DiCamillo Companion

Powderham Castle

  • Built / Designed For: Sir Philip Courtenay, as a medieval castle, in 1390.

    House & Family History: Powderham was begun by Sir Philip Courtenay in 1390, and it has been the seat of the earls of Devon ever since. It took Sir Philip almost 30 years to complete this fortress on the banks of the Exe, but the castle that greets the eye of visitors today is largely the result of Victorian renovation by Charles Fowler, architect of Covent Garden, London. But if the exterior is a Victorian recreation of an idealized medieval castle, the interior is pure Georgian country house, with a profusion of elegant rooms topped by carefully molded plasterwork ceilings. An extraordinary centerpiece is provided by the staircase hall of circa 1755, which rises to the full height of the House. The walls are encrusted with Rococo plasterwork birds, animals, and a variety of artistic motifs celebrating themes of peace and love. Amidst all this Georgian splendor there are still traces of the original medieval house to be found; in the room beside the Great Hall is an overmantel carved with the date 1533, but older still are the 14th century arches leading to the kitchens and buttery. One of the most enjoyable rooms open to visitors is the Music Room, created in 1794 by James Wyatt as a venue for the 3rd Viscount's coming-of-age ball. Throughout the House is the requisite collection of family portraits, including some dating back to the early 16th century. (This history kindly provided by Britain Express, The UK travel and heritage guide). In 1784 William Beckford was involved in a famous sexual scandal at Powderham with 16-year-old "Kitty" Courtenay, heir to the Powderham Estate; the affair damaged both reputations for the balance of their lives. Later, circa 1810, Kitty, when informed that the law was after him (probably for homosexual acts), he fled on an American ship under an assumed name. Kitty spent the remaining 25 years of his life abroad, first in New York and then Paris. During these years Powderham stood abandoned.

    Collections: John Channon of Exeter's two bookcases, made for Powderham in 1740, were sold to the Victoria & Albert Museum at Christie's in 1987 for £465,000, to remain on site. A suite of furniture with carved dolphins, including a pair of bergère chairs, made for the Castle circa 1790 and attributed to Marsh and Tatham, were sold at Christie's on July 5, 1990 for £242,000. Some contents were sold on September 29, 2009 by Sotheby's.

  • Garden & Outbuildings: Powderham today sits in an Estate of 4,000 acres. Of note are the Victorian Rose Garden and the Woodland Garden. Plantings of daffodils, primroses, and Devon violets make for a profusion of color in the spring. Fallow deer graze in the Deer Park, and in summer visitors can ride the special tractor-trailer cart to view them up close. Just for children is the Secret Garden, full of animals of the soft and cuddly sort, including guinea pigs, rabbits, and pygmy goats. The House sits in a lovely location beside the River Exe, and wonderful views of the Exe Estuary can be had by climbing the Belvedere Tower. (This garden history kindly provided by Britain Express, The UK travel and heritage guide). The Powderham Estate is home to The Old House at Chiverstone, Kenton; this Grade II-listed house, of medieval origins, was remodeled in the 17th century and is believed to have formerly been the manor house. Powderham was also home to the famous Timothy the Tortoise, who died in April 2004, aged approximately 160 years and thought to be Britain's oldest resident. Timothy came to the Courtenay family in 1892; before that he was a ship's mascot, where he saw active service with Capt. John Guy Courtenay Evered. Timothy served with Capt. Courtenay Evered on HMS "Queen" in 1854 during the first bombardment of Sebastopol. Man and tortoise both later moved to HMS "Princess Charlotte" and HMS "Nankin," seeing active service in the East Indies and China between 1857 and 1860. "This entitled Timothy to both service medals," said naval historian Capt. George Cardew, R.N. (Retired). "It was typical of the tortoise's modesty that he chose not to wear them." After service aboard HMS "Nankin" Timothy retired to Powderham Castle. During World War II the tortoise moved from his usual home in the wisteria bed at Powderham and dug his own air raid shelter under the terrace steps; "I think he felt the vibrations of bombs falling on Exeter," said Lady Gabrielle Courtenay, 91, who was at Powderham during the War. In 1926 it was discovered that Timothy was, in fact, a female. On his underside he bore the family motto: "Where have I fallen, what have I done?" Timothy was buried at a family funeral in the grounds of Powderham Castle.

    Chapel & Church: Across the rose terrace at the rear of the house is the Chapel, which boasts a wonderful 15th century timber roof.

  • Architect: James Wyatt

    Date: 1794-96
    Designed: Improved interiors; decorated Music Room for 3rd Viscount Courtenay

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    Architect: Charles Fowler

    Date: 1837-48
    Designed: Castellated alterations and additions for 10th Earl of Devon

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  • John Preston (J.P.) Neale, published under the title of Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. I, 1818.

    Country Life: XXIII, 486, 1908. CXXXIV, 18 plan, 80, 140, 1963.

  • Title: Sotheby's Auction Catalog: Two Noble Collections: Powderham Castle and Seaton Delaval Hall, Sep 29, 2009
    Author: NA
    Year Published: 2009
    Publisher: London: Sotheby's
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - SOFTBACK
    Author: Colvin, Howard
    Year Published: 1995
    Reference: pgs. 379, 1118
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 0300072074
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: V&A Guide to Period Styles: 400 Years of British Art and Design, The
    Author: Jackson, Anna; Hinton, Morna
    Year Published: 2002
    Reference: pg. 57
    Publisher: London: V&A Publications
    ISBN: 0810965909
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Disintegration of a Heritage: Country Houses and their Collections, 1979-1992, The
    Author: Sayer, Michael
    Year Published: 1993
    Publisher: Norfolk: Michael Russell (Publishing)
    ISBN: 0859551970
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Merchant Ivory's English Landscape: Rooms, Views, and Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
    Author: Pym, John
    Year Published: 1995
    Publisher: New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
    ISBN: 0810942755
    Book Type: Hardback

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade II

  • "The Remains of the Day" (1993 - as the blue staircase of Darlington Hall).
  • Seat of: Charles Peregrine Courtenay, 19th Earl of Devon; Courtenay family here since 1390.

    Current Ownership Type: Individual / Family Trust

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Private Home

  • House Open to Public: Yes

    Phone: 01626-890-243

    Fax: 01626-890-729

    Email: castle@powderham.co.uk

    Website: http://www.powderham.co.uk

    Awards: Voted one of the Top Ten Most Romantic Wedding Locations. 2004 Venue of the Year - TESA Event Industry Awards.

    Historic Houses Member: Yes