Bletchley Park -Links with Bovey Tracey

Bletchley Park – Links with Bovey Tracey

Malcolm Billinge 2018

 We have written about five prestigious families who lived in Bovey Tracey during the nineteenth century and who were all closely linked through marriage – Buller, Divett, Fox-Strangways, Hughes and Lewin (all under ‘People’ on this site) A sixth such family was Phillpotts whose non-Bovey Tracey members included Bishop Henry Phillpotts (1778-1869), and Eden Phillpotts (1862-1960) the renowned Dartmoor author.

Sir Ralegh Buller Phillpotts (1871-1950) was a great-grandson of the bishop and a first cousin once removed of Eden Phillpotts. The Phillpotts and the Buller families, both with strong historical links to Cornwall were closely related through marriage and Raleigh’s grandfather William, the archdeacon of Cornwall had married Louisa Buller, daughter of James Buller of Downes.

Ralegh had close links with Bovey Tracey. His father William Francis (1837-1909) married Gertrude Caroline Buller (1837-1923), daughter of Capt. Thomas Wentworth Buller who in 1843 had entered into a partnership with John Divett to buy and redevelop the Bovey Pottery. John Divett and Capt. Buller had married each other’s sisters and consequently Ralegh was a first cousin once removed of John’s daughter Miss Mary Divett who lived at Bridge House, Bovey Tracey until her death in 1914.

Furthermore, William Francis Phillpott’s sister, Georgiana Maria (1844-1937) was the second wife of William Templer Hughes. This made Georgiana Hughes Ralegh’s aunt and her four children his first cousins. They lived at Dunley House, Bovey Tracey in the 1880s and 1890s (Figure 1).


Fig. 1. Dunley House, Bovey Tracey. Malcolm Billinge 2016.

One cousin, Gertrude married John Leslie Hunter at Bovey Tracey in 1900 with John staying at Bradley House beforehand and he was to become involved in Ralegh’s most noteworthy business enterprise.

William Templer Hughes’ first wife had been Katherine Buller who, like Gertrude was also a daughter of Capt. Buller and therefore also an aunt of Ralegh.

Ralegh was educated at Winchester College and then Balliol College, Oxford.[1] His first known time in Bovey Tracey was in 1887 when he attended a Juvenile Fancy Dress Ball at the Dolphin Hotel.[2] A little later the 1891 census recorded eighteen year-old Oxford student Ralegh staying at Bradley House, Bovey Tracey with his aunts Catherine and Sybilla Phillpotts.[3]

Ralegh was called to the bar in 1894. He practised in London and developed his business interests, one of which was to prove of national importance. [4]

Ralegh’s cousin Mary Divett, lived in her family home at Bridge House, Bovey Tracey and died in 1914. From 1904 she had leased some of her Bovey Tracey lands to Ralegh.[5] There are 1918 -1920 references to Ralegh’s abode then being Bridge House whilst he also occupied Woods, and Colesworthy in Ilsington parish which had previously been one of Mary Divett’s land holdings.[6] Ralegh owned marsh land, previously held by the Divetts, behind the Bovey Pottery where there was a fire in 1922 and by this date as Capt. R. Phillpotts he and his wife Jean were living at Rora House, Liverton which he had bought in 1921.[7]

Ralegh and his family lived at Rora House during the inter-war years and he was active as a Justice of the Peace and a keen huntsman.[8]

Ralegh was knighted in 1946 in part for his long-standing civic contributions but also on account of his important business enterprise.

During the second world war Ralegh was the managing director of the British Tabulating Machine Company, a business he had been involved in establishing much earlier on in the century.[9] His cousin Gertrude’s husband John Hunter was also involved in this company as a director.[10]




Fig.2.Bletchley Park


The British Tabulating Machine Company (BTM) provided equipment at Bletchley Park including the ‘bombes’ that were conceived of by Alan Turing but designed by BTM’s chief engineer (Figure 2). These machines helped in the decoding of the German ‘Enigma’ machine cyphers. [11]

Sir Ralegh died at Rora House in 1950 aged seventy-eight leaving his widow, two sons and one daughter.[12]

We have met people living in Bovey Tracey who remember Ralegh’s son Alan who also died locally, in 1987.

If you have a relative who lived in Bovey Tracey and was in some way involved with Bletchley Park or who knew the Phillpotts family we would be most interested to hear from you.


[1] Britain School & University rolls 1914-1918.

[2] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 30 December, 1887, p. 6.

[3] The National Archives 1881 Census.

[4] Balliol College Register.

[5] DHC 4622M/T/26-28 lease 1904 and counterpart lease 1908 for lignite beds Bovey Tracey Divett to Phillpotts.

[6] London, England, City Directories, 1736-1943 / Electoral Registers..

[7] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 1 June 1922, p. 4.

[8] Ibid. 25 August, 1925, p. 7.

[9] The Times 28 May, 1919, p. 22; Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History –; DHC 6705M/F archivist notes on family history.

[10] 1939 Register Transcription.

[11] Western Morning News 2 January, 1946, p. 3; British Tabulating Machine Company

[12] Ibid. 2 October, 1950, p.3.