Huntly – the Original Owners

This series of articles describe the history of Huntly from its construction as a private house in 1813, through its conversion to a hotel/hydro in 1878, sale to the Officers Association in 1949 and finally to its conversion back to private residences after 2012.

Huntly 2020
Huntly 2020

Part One 1813-1878

Alexander Gordon

Huntly was built in 1813. It was described by the churchwardens as “newly erected” and built by the local builder Thomas Boone. The first owner was Alexander Gordon (c1763 to 1846).

Alexander Gordon was the son of Captain John Gordon, Laird of Carroll. The castle of Huntly in Scotland was the historic seat of the Clan Gordon, and Alexander Gordon carried the name to his new property in Devon.

In April 1808 Alexander Gordon married Christian Gordon (1772-1848) in London and a daughter Jane was baptised in Teignmouth in July 1809. Alexander was clearly wealthy and there is some suggestion that this wealth was made in India where he presumably met Christian who had previously been widowed twice in Calcutta.[1]

Jane Gordon (1809-1901) was married in 1830 to George Ferris Whidborne Mortimer who was born and lived at Delamore, in Bishopsteignton. https://www.bishopsteigntonheritage.co.uk/places/delamore-2/ After education at Exeter Grammar School and Oxford University, Mortimer went on to be a headmaster of some renown. From 1840 to 1865 he was headmaster of the City of London School. He died in 1871 but was survived by Jane and numerous progeny. Jane died in August 1901 and her address in the probate calendar was given as “Huntly”, The Downs, Wimbledon, Surrey.

Various records up to the 1840s show Alexander Gordon as a voter and proprietor of Huntly, with the last record being in Pigot’s directory of 1844. In 1832, the year of the Great Reform Act, Gordon is listed as a voter owning land in Bishopsteignton worth more than £50, with the land known as Shimpit. Shimpit appears as just one piece of land owned by Gordon on the Tithe map of 1836.

1836 Tithe map
1836 Tithe map

The 1836 Tithe map gives an insight into the early years of Huntly. Only two buildings appear to have been extant at the time – the property now known as Wysteria House (plus outbuildings) in the centre of Huntly (1108) and Huntly Lodge. The upper part of the grounds were classed as garden (1109) but the vast majority of what is now the gardens at Huntly was recorded as pasture (1111). A strip of land running from Forder Lane down the east side of the lane, as far as the bottom of the Huntly gardens is also recorded as pasture, let to Alexander Gordon but owned by Eliza Cove (1107).

Alexander Gordon died 15 May 1846. His wife Christian died in June 1848 in Bishopsteignton and the house was sold after that date. The Gordons are buried in a chest tomb just south of the chancel of Bishopsteignton church. A child of Jane Mortimer, who died in infancy, is buried with them.

Commander Alexander West

In 1850 Whites shows the owner of Huntly to be Commander Alexander George West (1821-1875). One of Commander West’s sons was recorded as born in Bishopsteignton in May 1849 which suggests West was in residence at Huntly by then. West was the second son of Admiral of the Fleet Sir John West (1774-1862). He married Jane (c1822-1887), the only daughter of the Rev J Inman of Southsea in June 1848.

The 1851 census for Huntly shows the occupants as Commander West, his wife Jane and 2 sons, John (1849-1863) and Frederick (1850-?). There was also a nurse, a cook and a housemaid.

The Wests went on to have 12 children between 1849 and 1867. At least two died young with Beatrice West dying at around 9 months in 1856. With one exception all children were born in Bishopsteignton probably at Huntly. The exception was Alice Jane West born in Exmouth and christened in Exmouth in May 1858. This probably coincides with a posting for Commander West as an advert appeared in The Times on Wednesday March 24 1858 advertising Huntly for let furnished from May 1 1858 for 1 or 3 years. The house is described as;
“a desirable, suitably-sized family residence, comprising drawing and dining rooms, library and conservatory attached. Seven bedrooms, 2 dressing rooms, servants rooms, and the usual others: three-stall stable, coach houses, gardeners cottage and laundry. The pleasant grounds comprises flower and kitchen gardens, shrubbery, orchard and sheep lands. In all 21 acres.[2] Soil dry and rich, water abundant and good. The house faces south on a rising ground about 150 feet above the level of the sea and commands an extensive and beautiful view of the river Teign and Dartmoor. House is 2 ½ miles from the Teignmouth railway station and four miles from the Newton Abbot Railway Station. Pews belonging to the house at the church, under 10 minutes walk away. A family with young children objectionable.”

It is not known to whom and if the house was let but certainly by January 1860 the West’s were back in residence for the birth of Andalusia Ellen West on 8 January that year. Confusingly the 1861 census finds the West family living in East Teignmouth, with Commander shown as a “Commander Coast Guard”. Subsequent births to the family however in 1862, 1863, 1865 and 1867 show births and christenings all occurring at Bishopsteignton – presumably Huntly. The 1861 census for Huntly shows only a carpenter and his family in residence perhaps suggesting just a temporary absence by the Wests.

At some point after the birth of their 12th child, Janetta Alexandra West on 18 September 1867, the Wests left Huntly. The circumstances surrounding this are not evident, but Alexander West died on 30 January 1875 at West Hill in the parish of St Helier on the Island of Jersey. His body was quickly bought back to England and he was buried in Bishopsteignton churchyard on 5 February 1875. Jane, his wife, died in October 1887 in Wandsworth London and is also buried in Bishopsteignton. Their small marker lies a matter of feet north from that of the Gordons.

Thomas and Elizabeth Hole

The 1871 census shows the occupants of Huntly as Thomas (1841-1889) and Elizabeth Hole (1836-1873) (as well as a large number of domestic staff). Elizabeth (nee Lee) has been reported to have been a cousin of Alexander West although the precise means by which she came into ownership of the property are unclear. It has been suggested that Alexander West bequeathed the property to her but this is impossible as Elizabeth predeceased him. In 1861 Thomas had been curate at Bishopsteignton before becoming rector of the family church at Georgeham in North Devon in 1869. A year prior to that he had married Elizabeth in London and it would appear resigned his post at Georgeham at her bequest. They settled in Bishopsteignton and Elizabeth died at Huntly on 25 July 1873. It seems Thomas continued to live in the property which was eventually sold in 1878.

References and credits

1. There is some uncertainty related to internet research suggesting Gordon had an elder daughter Isabella, born in Calcutta  in October 1807 and christened in the same city on August 1808.  This is potentially at odds with the marriage to Christian in London in April 1808. There is no evidence of an Isabella residing at Huntly.

2. When offered for sale in 1936 Huntly was described as covering 4 ½ acres.  In the mid 19th century there were clearly extensive additional land around the village, including for example Shimpitt which was further down Forder Lane.