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HER Number:MDV8400
Name:Bowden House, Totnes


Documentary evidence suggests there was a house here in the 13th-14th century. The medieval house was transformed into a Tudor mansion by the wealthy John Giles and his son in the 16th century. A carved oak fireplace bears the date 1585. The south and east sides were enclosed by a suite of rooms added by Nicholas Trist circa 1705 in Queen Anne style with decorated plaster ceilings. Owners in the 19th century include William Adams, private secretary to William Pitt the Younger, and A.M. Singer of Singer sewing machines. During the Second World War the house was used as a billet for British, Canadian and US soldiers.


Grid Reference:SX 801 588
Map Sheet:SX85NW
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishTotnes
DistrictSouth Hams
Ecclesiastical ParishTOTNES

Protected Status

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SX85NW/4
  • Old Listed Building Ref: 426815

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • COUNTRY HOUSE (Built, XIII to XVIII - 1201 AD to 1800 AD (Between))

Full description

Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division, SX85NW4 (Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card). SDV144432.

Site visit 27th August 1951. The front (south-east side) and south-west side have been rebuilt in the 18th century in Queen Anne style. The rear and north-east side contain a good deal of earlier material. This includes a carved oak fireplace bearing the date 1585, a moulded granite perpendicular window and a granite embrasure in the same style. There is also a large perpendicular style granite arch in a wall immediately on the north side of the house. There seems sufficient evidence to date parts of the house to the 16th century.
The site of a medieval estate known to have separate existence at least as early as 14th century.

Oliver, G., 1846, Monasticon Diocesis Exoniensis, 240 (Monograph). SDV57424.

Reference to a chapel dedicated to the Trinitatis in the manor of Boghedon.

Kelly, 1910, Directory of Devonshire, 782 (Unknown). SDV296358.

Now vacant, formerly the seat of Giles. A rectangular building of stone chiefly dating from reign of Queen Anne, and incorporating the remains of a far older house, possibly erected in the time of Edward II.

Reichel, O. J., 1911, The Early History of the Hundred of Colridge, 207 (Article in Serial). SDV155641.

Some 14th and 15th century descents given. A licence for a private chapel was granted in 1417.

French, K. + French, C., 1957, Devonshire Plasterwork, 134, Fig. 15 (Article in Serial). SDV4676.

Rococo ceiling dated circa 1710 (period 4).

Humphreys, C., 2003, Bowden House, Totnes, Devon: Desk-Based Archaeological Assessment (Report - Assessment). SDV352008.

The house comprises the domestic range with a small courtyard and stable block to the rear. It shows evidence of several phases of build, the most prominent being the Tudor hall which was enclosed to the south and east by a suite of rooms added circa 1705.
The desk-based study suggests that the site may have been occupied since the 13th century and that the extant house may contain the remains of a 15th building. The changes of ownership and associated changes of fortune in the early 16th and 18th centuries are reflected in the fabric of the building and in the layout of the immediate surrounding landscape.
Documentary evidence suggests that the present house has its origins in the 13th century. However, it is possible that Bowden was one of the 15 burgesses outside the borough of Totnes referred to in the Domesday Book 0f 1086.
There are documentary references to a dwelling here in the 14th century and in 1417 a licence was granted for an oratory in the chapel of the Holy Trinity at Bogheden and from the early 15th century Bowden appears in the assessment rolls for Totnes.
Bowden came into the possession of the Giles family circa 1510. John Giles is recorded in 1522 as the richest man in Devon and it was he, together with his son, who transformed the medieval house into a Tudor mansion. The Giles family held Bowden until the end of the 17th century. In 1704 the property was sold to Nicholas Trist who turned the Tudor mansion into a gentleman's residence in neo-classical style. The house was subsequently sold in 1800 to William Adams, private secretary to William Pitt the Younger and an MP for Totnes and in 1887 to A.M. Singer of Singer sewing machines.
During the Second World War it became a billet for a succession of British, Canadian and US military units. After the war it became a small specialist school. By 1960 though the house was in a dilapidated state and the then owners applied for permission to demolish which was refused. Subsequent owners restored the property and it was open to the public for a time as a visitor attraction and as a photographic museum.
See report for full details.

Humphreys, C., 2004, Bowden House, Totnes, Devon: Results of Archaeological Evaluation Trenches, 2.0 (Report - Evaluation). SDV347862.

Archaeological trench evaluation to the east and south-east of Bowden House revealed the remains of a wall and a possible garden feature, and traces of a former track. Finds included pottery and other material of post-medieval or later date.

van Koten, H., 2013, Bowden House: Fire Separation of North Wing from Bowden House, Historic Impact Assessment, 3; Figure 3 (Report - Assessment). SDV356321.

On first approach Bowden's primary facades provide a consistent and refined 18th century screen to the mixture of ages and styles of its much remodelled interior. The massive rendered chimney stacks, some with their roots in the 16th century, appear a little crude in contrast to the cleanly square dressed stone of the south and west elevations. These elevations together contain 30 well proportioned openings with two main entrances and 30 sliding sash windows, all set within polished alabaster architraves. The secondary elevations to the east and north display much more clearly the many modifications made over time and incorporate masonry remnants and leftovers from previous builds.
See report for full details, plan and photographs.

English Heritage, 2013, National Heritage List for England (National Heritage List for England). SDV350785.

Circa 1509 manor house built for John Gyles, remodelled with new south-east and south-west fronts circa 1700-4 for Nicholas Trist. 2 storeys. South-east facade, symmetrical with central entrance; 5 bay with fenestration 2:1:1:1:2. South-west facade, also symmetrical with 5 bays and fenestration 2:2:1:2:2. Hipped Welsh slate roof with rendered stacks. Devonian limestone ashlar with pilasters carrying entablature and parapet, plain 1st floor band. Architraved sash windows with glazing bars. Main entrance with architraved doorway, console bracketed entablature with pulvinated frieze and ½ glazed door (garden entrance with similar doorway with pediment]: early C19 glazed porch. C16 range at rear with original doorways to former screen's passage; original main entrance (now internal doorway) of granite with arched head, moulded square surround with carved spandrels and hoodmould (similar doorway reused in C19 stable range. 3-light mullioned window with cavetto mouldings and hoodmould over former rear entrance. Early C19 stable block adjoining C16 range with arcaded stable yard. Symmetrical stable block with honey-comb brick treatment to 1st floor hay lofts, possibly for ventilation. Outbuildings incorporate doorway (see above) and other carved fragments from the C16 house. Interior Former Tudor hall, later the kitchen, retains a moulded plaster ceiling decorated with rib work and part of figured frieze; open fireplaces, one with early C18 mantle. C18 front room with earlier C17 panelling (brought from elsewhere in the old house) and similarly a fine carved chimneypiece with elaborate coat of arms and crowned supporters inscribed below Holophernies and Judith with date 1585. Elaborate C18 plasterwork to entrance hall including doorcase, niches, chimney- piece etc. Naturalistic classical ceiling. Medallion of Charles I dated 1735. Large panelled room over entrance hall. Fine mid C18 open staircase with open string, closely spaced, turned balusters, column newels and swept, moulded handrail.

Ordnance Survey, 2020, MasterMap 2020 (Cartographic). SDV363413.

Bowden House marked.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV144432Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Card: Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division. SX85NW4. OSAD Card. Card Index.
SDV155641Article in Serial: Reichel, O. J.. 1911. The Early History of the Hundred of Colridge. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 43. A5 Hardback. 207.
SDV296358Unknown: Kelly. 1910. Directory of Devonshire. Directory. Unknown. 782.
SDV347862Report - Evaluation: Humphreys, C.. 2004. Bowden House, Totnes, Devon: Results of Archaeological Evaluation Trenches. Southwest Archaeology Report. A4 Comb Bound + Digital. 2.0.
SDV350785National Heritage List for England: English Heritage. 2013. National Heritage List for England. Historic Houses Register. Digital.
SDV352008Report - Assessment: Humphreys, C.. 2003. Bowden House, Totnes, Devon: Desk-Based Archaeological Assessment. Colin Humphreys & Associates. A4 Grip Bound + Digital.
SDV356321Report - Assessment: van Koten, H.. 2013. Bowden House: Fire Separation of North Wing from Bowden House, Historic Impact Assessment. VX Design Consultants. Digital. 3; Figure 3.
SDV363413Cartographic: Ordnance Survey. 2020. MasterMap 2020. Ordnance Survey Digital Mapping. Digital.
SDV4676Article in Serial: French, K. + French, C.. 1957. Devonshire Plasterwork. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 89. A5 Hardback. 134, Fig. 15.
SDV57424Monograph: Oliver, G.. 1846. Monasticon Diocesis Exoniensis. Monasticon Diocesis Exoniensis. Unknown. 240.

Associated Monuments

MDV103836Related to: Cobbled Surface to East of Bowden House (Monument)
MDV103837Related to: Possible Garden Wall to South-East of Bowden House (Monument)
MDV103835Related to: Wall to East of Bowden House (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:Jun 18 2020 10:51AM