Otterton - more than a picture postcard

Nostalgic look at the history of Otterton

DRIVE up Peak Hill in Sidmouth and keep on going and you will navigate your way to the delightful little village of Otterton.

Its history has been documented in a booklet entitled: All About Otterton, by Gerald Millington and Robert H Jones, who have gone behind the picture postcard views of the village to trace its foundations.

These stretch back to the Stone Age, with its nomads, then Celts, Romans, Saxons and Normans having settled in Otterton and left their marks.

The hill overlooking Otterton is called Anchoring Hill, believed to have come from the times when Otterton was a safe haven for shipping.

“In the reign of Henry II, a shop called La Godyer was using the port of Ottermouth, carrying 55 casks of wine,” says the booklet.

The Duke family owned Otterton and East Budleigh for 246 years and were Lords of the Manor until 1785. With no male heirs for two generations, John Heath Duke’s widow put the estate up for sale in 1779. However, an auction bid of �90,000 failed to materialise and the sale was withdrawn.

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In 1785, Denys Rolle, living at Bicton House, bought Otterton House and its estate for �72,000. He died in 1797 and was succeeded by son John, Lord Rolle (pictured), MP for Devonshire in 1779 and a vociferous supporter of William Pitt the younger and the Tory party.

For this devotion he was raised to the peerage as Baron Rolle of Stevenstone in 1796.

Otterton mill, which had always been under the direct control of the Lord of the Manor, was of vital importance to village economy, with farmers bringing their corn for milling.

“Clauses in their tenancies stated ‘and shall cause all the Corn, Grain and Malt, which shall be used…to be ground at the Mill of the said John, Lord Rolle’.”

Back in 1650 Church House was built to house paupers and in the 1841 Census, three women and a man aged 60-94 and an army pensioner and his wife lived there.

Two schools had been recorded in Otterton in 1744, a grammar school, kept by the vicar, “and one for reading, writing and arithmetic in a schoolroom at Crosstrees.”

When the church was rebuilt in 1870, the school part of Manor House was demolished and the present school built east of the church.

“It was planned to take 125 boys and girls and 69 infants. In 1887, the average attendance was 85 and 55 infants.”

John, Lord Rolle, died heirless in 1842 and his widow Louisa, Lady Rolle and her nephew Hon Mark Trefusis, brother of the 19th Baron Clinton, received the estate in trust until their deaths. In 1907 the present Lord Clinton’s great grandfather inherited the Rolle estates.

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