WESTLEIGH PARISH

SOUTHCOTT BARTON

By David Fryer

Published in the North Devon Journal 17th August 1955

There are farm houses in North ‘Devon many of which possess proud histories extending back to the time of the Norman Conquest and even before then. The story of these buildings, although time to time investigated by historians, is unknown to the ordinary man in the street.

Such a place is Southcott Barton Westleigh, which lies in peaceful solitude hidden by the protecting brow of a hill from the busy Bideford-Barnstaple main road a mile away. Southcott which has been the home of the Fulford family for over forty years is surrounded by just under 200 acres of land. On which mixed farming is carried on.

It is owned by the Christie Estate..

About three-quarter of the way up the drive, Which links the farmhouse the main road there is perhaps of the best spots in the area to view the local scenery. From that point it is possible to see the whole stretch of the River Torridge from well below Bideford Bridge winding its way past Bideford and on to the estuary where the River Taw links the Torridge to flow out to the sea.

Without much difficulty one can imagine the occupants of Southcott watching from that self same spot the men-of-war putting out from Bideford to join the British fleet to defeat the Spanish Armada.

Pre-Norman?

The house itself, it is believed was built in pre-Norman times. Then building was just one room the four walls of the present dining room and hall. The smoke from the central fire found its own way out through the rafters of the roof. The whole living space measured no more than 648 square feet.

During the Norman period the fire place was moved to its present position against the North wall and little more efficient funnel-like chimney was erected. Some time later the present large chimney stack was built, which prevented the smoke being blown about the room by draughts. The chimney has never altered and although efficient for getting rid of the smoke, a percentage of the fire’s heat follows smoke on its upward journey.

Who lived at Southcott or what it was used for during the time of the Normans it is impossible to say as no reference is made to it in the Domesday Book, The first mention of the house appears in the Lay Subsidy Rolls of 1333 which gives it as the residence of Walter de Southcote (?)

It was not until the Tudor period that the house arrived at its present style but it was not finaily completed until the reign of Elizabeth I.

It was then that the house took on its present “E” shape. Whether or not this was a mark of deference to the Queen is a matter for conjecture.

The west wing held the sleeping and with drawingrooms for the family, while the east wing was for the staff. Up to the time of the reign of Charles II there was a minstrel gallery over what is now the entrance hall. It is known that about this time Southcott was the country residence and shooting lodge of the Earl of Bath, who owned property in the district.

It was also during this period that two bedrooms were constructed over the present dining room. Workers from Italy were brought over to make the beautifully moulded ceilings in those two rooms. A theory has been: put forward that these improvements were paid for with gold that was looted from treasure ships along the Spanish Main.

Little change

The house has changed in some respects but very much since 17th century. For many years the farm was owned by the Stucley family until 1920 when it was sold by Sir Hugh Stucley.

In pre 1914-1918 war years a gamekeeper was employed and pheasants, wild duck, hares and rabbits were shot by Sir Hugh and his parties. Once a month Mr Harry Turner’s harriers met at the farm. However, today there are no rabbits or hares left.

A brace of foxes was introduced to the farm to keep the rabbits down, but when myxamatosis hit North Devon the disease dealt more ruthlessly with the rabbits than the foxes had. It is known that the foxes are still on the farm and although there are no rabbits left no damage has been suffered by them attacking chickens or lambs.

Today there is mixed farming Forty acres are sown with barley, five acres-of root crops, seven acres of potatoes and about five acres of sugar beet. Besides this there are 170 breeding ewes and a herd of attested Friesian cattle.