Knightshayes Court

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Knightshayes Court
Knightshayes Court - - 773493.jpg
General information
TypeStately home
LocationBolham, Tiverton, Devon, England
CoordinatesCoordinates: 50°55′45″N 3°28′46″W / 50.92917°N 3.47944°W / 50.92917; -3.47944 (grid reference SS961151)
OwnerNational Trust
DesignationsGrade I listed
View to the south from the terrace of Knightshayes Court.

Knightshayes Court is a Victorian country house near Tiverton, Devon, England, designed by William Burges for the Heathcoat-Amory family. Nikolaus Pevsner describes it as "an eloquent expression of High Victorian ideals in a country house of moderate size."[1] The house is Grade I listed.[2] The gardens are Grade II* listed in the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.[3]


The fortunes of the Heathcoat-Amory family were founded in the early nineteenth century. John Heathcoat was born into a Derbyshire farming family in 1783.[4] An inventor of genius, he designed and patented a machine that revolutionised the production of lace. His manufactory near Loughborough was destroyed by former Luddites paid by unknown persons in 1816, he then moved his basis of manufacture, and a large number of his workers, to Tiverton, Devon and there established a lace-works which, by the later part of the nineteenth century, was the largest lace-producing manufactory in the world.[4]

By the late 19th century, the Heathcoat-Amory family owned much of the manufacturing and land around Tiverton, Sir John Heathcoat-Amory, 1st Baronet chose the site of Knightshayes, because from the site Sir John could see his factory in the distance, nestled in the Exe valley below.

The house[edit]

The estate of Knightshayes had long been owned by the Dickinson family, Tiverton merchants. John Walrond Dickinson sold the estate to the Amory family in 1867.[5] In the same year, the house was commissioned by Sir John Heathcoat-Amory and the foundation stone laid in 1869. By 1874, the building was complete, although not to Burges' original designs, and work had begun on the interior. However, unlike Burges' partnership with John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute, the relationship between architect and client was not successful, Sir John objecting to Burges' designs both on grounds of cost and of style. "Heathcoat-Amory (had) built a house he could not afford to decorate, by an architect whose speciality was interior design." [6] This disagreement led to Burges' sacking in 1874 and his replacement by John Dibblee Crace. Nevertheless, Knightshayes Court remains the only example built of a medium-sized Burges country house, to the "standard" Victorian arrangement. Its virtues were recognised in its own time; "Knightshayes is eminently picturesque, executed with great vigour and thorough knowledge of detail.."[7] The plan with hall, drawing, morning and smoking rooms, library and billiard room is conventional and the exterior is, by Burges' usual standards, restrained. A massive tower, to have been constructed over the West end, would have given the house "a more overtly romantic silhouette"[8] but only the base was built.

View of the West end of the court showing the base of the intended great tower

The interior, by contrast, was to have been a riot of Burgesian excess but "not one of the rooms was completed according to Burges's designs."[9] Of the few interior features that were fully executed, much was dismantled or covered over by Sir John and his successors, who followed the twentieth century distaste for Victorian architecture, and for the work of Burges in particular. The attitude persisted on the National Trust's acquiring the house in 1973. Writing at the time of the acquisition, the Secretary, R.R. Fedden, wrote; "the house was built by an architect called Burgess (sic). I expect it is coming back into fashion but the house could be regarded as irrelevant except as part of the setting in the garden."[10] A more enlightened approach since Burges's rehabilitation has seen the Trust seeking to recover and restore as many of Burges's fittings as possible, including some "sparkling"[11] ceilings, such as that in the Drawing Room, which was discovered in 1981, having been boarded over as early as 1889.[11] In a number of instances, the Trust has brought in Burges furniture from other locations, including a bookcase from The Tower House, now in the Great Hall, and a marble fireplace in the Drawing Room, from Burges's redecoration of Worcester College, Oxford.[11] The presentation album which Burges prepared, and which can be seen at the house, shows what might have been. "At Knightshayes Burges was on top form. But (his) magical interiors remained a half-formed dream."[12] The Victorian critic Charles Locke Eastlake described the house in his A History of the Gothic Revival; "For this quality of design as well as for a certain vigour of treatment, Knightshayes may be considered a typical example of the Revival."[13]

Among the paintings on display in the house is a likely self-portrait by Rembrandt thought to be a study for a later version now housed in the Rijksmuseum. This was explored in an episode of the BBC television series Britain's Lost Masterpieces broadcast in 2018.

During the Second World War the house was used as a convalescent home for the U.S. Eighth Air Force.

The family[edit]

Sir John Heathcoat-Amory, grandson of the 1st Baronet, was married to Joyce Wethered, the golfer. An exhibition of golfing memorabilia can be found in the house. Roderick Heathcoat-Amory (1907–1998), youngest son of the second Baronet, was a Brigadier in the Army. His son is the former Conservative politician David Heathcoat-Amory, who is the uncle of the former political columnist of the Daily Mail, Edward Heathcoat-Amory.

The gardens[edit]

Ornamental Pond at Knightshayes Court

The gardens were designed by Edward Kemp[11] but were much simplified in the 1950s and '60s.[11] Sir John and Lady Heathcoat-Amory undertook much work in the gardens for which they were both awarded the Royal Horticultural Society's Victoria Medal of Honour.[14] The estate includes a rare stické court dating from 1907. Other features include the extensive topiary, specimen trees, rare shrubs and the stables and walled kitchen garden, also by Burges.[11] In 2015 the Mid Devon Show was held at Knightshayes Court.

Current ownership[edit]

Knightshayes Court has been in the ownership of the National Trust since 1972 and has been open to the public since 1974.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Cherry & Pevsner 1991, p. 526.
  2. ^ Good Stuff (1975-05-12). "Knightshayes Court - Tiverton - Devon - England". British Listed Buildings. Retrieved 2016-09-04.
  3. ^ Historic England. "Knightshayes Court (1000487)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  4. ^ a b Knightshayes Court Guide: The National Trust 1981
  5. ^ Devon Record Office: "1926 B/D/E/6/8 1867 Contents: The Knightshayes Estate. Rough draft contract for sale (Walrond to Amory)"
  6. ^ Crook 1981, p. 302.
  7. ^ Crook 1981, p. 303.
  8. ^ Cherry & Pevsner 1991, p. 527.
  9. ^ Crook 1981, p. 304.
  10. ^ Hill, Cunningham & Reid 2010, p. 36.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Cherry & Pevsner 1991, p. 528.
  12. ^ Crook 1981, p. 305.
  13. ^ Eastlake 2012, p. 357.
  14. ^ Hickory Archived 2010-12-25 at the Wayback Machine


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]