Subject: Langdon Court, Down Thomas
NGR:SX 5145 4975 Site description:
An extraordinary single courtyard mansion of 1693, with adjoining walled formal garden. The house sits on a terrace cut into the hillside with parkland sloping away to the east and north-east. The 228 acre park which is located in a bowl formed by three valleys, may also date from the late C17 and is surrounded by a stone wall. It contains several ornamental ponds, two of which are large and canal-like. The courses of two drives cross the park. A substantial threshing barn dated 1709 survives just outside the park to the west and was intended as an eyecatcher from the house. A birds' eye view painting of the house and grounds from the early C18 is in Plymouth Museum and shows some of these features.
The property seems to have been in existence by the late Saxon period, when it was owned by Heca. Variations on the placename include Overlangdon in 1332; the name meaning 'long hill'. It was recorded as Langadona in Domesday Book of 1086, when Waldin held 2 manors there from Judhael, Lord of Totnes. From the reign of Henry III one of these manors was held by the Pipard family for several generations, ending with Sir William Pipard, Knight, who had two heiresses, who married into the Hamlyn and de Lisle families. William Pipard was assessed at 3s in the 1332 lay subsidy.
From at least 1121, the other manor at Langdon may have been held by Plympton Priory with the Manor of Wembury, which was confiscated by the Crown at the Dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Although we cannot be certain which of the holdings is which, the present property of Langdon was in Crown hands immediately prior to 1555, when it was sold to Vincent Calmady, a lawyer. A tradition says that he rebuilt the medieval house in c.1577, although no architectural evidence for this has yet been seen.
A descendant, Josias Calmady, is said to have remodelled the house in 1707 (though this was probably part of a major rebuild dated 1693 on the south and west fronts). The panoramic painting, which seems to date from c.1710 shows several buildings of these two periods. By c.1620 the Calmady estate included the Mewstone and part of Down Thomas manor, much of which is shown on a remarkable coloured estate map of 1789 in the Devon Record Office.
The Calmadys lived at Langdon until 1875, when due to the lack of an heir, they sold it to Richard Cory, who added the Scottish Baronial tower and adjoining service range. The Corys seem to have held it until the early 20th century, since when it has been at various times a maternity hospital, army billets, a school and latterly, an hotel.
Compact single courtyard mansion dated 1693 with adjoining contemporary formal gardens, sits in abandoned C17-C19 landscape park with numerous designed features including two well-preserved ornamental canals.
•Square courtyard mansion, dated 1693 •High quality carved Portland stone features including grotesque faces, classical porticos and unusual geometric sundials •Other carved features include two earlier C17 carved coats of arms over east and west doors, in Cawsand lava. •Early C18 lead rainwater roses on south facade •Possible connections with the C17 scientist & architect Robert Hooke •Unusual drainage system around and under house, includes rock-cut culvert carrying rainwater away to east •Unusual 'Scottish Baronial' mock-fortified extension to north-west, dated 1876
•Rare survival of early C18 'bird's eye view' painting showing house, gardens and landscape park, in Plymouth Museum •Sketch of house with walled garden to south, dated 1716, in private collection •Important group of C19 watercolours showing house, gardens and park •Well-preserved early C18 terraced formal garden to south of house, enclosed with stone walls, faced with brick •Two early C18 pavilions associated with garden, shown on c.1710 painting; altered in C19 •Granite-kerbed pool in garden, shown in 1716 drawing •Remains of early C18 terraced formal garden to east of house, shown in c.1710 painting •Relocated carved granite ball finials survive from this garden •Part of C17 dovecote shown on c.1710 painting partly survives to south-east of house •Early C18 brick garden building with porthole windows, shown on c.1710 painting survives to the east of dovecote •Mid-C18 walled garden partly survives in valley bottom to north-east •Earthworks of C18 formal garden shown on 1789 map survive on valley side to north-west •Early C19 arboretum to west of house •Mid-C19 fern garden in former quarry to west of house
•228 acre park occupying both sides of valley, possibly of medieval origin •Rabbit warren on hill to south of house, in existence by c.1710 •Smaller landscape park created to east of house in early C18, incorporating rabbit warren •Two or more phases of park development, with evidence provided by c.1710 painting and 1789 map •First phase included three small square ponds, two flanked by enclosed walks •Two or more eyecatcher buildings constructed on fringes of new park and shown in c.1710 painting. These are: •A large hexagonal or octagonal brick belvedere tower, on the crest of the hill in the warren. This was demolished before 1789 •A large dressed slate threshing barn with porthole windows, dated 1709, south of the house and beside the lane •Carved granite gate piers screening road fronting barn and shown on c.1710 painting, moved to adjoin house in C19 •Carriage drive down valley to south, linked house to Wembury church by 1710 •Mid-C18 alterations to park include two long ornamental canals, one with horse-shoe end within walled garden •Probable cascade between two parts of southern canal. •Terraced walk around northern canal with platform for building at north end, layout similar to Hadrian's Villa near Tivoli, Italy •Various brick and stone walls with ornamental gatepiers constructed around warren and flanking carriage drives •Early C18 fishing lodge on The Mewstone, a rocky islet out to sea, also has oval windows. This may have been visible from the Belvedere
Deer park laid out across both sides of valley, possibly by Plympton Priory or Pipard family. This may have had a 'killing ground' projecting west into combe to north of present house (see interpretation plan). This park was probably abandoned and in split ownership by 1693. Its eastern half was never in Calmady hands (see initial site visit to Wembury House) and implies that the park predates 1539.
Small threshing barn to south-west of house shown on c.1710 painting, gabled porches suggest an earlier C15 date. This and other outbuildings not now existing, but shown on 1789 estate map, at an angle to 1693 house, possibly indicating earlier alignment. Fishpond to east of house created, with large earthen dam across valley.
House said to have been rebuilt 1577, probably on alignment of threshing barn (see above) and field boundaries shown on 1789 map, but no standing fabric survives from this period. Several buildings shown flanking north side of house on c.1710 painting may belong to this earlier house. Dovecote with four-gabled roof possibly built in mid-C17.
Present house built, probably without adjoining walled gardens, at 45 degree angle to earlier buildings and hedged enclosures in vicinity.
Smaller walled park laid out across valley side to north and east of house.
Walled gardens with pavilions probably added to south and east of house. Large ornamental threshing barn with carved granite gatepiers, and belvedere in warren, built to south and south-east of house.
Walls and gatepiers built on new drive down valley, flanked by lime avenue; grassed walks created in park flanking new ponds; lower pond linked to formal garden shown on c.1710 painting. Orchards laid out around house and plantation in valley below warren to south-east.
Further developments in park including new drive to north, flanking northern of two ornamental canals. This was surrounded by a terrace walk backed by lime trees, partly within Park Wood. Second canal was shorter, incorporating earlier formal garden in valley below house. Canals were laid out to be viewed along their length; the northern one from the belvedere on the hill to the south.
Belvedere and medieval barn to south-west of house demolished by 1789, but features largely unaltered until c.1810, when parkland remodelled with new plantations flanking park edge to northern and southern edges. Lime avenues fall into disrepair, but many new specimen trees planted in park.
East front of house rebuilt with present porch, copying original one of 1693 and incorporating 1662 datestone from unknown source. Garden pavilions raised to two storeys and remodelled. Fern garden in quarry to south-west of house probably of this period.
Property acquired by Richard Cory in 1876. Extension to north-west in Scottish Baronial style has datestone of 1876 and initials RC. Lodge on road by north-west gate may be of this period.
Langdon Court and its park are a rare survival in a part of England where such things seldom survive. The lack of large-scale investment in large-scale alterations to buildings and earthwork structures after about 1750 has resulted in the survival of complex and unusual features.
The possible association of the architect Robert Hooke with nearby Wembury House and the astonishingly high quality architectural features at Langdon Court suggest that the two may be linked. The dates match, and the extraordinary geometric sundials of 1693 look like the creation of an unusually mathematical mind such as Hooke's. Further historical and architectural research is clearly needed to explain these features.
This is clearly a very interesting site, important both regionally and nationally, and well worth further study. The house needs drawn plans to enable its interpretation, while the earthworks of the ponds and valley gardens need surveying to enable their understanding. These would benefit from geophysical survey at some point in the future when the DRA acquires such equipment.