The Devon Rural Archive stands proudly within the five hundred acre estate of Shilstone House, just outside the historic town of Modbury in South Devon. This remarkable site, which is home to the DRA, is of great national importance for many reasons including its extensive history and rare architectural features as well as the extraordinary rejuvenation it has experienced over the last ten years.
In 1997 Lucy and Sebastian Fenwick stumbled across a grade II listed farmstead in the heart of the South Hams then known as Shilston Barton. Intrigued by the remains of a designed landscape and clear signs of an important early house, they purchased the site and embarked on a lengthy project with the DRA to discover more about the landscape and earlier dwellings. The landscape soon began to give up its secrets revealing extensive building work from the last one thousand years, much of which had been covered but not lost. Two sets of double terraces, medieval fishponds, sunken lanes and ha-ha’s as well as an early walled garden and a courtyard of fine barns separated from the main house by a crenelated curtain wall all hinted to the importance of Shilstone. The discovery of the only surviving seventeenth century water theatre and associated gardens confirmed their suspicions and revealed an incredible connection with Hampton Court Palace. Archaeological excavations in the surrounding landscape were also fruitful and revealed a prehistoric presence on the site, possibly dating to the Neolithic, but undoubtedly of second century BC date into the Roman period. The project also uncovered the foundations of a substantial medieval house shown through documentary sources to be the former Domesday manor of ‘Silfestana’.