This now appears as a terrace of three houses, with other buildings behind. The name, in various spellings, is an old one:
in 1780, the Land Tax returns showed Lydia Southmead as owner and Thomas Neck as occupier of Batten Berry, but it is not named in later tax returns. In an advertisement in the Exeter Flying Post (June 17, 1858) two houses, Batt and Berry were offered for sale together with the rope walk behind, and on Aug 5th, 1863, after the death of Isaac Billett, the ropemaker, the Rope Walk with stores and dwelling house behind with Loom, Tools etc were offered to let by Isaac’s daughter, Miss Billett.
In the census Battenbury is usually named, and usually shown as having three households though it sometimes difficult to sort them out. In the first house Mr John Smethurst, for many years minister to both the Unitarian and the Baptist chapels, and the man who gave us our Parish Hall, lived in 1841 and 1851 (he died in 1859). The same house appears to have been occupied in 1861 by John Lloyd, a Unitarian minister and schoolmaster, who describes himself as a lodger. In 1871 there is an Evangelical and Congregational minister, James Tucker, with a considerable family, in the same house (Smethurst and Lloyd lived alone).
Next door we have the Billett family, Isaac and Sarah with 6 teenage children in 1841. In 1851 Isaac described himself as “master rope, bag, twine & cord-maker employing 1 man and 1 boy”. The Rope Walk was behind, with a tiled roof, and both this house and first house had four rooms on each floor, an attic and a tiled roof.
In the third house we have two independent ladies in 1841, and in 1851 and 1861 we have the Langdon family who originated from Birmingham. In 1871 both the second and third houses were occupied by retired farmers.
1881 is a difficult year to sort out, but in 1891 things become very interesting. The first house is not occupied, but the next is occupied by John and Hannah Hutchings and 4 boys as boarders, one from Plymouth and three from “Dr Barnado’s”. The third house has a widow with two nieces, Mary and Emma Jane Hole, who are teachers, and three girls, one from Plymouth and two from Southampton. It seems clear that by then that “Battenbury House” was operating as a school. This is confirmed by the Sanitary Inspector’s survey of 1893. The house occupied by Miss Hole and owned by Mr T. Neck is said to have 25 pupils, and the “garden closets” are a Nuisance to Mr Clapp next door.
We have indeed found a mention of Battenbury House School in the papers, but in 1868, when the exam results were reported, but this appeared to be a boys school at that time. The examination was conducted by Mr Down, who was the master of the Board School at that time. Was the school run by James Tucker, the Congregational minister ??