The story of Greenhill House (23 Fore Street, Moretonhampstead)

by R.O. Heath 

Description of property, according to the Title Deeds and the Tithe Map of 1840

(NB the deeds are deposited with Devon Record Office, Exeter)


1. The Site

The medieval building plot was usually two poles wide, i.e. 33 ft; Greenhill House is a double plot four poles wide = 66 ft. The site is at the broad end of the V (see Sparrowhawk pp 63-5) and logically will have been the site of an important dwelling continuously from Saxon or early medieval times. The property is a few yards from the church & the original Rectory and would have been directly opposite to the original Manor House before the old green & market place was built on (see Sparrowhawk pp 34-5).


2. The property 1691- c.1720

(a) The earliest Deed is dated 1st October 1691 being a lease & release by William Hill (the Elder), gent. to Samuel Lightfoot (the Elder), feltmaker. This Deed refers to an earlier lease dated 3 October 1689.

The property is described as 'All that one messuage where Samuel Lightfoot now dwells with all other dwelling houses, barns, stables, shippens, brewhouses, outhouses, courtlages and garden rooms (plots), also two little garden rooms (plots) paled in from the street on the fore side'.

In the 17th century and maybe earlier the buildings on the site comprised two longhouses built end on to the street, frontages facing each other, one against the East boundary, the other against the west, and a small garden plot paled in from the street against the south end of each longhouse between the end wall and the street.

Between the frontages of these two longhouses were gardens and a track leading to the rear parts of the site which comprised 2 pairs of dwellings, two courtyards, barn, stable, shippen, brewhouse, outhouse, a building or edifice for drying wool, and more garden.

b) The longhouse against the west boundary wall (now the driveway) was the smaller of the two longhouses on the site, and would have existed long before 1691. It was probably of traditional plan, one large ground floor room with loft over for sleeping, stone built and thatched. This building was destroyed by fire on 6th January 1852.

c) The longhouse against the east boundary wall was always the main dwelling, probably built early 17th century or before and renovated c. 1647 when Andrew Hill was married (see later). In 1689, and probably since 1647, this larger longhouse comprised a hall or main reception room, a parlour, and two bedrooms over; it was stone built and thatched.

According to the lease of 1691, the hall was oak panelled (the present cloakroom and part passage). The parlour was also oak panelled with pine cupboard fronts at the alcove each of the fireplace (the present sitting-room but after major alterations c. 1720). The remains of this oak panelling is now in the front hall, and the two cupboard fronts are in the breakfast room.

Andrew Hill was particularly proud of his oak panelling, and specifically refers to it in the lease of 1st October 1691 'all the ceiling (wainscot) on the hall and in the parlour' which was to be left undisturbed by the tenant.

Part of this longhouse is still preserved in the present building, i.e. the present dining-room with bedroom over which was originally the kitchen area with part bedroom over; the present cloakroom and adjacent passage with bathroom over which was originally the hall (main reception room) with part bedroom over.

d) The pair of dwellings in the courtyard at the rear of the main longhouse was probably rebuilt or partially rebuilt around 1650, stone and thatch, and thereafter used as dwellings let out to workers associated with woollen manufacture.

However prior to this rebuilding, there is evidence to suggest that the earlier building was of some local importance:

i) There are two open hearths side by side and built at an angle to each other, and a stout double-flue chimney stack. The quality and design of this chimney stack suggests that the building was originally a single dwelling of a higher standard than for occupation by wage-earners in the woollen trade; the chimney stack probably dates from late medieval times.

ii) Among the stone forming these two hearths are three particular corner stones having a carved vertical moulding at the angle, suggesting that they were once part of an embellished door or window surround, being re-used at random on the present positions when the house was rebuilt c.1650.

iii) At the exterior corners of this building are five particular stones used at random, also having a carved vertical moulding at the angle, two at the southwest exterior corner, one at the northwest exterior corner, and one each side of the small door.

iv)? These eight particular stones are larger and of a different texture to the majority of stones in the building, but there are a number of stones matching in size and texture. The inference is that these carved stones, and the others of similar texture without the carved moulding, were once part of an earlier building on the site, and were re-used at random in the rebuilding c.1650.

If these moulded stones were placed on top of each other the effect would be a 4? carved stone pillar, such as would be found each side of a main entrance door in a medieval building of quality.

It is probable that this building originally consisted of a single ground-floor room with two hearths angled so as to throw their heat towards each end of the hall. The quality of the chimney stack clearly indicates that the original building was one of some local importance; such a chimney stack would not have been found on a dwelling purpose-built for occupation by weavers and woolcombers (see later).

e) The barn, stable etc. were situated on an east-west line along the north boundary of the present lawn, but were 'thrown down' c.1862 when that area was converted from courtyard to garden.

f) The garden wall shows clear lines where it has been raised on two occasions, no doubt using the stones that once formed the small longhouse, the Anabaptist Meeting House (see later), and the barn, stable, etc.


3. The period c.1718 to c.1860

(see later for details of individuals now named)

a) From 1689 the property was held on lease by Samuel Lightfoot the Elder who purchased it in 1715 for £70 in silver and one piece of gold called a guinea. In 1718 his son, Samuel Lightfoot the Younger, was married, and the young couple came to live with the Lightfoot parents.

Samuel the Elder received £100 marriage portion to be used for the 'better maintenance' of the newly-weds. The original main longhouse already accommodated Samuel the Elder and his wife Susanna and his brother Abraham Lightfoot, also their daughter Susanna and her husband Jonathan Cockram; therefore it was necessary to extend the house in order to accommodate Samuel the Younger and his wife and any children that may arrive.

It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that the £100 marriage settlement was used in part to extend the main longhouse, which suggests a date of c.1718 for this work. The present street frontage was therefore built c. 1718, involving the demolition of part of the original parlour which area was then incorporated into the new 2-storey frontage. It should be noted that all the doors in to the first floor rooms, also to the large attic room, are of matching early Georgian design.

The small longhouse, and the remainder of the buildings and outhouses remained substantially in their original condition until the fire of 1852 which destroyed the small longhouse and the Meeting House (then used as a dwelling).

b) The Anabaptist Meeting House was built c. 1718.

Samuel Lightfoot the Elder was an active and enthusiastic Ana-Baptist, so also was Samuel the Younger. It is probable that the local Ana-Baptists met in the longhouse from 1689 onwards, when Samuel the Elder first leased the property ? such meetings of Dissenters being legalised by the Declaration of Indulgence of 1687. However, in 1689 he was only the tenant of the property, and as the Hill family who still owned it were established church, Samuel would not have been able to build a proper Meeting House on the site. However, after he had purchased in 1715, he was free to build a Meeting House, and it is probable that this was done at the same time as the extension to the house, c.1718.

This Ana-Baptist Meeting House was built at the north end of the smaller longhouse, against the west boundary, and approximately where the lawn is now. It was built privately by Samuel the Elder, and let to the Ana-Baptist congregation on a 50-year lease for 52/6 a year rent; and continued in use as a Meeting House until 1786 when the Baptist congregation built a chapel in Fore Street behind the shop which is 3 plots further westward, i.e. no. 17 Fore Street.

When the Meeting House ceased to be used as such, it was converted into a dwelling, and was ultimately completely destroyed in the fire of 1852.

Beneath the floor of the present kitchen, extending along the south wall from the pantry door to the sink, is a trough some 8 ft deep leading to a well beneath the sink, this well having some 14 ft of water. This trough and well are conveniently adjacent to the old Meeting House, and could have been the Baptistry used for the total immersion of Baptists when baptised.

c) On 3.12.1861 the property ceased to be owned by the Lighfoot family and Puddicombe descendants, and was sold to Miss Elizabeth Bragg who immediately commenced to convert it into a private residence of distinction. The small longhouse and the Meeting House had already been destroyed by fire, and Elizabeth Bragg had the barn, stable, cowhouse and other outbuildings demolished, and converted the pair of dwellings into a stable, coach-house and loft over the top. She also set up the garden where the lawn is now. Probably at this time the roof of the house was raised so as to provide attic accommodation, i.e. servant's bedrooms. Also at this date the single storey extension was built, i.e. a kitchen and a scullery, now the breakfast room and kitchen.


Owners and Tenants 1647-1861

a) Andrew Hill c.1647 to 1689

Andrew Hill, son of Thomas Hill yeoman and tanner of Sloncombe near Moretonhampstead, was baptised on 15.9.1619 at St Andrews Church, Moretonhampstead; he was buried on 20.9.1692 at the age of 73.

He was one of the 8 men wardens c. 1669, i.e. one of the Eight Men of Moreton (for further details of the Eight Men see in miscellaneous history papers deposited with the Moretonhampstead History Society, also the supplement to the key history of Moretonhampstead (typescript) a copy of which is with the M/h History Society, also a copy with West Country Studies Library, Exeter).

There are documents dated in the year 1718 (see later) which show that this Greenhill property was part of an entailed estate belonging to the Hill family. The inference is that it was already so entailed when Andrew Hill took possession as tenant probably in 1647 in which year he married Martha. They had at least 6 children. Martha was buried on 25.9.1671.

Devon & Cornwall Notes & Queries Vol. IV, p. 49, records that: 'Richard Hill of Moretonhampstead, Freeman and Alderman of the City of London was born in Moreton c. 1600, son of Thomas Hill, tanner of Sloncombe, who died 1648/9; mother Jane. On 11/3/1631 Richard married Agnes at Mevagissey, and soon after settled in London as a cordwainer; he died in 1660'. In the Register of the Cordwainers Company is the entry: 'William son of Thomas Hill, tanner, of M/h in Devon, was bound apprentice to Richard Hill, citizen & cordwainer of London, 25.7.1632'.

By 1691, possibly some years earlier, the entailed estate was in the hands of William Hill the Elder, yeoman, of Bratton Clovelly. Apart from the Greenhill property, the entailed estate included:

i) Bowden's tenement, commonly called Bowdens, comprising farmhouse, cottages, gardens, 4 acres of meadow, 30 acres of pasture, & 14 acres of furze or heath in Moretonhampstead.

ii) A farm called Brockdon Gidhill in the Manor of Hound Tor; all the lands in Scordesleigh in the Manor of Norsworthy with the Parish of Manaton; Swenedon otherwise Swalladon; Hameldon; Burnhill Down; all comprising 110 acres of land, 16 acres of meadow, 16 acres of pasture, 270 acres of furze and heath, and 18 acres of moor or common pasture.

b) Samuel Lightfoot the Elder and his descendants, 1689 to 1861

By lease dated 3rd October 1689 Samuel Lightfoot the Elder, feltmaker, became tenant. He was the elder surviving son of William Lightfoot, feltmaker.

On 26.4.1715 Samuel bought the property for the sum of £70 in silver and one piece of gold called a guinea.

Samuel the Elder died in Sept. 1730 intestate, and the property therefore passed to his surviving son Samuel the Younger, also a feltmaker. In the year 1718 Samuel the Younger had married Elizabeth Waymouth daughter of Hannah Waymouth widow of Marlborough, Devon. The marriage settlement provided 'for a marriage portion of £100'. Samuel the younger had 3 daughters, Hannah, Mary and Susanna, and on his death in 1754 intestate the property passed to them equally.

Hannah married William Heard but there were no children and she died intestate in April 1782 leaving her two surviving sisters as co-heirs.

Mary married Thomas Puddicombe 126.4.1750 and survived him, and died March 1790 intestate leaving her only son James Puddicombe as her heir at law.

Susanna died November 1791 intestate and unmarried, leaving James Puddicombe her nephew as her heir at law. James Puddicombe then became the sole owner. James Puddicombe therefore inherited in full in 1791, he was a doctor (described as surgeon) and practised in Moreton, and he died on 22 Nov. 1830, leaving the property to his son Alfred also a doctor and practising in Moreton at the house which is now the Rectory.

Alfred P. (the elder) died 12.2.1851 leaving the property to his son Alfred (the younger) also a doctor and practising in Wolverhampton, who sold the property to Miss Elizabeth Bragg on 3.12.1861, thus bringing to an end the tenancy or ownership of the Lightfoots and direct descendants from 1689 to 1861 = 172 years.


Points of Interest in the Deeds

The deeds and relating documents are complete from 1.10.1691. The opening words of the early deeds describe the date in an interesting manner  e.g. the first deed of 1.10.1691 commences 'This indenture made in the third year of the reign of our sovereign Lord and Lady William and Mary by the Grace of God of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, King and Queen, Defender of the Faith etc.'

This first Deed describes the property as 'All that one messuage or tenement with appurtenances wherein Samuel Lightfoot now dwelleth with all other dwelling houses, barns, stables, shippens, brewhouses, outhouses, courtlages and garden rooms thereunto belonging, and also the two little garden rooms paled in from the street on the fore side'. (Note these two little garden rooms or plots of ground were later thrown into the street and became part of the pavement, which no doubt is the reason why the front steps project onto the pavement).

This first deed is a lease from William Hill to Samuel Lightfoot and contains an exclusion clause which reads 'except and always reserving unto the Lord of the said premises for the time being all the ceiling in the Hall and all the ceiling in the Parlour of these premises to be left for implements to the said house and not to be removed'.