Saturday 16 March 2013

(15) Acland of Killerton and Columbjohn, baronets, part 1

Acland arms
The Aclands are an exceptionally well-documented and well-recorded family, which over many generations has demonstrated a disproportionate tendency to produce male offspring.  They have also married well, and as a result have tended to accumulate property.  Two 18th century marriages in particular transformed the family from middle-rank gentry to a family richer than many peers, and enabled later generations to pursue successful political careers.  Three different members of the family are reputed to have been offered and refused peerages, which may be a unique distinction!  In this post I trace the history of the family's estates and tell the story of their principal houses, Columbjohn and Killerton.

Acland Barton in Landkey (Devon).  A watercolour of 1851 by Edward Ashworth.  Image courtesy of Devon CC.

The Aclands are reputed to have held land in Devon since the 12th century, and were originally based at Acland Barton in Landkey near Barnstaple.  In the late 16th century a younger son of John Acland of Acland (d. 1553), Sir John Acland, kt. (c1552-1620) acquired Columbjohn and Killerton near Exeter (Devon), and was High Sheriff in 1608.  On his death without issue, his estates passed to his great-nephew, John Acland of Acland (d. 1647), who was made a baronet by King Charles I in 1644 and who garrisoned Columbjohn in the Royalist cause, holding out long after all the other Royalist forces in the county had capitulated.  After the Civil War, he moved to the nearby estate of Killerton, which was thenceforward the principal family seat.  In 1672 the baronetcy and estates were inherited by Sir Hugh Acland (c1639-1714), 5th bt., who finding that in the circumstances of the Civil War no official record had been made of the granting of the family baronetcy, obtained a new patent in 1678, with the precedence of 1644. 

Sir Hugh Acland (1697-1728), 2nd and 6th bt., married Cicely, elder daughter and eventual heir of Sir Thomas Wrothe of Petherton Park.  Through this marriage, the Aclands acquired Petherton Park, North Petherton (Somerset), which was sold in 1834.  Sir Thomas Acland (1722-85), 3rd and 7th bt., married Elizabeth (d. 1753) the daughter and heir of Thomas Dyke of Tetton (Somerset) and changed his name to Dyke Acland; subsequent generations have almost invariably used Dyke as a final forename.  His wife had inherited not only Tetton House at Kingston St Mary (Somerset) but also the Holnicote estate on Exmoor and Pixton Park, Dulverton (Somerset); Pixton and Tetton passed on her death to Maj. John Acland (d. 1778), who probably rebuilt Pixton around the time of his marriage in 1770, and later to his widow, Lady Harriet Acland (d. 1815), who moved from Pixton to Tetton in about 1796 and rebuilt the house there around 1800.  Pixton formed the dowry of their daughter, Elizabeth Kitty Acland, on her marriage to the 2nd Earl of Carnarvon.  Tetton also passed to the Earl after Harriet’s death in 1815.  Holnicote remained with the Aclands.

In 1778-79 the 3rd and 7th Baronet employed John Johnson to design a new house on the Killerton estate.  This was initially conceived as a temporary seat, pending the construction of a more magnificent dwelling on the hilltop above, but plans for this grander house were abandoned after the death of his son, Maj. John Acland, in 1778. 

Cottages in Selworthy built by Sir Thomas Acland in c.1828.  Image Trevor Rickard.  Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.
Sir Thomas Dyke Acland (1787-1871), 6th and 10th bt., grew up at Holnicote, to which his mother had retired following the death of her husband in 1794, but in 1799 the house there burned down.  In 1802, he inherited the adjoining estate of Selworthy and East Luccombe, together with lands near Bude in Cornwall, under the will of William Wentworth (d. 1776); all these lands had formed part of the estates of the Arundells of Trerice, with whom the Aclands had intermarried in the late 17th century.  At some point in the early 19th century, Acland rebuilt Holnicote House as a rather plain cottage orné (itself burned and replaced by the present house in 1873), and in the later 1820s he rebuilt the cottages of Selworthy village in a more consciously Picturesque style influenced by those designed by John Nash for his friend John Scandrett Harford at Blaise Castle (Glos).  

He also enlarged Killerton House to the north, and continued the development of the grounds there under the direction of John Veitch, who had designed the original layout in the 1770s and who established his nursery at Budlake, nearby.  The Picturesque thatched Bear House at Killerton may have been designed by Sir Thomas himself.  A new chapel, built in 1838-41, was however designed by C.R. Cockerell and built under the supervision of Sir Thomas' son, Arthur, who became a clerk of works and stone-carver.

Sir Thomas married Lydia Eliza, only daughter of the banker, Henry Hoare of Mitcham Grove (Surrey) and had seven sons, two of whom founded independent gentry families.  The second son, Arthur Henry Dyke Acland (1811-57) inherited the estates of Rev. Edward Berkeley Troyte of Huntsham (Devon) and was the ancestor of the gentry family, Acland-Troyte of Huntsham Court (q.v.).  The fourth son, Henry Wentworth Acland (1815-1900) became Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford and Hon. Physician to the Prince of Wales, and was made 1st baronet of Oxford in 1890.  Sir Henry lived in Broad St., Oxford, and his successors in the title have had no settled estate, although recent generations have lived in the Isle of Wight. 

The main line of Acland baronets remained seated at Killerton until the death of Sir Francis Dyke Acland, 10th and 14th bt., in 1939.  His successor, Sir Richard Thomas Dyke Acland (1906-90), held left wing views and transferred both the Killerton and the Holnicote estates to the National Trust in 1944 (300 hectares by sale, 2,310 hectares as a gift).  The family is now represented by Sir Dominic Dyke Acland (b. 1962), 13th and 17th bt., who lives at Sprydon House, Broadclyst (Devon), a modest 18th century house on the Killerton estate.

Columbjohn Manor, Devon
The remains of Columbjohn Manor

A younger branch of the Acland family of Acland Barton established themselves here in the later 16th century, and it remained their principal seat until 1672, when they moved to Killerton (q.v.).  The house at Columbjohn was garrisoned for the Royalists by Sir John Acland, 1st bt. during the Civil War, and he held out long after all the other Royalist garrisons in Devon had surrendered.  It seems likely that the house was badly damaged at this time, and today only the gatehouse arch of c.1590 survives, Renaissance in detail but still Gothic in conception.

Descent: Sir John Acland, kt. of Columbjohn (fl. 1608); to great-nephew, Sir John Acland, 1st bt. (c.1591-1647); to son, Sir Francis Acland, 2nd bt. (d. 1649); to brother, Sir John Acland, 3rd bt. (c.1636-55); to son, Sir Arthur Acland, 4th bt. (c.1655-72); to uncle, Sir Hugh Acland, 1st and 5th bt. (c.1639-1714), who abandoned the house for Killerton.

Killerton House, Devon
Killerton House in the early 19th century. 

Killerton House, 2011  © Nicholas Kingsley.  All rights reserved.

Killerton became the principal seat of the Aclands after 1672, but a datestone of 1680 is all that remains from their first house here.  The present building was designed by John Johnson in 1778-79 for Sir Thomas Acland, 7th bt. (1722-85), apparently as a temporary residence, since it was intended to build a grander house on top of the hill.  Plans for the latter were however abandoned after Sir Thomas’ son died in 1778.  It is a plain two-storey Georgian box, five by seven bays, the former entrance side to the south distinguished by a slightly projecting centre and pedimented Tuscan doorcase.  Extensions to the north were made in the early 19th century for Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 10th bt, who had a large family, and after 1898 the west side was considerably altered and made the main entrance in a programme of aggrandisement carried out by Prothero & Phillott of Cheltenham for Sir Charles Thomas Dyke Acland, 12th bt (1842-1919), who inherited in 1898.  The porch of this time was replaced after a fire in 1924 by a more tactful entrance: a low hall by Randall Wells in the angle of the house and the Edwardian billiard room.  The spacious hall interior makes a nice contrast with the main survival from Johnson’s house, the elegant corridor from the south entrance, with shallow domes on pendentives.  The doorway and plaster frieze of the dining room are also of Johnson’s time, although the ceiling itself is Edwardian, as is much of the other decoration of the main rooms: Adamish plasterwork by Jackson & Co., scagliola columns in the drawing room (made from two earlier rooms) and the heavy carved wood main staircase.  Upstairs, Johnson’s work is still recognisable in the domed upper corridor.  The stables are a handsome Palladian quadrangular block of 1778-80 by Johnson, decorated with blind arcading enclosing lunette windows, a clock tower and bellcote.  The grounds were laid out in the 1770s by the young John Veitch, who enclosed 500 acres for the new park. Veitch established his nursery at Budlake near Killerton before moving it to Exeter, and continued to work for the family over a long period; there are two Coade stone urns on the terrace dated 1805.  The gardens close to the house are, however, Edwardian, and laid out with the advice of William Robinson.  
Bear House, Killerton, 2011
© Nicholas Kingsley.  All rights reserved

Ceiling of the Bear House, Killerton, 2011
© Nicholas Kingsley.  All rights reserved

The Bear Hut is a quaint thatched log summerhouse which existed by 1831 and may have been designed by Sir Thomas Dyke Acland himself, as he is credited with picturesque cottages on his estate at Selworthy.  It has three chambers, the inner one furnished as a rustic hermitage chapel, and derives its name from the fact that a bear was kept in it later in the 19th century.  

The chapel at Killerton House. Image Sarah Charlesworth.  Licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.

The neo-Norman chapel, north-east of the house, was designed in 1838-41 by C.R. Cockerell, although the style was dictated by Acland and the project had been under discussion for at least twelve years previously.  Cockerell also designed the main lodge in 1825 and the Sprydon Drive lodge.  The house and estate were given to the National Trust in 1944.

Descent: Sir Hugh Acland, 1st and 5th bt. (c.1639-1714); to grandson, Sir Hugh Acland, 2nd and 6th bt. (1697-1728); to son, Sir Thomas Acland, 3rd and 7th bt. (1722-85); to grandson, Sir John Dyke Acland, 4th and 8th bt. (1778-85); to uncle, Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 5th and 9th bt. (1752-94); to son, Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 6th and 10th bt. (1787-1871); to son, Sir Thomas Dyke Acland, 7th and 11th bt. (1809-98); to son, Sir Charles Thomas Dyke Acland, 8th and 12th bt. (1842-1919); to brother, Sir Arthur Herbert Dyke Acland, 9th and 13th bt. (1847-1926); to son, Sir Francis Dyke Acland, 10th and 14th bt. (1874-1939); to son, Sir Richard Thomas Dyke Acland, 11th and 15th bt. (1906-90), who donated the estate to the National Trust in 1944.

Anon, History of Selworthy, 1897; Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Somerset - South and West, 1958, pp. 153, 199; VCH Somerset, vi, pp. 281, 286-87; B. Cherry & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Devon, 2nd edn., 1989, p. 279, 518-19; D. Watkin, The life and work of C.R. Cockerell, 1974, pp. 178-81, 252; A. Acland, A Devon family: the story of the Aclands, 1981; C. Aslet, The last country houses, 1982, p. 329; A. Powers, H.S. Goodhart-Rendel 1887-1959, 1987, p. 54; S. Heriz-Smith, ‘The Veitch nurseries of Killerton and Exeter, c.1780-1863, part 1’, Garden History, (16:1), 1988, pp. 41-57; S. Heriz-Smith, ‘The Veitch nurseries of Killerton and Exeter, c.1780-1863, part 2’, Garden History, (16:2), 1988, pp. 174-88; N. Briggs, John Johnson 1732-1814, 1991, pp. 40-43; B. Hanson, Architects and the 'Building World' from Chambers to Ruskin, 2003, pp. 201-10; Hampshire Archives, catalogue of 75M91; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entries on Sir John Acland, kt. (c.1552-1620), John Dyke Acland (1746-78), Lady Harriet Acland (1750-1815), Sir Thomas Dyke Acland (1787-1871), Sir Arthur Herbert Dyke Acland (1847-1926) and Sir Richard Thomas Dyke Acland (1906-90).

Where are their papers?
Acland family of Killerton House, baronets: deeds and estate papers (relating to estates in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset), legal and family papers, 1300-1920: Devon Heritage Centre, 1148M, 51/12, 1926B/A and 6148.
Acland family of Oxford, baronets: estate and family papers, 1887-1969: Bodleian Library, Oxford MSS.Acland; Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies D/EX74, AR 522.
Acland, Sir Henry Wentworth (1815-1900), 1st bt.: corresp and papers, c.1850-1900: Radcliffe Science Library, Oxford  and Museum of Natural History.

This post was last revised 18th November 2014.

1 comment:

  1. First of all, I wish to congratulate the creator of this site for his enormous efforts in creating this wonderful compilation of enormous interest in so many ways!
    I´m hugely impressed!
    As regards Sprydon House, the current Acland residence near Broadclyst in Devon,I recently spotted an old postcard from the early 1900s of the building. It´s certainly relatively "modest" compared to Killerton House nearby, but nonetheless very graceful and stylish and in every way a "country house"!
    Best Regards from Sweden &
    Peter Lorin


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