Subject:Old Newnham, Plympton

NGR:SX 5525 5735

The settlement is first referred to as Niweham in 1292 and had achieved its modern pronunciation of Niwenham by 1325, meaning the ‘new ham’ or newly created pasture.  It lies in the parish of Plympton St Mary and was probably developed by an independent leaseholder of lands possibly owned by Plympton Priory.  The priory was certainly regarded as the mother church of a private chapel at Newnham, licenced in 1409.
The property was not however directly controlled by the priory, and seems to have been fully independent by the C15, when it came into the hands of the Strode family of Ermington.  Most of the development of the house dates from the period from c.1460-1640 when the wealthy Strode family were MPs for Plympton and held other important posts, such as Sheriff of Devon.
Old Newnham was their principal seat until c.1700, when they built a new house within the medieval Newnham Park, a short distance to the north.  The old house seems to have remained in their possession, though as a tenant farm, until the middle of the 20th century.

Description:

The house lies on level ground, on the north bank of a stream which runs 300m further west into the Tory Brook.  The northern edge of the house platform is cut back into the steeply sloping valley side, while gardens to the north-east step up the hillside.  The main range faces south and has a three room and cross-passage plan, with a fine C15 carved Beer stone oriel window to west and a two-storey porch to right centre.  Two wings to the rear include a large C16 kitchen with a steeple chimney.
A substantial two and three storey west wing includes a three-storey parlour block with large latrine tower, integral staircase and steeple chimney.  A stable block to the south incorporates an arched gateway. Remains of a defensive outer courtyard survive to the south-east.
The buildings are noteworthy for their extensive use of carved granite in window frames, door frames, fireplaces and chimney stacks.
Remains of a multiple-terraced formal garden lie to the east.


Dating:

1c.1280-1320.  Double arched doorways in Hurdwick stone from hall into western rooms suggest that main range was in existence by then.

2c.1460-1500.  Present hall constructed with arch-braced roof and carved Beer stone oriel window.

3c.1560-1620.  Hall window replaced in carved granite, west wing built with stableblock, possibly on site of earlier building.  Kitchen  block built with gallery connecting rear wings.  Steeple chimneys  and defensive courtyard to south date from this period.

4c.1650-1680.  Porch dates from this period, when defensive wall  was slighted, following a possible Civil War siege.

5c.1680-1720.  Terraced formal gardens laid out to east of house.

6c.1800-1850.  West wing cut down and converted to agricultural  use, east end of hall range rebuilt, parts of curtain wall removed  and large quadrangle of farm buildings laid out to east.

Conclusions:

This is a very interesting late medieval and post-medieval mansion with a complex development and regionally significant ownership history.  Its defensive features are highly unusual, as is the survival of a late C15 oriel window and many other C16-C17 carved granite architectural features.  Clearly, it cannot be understood without a holistic approach to its architectural features, layout and occupational history.

Old Newnham