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En route to West Devon recently we had time for a brief afternoon stop at this wonderful National Trust property just outside Tiverton.

The house was built by Sir John Heathcoat Amory, the grandson of John Heathcoat, creator of the mechanised bobbin lace making machine and owner of a lace factory in Tiverton.

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The foundation stone was laid in 1869, but it was not until 1873 that the elaborate interior designs were completed. William Burges, designer of Knightshayes, had a rocky relationship with the family and was fired half way through the project, leaving his imaginative vision incomplete.

Burges was replaced by another reputable designer, John Dibblee Crace, who turned out to be another ill-fated choice. Much of Crace’s work was covered up by the family, but later restored by the Trust.

We only had time to see the ‘Gothic Revival’ house and its colourful interiors (the Trust has imaginatively opened up some of the unrestored rooms too)  and quick tour of the formal gardens. These were originally designed by Edward Kemp (1817-1891), a reputable landscape gardener, but it fell into decline by the 1920s. Rescued by Sir John and Lady Heathcoat Amory, after the Second World War, the garden became one of the finest in England, winning the highest horticultural awards, with more than 1,200 species unique to Knightshayes. This garden has a very strong structure created by extensive Yew hedging and some amusing topiary animals scampering along the tops!

The restored Walled Garden was also an interesting spot, with its steeply sloping site being used to grow vines the ‘French Way’.

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Knightshayes is certainly worth another, longer visit, when we can also explore the woodland garden… on the way out we stopped at a new ‘natural play’ site which cleverly uses three huge toppled oak trees to create a series of walkways, swing points, tunnels and other features.

Further information: Knightshayes National Trust website

Old School Gardener

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