Hingstons at Wonwell

In the summer of 2010 I visited Wonwell Court Farm, near the village of Kingston in the South Hams of Devon. It is very close to Hingston Farm, and we know that there were Hingstons there in the second half of the 15th Century. It is also very close to Scobbiscombe Farm, which was also home to some Hingstons, but the current buildings there are apparently modern. I was kindly shown around Wonwell by Mrs Eve White, who farms there with her husband. The farm is owned by the Flete Estate. The building has been remodelled many times, most particularly by the Wyse family who built the current frontage in the 18th century, but part of it probably dates to the time when the Hingstons were there. The farm is less than one mile from the sea, but in common with most farms in the area is in a little dell so cannot be seen from the sea - apparently this was as a protection from raids by Barbary Pirates who raided the Devon coast as late as the 17th Century. One of the buildings has a sun dial with the punning inscription "Sapientes numerant horus" (The wise (Wyse) count the hours).

The following is a transcription of a typed history of Wonwell Court shown to me by the current resident at the farm, Mrs Eve White. I believe that it is taken from a published architectural history, but the detailed source is not known. It is not taken from Pevsner who devotes 2 lines to the building. The old barn referred to was demolished in the 1960s.

Wonwell Court, Kingston Devonshire

Brief History

Wonwell gave its name to its ancient owner, Thomas de Wonwell, who dwelt here in 1296. In the time of Henry VI (1422-1461), Robert de Hendeston succeeded, and after him his son Philip, who left three daughters; Margaret, the wife of John Fortescue; Elizabeth, the wife of Philip Courtenay of Molland (N. Devon); and Phillipa, the wife of Robert Ashford, or Ayshford. The property continued in the family of the last named until about 1790, when it descended by marriage to the Wise family. In 1810 it belonged to Ayshford Wise.

The Building

A house, now a farmhouse, of much interest. The main entrance front faces East [actually North East], and the general plan of the whole is that of a Z, with a great barn at the South West, a range of low buildings at the South East, and a short court wall at the North West, all of which, more or less, enclose a quadrangle.

Though there is nothing above ground of the 13th Century, some of the walling and a detail or so suggest a Late 14th or early 15th Century original house, the bulk of which was rebuilt very early in the 18th Century in close-fitting greyish-green local ashlars (or worked stone). Until recently, a fine staircase, though in a somewhat dilapidated condition, of the later period, remained at the junction of the main block and its North-east wing. The staircase and some derelict apartments in the NE wing have been removed and restored respectively; and the exterior walls and roof have been modernised. The chief features of the rectangular main front are: the way in which it has been curiously squared-off at the NW; the very broad eaves; the 18th Century windows, with their multiple glazing bars, and prominent keystones to those on the ground floor; and the fine doorway. The last is flanked by flat granite pilasters, with moulded caps and bases, supporting corbels, or brackets, which in their turn support a round-headed lead-covered wooden hood. The inner surface has moulded plasterwork heraldry; an armorial shield, with mantling and crest. The shield is charged with a bend between two billets, probably the arms of the one responsible for the early 18th Century remodelling of the house. It retains a tall chamfered footing to the walling, and partly blocked large rectangular window, with a long wooden lintel, and an equally long dripstone above. Otherwise, no traces of any late mediaeval windows are to be found. The wing extending to the North is of one storey only, with a tall and early-looking square stack, with a conical cap, on its gable end. The front doorway has a rectangular fanlight, a long square oak bolt, and a metal bolt operated on a helical principal. The drawing-room, left of the passage, except for the fireplace, retains its coeval (early 18th Century) decoration: the ceiling cornice; wall-panelling; the door-case; the treatment of the window-openings; and the round-headed wall cupboard.

From the passage, the earliest doorway in the house, a round headed one, of local stone (but painted), and continuously chamfered, admits to the dining-room at a slightly lower level. Opposite this room is the kitchen with two adjoining, comparatively modern, fireplaces. In the passage are three well-carved door-cases, similar to those already referred to.

The great barn is the earliest part of the out-buildings, and may very well be of the late 15th Century. The walls have a chamfered wall plate; in the walls are broadly splayed slits; most of the open-timber roof, of axe-hewn timbers, is original; SW is a very large transept-like porch; and on the court is a good early slightly pointed doorway of a typical South Hams character. The tablet on the barn wall: R.TRIGG/Builder/1841, refers, undoubtedly, to some repair work carried out at that date; or to additions.

To the NE of the house are two more old barns, one with pigeon-holes; and huge buttresses. Sundial with Latin inscription; and a tablet with Ayshford Wise and the date 1786 thereon.

The following is an extract from a list of owners of Wonwell Court, given to me by Eve White.

Owners of Wonwell Court Farm

1226 Robert de Womewell owned land adjoining Glebe in Kingston. Ordinance of Bishop Briwere

1296 Thomas de Wonwell (Wongywelle) the first owner is mentioned in Milles “Parochial Collections” c. 1750

1428 Johannes or John Wonewille freeholder of Kingston Manor. He held 1/3rd of a knights fee. Feudal Aids

1450 Robert Hingston

William Hingston (Hyndestone) of Wonwell, sergeant at law, M.P. for Exeter and Devon and Justice of the Peace

Late 15th century Robert Ashford (Ayshford) married Philippa, daughter and heir of Robert Hingston. Milles, "Parochial Collections"

Arthur Ashford, son of Robert

1524 Robert Aishford paid £16 tax on the land. Lay subsidy roll.

1581 Robert Ashford died. His wife was Agnes Hingston (visitation). From Inquisition Post Mortem his son and heor was Arthur, aged 24.

The Ashford family and descendants continued to occupy Wonwell Court until 1748 when John Wise married Margaret Ashford, daughter and heir of John Ashford

1812 Ashford Wise Esq. paid rates for Wonwell (Poor Law accounts)

1821 the Duke of Somerset bought Wonwell from Ashford Wise

1897 Wonwell owned by H.B. Mildmay, and let to Henry Helmer: yeoman

1906 Wonwell owned by Lord Mildmay of Flete P.C. T.D.

1950 Flete Estate present day owners

Written 30th May 2011