Saturday, 12 November 2015

Members will remember the very sorry state of Great Duryard from our visit in May 2014.   It was therefore a great joy for us to see what miracles had been performed to renovate it ready for use as a Steiner School this month. The gardens are still beautiful and the plethora of trees makes one feel one is out in the country.  Just to walk around the grounds is a joy.

The pets’ gravestones were still there.  We were told that they had had to be moved to make way for a new pathway but no bones remained.  The stones themselves have been relocated in the sunken garden nearby and are there for all to see and admire.

The Contract Manager, Tristam, had pointed out to us on our first visit the false wall in this room.  We were delighted to see that this had remained.  We later attempted, unsuccessfully, to photograph the partition behind the bay window at the front of the building.

We were honoured on Saturday to be taken on a tour of Great Duryard by the headmaster, Mr Swindell, notwithstanding the 200-odd people milling around the buildings all eager to see what Steiners had been done with the property.

The interior of the main house was exquisite.  The well-remembered staircase and the chequer board floor, and those glorious gracious rooms no longer displaying peeling paper and holes in the ceiling.  It was especially rewarding to see how beautifully the music room had been restored with its plaster architraves and decorations round the door. White on dove grey – like a beautiful Wedgewood plate!

Mr Swindell, the headmaster, pointed out to us all the beautiful doors which had been removed, stored, restored and returned to their locations.  Similarly, some wonderful plaques had been removed and restored and were now installed for us to admire.

We were told that, while GCSE students will have the honour of being educated in one of those glorious rooms, all other students are to be educated in the stables – well, not quite...

The stable buildings have been replaced by a superb structure with separate entrances for the junior school on the ground floor and for the senior school on the upper floor.  All the rooms are spacious and sunny and wonderfully appointed.  For instance the exercise rooms have sprung floors, and the music rooms are stocked with every type of instrument (apart from a piano – due for delivery the next day !)


 We were told the basement had been completely renovated and now houses the boiler room, electrical equipment etc. and was therefore off limits to children, school staff and even us.  In response to a question from one of our number, we were assured that the horrible fat fryer (complete with its pool of rancid fat!) had definitely gone!  

We ended our visit by wishing Mr Swindell and the Steiner Academy every success with this venture and reiterated how glad we are that such efforts have been made to restore and preserve Great Duryard.

Our member, Sue Jackson, had researched the history of Great Duryard and subsequently pointed out to us and Mr Swindell some interesting facts.


B.W.Clapp in his book The University of Exeter: A History [University of Exeter, 1982, p.82] records  that "Great Duryard an early 18th century mansion set in 14 acres of handsome grounds, was acquired in 1935 and re-named Thomas Hall after C.V.Thomas, a Cornish solicitor and businessman who was Chairman of Cornwall education committee and a friend and benefactor of the College [University College of the South West]."  


Appendix II of the book with 'Notes on the Buildings of the University of Exeter' notes that C.V.Thomas's "gift paid for the property".  Thomas Hall became a women's hall of residence, and the Historic Assessment which can be seen on, a website about the Duryard Estate, records that it ceased to be used as such in 2000/2001.   The University then used the building as a store for Hospitality Services during which time it was allowed to fall into decay.


The Historical Assessment also records that the earliest reference to the farmland can be traced back to 1585 with a house probably added between 1585 and 1661.  


The Archaeological Assessment [also on the website] includes a correction to the information quoted by other historians:  "Although Thomas Hall, previously Great Duryard, is traditionally regarded as being built between 1686 and 1691 by Sir Thomas Jefford, more detailed research shows that Sir Thomas built the property once known as South Duryard (today's Birks Hall)" [and since demolished].  


Various families were associated with the house from that date onwards: the Walker family (1662), the Adams family (late 17th century), the Bury family (1700-1759/60), and then in 1760 when it was sold to Richard Cross, a butcher.   Members of the Cross family (1760-c.1853) and later the Barnes family (c.1853-1919) are in evidence on censuses from 1841, details below.



Census entries


1841:   Cowley Bridge Road, Great Duryard: Francis Cross 65 Independent, plus 4 servants

*Francis Cross died June Quarter 1846 Exeter 10 69


1851:   … Duryard: Harriet Cross 78 Fundholder, plus 3 servants

*Harriet Cross [sister of Francis & Coplestone?] died June Quarter 1852 Exeter 5b 82


1861:   Cowley Road, Great Duryard: William Barnes 44 Widower, Devon Banker, 2 daughters, 2 sons, plus 5 servants


1871:   Cowley Bridge Road, Duryard: William Barnes 54 Widower, Banker and Landowner, 2 daughters, 3 sons, plus 7 servants


1881:   Cowley Road, Great Duryard: William Barnes 64 Widower, J.P. for Devon, Banker, 1 daughter, 1 visitor, plus 5 servants


1891:   Cowley Road, Great Duryard: William Barnes 74 Widower, J.P. & Banker, plus 4 servants

*William Barnes died March Quarter 1891 Exeter 5b 109 Age 74.


1901:   Not accessed, but see below.


1911:   Great Duryard: Augusta Maud Terry,* Wife, Head absent, 6 servants, 29 rooms


The following information was taken from the Historical Assessment:

1897    Directory: George Gerard Longden

1901:   Gardener/Caretaker and his wife

1903:   Great Duryard put up for sale.   Not sold and rented out

1906:   Tenant, Captain Herbert Durell Terry* - see above 1911 census

1919:   Directory: Rudolf Wissman

1923:   Directory: W.R.H.Chappell - died 8 December 928

1936:   University College of the South West


All talks are now on the second Thursday of alternate months (February, April, June, August, October & December).                                          All meetings start at 7 pm and are held at JURYS INN, Western Way, Exeter EX1 2DB.                                                                  Free parking is available from 6pm in the Triangle Car Park at the rear of Jurys.                                                                                Walks/visits are usually on the second Wednesday of alternate months (January, March, May, July, September November). 

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