In 1316 Johannes Pipard answered for the townships of ‘North Bovey cum Lustleigh, Wrey and Hayne’. Pepperdon certainly existed by 1332, for it is mentioned in the Subsidy Roll for that year. However, these references probably do not do justice to the antiquity of this settlement. Pepperdon was not part of the parish of Moreton and thus seems to have been associated with the parish Lustleigh by the practice in this part of Devon of Saxon thegns associating their lands with whichever parish they chose. It was a free tenement of Lustleigh. It paid a quit Rent of sixpence a year to the Lord of the Manor of Lustleigh, and was required, every fifth year, to do the office of ‘Tithingman’. (A tithingman was answerable for the good behaviour of a tithing or group of ten men.) The old farmhouse on the site is listed by English Heritage (ID no. 85030) as ‘Unoccuped farmhouse, probably C16 with C17 alterations, remodelled in C19. Pepperdon remained in Lustleigh parish until 1885, when it was transferred to Moretonhampstead. [IJFM]
According to notes prepared for the Moretonhampstead history Society by Peter Wills, Pepperdon was inherited by John Southmead (d. 1779), who also owned Wray and Hayne, along with Lewdon and other properties. He left these Pepperdon and Lewdon to his younger son William Southmead. William in turn left his estate to his sisters Judith and Charlotte. When Judith died in 1841 she left her half of Pepperdon to trustees for Charlotte (who was an imbecile) during her life and then to a more distant relative, the Vicar of Payhembury. In 1846 Charlotte died without making a Will, but so soon did the Vicar and his immediate heirs. The result was a long legal battle which was not settled until 1857, when Mrs Messiter acquired Judith’s half of the Pepperdon property and James Kemble, another distant relative, the other half. Kemble put his newly-acquired property up for sale. It comprised nearly 380 acres of arable meadow and pastureland, and was sold by auction at the White Hart in June 1857. Thus, on 29th September Mr Kemble contracted to sell a moiety, that is, a half, of Pepperdon and Lewdon to Richard Wills, for £1150. Peter Wills continues: ‘Richard Wills came from Moor Barton, the farm adjacent to Pepperdon. In 1849 he had sailed to Adelaide, in South Australia, where two of his brothers joined him later to set up a draper’s business there. One of the brothers, Richard’s twin, died shortly afterwards, and Richard came home, probably to break the news to his widowed mother who was farming at Moor Barton, leaving his brother George in Adelaide to carry on the business out there. There were also a brother Thomas and a sister Susan.The business prospered, with George in Adelaide and Richard in England, and they probably decided to invest some of the money they had made from it in land. They bought the estate jointly, half the purchase money being paid by George, but as he was in Adelaide, Richard thought it was better to make the conveyance to himself alone. Not, as it turned out, a wise move, for two years later the brothers swapped places, Richard going out to Australia and George returning home to London. When he discovered what had happened, George was not pleased, and demanded that his interest be legally recognised. This was done by a Deed in October 1861, which confirmed he was owner of half an undivided moiety, i.e. a quarter of the property. George was only just in time, for Richard died five months later, and no end of trouble might have been caused if things hadn’t been sorted out. Even so, there were still problems. Richard in his Will, which was literally drawn up on his deathbed in Adelaide in 1862, left his quarter share of Pepperdon not to George, as George expected, but to his sister Susan, for her life, and then to her children. Susan was married to William Heyward, one of the Heywards of Sanduck, but she died in 1871. So at this time half of the Pepperdon/Lewdon property belonged to Mrs Messiter, a quarter to George and a quarter to his sister Susan’s husband William Heyward in trust for his children.’
‘George Wills decided that this was unsatisfactory. First, he persuaded Mrs. Messiter to sell her half to him in December 1872 for £1400. Then he went to court, whether with the agreement of William Heyward or not we do not know, saying that he owned three-quarters of Pepperdon and Lewdon, and would like the lot, please. As a result, George purchased the last quarter of the property for £1070, on 13 March 1874 and became the sole owner. It had cost him, in total, some £3045 over the years. So now George Wills owned the whole estate.’
‘Four months later, in July, an advertisement invited builders and others to tender for the erection of a farm house and two pair (sic) of cottages on Pepperdon Farm. There are a number of things which make me think this was when Pepperdon House was built. In the first place, from being hardly occupied at all in 1871, by the 1881 Census Pepperdon was quite a place. In Lustleigh parish there was still Pepperdon Farm and Pepperdon Cottage, but in Moretonhampstead there was now a Pepperdon Hall, occupied curiously by a Carpenter and Joiner called Underhill with a wife and seven children, and also by a Groom and Gardener with his wife and son. Could it have been that the Hall was under construction, and that Mr. Underhill was living there while building it? Secondly, George Wills had a painting of the house done by a Mr. Wimbish in 1892, which, as far as I know, is the first mention of the building.’
‘Finally, I remember from my childhood a vague grown-ups conversation, when it was stated George was too mean to employ an architect to design Pepperdon House, and so he and the local builder simply drew up a plan together and built the place. It was not until they finished that the discovered they had forgotten the bathroom, which then had to be fitted into the middle of the first floor, illuminated by a skylight, and extremely uncomfortable. However, Lewdons, and Lewdons Cottage, both also appear in the Census for the first time, and I think that the ‘two pair’ of cottages that George had invited tenders for were in fact these two buildings. We know that the architect for these cottages was a Mr. Bowden, of Ellis and Bowden, and if George had an architect for a pair of cottages, it seems unlikely that he would have ignored him when it came to building a country mansion. It is more likely that he was keeping up with the new-fangled idea of having a separate bathroom ‘a late-Victorian innovation’ and just managed to fit it in in time.’
‘This is how the property was described in the sale particulars in 1913: Firstly, there is Pepperdon House, a ‘charmingly situate moderate sized country residence’, with four reception rooms, seven bedrooms and a bathroom for the family, plus 3 servants’ bedrooms. The ‘Domestic offices’ consisted of ‘Kitchen, Servant’s Hall, Dairy, Larder, Housemaid’s Room, Housekeeper’s Room, Wine Cellar, Laundry and Drying Room, Boot House, Coal and Wood House, Servants’ W.C. and Game Larder, &c.’ One wonders what the ‘&c’ consisted of. It certainly wasn’t for the horses, for there was Detached Stabling with a Three-stall stable, Loose Box, Harness Room, and a Motor Garage with washing space.
There was also ‘Coach-house and Four Men’s Rooms over, and W.C., Stone built and covered with slate.’ I think it was the house, not the W.C., that was stone built and slate covered! There were also, as part of the estate, the Keeper’s Cottage, which was occupied by Sidney Colwill, the Estate Woodsman and Keeper; a smaller adjoining cottage which was occupied by Mrs. L. Watson-Fearne, and Moor Wood, where Thomas Wills actually lived. The Keeper’s Cottage is now known as Rose Cottage, and Mr. Colwill’s grandson, Clarrie Colwill, still lives in Moretonhampstead.
On the farm itself there was a large variety of farm buildings, and two cottages, each with ‘Piggery, Earth Closet, Wood House and good Garden.’ These were not at the farm itself, but were what we see on the map as Lewdons Cottages. Finally, the mystery of Lewdons is solved. There are, it says, two recently erected cottages suitable for conversion into a farm house. Obviously, though there were plenty of farm buildings, no-one had been living there.’ ‘In 1898 George Wills’s wife Lucy died, and shortly afterwards he donated the Lucy Wills Nurses Home in Court Street, Moretonhampstead in her memory. George himself died in 1906, and in his will he said that any of his sons who wanted to buy the estate could do so – at a market price. His children didn’t actually jostle to get their hands on it, though the family of the eldest, George Tarlton Wills (‘G.T.’), spent a lot of time there, and in 1918 G.T. Wills bought it. At some stage George’s nephew, Thomas Wills, who had married a lady called Mary Ellen Palk, took over the farm.
G.T.’s eldest son Oliver, a gallant airman during the First World War, died tragically on 10th November 1918, and his daughter Peggy married a New Zealander, Bill Hamilton, and went to live there in the 1920’s. But Pepperdon was still very much a family holiday home, shared by younger generations. Clarrie Colwill tells of how G.T.’s nephews, Philip and Lionel Wills (my father), used to arrive by plane, on a field at Lewdons which Clarrie’s father, a former airman, helped to prepare.
Thomas Wills ran the estate until his wife died in 1930, but he had been crippled with arthritis for some time, and used to ride round in a ‘jingo’, a pony and trap. Though the farm children used to welcome the offer of a ride in it, they quickly realised, when they came to a gate and were told to ‘hop out and open it’, the purpose behind this beneficence. Unable to manage on his own, Thomas went to live with his daughter at Steward Farm, but later went to the ‘Infirmary’ at Newton Abbot, where he died in 1937.
After Thomas left, the farms were tenanted. Mr. Northway leased Pepperdon for a while, and Mr. Dark leased Ludons, but the latter was a poor tenant and only lasted a couple of years. A Mr. Oldrieve, a butcher from Dartmouth, became tenant of both, though he never lived there and had a manager called Mr. Soby. In 1937 or 38 he gave up, and the Prices took Pepperdon, and Mr. Partridge took Lewdons. Also at this time, G.T.’s son, Matthew, had a go at managing the estate, which has given rise to a rich seam of hilarious and affectionate Matthew stories in Moretonhampstead. He was obviously a great character, though both he and his sister Lucy were deaf and dumb.
George Tarlton Wills died in 1938, and in his will he bequeathed Pepperdon, and Lewdons to his daughter Peggy Hamilton, and if she didn’t want it, then to Matthew. His will seems to indicate that the house was perhaps giving cause for concern, for a proviso said that whoever inherited would ‘within two years of the date of my death enter into a binding contract for the demolition of Pepperdon House and the erection of another residence on the site thereof or for renovating restoring and modernising the present Pepperdon House’ could have £6000 for the project. In those days, £6000 was a great deal of money, so the house must have been in pretty poor condition.
He also left money to the retainers. ‘I bequeath to my Bailiffs George Baker and S.J.Colwill and to Mrs. George Baker the wife of George Baker the sum of One Hundred pounds’, and in a later codicil he left fifty pounds to Amy Prouse, of Pepperdon Farm. Mrs. Baker -or Lizzie had a twin sister called Annie Carter who went to New Zealand with the Hamiltons in about 1925, and became ‘adored second mother’ to the children. Lizzie’s daughter Esther married Eric Prowse, whose sister was the Amy Prouse mentioned above.
In spite of the condition of the house, the family continued to use it, and when War broke out, a number of us were evacuated there. Later it was used as a safe haven for some employees of George Wills and Sons. In the emergency, Pepperdon Mine was reopened, and as the seam ran under the estate, it had to pay royalties. Sidney Colwill used to go to Moretonhampstead station to see the ores weighed, and make a record of what was due.Because of the War, the rebuilding could not be carried out, and in 1945 Peggy Hamilton, hearing that it was in bad condition, sold it. It was eventually bought by Mr. Frank Keep, whose son John Keep and his wife Beryl now own it.’ [Peter Wills, May 2000.]