The Victorian Estate
The Victorian Estate is the first part of a fascinating series that delves in to one wealthy family’s Victorian life-style in England between 1880 and 1930. The series is based upon the original Victorian Estate at Winsford Tower in Devon, England, UK. The Victorian Estate covered almost 800 acres.
Work began on the estate’s construction around 1880 and lasted several years employing a small army of craftsmen. Despite being located in a remote district 10 miles NW of Dartmoor National Park, the estate enjoyed the latest modern facilities of the time and even of today.
Four garages, with inspection pits and travelling hoist housed the cars. Fresh trout was supplied from the 2 acre boating lake which also attracted duck for sport shooting.
Water was pumped from a well into the water tank at the top of the tower that gave the estate its name to provide an trouble-free gravity-fed supply. All the garden irrigation water was supplied from the winter run-off from the thirteen greenhouses which was stored in large underground cisterns still used today.
Horses were well cared-for in their stable blocks, with tack rooms together with the groom’s accommodation above.
Pictured left: The thatched boathouse beside the trout lake
The main Victorian House
The main house to the estate, which Winsford Walled Garden once belonged, was called Winsford Tower. The name is due to a large water tower on the main residence upon which it was possible to view the village of Winsford in nearby Exmoor National Park to the North East. The half-mile drive to the house is still known as Winsford Lane.
The wealthy family enjoyed full central heating and electric light, almost 80 years before the advent of the National Electricity Grid. It was one of the first Victorian houses in the whole South West UK region to enjoy both electric light and central heating.
The house was totally independent for electric power to provide the electricity for heating and light. Two Hornsby oil engines, totalling 22 hp, provided the motive power to generate both 80 and 120 volt current.
In the event they were not working, there were banks of accumulators or storage batteries, containing 44 DP cells totalling 480A capacity in their own building for additional back-up power.
The entrance hall was 47 feet (14.3m) long, and illustrates just how an impressive entrance is used throughout history, as a means to highlight the owner’s standing in the community.
Notice the exuberance of fresh flowers in this and subsequent pictures.
The 37 x 27ft (11.2 x 8.2m) Victorian Salon or Victorian drawing room featured exotic summer flower arrangements to show both the owner’s taste in quality plants and the owner’s garden’s ability to provide them.
Notice the palm leaf and the height of the arrangements. The flowers would be refreshed by replacements from the garden.
There were dedicated greenhouses for palm and ferns accordingly.
The Victorian Salon contents include Cloissone, Dolton, Dresden,Wedgewood, Worcester and a lot of ‘Venetian glass’. There were numerous oriental pieces, alabaster and bronze statues. An eight bottle silver cruet weighing 32oz went for £7. While a Rosewood Blucher piano like the one picture can sell for about $30,000 today. Capt F.C. Selous is credited with painting the frieze – see Selous’s own page. The fireplace is dated 1884 which ties in neatly with the estimate of the garden construction.
The 1933 auction list details a pair of 18″ high Dresden china vases that sold for £4.15s.0d or £4.75p. There must have been a lot of tea taken with guests in the summer in the drawing room which led out to the terrace. One 40 piece Minton breakfast set sold for just over £27, and the tea and breakfast set by Dresden containing 66 pieces was sold for £6.10s.0d, while two Old Spode tea and coffee sets of 46 and 35 pieces sold for £15 and £8 respectively.
The Victorian Dining Room was a very ornate affair, typical of the period and, like the drawing room, appearing far too cluttered to the contemporary eye. The auction list of 1933 makes for fascinating reading. A few items are included below for comparison and where appropriate the selling price is included.
Dinner sets: A 126-piece Ironstone set (£12, !5), a 150-piece decorated French set (£35) and the decorated Japanese set of 110 pieces sold for just £9.
While you may be considering where the dining sets might be stored, there were two 5 ft wide carved oak dining tables, one with seven leaves that could extend to 15 ft (5m), the other extendible to 12 ft (4m). The drinks list was quite extensive and included Krug 1904, Rennart, Napoleon, Claret, Hock and Sloe gin. Very nice by anyone’s standard.
Examples of a ‘good read’ then included: ‘Punch’ and ‘Pall Mall’ magazine, Alison’s Europe, the diaries of Pepy’s and Madam D’Arblay, Grote’s History of Greece, 28 vols of ‘Ancient Classics’, the Works of Thomas Carlyle and the Works of Charles Read, Society Pictures by George Du Maurier.
Several volumes by C. D. Gibson include ‘London’ and ‘Americans’. Gibson was a cartoonist who provided a piercing critique of the men and women who inhabited his world exposing their pomposity and vanity.
Entertaining family and friends featured largely in the summer months at the Winsford Tower Estate as it did with every Victorian Estate. The Terrace set out for games of croquet must have been very popular on warm sunny days, so too would the boating lake with its trout and duck. On colder days (male) visitors the could withdraw to the billiard room. We know from family documents, that going out for day trips in one of the cars were extremely popular.
The main house no longer exists. Too expensive for successive owners to maintain. Unfortunately, each in turn removed and sold valuable building components prior to selling on. In this way, the house gradually lost its expensive internal decorations, the lead in the roof, and roof slates even.
We do know that by the 1950′s, the house was suffering from wet rot, fire (insurance scam?) before suffering the ultimate ignominy of being demolished for its stone walls. Sad perhaps, but it was the way of many grand houses in the UK from the 1950′s onwards.
The last two photographs offer a direct comparison, 1905 and 1930 respectively.
From our own point of view, the flip side to all this is that if the house did still exist and the gardens were still attached, the walled gardens as they are today would have been far beyond our financial means…