Friday 19 October 2018

(349) Balfour of The Manor, Sidmouth

Balfour of Sidmouth
This family claims descent from one Robert Balfour (b. 1647) and his wife Janet Stevenson, who lived in St. Ninian's, Stirling in the late 17th century, but a coherent genealogy is only available from the time of James Balfour (1744-1809), and the genealogy below begins with his son, Cdr. Robert Balfour (1772-1847), who was a Master (warrant officer) in the Royal Navy in the period 1796-1815 and who was advanced to the rank of retired Commander a few months before his death. Commander Balfour, who lived in Stirling, had two sons and a daughter who survived to adulthood, all of whom moved south to Manchester, where the elder son, George Edmond Balfour (1821-69) became a merchant and commission agent (i.e. a shipping agent), whose firm (Heugh, Balfour & Co.) traded predominantly with the Far East. The business was highly lucrative, for by the time of his death his estate was worth some £200,000, although it collapsed spectacularly in 1878 (by which time the Balfours were no longer associated with the company) with debts estimated at $10m. By 1860, George Balfour was in a position to divert some of his wealth into the acquisition of property, buying Woodheys Hall near Sale (Cheshire), which lay just beyond the outskirts of Manchester, as his own home, and then in 1866 investing in the purchase of the manor of Sidmouth (Devon). This was an estate in an increasingly fashionable district of the south coast which had had a series of colourful owners over the last century who had left the property badly eroded by land sales and with no major house. It may from the first have been his intention to rebuild the estate and construct a new country house there, to which he could retire in due course. 

Unfortunately, George's plans were cut shortly by his untimely death in 1869, and since his wife had already died in 1865, he left his young family and his property in the care of trustees. The Trustees sold Woodheys Hall and the family interest in Heugh Balfour & Co to pay the very substantial legacies due to George's daughter and younger son, while they devoted care and attention to expanding the Sidmouth estate and then building a new house there for George's elder son, John Edmond Heugh Balfour (1863-1952). After Eton, he pursued a career in the army until 1910, when he married a noted beauty and settled down at Sidmouth as the local squire. After he died in 1952, his widow and daughter sold the house and the manorial rights to Sidmouth Urban District Council. The house became a school and after that closed in 1972 it was converted into eleven apartments.

George's younger son, Kenneth Robert Balfour (1863-1936), who also pursued a career in the army, bought The Knowle, Sidmouth, in 1891.
The Knowle, Sidmouth, as first built for Lord Le Despencer, c.1810.
This house, once one of the most delightful cottages ornés ever built, had been greatly extended to its architectural detriment and converted into an hotel in 1882. By 1890 the hotel was struggling to survive, despite a regular flow of illustrious guests recorded in the local press. Kenneth Balfour bought it and established it on a sounder footing before selling the business on. In the same year, he bought Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, with the intention of making Brownsea Castle there his own residence.
Steepleton House, Winterbourne Steepleton in 1911, shortly before
it was purchased by Lt-Col. Kenneth Balfour.
In 1896, however, the house was badly damaged by fire, and after completing restoration works he sold the house again in 1901 and settled in Bournemouth, where he was the local MP between 1900 and 1906. He moved next to the very grand Baroque Kingston Maurward House in Dorset, and then in 1914 to the rather less grand Steepleton House at Winterbourne Steepleton (Dorset), built in 1870, which remained his home for the rest of his life. Here, he and his second wife raised a family of six children, many of whom pursued illustrious careers. The best known of them was perhaps the eldest son, Ronald Edmond Balfour (1904-45), a medieval historian at Cambridge, who during the Second World War was one of the "Monument Men" charged with identifying buildings and cultural property to be protected by the advancing Allied armies, a role which required both scholarly expertise and great courage, since it meant working in the dangerous ground between the advancing Allies and the retreating Germans. Tragically in 1945 it cost Ronald Balfour his life.

Sidmouth Manor, Devon

Sidmouth Manor: the house from the south-east, as published by George Somers Clarke in Building News, 1876.

A restrained Jacobean-style house of red brick, designed by George Somers Clarke for the trustees of John Balfour and built in 1874-76. It stands on the site of a much smaller house built in 1825 for Maj-Gen. John Slessor and known as Broadway Farm. As originally designed, the house was L-shaped, with the principal rooms facing south, except for the main dining room which lay in the east wing adjoining the service accommodation; a single storey porch and cloakroom stood in the angle between the two wings. For reasons which are unclear, part of the design (at the western end of the south front) was not part of the original build, and was marked on the drawing above as being a 'future extension'. By 1907, however, part of this had already been built, with the third bay of the south front being raised from one to two storeys and made square rather than canted, and a further single-storey block being constructed to the west of this. After John Balfour married in 1910, the eastern service wing was extended in matching style, while in 1922 a further addition was made at the west end of the south front to accommodate a new dining room, leaving the house in its present form with four two-storey bay windows on the south front. Partly as a result of this complex evolution, the south front is balanced but not symmetrical: the four two-storied mullioned and transomed bay windows are not all the same, and they have odd additional windows and doorways between them.

Sidmouth Manor: the south front in 1907, showing the first extension to the original house.

Sidmouth Manor: the house from the south-west, showing the additions made in 1922.

Inside, the porch leads into an inner hall with dado-height panelling and walls covered in Spanish leather. This forms a corridor giving access to the drawing room, morning room, library and study along the south front. The first two rooms originally had stained glass by Morris & Co. (now in the V&A and Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery). Upstairs, there were thirteen principal bedrooms, with accommodation for female staff in the attics and for male servants in the east wing.

Sidmouth Manor: the east wing. The two small gables in the centre mark the original extent of the range: the part to the right was added after 1910.
In 1953 the house was sold to Sidmouth Urban District Council for £12,000 and the estate was broken up and sold to the tenant farmers. The Council sold the manor house on to become West Bank girls' school in 1954. When this closed in 1972, the house was divided into eleven separate dwellings. The former stables and the walled garden have also been converted to residential use, but otherwise the setting of the house remains little changed, with 32 acres of gardens and grounds, originally laid out by Edward Milner of Norwood (Surrey) alongside the building of the house, including a rose garden, lily ponds, a croquet lawn and a lime avenue leading to a circular Tuscan temple that is said at one time to have housed a telescope. The approach is still down a drive with a pretty tile-hung lodge between gatepiers flanked by curved walls chequered with flints, although the original gates were lost to the salvage drive in the Second World War.

Descent: Crown sold early 17th century to Sir Edmund Prideaux (c.1555-1629), 1st bt. of Netherton; to son, Sir Peter Prideaux (1596-1682), 2nd bt.; to son, Sir Peter Prideaux (1626-1705), 3rd bt.; to son, Sir Edmund Prideaux (1647-1720), 4th bt.; to son, Sir Edmund Prideaux (1675-1729), 5th bt.; to half-brother, Sir John Prideaux (1695-1766), 6th bt.; following a legal dispute sold 1787 by order of Chancery to Thomas Jenkins (d. 1798); to great-nephew, Thomas Jenkins; sold to Edward Ball Hughes (d. 1863); sold 1866 to George Edmond Balfour (1820-69); to son, Col. John Edmond Heugh Balfour (1863-1952), who leased it in 1934 to the Duke of Connaught and again during the Second World War as an hotel; sold 1953 to Sidmouth UDC; sold 1954 to West Bank Girls School; sold 1972 for conversion to multiple occupation.

Balfour family of Sidmouth

Balfour, Cdr. Robert (1772-1847). Son of James Balfour (1744-1809) and his wife Betty Caw (1745-88), born 7 April 1772. An officer in the Royal Navy (Master, 1796; retired Commander, 1846). He married, 29 December 1817, Isabella (1788-1836), daughter of George Edmond of Stirling, merchant, and had issue:
(1) George Keith Balfour (1819-20), born 12 November and baptised at Stirling, 6 December 1819; died in infancy, 5 August 1820;
(2) George Edmond Balfour (1821-69) (q.v.);
(3) Robert Balfour (1822-75), born 26 October and baptised at St. Ninians, 24 November 1822; married, 17 March 1864, Annie Shekelton (1830-1917) and had issue one son (the architect, Robert Shekelton Balfour (1869-1942)) and one daughter; died at his home in St. John's Wood (Middx), 27 October 1875; will proved 14 March 1876 (effects under £3,000);
(4) Jane Thompson Edmond Balfour (1827-98); married, 3 November 1858 at Manchester Cathedral, Elijah Pryce (1821-96) of Trederwen House (Montgomerys.) and Liverpool, colonial broker, son of David Pryce, gent.; died at Llandysilio (Montgomerys.), 30 April 1898; will proved 26 May 1899 (estate £20,884).
He lived at Southfield, Stirling.
He died 30 January 1847. His wife died 10 October 1836.

G.E. Balfour (1821-69) 
Balfour, George Edmond (1821-69).
Eldest son of Capt. Robert Balfour (1772-1847) of Woodheys Hall and his wife Isabella Edmond, born 4 May 1821. In partnership with John Heugh and Malcolm Stewart Riach as merchants and commission agents at Manchester (Heugh Balfour & Co.). He married, 11 August 1859 at Leeds parish church (Yorks WR), Marianne (1837-65), daughter of John Jowitt, of Leeds (Yorks WR), and had issue:

(1) Georgiana Mary Balfour (1860-1946), baptised at Manchester Cathedral, 1 November 1860; married 1st, 3 June 1879 at St Mary Abbots, Kensington (Middx), Sir Walter George Barttelot (d. 1900), 2nd bt. of Stopham House (Sussex), and had issue two sons and one daughter; married 2nd, 22 October 1902, Beville Molesworth-St.Aubyn (d. 1946), younger son of Rev. Sir St. Aubyn Hender Molesworth-St.Aubyn, 12th bt.; died 6 February 1946.
(2) Col. John Edmond Heugh Balfour (1863-1952) (q.v.);
(3) Kenneth Robert Balfour (1863-1936) (q.v.).
He purchased Woodheys Hall, Ashton-upon-Mersey (Cheshire) and land at Alderley in about 1860. He bought the manorial estate of Sidmouth in 1866, and bequeathed it to trustees for his son John. His Cheshire property was left in trust for his second son, to be sold.
He died in London, 29 July 1869; his will was proved 15 September 1869 (effects under £200,000). His wife died, reputedly while being treated by a dentist, 19 July 1865.

Col. J.E.H. Balfour
Balfour, Col. John Edmond Heugh (1863-1952). Elder son of George Edmond Balfour (1821-69) of The Manor, Sidmouth and his wife Marianne, daughter of John Jowitt, of Leeds (Yorks WR), born at Ashton-upon-Mersey (Cheshire), 22 January, and baptised there, 3 March 1863. Educated at Eton. An officer in the 11th Hussars and later Royal Devon Yeomanry (Lt., 1881; Capt., 1891; Maj. by 1902; Lt-Col., 1905; Hon. Col., 1908); served in Boer War with Roberts Horse and later as ADC to Maj-Gen. Sir Ian Hamilton; Lt-Col. commanding 1st battn, Royal Devon Yeomanry, 1905-10; served in First World War, 1917-18; appointed DSO, 1900 and CMG, 1918. JP and DL (from 1936) for Devon; High Sheriff of Devon, 1922. He married, 8 October 1910 at Brompton Oratory (Middx), Evelyn (1891-1973), younger daughter of Hon. Robert Joseph Gerard-Dicconson of Wrightlington Hall (Lancs), and had issue:
(1) Elizabeth Evelyn Petronella Balfour (1912-2014), born 29 June 1912; married 1st, 23 June 1936, Maj. Amyas Chichester MC (1910-72) of Llangoed, Llyswen, Breconshire, younger son of Maj. Charles Hamlyn Chichester of Hall, Barnstaple (Devon) and had issue one son and two daughters; married 2nd, 1977, Vice-Adm. Sir (Robert) Dymock Watson (1904-88), kt., of Trebinshwn (Brecons.); died at the age of 102 on 11 July 2014; will proved 2 September 2015.
He came of age in 1888. During his minority his trustees reassembled the Manor estate and built a new manor house to the designs of George Somers Clarke in 1874-76. During the Second World War the house was leased as an hotel and it was sold after his death.
He died 5 October 1952; will proved 25 February 1953 (estate £93,094). His widow died 28 May 1973; her will was proved 19 September and 8 November 1973 (estate £51,506).

Kenneth R. Balfour (1863-1936) 
Balfour, Lt-Col. Kenneth Robert (1863-1936).
Younger son of 
George Edmond Balfour (1821-69) of Woodheys Hall, Sale, and his wife Marianne, daughter of John Jowitt of Headingley, Leeds (Yorks WR), born 14 December 1863. Educated at Eton. An officer in 1st Dragoons and later with the Imperial Yeomanry (Lt., 1885; Capt., 1892; Maj., 1900; Lt-Col.) who served in Boer War and in First World War. Conservative MP for Christchurch (Hants), 1900-06; JP for Dorset; High Sheriff of Dorset, 1924; member of the Church Assembly; member of Salisbury Diocesan Finance Committee; chairman of governors, Dorchester Grammar School. He married 1st, 8 March 1888, Margaret Anne (c.1867-1901), daughter of C. Rogerson of Bayswater, London W, and 2nd, 2 January 1903 at St George, Hanover Square, London, May Eleanor (1875-1961), daughter of Brig-Gen. Arthur Broadwood CVO, and had issue:
(2.1) Ronald Edmond Balfour (1904-45), born 2 January 1904; educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge (MA 1929); Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, 1928-39 and Lecturer in History, 1930-39; he was unmarried and without issue; in the Second World War he joined the Ministry of Information and in 1941 was commissioned in the King's Royal Rifle Corps (Capt.); he was seconded to the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program under the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied armies and was killed in action, 10 March 1945, while operating beyond the Allied front line at Cleves, seeking out artworks to be protected from war damage; he is buried in Reichswald Forest War Cemetery;
(2.2) Margaret Eleanor Rosamond Balfour (1906-95), born 9 February 1906; educated at University College, London and University College Hospital (MD 1947; BS 1948; DPH 1949); MRCS and MRCP in 1952; an officer in Royal Army Medical Corps (Lt., 1942); married, 23 June 1952, Rev. Alan Eric Gray, son of Rev. Edgar Arnold Gray, and had no issue but adopted one son and one daughter; lived on Putney Hill, London SW15; died Oct-Dec 1995;
(2.3) Kenneth George Francis Balfour (1909-98), born 14 June 1909; educated at Eton and Harvard University (USA); he had ambitions to be a journalist and went to Spain as a freelance reporter on the Spanish Civil War; during the Second World War he served with 1st Dragoons, 1939-45 (Maj.), was awarded the MC, and acted as a war photographer; from 1947 he established a chain of newsagents and became managing director of Balfour News and associated companies; lived at Quoitings, Marlow (Bucks) and was a member of Marlow UDC and twice Mayor of Marlow; travelled extensively and adventurously; married, 1978, Heather Whitaker (d. 1985), physiotherapist, but had no issue; in her memory he established the Private Physiotherapy Educational Foundation, 1988; died 25 January 1998;
(2.4) Andrew David Arthur Balfour (1911-94), born 12 May 1911; educated at Eton, Magdalene College, Cambridge (BA 1933) and Middle Temple (called to bar, 1936); barrister-at-law; served in Second World War with Coldstream Guards (Maj.) and was awarded MBE, 1945; married, 7 June 1947 at Holy Trinity, Brompton (Middx), Joan Buchanan (d. 1993), daughter of Dr. Paul A.H. King FRCP of Victoria, British Columbia (Canada), and had issue two daughters; lived at Beech House, Shalford (Surrey); died 29 July 1993; will proved 17 January 1994 (estate £56,995);
(2.5) Violet Rosemary Balfour (1913-98), born 18 February 1913; married 1st, 3 October 1935, Maj. (Charles) Vere Broke (d. 1944), only son of Lt-Col. Harry Broke Broke of Gladwyns, Hatfield Heath (Essex) and had issue one son; married 2nd, 7 November 1946 (div. 1960), Roy McGregor Saunders, third son of William Mill Saunders of Radlett (Herts), and had issue one daughter; lived at Droxford (Hants); died 4 March 1998; will proved 12 June 1998;
(2.6) Nicholas Robert Balfour (1915-2002), born 17 August 1915; educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge; served in Second World War with Royal Army Ordnance Corps (Lt., 1939) and Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers (Maj.); married, 16 September 1949, Nancy Bately (1912-2004), daughter of Horace Bately Allard of Sydney (Australia) and previously wife of Robert Henville Simonds, and had issue two sons and two daughters; died at Kingham Lodge (Oxon), 8 August 2002 and was buried at Loders (Dorset), where he is commemorated by a tombstone.
He purchased The Knowle at Sidmouth, which had been a hotel since 1882 and had failed, and turned into into a successful hotel which operated until 1968. In the same year he bought Brownsea Castle on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour in 1891. After the house birned down in 1896, he moved to Bournemouth, and when restoration was complete, he sold the island in 1901. He bought Kingston Maurward House (Dorset) in 1906 and moved in 1914 to Steepleton Manor, Winterbourne Steepleton (Dorset), where he lived until his death.
He died 8 September 1936 and was buried in Bournemouth; he is commemorated by a monument in Salisbury Cathedral. His first wife died after a long illness, 23 March 1901 and was buried at Bournemouth. His widow lived at Marlow (Bucks) and died 26 July 1961; her will was proved 13 November 1961 (estate £49,128).


Burke's Landed Gentry, 1972, p. 39; H. Meller, The country houses of Devon, 2015, pp. 920-22;

Location of archives

No significant accumulation is known to survive, but some papers may remain in private hands.

Coat of arms

Argent, on a chevron sable between three lions passant gules, an otter's head erased of the field.

Notes about missing information and help wanted with this entry

  • Can anyone supply additional photographs or portraits of members of this family whose names appear in bold above?

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 19 October 2018 and was updated 27 January 2020, 23 May 2021 and 28 May 2022. I am grateful to Henry Balfour for additional images.


  1. Nicholas Robert Balfour 17 August 1915-2002 attained the rank of Major during WW2


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.