Wray Barton

[For the medieval history of the manor of Wray, click here; for a photograph of the house click here.]

Thomas Southmead acquired Wray by his marriage to Alice Corsett at about the end of the fifteenth century. He was succeeded by William Southmead (who married Joanna Charles of Moreton and so acquired the Charles coat of arms), John Southmead, another William and another John.  This last John Southmead of Wrey, who succeeded in 1620 and died in 1650, was a puritan preacher of great distinction, and through his leadership may have been responsible for the attitude of many Moretonians during the Civil War.  He obtained (I don''t know how) the right of presentation to Moreton church (held before and later by the Courtenay family), and presented his son-in-law, Francis Whiddon, as rector.  Whiddon, a puritan, was rector of Moreton from 1617 till his death in 1656;  there is a memorial to him in the church.  The inscription on Southmead's grave read 'eminent and faithful servant of Jesus Christ'.   

The descendants of John Southmead (of whom at least one emigrated to America in the late 17th C) continued to hold Wray until the death of  John Rowe Southmead in 1833.  A quick look at our transcript of the parish registers  suggests (this may well be inaccurate) that the next John (1615-1681) had a large number of children, and was succeeded by his son Richard (1646-1722), his son (or grandson) John (1696-1744) and his son John (b. 1733).  After this last John and his brothers, I found no further records of Southmead christenings in Moreton (to 1800), and this fits with the fact that the Southmeads also held property in Chagford during the 18th century, and latterly owned a third share of the manor of Chagford.  It seems that by the late 18th C they were absentee landlords of Wray, which remained as a substantial farm with a decaying mansion or manor house.  

The last Southmead owner of Wray, John Rowe Southmead, died in 1833, having also inherited Hayne and Great Sloncombe from a Nosworthy heiress who married a Southmead, and the manor of Holy Street in Chagford from the Rowe heiress.    J.R. Southmead also appears as a witness to a Will in 1785 and as a member of the Okehampton turnpike board.   A collateral branch of Southmeads continued in Chagford, because they sold Holy Street Manor and their third share of the manor of Chagford in 1847, according to J. Hayter Hames.  There is also a well-authenticated account of 'old Mr Southmead', while Lord of the Manor of Holy Street, removing a cross from the Chagford Market Place, part to Holy Street and part to Southmead House, because he did not approve of popery, but I am not clear about the date of this.

Cecil Torr has a story of his father in 1837 saying that the 'late owner about 15 years ago (presumably Southmead) destroyed all the deeds which were then more than 60 years old'.

We hear in Treleaven's diary about George Jackson of Wray, who died aged 70 in 1804 and is clearly a man of  repute and an employer of labour; he was presumably a tenant farmer with a long lease.  He and his wife, and also his son George (1784-1851) and wife, are buried in the Unitarian churchyard.   

After 1833

The most notable information comes from two letters written by John Courtier in 1842 and 1846 (see manuscripts).  He had been asked for information about his property by a Mr F.M. Stockdale, who planned a 'topographical publication' which never materialised.  The first letter is headed 'Hayne Manor House', and he says this belonged until 1726 to a branch of the Nosworthy family.  When the last of this line died, Hayne passed to the Nosworthys of Great Sloncombe, and then in 1745 to a John Southmead of Wrey who had married the last Nosworthy's sister (I have not traced this marriage), and finally (on J.R. Southmead's death in 1833) to Courtier.  The house at Hayne had been allowed to decay, and Courtier says he built a new house 'on the estate near the site of the old one' in 1834. 

In the 1846 letter (headed 'Wray House'), Courtier says he is building a house at Wray 'a few yards from the old cassellated place that I am living for the present time'.  He says 'the old house appears as strong as ever' having stood for 700 years and been the home of the Southmeads for centuries.  He also says he has sold Hayne (a small estate of 26 acres where he resided before) to John Newcombe Stevens.  He says in a P.S.:  'There is an Old Chapel here standing now with some curious timbers about it.  We use as a cellar'.

White's Directory of 1850 describes Wray Barton as 'a handsome Tudor mansion', but they obviously mean the present house!  Pevsner calls it neo-Tudor and the recent official listing is 'Victorian Tudor'.

In 1850 there was a fire in the older part of Wray Barton (see below)

Subsequent occupiers can be found from the census.  In 1841 John Courtier with family and servants was living in Hayne and George Brook (farmer) at Wray Barton.  In 1851 John Courtier (then aged 43) was at Wray Barton and described himself as landowner of 340 acres.  In 1861 the occupier was Alexander Fisher (? - not very legible), and then from 1871 to 1891 it was Robert William Crump, a retired indigo planter, aged 42 in 1871, calling himself a landowner or gentleman farmer.  George Friend says that Courtier sold to Crump in 1862.  In 1858 Susan Courtier was married from Wray Barton.

Courtier was reported to be the first farmer to use the drill (introduced in 1837 for turnips) for sowing corn.



From the Exeter Flying Post  27th June 1850

On Saturday last about noon a fire broke out on premises adjoining the farm house at Wray Barton, the property of John Courtier Esq.  The West of England and Sun engines were immediately despatched to the spot, when it was discovered that the building, in which were kept many valuable agricultural implements,  was on fire, and speedily demolished, from which it communicated to the farmhouse, which was partly occupied by a farm labourer, Mr Courtier residing in the other portion.  The thatch being very dry, it was found impossible to stop the progress of the fire, and the premises were speedily reduced to a heap of ruins.  A great deal of the household furniture, fortunately insured, was saved.  This ancient building was in the possession of the Southmeads for several centuries back; and in a part of the building were the remains of a chapel, in the arched roof of which was to be seen some fine carved oak; and its ancient roof, which was covered with shingle, was also in a good state of preservation, but it has had for a number of years a thatched roof above it.