Kennaway House: work in progress
WALK past the Three-Cornered Plot in Sidmouth today and the striking red brick frontage of Kennaway House stands out in its newly-restored glory. But this is not the only year work has been done to preserve this Regency building, built around 1805
WALK past the Three-Cornered Plot in Sidmouth today and the striking red brick frontage of Kennaway House stands out in its newly-restored glory.
But this is not the only year work has been done to preserve this Regency building, built around 1805, which was the former home of Sidmouth's first MP, Sir John Kennaway.
The first restoration took place some 100 years after it was built by Richard Wood, who, with his wife Elizabeth, moved to Sidmouth from Rugby in 1896.
He bought the house - then known as Fort House - for the sum of �3,170 from the trustees of the estate of its owner, Mr Hine Haycock, despite a higher offer from a property developer.
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At the time, the third Sir John was reported as saying: "That house had always been a great feature of Sidmouth and if it had been pulled down to make way for rows of modern houses it would have been a great loss to the town."
When it was built by a Mr Philips, Fort House was intended as a place to hold receptions and parties for the elite in Sidmouth society.
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Sir John bought it from him not long after Escot, the Kennaway family home, burnt to the ground in 1808.
Fort House was back on the market in 1888 after being sold to retired solicitor Hine Haycock by Sir John in 1879. Mr Haycock returned to London and it was sold to the Woods after his death.
The Woods had been great benefactors to their native town and continued such generosity in Sidmouth, funding various projects, including the purchase and gift to the town of land that is now Blackmore Gardens.
They also provided the town with its first steam fire engine in 1902. Called the Belmont, an official ceremony was organised, with a display by the fire service, and the town was decked with flags and cheering crowds lined the streets to the Ham Field.
The fire station had an arch erected with the inscription Success to the Sidmouth Fire Brigade says John Ankins in his book Sidmouth's Fire Service.
He writes: "Mr Wood's wife was unable to be present through ill health. Mr Wood asked Miss Roberts to light the fire in the engine. It took seven minutes and forty seconds to get up steam, Mr Wood was asked to start the engine for the first time."
As a memento he accepted a small gold model of the fire engine, which later became known as The Greenwich Gem, the type made by manufacturers Messrs Merryweather and Sons of London.
Mr Wood had largely made his money through partnership with his wife's brother in an iron merchants' business in Manchester, while Elizabeth Hatton Wood was wealthy in her own right.
She left �83,478 on her death in 1904 and, following her wishes, Richard Wood bought Fort House, refurbished it and converted it into two residences. It also became known as Church House.
Kennaway Trust's history of the house states: "The new name reflected Mrs Wood's concern that Sidmouth did not have a place for the social activities of the parish."
Sir John Kennaway stated: "For the lack of a building like that there were...many young fellows who went to the bad..."
Despite its name, Church House did not mean it belonged to, or was financed by, the church. In 1906 the house was dedicated for use as a church house by the Bishop of Crediton and for the benefit of the community. It remains so today and its new name links it firmly to Sidmouth's historic past.