Curious Devon: Escot House tour
PUBLISHED: 13:00 24 November 2019
Picture: Alex Walton
Curious Devon takes a look around the Georgian period mansion of Escot House near Ottery St Mary.
The 6th baronet of Escot - Sir John-Michael Kennaway 'Mish' - kindly opened the doors to Curious Devon on his 'Georgian sugar lump' home, Escot House.
The estate, which lies in the parish of Talaton, near Ottery St Mary, is steeped in history and records of its name can be traced as far back as 1227.
In 1794 the house and its 4,000 acres of land was bought by the Kennaway brothers - John and Richard - for £26,000.
Escot House, as it stands today, was rebuilt in 1837 following a fire, which gutted the original 17th century building in 1808.
Sir John is reputed to have said to the young lady who owned the dress which he thought caused the fire, 'my dear, I forgive you, but I never wish to see you again'.
The rebuild was slow and took nearly 30 years to complete.
This can be attributed to the fact that Sir John, who although a member of the board of a local fire insurance company, had not signed the documents to insure his own property.
Very few family valuables, furniture, china or books survived the great blaze.
One exception is a prized portrait of Lord Cornwallis, presented to the first Baronet when he left India and hangs in the library of the house.
Much of the 1,200 acres of grounds is now open to the public for family days out, festivals, concerts and animal attractions, but the house itself is still very much a family home, although some of the rooms can be booked out for conferences and weddings.
A striking feature of the property is a jungle-themed stairwell, which greets visitors as they enter through the main doors of the house.
Mish explains the inspiration behind the jungle decorated entrance: "a relation of mine, around the time of World War Two, who was living in Malaya, had started a rubber plantation and he decided to name it 'Escot' after this house.
"So reversing that, we went back to the jungle that he was in and decided to paint and create a jungle in the stairwell."
The 250 acres of parkland have long been attributed to the skills and vision of the famed designer Capability Brown but Mish explains that this is not the case.
"The park itself was thought to have been Capability Brown's with lots of signs of his work, such as the lake and the waterworks around the estate and hilltop plantings and views.
"But recently that's been shown to be somebody else's called Nathaniel Richmond who was a friend and neighbour of Capability Brown and worked in a similar style to him."
Curious Devon would like to thank Mish Kennaway for allowing access to the house and for sharing his knowledge about its history.
Send us your stories: Curious Devon is a new series of features highlighting interesting and special places from around the region and the people who live and work there. If you know of a place or a person you would like us to feature then get in touch and email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Further reading: more about the history of Escot House can be found on Olivia Kennaway's blog post: "ESCOT: The Fall and Rise of a Country Estate" - A social landscape.
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