of Tapeley Park
The following has been provided by Rosemary Lauder (who lives in the Parish) from her book "Devon Families" published by Halsgrove
The Tapeley estate on the Torridge estuary in North Devon has changed very little down the long centuries. It is dotted with ancient farmsteads, still surrounded by traditional farm buildings. There is an historic quay, a long foreshore, and an attractive house overlooking it all.
The Christies came to Tapeley by marrying the Clevland heiress; that is well known and beyond dispute. But there is romance as to how the Clevlands came to live in such a beautiful place. One version is that Captain William Clevland, a Scotsman from Lanarkshire, was shipwrecked in Bideford Bay, and saw Tapeley Park as he walked up the foreshore towards Bideford. The better version states that he was sailing 'his fine vessel up the Torridge and espied Tapeley through his telescope'. Both versions agree that he announced his intention of making Tapeley his home. That was in 1702. He achieved his ambition in 1704 and Tapeley passed on to the Giffards who had owned the manor since Henry VIII's time, to the Scottish Clevlands. The manor house was relatively new, described as of cob, and it basically still survives at the heart of the present house. The Clevlands settled into their new property but little is known of their early history there. During his long naval career, Commodore Clevland had taken part in many memorable actions during the reigns of three monarchs, William, Queen Anne and George I, before retiring as the first Controller of the Storekeeper's Account in the Royal Navy. In 1702 he received the Freedom of the City of Edinburgh, and of Hamilton in Lanarkshire, the year he purchased Tapeley. The following year he married Ann Davie, from nearby Orleigh Court, an old North Devon estate.
His son, John, was MP for Saltash, and Secretary to the Admiralty from 1751 until his death in 1763, so must have divided his time between London and Tapeley. Hester, his sister, married William Saltren-Willett from Porthill, across the estuary at Bideford, and it was their grandson who then inherited the Tapeley estate.
William's grandson, also John, became a director of Greenwich Hospital, and followed a parliamentary career, representing Barnstaple for over forty years. He considerably enlarged Tapeley by building on the large dining room, sensibly for the sole purpose of entertaining his constituents lavishly, particularly, no doubt, at election times. One of his brothers Augustus Clevland (b.1754) joined the East India Company when he was seventeen and subsequently became Governor of Bengal. But the climate, as with many of his countrymen, did not suit Augustus, who died there, aged thirty. A monument to his achievements was erected in front of his former residence:
To the memory of the late Angustus Clevland Esq... who without bloodshed, or the terror of authority employing only the means of conciliation, and benevolence, attempted and accomplished the entire subjugation of the lawless and savage inhabitants of the Juneterry of Rajamahall, who had long infested the neighbouring lands by their predatory invasions, inspired them with the taste for the arts of civilised life and attached them to the British Government by a conquest over their minds... The Governor General and Council of Bengal in honour of his character; and for an example to others, have ordered this monument to be erected.
Apparently he achieved this with the aid of large quantities of good British fruitcake. Several officers had failed repeatedly in their attempts to bring the Juneterry to heel, and in desperation decided to send in 'good old Gus'. He went unarmed, and unattended by a military force, but with fruitcake which he offered to the native women, talking them round whilst their men were away. He then persuaded the tribesmen that what the British really needed was a force of rangers to patrol the hills and keep order, and could they do this for him? So effectively they were patrolling themselves, and all was peace.
On the death of John Clevland in 1817, the Tapeley estate passed to his great-nephew Augustus Saltren-Willett, who assumed the arms and surname of Clevland. He married Margaret Caroline Chichester in 1830, one of the six children of John Palmer Chichester of Arlington. Augustus joined the Enniskillen Dragoons, and served at Waterloo. He died in 1849 leaving one son and two daughters. That son was Archibald Clevland who joined the 17th Lancers when he was just seventeen and was one of only three officers to survive the Charge of the Light Brigade. In the Christie archives is a long letter home recounting that disastrous engagement:
Lord Raglan had been told by a man who wanted the cavalry to do something brilliant, the wrong positions of the guns. He ordered us to charge... I must tell you that the guns we charged were nine 12-pounders, so you can fancy how we were mown down...
His silver pouch box, still preserved, saved him from one Cossack’s lance thrust, and the tip of the next was blunt 'Was that not a lucky escape?' he wrote. But his luck ran out just one month later when he was killed at Inkerman. His mother was distraught. Her melancholy statue down by the lake at Tapeley everlastingly mourns his loss, but the more eyecatching obelisk erected to him overlooking the estuary where all could see it, was blown to pieces by a lightning bolt in 1933. The 50ft stone column was broken into fragments, the surrounding iron railings twisted and torn, and only parts of the granite base survive.
It was Archibald's sister, Agnes, who by marrying William Langham Christie, brought the Tapeley estate into that family. The Christies are of Swiss origin, and it is recorded that Daniel Christin, as his father had wasted his property, sought his fortune by joining the East India Company. He changed his name to Christie on joining the Bombay engineers, rising to the rank of major. Chivalrously, he prevented a contingent of British soldiers from robbing the ruler's harem of their jewellery, who in gratitude, fearing a different intent on the part of the soldiers, gave the gems to Christin. He was rewarded by the Sultan with a fortune of around £20,000. How he came to meet, and woo the daughter and heiress of Sir Purbeck Langham of Glyndebourne and Saunton is not recorded, but it was their grandson, Willam Langham Christie who combined the two estates.
Tapeley Park underwent major alterations when William Christie and Agnes gave it a somewhat severe, Victorian brick facade. Gone was the pretty white house that had so attracted Commodore Clevland who would not have recognised its replacement. Their eldest son, Augustus Langham Christie, married into the highest rank of county families; his bride was Lady Rosamund, daughter of the Earl of Portsmouth from Eggesford House, and granddaughter of Earl Fortescue. She had a profound influence on Tapeley, and wrote in her journal:
When I first saw Tapeley it was in the winter of 1881 before my marriage to Augustus Langham Christie. It was a Georgian stucco house, very plain and rather dreary in appearance, for many of the front windows had been blocked and the sunk apertures painted black with halfdrawn paint blinds, cords and tassells, looked very dull. The terrace walk and garden did not exist and the drive approached between iron railings.
Lady Rosamund was to change all that.
I came to live at Tapeley about four years after my marriage. The house had been restored and altered by my father-in-law. It had fallen into a bad state of repair. The stucco, save on the library side had been replaced by red brick with white brick lines and the parapet removed to give place to a sloping roof. He was most forbearing in allowing us to call in the leading Queen Anne architect of the day to restore the house. During the course of many years, the house in Mr John Belcher's hands assumed its present appearance. We were unable to do the alterations call at once as we could not have faced the expense, and at the outbreak of the Great War the library side remained in dilapidated stucco. The builder, being aware that we had the plans, approached us to undertake the work on account of unemployment in Bideford. It proved one of the best strokes of business as well as a charity, for the cost was very slightly higher than before the war, and ever since would have cost much more. He stipulated that only married men should be employed. My husband never grudged money spent on the irnprovements or the adornment of Tapeley and the estate that he loved so dearly.
When Belcher died Lady Rosamund placed a plaque to his memory on the wall of the house. It was obviously a long and happy relationship between him and his employers, which resulted in the greatly improved house we see today. The garden that is now such a well-known feature had its beginnings at this time with the laying out of the terrace and the borders. Lady Rosamund liked to save a little money each year to spend on Tapeley, which paid for some of the interior work, the summer house, and the long flight of steps which was another of her many bargains, for they were made of rejected gravestones originally destined for the war cemeteries. She furnished and refurbished the house, patronising the best craftsmen of her era, particularly the William Morris workshops. It is true to say that the beautiful house and gardens that attract many visitors are entirely due to Lady Rosamund.
Her marriage, however, was far from happy. Augustus's 'eccentricities' were becoming rather more serious, and eventually she banished him to the other Christie estate at Saunton. The couple had one son, John, who won the Military Cross in the First World War. He preferred to live at Glyndebourne, the Christie estate in Sussex, which his father passed over to him. His marriage to Audrey Mildmay, the opera singer, brought about a dramatic transformation when together they embarked on turning Glyndebourne into the world-famous opera house. The first performance was given in 1934, and has continued ever since with breaks in 1948 and '49, and in 1992 and '93 when the new opera house was being built.
When Augustus died in 1930, in an act of revenge on his wife, he willed Tapeley to some distant cousin in Canada. Lady Rosamund fought the will in the law courts, eventually proving that he was of unsound mind when the will was made. She finally won shortly before her own death in 1936.
For several years during the Second World War Tapeley was let out to evacuee children from Plymouth, and then as a home for the Invalid Children's Aid Association, and for a spell as an hotel, before becoming the home of John and Audrey's daughter, another Rosamund. Her brother, George Christie, took over the running of Glyndebourne and was knighted in 1984.
Rosamund lived at Tapeley from the 1970s until 1988, during which time she opened the house and garden to the public, but ran everything on a shoestring, and insisted on doing almost everything herself, from taking parties round the house, to making the scones for the teas. She is best remembered for her parrot which invariably perched on her head. It is fortunate that she inherited her grandmother's love of Tapeley, and appears to have passed this on to her nephew, Hector Christie, who is the eldest of Sir George's three sons. He describes himself as a shepherd, and for many years lived at Saunton managing the farm there, but following his marriage to Kirsty MacDonald, moved to Tapeley. They have two young children, Bessie and Archie and have spent much time restoring both house and garden. Hector at one time had plans for restoring the Clevland monument but found the cost to be prohibitive. He is a keen footballer and won a certain amount of notoriety for his firm stance during the Foot and Mouth crisis of 2001 when he resisted MAFF and barricaded his property against them, seeking to protect his pedigree herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle. During more normal times, the gardens are regularly open and Tapeley makes a lovely setting for the many weddings that take place there.
The large estates at Saunton amount to some 6000 acres, now in the ownership of various trusts and companies. Much of the village of Westleigh, which originally housed the estate workers for Tapeley, is still owned by the estates. This unusual little village, with its quaint cob and thatched cottages huddled together is built in such a manner that although only half a mile from Tapeley, it is not visible from the house. Down on the Torridge, Instow was at one time largely owned by the Clevlands and Christies, and the estate owns the some of the foreshore (There are two strips of foreshore owned by the Crown Commissioners )which was purchased from the Crown. It also owns the foreshore and beach across the estuary at Saunton, and the huge acreage of sand dunes behind it, some of which is leased to the MOD; the whole area is a nature reserve, between which the interests of tourism and the local population tread a wary path. It is a traditionallyrun estate with tenant farmers, let cottages and forestry.