Friday, 9 October 2015

(188) Arscott of Tetcott and Dunsland

Arscott of Tetcott
"There are magical overtones in the very words 'Arscott of Tetcott'. They epitomise all the ancient Devonshire squires and their homes: the wind-flung rooks on December afternoons, branch-strewn parks emerging from curtains of fine rain; rambling, echoing, stone-flagged houses set all alone at the end of muddy lanes, darkened by beeches and sycamores. Even the historian feels his reason wavering as the genius loci takes possession of his senses, and is prepared to believe almost anything of such a place, even to see John Arscott appear on Blackbird across the deserted park" W.G. Hoskins, A new survey of England: Devon, 1959.
The Arscotts are first recorded in the reign of King Henry III at Arscott (now South Arscott) in Holsworthy parish. In the 16th century they were lawyers, and grew in wealth and importance. John Arscott (c.1469-1541) had four sons, the eldest and youngest of whom were confusingly both called John. The elder John (c.1494-1563) married Phillipa Battyn, who was heiress to her father's Dunsland estate, and they settled at Dunsland. The younger John (d. 1558), who as an officer of the Court of Augmentations was well placed to benefit from the Dissolution of the Monasteries, bought the Tetcott estate in 1552, and his descendants lived there until the late 18th century.

The Dunsland branch of the family, although the senior line, is more obscure. John Arscott was succeeded in the direct male line by Humphrey Arscott (1529/30-80), John Arscott (1557/8-1623) and Arthur Arscott (c.1581-1662). Arthur had no sons, and of his two daughters the elder predeceased him, so Dunsland passed in 1662 to his younger daughter, Grace (c.1601/2-87) - who was then already a widow - and in due course to her son, Arscott Bickford (c.1636-93), who greatly extended and remodelled the house. It continued to pass by descent until 1947, through the Coham and Dickinson families. In the 1950s it was rescued from probable demolition by the architect Philip Tilden, who began the work of restoration but was unable to complete it, and when he died in 1954 it was sold to The National Trust. Sadly, they had just completed a major restoration when the house was completely destroyed by fire in 1967, and the ruins were subsequently demolished. The Trust continues to own the site.

The Tetcott branch of the family feature a little more in the records. John Arscott (d. 1558) was succeeded by his son Arthur Arscott (1554-1618), who produced a large family of three sons and seven daughters. His eldest son, Edmund Arscott (c.1581-1657) was educated at Oxford and the Inner Temple, and was succeeded by his eldest son John Arscott (1613-75), who was in office as High Sheriff of Devon when he died. His heir was his nephew, John Arscott (1648-1708), who completed his uncle's term of office as Sheriff, although whether this was with official authority is not clear. The younger John's son Arthur Arscott (1683-1763) was also High Sheriff in 1714, and he later sat as MP for Tiverton for twenty-five years. It was probably Arthur who built a grand new house at Tetcott early in the 18th century, although the style and reputed date of the building make it possible that his father was the builder.

In the 18th century the name Arscott became synonymous with hunting, and there is still a South Tetcott Hunt which traces its origins to the pack assembled by the last John Arscott in the 1740s. There is even a ballad, ostensibly written about the last John Arscott (1718-88) but perhaps originally penned about his ancestor John Arscott (1648-1708), which ends:

When the full moon is shining as clear as the day,
John Arscott still hunteth the country, they say;
You may see him on Black-Bird, and hear in full cry,
The pack from Pencarrow to Dazzard go by.

When the tempest is howling, his horn you may hear,
And the bay of his hounds in their headlong career;
For Arscott of Tetcott loves hunting so well,
That he breaks for the pastime from Heaven or Hell.

It was the stories recorded by 19th century antiquarians about John Arscott (1718-88), whose latter years were perhaps just within living memory at the time, that inspired W.G. Hoskins' flight of fancy quoted above. He was the quintessential 18th century hunting squire, autocratic and high tempered, with narrow horizons and interests but a reputation as a warm friend and generous host, who inspired tremendous loyalty and affection in his household and tenantry. He cared nothing for the opinion of the wider world, and is said to have married one of his father's household servants. They had no children, and when he died he left the house to her for life and then to his first cousin twice removed, Sir William Molesworth (1758-98), 6th bt., of Pencarrow in Cornwall, who had already inherited the estate.
John Arscott's jester, Black John
The Molesworths, who shared John Arscott's interest in hunting, used Tetcott only as an occasional base for hunting parties, and the large early 18th century house no doubt fell out of repair. In 1831 it was demolished and a smaller Gothic revival cottage was built to replace it. In 1841, this house was burned down in rather suspicious circumstances, although rumours of arson were later discounted: the figures seen capering around the blaze may have been disaffected tenants rather than the ghosts of John Arscott and his jester dwarf, Black John. At all events, the family decided not to rebuild again, and the old Tudor and Jacobean house, which had been used as farm buildings and cottages for over a century, was refurbished for occasional family use. Further remodellings in 1934-36 and the 1990s have returned the old house to manorial dignity, and today there is little to suggest that it has not been a gentry house continuously since the 16th century.

Future posts will tell the story of the Bickfords of Dunsland and their descendants, and of the Molesworth-St. Aubyns of Pencarrow and Tetcott.

Dunsland Manor, Bradford, Devon

Dunsland House: the east range begun in the 16th century, extended in 1609 and partly rebuilt c.1690.
Image: © NT Images

The house began in about 1500 as a relatively modest hall house built of rubble stone, with a screens passage dividing the hall from the kitchen. These tall rooms were later subdivided horizontally into two floors, each of which was lit by small mullioned windows. In the mid 16th century John Arscott (c.1494-1563) and his wife began the process of extending the house by adding a room to its east end, later known as the South Room. 

Dunsland House; ground plans (north is at the bottom). Image: © NT Images

This formed the beginning of an east wing which was built out to the north in 1609 for John Arscott (1557/8-1623), with a new porch near the centre of it to provide a new entrance. This led into a new screens passage with a new hall to its left. The adjoining South Room was redecorated with a plaster ceiling with intersecting heart patterns surrounding roses and thistles, which it is thought commemorated the union of Scotland and England in 1603. The hall was remodelled in the reign of King Charles II as the Justice Room and was given a bolection-moulded chimneypiece and an elaborate arched doorway to the screens passage.

Dunsland House: the Justice Room (former Hall) redecorated after the Restoration. Image: © NT Images.

Dunsland House: the north front of c.1690. Image: © NT images

Thus the house remained until Arscott Bickford (d. 1693) inherited the house in 1687. The early 17th century east wing was then demolished from the porch northwards and replaced by six regular sash-windowed bays which joined the older part of the house to a new seven-bay north wing. The new north front was articulated by four giant pilasters, the middle ones supporting a steep pediment. 

Inside the house, the new work of c.1690 contained a main and secondary staircase, a parlour, drawing room, saloon and library, with some fine contemporary decoration. The staircase was replaced in about 1845 but amazingly for the date this was done in a sympathetic late 17th century style. The parlour was panelled in pine, boldly grained to resemble walnut, with an acanthus leaf frieze beneath a simple moulded-rib pattern on the ceiling. 

Dunsland House: drawing room of c.1690 with plasterwork attributed to John Abbott. Image: © NT Images

Next came the drawing room, which was the grandest room in the house, with panelled walls painted in a broken white within a pale green framework and a pale blue coving decorated with plaster swags of flowers and fruit looped up to knotted ribbons. 
Dunsland House: drawing room chimneypiece
attributed to Michael Chuke. Image: 
© NT Images

The ceiling itself, now firmly attributed to the Devon plasterer John Abbott, was of high relief plasterwork supported on armatures, and had a central garland of roses surrounded by rectangular panels, with circular panels in the corners.  The longer side panels were moulded into acanthus leaf scrolls inhabited by animals and birds, and at either end the arms of the Arscotts and Bickfords were surrounded by military trophies. The spectacular chimneypiece and overmantel is made in a combination of wood and plaster and depicts partridges hung amid a profusion of fruit and flowers, with at the top an image of Diana the huntress flanked by two putti. This has been attributed to  the carver Michael Chuke, a former apprentice of Grinling Gibbons, who was one of the carvers employed at Stowe House in Cornwall, and it has been suggested that this overmantel might have been made originally for Stowe, and have been moved to Dunsland when Stowe was taken down in 1739 (other parts of Stowe were recycled at South Molton guildhall and at Cross, Little Torrington). 

Beyond the drawing room was the saloon, much more plainly decorated with painted walls, a coved ceiling and simple moulded plaster ribs on the ceiling forming an oval and corner quadrants. This room seems to have been used as the dining room and was cleared for use as a ballroom when required. The last room behind the north front, at the western end, was the library, which had pine panelling stained and grained to resemble oak, and a plaster ceiling with a central roundel of flowers and a margin of bay leaves, and which was shelved throughout in the 19th century. 

Dunsland House: the Church Room, with plasterwork decoration perhaps of c.1660 although in an earlier style. Image: © National Trust Images. 

Upstairs there were several more rooms of considerable interest. Above the drawing room was the panelled King's Room, named from the portrait of Charles I in the overmantel, which was probably hung here when the room was fitted out in the late 17th century with bolection-moulded panelling and a simple moulded-rib plaster ceiling. This room would appear to have originally had marbling on the walls, which was later painted over. Running south from the King's Room were the Parlour Chamber, which had a hidden space behind its panelling (perhaps a safe for valuables rather than a priest hole, as none of the family seem to have been Catholics), and then in the older part of the house, the Lattice Room with a moulded rib ceiling which had a late 17th century plaster oval superimposed on it, and at the end, above the South Room, the Church Room, once hung with tapestries. Here there was a plaster overmantel and a barrel-vaulted plaster ceiling with low-relief moulded strapwork decoration. This looks for all the world like early 17th century decoration, but it has been pointed out that it is a near copy of some of the more old-fashioned designs in John Abbott's pattern book.

Dunsland House: staircase rebuilt c.1845.
© NT Images
In the 19th century, Dunsland passed by marriage to the Coham family and it was William Coham, who inherited in 1843, who replaced the staircase and added his family coat of arms to the pediment on the north front. In 1947 his nephew, Arscott Dickinson, sold the house and estate for the first time in its history. It was bought by a timber merchant from London whose only interest seems to have been felling the timber on the estate: nearly a thousand trees were cut down over the next few years. In 1949 Devon County Council asked the architect Philip Tilden to report on the condition of the house. He later wrote:
"I found a fine stone-built mansion... in a very distressed state. Two great slate tanks had been fitted at some time above the main staircase to collect rainwater from the roof. The bottom had fallen out of one of them and whenever it rained all the water from the roof cascaded down the stairs. The magnificent drawing room ceiling was on the point of collapse owing to a rotting beam... In spite of my report nobody bothered about the place and my wife and I felt we had no alternative but to buy it ourselves... We did emergency repairs to keep out the weather, paid the timber merchant five pounds for every tree he left standing, fitted a small kitchen into one corner of the hall... and moved in".
Sadly, although Philip Tilden undoubtedly saved the house from outright demolition, he was too elderly and ill to see through a restoration. In an effort to limit the size of the problem, he also demolished the oldest part of the house, the original early Tudor wing. When he died in 1954 Dunsland was still in a parlous condition, but it was sold to The National Trust, which embarked on a thirteen-year restoration programme. 

Dunsland House: showing the devastation caused by the fire of 1967. Image: © NT Images.

Tragically, when work on the house had just been completed and it had been furnished for viewing by the public, it was gutted by fire on 18th November 1967. The interiors were totally destroyed and the walls left in an unstable condition, and the decision was quickly taken to demolish what remained. A generation later that would have been unthinkable and at the very least the shell would have been stabilised and retained. Because Dunsland had been photographed for Country Life and well studied and recorded by the National Trust, the evidence would even have existed for a reconstruction. But one has to understand the decision in the context of its time, when the urgent needs of surviving and newly acquired properties for repairs had a prior claim on the available resources. Nonetheless, the loss of Dunsland is one of the most tragic stories in the 20th century history of the country house in Devon, and of the National Trust's custodianship of our cultural heritage.

Descent: Humphrey Battyn (d. 1522); to daughter, Philippa, wife of John Arscott (c.1494-1563); to son, Humphrey Arscott (1529/30-80); to son, John Arscott (1557/8-1623); to son, Arthur Arscott (c.1581-1662); to daughter, Grace (c.1601-87), widow of William Bickford (d. 1659); to son, Arscott Bickford (c.1636-93), who built the north range; to son, William Bickford (d. 1740); to son, Arscott Bickford (d. 1771); to brother, George Arscott (d. 1795); to son, Arscott Bickford (d. 1817); to sister, Mary, wife of Rev. William Holland Coham (d. 1825); to son, William Bickford Coham (d. 1843); to son, William Holland Bickford Coham (d. 1880); to sister, Augusta, wife of Maj. Harvey Dickinson (d. 1901); to son, Arscott Harvey Dickinson (1859-1952), who sold 1947 to Mr. de Savoury; sold 1949 to Philip Tilden (d. 1954); sold to National Trust, which restored the house; burned 1967 and ruins demolished.

Tetcott Manor, Devon

Tetcott Manor in 2011,
To all appearances today, Tetcott Manor is one among hundreds of small Devon manor houses built in the 16th or 17th century and updated at long intervals and modest cost since, but in fact, the story is a great deal more complicated than that.  The present building represents the house acquired or built by John Arscott (d. 1558) when he bought the estate in the mid 16th century. Only the much-altered nine-bay south front has any pretensions, and even this is regular rather than symmetrical; the other three sides are wholly irregular and incorporate work of many different dates. The house consists of four ranges around a small courtyard and the (19th century) porch leads directly into a screens passage, so the hall must have been in this south range, and it follows that the courtyard behind must have consisted largely of service and even farm buildings rather than lodgings or family rooms. Even so, in 1647 the house had fifteen hearths, placing it amongst the hundred largest houses in Devon.

Tetcott House, from a contemporary watercolour.

In the latest 17th or early 18th century either John Arscott (1648-1708) or his son Arthur (1683-1763) built a completely new house at Tetcott on a site adjacent to the old one, which was converted to agricultural use. The new house was remarkably grand, with an eleven bay front of two storeys and attics above a high basement. The two bays at either end projected slightly to form wings with five bay return elevations, and the rear elevation was no doubt similar to the entrance front, if slightly plainer. The whole house was crowned by a rooftop cupola with an ogee cap ending in a tall finial and a weathervane. The new house was no doubt built in emulation of the similarly grand new buildings constructed by Arscott's relatives and neighbours at Dunsland and Stowe House, Kilkhampton, Cornwall (built in 1679 and demolished in 1739).  With its projecting wings, stone quoins and tall hipped roof it was a thought behind the latest fashion, as one might expect in deepest Devon, but it is remarkable that a house on this scale could be afforded by a family like the Arscotts.

When John Arscott died without issue in 1788, Tetcott passed to the Molesworths of Pencarrow in Cornwall and the house was largely abandoned, being used only as a base for hunting parties in the early 19th century. In 1831, Sir William Molesworth (1810-55), 8th bt., demolished the 'new' house of c.1700; some panelling, a Rococo-style plaster ceiling and some of the family portraits were moved to Pencarrow, but much of the contents are said to have been cleared and sold by the demolition contractor.  Sir William built a smaller Gothic cottage or shooting lodge, more suitable to the needs of the family, to replace the big house; this was completed in about 1834 at a cost of £9,000. The new house in turn burned down in 1841, and although there were suspicions of arson, it was found that the fire started when accumulated soot in a flue caught fire.  Rather than build yet another new house, Sir William decided to refurbish the old manor house for occasional family use, although parts of the building remained in agricultural use into the 20th century. It is thought that the large porch was added in the 1840s (the datestone of 1603 on the porch was moved here from Tetcott Mill in the 20th century for the greater confusion of architectural historians). Tetcott has been modernised several times since, most notably in 1934-36, when John Molesworth-St. Aubyn (1899-1985), later the 14th baronet, made his home here, and again in 1990s.

Tetcott House in 2013. Image: Lobsterthermidor via Wikimedia Commons .

In 1934 the south range was mostly still in agricultural use, with a shippon to the left of the screens passage and a cider cellar to the right, and the present appearance of the house, with its regular sash-windowed facade, dates from the alterations made then. Part of the shippon was made into a drawing room, with pine panelling brought from Pencarrow, and the cellar became a dining room. The rest of the west end of the range was adapted for domestic use around 2000. The 1930s remodelling was carried out by the estate carpenter, who reset some of the moulded 17th century doorways in the house and installed a fine staircase of about 1700 with turned balusters and solid oak treads, which was brought from an estate farmhouse.

On the upper floor is a late 17th century panelled bedroom with a granite fireplace and a coved ceiling decorated with moulded ribs. Hidden above this is evidence of an earlier barrel vault and reused smoke-blackened timbers (the roof was rebuilt in the late 20th century). Another notable interior is the courtroom in the east range, which was originally accessed by an external staircase. It has a plaster overmantel with the arms of the Arscotts and related families, and a ceiling decorated with a floral design surrounding the figure of Fame blowing a trumpet.

The 18th century house at Tetcott was said to have a wilderness of 11 acres and a park of nearly 100 acres, and in the 1830s the tithe map shows a series of rides and formal plantations. But no trace remains of the these features or of the gardens 'superior to most others in the county', and only the elegance of the ashlar gatepiers and the large stable and granary buildings that surround the house testify to its former consequence. One of the stable blocks seems to have been built at much the same as the house and has Tuscan columns dividing the looseboxes.

Descent: Sir John Neville sold 1552 to John Arscott (d. 1558); to son, Arthur Arscott (c.1554-1618); to son, Edmund Arscott (1588-1656); to son John Arscott (1613-75); to brother, William Arscott (b. 1617); to son, John Arscott (1648-1708); to son Arthur Arscott (1683-1763); to son John Arscott (c.1718-88); to first cousin twice removed, Sir William Molesworth (1758-98), 6th bt.; to son, Sir Arscott Ourry Molesworth (1789-1823), 7th bt.; to son, Sir William Molesworth (1810-55), 8th bt., who demolished the main house in 1831; to brother? Hugh Henry Molesworth (1818-62), 9th bt.; to brother, Rev. Sir Paul William Molesworth (1821-89), 10th bt.; to son, Lewis William Molesworth (1853-1912), 11th bt.; to kinsman, Sir St. Aubyn Hender Molesworth-St. Aubyn (1833-1913), 12th bt.; to son, Sir Hugh Molesworth-St. Aubyn (1865-1942), 13th bt.; to son, Sir John Molesworth-St. Aubyn (1899-1985), 14th bt.; to son, Sir John Arscott Molesworth-St. Aubyn (1926-98), 15th bt.; to son, Sir William Molesworth-St. Aubyn (b. 1958), 16th bt.

Arscott family of Dunsland

Arscott, John (c.1469-1541). Son of John Arscott (d. 1493) of Arscott and Holsworthy and his wife Joane or Margerie Cloford, born about 1469. He married Margery (c.1472-1514), daughter of Richard Floyer and had issue:
(1) John Arscott (c.1494-1563) (q.v.);
(2) Thomas Arscott (d. 1562) of Holsworthy; married Agnes, daughter of John Bligh of Bodmin (Cornwall) and had issue; died 17 September 1562;
(3) Richard Arscott (d. 1578) of Ashwater; married Margaret, daughter of John Fitz of Fitzford and had issue four sons and three daughters; died 19 August 1578;
(4) John Arscott (d. 1558) of Tetcott [see below, under Arscott of Tetcott];
(5) Christian Arscott; married 1st, John Fortescue of Buckland Filleigh (Devon) and had issue two sons and one daughter; married 2nd, Thomas Chamond (b. c.1514) of Lancells, son and heir of Sir John Chamond of Cornwall, and had issue two daughters;
(6) Agnes Arscott (fl. 1564); married 1st, Richard Prideaux (d. 1529) of Tavistock and had issue two daughters; married 2nd, John Shervington of Beare.
He inherited the Arscott estate from his father in 1493.
He died 18 December 1541.

Arscott, John (c.1494-1563) of Arscott and Dunsland. Eldest son of John Arscott of Arscott (c.1469-1541) and his wife Margery, daughter of Richard Floyer, born about 1494. Sometimes known as John Arscott the elder to distinguish him from his younger brother of the same name. Educated at Oxford University (BA 1540/1; MA 1541/2) and the Inner Temple; JP for Devon; married Phillipa, daughter and heir of Humphrey Battyn (d. 1522) of Dunsland and had issue:
(1) Humphry Arscott (1529/30-80) (q.v.);
(2) John Arscott (d. 1564) of Egg Buckland (Devon); married Marie, daughter of Christopher Savory of Totnes (Devon) and had issue a daughter; died 10 May 1564;
(3) Rev. Nicholas Arscott (d. c.1593?); ordained deacon and priest, 1550; rector of Doddiscombeleigh (Devon), 1560-62 and Dolton (Devon), 1562-93; vicar of Cubert (Cornwall), 1566;
(4) Thomas Arscott (d. 1613); married, 7 April 1567, Mary Fitz (d. 1608); buried 17 April 1613;
(5) Edmond Arscott (d. by 1563);
(6) George Arscott (fl. 1564);

(7) Rev. Halnet Arscott (d. 1619); ordained priest, 1572; vicar of Shebbear and Quethiock (Devon), 1573-1617; married, 18 July 1586, Mary (d. 1636), daughter of Thomas Squire and had issue one son; buried 2 December 1619;
(8) William Arscott;
(9) Joane Arscott; married Anthony Leigh of Henford;
(10) Barbara Arscott (d. 1598); married Sir Christopher Harris (d. 1625), kt., of Radford and had issue one son (who died young); buried 22 March 1597/8;
(11) Margery Arscott (1538-89); married John Stoford (b. 1530) and had issue two sons;
(12) Agnes Arscott (c.1546-97); married John Bligh (fl. 1588) of Bodmin, mayor of Bodmin, and had issue five sons and three daughters; died 1597.

He inherited the Arscott estate from his father in 1541, and acquired the Dunsland estate through his marriage.
He died 1 May 1563. His widow married 2nd, William Holland of Sheepwash; her date of death is unknown.

Arscott, Humphrey (1529/30-80) of Dunsland. Eldest son of John Arscott (c.1494-1563) of Arscott and Dunsland and his wife Philippa, daughter and heir of Humphrey Battyn of Dunsland, born 1529/30. He married Ellin, daughter of Thomas Hatch of Aller and had issue:
(1) John Arscott (1557/8-1623) (q.v.)
(2) Lewis Arscott (fl. 1649) of Abbots Bickington (Devon); married, 4 April 1594, Frances, daughter of Thomas Wood of Axworthy and had issue six sons and three daughters; living in 1649;
(3) Dorothy Arscott; married William Kellaway of Mawgan;
(4) Honor Arscott (d. 1633); married William Levelis (d. 1633) of Castle Horneck (Cornwall) and had issue two sons and two daughters; buried 28 February 1633;
(5) Anne Arscott; married John Rouse of Killworthy;
(6) Phillipa Arscott (fl. 1620).

He inherited the Dunsland estate from his father in 1563.
He died 12 April and was buried at Bradford (Devon), 14 April 1580. His wife's date of death is unknown.

Arscott, John (1557/8-1623) of Dunsland. Eldest son of Humphrey Arscott (1529/30-80) of Dunsland and his wife Ellin, daughter of Thomas Hatch of Aller, born 1557/8. He married, c.1578, Mary (d. 1630), daughter of Thomas Moncke of Powderidge, and had issue:
(1) Margery Arscott (b. 1579), baptised 17 January 1578/9; married Rev. Lewis Stucley, fourth son of Sir Hugh Stucley, kt. of Affeton (Devon) and had issue;
(2) Ellinor Arscott (b. & d. 1580), baptised 24 May and died in infancy 27 August 1580.
(3) Arthur Arscott (c.1581-1662) (q.v.)
(4) John Arscott (1585-1646), baptised 22 May 1585; married Jacquet (d. 1655/6), daughter of William Cottell of Yealmbridge, and had issue one son and two daughters; buried 14 July 1646;
(5) Thomas Arscott;
(6) Humphry Arscott;

(7) Frances Arscott; married George Chilcot of Stogumber (Somerset) and had issue;
(8) Anne Arscott;
(9) Mary Arscott.

He inherited the Dunsland estate from his father in 1580.
He was buried 2 July 1623. His widow was buried 1 January 1630/1.

Arscott, Arthur (c.1581-1662) of Dunsland. Eldest son of John Arscott (1557/8-1623) and his wife Mary, daughter of Thomas Moncke of Powderidge, born about 1581. He married Ebbott (d. 1641), daughter of Leonard Yeo of North Petherwin (Cornwall) and had issue:
(1) Mary Arscott (b. 1600), baptised 6 January 1600/1; married Grenville Weekes (fl. 1637) (who m2, September 1628, Elizabeth Pomeroy of Exeter), son of Simon Weekes of Honichurch (Devon); died by 1628;
(2) Grace Arscott (c.1601/2-87) (q.v.).
He inherited the Dunsland estate from his father in 1623.
He was buried at Bradford, 21 October 1662. His widow was buried at Bradford, 12 May 1641.

Arscott, Grace (c.1601/2-87). Second but only surviving daughter of Arthur Arscott (c.1581-1662) of Dunsland and his wife Ebbott, daughter of Leonard Yeo of North Petherwin (Cornwall), born about 1601/2. She married, 9 December 1634, William Bickford (d. 1659) of Plympton St Mary (Devon) and had issue:
(1) Mary Bickford (1634-36), baptised at Plympton St Mary, 10 October 1634; died in infancy, 29 March 1635/6; 
(2) Arscott Bickford (1636?-93), said to have been born in 1636; married 1st, 27 December 1660, Mary Parker (1641-75) of Boringdon and had issue one son (who died young); married 2nd, 1676, Honor Prideaux (1645-81) of Prideaux Place, Padstow and had issue one daughter; and married 3rd, 8 July 1683 at Padstow (Cornwall), Bridget (1660-1712), second daughter of Edmund Prideaux of Prideaux Place, Padstow and had issue from whom descended the Bickfords of Dunsland, who will form the subject of a future post; buried at Bradford, 19 June 1693; will proved at Exeter, 1694;
(3) Frances Bickford (b. 1637), baptised at Bradford, 29 November 1637; died unmarried before 1659;
(4) Elizabeth Bickford (b. 1639), baptised at Bradford, 26 June 1639; married Henry Rowland; living in 1659.
She inherited the Dunsland estate from her father in 1662. At her death it passed to her only son.
She was buried 13 January 1686/7; her will was proved at Exeter, 1688. Her husband was buried at Bradford, 3 November 1659; his will was proved in the PCC, 5 December 1660. 

Arscott family of Tetcott

Arscott, John (d. 1558). Fourth and youngest son of John Arscott (c.1469-1541) and his wife Margery, daughter of Richard Floyer. Educated at the Middle Temple. An officer of the Court of Augmentations by 1538; surveyor of woods beyond the Trent, 1547-54 and of the northern parts of the Duchy of Lancaster, 1548-58; surveyor of Duchy of Cornwall, 1551-52; Commissioner to inquire into King's chantry lands in Devon and Cornwall, 1547-48 and in Lancashire and Cheshire, 1548; MP for Huntingdon, 1547. He married, before 1553, Elizabeth, daughter of John Walter of Broxbourne (Herts) and had issue:
(1) Arthur Arscott (1554-1618) (q.v.)
He purchased the Tetcott estate in 1552, the manors of Bradford and Hatherleigh (Devon) in the same year, and Gedicote in 1555.
He died 14 January 1557/8; his will was proved 17 January 1557/8. His widow married 2nd, by 1561, Humphrey Specote MP (c.1532-89) and had further issue three sons and one daughter.

Arscott, Arthur (1554-1618). Only son of John Arscott (d. 1558) and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Walter of Broxbourne, born 26 August 1554. His mother was granted his wardship on 18 March 1558. He married, c.1580, Mary (fl. 1618), daughter of John Langsford of Thurlestone (Devon) and had issue:
(1) Edmund Arscott (c.1581-1657) (q.v.);
(2) Ezekiel Arscott (1590-1653) of Lewannick (Cornwall); educated at St Alban Hall, Oxford (matriculated 1605; BA 1608; MA 1615); married Julian, daughter of William Bligh of Botathon and had issue three daughters; will proved 22 March 1653;
(3) John Arscott of Meavy (fl. 1615);
(4) Grace Arscott (b. 1582); married, 19 May 1603, John Wykes of North Wyke;
(5) Honor Arscott (fl. 1604); married, before 1604, Alexander Maynard of Tavistock, barrister-at-law, and had issue four sons;
(6) Martha Arscott (d. by 1658); married 1st, 11 December 1616, William Hinckston, and 2nd, after 1617, Sir William Button (d. c.1625), kt., of Parkgate (Devon) and had issue two daughters; died before 1658;
(7) Elizabeth Arscott (fl. 1606); married, 3 November 1606 at Tetcott, Thomas Kendall of Pelene in Tywardreath (Cornwall) and had issue two sons and four daughters;
(8) Blanche Arscott (fl. 1604); married, 8 October 1604 at Tetcott, Thomas Bodley (fl. 1620) of Dunscombe and had issue seven sons and four daughters;
(9) Abigail Arscott (fl. 1615); married, after 1619, John Syms of Chard;
(10) Mary Arscott (fl. 1614); married, 25 April 1614 at Tetcott, John Bury of Colliton and had issue two sons and two daughters.
He inherited the Tetcott estate from his father in 1558 and came of age in about 1575.
He died 23 January 1617/8; his will was proved in the PCC, 14 May 1618. His widow survived him, but her date of death has not be traced.

Arscott, Edmund (c.1581-1657). Eldest son of Arthur Arscott (c.1554-1618) and his wife Mary, daughter of John Langsford of Thurleston, born about 1581. Educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (admitted 1596/7), Exeter College, Oxford (matriculated 1599; BA 1599/1600) and Inner Temple (admitted 1600). He married, about November 1611, Mary (1582-1652), daughter of William Walrond of Bradfield in Uffculme (Devon), and had issue, possibly among others:
(1) John Arscott (1613-75) (q.v.);
(2) Anne Arscott (c.1615-85); she married 1st, 13 February 1637 at Ashwater (Devon), John Calmady (b. 1614) but had no issue; married 2nd, Rev. Amos Short (1616-97) of Lyme Regis (Dorset), who was deprived of the living in 1662 and became a nonconformist minister, and had issue; buried at Lyme Regis, 28 March 1685;
(3) William Arscott (1617-75?) (q.v.).
He inherited the Tetcott estate from his father in 1618.
He was buried 1 October 1657; his will was proved in the PCC, 24 February 1657/8. His wife was buried 12 December 1652.

Arscott, John (1613-75). Elder son of Edmund Arscott (c.1581-1657) of Tetcott and his wife Mary, daughter of William Walrond of Bradfield in Uffculme (Devon), baptised 18 July 1613. High Sheriff of Devon, 1675, but died in office and his nephew completed his turn. He married Gertrude (c.1622-99), second daughter of Sir Shilston Calmady and had issue:
(1) Mary Arscott (1645-1722), baptised 19 June 1645 at Hatherleigh (Devon); married, 22 December 1669 at Black Torrington (Devon), Lewis Coham (d. 1691) of Coham and had issue three sons and two daughters; buried at Black Torrington, 1 January 1722/3.
He inherited the Tetcott estate from his father in 1657. At his death it passed to his nephew.
He died 25 September 1675 and was buried at Tetcott, where he and his widow are commemorated by a monument. His widow died 18 October 1699.

Arscott, William (1617-75?). Younger son of Edmund Arscott (c.1581-1657) of Tetcott and his wife Mary, daughter of William Walrond of Bradfield in Uffculme (Devon), baptised 25 May 1617. He married and had issue:
(1) John Arscott (1648-1708) (q.v.).
His date and place of death are unknown, but he was apparently alive when his brother's will was written and may have died soon after his brother.

Arscott, John (1648-1708). Only son of William Arscott (b. 1617) and his wife, born 1647/8. He succeeded his uncle as Sheriff of Devon, 1675-76, after his uncle died in office. He married 1st, 8 March 1673/4, Anna (c.1653-75), daughter and co-heir of Andrew Trevill of Ethy, St Winnow (Cornwall) and 2nd, 17 May 1677 at Milton Damerel (Devon), Prudence Dennis (1656-89), and had issue:
(2.1) Jane Arscott (1678-1719), baptised 19 June 1678; married, 19 September 1699 at Tetcott, Sir John Molesworth (1668-1723), 3rd bt., and had issue three sons and two daughters; buried 6 May 1719;
(2.2) John Arscott (1681-1701), baptised 28 June 1681; educated at Exeter College, Oxford (matriculated 1698) and Inner Temple (admitted 1700); died unmarried in the lifetime of his father and was buried at Tetcott, 22 December 1701;
(2.3) Arthur Arscott (1683-1763) (q.v.);
(2.4) Dennis Arscott (1685-1721) of Ethy, baptised 3 May 1685; educated at Exeter College, Oxford (matriculated 1701) and Inner Temple (admitted 1701); High Sheriff of Cornwall, 1718; died unmarried and was buried 25 April 1721; his will was proved in the PCC, 18 July 1721;
(2.5) Edmund Arscott (1687-1719), baptised 30 March 1687; educated at Exeter College, Oxford (matriculated 1703/4); died unmarried and was buried 16 April 1719;
(2.6) Nicholas Arscott (b. 1688), baptised 13 May 1688; probably died young.
He inherited the Tetcott estate from his uncle in 1675.
He died 17 June 1708 and was buried at Tetcott, where he and his wives are commemorated by a monument; his will was proved at Exeter. His first wife died 24 August 1675. His second wife died 12 January 1688/9.

Arscott, Arthur (1683-1763). Second but eldest surviving son of John Arscott (1648-1708) and his second wife Prudence Dennis, baptised 3 June 1683. High Sheriff of Devon, 1714. Whig MP for Tiverton, 1722-47. He married 1st, 21 September 1704 at Merton (Devon), Elizabeth (d. 1714), daughter of Francis Trefusis of Trefusis in Mylor (Cornwall), 2nd, 23 May 1717 in St Margaret, Westminster (Middx), Gwen (d. 1744), daughter of Sir Walter Yonge of Escot (Devon), 3rd bt., and 3rd, 23 May 1747 at St Andrew, Holborn (Middx), Margery* Simpson (1717-99) of Penrith (Cumbld) and had issue:
(2.1) John Arscott (c.1718-88) (q.v.);
(2.2) Arthur Arscott (1723-39), born 19 August and baptised 9 September 1723; died unmarried 'after a long and painful illness', 27 March and was buried at Tetcott, 1 April 1739, where he is commemorated by a monument.
He inherited the Tetcott estate from his father in 1708.
He was buried at Tetcott, 8 September 1763, where he is commemorated by a monument. His first wife was buried 1 September 1714. His second wife was buried 12 June 1744. His widow died in 1799; her will was proved 27 August 1799.
* John Arscott's will refers to her as Margaret, but in all other records her name is given as Margery.

John Arscott, by James Northcote
Arscott, John (1719-88). Elder son of Arthur Arscott (1683-1763) and his second wife Gwen, daughter of Sir Walter Yonge of Escot (Devon), 3rd bt., born 7 January and baptised at St Andrew, Holborn, 28 January 1718/9. A complex character, who in many ways exhibited both the admirable and repellent characteristics of the older type of English squire. On the one hand he was said to be benevolent to the poor and on good and close terms with his tenant farmers, and he was a good and attentive host, who kept open house in the ancient tradition of English hospitality. He was fascinated by nature and kept a number of bizarre pets including a raven and a toad (until one killed the other), but he was also a passionate devotee of hunting, shooting and cock-fighting. He attended church regularly but thought nothing of throwing insults - or even apples - at the clergyman during divine service, and he is said to have whiled away the tedium of the sermon by feeding live flies to a spider which had spun a web in his pew. He maintained in his household one of the last jester dwarfs, a man named Black John, who ran with the hounds during the hunt and lived in a lair he had built near the hunt kennels. He provided after-dinner entertainment for his master's guests, including swallowing and regurgitating three live mice, tied together on a string, and mumbling a sparrow (don't ask, it is truly revolting). When his master died, Black John's pathetic devotion was such that he made a new lair near the churchyard and 'sobbed away the brief remnant of his days'.  John Arscott married, 16 February 1760 at Tetcott, Thomasin Spry (1719/20-96), who is said to have been one of his father's servants, but had no issue.
He inherited the Tetcott estate from his father in 1763. At his death he left the mansion house, park and contents to his widow for life, with remainder to Sir William Molesworth, 6th bt. of Pencarrow (Cornwall), and he directed that the park at Tetcott should be disparked immediately after his death.
He died 14 January 1788 and was buried at Tetcott, 21 January 1788, where he is commemorated by a monument, which records "What his character was need not here be recorded. The deep impression which his extensive benevolence and humanity has left in the minds of his friends and dependents will be transmitted by tradition to late Posterity". His will was proved in the PCC, 8 March 1788. His widow was buried 11 March 1796; her will was proved in the PCC, 19 April 1796.


S. Baring-Gould, Devonshire characters and strange events, 1908; B. Cherry & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Devon, 1989, p. 802; H. Meller, The country houses of Devon, 2015, pp. 358-62, 988-90;

Location of archives

Arscott family of Tetcott: misc deeds and papers relating to Devon and Cornwall estates, 17th-18th cents. [Cornwall Record Office, MA]

Coat of arms

Per chevron azure and ermine in chief two buck's heads cabossed or.

Can you help?

Here are a few notes about information and images which would help to improve the account above. If you can help with any of these or with other additions or corrections, please use the contact form in the sidebar to get in touch.

  • Does anyone know of any further views of the 18th century house at Tetcott, or of its short-lived 19th century successor?
  • Can anyone fill in any of the missing genealogical information for the Arscott family from sources such as title deeds or locally-proved wills which I have not had the opportunity to consult? In particular, can anyone tell me more about William Arscott (1617-75?), whose marriage I have been unable to find.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 9 October 2015 and was updated 5 April 2020. I am most grateful to the National Trust for permission to reproduce images of Dunsland from their collection.


  1. Good stuff! Humphrey was my 12th great grandfather. Thanks for the information.

  2. I have some evidence that Mary Arscott wife of Lewes Coham was in fact the daughter of William Arscott not his brother John High Sheriff of Devon. Mary was my 9th great grandmother. Also Lewes and Mary had 10 children their daughter Susanna Coham married Clement Gay Esq. a relative of John Gay the poet. Their daughter Joan Gay married John Hutchings Gentleman of Woodacott these being my ancestors also. I have also found some evidence that the Arscott's were of royal descent

    1. I should be interested to know what the evidence for is for Mary's father being William rather than John, as the transcript of the Hatherleigh register on FindMyPast gives John as the father. Do you know how many of the ten children were sons?

    2. Hey Nick sorry for the delay in replying, the evidence in question is a transcript of the Will of John Arscott who died in 1708. In the Will he mentions a few family members including my sister Coham this must be Mary, he also mentions a sister Bridget, a niece Grace Risdon and sister Brond as well as his daughter Jane lady Molesworth. The extract I obtained from the British library. What has me confused though are the baptisms I have found like you mentioned at find my past, I have found baptisms for John and Mary with John as the father. Is there any evidence that John was the son of William and not John the High Sheriff. I only ask because if Mary was the sister of John who died in 1708 as his will suggests then the children of Mary could provide a clue for their parents identity. Mary as we know married Lewes Coham in 1669 two of their children's names in particular are very interesting John and Gertrude I've wondered whether they were named for John Arscott and Gertrude Calmady. In total they had 10 children as I mentioned earlier 5 sons John, Stephen, Lewes, Arscott and Arthur and 5 daughters Mary, Susanna, Gertrude, Grace and Elizabeth. I'm happy to send you more information if you would like.
      Kind Regards

  3. Would be curious to know when/how the Arscott name came to Canada. Assume it traces back to John?

  4. Dear all,
    Fascinated to hear from Martin, as I too am descended through the Hutchings/Gay/Coham line. What is the exact ref for the will please? If only one could get hold of the will of John Arscott (d.1675) or his wife (if she left one)...

    1. Hello Will it is great to hear from you I would appreciate any information on your family line. I am willing to work with you but unfortunately can't send the original transcription of the will provided by the British Library, however I can provide my transcription if you would like. I have been looking into the Arscott family for a year of so now and it has been very interesting. With links to royalty and nobility it is a great family to be descended from. I'm happy to provide you with the information and documentation I have as long as you do not re-produce or send it to anyone else.

  5. How do I figure out how and if I belong to this line of arscott

    1. As with any genealogical research, you need to work backwards from what you know about your own immediate forbears to identify their ancestry. The later generations of this Arscott family seem to produced few if any collateral branches, however, so any connection is likely to lie a long way back, probably in the 16th century or earlier, so demonstrating any connection is unlikely to be easy.

  6. That sounds great. Thanks!
    My email is

  7. Would anyone know if the Arscott family and the Ascott family of North Devon are linked in any way?

  8. Hi
    I am researching a direct line down to the Arscotts and wondered if anyone was able to confirm that Mary Coham was in fact William Arscotts daughter? Many thanks, this post has been so helpful.

    1. Hello, I have now found evidence on the contrary. Mary Arscott wife of Lewis Coham does seem to be the daughter of John Arscott Esq. I am currently holidaying in Devon and visited St Mary's Church in Black Torrington where there is a plaque to the memory of Mary which states her as the dau. of John Arscott Esq. however is it John who was high sheriff or another maybe a cousin. I am in the process of obtaining a copy of the will pertaining to John High sheriff who died in 1675 hopefully that will shed some light


Please leave a comment if you have any additional information or corrections to offer, or if you are able to help with additional images of the people or buildings in this post.