The Village of Beer: East Devon

Bovey House

The Manor House of Bovey stands in a unique position at the head of a long coombe which reaches the sea, and in whose mouth nestles the village of Beer. The manor house itself stands just a couple of hundred yards from the highest point in the parish, and beneath that point the spring that becomes the village brook continually supplies that water.

To the northward of Bovey at about a mile as the crow flies, stands the ancient hill fort of Blackberry Castle: at about one mile to the south west are the old Roman quarries: a few hundred yards to the rear of the house runs the road A3052, connecting Exeter with Lyme Regis in Dorset.

When the Damonii occupied Blackberry Castle, their obvious path to the sea would be to a point along the high ground to the east of the now Three Horseshoes Inn, and from there to Bovey and the path down through the valley. After a days fishing and gathering shell fish, the return journey would be broken at Bovey to rest, so in due course a staging post was established.

When the Romans invaded Britain they surveyed the area around Beer in search of the freestone of which they had evidence and of which they had need. There are many evidences of such searches for the stone. Once the stone had been located, a garrison was needed to protect the passage of the stone, constrain the warlike natives and establish control over the countryside. What better place than Bovey with its commanding and strategic position between their newly developed quarry and the road that led to Exeter in one direction and to the Great Road (the Fosse Way) which they built between Seaton and Lincoln.

The Romans also brought grapevines to this area and established vineyards in the locality. Years ago an old man pointed out to me the sites of these vineyards, three of them were around Bovey.

The Saxons used Bovey to build a substantial house on the site of the Roman fort, but only a few fragments of this building survived and around about 1592, according to the date on some roof guttering, the present building was erected.

The house was supplied with water from a well which is one hundred and eighty feet deep; about thirty feet down the well is a square recess and another such place was found in one of the chimneys so it may be presumed that they were for concealment.

The house has had various owners in its long history; in the year 1005 Ethelred granted certain lands which included the village of Beer, and presumably Bovey to one Eadsig, and on his death it came into the possession of Priory of Horton and in 1122 it was taken into the See of Sherbourne.

After the dissolution the King included it in the dowry of Catherine Parr and years later the Manor was possessed by the Hassard family of Lyme Regis. They sold it to John Starre of Beer: the next owner was Sir William Pole who sold it in about 1670 to John Walrond of Bovey, presumably the tenant at the time. In 1778, Judith Maria, the Walrond heiress, married Lord Rolle who, when Judth Maria died, married Louisa Barbara, daughter of Lord Clinton. Today the Manor is still in the possession of Lord Clinton and is maintained in excellent condition.

The house still retains much of its glorious past: the well and tread-wheel to hoist the bucket of water. The lovely walled gardens, the Elizabethan panelling in the dining room, the secret escape passages, the priest’s hidey hole, beautiful stone doorways, the old roof guttering and the iron gates with the Walrond insignia on the pillars.

The large stones at each corner of the triangle in the front of the house, were the anchor stones for three bronze cannon placed there to enable the building to be protected from a frontal attack along the tree-lined avenue. These ordnances were removed during World War 2 under a government order.

Extract from “Beer in Time and Tide” by Arthur J.Chapple, first published in 1987.

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