History of Prestbury, Brimley Lane, Bovey Tracey

Frances and Malcolm Billinge 2018

Prestbury is a large house on the road from Bovey Tracey to Higher Brimley. On the 1841 Tithe map the land on which Prestbury was built was part of Brimley Farm. The land was then owned by William Bragg and occupied by William Bairstow and his mother.[1]William Bairstow was born in Bovey Tracey, and by the 1851 Census the farm was called Lower Brimley Farm and he held 105 acres.[2] The OS map of 1887 still showed the land as fields. Sometime between then and 1898 Prestbury was built as Rev. Frederick Gurney was recorded as the first person to be living there.[3]Lower Brimley Farm was farmed by the Gilley family from at least 1891 where they continue the family tradition to this day.[4]

Who was Reverend Gurney?

Rev. Gurney had been appointed as curate in Bovey Tracey parish in 1868.[5] This was the year after the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins visited the town, and Hopkins’ diaries referred to his having visited the Gurney family in Torquay.[6] It was also the time when Bovey Tracey was riven with arguments against the vicar Rev. Hon.  Charles Leslie Courtenay who was introducing high church Anglo Catholicism sometimes called the Oxford Movement. Courtenay had built St John’s church as a high church and this was where Rev. Gurney was ministering which indicates he too had high church leanings.[7]

On the 1871 Census Frederick Gurney was a 29 year- old widower curate living at St John’s Cottages Bovey Tracey. He had been born in Lutterworth in Leicestershire and had graduated from Balliol College Oxford.[8]

In 1888 Frederick re-married in Berwick and a year later he was the vicar at Prestbury in Gloucestershire. Perhaps a clue to the naming of his future residence in Bovey Tracey.

It was at Prestbury Gloucestershire that his first daughter, Mary Margaret was born.[9]

By 1891 Frederick and his family had moved back to Bovey Tracey and he was again living at St John’s Cottages with his wife Jessie; his one-year old daughter Mary Margaret; his medical student nephew Mowbray; and three servants.[10]

The Gurneys moved to Prestbury sometime between 1891 and 1898- Did he have it built?

There is no record of Prestbury in the 1891 Census, but from Frederick’s death in 1898 when he was 56 years we know that he was living there. When he died his estate was valued at £11,193.[11] In life he had described himself as, ‘An unworthy priest and penitent Catholic of the Church of England …’ showing his high church affiliation.[12]

The 1901 Census showed his widow Jessie Margaret Gurney still living at Prestbury as a person of independent means. With her were her two daughters, her sister, her late husband’s nephew and niece, and six servants.[13] By 1903 furniture and effects from the house were being auctioned.[14] In 1909 a bay mare was for sale there as its owner was going abroad.[15]

The 1911 Census showed that Jessie Margaret and her two single daughters still lived at Prestbury but by now their servants had halved in number. In a separate household, so perhaps in the cottage in the grounds lived William Morrish, a domestic gardener, with his wife and two children.[16]

In 1912 the property was up for sale by auction and described as a beautiful Moorland residence of five acres close to the station.[17] In May the auction details were more fulsome, ‘The beautifully situate and well-arranged Residence, standing in well laid out grounds of 4 acres, replete with every modern convenience, built regardless of cost, occupying an exceedingly attractive and salubrious position on S slope of hill, close to town and station, yet on the fringe of Dartmoor, known as Prestbury, Bovey Tracey, 3 receptions, 9 bed and dressing-rooms, well-fitted stabling, garage, cottage. To be sold by auction by Messrs. Rippon.’[18] The Gurneys moved elsewhere in Bovey Tracey, and by the time of their deaths in 1962 and 1972 the two unmarried daughters owned Dean Park on the Moretonhampstead Road.[19]

Mr and Mrs W. E. Lawson owners/occupiers

In 1912  an advert showed that Mr and Mrs William Edward Lawson were the new owners/occupiers. Lawson was a man of private means who had divorced his first wife at a time when divorce was less acceptable.[20] They were seeking to employ a nursery-maid who was also a good needle-woman. Wages £15 all found.[21] However this ownership did not last as it was followed by auctions of the property and effects.[22] The auction in 1914 included the ‘whole of contents’ – furniture, carpets, effects, tools, plants and bulbs, saddle and bridle, hay, straw, apples, potatoes and a nearly new 15hp Talbot motor car.[23]

Owned/occupied by Mr George L. Bailey

By co-incidence the next owner was also involved in divorce proceedings. George Bailey was a rubber planter who returned from Malaysia with his wife Florence in 1913 and they bought/occupied Prestbury. He was a man who took pride in his garden and also hunted, being on the committee of the South Devon Hunt in 1916.[24] However by 1917 he let the house and was advertising the furnishings for sale.[25] In 1918 his wife petitioned for divorce.[26]

Let to Mr Wood

In 1917 Mr Wood, as occupier, was advertising cockerels for sale.[27]

Mr George Rudd Thompson – owner

On a slightly happier note the next owner George Rudd Thompson, F.I.C., F.C.S. had celebrated his silver wedding in 1916. He was a chemist and had been the analyst for Monmouth and Newport[28]. George and his wife lived at Prestbury from at least 1921 until he died in 1949. Given his background it is no surprise that he complained to the Parochial Committee about his water supply.[29] The house was put up for sale in 1950.[30]

By 1954 the owner was leaving the county so Prestbury with the house, cottage and grounds were again for sale again.[31]

Prestbury Hotel

In 1964  Prestbury was a hotel advertising as a. ‘Peaceful country house, twixt Torbay-Dartmoor. Home produce. AA, RAC Tel 3246.[32]

In more recent years Prestbury Court Residential Home has been a residential provision for people with a range of difficulties.


1Tithe Map Ilsington 1841 accessed 18 February 2018.

[2] 1851 Census The National Archives.

[3] OS Map Bovey Tracey 1887    www.mapsnls/uk/os accessed 128 February 2018.

[4] 1891 Census The National Archives

[5] Aris’s Birmingham Gazette 17 October 1868, p. 6.

[6] Lesley Higgins, ed., 2015. The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins- Vol III, Diaries Journals and Notebooks. (Oxford, Oxford University Press, p.405).

[7] Billinge, Frances. Education in Bovey Tracey 1833-1870, awaiting publication.

[8] 1861 and 1871 Census The National Archives.

[9] Marriage recorded on accessed 18 February 2018; baptism recorded on Prestbury Church baptism records accessed 18 February 2018

[10] 1891 Census The National Archives.

[11] Calendar Probate The National Archives

[12] 12 Torquay Times 29 July 1898, p. 5.

[13] 1901 census The National Archives

[14] East and South Devon Advertiser28 February 1903, p. 8.

[15] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 10 February 1909, p. 1.

[16] 1911 Census The National Archives

[17] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 15 March 1912, p. 1.

[18] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette  31 May 1912, p. 1.

[19] Calendar of Probate 1962 and 1972 The National Archives

[20] London Evening Standard 12 January 1909, p.10 divorce report; Heffer, Simon, 2017. The Age of Decadence (London, Random House Books) p.562, divorcees not acceptable at Court.

[21] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 18 June 1912, p. 6.

[22] Ibid., 22 June 1912, p. 1; ibid., 24 June 1912, p. 1; ibid., 13 September 1912, p. 2.

[23] The Western Times 16 October 1914, p. 1.

[24] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 11 November 1914, p.1. groom and gardener; ibid., 26 February 1916, p.2 hunting; The Western Morning News 1 June 1916, p.8. hunting committee.

[25] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 21 September 1917, p. 1.

[26] The Western Times 4 June 1918, p. 6.

[27] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 21 September 1917, p. 1.

[28] The Western News 17 July 1916, p. 3.

[29] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 5 October 1921, p. 4.

[30] The Western Morning News 2 June 1950, p.2.

[31] Birmingham Daily Post 28 August 1954, p. 2.

[32] The Tatler 6 May 1964, p. 65.