Seven Notable Families


Seven Notable and Related Families linked to the Purchase of the Bovey Pottery in 1843

 Malcolm Billinge  August 2018


In 1843 Capt. Thomas Wentworth Buller RN and John Divett bought the Bovey Pottery and this initiated a sequence of moves into Bovey Tracey by members of the Buller family and those of six other families, all closely related by marriage.

Buller                In 1834 Capt. Buller had visited a number of industrial sites including Bridgwater Pottery and in a letter to his wife Ann, he wrote, ‘We stopped at Bridgwater, where I employed all the daylight we had in visiting the different brickyards and potteries, and I flatter myself I picked up many useful hints, which I hope to turn to advantage at some further day’ (Transcription of a letter from Thomas Wentworth Buller to his wife Ann dated 22 October 1834. Private collection.  Grateful thanks to April Marjoram for this information).

Capt. Buller lived on his family estate at Strete Raleigh, Whimple where there was a brick-works. He was an innovative agriculturalist who championed land-drainage and before the end of the 1840s, Bovey-made land-drainage tiles were being used to drain land on the Earl of Somerset’s Stover estate (The Western Times 29 May 1847, p. 6). At the time of the 1851 census there were two families of brick/tile makers from Whimple now living near the Bovey Pottery, presumably brought across by Capt. Buller.

The former Folly Pottery at Bovey Tracey and the nearby clay and lignite deposits [Bluewaters] had great potential for the manufacturing of bricks and land-drainage tiles and when the Folly Pottery was advertised for sale in 1836 Capt. Buller would have noted this as a financially attractive opportunity (Exeter Flying Post 6 August 1835, p. 3).

Capt. Buller died in 1852 and his position at the Bovey Pottery was taken by his son Wentworth William Buller who, unlike his father maintained a secondary home, at Chapple on the outskirts of town and not far from the Bovey Pottery. Wentworth was active in Bovey Tracey during the 1860s and the Bovey Pottery flourished (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 21 September 1866, P. 6). During the later 1870s Wentworth’s health and business prospects declined and he died abroad in 1882 at the age of forty-nine (The Western Times 6 June 1882, p. 3).

Capt. Buller had three sisters who all came to live in Bovey Tracey. They were Dame Elizabeth Lewin, Miss Frances Buller who lived with her, and Henrietta who came to Bovey Tracey as the wife of John Divett. Capt. Buller also had a younger brother James who was living at Dunley, Bovey Tracey at the time of the 1871 and 1881 censuses.


Divett            John and Henrietta Divett lived at Bridge House, Bovey Tracey until their deaths in 1885 and 1884 respectively. John became a highly regarded figure in the town and the Bovey Pottery was the major employer of men, women and children (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 1 November 1851, p. 4).

John and Henrietta had a daughter Mary who in later life assumed a number of civic responsibilities including the administration of local Poor Law relief and the treasurer-ships of the local Horticultural Show and the Bovey Tracey Social and Debating Society (The Western Times 13 August 1890, p. 3; Western Morning News 10 October 1895, p. 5).

Following the death of John Divett’s older brother Edward in 1864, John’s young niece Adela Divett came to live in Bovey Tracey. Adela developed a strong relationship with the Rev. and Hon. Charles Leslie Courtenay’s new ‘high’ church and she built a large house for herself, St Mary’s, immediately adjacent to St John’s church. Mary Divett died locally in 1914 as did her younger cousin Adela, in 1926.

George Ross Divett, Adela’s brother became sole owner of the Bovey Pottery when his uncle John Divett died in 1885. George and his wife Florence moved to Bovey Tracey and in 1892 they were living at Chapple, a former residence of Wentworth Buller (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 29 February 1892, p. 4).

The Buller and Divett families mixed socially and Wentworth Buller, his sister Gertrude, Mrs Henrietta Divett and her daughter Mary all took part in the South Devon Archery Club meeting at the Earl of Devon’s Powderham Castle in 1861 (The Western Times 13 July 1861, p. 6).

Wentworth Buller and the Divett family were also highly involved in the 1867 Horticultural and Industrial Show and the 1868 Bovey Tracey Art, Loan and Horticultural Societies’ Exhibition (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 6 Sept 1867, p. 9; Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 21 August 1868, p. 7).

Wentworth Buller and Mary Divett remained unmarried and George and Florence Divett did not have children.

Adela and Francis Beaufort had a son Francis who was killed in WW1 and a daughter Olga who required life-long nursing care. In 1891 Major Francis and Adela Beaufort arrived back from India with their baby Victor but Francis died shortly afterwards (Homeward Mail from India, China and the East 15 June 1891, p. 25).

Victor fought in WW1 and he was awarded the Military Cross. However, in the 1930s his mental health deteriorated, he became a Black Shirt and, following several court appearances was confined to a mental institution (Daily Herald 30 May 1934, p. 7; Nottingham Journal 7 December 1938, p. 3; 1939 England and Wales Register).


Lewin             Capt. Buller’s sister, Dame Elizabeth Lewin and three of her daughters had moved to Bovey Tracey by 1856 (PO Directory of Devonshire 1856). With them was her sister Frances Buller. Dame Lewin’s barrister husband Sir Gregory died in 1845 but in 1852 there was a high-profile court case that detailed Sir Gregory’s extensive fraudulent activities (The Era 15 February 1852, p. 14) (Fig. 1).


Figure 1. Sir Gregory Lewin’s grave at St David’s church, Exeter. Malcolm Billinge 2018.


The 1861 census recorded Dame Lewin, her daughters Georgiana, Adelaide and Caroline and sister Frances Buller living at/near ‘Rowadennan’ [now South Down House] on East Street, Bovey Tracey (Fig. 2). Her daughter Adelaide died locally in 1862 and Frances Buller at Exmouth in 1867, by which time Dame Lewin and Georgiana had moved to Northamptonshire.





Figure 2. Rowadennan on East Street, Bovey Tracey. David Lewis collection.



Sir Gregory and Dame Elizabeth Lewin had three other children. Augusta did not come to Devon with her mother but instead, in 1851 and 1861 she was recorded as living at Highclere Castle [Downton Abbey in the BBC serial] in the company of Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, the young Earl of Carnarvon. Augusta died in 1865 aged thirty-six.

Capt. Granville Lewin married Gertrude Pellew in 1861. Gertrude was the only child of Percy Pellew, and Percy was a son of Pownoll Bastard Pellew, 2nd Viscount Exmouth and owner of Canonteign, near Bovey Tracey. Granville was an officer in the Madras presidency Army but both Granville and Gertrude died in India in 1867 (The Globe 27 July 1867, p. 4).

Reginald Lewin attended Pembroke College, Oxford and was a one-time book agent in New York.

Social interaction in Bovey Tracey between members of these above three families was illustrated in 1857 when Wentworth Buller’s novel introduction of gas lighting into the ‘Spur Works’ at the Bovey Pottery was celebrated by a tea for all the workers. Local dignitaries like the Hon. and Rev. Charles and Lady Courtenay were present as were John, Henrietta and Mary Divett, Mrs and the Misses Buller (Wentworth’s mother and sisters) and Lady Lewin and the Misses Lewin (The Western Times 28 November 1857, p. 5).


Hughes         William Templer Hughes had a long and successful military career in India returning home in 1884 a General to be knighted a few years later. William and his family lived at Dunley, Bovey Tracey, the former home of James Buller who was uncle to William Templer Hughes’ first wife, Katherine nee Buller.

William and his second wife Georgiana nee Phillpotts were active in local social events until William’s death at Bovey Tracey in 1897. William Templer Hughes had five children by his first wife Katherine and four more by Georgiana:

Henry died in India in 1884, and Edward died and was buried at Bovey Tracey in 1900 (Fig. 3). Louis was killed in the Boer War and Guy in WW1. Ralph lived until 1949 but as most of his life was spent working in the Indian Civil Service there is little record of him locally apart from the 1891 census at Dunley and his attendance at the Teignbridge Ladies’ Day in 1891 (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 15 August 1891, p. 7).



Figure 3. The grave of Edward Hughes (left) at the Bovey Tracey cemetery. Frances Billinge 2017.


The four daughters were more in evidence in and around Bovey Tracey. Margaret married a New Zealand land-owner and moved abroad but returned to live at Dunley during the 1920s and 1930s.  Edith did not marry but remained living with her step-mother Lady Georgiana Hughes. Gertrude married a stock-broker and Janet married Col. Russell Dunmore Gubbins who fought in India, the Boer War and WW1. Janet’s half-brother Edward had married a sister of Russell Dunmore Gubbins five years before his death in 1900 (London Evening Standard 27 March 1895, p. 1).


Fox-Strangways     Walter Aston Fox-Strangways’ family lived at Rewe, East Devon and his mother Hester Buller was an aunt of General Sir Redvers Buller. Walter married Harriet Buller, a daughter of John Edward Buller of Morval, the original Buller family seat in Cornwall,

Walter, of the Royal Horse Artillery was promoted to Colonel, Commandant of the School of Gunnery at Shoeburyness where in 1885 he died of injuries resulting from the premature explosion of an artillery shell (Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail 27 February 1885, p. 3.). Shortly after this Harriet moved to Front House, East Street, Bovey Tracey with their two daughters Violet and Mary and their grand-son Walter Angelo who was to become the 8th Earl of Ilchester (Birmingham Daily Post 24 August 1964, p. 16).

Both daughters took an active part in the local social life – contributing to an art exhibition in Lustleigh, attending the annual ball at the Dolphin Hotel and taking part in the Chudleigh Knighton debating Society (The Western Daily Mercury 13 February 1895, p. 6); The Western Times 31 December 1895, p. 3). Harriet herself attended several County functions, often accompanied by one or both daughters (The Western Times 15 June 1894, p. 8).

Walter and Harriet’s three sons were engaged in different careers. Arthur Fox-Strangways was a music teacher at Wellington College who later wrote about Indian music and was music critic for national newspapers. He died in Salisbury in 1948 but earlier he had lived with his widowed sister Mary at The Hut, Bovey Tracey (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Mary Gould nee Fox-Strangways at The Hut, Bovey Tracey. Family archive with their kind permission.


Maurice Fox-Strangways was a successful Indian Civil Servant in the Central Provinces being invested in 1909 as a Companion, Order of the Star (C.S.I.) at Calcutta. Maurice was father of Walter Angelo (above). Maurice retired in 1913 and in 1926/27 he and his wife Louisa were living at Alvington in Lustleigh and caring for Maurice and Raymond, sons of Walter Angelo who had become the vice-consul at Tetuan, northern Morocco in 1922. Maurice jnr was destined to become the ninth Earl of Ilchester.

Harold Fox-Strangways was in the Indian Army but fulfilling a Civil Service role. Harold died of sunstroke in India in 1912 after which his two daughters remained in India, marrying Indian army officers, Dorothy in 1914 and Marjorie in 1917 (British Armed Forces and Overseas Banns and Marriages; British India Office Ecclesiastical Returns –


Gould            The Rev. Nutcombe Gould, his wife Katherine and many of their twelve offspring had, by 1871 moved from the rectory at Stokeinteignhead to Knowle, Lustleigh which was then still within the parish of Bovey Tracey (Fig. 5). The Gould and Buller families were related by marriage in earlier times.


Figure 5. Knowle, watercolour. Family archive with their kind permission.


One son, Owen Gould began his career in teak forestry work in Siam before transferring to Ceylon where he worked as a tea-planter. In 1882 twenty-six year old Owen attended a Ball at the Dolphin Hotel, Bovey Tracey where he would have socialised with the twenty-one year old Violet Fox-Strangways, but it was her younger sister Mary whom he married in 1895 at Bovey Tracey (London Evening Standard 9 September 1895, p.1).

The couple sailed to Ceylon where Mary gave birth to two sons, Arthur in 1897 and John in 1899. As men, both sons were to live and work as teak foresters in Siam during the inter-war years (Home Mail from India, China and the East 15 October 1895, p. 24).

Owen and Mary were living at Knowle in 1910 and the 1911 census described Owen as a retired tea-planter. The couple moved to The Hut, Bovey Tracey which was located near Pottery Pond. Owen died there in 1929 and by 1939 Mary had been joined by her brother Arthur.

Mary died in 1943 by which time their two sons had returned from Siam and were running a fruit and flower farm in the Bovey valley (The London Gazette 19 February 1946, p. 1026). Two of their own, now grown-up offspring continue to live in Lustleigh.


Phillpotts                 At the time of the 1891 census there were two unmarried Phillpotts sisters, Catherine and Sibylla, living at Bradley House, Bovey Tracey. With them were their brother William Phillpotts, a barrister and his eighteen-year old son Ralegh, then a student at Oxford university (Britain School & University rolls 1914-1918 Transcription).

The Phillpotts, Hughes and Buller families were closely related by marriage, viz:

Lady Georgiana Hughes was a sister of Catherine, Sibylla and William Phillpotts. Their mother was Louisa Buller, a daughter of James Buller of Downes, Crediton.

William Phillpotts had married Gertrude Buller who was a daughter of Capt. Thomas Buller. Gertrude was therefore a sister of Katherine Hughes nee Buller, the first wife of William Templer Hughes.

Ralegh Phillpotts became a barrister who married and had two sons and a daughter (The Morning Post 7 June 1898, p. 7). He was a first cousin-once-removed of Mary Divett and when she died in 1914 she left property to him. Raleigh and his wife were living at Bridge House, Bovey Tracey, the former home of the Divetts during 1918/1920 and Raleigh owned land behind the Bovey Pottery that would also have belonged to Mary Divett. By 1922 Capt. Raleigh Phillpotts and his wife Jean were living at Rora House, Liverton (Electoral Register).

Ralegh became a J.P. in 1927 and he also served on the Devon County Probation Committee. He was  knighted in 1946 for his civic contributions and also on account of him having been the managing director of the British Tabulating Machine Company that provided the equipment at Bletchley Park including Alan Turing’s ‘bombes’ which helped in the decoding of the German ‘Enigma’ machines during WW2 (Britain, Knights of the Realm index Transcription –

Further examples of these families mixing in Bovey Tracey include:

The Ladies Day at Teignbridge in the summer of 1891 was attended by Lady Georgiana Hughes, Mary Fox-Strangways, Miss Hughes, Ralegh Phillpotts and Ralph Buller Hughes, amongst many other gentry (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 15 August 1891, p. 7).

The 1895 Christmas Ball held at the Dolphin Hotel, Bovey Tracey was attended by Lady Georgiana Hughes with Miss Hughes, Gertrude Hughes, Edward Hughes and Mr J. Hughes (Janet?), Miss Fox-Strangways, Mr W. Fox-Strangways (Maurice?), Miss Mary Divett and Miss Wentworth Buller (Western Morning News 30 December 1895, p. 3).


Postscript  –  Why did these families choose to live in Bovey Tracey? Was the Bovey Pottery a continuing draw?

John Divett, Wentworth William Buller and George Ross Divett all came to Bovey Tracey as owners of the Bovey Pottery.

James Buller moved from his home in Newton Abbot to Dunley in Bovey Tracey within two or three years of the branch line opening in 1866 so maybe he chose a more rural residence in close proximity to his sister and brother-in-law, John and Henrietta Divett, and also to his young nephew Wentworth Buller who was by then co-owner of the Bovey Pottery.

Dame Elizabeth Lewin had moved to Bovey Tracey with three daughters and her sister Frances Buller by 1856 and this meant she, like her brother James ten years later, would now live near her sister and brother-in-law John and Henrietta Divett, and also her young nephew Wentworth Buller. As a widow, Dame Lewin would have lived under reduced circumstances in Bovey Tracey.

General William and Georgiana Hughes settled their family at Dunley in 1884. There was a more distant family link between the Hughes and the Divetts, but in the event, Henrietta Divett died in 1884 and John Divett in 1885 so any time together was brief.

Harriet Fox-Strangways and her two daughters moved into Front House, East Street, Bovey Tracey after the death of Walter in 1885 (Figure 8). Harriet was related to James and Wentworth Buller and also to John and Henrietta Divett but they had all died in the first half of the 1880s. The Fox-Strangways and Hughes were related but more distantly through earlier marriages between members of the extended Buller family. Harriet, as a widow, would also have found Bovey Tracey more manageable financially.

Figure 6. Front House, East Street, Bovey Tracey. Frances Billinge 2017.


Owen Gould’s post-retirement move to The Hut, Bovey Tracey may be credited to his marriage to Mary Fox-Strangways, formerly of Front House, East Street (Fig. 6).

The Phillpotts were closely related to the Hughes and the Bullers, and Ralegh Phillpotts was a favoured younger relative of Miss Mary Divett who was godmother to his sister Dorothea (Mary Divett’s Will 1914. The probate Registry).

Having identified many of the inter-family relationships that would have played a part in bringing these families to Bovey Tracey it is interesting to consider whether the existence of the Bovey Pottery continued to be a contributory factor in these decisions. It would be interesting to know more about the commercial interests of four men – Dame Elizabeth Lewin’s husband Sir Gregory Allnut Lewin, Harriet Fox-Strangways’ father John Edward Buller, General William Templer Hughes and Ralegh Phillpotts.

Sir Gregory Allnutt Lewin died in 1845. He was a barrister who was subject of a posthumous court case in 1852 in which he was found guilty of various fraudulent financial dealings. However, there is no evidence to link Sir Gregory with the Bovey Pottery. His estate was valued at under £2,000 and when Dame Elizabeth died in 1890 she only left £3,288.

John Edward Buller died in 1881. He was a solicitor who became the subject of a bankruptcy petition in 1859. One account noted that, ‘besides his legal business, (he) had traded as a brickmaker’ and a second article described him as, ‘a coal owner and brickmaker’. Wentworth William Buller was only seventeen when his father died in 1852 leaving him co-owner of the Bovey Pottery and the [Bluewaters] Lignite Pit. It is possible that Wentworth turned to John Edward Buller, an older relative engaged in the legal profession and involved him in some way which could account for him being described as a ‘coal owner and brickmaker.’ This is unsubstantiated but it would allow for Harriett moving to Bovey Tracey in order to capitalize on any investment in the Bovey Pottery held by her father. Harriet died in 1903 and her estate was only valued at £862 which does not support this suggestion. However, Harriet and Walter’s spinster daughter Violet died later that same year and her estate was valued at £5,576 and the source of her wealth is not known. Violet’s father Walter Fox-Strangways left £10,206 when he died in 1885 but there were five offspring including Violet who stood to benefit from his estate. Unfortunately for us Walter appears not to have written a will.

General Sir William Templer Hughes died in 1897. He had an early involvement in the Bovey Pottery as in 1869 a partnership between Wentworth William Buller, William Templer Hughes and an Ernest Wentworth Buller had been dissolved. Although there is no indication of any direct practical involvement in the Bovey Pottery an 1882 Conveyance concerning the Bovey Pottery assets listed William Templer Hughes along with thirteen others as having a financial interest in the Pottery. (Private collection Bovey Tracey) William left £38,294 in 1897 – a very substantial sum, but one possibly reflecting ‘spoils of war’ from his time in India.

Ralegh Phillpotts died in 1950. Ralegh is also not known to have been directly involved in the Bovey Pottery. However his father William Francis Phillpotts was one of the fourteen men named on the 1882 Bovey Pottery Conveyance (above). In 1907 a public meeting took place at the Town Hall, Bovey Tracey at which schemes for the electrification of the town were discussed. Raleigh Phillpotts, ‘lessee of Bovey Tracey Lignite Mines’ [Bluewaters] … proposed the construction of a power plant at Bluewaters fuelled by lignite to generate electricity that would be transmitted to a station in town (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 9 August 1907, p. 11). Ralegh therefore had a financial interest in the Coal Pit / Bluewaters. Furthermore in 1922 there was a fire in the marshes at the rear of the Bovey Pottery Company’s workshops and, ‘The marshes are the property of Capt. R. Phillpotts of Rora Liverton’ (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 21 June 1922, p. 4 – as above). The Pottery by this time was under new ownership / management and known as the Bovey Pottery Company Ltd and Ralegh is not known to have been financially involved.


Further research may help to clarify these final considerations and we would be very pleased to hear from anyone who could help us in this endeavour. We have argued that it was the sale of the old Folly Pottery and Coal Pit in 1843 that lead directly to these seven families coming to Bovey Tracey. William Wentworth Buller was co-owner until 1883, John Divett also co-owner until 1885, his nephew George Ross Divett sole owner until 1894 and Miss Mary Divett owner of land around the Pottery until her death in 1914 when this passed to her cousin Ralegh Phillpotts who also leased the Bluewaters / Coal Pit.

The children and grandchildren from these seven families in the main moved away from Bovey Tracey and their stories serve as a connection between our small town and the wider world. Links to the Bovey Pottery appear to have ended early in the twentieth century with these young people seeking pursuing their livelihoods through other channels.