Friday 2 February 2018

(320) Bailey of Lee Abbey

Charles Bailey (c.1767-1855) was agent to the Sanford family of Nynehead Court (Somerset) in the early 19th century, and brought up his family in a cottage on the estate. His son, Charles Bailey (1796-1858) became his assistant and then succeeded him in 1820, but in 1824 moved into independent practice as a land agent and surveyor. His relationship with the Sanford family seems to have remained close, however, and his firm was based at Nynehead until the 1840s. He undertook a wide range of functions, including the design of buildings (such as the Popham's Hospital almshouses in Wellington (Somerset), the inclosure of lands, the surveying of roads and tramways, and the mapping and sale of estates. He made published proposals for the commutation of tithes (an idea which was later taken up by Government) and appeared before Parliamentary committees as an expert witness. From 1838 he had an office in London, and at his death he was described as 'for many years the confidential steward of several of the nobility'. He moved increasingly into the business of estate sales, including the conveyancing work traditionally undertaken by solicitors, and by 1851 he stated his occupation as 'conveyancer'. By 1841 he had made enough money to purchase a farmhouse and land in a fine position on the coast of north Devon known as Ley Barton, and a few years later he built a new house there, quite probably to his own designs, which he renamed Lee Abbey. 

Charles Bailey did not live to enjoy his new house for very long, as he died in 1858. His elder son, Charles Frederick Bailey (1836-1919) inherited both Lee Abbey and his father's business. He had had some legal training at Lincoln's Inn, but was not called to the bar, and after he took over the business the land agency and surveying work was phased out, and the firm became Bailey, Norman & Browne, solicitors. He too, described himself in successive censuses as a conveyancer. In 1863, he married the daughter of another solicitor, but they had no children. He retired in about 1875 and occupied himself with philanthropic works and his amusements of photography, wood-carving and sea fishing. In 1900 he bought the adjoining Wooda Bay estate when it came up for auction, to prevent it being developed. This extended his estate to some 1,800 acres. As he had no children, when he died in 1919 he bequeathed Lee Abbey and its lands to Major Charles Henry Bailey (1872-1930), the eldest son of his younger brother, who had just retired from the Worcestershire regiment. Major Bailey, who settled in Plymouth, seems to have had no interest in living at Lee Abbey or in retaining the estate. Within a few months of his uncle's death he had arranged a sale of the contents of the house, and later in the year the estate was broken up and sold at auction. Lee Abbey itself appears not to have been included in the auction, perhaps because arrangements had already been made to let it as an hotel. Major Bailey still owned the freehold in 1924, but it was sold to the hotel company soon afterwards. During the Second World War the house was occupied by an evacuated school, and it was sold in 1945 to an evangelical Christian group as a holiday, retreat and conference centre; a use which it continues to fulfil today. 

Lee Abbey, Lynton, Devon

During the Middle Ages, 'Ley Barton' in Lynton belonged to the Cistercian monks of Forde Abbey (Dorset), and after the Dissolution of the Monasteries the Crown sold it in 1559 to the Wichehalse family, who were Barnstaple wool merchants. It was a tenanted farm until in 1628 Hugh Wichehalse moved to this isolated clifftop site, driven out of his native town by a combination of the plague and 'uncongenial party strife'. In 1841 the house was still a thatched, gable-ended farmhouse with a central porch, which a comparison of successive Ordnance Survey maps, and a press report of 1858, suggest stood just to the north of the present building. It was bought in that year by Charles Frederick Bailey, a successful land agent and surveyor, who rebuilt the house, probably to his own designs, and changed the name to Lee Abbey. The precise date of rebuilding is not clear, but it may have been contemporary with a highway diversion in 1847 which allowed the expansion of the grounds; the house was evidently complete and occupied by 1852.

Lee Abbey: the north front, photographed by C.F. Bailey in 1862.
Lee Abbey: the house from the north-west, photographed by C.F. Bailey in 1863.

Charles Bailey's new house occupied three sides of a courtyard. There are two identifiable early features which were evidently moved from the earlier house: a sundial dated 1650, and the Wichehalse coat of arms, which is embedded in a gable on the north front. The north range was the service range of the rebuilt house, and the rubble walls here and in the courtyard were left exposed while the rest of the house was rendered. The principal family rooms were in the west wing, which itself was in two parts: a taller northern section, and a lower, castellated southern section which terminated in a large octagonal music room with square-headed traceried windows set between pinnacled buttresses. Only the music room is now in its original form: the rest of the southern part of the wing was raised and given gables in the 20th century. 

Lee Abbey: the house from the south-west, photographed by C.F. Bailey in 1862

Lee Abbey: the gatehouse and music room from the south, photographed by C.F. Bailey, 1862
Lee Abbey: the courtyard in the early 20th century, before conversion into an hotel.

The rather utilitarian courtyard was closed on the south by a long lean-to conservatory terminating at the east end in a tower, which connected to a plain east range which seems again to have been part of the service accommodation. Inside, the principal surviving interiors of the 19th century house are the cantilevered stone staircase with a Gothic balustrade, which rises through three floors, the drawing room with a ceiling of moulded ribs, and the octagonal music room, which has a curious low-pitched vault comprised of eight timber ribs with pierced spandrels springing from clustered colonettes and rising to a central castellated boss.

Lee Abbey: interior of the music room in the early 20th century.

After the death of Charles Bailey in 1919, the house was first let and then sold, with 360 acres, to a hotel company. During the 1920s or 1930s, a dining room wing replaced the conservatory on the south front, with additional bedrooms above it, and two golf courses were laid out in the grounds. Unfortunately, the depression of the 1930s led two successive owners of the hotel into bankruptcy, and with the outbreak of the Second World War the house was taken over by Brambletye School, which had been evacuated from Sussex. By 1943 the house was described as 'very dilapidated' and 'daubed by camouflage', and when the school moved out in 1945 it could have faced a bleak future. However, a Christian evangelical group which had used the house successfully during wartime school holidays for summer gatherings bought the property in 1945 and opened it as a Christian conference, retreat and holiday centre. 

Lee Abbey: the house today, from the south-east, showing the wing built as hotel accommodation and the more recent additions to the south-east.

Over the decades the Lee Abbey Fellowship has made many changes to the property, the biggest of which came in 1968 when a major addition was built at the south-east corner of the house, to the designs of Scarlett Burkett Associates, with a regrettable tower finished in reeded concrete.

Descent: sold 1841 to Charles Bailey (1796-1858); to son, Charles Frederick Bailey (1836-1919); to nephew, Charles Henry Bailey (1872-1930), who leased, 1919, and later sold as an hotel; occupied in WW2 by Brambletye School; sold 1945 to Lee Abbey Fellowship.

Bailey family of Lee Abbey

Bailey, Charles (1796-1858). Son of Charles Bailey (c.1767-1855) of Haywood Cottage, Nynehead (Somerset) and his wife Mary, baptised at Nynehead (Somerset), 17 April 1796. Assistant to his father (whom he succeeded in 1820) as land surveyor and agent to Nynehead estate (Somerset); in independent practice from 1824 as a land agent and surveyor; from 1838 at 5 Stratford Place, Marylebone. In the 1830s, he gave evidence to Parliament on agricultural improvement and the review of the tithe system. He married, 8 January 1828 at Crediton (Devon), Charlotte (1801-66), daughter of Samuel Brown of Crediton, and had issue:
(1) Charlotte Louise Bailey (1828-1914), born 30 December 1828 and baptised at Nynehead, 2 June 1829; married 1st, 12 June 1850 at St George, Hanover Square, London (div. 1863, on grounds of adultery and desertion), Rev. William Henry Hicks, vicar of Watton (Norfk), but had no issue; married 2nd, 8 July 1869 at Trinity Church, St Marylebone (Middx), Charles Matthews of Gloucester House, Chipping Barnet (Herts); died 23 March 1914; will proved 24 April 1914 (estate £5,377);
(2) Caroline Bailey (1829-97), born 27 December and baptised 30 December 1829; married, 30 August 1853 at St Marylebone, Edward Lee Rowcliffe (c.1824-98), solicitor and farmer, of Hall Place, Hascombe (Surrey), son of Charles Rowcliffe, solicitor, but had no issue; died 14 January and was buried at Hascombe, 19 January 1897; will proved 9 March 1897 (effects £2,128);
(3) Katherine Ann Bailey (b. & d. 1832), baptised at Nynehead, 14 February 1832; died in infancy and was buried at Nynehead, 21 February 1832;
(4) Amelia Bailey (1833-1919), born 22 August and baptised at Nynehead, 25 September 1833; married, 2 February 1860 at St George, Hanover Square, London, Henry Pollock (1826-89), fifth son of Sir Frederick Pollock, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and had issue one daughter; died 13 April 1919 and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery; will proved 24 May 1919 (estate £7,462);
(5) Charles Frederick Bailey (1836-1919) (q.v.);
(6) Ellen Bailey (1837-95), baptised at Nynehead, 25 August 1837; novelist; author of Lissadell (1875) and Eunice (1876); married, 21 February 1861 at St Marylebone (Middx), Dr. Arthur Julius Pollock MD MRCS FRCP (1835-90), physician and amateur photographer, son of Sir Frederick Pollock, Chief Baron of the Exchequer, and had issue three sons and one daughter; died 25 October 1895; will proved 20 November 1895 (effects £3,006);
(7) William Henry Bailey (1839-1915) (q.v.); 
(8) Emma Mary Bailey (1843-1928), baptised at St Marylebone (Middx), 20 September 1843; married 1st, 10 October 1861 at Lynton, Henry Rowcliffe QC (1822-78) of Lincoln's Inn, son of Charles Rowcliffe, solicitor, and 2nd, 13 January 1880, as his second wife, Charles Stuart Aubrey Abbott (1834-82), 3rd Baron Tenterden; died without issue at Monte Carlo (Monaco), 21 May 1928; will proved 10 July 1928 (estate £31,194).
He lived at Hayward Cottage, Nynehead (Somerset) until he bought Ley Barton in 1841, rebuilt it and renamed it Lee Abbey. He also had a house in London, at 5 Stratford Place, St. Marylebone (Middx).
He died 2 December 1858, and was buried at Lynton; his will was proved 13 December 1858 (effects under £45,000). His widow died in London, 16 August 1866; her will was proved 6 October 1866 (effects under £1,500).

Bailey, Charles Frederick (1836-1919). Elder son of Charles Bailey (1796-1858) and his wife Charlotte Brown, born 10 April and baptised at Nynehead, 12 May 1836. Educated at Harrow and Lincoln's Inn (admitted 1855). He continued his father's practice as a land agent and surveyor for some years, and was also a practising conveyancer with Bailey, Norman & Browne of Spring Gardens, Westminster (Middx), solicitors (retired c.1875). JP (from 1869) and DL (from 1900) for Devon. He supported a number of charities: founding the Lynton Cottage Hospital in 1873; was President of the Lynton Society of Good Fellowship and Horticultural Society; and paid the rents of some 30 elderly poor people each year. He was a Conservative in politics, and was an enthusiastic amateur photographer, wood carver, and sea fisherman. He married, 20 October 1863 at St. George, Bloomsbury (Middx), Emily Jeanette (1838-1907), daughter of Charles Norris Wilde, solicitor, but had no issue.
He inherited Lee Abbey from his father in 1858, and enlarged the property by the purchase of the Wooda Bay estate at auction in 1900; his purchase allowed him to prevent the further development of that estate. At his death, his real estate passed to his nephew, Charles Henry Bailey, who sold the contents and dispersed the 1800 acre estate at auction later that year.
He died 1 March 1919 and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery; his will was proved 16 April 1919 (estate £86,863). His wife died 27 July 1907; her will was proved 21 August 1907 (effects £83).

Bailey, William Henry (1840-1915). Younger son of Charles Bailey (1796-1858) and his wife Charlotte Brown, baptised at Cheltenham (Glos), 1 January 1840. Probate Registrar at Lancaster and from 1882 at Exeter. He was a keen follower of rugby football. He married, 8 November 1870 at Ashtead (Surrey), Isabella (1847-1926), daughter of Rev. William Charles Denshire, and had issue:
(1) Charles Henry Bailey (1872-1930), born 17 February and baptised at St Cuthbert, Wells (Somerset), 21 March 1872; educated at Clare College, Cambridge (matriculated 1891); an officer in the Worcestershire Regiment (Lt. by 1897; Instructor of Musketry, 1897-1901; Capt., 1897; retired 1902; returned to colours, 1914; Maj., 1919; retired 1919); inherited the Lee Abbey estate from his uncle, 1919, but sold most of it, 1919 and leased the house to a company for use as an hotel; married, Jul-Sep 1919, Emmeline May Read (1894-1966) and had issue one son; died at Plymouth (Devon), 9 December 1930; will proved 10 February 1931 (estate £12,004);
(2) Arthur Harold Bailey (1873-1925), born 12 August and baptised at St Cuthbert, Wells, 11 September 1873; educated at Charterhouse School; an officer in the Devonshire Regiment, 1894-1902 (Lt., 1894; Capt., 1901), served in Boer War (DSO); died 19 February 1925; administration of goods granted 21 March 1925 (estate £7,806);
(3) twin, Isabel Maud Bailey (b. 1879; fl. 1931), born 25 July and baptised at St Cuthbert, Wells, 28 August 1879; unmarried in 1931;
(4) twin, George Stuart Bailey (1879-1942), born 25 July and baptised at St Cuthbert, Wells, 28 August 1879; educated at Charterhouse School; clerk in the Commercial Union Assurance Co.; married, 17 October 1908 at Moretonhampstead (Devon), Ruby Alice (1884-1942), daughter of Thomas Govier Mortimore, maltster, of Moretonhampstead, and had issue three sons and two daughters; killed with his wife in an air raid on Exeter, 4 May 1942; will proved 7 October 1942 (estate £22,238);
(5) Evelyn Denshire Bailey (1883-1943); married, 9 March 1920 at St Thomas, Exeter, Sir Edgar Stroud Plummer (1874-1940), kt., of Crossmead, Exeter; managing director of Colsons, drapers, of Exeter, but had no issue; died 15 November 1943; will proved 28 February 1944 (estate £37,225).
He lived at Newcourt, Topsham (Devon) and from 1896 at The Quarries, St Thomas', Exeter.
He died 11 April 1915 and was buried at Exwick Road Cemetery, Exeter; his will was proved 8 May 1915 (estate £23,805). His widow died 17 December, and was buried in the same place, 20 December 1926; her will was proved 21 January 1927 (estate £4,363).


R. More, The Lee Abbey story, 1995; A. Wisnicka, Lee Abbey: historical appraisal, 2009; H. Meller, The Country Houses of Devon, 2015, pp. 606-07. 

Location of archives

No significant accumulation is known to survive.

Coat of arms

None recorded.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 2 February 2018.


  1. I have accumulated some archive records regarding the acquisition of land including the Woody Bay estate.
    There are other collections of information held in files on the estate. Always on the look out for scraps of information relating to the owners of the land and buildings.

  2. Lee Abbey is what you may call my ancestral home except my father's father sold the house. I have portraits of to of the Baileys long gone.

    1. If you have portraits or photographs of any of those named in bold type above I would be very pleased to have copies to include in the text above.

    2. If you use the contact form in the right-hand side-bar of this site to contact me privately I will send you my email address.

  3. Charles Henry Bailey was my grandfather he married Emmaline May (Read) and had one son, Jack Reginald bailey who had one daughter me, Deborah Louise bailey.

  4. I have our family crest of and family motto on silver made by Garrard's of Regent street.


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.