Frances Billinge 2020

Figure 1. Milverton before part was demolished in 1986. Michael Steer.

Milverton was a large house, originally divided in two which overlooked the common land used for the town’s recreation (Figure 1).


The Gulielmus map of c.1640 is the earliest known map of Bovey Tracey (Fig. 2).[1] In the middle of the lower half of the map the road to Newton Abbot can be seen. The area to the left of this which later became the Ashburton Road was part of the common grazing land known as Heathfield.

Figure 2. Gulielmus Map of Bovey Tracey c. 1641, by kind permission of Devon Heritage Centre. The arrow points to the Newton Abbot Road.

In 1765 Benjaimn Donn’s map of Devonshire was produced (Fig. 3).[2] This showed the road to Ashburton on the ‘Heath Field’ to the right of ‘Indiho’ today called Indio.

Figure 3. Benjamin Donn Map of Devonshire 1765. The arrow marks the road to Ashburton.

The next map was the Tithe Map of 1839 (Fig. 4).[3] This showed the road to Ashburton across Bovey Heathfield still had no houses on it.

Figure 4. Bovey Tracey Tithe Map 1841. The arrow marks the unfenced road to Ashburton. By kind permission of Devon Heritage Centre,


In 1851 the first building was erected on the corner of land where the Newton Road met the Ashburton Road. This was the church of St John the Evangelist built as a chapel at ease to the parish church (Fig. 5).

Figure 5.  St John the Evangelist from the Ashburton Road.

In 1861 St John’s School, an infant schoolroom, was built on the Ashburton Road opposite the church of St John the Evangelist (Fig. 6). This was the second building in the area. Some time after 1885 when Rev. Henry Martin Wickham became the vicar the room became known as Wickham Hall.[4]

Figure 6. St Johns School, later named Wickham Hall. Frances Billinge 2018.

At the time of the 1871 census the only house on the Ashburton Road was Heathfield House (Fig. 7). This was a large residence built on the corner between Avenue Road, and Newton Road. It was built by George Tapper a local mason and builder. He was the father of the famous architect Sir Walter John Tapper. Tapper built other local houses such as Heathfield Terrace.

Figure 7. Heathfield House. By kind permission of Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust.

By 1878 another large house was built nearby. It was named St Mary’s and built behind the church of St John the Evangelist (Fig. 8). This was the rather grand residence of Adela Divett, niece of John Divett who owned the local pottery company. Adela was an orphan who had inherited a fortune. Her house fronted on the church with a coach entrance on the Newton Road and her property extended to the Ashburton Road.[5]

Figure 8.  St Mary’s viewed from Ashburton Road.  Frances Billinge 2019.


1881 By the time of the 1881 Census two semi-detached houses called Milverton had been built on a plot on the Ashburton Road (Fig. 9). It is not known why these houses were built and the answer might be that this land became available. The building had bells for servants in each room, and a large cellar with a well.

Figure 9. Milverton .By kind permission of Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust.

Figure 9 shows the original building of Milverton with a later extension at the far end. Part of the first house on the left-hand side together with its chimney, was demolished to make way for the bypass which opened in 1987. An illustration of that part of Milverton at the time of the demolition can be seen in The Bovey Book.[6]

Figure 10. Milverton in 2021. This shows part of the original Milverton on the left-hand side with the right hand section and lean-to being a later extension.  Frances Billinge.

Figure 11. Milverton seen from the Recreation Ground. This illustrates how the house stood on its own. Note that only one chimney remains as the other chimney was demolished – see Figure 8.  Frances Billinge 2021

The OS map of 1887 shows St John the Evangelist, St Mary’s, St John’s Schoolroom and Milverton, together with Heathfield House as the only buildings on the Ashburton Road (Fig. 12).

Figure 12. 1887 OS Map Bovey Tracey


There is a parish and village in Somerset called Milverton and another in Warwickshire. Possibly the builder or first owner of the house named it after one of these places perhaps because of a family connection.


Milverton was initially two residences. The first occupiers we know of were Jonas Parnell and James Cole. Both had moved there by the time of the 1881 Census.

James Coles was a local-born general labourer who lived with his wife and child in one home. We do not know if he owned or rented the property but it is unlikely that a labourer could have afforded to buy a house. Coles was there in 1881 but by 1891 had moved to live at Level Crossing near Dunley House and was a railway worker.

By 1891 Emanuel Underdown, a gardener from Pinhoe lived with his wife and two children as Parnell’s neighbour. His part of Milverton had at least five rooms. We know that part of Milverton then had paying guests and it is most likely that this was a business run by the Underdowns. This would have been in response to developing tourism in the area. In 1893 Sir E. Ashmead Bartlett M.P., Lady Bartlett and party stayed at Milverton.[7] In 1895 an advertisement was placed for a cook with the address rather grandly given as Milverton House.[8] Underdown was successful as ten years later he was the resident head gardener and domestic head of house at Blenheim House on Brimley Road. This house was being run as a private residential hotel. By 1901 Emily Stella Chamberlain a forty-two year old widow of private means from London lived at Milverton with two servants and a lodger. By 1911 she had moved to Rosario on Brimley Road where she had eight rooms and four servants

In 1881 Jonas Parnell was living in the other half of Milverton. He was born in Rattery in 1838, his father was a mason. Bovey railway station opened in 1866 and by 1871 Jonas was living in one of St John’s Cottages on the Newton Road with his second wife Mary who was born in Dawlish, the daughter of his first marriage, and Adela Hastings Divett. At this time Parnell was the local station master and his wife ran the house as a lodging house, hence the presence of Adela Divett.

By 1881 Jonas Parnell was no longer the station master.  That position had been taken over by William Tucker who lived in one of Heathfield Cottages on the Newton Road. Presumably being a coal merchant was more lucrative for Jonas Parnell who had by then moved to Milverton.

Jonas Parnell began to develop various business interests and in 1881 he was also an agent for the Provident Life Assurance Company pensions as advertised in the local press.[9] By 1882 he sat on the Grand Jury of the Devon Assizes which indicates that he was well respected.[10] At this time he was also elected as assistant overseer of Bovey Tracey, this again was an important civic position.[11] In 1883 he was elected as registrar of births and deaths for the Chudleigh district.[12] Jonas Parnell continued to increase his civic duties and in 1887 the Ratepayers’ Association re-elected him as clerk and collector to the highway surveyor.[13] He was also involved in local politics and in the 1889 Bovey Tracey Division of the County Council elections acted as the personation agent for Mr Hole of Parke.[14]

Jonas Parnell continued to live in one half of Milverton and was there for the 1891 Census. By then his occupation was assistant registrar and collector of rates and taxes. He was living with his wife Mary and son Edward. They had at least five rooms. It was not long before he became the secretary of Mr Hole’s newly built endowed grammar school. This was at Lowerdown, now named The Edgemoor, and replaced the ancient endowed ‘grammar’ school which had been in small premises on Fore Street. This would have been a prestigious post for Jonas Parnell.[15]

By 1901, still living at Milverton, Jonas Parnell continued as the assistant overseer for local births and deaths and was also the presiding officer for the Rural District Council and Parish Council elections.[16] No other houses had yet been built on the Ashburton Road. The only houses nearby were Shanghai and Blenheim House on Brimley Road.

In 1903 Jonas Parnell’s wife Mary died. The write up in the press showed how well respected the family were, ‘All the shops were partially closed and blinds drawn in the widows of the route. All principal tradesmen and farmers there’.[17] Soon after this Jonas Parnell resigned his posts and moved away. In 1917 his grandson Leslie Reginal Parnell was killed in action in WWI.[18] Jonas Parnell  died in 1919 in Surbiton Surrey where he was living with his son and interestingly this house was also named Milverton.[19] His son later lived in Paignton and he too named his house Milverton.[20] More houses were being built on the road to Brimley but none on the Ashburton Road as illustrated by the 1906 OS map drawn in 1904 (Fig. 13).

Figure 13. 1906 OS Map Bovey Tracey.

On the 1911 Census only one residence was listed at Milverton where Constance de Rougemont of Bloomsbury, a seventy-year-old single person of private means lived with her sister Hermine[sic] who had been born in Switzerland. They had a lodger and two servants and twelve rooms so the two homes of Milverton had been converted in to one. Hermine Rougemont was still living at there when she died in 1932.[21] In 1926-1927 Reverend Ernest Courtenay lived there presumably as a lodger, he had previously lived at St Mary’s. Other names on the electoral roll were Miss Dora Black 1929-1931 and Miss Ethel Mary Steer 1929-31.

 On the OS map of 1938 Milverton was shown as divided into three residences . By then more house had been built on the Ashburton Road including Hilary, Devonia, Shaptor View and Clovelly.

In 1939 the death of John Rickard of Milverton was reported, he had been the Chair of the Constitutional Club.[22]

We know from the 1939 register that Francis and Alice Hicks were living there. He was the relieving officer registrar of births and deaths which suggests the house went with the job. Evelyn Rice a cashier was living at 2 Milverton. Arthur Mitchell a butcher was also at Milverton with his wife Louise and his daughter  Mrs Dorothy M. Brimblecombe a cashier.[23] The Brimblecombes left Milverton c 1975.


As yet we do not know the reason behind the name Milverton. It was built at a time when Bovey Tracey was expanding and the tourist trade was developing. Do contact me if your family lived at Milverton after 1939 and would like me to add this information, or if you know who the builder was or why the house was called Milverton.


I would like to thank the current owners and previous occupiers for information they have shared with me. Also thanks to Michael Steer for his photograph of Milverton before part was demolished.


[1] Devon Heritage Centre 2802Z, Gulielmus Map of Manor of Bovey Tracey c.1640.

[2] W. L. D.  Ravenhill, 1965. Benjamin Donn’s Map of Devon, Devon and Cornwall Record Society, Martlesham Sussex, Boydell and Brewer, available electronically through; Devon Heritage Centre, Benjamin Donn’s Map 1765, 1685Z/P/1).

[3] Tracey Tithe Map; DRO/DEX/4/a/TA/50/Bovey Tracey 1839.

[4] Richard Stanton. www. accessed 5 January 2021)

[5] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 21 August 1878, p. 3; April Marjoram April Marjoram, 2016. Edward Divett, M. P. for Exeter and the Bystock Estate, Exmouth. Rep Trans. Devon. Ass. Advmt Sci., 148, 165-190.

[6] Roy Wills, 2004. Highways in Veronica Kennedy, The Bovey Book, Bovey Tracey Cottage publishing, p. 77.

[7] The Gentlewoman 7 October 1893, p. 80.

[8] Western Morning News 30 September 1895, p. 2.

[9] The Western Times 12 September1881, p. 1.

[10] The Western Times 29 June 1882, p. 4.

[11] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 21 December 1882, p. 3.

[12] Op. Cit., 12 January1883, p.1.

[13] Express and Echo 22 May 1887, p. 4.

[14] The Western Times 18 January 1889, p. 2.

[15] North Devon Journal 17 August 1893, p. 4.

[16] Totnes Weekly Times 30 March 1891, p. 3.

[17] The Western Times 17 April 1903, p. 13.

[18] Mark Bailey, 2016. Smitten Down Yet Not Destroyed Bovey Tracey Heritage Trust, p. 47.

[19] Probate 1919

[20] Op. cit.,1958.

[21] Electoral roll

[22] Exeter and South Devon Express 14 April 1939, p. 5.

[23] 1939 Register