Historical Report - Charter House

Charter House Holiday Rental Devon

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Large back garden at Charter House Devon
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Independent Historical Report


Charter House is an exceptionally complete early Georgian town house of circa 1725 to 1750 with a fashionable plan form and stylish internal fittings. Although it has undergone two phases of alteration, one in the nineteenth century and again in 1929, it preserves its Georgian character. It was used as the vicarage at one time, although it was built as a private house.


Charter House is set in the small North Devon town of Hartland on the north side of the town square, close to the church of St John, which occupies the west side of the square.


1. The Site

The house faces south. Its original setting is surprisingly intact. The walls of the original walled garden, immediately east of the house, still survive, now enclosing the town car park. The former stable and coach house to the rear is now in separate residential use. A long-walled garden extends behind the house as far as the road which runs to the north. A small late nineteenth or early twentieth building in the land at the bottom may have been used as a schoolroom.

2. External Features

In its general shape and the disposition of its doors and windows Charter House is a typical small Georgian provincial house. Squarely solid externally, it has a symmetrical facade of three bays with a central front door. The effect of balance is completed by a steeply-pitched two-span hipped roof to the main block. The Victorian finials to the ridge tiles, dating from the period when the house was a vicarage, are in the form of crosses, a nice example of denoting the former use of the house for all to see. The windows on the front elevation probably date from 1929 when alterations were carried out to the present kitchen block but the size of the openings is unlikely to have been altered from the originals and the design of the eighteenth-century windows can be seen at the rear of the house.

The front elevation of the house is a good illustration of a tendency towards plainness in the Georgian town house of the period. Classical detail is restricted to the modillion eaves cornice, the rusticated quoins and the doorcase. As with many small houses of this period the doorway is the most ornamented part of the entrance facade and, in this case, is a particularly fine example with free-standing, timber, fluted Corinthian columns supporting a flat porch roof with a moulded cornice which completes the classical entablature. The front door is a heavy, four-panelled design - a style usually associated with the nineteenth century but which, in this case, may be earlier.
The rear elevation appears much as it must always have done and retains its paired eighteenth-century hornless, small-paned sash windows with crown glass and a very tall, central stair window.
This window cuts across the landing floor level - something which can look awkward to modern eyes but which is a common feature of eighteenth-century town houses and so is almost certainly original.
The kitchen block, which adjoins the main range at the east end, has a roof hipped to the front and a plaque on its south end records the date at which it underwent alteration, complete with the traditional pious request "pray for us” which can sometimes be found on datestones of the seventeenth century and earlier: "Ivon Lancelot and Maud Gregory added the first floor of this wing 1929 ora pro nobis”.

2. Materials of Construction

The external walls are of solid masonry which has been given a smooth, rendered finish. This is the type of render that a house of this kind was intended to have from the outset, although the original smooth plaster may have been 'blocked out’ - lightly scored in imitation of regular blocks of stone. The smooth plaster has the effect of making the symmetry of the house more prominent by acting as a consistent background to the regularly-positioned windows and doors. The roofs of both the main range and the kitchen block are of natural slate, the main roof with nineteenth-century crested and pierced ridge tiles and terra-cotta cross finials at either end. At the north end of the garden some eighteenth-century hand-made crested ridge tiles have been used to cap the garden wall - they may have been re-used from the house. They are much more irregular than the existing tiles and have a rough, incised decoration to the cresting. The chimney stacks, one at each end of the house, are rendered with brick shafts; the kitchen block has a stack on its east side.

3. Date and Plan

Although there is no documentation for the date of the original building the plan form and the details of the house indicate a date of between 1725 and 1750. There have been two phases of alteration since: one in the late nineteenth-century was largely a matter of internal refurbishment and improvements to the service part of the building. The second phase was in 1929, when a second storey was added to what was probably a service outshut (lean-to) at the east end, extending the first-floor accommodation. This involved some careful re-adjustments to the main stair. Other alterations that probably took place at this date were the removal of a first-floor closet between the two principal bedrooms and re-windowing the front elevation of the house. both phases of alteration have shown considerable respect for the original building and its features.

When it was built the plan form of Charter House would have been very up-to-date for such a remote part of the county. It has a fully-developed, double-depth arrangement of rooms under a two-span roof whereas many contemporary provincial houses were only single depth or had a narrow lean-to containing the rear rooms. The advantages of the double-depth plan were ease of circulation round the building - especially when the stair was close to the front door - and increased privacy and comfort. The traditional, long, single depth house, by comparison, usually had a stair at one end which inevitably involved far more footwork in getting around the building. It also involved the necessity for passing through one room to get to another, an inconvenience to privacy and warmth which the double-depth plan overcame.

The builders of Charter House adopted the standard symmetrical double-depth four-room plan with a central entrance hall, which came to be preferred in the eighteenth century in both town and country when the site permitted. If there was a restricted site in an urban area houses were built with a narrower frontage, only one room wide, with an entrance hall alongside but generally of three or four storeys. The site at Hartland was not constrained in this way - Charter House is set on a generously large plot of land - and the builders were able to fit all the required rooms on two storeys They would have been influenced by some external considerations, notably light and street noise but, unlike the terrace of later Georgian houses on the south side of the square, the large plot gave greater flexibility to the design.

The internal arrangement is economically-managed, with no wasted space and a considerable degree of comfort. As access to the rear garden as well as the street front was required, the stairs could not be placed at the back of the entrance hall but were neatly fitted in on the right-hand side of the entrance passage, half-way along. The two rooms to the left of the passage and the front right-hand room are all of similar size and were the principal living rooms, two of them enjoying a southern aspect, with the kitchen and services fitted into the limited space to the rear and right of the staircase. Although minor alterations have been made to this part of the house there was evidently a small pantry to the rear with a passage connecting it to the kitchen. There were three sizeable bedrooms on the first floor with a small closet between the two front bedrooms. A blocked doorway at the rear of the intermediate landing suggests former access to a servant's room above the kitchen. Further servants’ accommodation was fitted into the attic over the rear of the house, reached by a back stair rising from the first-floor landing. This stair cuts across one of the rear windows rather awkwardly, suggesting it could be a secondary arrangement but it must be remembered, however, that provincial builders were still coming to terms with the demands of fashionable internal planning in the first half of the eighteenth century and some inconsistencies were, perhaps, inevitable.


In the seventeenth century house variations in the size of the rooms and their position in the house can be a guide to their use and status. In the symmetrical Georgian house, however, the plan dictated that the principal rooms were very similar or equal in size, making it more difficult to judge the way in which they were used. The position of the kitchen and service area can be easily identified, tucked away on the north side and leaving the southern aspect for two of the principal rooms. It was not until the later eighteenth century that room use became highly specialised, with specific rooms fitted out and furnished for one use only - entertaining, eating or withdrawing.
The normal position for a dining room was as close to the kitchen as possible but at Charter House the most likely candidate for the dining room is the panelled room to the left of the front door. The fitted dresser would be useful for crockery and the display of glasses - something of a status symbol in the eighteenth century - and could have served as a sideboard during meals. Access from the original kitchen would not have involved passing through any other principal rooms as the servants could have used the entrance passage and passed in and out of the kitchen via the little passage behind the stairs. The panelled room may have doubled as a parlour outside meal times. The panelling, acting as insulation, and the southern aspect making it the warmest room in the house.

During the period when Charter House was in use as a vicarage it is likely that one room was set aside as a study and library, perhaps the rear left room, furthest away from street noise and overlooking the garden.

Eighteenth-century paintings and engravings show that the smaller Georgian house was relatively sparsely furnished and contemporary furniture, unlike the heavy oak pieces of the seventeenth century, was light and easily moved from room to room. ’Chimney furniture’ - fenders, tongs, poker and shovel - were important objects on which considerable sums of money were spent and the number of looking glasses a house could boast were also a mark of status.


1. The Entrance Hall and Stair

The entrance hall retains its original dado panelling of horizontal softwood planks up to the height of the chair rail. The floor of geometric coloured tiles is an addition of the circa 1880s. The open well stair is one of the finest features of the house with three, slender turned balusters to each tread, an open string and ramped (curving) handrail. The dado extends up the wall with the stairs, with eighteenth-century panelling below. When the extra storey was built over the kitchen in 1929 the first-floor landing was extended to give access to it and the stair balustrade was extended, re-using an original section and then continued in replica. The original cornice, with a delicate key fret design, survives on the landing of the stair hall.

To the rear of the stairs an eighteenth-century two panel door is sited at the beginning of a short passage which led through to the original kitchen. Adjacent to the door a grille of vertical wooden slats ventilated what must have been a little pantry off the kitchen

2. The Front Panelled Room

This rooms retains its eighteenth-century character most completely. The dominant feature is the fielded (raised) panelling, typical of the period, in two tiers above and below a moulded dado rail, designed to protect the panelling from knocks from chair backs. The chimney-piece is all part of the same design and harmonises with the panelling both in its proportions and the restraint of its simple moulded frame - an eared architrave and moulded cornice which breaks forward over the central panel. The panelling throughout the room is completed by a dentil cornice. The rear wall of the dining room consists of one large built-in dresser - an ancestor of the kitchen dresser common in nineteenth-century kitchens - this is a charming original feature and a rare survival. The panelling is now painted a pale cream with some of the mouldings picked out in white; It would have been lime-washed or grained from the outset. Unlike the oak panelling in seventeenth-century houses, which was usually left unpainted and sometimes polished, eighteenth-century panelling was usually deal and the most favoured colours were white or a dull green.

3. Dining Room

This retains its shutters with fielded panels and a moulded dado rail. It may never have had an overall panelling scheme like that of the panelled room.

4. The Kitchen and Pantry

The present kitchen, sited in the right-hand block, has a large nineteenth-century fireplace with a pine surround and mantel and an early nineteenth-century cupboard adjoining it. There is a large walk-in larder at the south end, rather than in the more usual, cooler north position. A small pantry, within the main block of the house was probably the original kitchen. This has a large fireplace, earlier than that in the kitchen, with a timber surround and a mantel shelf supported on console brackets.

5. The First Floor Rooms

The three principal first floor rooms are similar in character. The surviving eighteenth-century joinery in these rooms is particularly attractive. Each one retains its 6-panel door with fielded panels and original panelled window seat, the bedroom above the pannelled room retains an eighteenth-century chimney-piece, rather plainer that the original, elegant 'eared' chimney-piece in the other front bedroom, which also has a built-in cupboard with a wide plank door. The fitted cupboards in the rear bedroom are of different dates, the left hand one is the earliest, late eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century. This room has a Victorian chimney-piece with an ornate arched grate.

6. Attic and Roof Construction

The attic at Charter House is of special historical interest as it contains the fittings - simple cupboards and partitions - associated with its original use as servants’ bedrooms. Such fittings are an uncommon survival and it is particularly revealing to be able to compare them with the superior fittings of the same date downstairs and to see the clear distinction made between the quarters used by the family and those of the servants.
The original eighteenth-century roof construction still exists. The roof trusses have straight principals with butt purlins. The original collars, which were slightly set into and pegged on to the principals, have been cut off to allow more headroom and later collars have been nailed on higher up. The hat pegs in the roof space suggest that it may have been used as a schoolroom or meeting room at one time.


No documentation about the original owner of Charter House has come to light. In 1842 it was owned and occupied by William Chanter, who was then the perpetual curate of Hartland and who may have owned the house for some time.

William Chanter was licensed as curate in 1797 but had acted as curate of Hartland from March 1789 and had signed the baptismal register as officiating clergyman on 11 Feb 1787. In 1839 he used his influence to have the town hall largely demolished and a Chapel of Ease to the parish church erected on its site at a cost of about £400. Chope, the local historian, described this as "an act of vandalism which could hardly be justified from any point of view” (The Hartland and Vest Country Chronicle, December 1906, p.14). It seems likely (although documents have not been found to prove it) that it was at this period that Charter House was used as a clergyman’s residence for the first time, being conveniently sited close to the new Chapel of Ease. It may have been Chanter’s house in the late eighteenth-century and simply altered its status when the Chapel of Ease was built in the square.

In the early 1840s, under the provision of the 1836 Tithe Commutation Act, the tithes of Hartland - the traditional annual one-tenth payment in kind to the church - were commuted into rent charges, raising the substantial sum of £780 Is. Of this sum £220 per annum was apportioned to the perpetual curate, who became the vicar, and well-off by the standards of the day (in 1831 the vicarage had been worth only £97 per annum). This may have been the reason why Chanter ceased to reside in Hartland in 1842 - presumably he was able to afford a better house and perhaps a less isolated life elsewhere. He died at Ilfracombe in 1859. The tithe map of 1842 (Fig.l) shows Charter House as the 'parsonage house’ with its walled garden and existing rear garden. In 1850, when Chanter was no longer living in Hartland and his duties were being carried out by a series of curates-in-charge, part of the Church Lands were described as” a house and garden, at Hartland, let for about £44 per annum”, presumably this refers to Charter House.
Chanter was succeeded by Thomas How Chope who was the vicar from 1859 until his death in 1906. His first wife, by whom he had five children, died in 1864. In 1874 he married again and had four children. The 1871 census return for Hartland shows that the household consisted of eight members at that date:

Thomas H. Chope, aged 45 (vicar), born in Bideford
Frances L Chape, aged 13 (scholar), born in Gloucestershire
Thomas Chope, aged 12 (scholar), born in Gloucestershire
Elizabeth Chope, aged 11 (scholar), born in Hartland
William Chope, aged 8 (scholar), born in Hartland
Lucy Attridge, aged 79    (mother-in-law), born in Essex
Helena Blenkwith, aged 23 (governess), born in Nottinghamshire
Elizabeth Short, aged 21   (general servant), born in Hartland.


1. The Rational Context

The eighteenth-century is the first period when smaller provincial houses acquired a national rather than a regional character. Improved communications, including the publication and rapid spread of builders’ ’pattern books’, set a national standard of taste in architecture and gradually superseded the use of local materials and local house types which characterise the earlier centuries. The emergence of the 'middling sort’ - the professional middle classes - in towns was also an important factor, spending their surplus money (or borrowed money) on new houses with a high degree of comfort by contemporary standards. Horace Walpole, whose letters are full of social observation, noticed the quality of the middle-class house when he returned to England from a trip on the continent in 1741: "The country town delights me: the patulousness, the ease, the gaiety and well-dressed everybody amaze me. I had before discovered that there was nowhere but in England the distinction of middling people-, I perceive now, that there is peculiar to us middling houses-, how snug they are!" (. The Letters of Horace Walpole, Vol.l, p.103).

The type of house demanded by the ’middling sort’ was comfortable while still being compact with quality in its details. The existence of a national standard of taste, producing small houses of a similar character all over the country can be illustrated from eighteenth-century novels. Although the date is rather later than Charter House, the houses of Jane Austen's middle-class families share many similarities of layout:

As a house, Barton Cottage, though small, was comfortable and compact; but as a cottage it was defective, for the building was regular, the roof was tiled, the window shutters were not painted green, nor were the walls covered with honeysuckles. A narrow passage led directly through the house into the garden behind. On each side of the entrance was a sitting room, about sixteen feet square; and beyond them were the offices and stairs. Four bedrooms and two garrets formed the rest of the house. It had not been built many years and was in good repair. (Sense and Sensibility, (f.p.1811).

Of the various builders’ pattern books printed during the century Batty Langley’s The Builder's Chest Book (1727) is the best-known. It was described as a’’necessary Companion for Gentlemen, as well as Masons, Carpenters, Joiners, Bricklayers, Plasterers, Painters, etc. and all others concerned in several Parts of Buildings in general”. The advice in the book was full of detail and showed considerable feeling for structural considerations:

suffer not windows to be placed too near the Angles of a building, but leave the coyn as large as may be with conveniency, for those coyns are the very nerves and support of the whole building.

and for practical detail:

In making of staircases this rule should be observed, that the number of steps at every landing should be odd, and not even, for thereby, when you begin to ascend with your right foot first (as all persons generally do) you will end with the same foot also.

Batty Langley also produced The City and Country Builder's and Workman's Treasury of Designs in 1740 which included model designs for various architectural details including fireplaces (Fig.2). Designs from pattern books of this kind could be adapted by provincial craftsmen.

2. The Local Context

In the local context few houses survive that are strictly comparable to Charter House. the other Georgian houses in Hartland town are later in date. Berry Farmhouse, to the north of the parish, was remodelled and extended circa 1725-1750 but the builders made no attempt at the fashionable four-room plan. The Manor House Hotel in Woolfardisworthy had a front block added on in about 1740 and has a Georgian facade, but lacks the harmony of plan and internal detail that make Charter House such an attractive building. Although larger early eighteenth-century houses with high quality fittings do survive in both Devon and Cornwall, there are few of the smaller-sized houses that are so complete.

August 1988




Austen, J., Sense and Sensibility (1811).

Chope, R.P., The Book of Hartland (1940).

Denvir, B The Eighteenth Century: Art, Design, Society (1983).

Langley, B., The Builder’s Chest Book (1727)

Ramsey, S.C., Small Georgian Houses and their Details 1750 1820, (1977).

Thornton, P., Authentic Decor (1894)

Toynbee, Mrs P., (ed.), The Letters of Horace Walpole, 16 Vols., (1903).

Wood, J., An Essay towards a Description of Bath (1749)

Charter House Holiday Rental Devon

Phone: 01392 580852 (UK)
e-mail: enquiries@holidayrentaldevon.co.uk Phone: 01392 580852 (UK)
e-mail: enquiries@holidayrentaldevon.co.uk
Phone: 01392 580852 (UK)
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