As the Ashridge Estate waxed and waned over the years, the residents ranged from the eccentric to the scandalous. Dr William Orchard lived there between about 1838 and 1850; most likely responsible for the abandonment of the old Manor and turning the Devon Long House on the hill into a Georgian manor. The house became no stranger to scandal when, in 1878, Lady Mary Talbot Clifford Constable left her husband Sir Frederick Augustus to take up residence at Ashridge Court. Amongst the household which she brought with her was her husband's former Steward, who in later censuses is listed as the man of the house. In the 1890s, the Clissold Williams family lived in the house between postings in India before the house was put up for sale once again. In the 1930s, Sir Arthur and Lady Ashley Biggs lived here after retiring from the Indian Railway; the institute Sir Arthur founded in Madras (now Chennai) to promote sporting and musical pursuits for railway workers, still bears his name and fields a cricket team.
Quietly sowing and reaping
Renovation of the Barn
History of the Estate
Devon seems to have been one of the first areas of Great Britain to be colonised by Homo sapiens, with an ancient jawbone found in Torbay suggesting that the area may have been lived in for almost 35,000 years. In addition to the wealth of neolithic stone circles and rows; it is also where the oldest evidence of field boundaries has been found, dating farming in this area to at least 6000 years ago. The name 'Devon' pre-dates the Roman invasion of Britain and probably derives from the name of a Celtic tribe who lived in the area, the Dumnonii, probably meaning 'deep valley dwellers'.
The recorded history of the Ashridge Court Estate goes back to the 1300's when Edwina de Valletort, a scion of the Norman barons of North Tawton, married Richard Wood and they settled here. Surrounded by verdant woodland and rolling fields, the estate has waxed and waned through the years with the fortunes of it's owners. Nestled into the edge of North Tawton, the estate has links as far apart as India and the Prayer-book Rebellion. Without too much ado, people have been making a living from this land for at least 1000 years, quietly sowing and reaping whilst wars, plagues and politics swept on around them. Long may it continue.
When we bought the farm in 2012 the Great Barn was in a dilapidated state. Overgrown and damp, a lean-to shelter had been constructed along the back and this was conspiring with the unmaintained gutters to erode the cob walls. The interior was divided into four sections, with a concrete block tractor shed at the West end. Removing the lean-to was a priority; damp cob will collapse from one day to the next, so urgent action was required. After a bit of patching, the barn was at least structurally sound.
A few years later, our daughter was getting married and we had (rashly!) offered to host the reception at Ashridge Court. Excited, but unsure how it was going to work, she invited a gaggle of girlie friends down to help her hash out a plan. The original plan was to have a marquee, but when the women saw the Great Barn they were adamant that, with a little bit of work, the barn would make a gorgeous venue. Work on renovating the Great Barn started in April of 2015, continuing apace to finish the week before the wedding at the beginning of August. We think that the Great Barn turned out to be an excellent venue in practice as well as theory but don't take our word for it - why don't you visit us and see for yourself!