, 2011 []