Simonsbath - History - Purchase By Fortescues

Purchase By Fortescues

The reversion of the Simonsbath estate, (referred to also as the "Exmoor estate" by the Fortescues) comprising about 20,000 acres of Exmoor, was purchased from Sir Frederick Knight, following the early death of his only son Frederick Sebright Winn Knight, JP, Deputy Lieutenant of Somerset, in 1879 aged only 28, by Viscount Ebrington, the future Hugh Fortescue, 4th Earl Fortescue (1854-1932), whose family's principal seat was Castle Hill, Filleigh, ten miles SW of Simonsbath. It is thought he was mainly motivated in his purchase by his great fondness for stag-hunting; he served as Master, and later Chairman, of the Devon and Somerset Staghounds. A painting of him out hunting by Lionel Edwards is owned by his grand-daughter Lady Margaret Fortescue. He established, with other landowners, the Badgworthy Land Company, to which were conveyed some freehold land around Badgworthy Water and also the hunting rights in perpetuity over much of the land on Exmoor and of that surrounding it. This was designed to ensure that future owners of piecemeal plots, unfavourably disposed to hunting, would not be able to restrict access to the historic wide expanses of hunting land used by the Devon & Somerset Staghounds and local foxhound packs. When Castle Hill burned down in 1934 the 5th Earl Fortescue resided with his wife and two young daughters at Simonsbath House, previously only used by the family as a hunting box, then named Diana Lodge after the Roman goddess of the hunt, moving back to the rebuilt Castle Hill in May 1936. Lady Margaret Fortescue expressed very fond memories of her childhood at Simonsbath, where she lived between the ages of 11 to 13, having been brought up at Ebrington Manor in Gloucestershire until the family's move to Castle Hill in 1932 on the death of her grandfather the 4th Earl. She recalled in 2001 that Diana Lodge then had panelled rooms downstairs, still in existence, with primitive bedrooms upstairs, linoleum on the floor and one bathroom between the whole family. It was always cold and was heated by smoky peat fires. There was a large team of domestic staff to serve the family, including butler, footman, valet, lady's maid, housemaids, cook, kitchen maids a scullery maid and odd-job man, some of whom lived in the village. Much of her time was spent hunting on Exmoor with the rest of her family and her young cousins, the children of her uncle Hon. Denzil Fortescue who later became the 6th Earl, who had rented nearby Emmett's Grange.

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