William’s homes: Powderham 4

1835-1855

Cautionary note. The early years of the new century saw a rapid growth in the number of directories, guidebooks and topographical works published. They copied and ‘borrowed’ freely from each other. Successive editions of guidebooks often updated only information about local facilities and officials, without reviewing their descriptive sections. One example of this is the collection of paintings at Powderham-castle. After his return from north America to Europe William sold The tribute money with other paintings and drawings at London auctions in 1816 and 1817 yet they are still listed as late as 1850 in White’s History, gazetteer and directory.

The inventory of 1835 was carried out to comply with William’s will: I direct and desire that Inventories shall be made and taken of the aforesaid Effects in and about my said Castle within six months after my decease and signed by the Executors of this my Will and that the same shall be kept with the Writings and Title Deeds concerning or belonging to my said Estates for the better information of the Persons who shall succeed thereto Provided always that no Person being Tenant in tail by purchase under this my Will shall become absolutely entitled to the said Household Goods Jewels Plate and Furniture Pictures Prints Drawings Books and Libraries unless and until he shall attain the age of twenty one years (section 29).

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1835 William dies in Paris and is buried at Powderham; he is succeeded as earl by his second cousin William Courtenay (1771-1859) who has the use of Powderham-castle with its grounds during his lifetime. Inventory of Household Goods Jewels Plate and Furniture Pictures Prints Drawings Books and Libraries at the castle.

  • 1835 John Mockett, Mockett’s Journal, 1836 p. 259. Mockett made tours to Devon in 1834 & 1835; his visit to Powderham took place in August 1835, soon after William’s death.

Powderham Castle, near the river Exe, is supposed to have been built in the year 970, to prevent the Danes from coming up the river to Exeter, when they landed at Teignmouth, or else by William de Orc, a noble Norman, who came to England with the Conqueror, to whom the King gave Powderham. The park and plantations are about ten miles round. The red deer are numerous, and the timber very fine, particularly the oaks. The present Earl employs a large number of persons on the grounds, whom we saw making improvements. The late Earl having recently died in France, his furniture, books, &c., were sold, to the amount of £120,000. which was directed, by his will, to be given to his butler; all the other servants were provided for very liberally, during their lives.
Belvedere, a high tower, stands very conspicuously on the hill, in the park. If he should reside here, and spend good part of his large income, (£60,000. per year,) it will benefit the whole neighbourhood. The Church is small, but neat; the tower square, and has three bells. Having spent a delightful day here, walking round the house, and in the beautiful gardens, we proceeded to Kenton.

  • 1836 Stanfield’s Coast scenes, pp. 51 & 54. Stanfield’s drawing of Powderham Park is shown in A noble lord absconds.

The grounds of Powderham Park are extensive, and finely planted with trees. On the summit of the highest ground, is a tower called the Belvidere, which is a conspicuous object from many parts of the coast, and from the British Channel. The path and plantations belonging to this domain, extend through a circumference of nearly ten miles, and the pleasure grounds are replete with a vast number and a great variety of flowers and botanical rarities.

Probably, there is not, in the whole range of landscape scenery, a spot more truly picturesque than the view from the grounds of Powderham. The indication of rustic life as seen in the team of horses, of commerce in the distant vessels, the noble river, the far sea, the rising turrets of the opposite city, combine to form a picture of most extraordinary beauty.

  • 1837 John Britton and Edward Wedlake Brayley, Devonshire illustrated, in a series of views, p. 32 & 33.

[This volume uses the text published by the authors in 1832.]

1839 lady Henrietta Courtenay (the first wife of William’s second cousin, William) dies.

  • 1842 Gardener’s magazine. Vol. 8 new series. November 1842, Notices of some gardens and country seats in Somersetshire, Devonshire, and part of Cornwall. By the Conductor [= J. C. Loudon]. [7 September 1842]

Powderham Castle; the Earl of Devon. The fine magnolia trees and other exotics here are sadly neglected; the branches are unpruned, the stems covered with lichens and moss, and the plants choked up in many places with the commonest trees and shrubs. The house is being altered by Mr. Fowler, a guarantee to our minds that the general effect will be simple and grand. Some walled-up banks along the approach appeared to us much too common-place for the vicinity of a castle. Had there been rocks to penetrate, as at Warwick Castle, the case would have been different; but here the walling mode seems to have been adopted as a matter of choice, or for the sake of economy. We would have brought down the ground with a gentle slope, and had 3 or 4 feet of perfectly level surface on each side of the road, which, as it is at present, has a cramped appearance. To make this subject clear, however, would require more room and time than we can at present spare.

  • 1844 Isaac Slater, Pigot & Co.’s Royal national and commercial directory and topography of the counties of Berkshire […], Devonshire, […]  1844. Part 1 [counties separately paginated] |p. 284]. University of Leicester | Special Collections Online. Jame Pigot had died in 1843.

Star Cross is a very pretty village and sea-port, situated on the River Exe; about 8 miles S. S. E. from Exeter, 7 N. from Teignmouth, and 4 N. from Dawlish: it is in the parish of Kenton, and hundred of Exminster. The chief attraction belonging to this place, besides its pleasant situation, is ‘Powderham Castle’, the noble seat of the Earl of Devon; supposed to have been originally built by Isabella de Fortibus, the last descendent of the great family of Rivers, who died in the reign of Edward I. This castle was much improved by the late Lord Courtney. The park, grounds, and plantations of Powderham, occupy a space of nearly ten miles in circumference. Upon the summit of the highest ground is ‘Belvidere’, a lofty tower of triangular shape, with an hexagonal turret rising at each corner, erected by Lord Courtney in 1773: this building commands a great variety of the most beautiful scenery, and is itself a conspicuous object from the British Channel. […]

[Nobility, gentry and clergy.] Devon the Right Hon. the Earl of, Powderham Castle

  • 1844 The railway chronicle: joint-stock companies journal, September 7 | p. 518 | Miscellanea.

The South Devon Railway. — The works on the South Devon line are proceeding very favourably. Shafts are sunk at the Dainton Tunnel, at Marley, and at Lipson. In the neighbourhood of Plymouth, also, the ground has been broken, and men have been employed in sinking shafts near Mutley Plain, to ascertain the nature of the soil, preparatory to entering upon the contracts. The works between Exeter and Newton have been actively commenced. In the Exwick fields, on the St. Thomas side of the Exe, a great number of labourers are at work. The contract No. 1, extending from the south side of the terminus of the Bristol and Exeter Railway, on to Powderham, has been taken by Messrs. Carpenter and Chesterfield. The contracts Nos. 2 and 3 run from Powderham to Teignmouth, and are let to Mr. Waring. It is provided that half these works shall be completed by the 1st of February next, and the entire contracts by the 4th of May following, under a penalty of 20l. daily after that period. A number of men are employed in tunnelling near the Teignmouth Beach towards Dawlish; and the line is staked out from Dawlish to Starcross. […] Plymouth Times.

  • 1846 Letter from Frank Fairplay dated 3 November from Exeter, Herapath’s railway journal, no. 387, vol. 8 | p. 1404 | South Devon Railway.

Mr. Editor,—It appears to me that neither you yourself, nor perhaps one in one hundred of the Shareholders in the South Devon Railroad know anything at all appertaining to the truth either of the present situation or future prospects of that Company, nor why so few of its shares are held either in this city or in the towns near the line. Not to weary the patience of your readers, the causes are—the enormous expense in construction, the numerous tunnels, the frequent high embankments, and the dangers from the waves of the sea, on the one hand, and frequent hardships on the other, joined to the excessively sharp curves which will render a high degree of speed impossible, and will assuredly produce another and a competing line. […] Now, from Exeter, that is, from the station of the Bristol and Exeter Railway to nearly opposite Powderham Church, a distance of about seven miles, the line could have been carried as straight as a bird could fly, thus saving distance, and, by keeping nearer the bank of the canal, making the very sharp Powderham curve possess a far larger radius than it now has;—from hence to Teignmouth is a succession of curves. The consequence is apparent—the express train takes forty-five minute to go over the fifteen miles. […]

1846 South Devon Railway opens between Exeter and Teignmouth in May.

  • 1846 The route book of Devon: a guide for the stranger and tourist. Printed and published by Henry Besley, Exeter; second edition (pp. 170; 172-8). Before describing Route IX. From Exeter to Dawlish, Teignmouth, Torquay, and Dartmouth, the route book takes A trip on the South Devon Railway.

We deem no apology necessary before entering upon our present Route by the usual turnpike road, in inviting the stranger to accompany us in a short excursion on this railway as far as Teignmouth, the point to which it is now working by locomotive engines. […] We traverse the Exminster marshes; the line preserving the same level, which is continued till it reaches Powderham church, where it makes an ascent. We pass in review, rising from the side of the river, on the left, the beautiful grounds of the Retreat, the residence of A. H. Hamilton, Esq., also the town of Topsham, and begin to make the opening of the Clist river, which here falls into the Exe; and a pretty peep is obtained up the valley through which it descends. We arrive at Turf, the name of the place where the Exeter canal joins the river. This is the Blackwall of the Exeter citizens, who resort here to eat White Bait, which are caught between the locks in considerable quantity during the season. There is a small inn at this place pleasantly situated. At this point is another stationary engine. It is here and for the next three or four miles, the stranger will be charmed with the beauty of the scene. The railway enters the shores of the wide estuary of the Exe. The vista over this extensive sheet of water, especially if filled by the tide, when it has the appearance of a lake, is peculiarly charming, and especially so if enlivened with the flowing sails of a goodly number of vessels, making to and from the port of Exeter. The land view on each side is equally striking. On the left are the elevated hills of Woodbury and Withycombe,–the richly cultivated country covered with villas, farms, and pleasure grounds, from Topsham along the whole side of the river, with the lime white houses of Lympstone, and the more bold and elevated town and prominent tower of Exmouth, at the furthest point of view, where the Exe finds its way to the sea. On our right, the most striking objects are the high and densely wooded heights of Powderham Park, with the Belvidere rising out of the midst—the church and rectory house of Powderham, a portion of the village of Kenton, and the little hamlet of South Town, encircled with foliage. We now pass Powderham church, and traverse the most beautiful portion of the extensive grounds of Powderham, and in front of the Castle itself, of which a very good view is obtained. As we are now nearing the Station at Starcross, and the steam is blowing off for a stoppage, there will be time for us to say a few words of this very ancient domain. […] the ancient fortress has undergone great changes and alterations in order to adapt it to a modern residence. It has still somewhat of a castellated, but nothing of an imposing appearance, in its present modern exterior. The parks, grounds, and gardens are most beautiful, and very extensive, covering an area of more than ten miles round. The present noble proprietor has recently spent several thousand pounds in improvements of the house and grounds. The public are admitted into the parks and gardens, with great liberality, on making application to Mr. John Drew, jun., residing at the house. […]

[After this ‘short excursion’ on the railway, the route book resumes its description of the turnpike road.]

Passing over Exe bridge and through Alphington-street, on the left, will take us on the Plymouth road to the village of Alphington, about a mile and quarter from Exeter, here our road on this route turns off from the Plymouth branch to the left, close by the church. We pursue our journey along the valley of the Exe, a short distance from its western bank; and as the road undulates and occasionally approaches and recedes from the river, some very charming prospects open to the traveller. Shortly after leaving Alphington a good view of the city of Exeter, a number of detached villas, sprinkled over the well wooded country to the south of that city, the village of Wear, and town of Topsham, with the waters of the river Exe and Canal winding through the foreground, form a pleasing picture. – About four miles from Exeter, on the right, is the Devon County Pauper Lunatic Asylum. We then pass through the village of Exminster, an ancient manor belonging to the Courtenay family, and soon begin to near the beautiful grounds of Powderham, the seat of the Earl of Devon. A new lodge built of red sandstone, on the left, stands at the entrance of the road leading to the Castle, distant about three quarters of a mile. The triangular Belvidere, a most conspicuous object on the other side of the Exe, and of which we frequently catch a sight along this road, is a modern erection, standing in an elevated spot in the grounds of Powderham, a short distance from the castle or mansion. The drive over the private road by Powderham church in front of the castle, between the park and the South Devon Railway is justly admired for its beauty.

After leaving Powderham lodge, the road passes under an arch connecting the wooded grounds of this domain and thence to the village of Kenton, about seven miles from Exeter. […] The road, on leaving Kenton, quickly gains the bank of the estuary of the Exe, and enters Starcross parallel with the line of the South Devon Railway, which here runs between it and the river.

Starcross. | This little place, like its opposite neighbour, Lympstone, only known a few years since, for the celebrity of its cockles and oysters, is now assuming a very genteel appearance, and aspiring to the title of a watering place. The improvements and increase of buildings here with that view have been many and striking. The gravel walk along by the side of the railway, close to the river, is a pleasant promenade. Many persons resort to this little place in the summer season, for change of air, who cannot bear the stronger sea air of the coast. Starcross is in the parish of Kenton, and derives its name from a cross that formerly stood near the landing place on the bank of the river. A district chapel, of small dimensions, was built here in 1826; besides which there is a place of worship for the Wesleyans. The Courtenay Arms, pleasantly situated, close to the railway station, affords respectable accommodation as an inn, having a large room, where balls and assemblies are held at the time of the Regatta, in the summer season. The principal lodging houses are those facing the river, at the north-western end of the town.

  • 1848 Hunt and Co’s Directory & topography for the cities of Exeter and Bristol, p. 112 | Topsham.

The church, dedicated to St. Margaret, is placed on an eminence, and the church-yard adjoining commands an extensive view of the broad majestic Exe, with its scudding sails, the pretty village of Lympstone appearing on the east, the intervening space being embellished with picturesque scenery and studded with handsome dwellings; the opposite shore, and its adjoining land, exhibiting a succession of verdant-fields, wooded hills and well-timbered shaws, with the castle of Powderham in the distance, rearing its lofty head above the whole.

1849 In Dublin the earl of Devon (William Courtenay, 1771-1859) marries as his second wife Elizabeth Ruth Scott who dies in 1914.

  • 1850 William White, History, gazetteer and directory of Devonshire, and the city and county of the city of Exeter (p.412)

Since then, it [Powderham Castle] has undergone many alterations in order to adapt it to the requirements of a modern mansion; but it still retains in some degree a castellated appearance, having battlements on its towers and pediments. Until 1752, it retained a considerable portion of its ancient castle-like form, and had a quadrangular court in front, with embattled walls and a tower gateway at the entrance. Its exterior has now a modern appearance, and the interior has many spacious apartments sumptuously furnished, and decorated with numerous valuable productions of art. Among many fine paintings are “The Tribute Money,” by Rubens; “The Five Senses,” by Teniers; and full lengths of Charles II. and Queen Henrietta Maria, by Vandyck. The Park is very extensive, and is finely planted with trees and shrubs, and diversified with some bold swells. The present noble proprietor has recently spent several thousand pounds in improving the house and grounds. On the summit of the highest ground is a triangular building with three hexagonal towers, called the Belvidere, constructed for the purpose of commanding the rich and diversified prospects of the sea, the river Exe, and the surrounding country. This ornamental building was erected in 1773, and is about 60 feet in height to the top of the towers. The park, gardens, and plantations, belonging to this domain extend through a circumference of nearly ten miles, and the pleasure grounds behind the house are replete with a great variety of flowers and botanical rarities.

  • 1851 Murray’s Hand-book for travellers in Devon and Cornwall, pp.17 & 30.

The park of Powderham Castle (E. of Devon) is accessible to the public. The castle retains little of its old military character […] The park is nearly 10 m. in circumf., and commanded by the Belvidere, a tower from which a noble prospect is surveyed in 3 different parts from the 3 windows.

The [railway] line approaches Powderham (Earl of Devon). First is seen the Church, a Perp. building with triple chancel, or aisles of equal projection, a common arrangement in the west. Next, the Belvidere, a prospect-tower, erected on an eminence near the castle, and commanding delightful views. Finally, the Park and Castle occupied by J. W. Fraser, Esq. The park covers a large tract of undulating ground, and its woods of oak stretch their arms to the very brink of the estuary. The Castle is well seen, but will probably disappoint, as the stout old walls look so fresh in their coats of plaster, that it is difficult to believe they have formed the seat of the “imperial family” for the last 500 years, and before that of the Bohuns, the maternal ancestors of the Courtenays. Powderham is, in truth, one of the oldest places in the county.

  • 1852 Benjamin Clarke, The british gazetteer […] forming at once an iron road-book and county atlas| vol. 2, p. 610; vol. 3, p. 413.

Kenton | […] [The manor of Kenton] was sold in the reign of Queen Elizabeth to Lord Clifton, and after passing into the possession of several families, was ultimately bought back by Sir William Courtenaye of Powderham Castle in 1712, and is now the property of the present noble owner of that stately structure. […] N.1 m. is Powderham Castle, the seat of the Earl of Devon.

Powderham| […] Powderham Castle, a magnificent structure, is the seat of the Earl of Devon.

White’s 1850 Directory does not include an entry for William Pitts in the parish of Powderham, but he is listed in the census returns for 1841, 1851 and 1861 as head of the household at Glebe Farm House. In his orchard there was an apple-tree whose fame was noticed by The gardener’s chronicle in July 1856 (p. 486).


Giant Apple Tree. There is at the present time a very remarkable Apple tree growing in an orchard in the occupation of Mr. Pitts, of Powderham, near Exeter. This tree has been known to produce seven hogsheads of cider in a single season. People now in the neighbourhood have assisted in gathering up 36 bushels of Apples from under it in a morning. Many of the inhabitants remember this tree about the beginning of the present century as a very fine one, with branches extending – they think – full 30 feet on every side and with an altitude in proportion. There is however no reliable data as to its dimensions 50 years ago, and time has considerably shorn it of its proportions; still its present appearance would argue that if it bore fruit in proportion to its size, its productive powers have not been over-rated. The trunk six feet from the ground gives a circumference of six feet four inches – another tree apparently of the same kind in the same orchard girts six feet two inches. Several others have arrived at nearly the same size.

Images (from the top).

  • Powderham Castle (S. Devon Railway), drawn and engraved for Benjamin Clarke’s British gazetteer of 1852; printed in vol. 3 facing p. 413. https://www.briti
  • shmuseum.org/collection/object/P_1946-0710-197. © The Trustees of the British Museum. This anonymous drawing shows a view from the north-east. There is a glimpse in the background of sail-ships on the estuary while a steam-engine pulls its short train of carriages along the railway, heading for Exeter. The print makes clear how with their new additions Charles Fowler and his patrons sought to re-create on the west the effect of the battlemented walls and gateway that had enclosed a quadrangle on the eastern side before they were pulled down in the previous century.
  • Samuel & Nathaniel Buck, East view of Powderham-castle, 1734. https://www.castlesandmanorhouses.com/page.php?key=Powderham%20Castle. This print was complemented in 1745 by their view from the south-east, shown in Powderham 1.
  • Set of 13 victorian carved oak side chairs, acquired by William Courtenay (1771-1859) but sold in 2009 at Sotheby’s in London.

Page history

  • 18 November 2022: first published online