Park Farm - A History


 Park Farm is located snugly in the shelter of the Lyd valley, and on the relatively flat high ground between the Quither Brook and the Chillaton stream. The old cart road from Tavistock to Sydenham and Marystowe goes by the front door, and to the East was the old Quither Brook ford (from which Forda Farm gets its name), which put the house in a good location for passing trade and traffic. Later toll road building added a bridge over the brook and straightened the road system into Lower Chillaton, including the building of the Chillaton ramp to ease mine traffic going up the hill towards Tavistock. For this reason the house looks skewed to the current main road system, but in line with the old Hill Head access road.

Early Phases

The initial farm building appears to be a modified Devon Longhouse type typical of the area (see Hound Tor longhouses for general construction) (Phase 1). The land falls away to the North East towards the Quither Brook, and to utilise the fall of the land for drainage the farm buildings have been built in a NE/SW alignment. The initial settlement may have been 3 rooms: common people/stock access to a cross passage hall; living accommodation, dividing muntin screen, and cattle byre.

 Early Phases

Typical of longhouse construction, the living area is on the uphill side, with a cross passage, and then the byre on the downhill side. Local stone construction has been used, and it is characterised by the weathered and rounded appearance of the boulders, many perhaps recovered from the nearby river bed, generally giving a dark brown/grey appearance. Wall thickness is 2 foot throughout, with footings extending up to 3ft in places.


Dowsing rods suggest there may have been a drain in the byre (now dining room) running along the room line N-S, 4 foot in from the end wall. This is mirrored in the gentle central dip in the present kitchen floor.


Where the design varies slightly from the classic longhouse type is in 3 areas. Firstly the living accommodation is displaced c 2 foot to the South (and so uphill) of the byre area – this may have been to improve drainage and keep a clear distinction between byre and habitation (also suggested by the continuation of stone walling into the interior hall wall of the building). Secondly an examination of the front wall suggests that whilst the byre was a single story, the living area might have been constructed from the outset as a 2 story building. There are other examples of these variations in local vernacular design however, so it is not unique. Thirdly the main supporting beams in a longhouse normally run at right angles to its length. This is not the case at Park Farm – although the later Phase 1c removal of the North wall would have forced a change from N/S to E/W alignment to provide the necessary support, and it may be that the upper floor only went in at this stage.


At the east end a small shippen was added after initial build (Phase 1b). Its length is consistent with the original building, stone type is similar, but it abuts to rather than being tied in to the byre wall. The floor (until it was covered by concrete in 2008) was cobbled with a noticeable fall to the south east which used to flood regularly. This may have been the location of a 2nd medieval drain, working in reverse as the ground and water level was raised as a result of rubbish accumulation outside. Access was via some slate steps set in to the N end wall, and via a door from the byre (now blocked but visible in the shippen), to the left of the fireplace. The interior walls of the shippen show that the byre generally was probably stone faced with rammed earth/cob type interior lining.

 Blocked medieval type window in Sitting Room

There are 4 small medieval cottage type windows still to be seen at ground floor level: one in the dining room (now a hatch/cupboard); one in the sitting room, and 2 in the shippen (one blocked). The height of the shippen window from the original floor suggest that the dining room and sitting room floor levels were perhaps c 1 ft - 18 inches lower than present.

The front wall of the “living area” also shows evidence of a 7 ft wide cart door, marked by stone pillars on either side, and now filled in with stone. The fact that this has been blocked up and one of the medieval style windows (above) inserted into the stonework suggest it predates the windows. It is possible to speculate that the living area was therefore on the upper floor with storage underneath; but this would be unusual. Alternatively the building may have gone out of domestic use for a period before being brought back into service.


It may be the building had a central hearth initially rather than being built with chimneys from the outset. The evidence for this is that at some stage after initial construction the large Inglenook fire places were added in the dining and sitting rooms. These appear to have been abutted onto the interior walls rather than constructed at the same time. One of the 3 large beams in the sitting room is heavily charred: this is typical of a roof beam in a pre-chimney hearth fire hall. In addition the positioning of the large sitting room inglenook would have obstructed the cart door access. But against this, the other 2 sitting room beams are clean and upper level building stonework where it is visible is not blackened.


Of the two bread ovens visible, the dining room one (left) appears to be the oldest, its pointed apex typical of Tudor/Jacobean period design.

Dining Room Oven

A surviving piece of pottery with // strikes (indicating it to be a “2 loaf oven”) was found in situ during the 2008 renovations.

2 “strikes” showing Dining Room Bread Oven size

Both clay ovens were inserted from the back through the walls and held in place by loose rubble (bulges visible in the east shippen and the hall).

Speculatively the style of the dining room oven suggests the chimney insertions were 16th or 17th Century. The dining room oven probably had a wooden front which was held in place with dough seals during baking.

The sitting room oven appears to have had a metal front (now lost) and is more typically Georgian.

Sitting Room Oven

At a later stage, but before the Georgian period, an extension was added to the North of the living area (Phase 1c). This led to the removal of the North wall of the living area (the wall ends can still be seen), possibly the insertion of cross passage screens to divide the living area this space into 2 rooms and a corridor – based on a verbal description from John Marlow c 1990, and perhaps the creation of a full upper floor (based on the alignment of the sitting room beams following the N wall removal). This extension was also 2 stories based on the visible stonework but begins to use more quarried stone in its construction, and whilst window settings on the lower floor are unknown, there is evidence of a blocked “medieval type” upper floor window to the right of the current west bedroom window and partially built over by the west shippen access wall – thus sequencing the latter building. The upstairs was probably a single large dormitory area. The 3rd chimney was probably built contemporary with this building and is external to the main wall. Speculatively this addition may have been a late 17th or early 18th Century kitchen block.

Extension - Phase 1c

Wall stub between Phase 1a and Phase 1c extension (2012)

Dating Phase 1a-1c is difficult and speculative in the absence of records. At best they are clearly pre-Georgian, and typical of known late medieval/Jacobean construction in the area. If the chimneys were added later, possible dating is:

 Phase 1a 14th - 15th Century

Phase 1b 16th – 17thth Century (including chimneys)

Phase 1c 17th Century

 Of note the WI commentary on Chillaton claims that Park is mentioned in the Domesday Book. It is possible, but I have not been able to trace this. What is clear is that its position on the ford on a relatively ancient road system, and the limited evidence of pre chimney fire use, makes that age feasible.


Old Cators CottageSome idea of the pre-Georgian house interior – up and down, can be gained from the following description of a Dartmoor longhouse between Blackabrook and Princetown written by Swete in 1797:


'I gained permission to visit the interior of the Cottage which I found to correspond in every respect with the outward appearance. The door enter'd into a portion appropriated to the Winter reception of Cattle belonging to the farm, from thence I past directly into the Kitchin, which was lighted by a sort of Window, (seen in the middle of the building in the sketch) - at the further end was a large Chimney in which blazed a cheerful peat fire; of which fuel, as it rose at their door they did not seem to be sparing. Near the entrance I observed a Ladder which I concluded, must lead to the bed chambers; up this I ran, and found it to be so, in the singular number - for it consisted but of One, about 20 feet in length and half that space in breadth; in which as close to each other as those in the long chamber of the College at Eton there were ranged five beds in which, without interposition of Screens or curtains the Old Man, his Son, and others, amounting to four men, and five Women, every night took their rest... Such was Old Cator's cottage, which resembled Nothing I had seen before, more than those I had met with in the Highlands of Scotland, especially in the inner equipment and arrangement - it might however be considered as holding a place amongst the higher order of those, where the central hearth, had been superseded by the mural chimney.', (2000, pp. 63 - 64).

Georgian Gentrification

 Significant changes took place to Park Farm in the Georgian period. The first phase of this predates or is close to the invention of butt hinges on doors (c1775). The stone used in this phase was strongly orange in colour and clearly quarried. 

Georgian Gentrification

Speculatively, the first Georgian building phase was the creation of a new barn at the rear of the property. This barn had a closed lower area, but with a 5 - 7ft wide cart door on the NE side (roughly in the current access position). The wood inserts for the cart door hinges are in place behind the modern extension plaster. Its upper floor was pillared and open on 3 sides (roughly conforming to the slate infill on the current building), and it may have had an inner storage area accessed from outside via steps into a hayloft (see aerial photo and current external door position on the west face). This appears to have recesses for a wooden beam to haul heavy weights up into the loft.) Additional access came from the upper floor of the Phase 1c extension via a small wooden 2 panel Georgian style door with L shaped hinges (still in place). The stonework on this barn had some pretensions, and the use of granite boulders as part of the building course work on the N front, together with the large granite cornerstone on its NE side show some care and attention was paid to appearances.


The creation of this new barn probably released the old byre for development. This phase led to the erection of a 2nd story on the byre end of the longhouse; and at the same time (based on stone type), the blocking of the older medieval type windows (with orange stone) and the creation of larger Georgian type windows to improve internal lighting. Generally window openings were made more symmetrical in keeping with the fashion of the day. The aerial photograph of Park Farm in 1965 shows the overall Georgian effect, with 3 window casements per window, each consisting of 8 glass panes; the modern double glazing mirrors this.

 New Windows


The access to the new barn and generally the 2nd floor of the byre, including the room above the entrance hall, have 2 panel Georgian doors with L shaped hinges. Speculatively these are early Georgian and represent the first building phase to improve general habitation and new sleeping quarters. Given that butt hinges became very popular by 1790 or so, this general building phase is probably between 1750 and 1790. It may well coincide with the development of Park Farm as a Tannery c 1781.




The fire place in the old byre was closed in with a simple Georgian design wood frame. Excavation in 2008 showed that at some stage the large beam supporting the inglenook had burned through and collapsed – this might have been a spur for modernisation! Speculatively also at this stage the bread oven in the sitting room inglenook was enlarged to replace the loss of the oven in the present dining room, and it may also have been the time a large range was inserted into the sitting room inglenook – the flue for this was cut into the supporting beam and its location can still be seen.




At this stage Park Farm remained fairly isolated. It can be seen on the Budgeon drawings for the first OS Map of the Launceston area in 1805; the village of Lower Chillaton just beginning to build up to the South West of the farm.

Park Farm as a Tannery.

Although for much of its life Park was probably a farm, in the late 18th – mid 19th Centuries the site was developed as a Tannery. It was a good position, because not only was water readily available for the tanning pits and the power wheel, but it was also on the downwind side of the expanding village and tanneries were notoriously smelly (although perhaps Forda residents were less pleased!) During the late Georgian and early Victorian periods the tannery grew, and this expansion necessitated re-building not just an oak bark storage barn (Jacob’s Barn) which utilised an existing older barn at its core, but also a new crushing house – now the garage - to crush the oak bark using a side milled crushing stone.

Granite Crushing Stone

The granite crushing stone, 4ft diameter x 1ft depth, complete with bark tanning stains, was rediscovered on site in 2012 and is now the fountain centrepiece on the patio. 

Water for the undershot mill and power wheel was fed from the village square using a leat – you can still trace much of its path. This also served as a village sewer, with the leat running under the school house lavatory block. Chillaton residents who went to the school can remember seeing ducks swimming along under their loo seats. The wheel house and pit itself (demolished and filled c 1915) was located between Jacob’s Barn and the present garage (see OS Map 1883). The tan pits have long since disappeared, but are almost certainly under the garden at Will o’ Wisp; the outline of two bridge crossings over the leat are still evident in the garden at Park. The leat returns filled the Splatt Mill millponds to feed the corn mill there; the millpond positions can be seen on the 1883 OS Map, and are now an area of marsh and scrub land in the valley between Marlow Crescent and Park.


Late Georgian


 A 2nd phase of late and higher quality Georgian work – loosely associated stylistically with the return of the Courtice family to tanning operations c1816 - includes the insertion of the staircase, the panelling in the hall, the front door, the lower floor doors and the creation of 2 bedrooms upstairs in the older part of the house divided by a plaster a lathe wall, replacing the large dormitory area The interior doors of this phase are 4 panelled and have butt hinges with no indication of earlier L shaped hinge work. In particular the front door – which is of “Early/Mid Georgian” stylistic design but post butt hinge development – suggests a date of after 1775 but before ornate Victorian fashions came strongly into existence.


 Late Georgian Changes

At about this time the new 2 story kitchen block was inserted to the rear of the old byre. Dating for this comes from the use of 4 panel door types with butt hinges on the kitchen door and upstairs into the loft space. Again construction is of stone, with a rather colourful choice being used above the window and door apertures – still exposed in the modern plaster work. No brick is evident. The build stone is now of a reddish hue with a number of long thin red slate type stones used to level the courses. Similar stonework and lintel examples can be seen at Rock Cottage and at Laurel Cottage in the village and at Tavistock wharf (roughly concurrent dates). The fireplace surround harks back to the simplicity of the early Georgian period. At some stage access to the loft was also provided by turning stairs placed over the kitchen door external entrance, and possibly accessed either via a door in the present shower room or from the backdoor of the kitchen itself. The newel post of the stairs is still in place in the kitchen ceiling.

Late Georgian stonework window lintel on Kitchen Block

Slightly later than the kitchen block itself (as the stone abuts rather than being tied in) but in the same stone style a new shippen addition was added to the east side of the kitchen block. A very damp area under the current boiler suggests that this may have enclosed the area of the old well. 




The use of brick from the mid 1800s shows a building phase which included the addition of a shippen in the SW side of the house (although it is possible that the brickwork around the door was a later insertion into a possibly Georgian construction). In any event the N wall of this shippen does not conform to the old building line, and overlaps a blocked out first floor medieval cottage window). There was also significant improvement made to the external agricultural buildings using red brick edging and local stone, with a horse stable added to the N side of the barn. These predate the 1883 OS map, but might be concurrent with the shift back to farming operations in the 1870s. 


 In general the Park Farm went into a slow decline in the early modern period. The 1965 aerial photograph below gives some idea of the condition of the site, and by the time significant renovations were done in the early 1980s the ravages of woodworm, damp and death watch beetle meant that most of the old timbers and the entire roof had to be replaced. During those renovations the east wall of the old house was so damp that the fireplace fell into the dining room below. The Batten’s also converted the back of the house to a “Granny Flat”. Since these renovations by David Batten, and the house’s purchase by the Snow family in 1987 a steady set of improvements have been done to keep the house waterproof and improve drainage and heating. The barn was converted to a 3 bed roomed house (Jacob’s Barn in the early 1990s). A flat roofed orangery was added to the North of the house in 2012.

Aerial Photograph 1965. Claude Marlow and Sheep Dog

The People

So far I have not been able to trace the occupiers of Park Farm before the 1780s, although it formed part of the tenancy of the Sydenham (Tremayne) and later the Carpenter estates. However records show that tanning was probably underway under Thomas Courtice as early as 17811, and by 1795 the site was let by tanner Issac Mason2/3. By 1816 the Courtice family were back in charge, as deeds show Thomas’ sons Richard and Thomas Courtice had again rented Park to expand their tannery operations, perhaps to meet increased demand from the new village and nearby mine. In 1841 Thomas Courtice – tanner - is recorded as living at Park with his wife Mary, two sons (Thomas and Richard) and later 4 daughters, 3 tanners: journeymen Charles Symons and Thomas Node and apprentice George Blake. In addition he employed 2 servants. He died in 1851, but census surveys show his wife Mary continued to live at Park until her death in c1883. Tannery operations ceased c 1879 when the site reverted to a farm, and by 1915 the site was rented and subsequently purchased from the Chichester family by the Marlows (who gave their name to Marlow crescent). Claude Marlow is the man in the aerial photograph. The Marlows sold to the Battens in the mid 1980s, who in turn sold to the Snows in 1988.


1 West Devon records 460/57

2 West Devon Records 460/59

3 Devon Leather by Martin Bodman p 88 NDRO 1142B/T61/11; P&WDRO 460/66,68,69;70