Stowford
Subject:Stowford House, Harford

NGR:SX 6410 5700

The origins of Stowford are uncertain, but the house was of sufficient importance by 1400 to have a private chapel, dedicated to St Nicholas.
From the early C16 to 1566, Stowford was occupied by the Williams family, the last of whom Thomas Williams was Speaker of the House of Commons in 1563.  After his death in 1566, Stowford seems to have passed to John and Agnes Prideaux, members of an extensive Devonian and Cornish family, whose son John Prideaux, born at Stowford in 1578, was Bishop of Worcester from 1641-1650.  The house was clearly substantial in that period, as the 1664 Hearth Tax records 14 hearths there.

Description:

The house sits on a level terrace cut into a gentle west-facing slope, overlooking the semi-wooded Erme valley to the south-west, with wide views of the western South Hams beyond.  The land rises to the rear, which is bounded by a lane to Stowford Farm, whose largely modern buildings lie on a terrace overlooking the house to its north.

The house is a somewhat truncated and altered double courtyard mansion, with a possible outer courtyard to the west of the main building and a small inner courtyard, flanked by wings, to the east.  Considerable parts of the house to the north have been lost, but the 14 hearths recorded in 1664 imply a substantial mansion, possibly with several ranges of buildings.  This wealth is supported by the presence of high quality carved granite features, including a large arched fireplace, granite mullioned windows and a rare 'steeple' chimney.

Dating:

Period 1Mid-late C16

Main hall range built, with steeple chimney and many other carved details. This appears to have extended further to the north.  Building to north seems to have been a wing flanking courtyard to west.
Potwater leat brought from Lukesland to north, supplied house with running water.

Period 2Early C17

Rear residential wing and stair turret built onto main range.  Carved initials on upper window, possibly TW indicating Thomas Williams.

Period 3Late C17-early C18

Storeyed porch built in rear courtyard against wing 3, partly obscuring Period 2 window with possible TW initials.  Terraced formal gardens laid out to south and west, surrounded by ha-ha to west and south.

Period 4Late C18-early C19

Demolition of much of north end of house, and construction of large Georgian wing across south end, with bow front to west.  West front Georgianised, with C16 windows blocked and new symmetrical sash windows inserted.  All rendered and lined, though south side stripped in recent past to reveal large amounts of re-used stone from Period 1.
Period 3 formal gardens partly smoothed away and lawn laid out flanking drive with specimen trees flanking it.  Courtyard of farm buildings created to north-west, with water mill re-using earlier leat.

Period 5Mid-C19

Additional service wing added to east of Period 4 south wing, partly wrapping round north wall.

Period 6Late C19-early C20

Single storey service range built to east of inner court, north-east wing extended to south, flanking later C17 porch.  Ceation of porch structure at south-west corner of court with granite dog kennel adjoining.
Creation of small arboretum to north-west of house with garden shelter re-using several C15-C16 carved window and door frame elements.

Conclusions:

Although what has survived from the late C16 and early C17 is of exceptional quality, particularly the carved granite work; Stowford remains a difficult house to interpret, largely due to the early C19 demolition of much of the old house.

Robert Waterhouse, BA, AIFA; Archaeologist & Architectural Historian