In addition to a shared love of reading Lynne (alias Dovegreyreader) and I have a love of houses and a nosey poke around in other people’s – especially the grander sort – when we get an opportunity. The chance arose when I was wondering how to belatedly celebrate her big birthday on our annual Devonshire Day Out.
Dovegreyreader can’t wait to get inside Lukesland
Then I remembered “Invitation to View” an organisation that brings together house owners and those inquisitive members of the public prepared to pay to have a private guided to tour of their homes followed by tea and cake or a light lunch by the fire or in the garden depending on the time of year. A small number of houses in Norfolk and Suffolk were included in the early years. This number has increased quite significantly and a few years ago The Southwest joined the group and there are now 23 houses in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset included in the scheme.
So, a couple of weeks ago I extended An Invitation to View to Lynne who accepted right away and we made our arrangements to meet last Thursday. Meeting at 11.30 in a favourite cafe of ours in Ashburton – Moorish – we allowed ourselves an hour and a half to catch up on each other’s families and reading and what-not, to drink tea, eat soup and, oh dear, have the first cake of the day. (Well, we were celebrating a birthday – any old excuse will do when the Moorish Tunisian Orange Cake is winking at you!).
Comfortably sustained by soup and cake Lynne drove us to Ivybridge and up out of town onto the edge of Dartmoor to Lukesland; the house we were booked to visit. From about 1.30pm the gardens were opened to us and the house tour began at 2.30pm.
Lukesland House and Garden
The gardens at Lukesland are generally open to the public in the spring and in the autumn. We thought there would be more autumn colour in early November than there was but nevertheless we enjoyed a chatty wander and took some photos as photography inside the house is not permitted.
The Kitchen Garden
The Kitchen Garden was the main garden of the original Tudor estate. It was much reduced in size by the Victorian owners in order to build a drive between the house and the stables (under the clock in the photo). The garden produced vegetables for the family, the domestic staff and for the farm workers on the estate until the 1940s. Since 2005 parts of it have been let as allotments to local Ivybridge residents.
Milady and Dovegreyreader at Lukesland
By 2.30 about 14 of us were assembled in Rosemary Howell’s sitting room waiting for the talk and tour to begin. Rosemary and her daughter-in-law Lorna welcomed us to the house and told us the brief history of the place.
“The Place Names of Devon lists “Lukesland” as being derived from the family of John Lucas in the 1330 Lay Subsidy Rolls.” There is evidence – written and in carved stonework – of settlement at Lukesland during and ever since Tudor times. The Tudor house was called Lukesland Grove. In 1863 a new (the current) house was built of Dartmoor granite and Portland stone on a new site and in the popular Victorian Gothic style for William Edwin Matthews, as a base for hunting on the moor. “Around 1875, Matthews was obliged to sell Lukesland and it was bought by James and Barbara MacAndrew, who came from the family of the London-Liverpool shipping line of that name.”
Howard Howell, a Canadian who came to Britain with the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War, worked locally in forestry and married a Welsh woman, Muriel Neale and they settled in Exeter later buying Lukesland. The estate was in its heyday before the Second World War.
“A second phase of landscaping of the garden took place. A pond was dug (‘The Lower Pond’ as it is now), many waterfalls installed and three stone-arch bridges built (one, just below Rh. smithii, collapsed after a flood undermined the foundations in the early 1970s). A bathing pool was built on the island in front of the house, and a much bigger range of rhododendrons was planted, along with other shrubs and trees. Although the Victorians had planted some newly introduced exotic trees in the Cleave, including some Wellingtonias, this was the first time that the garden was really diversified. Many more flowering shrubs were available by the 1930s, and Howard was a forester who took a keen interest in them.”
Despite all the social changes in Britain since the War the Howell’s have lived on at Lukesland making changes and adapting the house and garden. Rosemary and her husband Brian moved in in 1975. Brian’s background was also in forestry. A lot of work needed to be done on the house. Brian died in 2003 and his son John and wife Lorna moved in in 2004. Adaptations include opening the gardens and tea room and letting holiday accommodation in out-buildings and in a wing of the house itself. [Adapted from Source]
Rosemary’s sitting room was in a separate wing of the house created by the insertion of a gothic-style but fully glazed door which separates it physically from the main body of the house. But done in this way I’m sure she still feels very much a part of the family.
We were then shown a larger sitting room and the big family kitchen created from a butler’s pantry and other servants’ quarters. It seems as if nothing is thrown away at Lukesland. Lorna joked as we moved from one scullery or dairy to the next that after the national collection of wallpapers we moved on to the national collection of flower vases. I kept making mental notes to self – get that loft and cellar cleared out!
Upstairs there seemed to be a multitude of bedrooms and bathrooms created from bedrooms all of which seem to be in use. There is also a separate apartment which is let a long-term holiday let. The house has a sheltered courtyard behind and here as well is the old billiard room and former nursery converted to a tea room and in use when the gardens are open.
Finally we returned to Rosemary’s sitting room where DGR remarked that the shabby, but not threadbare, rugs seem to be a feature of these old properties and I was able to tell her that the Landmark Trust would never use a new rug in an old property and that they have a huge store of suitably worn rugs ready to furnish future properties.
Tea and delicious home-baked cakes (yes, we carried on in the tea- and cake-tasting tradition established over the years) were served by the log fire and we discussed further what we had seen and how these lived-in houses are constantly evolving and adapting and how nice it was to see bookcases in every room, everyday objects and even imagining ourselves descending the stairs in Edwardian times as if we lived there!