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With a quiet charm, the dilapidated building stood nestled in open grounds, with views of the village rooftops in the tranquil landscape and yet the sense of previous residents still lingered.

Haunted Devon

History of Upcott Barton Farmhouse

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The remains of the house was nothing more than a shadow of its former glory, that of a large comfortable manor house.

Upcott Barton Farmhouse

Topographical Dictionary of England by Samuel Lewis (1831)

Transcript copyright Mel Lockie (Sep 2016)

Shepewasse/Sepewasse/Shepewas/Shipwash now SHEEPWASH, is a parish in the hundred of SHEBBEAR, county of DEVON, 4 miles (W. N. W.) from Hatherleigh, containing 436 inhabitants. Lord Clinton being the Lord of the manor.The living is a perpetual curacy, annexed to the vicarage of Shebbear, in the archdeaconry of Barnstaple, and diocese of Exeter. There is a place of worship for Baptists. The river Torridge runs through the parish. A market and three annual fairs were formerly held here. The Church of St Lawrence is the third to have been built on the same site since the 14th century: the second erection after the collapse of the original edifice was destroyed by fire. A notice engraved in stone near the entrance reveals that the present church was rebuilt in 1880. 

View of Sheepwash from the estate, with the church tower and other buildings visible. The flames from the fire in 1743 would have been clearly seen as the flames devoured the majority of the village panic spread.

In 1743, the village was almost destroyed by a raging fire that left the village largely vacant for 10 years. Although residents at the time claimed that the fire toon place April 29th 1742 and described the horrific event: ‘the fire raged with such uncommon fury that the whole town excepting a few houses was in less than four hours entirely consumed with a great part of household furniture and merchandise of the inhabitants and a large quantity of malt and corn and some bullocks and other cattle, and to complete this most melancholy scene, two poor souls by endeavouring to save their goods lost their lives.” 

The majority of the town’s inhabitants were left destitute and “were reduced to the utmost want and misery having been forced to lodge in fields destitute of the common necessaries of life.” Although the cause of the fire is not known the construction, particularly for houses of poorer inhabitants, would likely have been wooden, and with the majority of buildings having had thatched roofs, fire would have spread incredibly quickly.

In this parish are the remains of a very large mansion, called Upcott Avenel, to which a chapel of early 15th century date or early Medieval to -post Medieval - 1066 AD to 1750 AD, was formerly annexed, and measures 14 metres by 6 metres. A 15th/16th century doorway on north side is flanked by contemporary masonry. No documentary reference could be found to confirm the existence of a chapel at Upcott. It is unusually large and could well be the remains of the medieval house with a window later reset. The few rooms still in being have been converted into a farmhouse, and the fine old gateway was removed some years ago, for the purpose of building a handsome residence.

Avenel is written in Domesday as an under-tenant and knight of Roger de Montgomery (died 1094), also known as Roger the Great de Montgomery, was the first Earl of Shrewsbury, and Earl of Arundel, Sussex. Roger was one of William the Conqueror's principal counsellors, playing a major role in the Council of Lillebonne. He may not have fought in the initial invasion of England in 1066, instead staying behind to help govern Normandy. According to Wace's Roman de Rou, however, he commanded the Norman right flank at Hastings, returning to Normandy with King William in 1067.

Upcott was given to William de Avenel (another name for   William was Guillaume Aunel), born 1080 died 1130, by William the Conqueror, through the interest of his father in law Baldwin de Brioniis (Baudouin DE BRIONNE, Sheriff Of Devon ), having married his youngest daughter Emma de Broinne, born circa 1045. It was from him the title of Avenel was added to the original title of the estate, which till then had been simply called Upcott. It was therefore through marriage that Wiliam Avenel, became distantly connected to the king himself, for Baldwin's wife, Albreda, was a niece of the Norman monarch.

It would seem that the holding of Sheepwash manor was in those days a temporary honour. After the death of the first William Avenel, husband of Emma de Brionne, the estate no longer belonged to the family for early in the time of King Henry I, it belonged to William Fitz-Reginald (son of Emmeline de Ballon, heiress to her father’s estate , married Reginald Fitz Count who held the BALLON fief in Wiltshire in 1130). It is supposed that William Fitz-Reginald, by paying a knight's fee, had converted the manor of Sheepwash into his private property, but later towards the end of the Kings reign, the manor passed to a William Avenell who married the daughter and heir to William Fitz-Reginalds estate, thus re-united Sheepwash and Upcott-Avenel. William, the last Avenel of Upcott-Avenel, left a daughter Elinor Avenel, who married Augustin de Bathon, the son of Sir Walter de Bathon, or Bathe/Bathonia/Batonia, of Weare who at the time of his father’s death in 1275/6, on June 18 1296, aged 5, Augustine de Bathon was granted permission to depart Edward I’s host then at Sterling, Scotland. After his marriage he held Sheepwash, Wear, Cornwood and East Raddon.

Without a male heir, his two daughters became co-heiresses. Margaret de Bathon the eldest, received for her inheritance the manor of Sheepwash and the estates of Weare and Bathe. Circa 1314, she married Andrew de Medsted, born 1294.  In 1343, Lady Margaret de Bathon, daughter of Augustine de Bathon and widow of Sir Andrew de Metstead, granted the manor of Shockerwick in Ford with successive remainders in fee tail (a sort of trust for minors) to her three sons, Walter, Augustine and Thomas de Bathon/Batonia. In 1351, she quitclaimed all her lands in Ford, Shockerwick and Batheaston, presumably to her heirs., By inference, since Sir Andrew’s sole heir was a daughter, were the three boys were her bastard sons?

The Chorographical Description, or Survey, of the County of Devon, with the City and County of Exeter, etc. (A Continuation of the Survey, etc. by Tristram RISDON

Given the nature of the society at that time, it is highly unusual that a rich heiress would be permitted to carry on a long-term non-marital relationship let alone name her bastards after family members. Older widows in their thirties were not pressured into remarriage, but permission to do so was required from their liege lord for those who held substantial lands and position. It may be that these were the infant sons of Sir Andrew de Metstead, described in a legal document as being of the district of Bath and child mortality being what it was their sister Elinor that survived them. After the death of her husband Augustin, Margaret de Bathon married again to Richard Bykelake. The marriage appears to have been childless.

Elinor Medsted, born circa 1320 in Northamptonshire, sole heir to the estate of Andrew Medstead, married John Holland/Holand, of Thorpewater (c. 1325– 1393), born in Brackley, Northamptonshire. Elinor and John had two sons Andrew Holland, born circa 1331/87 and Thomas Holland born 1352, of Thorpewater and Upcott Avenel who married Lucy de Holsworthy, daughter of Jon de Holsworthy. They had one son, Thomas Holland, II.

Augustine de Bathe appears to have had a brother Walter de Bathe, who was Sheriff of Devon in 1290, and again in 1324, whose son, Thomas de Bathe, in the year 1350, lost a lawsuit against his cousin Elinor the wife of John Holland, concerning the manor of Sheepwash, in 1351. A reading of the original Latin transcript of the case informs us that Thomas came to court "surrounded by henchmen", whether to protect himself from the Hollands or to intimidate the jury we can only guess. Unlike modern times juries were chosen for their knowledge of the case and they would have included his neighbours and presumably ex-friends. Thomas lost anyway, but according to Sir

William Pole, Elinor later granted the manor to Thomas’s wife Jone (Joan) for the term of her life. There is left the impression that they had nothing else to live on. He saw his family’s wealth and position lost to other families for lack of a male heir and tried to recover some of what had been lost.

Note: Tristram Risdon describes him as "Lord of Sheepwash manor and land" "9 Edw. II" (1316), which if correct indicates he’d held the property for 35 years before being brought to court and that his uncle Augustine was dead by this time. Thomas is listed in the Lay Subsidy of 1332 as holding Sheepwash. Risdon also says he held Bucland, Hele Sachville, Stocley and Ayleslande (Aylesbeare), none of which are mentioned in his grandfather’s post-mortem and may indicate that he was not penniless after all.

Collections Towards a Description of the County of Devon: By Sir William Pole

The youngest daughter of Augustin de Bathon, Elinor de Bathon, sister to Margaret, had for her portion of her father’s estate, the ancient dwelling and manor of Upcott-Avenel, and married Walter de Horton, grandson of Sir Gervaise de Horton. Elinors portion of the manor of Sheepwash passed on to their daughter Melior de Horton. She in turn brought it to her husband’s family of Thorn as part of her dowry.

With no male heirs, a daughter, Melior de Horton, inherited the property and married Robert Thorne, anciently de Spineto, who abandoned his ancient house of Thorne, in the parish of Holsworthy, to take up his abode at his wife's inheritance.At a still later period the properties became once again united, by the marriage of William Holland of Upcott Avenel born circa 1592 died October 16th 1640, married Elizabeth Thorne, daughter of Bartholomew Thorne, of Thorne in Holsworthy, Esq., of Sheepwash Manor and Weare.  They had one son, Capt. William Holland, born May 05, 1616, died 1667 who married Mary Fortescue. They had four children; William Holland; Elizabeth Holland; Ann Holland; John Holland and Mary Edgeworth Holland.


The centre and eldest part of the building now sadly now collapsed.

During this time civil war broke out, turning father against son, splitting families as they battled for their political beliefs and the future of the King and country. One of, if not the greatest battles took Torrington  on 16 February 1646 and proved to be a decisive battle of the south-western campaign of the civil war and marked the end of Royalist resistance in the West Country. Another more local battle took place just a mile and half away from Upcott Barton, a smaller battle took place at nearby Battledown Cross.

“The Parliamentarians approached from the east in the evening of 16 February 1646. In heavy rain and with night falling, they ran into Royalist dragoons and fighting broke out to the east of Torrington. The Roundhead commander, Sir Thomas Fairfax, decided to wait until morning to reconnoitre the Royalists' defences. However, when he sent his dragoons forward to test the defences and they came under fire, Fairfax pushed more troops forward in support and a general fight developed.

The fighting at the barricades lasted two hours at push of pike. At last the Cornish infantry gave way and retreated into the town, where bitter fighting continued. A stray spark ignited the Royalist magazine in Torrington church, where eighty barrels of gunpowder were stored. The explosion destroyed the church, killed all the prisoners held there and narrowly missed killing Fairfax”  http://bcw-project.org/military/english-civil-war/west-country/battle-of-torrington

With this in mind it is highly probable that the locality would have been a hiding place for armed and injured men from the siege.

William Holland was born 1654 and died 1690. married Elizabeth Venton who gave birth to their only child John Holland. Later William married again to Joan Stafford who gave birth to daughters Mary, 1683 and later Margrit 1687.

John Holland heir to his father’s estate, married Mary Risdon, without issue. When he died 1697/1703 his estate reverted to his sisters Mary and Margrit.

It next devolved to the family of Coham, when the two brothers, Stephen and John Coham, from Black Torrington, having married the two coheiresses, Stephen Coham, May 1715-1768, married Mary Holland 1685-1740, and had two sons, Lewis Coham and Rev. William Holland Coham. At about this time the family mansion at Coham was destroyed by fire and so the newly acquired by marriage Upcott Avenel became the family seat. It was Lewis Coham, as heir, who later had the family home rebuilt.

John Coham married Margaret Holland they had one son Arthur who became Archdeacon of Wiltshire.There is only one descendant left of the last named marriage, and she has no family— Mrs. Hardisty, of Maud Cottage, Teddington, Middlesex, she being the only remaining child of the Rev. Arthur Coham, Archdeacon of Wilts, and rector of Potterne, who married Miss Woodroffe, daughter of George Plunknett Woodroffe, Esq., lord of the manor of Chiswick.

  • Rev. William Holland Coham 1763-1825, and married Mary Bickford Coham 1767-1839, 29 November 1790, Bradford, Devon. The couple had five children:
  • Christina COHAM 1795-Married 29 June 1837 to George Boughton KINGDON 1775-1857
  • Holland COBHAM ca 1800-
  • William Bickford COBHAM ca 1800-1843
  • Mary Anne COBHAM ca 1800-
  • George Lewis Coham, Esq, born 1763 possibly at Upcott Avenel, later resided at a new house built on Upcott-Avenel Manor, a magistrate and deputy lieutenant of the county of Devon.

Later, after the death of John Coham, Margaret remarried her neighbouring widow Robert Burdon on the death of his first wife. During their residency, JOHN DENNIS BURDON of Burdon, born at Black Torrington and baptised there on the 2nd April 1679 and his wife Elizabeth, baptised at West Cowes in Hampshire who married at Black Torrington on the 6th October 1806, spent the first years of their marriage at Upcott before he built the house now known as The Larches in Black Torrington.  


Taken from the Sheepwash Chronicle

Upcott Barton House, Sheepwash by Rhona Parsons

I am so pleased that the new owners of my birthplace, Diana Hunt and her son David, are going to restore Upcott Barton to its original state.

Upcott Barton belonged to the Coham-Fleming family from Black Torrington and was rented by my family. It had 210 acres of land with it. My grandfather, Heber Jollow and his wife Emma, moved there from Halwill in 1912 with their two daughters, Maud and Phyllis.

After the death of my grandfather in 1949 and my grandmother in 1952, my mother (Maud) and her sister took over the tenancy. It was an all-female household. because my father was in the Merchant Navy before the war started and was reported missing on 1st January 1943 in Japanese waters, and my cousins’ father, Phyllis’s husband, worked in Cheltenham in ammunitions factory throughout the war.

Upcott Barton had five bedrooms, a library and an apple storeroom upstairs. I was born in 1940, and it was a lovely place to grow up in, with the company of my two cousins, Carole (6 months older than me) and Marion (3 years younger).

We farmed with horses for several years and had two workmen – Percy Jones and Tom Mayne (Brian Mayne’s dad) – who used to keep an eye on some of our escapades!

The Chapel at Upcott was said to be haunted by the ghost of a monk. I didn’t ever see anything, but Diana’s dog doesn’t like going in there, so perhaps she has seen it! The only “spooky” things I have ever seen there were owls and bats at dusk.

With Carole, my education started in 1944 in Sheepwash School when I was 4½ years old. They were hoping to keep it open after the evacuees went back to London, but it closed, and we had to go to Peters Marland School in 1946. This involved walking to Filleigh Moor Gate to catch the bus – we actually spent more time walking to school than we spent in the classroom! That school closed in 1950, and we moved to Highampton School. We could ride bicycles by then!

I left Upcott Barton in 1953, when my mother moved into Sheepwash village. It is so nice to return to Upcott as I have some lovely memories of my first home. I am really grateful to Diana and David for inviting my husband John and I to Upcott so often and making us so welcome. I wish them all the best with their very large project.

As I get older, and see what young people enjoy today, it reminds me so much of the simple pleasures I enjoyed while living at Upcott Barton House in the 1940’s and 50’s.

My earliest memories of Upcott were the use of German and Italian prisoners of war in the 1940’s. Our water supply came from a well opposite the main farmyard entrance. The prisoners of war were in a camp in Holsworthy and each day they came in lorries to the farm where they dug a six-foot deep trench the whole length of the farmyard to the house. As children, my cousins and I were out there every day, watching and probably getting in the way.

The prisoners’ midday meal consisted of two very thick pieces of bread with cheese in between. My mother used to make pasties every day to supplement their meals, and big kettles of tea. In return they made us some lovely wooden toys. They were so appreciative of the extra food, and we received several letters from them when they were repatriated to their own countries after the war.

Another memory is of our visits to Upcott Avenel (not by invitation every time!) when Colonel Carnegie and his sister lived there in the early 1940’s. Whenever we roamed up there, we were made welcome – homemade lemonade was offered, and it tasted super.

Upcott Avenel was a lovely house, with a long entrance passage with French doors at each end, and highly polished, shiny wooden floors. The driveways were so tidy, and trees overhung them.

Following the tragedy, Commander Martin bought the Avenell. We used to go there quite often as they had a lovely walled garden, with flower beds edged by low box hedges.

I was up there one day when I was eight or nine, and happened to be wearing a very stripy jumper, which Mother had knitted for me from all the old colours of wool she could find. The Commander had bought a cinecamera (or that’s what I thought it was) and he asked me if I would dance along the paths near his flowers so he could film me. I was so excited, and he showed us the film when it was developed.

I’m so glad that I’m able to remember my childhood in such lovely rural surroundings.

Additional information

Further research revealed the following from the Western Morning News and the Western Times. 

Western Morning News, County. Tuesday 17 March 1885. ... HOUSE-PARLOURMAI a family of two, where cook-housekeeper is kept; good wages given. Good character required—Mrs. Fisher, Upcott Avenel, Hlghampton, North Devon. *625 aw TINTED, good ~HOUSE and PARLOURMAID, family email—Address Mrs. Baddeley, Helston. WANTED ...

Research has revealed that Mrs Fisher was Arabella B. Buckley (1840-1929), known as Mrs. Fisher after her marriage to  Thomas Fisher on 6 March 1884.  Arabella was born in Brighton, England. At 24 she went to work as secretary to Charles Lyell and worked for him until his death in 1875. Then she began lecturing and writing on science. She married at the age of 44, but continued publishing under her maiden name.

Her books include The Fairyland of Science (1879), Life and Her Children (1880), Winners in Life's Race (1883), Insect Life (1901), By Pond and River (1901), Birds of the Air (1901), Wild Life in Woods and Fields (1901), Trees and Shrubs (1901) and Plant Life in Field and Garden (1901). Her book believed to have been written during her time at Upcott Avenel can be found here: https://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00078569/00001/5j

Arabella Buckley died of influenza at her home, 3 Boburg Terrace, Sidmouth, Devon, on 9 February 1929.

The Women Who Popularized Geology in the 19th Century by Kristine Larsei

WEST OF ENGLAND NEWS Tuesday 18 October 1927. ... the parishes Biark Torrington, Tilleigh. liigh.amp.ton, Sheepwasb, ami Shehboar. The chairman WM Mr. J. Croysdole, of Upcott Avenel, Sheepwasb. Torrington -The Mayoress of Torrington, Mrs. H. Vincent, distributed the. prizes at a whist drive ...

Excerpt from The Harrow School Register 1845—1925 Second Series In Two Volumes.

Further investigation into the name Croysdale showed that John Hawkshaw Croysdale, from Upcott Avenel, and appears in the enrolment register for Harrow School in 1845-1925.

Excerpt from The Harrow School Register 1845—1925 Second Series In Two Volumes.

RED SUNDAYSCHOOLS, Published: Western Morning News, Friday 06 April 1934.... the Pressman who was interviewing him. Mrs. Bovill, he said, was well known in the village, she had frequently stayed Upcott Avenel. Asked about the Secret Service referred to the will, Capt. Child said about ten years ago he joined Mrs. Bovill in in ...

SHOT D.S.O. CHARGE, Published: Western Morning News, Monday 17 July 1950. ... before the Okehampton bench on Saturday. He was charged with shooting Col. Gerald Patrick Ogilvy Carnegy, D.5.0., of Upcott Avenel, Sheepwash, with intent to murder. Supt. E. Tothill «aid did not propose to offer any evidence, but to ask for further ...

SHOOTING CHARGE: NEW REMAND, Published: Western Morning News, Monday 31 July 1950.... farmworker, of The Village. Black Torrington, who is charged with shooting at. Col. Gerald Patrick Ogilvy Carnegie, of Upcott Avenel, Sheepwash, with intent to murder, was again remanded in custody until next Saturday, when he made his fourth appearance ...

Alleged Intent To Murder, Published: Western Times, Friday 04 August 1950.... farm worker, of The Village, Black Torrington, who is charged with shooting at Colonel Gerald Patrick Ogilvy Carnegy, of Upcott Avenel, Sheepwash, with intent to murder, was again remanded in custody until .to-morrow, when he made his fourth appearance ...

FIFTH REMAND ON SHOOTING CHARGE, Published: Western Morning News, Monday 07 August 1950.... SHOOTING CHARGE Edward John Ley, The Village, Black Torrington, charged with shooting Col. Gerald Patrick Ogilvy Carnegy, of Upcott Avenel, Sheepwash, with intent to murder, made his fifth appearance 'before an Okehampton magistrate on Saturday. was remanded ...

Devon gardener conditionally discharged, Published: Western Morning News, Friday 10 November 1950. ... Devon Assizes on Wednesday was found guilty of unlawfully wounding his employer. Col. Gerald Patrick Carnegy, 76, then of Upcott Avenel. Sheepwash, Black Torrington. by firing a shotgun, was conditionally discharged yesterday. On Wednesday Ley had been found ...


Present Day

2011 the current owners purchased the property now known as Upcott Barton Farmhouse in a dilapidated state with the full intention to rebuild and remodel into a luxury family home but sadly time and other forces have not been in agreement and the slow decay has continued proving too much. David has unearthed the foundation remains of a room that had been buried and thought lost for more than a century. Further exploration of rubble from the collapsed portion of the house David found fragments of an exquisite parquetry ceiling, including a piece patterned as a Tudor rose that would have decorated the library of the once Great Hall.

Pieces of parquetry that was located amongst the rubble of the now lost Library and Great Hall.

Over the years David’s has been provided with information from Mediums and sensitives including one who explained Oliver Cromwell’s military tactics, suggesting that his soldiers would have shown the Royalists no mercy, chasing them across the land at Upcott Barton and into the woods below, shouting ‘Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide!’ the same phrase was given by another Medium who had communicated with the spirit of a young maid. Other links to the Civil War have also been made with ‘Master James’ - the ghost of a Royalist soldier, named by one of the many mediums to visit the farmhouse – patrols the grounds of Upcott Barton every evening at dusk and David himself has encountered a soldier with long boots and a sword riding a huge 20-hand horse.

As one would expect a house of this age has witnessed death within its walls and one such case is that a previous owner, described as a large woman, who had a weakness for gin, who owned the house many years ago, and who having been returned home from the pub one night, worse for wear on a horse and cart was discovered the following morning dead at the bottom of the stairs.

An historical and documented death in the house is found in a manuscript by former resident Alfred Chapman, who wrote down some of his family history after he emigrated to America in 1870. In it, Alfred recounts of his sisters shocking last minutes, who was managing Upcott Barton when she died in 1852, aged just 26.

“Mary Anne was a beautiful, healthy looking young lady and was as good as she looked. The day before she died, she appeared to be in perfect health except for a swelling in front of her throat which never appeared to trouble or inconvenience her except in its appearance. She died suddenly in the early morning. My brother George and I slept in a room adjoining sister’s bedroom. Sometime in the morning before daylight I heard a scream and a noise like someone falling on the floor of my sister’s room. It awoke me and I immediately jumped out of bed and ran into my sister’s bedroom where I found Mary Anne on the floor and Elizabeth in bed holding on to Mary Anne’s hand trying to

pull her in bed. Elizabeth had been sound asleep also before the scream and fall, which awoke her. We lifted Mary Anne in bed, and she died in our arms without saying a word.”

On another occasion diviners on the land told David that something, or someone, was buried beneath the Ash tree stump at the bottom of the orchard. After discovering a connection between Upcott Barton and Torre Abbey, David is convinced that a monk is buried under the tree, because there is a line of old lime trees leading up to it, which he says were traditionally planted when a monk died.

David’s dog, Monty a friendly dog, never used to like going inside the house, and would run out shivering.

Cornish psychic artist Patrick Gamble painted a picture for him of a gentleman he connected with and explained that it is his spirit guide, George, who was once the squire of Upcott Barton.

Tales of hidden treasure also exist, one tells of buried treasure linked with the land – a butler, who hid the family silver in nearby woods during the Civil War but was shot on his way back. Another tale of misfortune discussed in local pubs in the 1980s, that gold bullion from a robbery was buried somewhere nearby in the woods, but when they returned to dig it up, the trees they had marked had been coppiced, so the gold allegedly remains interred in its original spot.

Today Upcott Avenel remains a crumbling shell of its glory days, with very little physical evidence of its former beauty and wealth yet hints of its past remain sensed in the energies that remain and the voices from the past that can still be heard as described by David Hunt the current owner: “Sometimes you stand here and just feel that there are people around you, watching you - in a nice way. It’s not nasty, you know. We speak to them. We used to go into the house and say, ‘Good morning everyone’.

Owner David Hunt and his faithful companion Monty. (Image: Greg Martin)



David’s horses in their paddock. The large friendly chestnut horse has a wonderful relationship with David. A friendly, calm nature, protective and slightly possessive over David with a playful twinkle in her eye.

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