The Fox-Strangways of Bovey Tracey

Malcolm Billinge and Frances Billinge 2017

(The Fox-Strangways family is also mentioned in The Suez Canal- Links with Bovey Tracey, under Discoveries on this site)

Members of four higher-status families from East Devon moved into the parish of Bovey Tracey during Queen Victoria’s reign. The Divetts from Bystock, Withycombe Raleigh, the Bullers from Strete Raleigh, Whimple, the Hughes from Woodhayes, Whimple and the Fox-Strangways from Rewe. The Hughes and the Fox-Strangways members were closely related to the Buller family via female lines.

This is one of four companion articles which give details of each family’s connections with Bovey Tracey, and each narrative includes examples of social events attended by members of the different families. The reason for them coming to Bovey Tracey would appear to involve the Bovey Pottery and the Lignite Works and consequently each article also makes reference to details that support this suggestion.

John Divett and Captain Thomas Wentworth Buller established the Bovey Tracey Pottery Company in 1843, and their families played significant roles in the development of Bovey Tracey during Victorian times. The Fox-Strangways family played an interesting yet lesser role and this article highlights  some of the links between this family and both the Divetts and also the Bullers ‘of Bovey Tracey’. The Fox-Strangways had an aristocratic pedigree and the future eighth earl of Ilchester lived for a time at front House on East Street.

Walter (1833-1885) and Harriett Fox-Strangways (1832-1903) – links with the Buller family, an accidental death.
Harriett Fox-Strangways and her two daughters Violet and Mary were living at Front House, East Street, Bovey Tracey in 1891 and 1901 while her three sons were embarked upon their careers elsewhere. How this family came to be connected with Bovey Tracey is the main theme of this article.

Harriet was a daughter of John Edward Buller of Morval, the original Buller family seat in Conwall, although he had moved to Middlesex by the time of her birth in 1832. Harriett married Walter Aston Fox-Strangways in 1858.1 Walter’s mother was Hester Buller, sister of James Wentwoth Buller of Downes House who was the father of General Sir Redvers Buller.2  Harriett was therefore a Buller by birth who also acquired a Buller as mother-in-law.

Harriett’s husband Walter was a brother of the Rev. Henry Fox-Strangways, rector of Silverton, and his family home was nearby at Rewe. Given the close proximity of the Bullers of Downes House, Crediton and Strete Raleigh and Whimple, and the aristocratic Fox-Strangways of Silverton and Rewe, it is hardly surprising that there were several inter-marriages between the two extended families over time. Links with the Divett family include John Divett having married Henrietta Buller, and that the Rev. Henry Fox-Strangways was a J.P. like John Divett and they sat together on the Bench  at the Devon County Sessions.3

Walter joined the Royal Artillery in 1850 and saw active service during the Eastern Campaign (Crimean War) of 1854-55 fighting at Alma, Inkerman, the capture of Balaclava and the siege of Sebastapol.4 In 1864 Walter was promoted to Captain and he was sent with the Royal Regiment of Artillery to India.5  In 1872 Walter was promoted to Major.6 By 1873 he was promoted again, ‘Major Walter Aston Fox-Strangways to be captain of a company of gentlemen cadets.’7 In 1880 Walter became a Lieutenant-Colonel.8

Walter and Harriett had five children and on the  1881 census they were living at Polsloe House, Exeter with their two daughters Violet and Mary, but not their sons Arthur, Maurice and Harold.9 However, at the 1881 Christmas Ball held at the Royal Public Rooms, Exeter, Harriett was there not only with Violet but also her sons Arthur and Harold.10

Walter, by this time was in command of the Royal Horse Artillery, Exeter.11 Walter was thanked warmly for supporting the Charity Organisation Society in Exeter in 1882 as he was ‘about to leave the neighbourhood.’12 At the same time there was a major sale of the contents at Polsloe House on behalf of Walter Fox-Strangways including suites of furniture as well as three carriages with harnesses.13 This was because Walter had been promoted to Colonel, Commandant of the School of Gunnery at Shoeburyness.14

Walter organised summer training encampments at Shoeburyness in 1883 and 1884 but in March 1885 an experimental artillery shell exploded prematurely during an artillery training event and Walter died of his injuries, aged fifty-two. Harriett stayed at Silverton Rectory with her brother-in-law’s family while the military funeral took place. She wrote to Col. Waldron, M.P. thanking him for the arrangements, the letter being addressed from the Rectory.15 Queen Victoria sent a message of condolence to the widowed Mrs Fox-Strangways, and the press reported one well-wisher saying ‘Col. Fox-Strangways’ widow has been left in poor circumstances, and I am glad to hear that her case has been brought under the notice of the Queen, with a view to her getting apartments in Hampton Court Palace.’16

Within two months Walter and Henrietta’s middle son Maurice advertised ‘an excellent brougham horse either in single or double harness’ which could be seen at the New London Inn, Exeter.17 Maurice was in the Indian Civil Service but in February he had returned home on three months sick leave.18 It seems he returned to India in May as the passenger lists recorded a Mr Fox-Strangways on a London to Bombay sailing.19

Henrietta moved to Bovey Tracey, not to Hampton Court, soon after her husband’s funeral in 1885. The advertisement for the horse sale named Maurice ‘of Bovey Tracey’ and when Henrietta proved Walter’s will, also in May, she was likewise described as being ‘of Bovey Tracey’. Walter’s estate was £10,206. A year later, daughter Mary Fox-Strangways won a first prize at the Bovey Tracey Horticultural Show.20

Harriett – grandmother to the Earl of Ilchester; Violet (1861-1903); and Mary (1868-1943) Fox-Strangways in Bovey Tracey.
Despite several family deaths in the 1880s there remained a rich network of extended Buller and Fox-Strangways family connections in the wider Exeter area and there were regular ‘society’ events that were attended by a lengthy but regular list of Devon’s aristocracy and gentry. Harriett and her daughters maintained their social involvement despite now living in relatively humble circumstances in Bovey Tracey. They did not know it then, but Harriet’s grandson who came to live with her was to be the future Earl of Ilchester.

In 1887 Harriett took part in a prestigious Costume Bazaar in aid of new Drill Hall, Exeter, and Mary Divett was also among the many who took part.21

There was a very long list of attendees at the wedding of Evelyn Fox-Strangways, daughter of the Rev. Henry Fox-Strangways, rector at Silverton in 1890. Violet and Mary were two of the seven bridesmaids and the latter, ‘were attired in simple, but effective costumes of white Paramatta Vigogne embroidered with golf braid, their toiletries being completed by the new Katrina hats in white felt with gold embroidery.’ Harriett’s son Arthur also attended as did Miss Hughes from Dunley House, Bovey Tracey.22

Both daughters appear to have taken an active part in the local social life and they attended a ball at the Dolphin Hotel, Bovey Tracey in 1891 along with other relatives including George Ross and Florence Divett, and Miss Divett.23

Shortly after this George Ross Divett convened a meeting to consider the re-establishment of the Bovey Tracey Arts & Crafts Society which had started in 1867 but lapsed following Mr Phillips’ move to the Aller Pottery. Mr Phillips formerly managed the brick-making production at the Bovey Pottery. At the meeting Miss Divett proposed a committee and this included Violet and Mary Fox-Strangways and also George Ross Divett.24

By March 1891 we know that Mrs Harriett Fox-Strangways, aged fifty-nine, was living at Front House, East Street with her daughters Violet and Mary (Figs I and 2).25


Figure 1. Front House. David Lewis Collection with his kind permission


Figure 2. Front House 2017. Frances Billinge

Harriett contributed to Bovey Tracey’s social life by hosting a weekly drawing class at her home, Redgate, which was as an alternative name for Front House on East Street.26

In 1894 the officers of the Depot Devonshire Regiment gave an ‘at home’ at Higher Barracks, Exeter for many of the local gentry including Sir William and Lady Hughes and party from Bovey Tracey. Harriett, Violet and Mary were there as was Mary Divett.27

There was another large family gathering later in 1894 when the Rev. Henry Fox-Strangways, Harriett’s brother-in-law died at Silverton where he had been rector. Harriett, both daughters and son Arthur attended as did General William and Georgina Hughes of Dunley House, Bovey Tracey.28

Mary Divett presided over the Bovey Tracey Debating Society in 1885 and either Violet or Mary Fox-Strangways read a character part from The Merchant of Venice.29 Harriett was on the Society’s committee and on at least one occasion they met at her home.30 In 1895 the Exeter and Mid-Devon Aid Committee of the NSPCC met at the Guildhall, Exeter and either Violet or Mary were involved in this philanthropic movement.31

In September 1895 Mary Fox-Strangways married Owen Gould of Knowle House, Lustleigh, which was then within the parish of Bovey Tracey.32 Further research is needed to find out if this maintained the inter-familial associations of an earlier Buller-Gould marriage through which the  Buller family had acquired Downes House, Crediton.33 The day before the wedding Mary’s brother Arthur gave an organ recital at Bovey Tracey’s parish church in aid of the organ repair fund.34

The 1901 census recorded Harriett aged sixty-nine still living at Front House with her daughter Violet who was then aged forty. Possibly one of the most important social event of 1901 in the area was the Garden Party held at the Exeter Barracks and amongst an extensive list of aristocracy and gentility were ‘Mrs Harriett and Miss Violet Fox-Strangways of Bovey Tracey.’35 Harriett died suddenly at home in 1903 and her daughter Violet died later that year. Arthur Fox-Strangways was an executor for his mother and his sister. Harriett’s estate was valued at £862 and Violet’s at £5,576.36

In 1904 there was a sale of ‘superior modern and antique furniture and effects’ from their home, Front house on East Street, Bovey Tracey.37 Harriett was survived by her four remaining children three of whom had developed ties with the British Empire.

Postscript – the Family Move to Bovey Tracey
Why did Harriett choose to settle in Bovey Tracey with her daughters soon after her husband’s early death in 1885?

Four relatives of Harriett with Bovey Tracey connections had died in the 1880s – James Buller of Dunley House in 1882, Wentworth William Buller in 1883 (Bovey Pottery), Henrietta Divett (née Buller) in 1884 and John Divett in the summer of 1885 – but if anything these events would have reduced the incentive for a move to Bovey Tracey. Moreover, Dame Elizabeth Lewin (née Buller) and her two daughters who had been living for a time on East Street had already moved away.

Mary Divett, related to Harriett via Mary’s mother Henrietta nee Buller, was living at Bridge House, Fore Street. George Ross Divett and his wife Florence were also living in Bovey and they attended a ball at the Dolphin Hotel in 1891 as did Violet and Mary Fox-Strangways but there is no known direct family relationship in their case.38

A more promising family connection involves the Hughes who also moved into Bovey Tracey in/around 1885 to live at Dunley House within a mile or two of Front House, East Street. Harriett Fox-Strangways and William Templer Hughes both had two direct family ties with the extended Buller family of Downes, Crediton, and Harriett and Georgiana Hughes were first cousins as their mothers were daughters of James Buller of Downes. These two Bovey Tracey families socialised together and the Hughes family were represented at the Fox-Strangways wedding and then funeral at Silverton in 1890 and 1894 respectively.

Harriett’s decision to move to Bovey Tracey may possibly have involved some interest in the Bovey Pottery and/or the Lignite Works. There is no documentary evidence for this as yet but two observations are worth considering.

Firstly, Wentworth William Buller, co-owner of the Bovey Pottery had arranged mortgages in 1871 and 1873 before the liquidation of the Buller/Divett Pottery partnership was confirmed in 1882. Wentworth had been ill and was to die in 1883 resulting in the loss of a local Buller family involvement in the Bovey Pottery.39 Did Harriett have some interest in the Pottery following Wentworth’s financial difficulties and early death? After the Buller/Divett partnership liquidation in 1882 a conveyance concerning the Bovey Pottery assets listed William Templer Hughes (and also his brother-in-law William Phillpotts) as now having a formal/financial interest in the Pottery.40  Did these ramifications prompt a Fox-Strangways / Hughes move into Bovey Tracey?

Secondly Harriett’s father John Edward Buller had been the subject of a bankruptcy petition in 1859.  ‘The bankrupt, who is of a highly respectable family in the south-west of England …  besides his legal business … had traded as a brick-maker and coal owner.’41 This could refer to the Bovey Pottery and Lignite Works, and maybe the seventeen year old Wentworth involved John Edward in some way when he assumed co-partnership of the Bovey Pottery following his father’s death in 1852?

Other newspaper accounts explained how John Edward Buller had been in partnership with a Mr Smart under the firm ‘Smart and Buller’ but John had liabilities of £100,000 and ‘this sum, it is supposed, will not represent half of the bankrupt’s delinquencies … he has indulged an elastic appreciation of meum and tuum …  having broken into and dissipated trust after trust, being regulated by his depradations by the necessities of the moment only.’ Mr Smart was adjudged innocent whereas John absconded owing money.42 Harriett’s father died in 1881 but with hardly a mention in the press and no record of probate.43 It is interesting to ponder the difference in size of estate after the deaths of Harriett and her daughter Violet –  £862 and £5576 respectively. Was Harriett hoping to benefit in some way from the Bovey Pottery? If so, it is not reflected in her estate.

Whereas the above extended family connections were very real the significance of the Bovey Pottery remains speculative at this point in time. Perhaps Henrietta moved to Bovey Tracey because Front House, East Street, a spacious but non-ostentatious house had become available to lease when Doctor Hodson left the area in 1883 and with extended family members living in the area she chose to live there in her reduced circumstances.


  1. Exeter Flying Post 2 September 1858, p. 5.
  2. StrangewayFamily. accessed 24 June 2017.
  3. Exeter Flying Post 11 April 1850, p. 8.
  4. The Western Times 28 February 1885, p. 3.
  5. Homeward Mail from India, China and the East 26 December 1864, p19.
  6. London Daily News 17 July 1872, p. 6.
  7. Morning Post 17 December 1873, p. 6.
  8. Naval and Military Gazette 29 September 1880, p. 20.
  9. The National Archives Census 1881 accessed 24 June 2017.
  10. The Western Times 4 January 1882, p. 4.
  11. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegrams 13 August 1881, p. 1.
  12. The Western Times 15 March 1882, p. 2.
  13. The Western Times 17 March 1882, p. 1.
  14. Naval and Military Gazette 11 October 1882, p. 15.
  15. The Western Times 17 March 1885, p. 7.
  16. The Western Times 26 March 1885, p. 2.
  17. Western Morning News 1 May 1885, p. 2.
  18. Homeward Mail from India, China and the East 10 February 1885, p. 14.
  19. Homeward Mail from India, China and the East 20 May 1885, p. 20.
  20. National Probate Calendar 14 May 1885 Walter Aston Fox Strangways accessed 24 June 2017; Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 20 August 1886, p. 6 Horticultural Show.
  21. The Western Times 11 November 1887, p. 2.
  22. The Western Times 3 January 1890, p. 5.
  23. Totnes Weekly Times 17 January 1891, p. 2.
  24. Totnes Weekly Times 7 February 1891, p.6.
  25. The National Archives Census 1891 accessed 24 June 2017.
  26. East & South Devon Advertiser 20 January 1894, p. 5.
  27. The Western Times 15 June 1894, p. 8.
  28. Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 29 September 1894, p. 3.
  29. Totnes Weekly Times 16 February 1895, 7.
  30. Exeter and South Devon Advertiser 16 March 1895, p. 5.
  31. The Western Times 29 March 1895, p. 5.
  32. London Evening Standard 9 September 1895, p. 1.
  33. Devon Heritage Centre 2065M-4 Buller of Downes.
  34. Western Morning News 4 September 1895, p. 5.
  35. The Western Times 24 August 1901, p. 2.
  36. National Probate Calendar 9 May 1903 Harriet Elizabeth Fox Strangways; 17 October 1903 Violet Agnes Fox Strangways Walter Aston Fox Strangways accessed 24 June 2017.
  37. South Devon Advertiser 16 January 1904, p. 4.
  38. Totnes Weekly Times 17 January 1891, p. 2.
  39. Buller family, see article under ‘People’
  40. 1882 Conveyance Deeds private collection Bovey Tracey.
  41. Hampshire Advertiser 27 August 1859, p. 2.
  42. The Western Times 27 August 1859, p. 7.
  43. London Evening Standard 7 April 1881, p.1.

Updated  May 2018