Blackmore Gardens, in the heart of the town of Sidmouth, are mostly enclosed and relatively sheltered. They make an interesting contrast with Connaught Gardens, just to the west of the town, which are quite elevated, exposed and windswept. There are however a wide range of conditions within the garden, from sunny lawns with specimen trees and warm south facing borders, to areas of deep shade with challenging growing conditions. All areas of the garden are easily accessible by paved footpaths, seating is generously provided, and there is a conservatory for shelter and the growing of more tender plants. Much of the seating has been provided over the years by individuals as memorial benches, in remembrance of family members and friends who enjoyed the peaceful ambience of the gardens.
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Blackmore Gardens are now all that is left of the Blackmore Hall estate. The original field or fields, called Blackmore, Blakemore, or Blackmoor, was owned in the 1690s by the Prideaux family of Netherton, Farway according to documents held in the Devon Heritage Centre (DHC). Deeds, leases and Indentures held in DHC show that the Prideaux family still had ownership probably up to 1778, when there was a case for debt in Chancery Court which mentions the Blackmore Field. To pay the debt, their Sidmouth property was sold to Thomas Jenkins, a Honiton born businessman who made his fortune in Rome (Sidmouth: a history. Published by Sidmouth Museum).
Subsequent ownership is not totally clear; this may be why the Abstract of Title was made in 1845, prior to the sale of the property to Esther Cornish. This abstract, detailing previous ownership, was sent to Lincoln’s Inn for legal advice before selling the property to Esther Cornish.
The 1845 Abstract of Title
At the end of the abstract W. Shapter of Lincoln’s Inn gives his opinion about the title only going back to 1813.
The Abstract tells us:
that the owner Samuel Cawley died in 1811. (Cawley was an old Sidmouth family name according to ‘Sidmouth Museum; A History’ and Peter Orlando Hutchinson’s Diaries etc)
Cawley’s heirs sold ‘the dwelling house and other hereditaments… heretofore erected and built by Oliver Cawley late of Sidmouth surgeon on a parcel of land purchased by him of Elizabeth Palmer heretofore of Sidmouth widow’.
Where exactly Cawley’s dwelling house was is not known, but deeds in the Devon Heritage centre suggest there were dwellings near the fields, if not actually on the fields, from the 18th Century. The Abstract describes the property as the house and garden ‘one acre or thereabouts’, and also a field adjoining ‘two acres or thereabouts’, which had been bought by Samuel Cawley from Thomas Jenkins.
Samuel Cawley’s heirs sold the property for £2,500.00 to Rev. Philip Story M.A. J.P. Leics. B.A. 1 (1747-1819) of Lockington Hall, Leicester, in February 1813. Story was wealthy, having inherited considerable estates in Leicester, and it is possible that Blackmore Hall was a ‘holiday home’ for him and his family. The Abstract also records William Jeffery Lockett as a third party in the purchase. In his will, Rev Story left the property to three heirs, William Jeffery Lockett, Leonard Fosbrooke and William Jarratt.
(William Jeffery Lockett was an eminent solicitor in Derby; Leonard Fosbrooke had married in 1801 Rev. Story’s daughter Mary Elizabeth. His father, Leonard Fosbrooke senior, of Shardlow, owned the ferry at Wilden on the Trent, and was later High Sherriff for Derby )
Rev. Story sold off part of the property he had just bought to John Francis Osborne of Sidmouth, Gentleman; this appears to include the dwelling house and outbuildings . Very soon Story had erected a new dwelling house on the other part of the premises, and created a Garden and Pleasure Ground.
Rev. Story died on May 25th 1819 at his seat at Lockington Hall Leicester , age 72.
Following Rev. Story’s death in 1819 his heirs sold the property to Sir John Kennaway for £3500; his son inherited it in 1835.
“The house built by the Rev. P. Story is a plain handsome building, in one of the most secluded situations in Sidmouth … a pleasant garden between what may be called the High Street and the Church … it afforded to an invalid the most delightful retreat imaginable…”
This is the earliest description we have of Blackmore Hall, given in “The Beauties of Sidmouth Displayed” 3rd Edition published 1820, written by Rev. Edmund Butcher, a resident of Sidmouth, and a contemporary of Rev. Story.
Having purchased the property in 1819 it is unlikely that Sir John Kennaway lived there, but let it out instead, one of the tenants being noted by Theodore Mogridge in 1836 (A Descriptive Sketch of Sidmouth) as ‘Lady Miller’. There is a possible family connection here with the Storys: Rev. Story and his wife Martha had a large family. Their eighth child, a daughter Georgiana Sibella, born 1787, married Col. Fiennes Sanderson Miller in 1819. Miller was known as ‘lord of the manor’ of Radway in Warwickshire, an incorrect title as no such manorial rights actually exists. However, as Georgiana was known as ‘Lady Miller’ it seems likely that she may have remained in Sidmouth as the tenant of Sir John Kennaway in her old family home. How long she stayed, or who subsequent tenants were is not known, although we know that the management and letting was carried out by William Gale Harris and his son, as recorded in the affidavit they made at the time of the 1845 Abstract of Title. They state that ‘they had managed and had charge of the house when owned by Rev. Story, who sometimes was not resident for a considerable portion of the year’, (in fact the 1845 abstract notes that in Story’s will of 1816 ‘… house in the occupation of John Charles Giradott Esq’). The Harrises continued managing and letting under Kennaway’s ownership.
On the Tithe Map 1839 the outline of Blackmore Hall is clearly shown, and the garden is listed under Sir John Kennaway’s ownership, as is the Lower Blackmore Pasture. The Higher Blackmore Pasture, now the Rugby Field, is in the ownership of E.H.B. Hughes.
On Sir John Kennaway’s death his son (also Sir John Kennaway) inherited the property, and sold it to Miss Esther Cornish (a relation of the Cornishes of Salcombe Hill House) in 1845. She lived there with her sister until she died in 1861. A covenant to the sale, made in July 1845, refers to ‘a new road’ to be cut alongside the property. The accompanying plan shows the layout of the property at the time, with the position of the house, and with the garden divided right across the middle by a wall, into Garden and Kitchen Garden (the remnant of this wall still remains today). The triangle to north west is marked as ‘Part of Story’s Meadow’. This plan defines much the same area as Blackmore Gardens occupy today, Blackmore Field is not part of it. The conveyance of 1877 of Blackmore Field to Henry Ede from Sir John Kennaway describes it as “set between Amyatts Row and Coburg terrace”. This may be why sometimes it is also confusingly referred to as Coburg field.
Following Esther Cornish, the census returns show the subsequent occupants of Blackmore Hall as the Strahan family in 1861 and 1871, and the Fisher family in 1881. The Scott family stayed longer, from the 1891 census until the death of Mrs Scott in 1913. In 1905 Mrs Scott had purchased the Coburg Field ( or Blackmore Field) to add to the estate, to prevent it being built on. The great Sidmouth Victorian historian and diarist Peter Orlando Hutchinson (1810-1897) lived near Blackmore Hall and grounds, and he records meetings and evenings spent with several members of these families.
1913 and S.U.D.C. Acquisition
On Augusta Scott’s death in 1913, her daughter, Mrs Margaret Bartlett, put the house and estate up for sale by auction. (Potbury’s Sale catalogue in DHC) The detailed plan of the estate was drawn up by R. W. Sampson, a well-known local architect, and shows the changes in use since 1845. The triangular Storys Meadow is now marked as ‘Kitchen Garden’ and part of the central dividing wall has been removed allowing better access to what previously was the Kitchen Garden. There are now tennis courts, badminton courts and croquet lawn, and two large fruit plantations.
Whether it failed to sell or reach its reserve is unclear, but at the end of Oct 1913 Mrs Bartlett offered to sell the estate to the Sidmouth Urban District Council. It was thought by some Council members that the estate gardens would ‘ultimately provide a Public Park or Pleasure Grounds’ for the town. After much deliberation the SUDC agreed to buy it in 1914 for £4250, but possibly had cold feet (perhaps because there was much Council expense at the time for other items such as sewage disposal, sea defences etc.) as they immediately arranged for the resale of a large portion of the estate – the house and garden - to Col. John Bouverie-Pleydell for £2500. A condition of this sale was the option for SUDC to repurchase it later. Part of the fields were retained however, and made into tennis and bowls courts after the First World War.
Col John Pleydell Bouverie (4th son of the Earl of Radnor) died in 1925. He was an officer in the 17th Lancers, serving in the Zulu War and later in India. His widow Grace Harriet lived there till January 1952, when she sold the property back to SUDC for £3000. She died in 1953 and is buried with her husband in Sidmouth Cemetery. Their only child Eveline married in 1909 Col. John Leader of Keale Ireland who had a distinguished military career, eventually settling in Canada. At the outbreak of World War Two Col. Leader returned to London and was attached to the Intelligence Division. Whether he, and his wife Eveline, returned to Sidmouth during this time is not known. Research has so far revealed very little of the Pleydell-Bouverie time at Blackmore Hall. We do know that the Hall was in a very poor state when the SUDC repurchased it. One of their legacies is the Pets’ Cemetery – just nine headstones for beloved pets, Snowy, Winkie, etc., probably dogs. Their inscriptions are not all legible, and date from 1913 into the 1920s. They are located right against the churchyard wall, the closest they can be to holy ground.
1952 Re-Purchase and Creation of Gardens
Having agreed to buying it back in January 1952 for £3000, the SUDC Minutes subsequently show much debate about the use of the grounds and house. A new bowling green and tennis courts were agreed for Coburg/Blackmore Field. Advice was sought regarding the Blackmore Hall garden from ‘the expert gardener’ Mr Steele, Head Gardener to Lord Derby who visited in July 1952 to discuss the layout; and there was also input from the Sidmouth Garden Club, who said:
‘as there is no sheltered public garden in the centre of Sidmouth that if the garden were left in much its present state it would be greatly enjoyed by the public… and the trees are a great delight’.
Plans were considered on widening the public access from High Street, and the owners of Hillsdon and Cherryhayes were approached for the purchase of land to facilitate this.
By March 1952 plans were being made for clearing, replanting, new entrances and seating. By February 1953 the sub committee reported on the layout, paths, and walls etc, and decided that the main garden paths should be of flint and gravel, and the herb garden paths of brick and cobblestone panels (if this was done it certainly has not survived – paths are now tarmac); the brick wall abutting Church path be reduced to 2ft; the brick screen wall dividing the main garden to have the western end finished with a curve to match the eastern end, buttresses to be provided; a door provided to the old air raid shelter; suitable climbers for walls; demolition of the old potting shed adjoining the Camellia house and a shelter constructed.
The Blackmore Gardens were formally opened on July 18th 1953 and named “Coronation Gardens’ in honour of Queen Elizabeth II. For the first few years a policy of “No Dogs in the Garden’ was followed.
In November 1953 it was agreed to make a 9 hole putting green on the triangular lawn adjoining the Church Path. The putting green was closed in late 1956 and replaced with a formal rose garden; over time the roses too have gone, and now there are herbaceous borders, flower bed and lawn.
A hint of scandal arose in early 1954: January 1954 SUDC minutes recorded appreciation of a gift of azaleas for the Blackmore gardens from Mr Tanner of the Belmont Hotel. But a full report in March 1954 by the Clerk of the Council recorded Mr Tanner’s dissatisfaction with the Head Gardener’s attitude and conduct. It seems that the Head Gardener had ordered the 36 azaleas not from the specified supplier, but from another supplier. Mr Tanner was very unhappy, having provided a cheque for £22.1.00 for the plants, the clear implication being that the Head Gardener had benefitted financially from using the other supplier. Indeed, on examination it is seen that the account for the azealas was £12.15.00. The council expressed their ‘grave dissatisfaction’ at this, and Mr Tanner’s money was refunded to him.
The first mention of Band Concerts is in April 1958, when the Sidmouth Silver Band were given permission to perform on Wednesday nights in June 1958, and again in 1959 and 1960. The provision of chairs and electric light gave SUDC some problems in continuing this, and it eventually ceased, leaving Connaught Gardens as the band concerts’ venue.
The modern Conservatory is a warm welcoming place to sit on colder days. It was built in 1994 to mark 100 years of local government. Events held in the Gardens now include the Folk Festival Children’s activities, with many stalls, and the Rotary Club hold an annual Fair in the summer. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration in 2015 took place here, organised by the Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce, RBL and Sidmouth Town Council.
In the North East corner a small memorial ‘cottage garden’ has been constructed, in memory of Ann Bagwell 1940-2008, to commemorate her involvement with Sidmouth in Bloom and the secluded gardens.
Over the years the gardens and plantings have changed. Today there are fewer flower beds and more lawn and shrubbery. For some years now Britain in Bloom has provided some delightful novelty animal plantings, one in the flower bed facing the Conservatory in the main gardens, and another in the flower bed in the Triangle area. Recently these have featured Fred the Peacock, Toad of Toad Hall, Nessie the Loch Ness Monster and the Owl and the Pussycat.
In 2014 the Gardens were awarded the RHS 5* award.
The Blackmore Hall itself proved more problematic, with the realisation of its poor condition and amount of repair needed. A building surveyor’s report in November 1952 showed the Hall to be in dire condition. Many suggested uses were considered over the next two years, including letting, meeting rooms, Magistrates court, use as a country club, bowls and tennis club rooms, old people’s home, conversion to flatlets, toilets, an Assembly hall, Council Chambers etc .
By June 1954 SUDC considered selling the property, and/or borrowing in order to carry out the renovation work, and did indeed put it up for sale by tender. But by October 1954 there is discussion of demolishing the building to construct a car park, and costings obtained to cover this. The unanimous decision was taken in July 1955 to demolish the building. By February 1956 demolition of the Hall had taken place and the site cleared. SUDC decided to keep the site and use it as a car park, which in fact the Cinema rented for £60 p.a. At the same time it was agreed to make up the new access road from the High Street
Subsequently small areas of the site were sold for Methodist Church Hall to be built (1961) and the St John Ambulance Centre .
Very few images or photographs of Blackmore Hall remain. The only visible remnant of the house seems to be the tiling abutting the eastern boundary wall, where the verandah of the Hall stood.
Pre 1690s - the land which formed Blackmore House and gardens was originally part of The Manor of Sidmouth which was demised by indenture under the seal of the Monastery of Sion (to which it had been given in 1414) to Richard Gosnell . Then, following the dissolution, the manor and rectory ‘reserved’ to the crown in the reign of Elizabeth 1 and was leased to Sir W Peryam, Kntt. James 1st then let it to Christopher Manwaring and it was afterwards sold by Christopher Manwaring to Sir Edmond Prideaux, Bart. At the same time the Great Tythes were sold to Wadham College.
1690s up to 1778 - The original field or fields called Blackmore, Blakemore or Blackmoor were owned by the Prideaux family of Netherton, Farway
1778 - The Sidmouth property of Prideaux was sold (to pay off debt) to Thomas Jenkins, a Honiton born businessman ( having made his fortune in Rome), who purchased the Manor of Sidmouth and subsequently passed it on to his heir Rev William Jenkins.
1778 to 1813 - For this period the ownership is not entirely clear and quite confusing, but an 1845 Abstract of Title made on the sale of Blackmore House and Gardens from Sir John Kennaway to Esther Cornish indicated the following:
Samuel Cawley’s (died 1811) heirs sold the dwelling house and other hereditaments erected and built by Oliver Cawley, a Sidmouth Surgeon, on a parcel of land purchased by him off Elizabeth Palmer, a Sidmouth widow. The property was described in the Abstract as the house and garden “one acre or thereabouts’ and a field adjoining “two acres or thereabouts” which had been bought by Samuel Cawley from Thomas Jenkins.
February 1813 - The Rev Philip Story (1747 – 1819) M.A., J.P.Leics, B.A. of Lockington Hall, Leicester purchased the property from Samuel Crawley’s heirs for £2,500 with William Jeffery Lockett as third party in the purchase. Almost immediately part of the property, which appears to include a dwelling house and outbuildings, was sold onto John Frances Osbourne, gentleman of Sidmouth. The Rev Story created a new dwelling house, garden and pleasure ground which became known as Blackmoor Hall on the other part of the estate.
1816 - House in occupation of John Charles Giradott Esq (as noted In 1845 abstract notes to Rev P Story’s will).
1819 - Rev P Story died at Lockington Hall on May 25 aged 72 and left the Blackmoor Hall property all to three heirs, William Jeffery Lockett, Leonard Fosbrooke (married to Rev P. Story ’s eldest daughter Mary Elizabeth) and William Jarratt. The heirs sold the property on to Sir John Kennaway whose son, (also Sir John Kennaway), inherited it in 1835.
1819 to 1845 - In the 1845 Abstract of title William Gale Harris and his son are recorded by affidavit as having continued on from Rev P Story managing and letting the property during the Kennaway’s ownership. It is not known who rented the property during this period but in Theordore Mogridge’s book of 1836 ( A Descriptive Sketch of Sidmouth), it is noted that a Lady Miller was residing there. The Rev P Story’s eighth child, a daughter Georgiana Sibelia, is known to have married Lt Col Fiennes Sanderson Miller who used incorrectly the title of Lord of the Manor of Radway in Warwickshire as no such manorial title exists. It is likely that Georgiana may have resided in the property as a tenant.
1841 census - Ann Potbury, age 60, Mary Green age 55, Ann Bond age 20, all of independent means, and Mary Henshole age 10, all living at Blackmoor House.
1845 - Blackmore House and gardens as outlined on the Tithe Map of 1839 were sold to Miss Esther Cornish ( a relative of the Cornish family of Salcombe Hill House) who resided in the property until she died in 1861. The 1851 census recorded Esther Cornish, age 56, + 3 servants
1861 to 1891 - Residents during this period have been identified from Census returns and from entries in the diaries of the Sidmouth Historian Peter Orlando Hutchinson who recorded interactions with several members of the families who resided at the properties as follows:
1861 census - William Strahan, wife Elizabeth, 6 children, 4 servants.
1871 census - William Strachan (sic), wife Elizabeth, 2 daughters, 4 servants. Peter Orlando Hutchinson noted in his diaries in 1872 interactions with the Strachan family as late as 28 November of that year.
1881 census - Edward Fisher, wife Emmeline, + 4 servants. Peter Orlando Hutchinson recorded a visit to Mr Fisher at Blackmore House on 15 March 1879 but in 1884 he recorded that the Fisher family had moved to Dawlish.
1891 census - George and wife Augusta Scott + 3 servants. (They were recorded in the 1881 census as living nearby in Coburg Road with 3 children and 4 servants one of which was a governess).
Peter Orlando Hutchinson also recorded on Wed 18 February 1885 that he called by appointment on Mr Scott of Blackmore Hall. “He showed me a silver coin of Elizabeth dated 1590 dug up in the garden. He is a very good turner, carpenter and mechanic and has a capital workshop.”
1901 census - George Scott, wife Augusta, 3 servants and Daughter Margaret Bartlett, age 33.
1911 census - Augusta Scott, her niece + 3 servants. (Her husband had died in1902)
1905 - Mrs Scott purchased Coburg field adjoining Blackmore Gardens to ensure that the land was preserved without being built on.
1913 - Following Mrs Scott’s death in 1913 her daughter, Margaret Bartlett, put the house and estate up for sale by auction. Whether it failed to sell or reach its reserve is unclear but at the end of October 1913 it was offered to Sidmouth Urban District Council (SUDC) who agreed to buy it in 1914 for £4250.
1914 - Immediately following its purchase the house and garden were sold on to Lt Col John Pleydell Bouverie and his wife Grace for £2500 on the condition that there was the option for SUDC to repurchase later. The Coburg field was retained by the SUDC.
1922 - Coburg field was converted into bowling greens and tennis courts and given to the town in celebration of the end of the First World War.
1952 - on 15 January 1952, SUDC repurchased Blackmore House and Gardens from Mrs Pleydell Bouverie for £3000 when she moved into nearby Coburg Terrace. Her husband died in 1925 and she died in 1953.
1953 - Having demolished some outbuildings and glass houses, provided new planting, paths, seating, and remodelled some walls and entrances, the Gardens were opened on 18 July 1953. The gardens were given to the town and named The Coronation Gardens in honour of Queen Elizabeth 11. Over subsequent years there are less formal flower beds, more lawn and shrubbery and the gardens are enjoyed as a tranquil seating area when not being used for the Folk Festival or to stage other town festivities.
1953-1956 - There was much discussion within the SUDC as to the future of the Blackmore House itself which was in poor condition. In July 1955 the unanimous decision was taken to demolish the house which was effected by February 1956. A small portion of the area of the house was sold to the Methodist Church and to the St John’s Ambulance for a new centre, with the remainder of footage retained for a car park. At the same time, a new access road from the High Street was agreed. On demolition, the only part of the house surviving is the tiled floor of the veranda, which now serves as the plinth for the row of benches just inside the public gardens.
1994 - A new conservatory was constructed adjacent to the tiled seating area to mark 100 years of local government.
2014 - 2016 The Gardens were awarded the RHS 5* parks award as part of Britain in Bloom.
Mid 20th Century (1933-1966)
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Mid 20th Century (1933-1966)
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