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Origins - 13th Century

In the middle ages, the Old Manor House in Charmouth was part of a complex of buildings and lands that were under the purview of the Cistercian monks at Forde Abbey in nearby Chard. The first likely reference to the property is from 1290, when the then Abbott established a set of burrage properties along the old Roman road – now known as The Street – in Charmouth. Burrage properties comprised a dwelling facing and close to the road, and then a long narrow plot to the rear. In the case of the Old Manor House, this stretched back until it met the high stone wall that encircled the monastic holdings of Charmouth (much of the original wall can still be seen from the recreational ground). One of the conditions of ownership for the burrage property ‘tenant’ was a requirement to pay an annual fee to the abbey. This land pattern is still very evident in today’s Old Manor House, with its close frontage to The Street and then a long, narrow strip of land at the back, ending where it meets the ancient high perimeter stone wall. The land holding comprised, and still does, an orchard, and in earlier times it would also have been home to a chicken coop and a modest kitchen garden.


The manor house was a sizeable dwelling – it was not to be divided into three properties until the 1820s. It was stone faced, and by the early sixteenth century had six fireplaces. In a contemporary ‘hearth tax’ ledger, it was the biggest single dwelling in Charmouth. The windows were constructed from small leaded- glass panes. It does not seem that it was used for clerical or religious purposes - and was likely rented out or used as a guest house for lay visitors. It took the name ‘The Manor House’ and the owner assumed the title Lord of the Manor of Charmouth.


Following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, Forde Abbey and its property holdings were acquired by the crown. In 1564 the Old Manor House was sold by Elizabeth I for £25/- to two local merchants – the Caldwell brothers. They in turn then sold it to a wealthy landowner Sir William Petrie, who bought it as an investment. There is no evidence that he ever visited Charmouth, let alone lived there and, ten years later, he sold it to one William Pole, who was local gentry from a prominent family based in Axminster.


There is nothing to be seen today of the property’s medieval roots but there remains physical evidence of improvements made in the Tudor period, notably the two fine moulded stone fireplaces in the forward facing ground and first floor rooms. Typical period features in these hearths include the ‘moulded stone jambs and Tudor archheads with recessed spandrels.’ These carved hearths were likely commissioned by Abbot Chard, who in the early sixteenth century was energetically upgrading Forde Abbey. Less visible, but again period pieces, are the ancient timber trusses that, hidden in the Gods, support the front roof. The seasoned oak doors leading from the entrance hallway to the rooms off either side are from the early seventeenth century, and retain the original wooden locking mechanisms. The stone floor in the entrance hall and rear living room is also probably a Jacobite addition.

Modernisation - 17th Century

In 1648, just before the English Civil War, a local merchant, William Ellesdon, bought the property - at last a ‘Lord of the Manor’ was to live there. Ellesdon himself was to play a bit role in national politics. He was a convinced royalist and tried to help the future King Charles II flee Cromwell’s forces. With Ellesdon’s active support, an attempt was made to smuggle the young prince to France on a small boat from Charmouth beach. But the escape had to be abandoned when news of the plan leaked - Charles would have to wait a further month before he finally made his escape from Brighton. Nevertheless, following the Restoration, Charles II remembered Ellesdon’s bravery and support and thereafter paid him an annual pension of £300/-. There is a memorial in St Andrew’s Church, albeit in Latin, attesting to the benevolence and fine qualities of William Ellesdon, Lord of the Manor.

William Ellesdon died in 1737, aged 79, and the property was inherited by his brother. On his passing, the title moved to a cousin, Richard Henville, who was a wealthy local merchant. On his death, in 1788, the property was auctioned, with all its fittings. The Old Manor House was bought by a local builder, Robert Davie. He died in 1803 and the property was sold to a William Bullen, in whose family’s hands it was to rest for over a century. The Bullens were not idle. Around 1821 they oversaw the modernisation of the Old Manor House, refacing the original Tudor stonework and replacing the small leaded Tudor glass windows with the larger sash windows we see today and which were then more in line with the elegant Regency villas that were gracing The Street. The rear kitchen and dining room, and the bedroom and living area above, probably date from this period. The Bullens also divided the property into the three separate units we see today, initially for family members to occupy, but then being successively sold off as independent properties.

Much modernisation and improvement has gone into The Old Manor House since these early days, but in essence the property is structured and looks much as it did in the early nineteenth century when Colonel Robert Bullen started his family’s lengthy engagement. The earlier foundations initiated by the Abbot of Forde in the late thirteenth century are not visible to the eye, but lie buried in the soul and fabric of this historic burrage property and residence of the Lord of the Manor.

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