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history of colleton hall

There has been a house on the site of Colleton Hall as far back as the Doomsday Book. In 1086 the owner being Haimeric de Arcis. The property has been known as Hilltown, then Hilltown House.

The origins of the present house are believed to be Elizabethan, at that time with an additional gable ended wing to the West of the present property, hence the long corridor now forming one of the ground floor WC’s. Prior to the addition of the east servant’s wing the property would have been symmetrical and, on plan, forming an Elizabethan ‘E’. The original drive was slightly further along the road to Rackenford, with a small Lodge house, this swept around to the South Front, with the double doors in the staircase hall forming the main entrance.

The drive also curved past the original stables and coach house quadrangle, which was to the west of the house.

The Estate was purchased by Sir James Roupel Colleton in February 1833 who began re-modelling the house over several decades. He immediately changed the name to Colleton Hall. It is believed he employed one the Wyatt family of architects (renowned for their skill in Georgian Gothic) to re-design the house. At this time the Estate comprised around 450 acres and all the stone used for the alterations came from the Estate.

The property was originally three storey and Sir James routinely modified the house, raising ceilings and floor levels and adding new windows and decorative plasterwork. In the 1830’s the ground floor consisted of an entrance hall, drawing room and dining room. The present main kitchen was the kitchen with scullery behind. On the first floor were family bedrooms and servant’s rooms were on the second floor.

In the 1840’s he modified the building again by raising the ceilings, creating the vaulted gothic ceiling in the hall, adding the ground and first floor corridors along the north elevation and building the servant’s wing. He also created a first-floor drawing room and ante-room with curved walls and ornate plasterwork.

At this time there were no internal doors, only archways. These are evident from the recess in the cloakroom, which was open to the drawing room and a similar archway where the centre bookshelf sits in the dining room. Archways are visible above both doors in the dining room and in the present master bedroom. It is not clear if these are remnants of the property’s Elizabethan origins or part of Colleton’s vision.

Sir James died in 1849 and Colleton Hall passed to his son Robert Augustus Fulford Graves Colleton, with provision for both of his daughters Gertrude Harvist Ela Colleton and Alswitha Plantagenet Alicia de Montfort Colleton.

In the 1860’s one of the coach houses, below the servant’s bedrooms was incorporated into the house to create a new kitchen and servants hall and the current servant’s staircase installed.

In 1897 Colleton Hall was purchased by Thomas William Charlton, the son of Nicholas John Charlton of Chilwell Hall, Nottinghamshire and brother of Captain Charlton of Croxhall Hall near Lichfield.

When he arrived Thomas carried out improvements to Colleton Hall adding the turreted building to the east end of the property to house the central heating boiler, and improved the water system. He also built the stone well on the roadside, bearing the inscription “TWC 1899”. In addition, he constructed an electricity generating plant in the meadow on the opposite side of the lane.

During his ownership Thomas Charlton significantly expanded the Estate, more than doubling the size to around 1000 acres.

Sadly, Thomas Charlton was not lucky in love, and slowly became a recluse. In later years he lived a lonely existence with only his housekeeper. When he died in 1939 the house was very neglected and overgrown. A local press report at the time stating “Today Colleton Hall lies half-hidden behind tangled creepers and rambler roses. Approached only by a narrow winding lane, steeped, rough surfaced, and by fording, it seems to belong to another world.”

The article also describes the walls of the main hall as adorned with armoury and suits of armour.

Following his death, the Estate was divided up and Witheridge Moor and adjoining land was sold to Sir John Heathcote-Amory.

In 1941 the owners set about “modernising” Colleton Hall. This involved many improvised and cheap repairs, which were then covered with rendering. At the same time many of the arched windows were covered over. Fortunately, these have remained intact and are in the process of being uncovered by the present owners. In most instances even retaining the original glass. The names of the tradesmen were written on the windows with the date July 1941.

Similarly, rooms were reconfigured and bathrooms added with no consideration for the original features or layout. Ornate plaster ceilings and panelling were ripped out. Some hidden remnants remain and the present owners are replacing with bespoke copies of the original where possible.

The house was not listed until 1987 and sadly the large ornate chandelier in the hall and Adam fireplace in the dining room both described in the sales particulars of 1950 have both since been removed.

One of the most significant removals was the original Elizabethan staircase, which rose in the centre of the hall and split. Around this time, the Coca Cola family were building a mock English Manor house in LA and sent a scout to England to find original features to adorn their new home. This subsequently made its way to America and the existing staircase constructed and re-configured to one side of the hall.

In 1963 Colleton Hall was purchased by Major and Lady North. They added the two extensions to the south front, including the first floor terraces.

Another major improvement by the North’s was the creation of the lake in the mid 1960’s. They also built two additional properties within the grounds. One for Major North’s mother and the other for the housekeeper.

In 1986 the North’s placed Colleton Hall on the market. At this time it included the Hall, two additional properties, three farms (Home Farm, Elworthy and Lower Mogworthy), in total 480 acres. When this failed to sell it was divided into 8 lots and sold at auction in 1987. Lots 1 and 7 form the current Colleton Hall Estate of 38.5 acres and was purchased by Brian and Helen Morrison.

The property was also Listed Grade II in 1987.

The Morrisons incorporated the remaining coach house into the present boot room and in 1994 converted the stables into the East Wing annexe.

The present owners purchased Colleton Hall in July 2017 and have already carried out a complete renovation of the property. It has been completely rewired and replumbed and 8 bathrooms installed, including 7 en-suite.

Original features are being uncovered and the original character and splendour of the house being re-discovered. The constant development of the property over the last two hundred years has now created a property, that although large, is full of charm, quirks, comfort and overall, warmth.

Although the present owners’ plans for the house are almost complete, they have now begun work on the grounds. A kitchen garden has been created during “lockdown” and new borders planted.

The owners have recently received planning approval and Listed Building Consent for a walled garden and new entrance gates.

Colleton Hall and East Wing, Rackenford, Devon

Colleton Hall and East Wing, Rackenford, Devon

Design by Otis | © Colleton Hall 2021