Powderham 1755-1800


  • 1760 Andrew Brice: The grand gazetteer; or topographic dictionary &c (pp. 1060-61). This text is full of contractions, most of which have been expanded here to make for easier reading.

Powderham-castle, on the West Side of the river Exe, near its Confluence with the Kenn, 7 miles from Exeter. […] This old Castle has since been, by Alterations and Improvements, made a very pleasant and agreeable Seat; retaining for most Part its antient Castle–like Form, and having 3 or 4 square Towers still remaining, which, as well as the House itself, are finished at the Top with Battlements; and the Quadrangle or Court in the Front, inclosed with battlemented Walls, in the same Taste with the Castle. Over the Gateway or grand Entrance from the Park is an antique Tower, finish’d likewise with Battlements. In the North Wing is a neat Chapel, rebuilt and beautified A. D. 1717. Over which is a well furnished Library. From hence you have an extensive Sea and Land Prospect, the Beauty and Variety whereof renders the Situation exceeding pleasant and delightful. — [This Article was drawn up entirely by Mr. Chapple; but has been some little abridged …]

1761 William’s grandmother, lady Frances Courtenay dies.

1762 William’s grandfather, sir William Courtenay is created viscount Courtenay of Powderham (6 May); his son William marries Frances Clack (7 May); lord Courtenay dies (16 May) and his only son succeeds to the title and the family’s estates in England and Ireland.

1768 William is born.

  • 1769 A description of England and Wales: containing a particular account of each county | vol. 3 | A description of Devonshire, pp.148-9.

At the distance of seven miles south by east of Exeter, is Powderham Castle, which is seated near the river Ex, and is a very handsome old structure, kept in very good repair. The avenue to it is surrounded with stone walls, having battlements on the top; and in the middle, opposite to the front, there is a square gate-house. The architecture of this castle, as the reader will see from the view we have here given of it, shews that it is very antique; and yet it makes a very pleasant and magnificent seat. It was first built by lsabella de Ripariis, or Rivers, countess of Albemarle and Devon, and her marrying a Courtney, brought it into that noble family, in which it still continues.

Wilson, Richard, 1713/1714-1782; The Keep of Okehampton Castle

1774 William Legge (second son of the earl of Dartmouth) visits Powderham.

  • 1776 Journal of Samuel Curwen | edited by Andrew Oliver and published 1972 | pp.258-259 | Exeter October 1776.

Wednesday 30. Clear mild and delightful morn. Breakfasted at Mr. Pearce’s, and rode out on horseback with Miss Hickes; Mr. and Mrs. Pearce and other Niece accompanied in a post chaize, to Lord Courtneys Belvidere, so called; distant from Exeter about 6 or 7 miles through a very pleasant road; it is a triangular structure of Portland stone about 60 feet in heigth from the ground to the leads, consisting of two stories, the lower one you enter, under high arched doors. Of these there is one in each side, of open Iron work, the floor is paved with flagg stones. Each angle is covered with a Square of 10 or 12 feet. The doors are of Mahogony and kept locked. One is a room with a chimney, and shelves, wherein is kept china tea Cups Saucers tea boiler &c., and seats for stowing away bottles and other things. Here the servants prepare what is wanted for the entertainment of my Lord and Lady’s company who sometimes retire hither for a few hours. In another is a flight of circular stairs of Mahogany, and Iron rails, for the owner’s use only, and in the other a flight of common stairs or steps for the company whose curiosity brings them to visit the building, and are carried quite up to the leads, about 16 or 18 feet above which the angular structures rise and the whole is crowned with battlements; the upper story is an octangular room elegantly finished, having in each side a lofty arched window covered with green painted Venetian blinds. The flooring is fine mahogony, in the center of an inlaid star bordered by a circle and kept covered with a green cloth to preserve the wood its made of, bright; the ceiling is stucco, painted with a faint lemon colour, and has a very agreable effect, the room is painted white or cream. On the same floor, and over the servants room below, a drawing or tea room having on each side a small window; a chimney with a most elegant high polisht grate fire shovel &c. and is furnished with six cabrioli chairs having green Morrocco bottoms. This room is finished in the same style and taste as the great room and has fine views: from the top of the building is a most extended prospect, having on one side the City of Exeter and beyond Topsham, several villages, seats, and a finely cultivated Country; on another, Limson, Exmouth, Starcross, Lord Courtneys seat, Governor Pawke, a Nabob, late of Madrass, a Mr. Morse &c.; the river Exe from it’s mouth in a winding course beyond Topsham; the Key of Topsham and shipping there; the Vessells within the barr and many many leagues beyond it in the Channel; and what is most curious, the house wherein the great Sir Francis Drake was born owned and lived, lying on the other side the river, and almost opposite to the Belvidere. From hence returned by the same road we went. Dined, took a strole to the bridge where I saw more than a score of men employed to no purpose at a chain pump to free the works from water, which during my stay gained greatly upon them: retreated back to Mr. Pearce where I drank tea, passed the evening very pleasantly at tredille, and at 9 o’clock arrived at my lodgings, having been absent all the day.

1777 William’s second cousin, another William Courtenay, is born; earl of Devon from 1835 until his death in 1859.

  • 1779 Journal of Samuel Curwen | edited by Andrew Oliver and published 1972 | pp.543 & 547 | Exmouth July 1779.

Exmouth, 5 July 1779 | […] extensive flatts back of Town on the river Exe, at the mouth of which this town lies as its name imports. These flatts are in a bay 2 miles wide, having in view on opposite shore Sharcross and its shipping, Lord Courtenay’s Belvidere, Lord Lisburnes obelisk, Topsham and a very fine improved Country.

Exmouth, 18 July 1779 | […] From Cliffs extending along Common and over beach, down almost as far as bar, is a pleasing view of English Channell, Starcross on opposite shore where the shipping lay, Powcksham [sic] Lord Courtenay’s Seat and Belvidere Lord Lisburne’s Obelisk, Topsham, Torbay and all Coast from Dawlish to Tiegnmouth [sic] point and as far as Berryhead, and on Landside a great extent of finely improved Country.

  • 1779 Fragment by William Beckford, undated but apparently written soon after his first visit to Powderham (in the summer of 1779) and the beginning of his infatuation with William; text copied from Guy Chapman, Beckford, p. 56. John Swete mentioned ‘the great Avenue‘ in his journal for 1799 (p. 135).

Surely we must have been inseparable friends in some other existence. We must have doubtless shared the happiness and misery of some other world — or else why did we experience this sudden love for each other. Did it not increase each hour and when I quitted his native castle — what expressive melancholy looks were cast after one down the long avenue — the solemnity of which was increased by the dusk — for it was dusk — when I parted from all my soul doated on.

1782 William’s mother, lady Courtenay dies.

1788 William’s father dies and his only son (William) succeeds to the title and the family’s estates in England and Ireland.

  • 1789 Shirley Woolmer, A concise account of the city of Exeter, its neighbourhood, and adjacent watering-places, published 1805 | pp.35-38 + 80.

In the year 1789, his most gracious Majesty King George the Third visited this city, with her Majesty Queen Charlotte, and part of the Royal Family; […] [next day] At one his Majesty held a levee at the [bishop’s] Palace, (the first since his recovery.) The levee was attended by the Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Lisburne, Lord Viscount Courtenay, the Bishop, Dean, Members for the city and county, High Sheriff, the principal country Gentlemen, the Colonel and Officers of the Dragoons, and other military corps, the principal Gentlemen of Exeter, &c. who were all introduced separately, and had the honour to kiss hands. […] At night a second general illumination took place […] The Belvidere belonging to Lord Viscount Courtenay, at Powderham, and also that on Haldown, belonging to Sir Robert Palk, Bart. were brilliantly illuminated, and made a most beautiful appearance from the city.

  • 1791 The diary and letters of madame d’Arblay | published 1891 | vol. 2 pp.420-421.

Aug. 16.—We quitted Sidmouth, and proceeded through the finest country possible to Exmouth, to see that celebrated spot of beauty. The next morning we crossed the Ex and visited Powderham Castle. Its appearance, noble and antique without, loses all that character from French finery and minute elegance and gay trappings within. The present owner, Lord Courtney, has fitted it up in the true Gallic taste, and every room has the air of being ornamented for a gala. The housekeeper did not let us see half the castle; she only took us to those rooms which the present lord has modernized and fitted up in the sumptuous French taste; the old part of the castle she doubtless thought would disgrace him; forgetting or rather never knowing—that the old part alone was worth a traveller’s curiosity, since the rest might be anticipated by a visit to any celebrated cabinet-maker. | Thence we proceeded to Star Cross to dine; and saw on the opposite coast the house of Sir Francis Drake, which was built by his famous ancestor. Here we saw a sight that reminded me of the drawings of Webber from the South Sea Isles; women scarce clothed at all, with feet and legs entirely naked, straw bonnets of uncouth Shapes tied on their heads, a sort of man’s jacket on their bodies, and their short coats pinned up in the form of concise trousers, very succinct! and a basket on each arm, strolling along with wide mannish strides to the borders of the river, gathering cockles. They looked, indeed, miserable and savage. | Hence we went, through very beautiful roads, to Exeter.

  • 1793 The gentleman’s magazine, vol.63, part 2, pp.593-4, July | letter of 9 June from ‘Incognita‘.

A wet day confining me to an inn, I have recourse to my pen for amusement; and, as I have just received much entertainment from the Gentleman’s Magazine, as some compensation, I dedicate these my labours to its readers. […] I should fill up twenty sheets were I to expatiate on the enchanting beauties of Powderham, the fine seat of Lord Courtenay; or Mamhead, the equally fine seat of Lord Lisburne. These are spots which every tourist into the West of England will necessarily see and admire. But I will describe to you two other spots [Dawlish and Oxton-house] which are not so much known, though they are the sweetest of the kind I have ever met with. […] [view from Oxton-house] | Over all, at a mile or two distance, towers the Belvidere of Lord Courtenay, which is a beautiful object, and most happily placed for this little Paradise. […] Having now scribbled over my paper, I must conclude; giving you hopes however, Mr. Urban, that you may possibly hear again from Incognita.

  • 1793 Richard Polwhele, The history of Devonshire, vol. 2, pp. 170-172. The first extract here is copied from South West Heritage Trust, Local studies catalogue. The second extract is copied from a review in The british critic vol. 4 | December 1794, pp. 626-627.

Not many years ago, the avenue to the castle was surrounded with stone-walls, having battlements on the top: and in the middle, opposite the front of the castle, there was a square gatehouse. In 1752, this building retained, for the most part, its ancient castle-like form – having three or four square towers (which, as well as the house itself, were finished at the top with battlements) and the quadrangle or court in front enclosed with battlemented walls, in the same style with the castle. Over the gateway or ground-entrance from the park, was an antique tower finished, likewise, with battlements. In the north wing was a neat chapel rebuilt and beautified in 1717 – over which was a well-furnished library. The present Lord Courtenay has greatly improved and ornamented the house. Among other alterations, he has converted the chapel into a very elegant drawing-room. The park and plantations are extensive. Including Warborough in the parish of Kenton, the pleasure-grounds belonging to the castle are about ten miles round. The park itself, two miles round, contains about 400 head of deer. In the plantations are different sorts of firs (all flourishing except the balm of gilead) and a variety of beautiful shrubs – planted, for the most part, by the late Lord Courtenay. Nor are the forest-trees less vigorous; particularly in the park, where (besides the large clumps of beech, oak, and elm) are several noble chesnut and walnut trees.


To enjoy a full and uninterrupted view of this beautiful scene, and of the diversified country around it, some building was necessary to be erected on one of the most commanding heights. And the late Lord Courtenay, whose taste deserves every commendation, made choice of a hill that is, indeed, happily calculated to answer this purpose. Here, under his inspection, the Belvidere was built; the form of which is triangular with an hexagonal tower at each corner. From Lawrence-castle at Haldon, and from the obelisk at Mamhead, we have a greater extent of prospect: but for a command of objects, the Belvidere is, perhaps, the first spot in the western counties. The views from the Belvidere are a complete garden — its parts discriminated with the most brilliant distinctness, yet flowing into one beautiful whole. To conceive an accurate idea of these fine peculiarities, we ascend the staircase of the Belvidere, and separately survey the three different parts from the three windows of its elegant room. If we begin with the south-west view from the south-west window, we are presented with a rich morning landskape. In the foreground we are at first struck with the plantation of fir, birch, aspin and other kinds of trees, that slope away from the steep verdant hill on which the Belvidere stands. To the right, a small piece of water breaks out above the wooded valley; which seems, by an agreeable deception, to loose itself amidst the trees; when, carrying the eye along the skirtings of the plantation, we meet a canal apparently a continuation of this water. Above the marsh, on the sides of the hill directly opposite, we see a variety of enclosed ground stretching away to a great extent – pastures, cornfields, and orchards. Still farther and bounding the prospect, the flinty mountain of Haldon seems to support the clouds, in one long line above these variegated enclosures. This unbroken line is terminated, to the right, by Lawrence-castle; to the left, by the obelisk of Mamhead. Removing to the south-east window, we have, immediately below the eye, the fir-plantations still continued and sweeping down the hill; whilst their deep and dark foliage receives an additional richness from the gleaming of the castle-turrets. Large groups of trees rise in the park, and overshadow the cattle. If we look to the green marshy level under this woody headland, the canal again attracts the eye; from the midst of which an islet emerges, beautifully planted with shrubs. Winding round this spot of verdure and fragrance, the artificial stream pursues its course through the marsh, till it reaches the river Exe, into which its waters descend. The village of Kenton, interspersed with orchards, and Warborough hill gradually rising above South-town and Starcross, its brow crowned with firs, are near and striking objects on the other side of the canal. At the mouth of the Exe, there is a long bank of sand which is called the Warren, and beyond it, the sea. On the other side of the Exe, at the extreme point of land, we have Exmouth in prospect; and on the same side, further up the river, we catch a glimpse of the village of Lympstone–above which are extensive hills, apparently not in a state of high cultivation. At the north-east window, the Exe appears in full view; spreading its waters in a wider expanse, as it directs its course through a straight and spacious valley. On this side of the river, the land is rich, but not planted, except (in the centre) with some clumps of fir, and here and there with a few scattered trees. At a little distance up the river, on the other side of it, the town of Topsham shews various irregular buildings: and, still looking up the river until we lose it among the hills, we see the cathedral towers, and a part of the city of Exeter (through a bright atmosphere) in beautiful perspective.

  • 1794/7 William George Maton, Observations relative chiefly to the natural history, picturesque scenery, and antiquities, of the western counties of England … | vol.1, pp.98-100. The tour which included southern Devon happened in 1794.

The road to Powderham Castle presented us with several pleasing views of the environs of Exeter; and the broad stream of the Ex, with the numerous villages on its banks, formed a most charming addition to the landscape on our left. We were led to expect a noble situation for the castle, but how great was our disappointment to find it almost in a flat, very much exposed on the side towards the Channel, and with a broad marsh in front. It faces the river, but little pains have been taken to open the view to it with advantage, or to heighten the effect of those magnificent materials
which nature has furnished. […] Some part of the present castle is ancient, and gives an air of grandeur to the whole, which however is by no means a striking pile of building at any distance. It has long been the seat of the Courtenays, who are descended from the old Earls of Devonshire, and are one of the noblest families in the kingdom. The present possessor is William, Viscount Courtenay. […] The lands about Starcross were two years ago covered with furze, and in a state perfectly wild, but are now cultivated; they produce surprisingly well, though so much exposed to the sea. We here saw women employed at the plough, which they guided with as much dexterity as the most robust men, and we were informed that the practice is not uncommon in Devonshire, though I question whether the failure of the loom would afford many new hands to the farmer in other parts of the kingdom.

  • 1795 John Swete in his journal for January-February, edited by Todd Gray and Margery Rowe as Travels in georgian Devon, 1997-2000, vol. 2, p. 123.

[At Lyme Regis] in an intermediate space waved the Tamarisk its branches of a pale green, producing a most charming effect. Tho’ this elegant shrub is a Native of Italy and France and is fond of the Sea-breeze, yet I never before met with it on our coasts. There is one solitary Plant indeed growing on the banks of the Exe at Powderham, but as it is of such beauty, and possesses the extraordinary property of thriving by the Sea, it is certainly singular circumstance that it is not more in request on the coast.

  • 1798 William Gilpin, Observations on the western parts of England, relative chiefly to picturesque beauty. Dedication dated 1798; copied from second edition 1808, pp. 248-9. Richard Polwhele commented on this passage in a note to his poem The old english gentleman, and repeated the substance of these remarks with some variations in later publications: It was from the same unpoetic – unbenevolent principle, that […] Gilpin affected, some time since, to dislike both Powderham and Mamhead. He had often heard them mentioned as two of the most beautiful seats in the kingdom: and he came determined to combat vulgar prejudices.

Having descended Haldown-hill, we saw Mamhead, the seat of Lord Lisburne, and
Powderham-castle; though we had no time to examine either. The former from a woody hill, which seems to be adorned with much beautiful scenery, commands a noble view over the mouth of the Ex. The latter stands on a knoll, overlooking a flat park, bounded by the same river; but with a less amusing view of it. The Ex in both these views is a grand tide channel; and in the former especially is very beautiful. But we saw nothing in the distance either from Mamhead, or Powderham-castle, which Haldown-hill had not already shewn us, though not in all respects perhaps to so much advantage.

  • 1798 or 1799 John Kennedy & Henry Cranke Andrews, The botanist’s repository, for new, and rare plants; vol 1. The title page to this first volume is dated 1797 when serial publication began; the author’s preface is dated October 1799 at Knightsbridge.

Plate XLIX | Malphigia crassifolia |Thick-leaved Malpighia | Class X. Order III | Decandria trigynia. Although, we have given to this species of Malpighia, the specific name under which it has been introduced; yet, there is much doubt, whether it is not the Verbascifolium of Linnæus; or indeed if they are not both the same plant, named from different specimens. Our species makes a very handsome hothouse plant, growing to the height of five, or six feet, before it flowers. It is a native of Jamaica, and most of the adjacent islands, and was introduced by Messrs. Lee and Kennedy about the year 1792. From the extreme tenderness of the young leaves, and shoots, it must be kept in a strong growing pine heat during the winter months; otherwise, they are subject to damp off. It is raised by cuttings, and seems to delight in a rich soil. The figure was made from a specimen communicated by the Right Hon. Lord Viscount Courtenay, in whose most superb collection at Powderham Castle, near Exeter, it flowered, for the first time in England, in the month of September 1798.


  • 1799 John Swete in his journal for May 1799, edited by Todd Gray and Margery Rowe as Travels in georgian Devon, 1997-2000, vol. 4, pp. 123-156.

[p. 123] Embosomed, as it were in groves of Elms and Oaks, scarcely any part of the Castle is visible, excepting this the most antient; indeed but a few years have elapsed, since All Other was shrouded from the sight: the humbler parts of the Edifice, offices and Servants rooms were there concealed; The former Proprietors with due taste and judgment permitted the old Elms to spread out their branchy arms on every side; […] the shrubbery beneath these noble trees is hewn down and cast into the Hall fire – Many of the trees themselves coeval with the greater part of the Buildings, are rooted from their firm beds, and even the lateral branches of the few that were permitted to remain are deprived of their leafy honours and amputated to the bare trunk […]

[pp. 125-26] In 1715 the North wing, projecting in front of the Castle, was erected by Sir Wm the great Grand father of the present Lord Courtenay, which consisting of a suite of three rooms, had in its furthermost a Chapel, and over it a Library. Since his decease (which happened in 1735) all the buildings which were before the Castle have been demolished — the walls and Gatehouse which from the lower windows shut out the view of the Park and the River — and by the present Proprietor, as has been already observed — the Chapel has been desecrated by its conversion into a superb Drawing room. On this head there is rather a curious passage in Polwheles 2d. vol. of his Hist. of Devon — In page 170 He says “the present Lord Courtenay has greatly improved and ornamented the house. Among other alterations He has converted the Chapel into a very elegant Drawing room.” […] All the magnificence of the Castle consists in the suite of rooms which was built in 1717. And the additional one, united with it by the present Lord Courtenay. These are of handsome size and splendid in their decorations. — The pier glasses, the Chimney pieces and the furniture equipment — in the highest ton of prevailing taste, have been all lately introduced. The Music Room, over which Lord Courtenays natural Genius in a more than common degree, has fitted him to preside, may be considered as the finest and most expensive room in the County: — And to it Taste seems to have been restricted; for I cannot find any of her handywork in the Alterations that have been made without doors. | The most prominent of these is that which relates to the Water. The late Lord in the formation of the Canal, committed in my opinion, and in the opinion of others of acknowledged taste a palpable error, — and I conceive a no less mistaken judgment has been evinced in the late embankments and rectangular ditches, the intention of which was to drain off the stagnant water without heeding what effect it would be productive of. […] I am satisfied therefore that in the formation of this large sheet of Water the Character of the Spot has been violated and that it would have been preserved, with credit to the taste of the Proprietor and without the disbursement of £5000, (which first and last has been expended on the Canal, and on the dams and ditches which have been found necessary since to carry off the overflowings of the water, stagnating in the low ground) had the River Kenn been permitted to run on its antient bed, broken perhaps by a rough wear, and here and there overhung by a few Alder trees and Willows.

[pp. 130-31] From various parts of this aspect of the Park the prospect is delicious — not so full and extensive as when it is commanded from the windows of the Belvidere, but perhaps, to the Painter more gratifying, as it is set off by a foreground of Old Oaks. | Under a hanging wood composed of an intermixture of firs and forest trees, hewn from the living rock, and separated from the Park by a high pale, is here to be seen a Grotto; not one of those damp subterranes, from whose dropping roof the pendulous Stalactites hangs, and over whose fretted floor the chrystalline rill gurgles: but a dry, cool Excavation, forming a delicious retreat from the Summer Sun. The shelly decorations intermingled with spar and moss, owe their arrangement to the taste of the fair Sisters of Lord Courtenay, by whose hands also have the Roses been planted, and the Woodbines trained which o’er canopy the entrance of the grot, and fill it with perfume. […] The situation of this Grot is at the commencement of a walk or drive, extending upwards of a mile round the Southern acclivity of the hill on whose elevate summit stands the Belvidere; This winds most charmingly, gradually ascending through some of the fine Plantations of firs, and forest trees in the County whose beauty and luxuriance arrest every ones admiration. | Below these, on a glade, in part open to the Sun are the pleasure gardens, formed within the last ten years by the direction of Lord Courtenay; These are much visited; and consisting of Pastures of the most beautiful flowers, interchanged by close shaven lawns, shrubberies, and a Summer building forming at once an elegant room and a conservatory for curious plants certainly deserve the attention of every Visitor of Powderham.

[p. 132] […] On the Eastern side of the Hill, where the public road conducts from the Village and Castle of Powderham to Exeter […] A Gate here gives admission into the Park contiguous to a vast Walnut tree and to a small thatched building, used as a stable, […] Ascending from the ivy-clad building, a glen rises between two hills, towards the summit of the ridge on which appears the Belvidere. This glen is rendered more than commonly beautiful by successive groups of Oaks, […]

[pp. 135-38] I am now to direct my steps to the Boat-house, in my way to which I cross the great Avenue, which in former days led from Exeter, through the Village of Powderham to the Gateway of the Castle. The avenue indeed, correctly speaking, in the general acceptance of the word, has long ceased to be such — the regular uniformity of the trees, by rooting them up here and there, has been destroyed and tho’ perhaps much of the stiffness and heaviness of the avenue has by this means been overcome, still however a certain portion of the Effect remains, and which no art of Man, in a less period than half a century can efface. […] a more miserable and offensive Village is scarcely elsewhere to be found. […] I now make my retour from the Park by means of a large gate (the chief entrance to the Castle) which, under the spreading Arms of a most stately oak opened into the public road contiguous to the River. At but a short distance from thence, was the Boat house, where was a repository also of sails, cordage and all the other accessories and implements required for the equipment of Lord Courtenays yatcht cutter, and boats, which were generally in front of the Building, and of a battery consisting of a few old cannon. The Yacht has a very elegant and splendid appearance, and possesses every sort of accommodation which the nature of such a Vessel will admit of. The Cutter was at this time on shore […] In the stile of the Castle, the front of the Edifice appears of Gothic Architecture, it has its battlements, and towers at the angles. the wooden building on the left is for the reception of Masts, and was it not for its convenience might as well be away. In itself however it is not an unpicturesque appendage, and overshadowed by the old Oaks in the Park, contributes its share in the formation of a Scene, which when beheld from the Water must be allowed to have its particular attraction.

[pp. 141-43] […] from this field a gate opens into a wood and plantation, where a rivulet is cross’d, which emptying itself just below into a marsh, feeds a piece of water, where a decoy for Wild fowl has been formed; In the winter season abundance of Duck, widgeon and teal are taken here for which purpose A Man experienced in the art is kept in a neighboring Cottage by Lord Courtenay. | The Plantations at this place chiefly consist of Larch and serve to ornament part of a farm which the late Lord C. kept in hand, where he fitted up a few rooms and established a little menagerie. […] just beyond the House the ground rises high into a conical knoll, which exhibits itself as a fine object to many parts of the neighborhood, and especially to the River, which of course is commanded from its summit in great perfection. On the eastern bottom of this Hill skirting a wide extent of marsh land, the farm-road passes; and entering a hollow rendered gloomy by overhanging woods, leads to a Quarry of the red grit so prevalent in these parts, which though but of a small size when compared with those of Peamore and Exminster, is yet from local circumstances exceedingly picturesque. | There is much less of the trimness and regularity here, than is met with in most other of those excavations. The accompanyments which surround it are all wild and natural, and they are the consequence of Disuse; it does not appear that any Stone has been taken from it for many years, and of course it is rendered shaggy by thicket and briars […] the wide and beautiful domain of Powderham

[p. 156] […] grey, variegated with innumerous shades, which have been communicated to it by the effects of time, weather, smoke not forgetting amongst them all the intermixture of green, yellow and orange-tinted Lichens. Such was the colouring of Old Nutwell and such was that of the Castle at Powderham. I know not however how it happened but some years ago a disgust was taken at the appearance of this latter Edifice; its teinture was considered as dirty; and all at once to the admiration of the Country around it exhibited the whole of its fronts, nay’ even the huge square towers on the West, as nice and as white as lime and the Art of Man could make it. […] it became at once associated with a comical Epigram which I had somewhere met with […] The lines are supposed to be an impromptu effusion of an old Waterman on saving [sic] the back front of Lord Pembrokes villa towards the Thames brushed up by a spruce whitewash.

By Pembroke Earl’s backside Ive roed / Of years at least full thirty / And all that time its walls I’ve viewed / Black, yellow, brown & dirty / But now how chang’d! amazed I cry’d / To spruce and white it made is / It cannot be my Lord’s backside / It merely is my Lady’s

  • 1799 Richard Warner, A walk through some of the western counties of England. Published 1800, pp. 196-7. Warner made his walk in 1799.

Exmouth, 17 September [1799] The variety and grandeur of the view which the houses near the shore command, is seldom equalled. Old Ocean opens his heaving bosom to the south, and the Ex comes sweeping down in a broad sheet of water, from the opposite point. This estuary, sprinkled with shipping, inclosed between hills, which are ornamented with groves and mansions, castles and cities, presents, at full tide, and under a calm sky, the picture of an Italian lake. Limited in time, I could only visit, by a distant view, scenes which promise much gratification on a closer inspection — Topsham, and the beautiful country around it; Exeter and its venerable cathedral; the bold, broad, commanding summit of Hall-Down; and the magnificent seat and grounds of Mamhead, which ornament its eastern declivity. Powderham-castle is immediately opposite to me, but I do not regret my inability to visit it, since its situation is low, and the grounds about it are uninteresting. Besides, I have no passion for magnificence, unless it be united with a little taste; and should therefore receive no sort of pleasure in contemplating such gew-gaws as a silver grate plaistered over with gold, and three window-curtains, on each of which has been lavished the enormous sum of seven hundred guineas!!!

  • 1799-1800 Gentleman’s magazine, vol. 69 part 2 | supplement p.1113 | undated letter from ‘A traveller‘.

Dec. 1, 1799, Mr. Urban, I send you a slight view (Pl. II.) of Powderham castle, in Devonshire, the seat of Lord Courtenay, and a pile of the greatest antiquity and consequence in that county. For its antient history, I refer your readers to Leland and Camden; and for its modern state, to Mr. Polwhele’s History, vol. II. p. 170; who tells us that, in 1717, a neat chapel in the North wing was re-built and beautified; over which was a well-furnished library; that, in 1752 (when Chapple drew up some account of this castle for Brice’s Topographical Dictionary), the building for the most part retained the castellated form; and that the present noble owner has “greatly improved and ornamented the house; having, among other alterations, converted the chapel into a very elegant drawing-room;” a curious remark from a clergyman! But in another place something similar occurs: “The manor of Nutwell belongs to Sir Francis (Henry) Drake, who has made considerable alterations in the house: among other improvements, he has converted the chapel into a very handsome library.” P. 210.

  • Gentleman’s magazine, vol. 70 part 2 | July 1800, pp. 617-8. 4 July letter from John Swete.

In vol. LXIX p. 1113, a print is given of what an ingenious Traveller is pleased to call “a slight view” of Powderham castle, in Devon, the seat of Lord Courtenay. […] On an approach towards it in front (of which I iņclose you also a slight but accurate sketch), the eye is at once arrested by the vastness of the pile, and by the multiplicity of parts which, at different periods, have been added to the original mass, and now form one whole. In a Gothic pile, when the character of antient architecture has been scrupulously adhered to, no additional structure can well offend the sight. One of its component principles is irregularity; and, if the peculiar cast predominates in the pointed door and window, in the pinnacle and the battlements, the Antiquarian architect will not admit that the costume has been violated by any appendage, how numerous soever they may be. And if, in an architectonic light, there shall be no incongruity or disgust in the irregular mode of building, in a picturesque one there cannot possibly be any. Indeed, no style whatever can be so adapted to the pencil as one of these old Gothic edifices. For, according to the sentiments of a great modern master, the strongest and most beautiful play of light and shade must necessarily proceed from those bold projections, either of towers or buttresses, that break the uniform surface of the front; and from the pinnacles, turrets, and battlements, which destroy the horizontal line of roof, and constitute the principal, and (I may add) the characteristic enrichment of Gothic architecture. These are the features of this Eastern front of Powderham castle; with which (contrary to the opinion of some) I confess that I am pleased. But an excrescence of late has grown out of the Northern angle from the designs of Mr. Wyatt (the Cynosure of Gothic architecture), the plan of which has also been conceived by many (haply also of the hypercritic tribe!) to be not less injudicious than the situation. In this opinion, however, I cannot bring myself to coincide. The drawing-room (what was the chapel) presented to the North a blank wall and a recess; of course, on this side there was wanting somewhat to arrest and satisfy the eye. The building which has been erected does both. The vacant space is filled up, and that with an object decidedly beautiful. Was there aught to be found fault with, I conceive it not to be in the structure nor situation; but I could have wished that, in conformity to the cast of windows prevailing through the front, those of the new building, instead of being segments of a circle, had been somewhat pointed (for such only are Gothic), and that it had not so far projected beyond the front of the drawing-room; which possibly, to render the whole plan complete, could not well be avoided! Of this castle there are aspects more picturesque; that from the North and West in particular. Here were towers of truly castellated magnificence! I say were; for one (in consequence of decay) has been taken down and re-erected, and, I regret to say, not with the discriminative and appropriate taste which (had he been consulted) Mr. Wyatt would have planned. | Since writing the above, it has occurred to me that Tawstock, the very beautiful seat of Sir Bourchier Wrey, in the North of Devon, has a more extended front than Hartland abbey, with a projection at each end, as is given in the print, for which it possibly may have been designed.

  • Gentleman’s magazine, vol. 70 part 2 | December 1800, pp. 1125-26 | letter of 30 September from ‘Investigator‘.

Your correspondent, p. 617, who justly reprehends the intruding into your Magazine slight and imperfect sketches of persons and places, does not himself quite gratify the curiosity he excites by his remarks on Powderham castle, having left its picturesque situation, beautiful grounds, and respectable interior, wholly undescribed; so that a little farther information on the subject, from one who well knows the spot, may not, perhaps, be unacceptable to you or your readers; though my recollection, as to the interior, does not serve me so completely as I would wish. I went a few years since to view the castle, which then contained some good family portraits, and many curiosities, in particular a remarkable fine set of dressing plate, a royal present to an ancestor of the family. There were several antient noble apartments, and some modern ones, all of which, I believe, have been much embellished and adorned by the taste of the present possessor. There were some fine old lemon-trees, in full bearing, that grew in the natural ground at the end of a terrace, which were remarkable for being the first planted in the open ground in England. They were covered with glass frames only in the severity of winter; for the climate there, though rather less healthy than the opposite shore, is indisputably the Montpelier of England. There were also at that time at large in the park a nice breed of pyed pea-fowls, in which the late Lady Courtney, whose prudence and good conduct in her once unexpected high station were always exemplary, took great delight. | The situation of Powderham, though low, is extremely beautiful, upon the banks of the river Exe, there a full mile and a half broad at high-water. It commands the view of Topsham, and all the shipping that come up there; Sir Alexander Hamilton’s elegant place, called The Retreat; Lord Heathfield’s (late Sir Francis Drake’s) picturesque old mansion at Nut well, with its pleasant embowering groves; the view of that delicious spot for prospect Woodberry-hill, now ornamented with clumps of firs by Lord Rolle; Exmouth, and the pretty village of Lympstone, with its rosy cliffs; and many other interesting and agreeable objects; besides a full command of sea to the West; and from the Belvidere castle, situated upon an eminence in the park, a view of Torbay, with all the rich country below Halldown, and the hills of Dartmoor in the lointain. To the last there is a distant prospect of the city of Exeter, wherein its antient cathedral stands conspicuous. The Belvidere is built upon the model of that at Shrub’s hill, Windsor, erected by William Duke of Cumberland, and is itself a most distinguished and elegant ornament to the surrounding country. The pleasant parsonage, situated close upon the river, and a boat-house belonging to Lord Courtney, are, as well as the castle, seen to great advantage from the opposite shore. | If you will credit one perfectly well acquainted with that part of the country, a more delicious spot cannot be found than the Southern banks of the Exe opposite to Powderham castle, which it commands with all its advantages, as also the obelisk and plantations in the park at Mamhead, the seat of Lord Lisburne, Star Cross, Kenton, &c. &c. surmounted by the heights of Hall-down, which form a magnificent background to the picture. […] your new correspondent, but steady old friend, Investigator

Powderham firegrate

Images (from the top)

  • Powderham Castle, east view, drawn and engraved by Thomas Bonnor.
  • Richard Wilson (1714-1782), The Keep of Okehampton Castle |Manchester Art Gallery | http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-keep-of-okehampton-castle-206419| The two Devonshire landscapes shown here were both painted for William’s father in 1771.
  • Powderham Castle SE view, drawn and engraved by Thomas Bonnor. The two prints by Bonnor were engraved in 1805/6 from drawings made in the 1790s for Polwhele’s History of Devon. The engravings are dedicated to viscount Courtenay by ‘his obliged Servant R. Polwhele‘.
  • Richard Wilson (1714-1782), Lydford waterfall | Amgueddfa Cymru| https://museum.wales/art/online/?action=show_item&item=2042. | The two Devonshire landscapes shown here were both painted for William’s father in 1771.
  • Grate of ormulu and steel by Pierre-Philippe Thomire, commissioned in 1788 for the London town-house of lord Uxbridge but rejected and later procured by James Wyatt to sit in the fireplace of the new music room at Powderham. On either side there are columns of bronze and ormolu, each supporting a bronze figure: one of Apollo, the other of the muse Euterpe. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O115894/firegrate-thomire-pierre-philippe/

Page history

  • 2022 October 27: first published online.
  • 2022 November 1: 1793, The gentleman’s magazine added.
  • 2022 November 21: both paintings by Richard Wlson added.