The Story of Pepperdon

An account of the history of Pepperdon and of the Wills family who lived there

written by Peter Wills, great-grandson of George and Lucy Wills

Click here for a shorter version of this text, and here for a separate collection of reminiscences and poetry.

 

The first written news we have of the existence of Pepperdon is on the Assize Rolls for 1310, where it is referred to as "Pypedenne", which by 1331 had become "Pippedenne". It then disappears from the records for a while - if four hundred years can be called "a while" - appearing again in 1727 as "Peppedon" and in 1773 as "Pepidon or Pepidown". Not until 1792 does "Pepperdon" appear on the records, though without any great conviction, as for the next seventy years it kept cropping up as both "Peppidon" and "Pippedon" as well.

There are a number of theories as to what the name means. One of the guides to Dartmoor thought it derived from "Penburn: summit, hill or head of heaps", but June Morgan, my cousin in New Zealand, was not happy when she read that. "I always understood it meant "Pipers Down", she writes. "We named our home in Wanaka "Peper Harow" which in Middle English is said to mean "Piper's heathen temple".

Though we may never be entirely certain, it probably derived from either "Pippa's Dene", which means "Pippa's valley", or "Piparden", from a family called Pipard, indeed, given the haphazard way people spelled in those days, not only may the two be one and the same thing, but they may be the same as June's as well. I must admit to a soft spot for the Pipards, but to meet them, we must go back a bit.

Once Upon A Time - or indeed it may have been a little earlier than that - the King would grant estates to his noblemen in return for some service. This might take many forms, from providing a certain number of men-at-arms in time of war to something purely nominal - the Earl of Ulster once held Moretonhampstead in return for the annual render of a sparrowhawk.

The nobleman in his turn would carve out portions of his land and give it to others in return for a fee. This "fee" might be in the form of rent, and it might be in the form of services, to be performed annually, or when required.

In 1316 one Johannes Pipard? held the manors of 'North Bovey cum Lustleigh, Wrey and Haynor', and it is probable that it was one of his forbears who carved the manor of Pepperdon out of his manor of Wrey to give to one of his retainers.

Pepperdon became a rather curious thing called a ?Free Tenement? of Lustleigh. Though it was not a part of the Manor of Lustleigh, it was part of the parish thereof, it paid a Quit Rent of sixpence a year to the Lord of the Manor of Lustleigh, and was required, every fifth year, to do the office of "Tithingman?. Tithes were a tax of one tenth of the annual proceeds of land, which was taken for the support of the clergy and the church, and presumably a Tithingman was the chap who assessed each property for the Tithes.

A glance at the map will show that this is a curious situation. Pepperdon is about a mile and a half from Moretonhampstead, but nigh twice that from Lustleigh. Indeed, the dwellers in Moor Barton had to cross Pepperdon - in Lustleigh - to get to their own church in Moretonhampstead. But it does go to show that Pepperdon must have been a very ancient manor, because in 1289 they passed a Statute which stopped the whole business of creating manors like this.

It may be worthwhile noting, at this point, that though they stopped creating the things, they didn't bother to disturb the ones that were there. Pepperdon remained in Lustleigh parish until 1885, when it was transferred to Moretonhampstead, and Quit rents were not made redeemable until 1925.

Whether Mr Pipard was doing his tenant any great favour must be questionable. On the map, Pepperdon seems to be quite close to the bottom of the valley, but maps are deceptive, and in fact, although as the crow flies Wray Barton and Pepperdon are only some 660 yards apart, the crow would plummet nearly 500 feet in accomplishing the journey. The new tenant of Pepperdon would have found himself with no more than a couple of hundred acres, probably largely of rough moorland at the time, stuck on the side of a steep slope, and exposed to the sort of weather Dartmoor can produce at an altitude of nearly a thousand feet. In addition, he had a three mile journey to get to church, and if that was not enough, the poisoned chalice of having to be Tithingman meant that once every five years he would either aggrieve his fellow parishioners by overvaluing their tithes, or aggrieve the local vicar by not charging them enough.

The view, as some small consolation, was stunning !

In the next few hundred years, the ownership of Pepperdon was much intermingled with the ownership of Wray Barton, and also of Hayne, the estate beside the road into Moretonhampstead. There was a family called Nosworthy which owned Hayne, and one called Southmead which owned Wray Barton, and in about 1730 the last of the Nosworthy's, Judith, married one John Southmead, thus bringing the two estates together. John and Judith's son - another John - inherited Pepperdon and its adjacent farm Lewdon.

If we may take a quick look at Lewdon, it is called "Lewdons" on the map, though it seems to be blessed with a remarkably changeable name, and the cottages at the end of the track are called "Lewdowns Cottages". 'Place Names of Devon' also calls it "Lewdown's Farm", associated, it states confidently, with "the family of Robert de Luwedon (1333)", but in the old deeds it appears as "Lewdon", "Ludon", and "Ludons", and indeed in one place the cottage appears as "Ludense Cottage".

It wasn't a very big farm on its own. Pepperdon had 253 acres, 3 roods and 30 perches, but Lewdons was only 124 acres and 21 perches (no roods, sadly) in 1867. It is probable that the two farms were only economical as a single unit, which is why they have been together now for some two hundred years.

John Southmead (junior) who inherited the farms from his father was Rector of Chagford. He died in 1779, and Wray Barton passed to his eldest son, John Rowe Southmead, and Pepperdon to number two son, Reverend William Southmead. William became the Curate, or one of them, of Chagford.

When, in 1832, the Rev. William died, he left Pepperdon and Lewdon to his two surviving sisters, Judith and Charlotte. Which was fine, except that Charlotte was an imbecile, and Judith had to manage all her affairs. Then, shortly after William died, his elder brother also perished, and left Hayne and Wray Barton to a distant relative, John Courtier. The exact relationship between Mr Courtier and the Southmeads has not been established, but it was soon to become of some importance.

To divert a bit, we can see in the Census returns for 1841, ?Pippedon?, as the enumerators call it, in the parish of Lustleigh, is occupied by a tenant farmer, Richard Rowe, his wife Sarah, and two children, Daniel and Agnes (though the name is difficult to read, and I may have got it wrong). Also there were six Agricultural Apprentices or Labourers, aged from 20 down to 10.

It was in that year, 1841, that Judith Southmead died, leaving her half of Pepperdon and Lewdon to trustees, to hold the estate for Charlotte while she lived, and then to pass them to a distant relative who was the Vicar of Payhembury. The trustees Judith appointed were Mr Courtier, now living at Wray Barton (and who being a distant relative was presumably trustworthy), and one Zachariah Reynolds, who, with a name like that, probably wasn?t, but I may be doing him an injustice.?

They dutifully administered the whole estate, Judith?s half for the benefit of Charlotte, and Charlotte's half as well. But when that poor mad lady died five years later, there was a positive flurry of Court cases. For the Vicar of Payhembury, to whom Judith had left her half of Pepperdon, had died a few months previously, and not only did the beneficiaries of his will - his wife and his son - perish almost immediately, his trustees did too. In the end, the Court decided that a Mrs Messiter should get it, and Mr Courtier and Mr Reynolds duly passed Judith's half of Pepperdon to her.

But they kept Charlotte's half for themselves.

Presumably this was on the pretext that Mr Courtier was the closest surviving relative of Charlotte, and was therefore entitled to the estate. But he reckoned without a stout yeoman of Dawlish, one James Kemble.

When I was first introduced to James Kemble, he was described as "a trouble maker and contentious litigator, appearing in many deeds as a respondent, and although described as a labourer he could lead the lawyers a merry dance." However, on looking further into the matter, my informant owned that he had misjudged the man, and later wrote that "I now find that he was actually in the right".

Mr Kemble was, as far as I can make out, a second cousin of Judith and Charlotte, but whereas he had no claim on Judith's half of Pepperdon, (as she had left it to the Vicar of Payhembury), he reckoned that he was entitled to Charlotte's half, as she had died intestate.

How soon after Charlotte died he started his claim we are not sure, but by 1852 he was waving a declaration from a cousin to prove his heirship, and in the same year he mortgaged his half of Pepperdon to Mr Joseph Hellier, of Bovey Tracey, for ?125.

It was just such a situation as this that occurred in Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, the Court case immortalised by Charles Dickens in Bleak House, for over the next few years, the lawyers bills were obviously mounting up. After borrowing ?125 from Mr Hellier in 1852, he made it up to ?200 two years later. A year after that, in 1855, either Mr Hellier's faith in the claim faltered, or he ran out of money, as the ?200 mortgage was transferred to a Mr Parr of Dawlish, who added a bit more to make it ?300. A year later, by which time the loan had grown to ?400, it was transferred to a Mr Cornelius, of Ashcombe, who later made it up to ?500.

But while the legal eagles fought for their fees, life at Pepperdon went on its age old round. By 1851 Richard Rowe had retired (I think he was living in Chudleigh in lodgings with a 'Proprietor of Houses'), and his son Daniel has taken over. Daniel, aged 28, married a lady called Thirza Heyward, whose father William Heyward, farmed at Sanduck farm, just down the road to Bovey Tracey. Daniel and Thirza had a son, Richard, and a nurse for him, Mary Cann, a niece of Daniel?s. (Though Richard?s age is given as 8, I think that he was aged only 8 months. In 1861 he is shown as being ten years old). There was also a house servant at Pepperdon, and four farm labourers.

Lewdons does not appear in any of the Census returns before 1881, but Pepperdon Hole Cottage appears every time. And it is by no means a two-bit place - in 1841 there are 7 people living there, by 1851 there are two cottages and 10 people.

In 1857, James Kemble won his case against John Courtier, who shamefacedly admitted that he didn?t own half of Pepperdon. With what must have been a sigh of relief Kemble, doubtless egged on by a Mr Cornelius looking forward to seeing his ?500 again, put his newly-acquired property up for sale. It comprised nearly 380 acres of Arable meadow and Pastureland, and was sold by auction at the White Hart in June 1857. Thus, on 29th September Mr Kemble contracted to sell a moiety, that is, a half, of Pepperdon and Lewdon to Richard Wills, for ?1150.

Richard Wills came from Moor Barton, the farm adjacent to Pepperdon. In 1849 he had sailed to Adelaide, in South Australia, where two of his brothers joined him later to set up a drapers business there. One of the brothers, Richard's twin, died shortly afterwards, and Richard came home, probably to break the news to his widowed mother who was farming at Moor Barton, leaving his brother George in Adelaide to carry on the business out there.

The business prospered, with George in Adelaide and Richard in England, and they probably decided to invest some of the money they had made from it in land. They bought the estate jointly, half the purchase money being paid by George, but as he was in Adelaide, Richard thought it was better to make the conveyance to himself alone.

Not, as it turned out, a wise move, for two years later the brothers swapped places, Richard going out to Australia and George returning home to London. When he discovered what had happened, George was not pleased, and demanded that his interest be legally recognised. This was done by a Deed in October 1861, which confirmed he was owner of half an undivided moiety, i.e. a quarter of the property. George was only just in time, for Richard died five months later, and no end of trouble might have been caused if things hadn't been sorted out.

Even so, there were still problems. Richard in his will, which was literally drawn up on his deathbed in Adelaide in 1862, left his quarter share of Pepperdon not to George, as George expected, but to his sister Susan, for her life, and then to her children. Susan was married to William Heyward, another of the Heywards of Sanduck, and the brother of Thirza Rowe. Just to complicate the story even further, another sister of William Heyward, Susan, had married Thomas Wills, his wife?s brother. Thus Susan Wills had become Susan Heyward, and Susan Heyward had become Susan Wills. What a carry-on!

Sadly, Thirza Rowe could not rejoice in her sister-in-law's good fortune, for she had died, leaving Daniel with three small children. In the 1861 census - where the property is called 'Pipedon' - we see Daniel, the children, and another of the Heyward sisters, Elizabeth, as housekeeper. Also at the house was a young house servant, two 'carters' and just to show the Americans weren't having it all their own way, young Frank Atkins, aged 10, who was a 'Cow Boy'. Again I can find no mention of Lewdons, but there are two families at 'Peppidon' Hole Cottage.

A few years later, in 1866, Daniel Rowe handed in his notice, or maybe he was given notice, but at all events in May of that year, the lease of? Pepperdon and Lewdon were offered for seven years from Michaelmas. The incoming tenant, the advertisement said, would be expected to pay all rates and taxes, and to keep all the premises in good repair, 'except the outer walls and timber work of the roofs, for which he will be found rough timber'.

In September Daniel offered his stock for sale, and it is interesting to see what the farm supported at that time: 'fifty-three superior breeding ewes, thirty four wethers, forty-one ewe and wether lambs, two rams, seven three-year-old steers, four two-year-old ditto, two three-year-old heifers in calf three cows in calf, three cows in full milk, two two-year-old heifers, nine steer and heifer yearlings, two rearing calves, one black mare, fifteen hands, three inches high, well adapted for posting; a bay mare, four years old, just broken to saddle; two colts four years old, one ditto three years old, one donkey, twenty-eight pigs, eight acres of potatoes, in lots, farm implements, &c.'.

'Refreshments', the advertisement promised enticingly, 'at One, Sale at Two p.m.'.

A year later the lease was made over to William Heyward, Susan Wills's husband, for seven years from Michaelmas 1866. His rent was "£55 per annum, plus £20 for every acre of meadow or pastureland ploughed up by lessee". The two farms totalled some 377 acres.

Whether or not William took up residence there, we do not know. He was not there on 2nd April 1871 when the Census takers came round again. He may have only just left, for his wife Susan had died just a month before, on 3rd March, leaving her husband with five children, the youngest of whom was only a year old. William went to farm at Highweek, in Newton Abbot, while Pepperdon was left occupied only by John Ford, an agricultural labourer, with his wife and three children. One of these was a grocer?s assistant, and the others were scholars, so he wasn't getting much help on the farm.

At Pepperdon Hole Cottage there was just a farm labourer and his wife and son. Still, the Census Takers all seem to have agreed on a name, for they all called it Pepperdon.

Just to recap, at this time Pepperdon had three owners. Mrs. Messiter, who lived in Somerset, owned half; a quarter was owned by George Wills, and the other quarter by William Heyward, as trustee for his children.

?George decided that this was unsatisfactory. First, he persuaded Mrs. Messiter to sell her half to him in December 1872 for ?1400. Then he went to court whether with the agreement of William Heyward or not we do not know saying that he owned Pepperdon and Lewdon, and would like the lot, please. As a result, George purchased the last quarter of the property for £1070, on 13 March 1874. It had cost him, in total, some £3045 over the years.

Four months later, in July, an advertisement invited builders and others to tender for the erection of a farm house and two pair (sic) of cottages on Pepperdon Farm.

There are a number of things which make me think this was when Pepperdon House was built. In the first place, from being hardly occupied at all in 1871, by the 1881 Census Pepperdon was quite a place. In Lustleigh parish there was still Pepperdon Farm and Pepperdon Cottage, but in Moretonhampstead there was now a Pepperdon Hall, occupied curiously by a Carpenter and Joiner called Underhill with a wife and seven children, and also by a Groom and Gardener with his wife and son. Could it have been that the Hall was under construction, and that Mr. Underhill was living there while building it?

Secondly, George Wills had a painting of the house done by a Mr. Wimbish in 1892, which, as far as I know, is the first mention of the building.

Finally, I remember from my childhood a vague grown-ups conversation, when it was stated George was too mean to employ an architect to design Pepperdon House, and so he and the local builder simply drew up a plan together and built the place. It was not until they finished that the discovered they had forgotten the bathroom, which then had to be fitted into the middle of the first floor, illuminated by a skylight, and extremely uncomfortable. However, Lewdons, and Lewdons Cottage, both also appear in the Census for the first time, and I think that the 'two pair' of cottages that George had invited tenders for were in fact these two buildings. We know that the architect for these cottages was a Mr. Bowden, of Ellis and Bowden, and if George had an architect for a pair of cottages, it seems unlikely that he would have ignored him when it came to building a country mansion. It is more likely that he was keeping up with the new-fangled idea of having a separate bathroom ' a late-Victorian innovation ' and just managed to fit it in in time.

Pepperdon was moved from Lustleigh Parish to Moretonhampstead in 1885, but ten years later, in the 1891 Census, there are again numerous dwellings at Pepperdon, and it still appears to be in two parishes. The farm is in Lustleigh, but the Cottage is in Moretonhampstead. Pepperdon Hall has disappeared, but there is now a Pepperdon House. There are two cottages at Lewdons, and another two at Pepperdon Hole, in one of which lives Mr Underhill, the carpenter who was occupying the Hall ten years earlier. Two of his daughters, as a sideline, were at this time working as maids at George Wills's house in London. Altogether there are some 35 people living at Pepperdon and Lewdons ? though the House (or Hall) is empty.

In 1898 George Wills?s wife Lucy died, and shortly afterwards he donated the Lucy Wills Nurses Home in Court Street, Moretonhampstead in her memory. George himself died in 1906, and in his will he said that any of his sons who wanted to buy the estate could do so - at a market price. His children didn't actually jostle to get their hands on it, though the family of the eldest, George Tarlton Wills (G.T.), spent a lot of time there. We have some delightful memories of Pepperdon in those days in a book called 'Oliver', by G.T.'s daughter Peggy.

The Census Returns for 1901 will not be made public until next year, so we don't know who was farming there at that date. At some stage George's nephew, Thomas Wills, who had married a lady called Mary Ellen Palk, took over the farm.

The estate was offered for sale in 1913, and we can see what it consisted of. Firstly, there is Pepperdon House, a 'charmingly situate moderate sized country residence', with four reception rooms, seven bedrooms and a bathroom for the family, plus 3 servants' bedrooms. The 'Domestic offices' consisted of 'Kitchen, Servants' Hall, Dairy, Larder, Housemaid's Room, Housekeeper's Room, Wine Cellar, Laundry and Drying Room, Boot House, Coal and Wood House, Servants' W.C. and Game Larder, &c.'. One wonders what the '&c' consisted of. It certainly wasn't for the horses, for there was Detached Stabling with a Three-stall stable, Loose Box, Harness Room, and a Motor Garage with washing space. There was also 'Coach-house and Four Men's Rooms over, and W.C., Stone built and covered with slate'. I think it was the house, not the W.C., that was stone built and slate covered!

There were also, as part of the estate, the Keeper's Cottage, which was occupied by Sidney Colwill, the Estate Woodsman and Keeper; a smaller adjoining cottage which was occupied by Mrs. L. Watson-Fearne, and Moor Wood, where Thomas Wills actually lived. The Keeper's Cottage is now known as Rose Cottage, and Mr. Colwill's grandson, Clarrie Colwill, still lives in Moretonhampstead.

On the farm itself there was a large variety of farm buildings, and two cottages, each with 'Piggery, Earth Closet, Wood House and good Garden'. These were not at the farm itself, but were what we see on the map as Lewdons Cottages.

Finally, the mystery of Lewdons is solved. There are, it says, two recently erected cottages suitable for conversion into a farm house. Obviously, though there were plenty of farm buildings, no-one had been living there.

Whether the offer for sale was genuine, or whether it was to establish a market price for the property, we do not know. But it was not sold, and in 1918 G.T. Wills, the eldest son, bought it. The Court of Chancery had to agree to the deal, as he was a trustee of his father's will.

G.T.'s eldest son Oliver, a gallant airman during the First World War, died tragically on 10th November 1918, and his daughter Peggy married a New Zealander, Bill Hamilton, and went to live there in the 1920's. But Pepperdon was still very much a family holiday home, shared by younger generations. Clarrie Colwill tells of how G.T.'s nephews, Philip and Lionel Wills (my father), used to arrive by plane, on a field at Lewdons which Clarrie's father, a former airman, helped to prepare.

Thomas Wills ran the estate until his wife died in 1930, but he had been crippled with arthritis for some time, and used to ride round in a 'jingo', a pony and trap. Though the farm children used to welcome the offer of a ride in it, they quickly realised, when they came to a gate and were told to 'hop out and open it', the purpose behind this beneficence. Unable to manage on his own, Thomas went to live with his daughter at Steward Farm, but later went to the Infirmary at Newton Abbot, where he died in 1937.

After Thomas left, the farms were tenanted. Mr. Northway leased Pepperdon for a while, and Mr. Dark leased Ludons, but the latter was a poor tenant and only lasted a couple of years. A Mr. Oldrieve, a butcher from Dartmouth, became tenant of both, though he never lived there and had a manager called Mr. Soby. In 1937 or 38 he gave up, and the Prices took Pepperdon, and Mr. Partridge took Lewdons.

Also at this time, G.T.'s son, Matthew, had a go at managing the estate, which has given rise to a rich seam of hilarious and affectionate Matthew stories in Moretonhampstead. He was obviously a great character, though both he and his sister Lucy were deaf and dumb.

George Tarlton Wills died in 1938, and in his will he bequeathed Pepperdon, and Lewdons to his daughter Peggy Hamilton, and if she didn't want it, then to Matthew. His will seems to indicate that the house was perhaps giving cause for concern, for a proviso said that whoever inherited would 'within two years of the date of my death enter into a binding contract for the demolition of Pepperdon House and the erection of another residence on the site thereof or for renovating restoring and modernising the present Pepperdon House' could have £6000 for the project. In those days, £6000 was a great deal of money, so the house must have been in pretty poor condition.

He also left money to the retainers. 'I bequeath to my Bailiffs George Baker and S.J.Colwill and to Mrs. George Baker the wife of George Baker the sum of One Hundred pounds', and in a later codicil he left fifty pounds to Amy Prouse, of Pepperdon Farm. Mrs. Baker - or 'Lizzie' - had a twin sister called Annie Carter who went to New Zealand with the Hamiltons in about 1925, and became 'adored second mother' to the children. Lizzie's daughter Esther married Eric Prowse, whose sister was the Amy Prouse mentioned above.

In spite of the condition of the house, the family continued to use it, and when War broke out, a number of us were evacuated there. Later it was used as a safe haven for some employees of George Wills and Sons. In the emergency, Pepperdon Mine was reopened, and as the seam ran under the estate, it had to pay royalties. Sidney Colwill used to go to Moretonhampstead station to see the ores weighed, and make a record of what was due.

Because of the War, the rebuilding could not be carried out, and in 1945 Peggy Hamilton, hearing that it was in bad condition, sold it. It was eventually bought by Mr. Frank Keep, whose son John Keep and his wife Beryl now own it.

When I started this history, I wrote a note of what I could recall of Pepperdon:

Pepperdon is a farm and a large house some miles east of Exeter, high on Dartmoor, and well off the beaten track to anywhere. My generation is the last that knew it when it belonged in the family. Before the War, the drive from London took most of the day, and it would be a carload of tired and fractious children who would finally be told 'There it is!' as they drove through the pair of granite pillars among the heather and the bracken on Pepperdon Down, down the steep road alongside a grey, drystone wall over which one could glimpse the farm tucked behind the great house with the huge porch at the front of it. Down in the valley, in those days, a little train used to puff its painful way from Newton Abbot, making for Moretonhampstead, and from Pepperdon there was a steep, narrow road, sporting a hairpin bend with an ominous overhanging rock, which twisted down past Pepperdon Hole to join the road which ran beside the railway line. There was a stunning view from the house across the valley to the high moors, and a huge, ancient ash tree by the side of the lawn.

It was never a very comfortable house, where candles and lamps had yet to be replaced by electricity, and the bathroom was a memorable disaster. But it was the family home, and as kids we could spend hugely enjoyable days on the farm, 'helping' with the cows, or watching the threshing machine, which was driven by a long, unprotected leather belt attached to the flywheel of a traction engine. 'Safety Precautions' consisted of injunctions not to go too near it. Behaviour like that these days would earn a long spell in the pokey!

The property was owned at that time by great uncle George, and one of my earliest memories is sitting in the bay window of the drawing room and hearing the Bible story for the first time in my life from Auntie Minnie, George's wife. Perhaps, on reflection, I should have paid more attention!

 

Whatever its amenities, Pepperdon casts a strange spell over those who know it. Arthur Wills, one of G.T.'s brothers, who became a barrister and Member of Parliament, wrote:

 

PEPPERDON

They say the airs of Araby

Are dusty-thick with spicery,

But I would breathe the wind that shrills

About our home among the hills.

Birds that to other climes belong,

Boast brighter plumage, louder song,

But sweeter that brown thrush which trills

Anigh our home among the hills.

 

Troth may endure twixt Kith and Kin

In all the lands I wander in;

But my heart knows the love that fills

Our home, among the steadfast hills.

 

But whether I turn East or West,

This is the prayer I pray the best -

The Good God guard, and keep from ills

Our home, a hill among the hills.

 

Oliver Wills, G.T.'s eldest son, spent his honeymoon there in early 1918, and his sister Peggy Hamilton wrote of it with deep affection.

"Holidays at Pepperdon were the best we ever had in the pre-war days. Friends and relations from school or university were squeezed into the dear, damp, musty, ever-expanding, ramshackle old home, where they soon came under the spell of that magic place. The front door was never shut - time did not exist - though meals were laid in the dining room at the appointed hour, it did not appear to matter at what time they were eaten, or if, indeed, they were eaten at all, for often Father would be out walking with some (I must admit, sometimes unfortunate) companion who lacked my Pa's stamina, and when luncheon time drew near. Father, taking out his watch, would say, "let's skip lunch, I've an apple in my pocket, much better for us," and would stride on over the misty moors, his starving companion putting on the best face possible as he stumbled along behind. The last meal of the day was High Tea - time also elastic - but for those who had missed it or still felt hungry, there was a large jug of milk and a plate of ginger biscuits put out on a chest in the hall, with a row of candles for the bedrooms."

For children of my generation, it was a place of hay and cows and happy, country life, as can be seen from a letter I wrote home, when we were evacuated there at the beginning of the War in 1939. I was then seven years old, brother David who is mentioned was three, and even at Pepperdon, we seemed to be expecting enemy bombers:

"Dear Mummy

We have got our gas masks. I hope that you are all right. Nothing has reached us yet. We have got another little girl staying here and we often play hide and seek in the hayloft, we had a game this morning. The weather has not been very nice. Mrs Prowse let me name two calfs and I named them George and Wendy. There are 14 people staying here. We are having a lovely time down here. Arthur and Eric are still digging potatoes. They have not finished the feild (sic) yet. The two cows that had calfs are in the milking shed. Mathew showed us some films of us when I was as big as David and John was a teeny baby. I missed two because I went to fetch the cows.

Love from

Peter John and David"

John Keep, too, has fallen in love with Pepperdon. G.T. Wills was right in his apprehensions about the building, but Mr. Keep has done his best to preserve it. Sadly, one of the wings, and the entrance porch, and the chapel have had to be demolished, and the gardens have been modified to be easily manageable in these days when it is too expensive to employ a large staff to maintain elaborate Victorian gardens in the back of beyond. But it is now a cosier and warmer place than I remember it, and obviously much cherished.

I think if Mr. Pipard is still watching over it, he would be well pleased!

 

Peter Wills

May 2000