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History: Upperfold House

Thorncombe Village Trust


Upperfold House in Saddle Street was built in 1828 on the site of, and incorporating an earlier 16th century building – Laurel Cottage. Or was it? This much, and the fact that Upperfold has been known until quite recently as Ferndale, I thought we knew, from evidence such as a date stone found when rebuilding the old coach house, and from what we had been told at various times.

  When I was asked to write something more substantial it therefore seemed a simple matter of checking county records and filling out these bare facts and dates with anecdotes about the house’s owners. But it was not simple at all. We started in Dorset History Centre, where, because Thorncombe only became part of Dorset in 1844, we discovered the all-important tithe map was missing. 1 So, where to start.? References to Saddle Street  in the catalogue yielded nothing. Then we looked at Thorncombe itself – not much. Still no mention of who owned or lived in Upperfold, Ferndale or Laurel cottage, even when we ploughed back through wills and manuscripts so old they had to be carefully placed on a cushion. In fact we asked for so many records we began to duplicate our requests.

  We decided that the tithe map was essential if we were to get any further so we would have to repeat the process in Exeter to see what we could find. I particularly wanted to find out about all the other little houses that ran along Saddle Street. So off we went to the Record Office in Exeter, where at last we found the great tithe map of Thorncombe dated 1842.  From that we were able to find the property number and relate it to the Land Tax Assessment of 1782 when these records began. It seems that the house then on the site was known as Forseys/Cross Mill and was owned by a Joseph Hallet whose brother owned Gough’s Barton. He lived there for 37 years until 1823.

   Then Joseph Biddlecombe, a clothier whose brother George owned Greenhill, bought the  house and was recorded as paying rates of 1s4½d. Forde Abbey at the time paid £10. After a gap in the records our  next find was a Rev. John Savin, who was listed as the owner and  that the property was let to Susan Turner from 1841-1843. There was then a further gap in the records. But by 1851 we discovered that the house had been renamed Laurel Cottage and was lived in by Rev. John Marsh, his student cousin Edward Templeman, Charles Bennett a pupil, Mary Gardner the Cook, and a housemaid, Elizabeth Hawker.  The name W. Marsh is scratched on our dining room window (previously the kitchen). According to Pulman’s 1853 edition of  ‘The Book of the Axe’ in 1853, Rev. John Marsh was ‘officiating minister’ or curate to Rev. John Bragge , who was vicar of Thorncombe. Could this graffiti then have been the work of his son? There is yet another gap, but by 1891 the house had become Ferndale and was occupied by two servants, Caroline Perry and Annie May.

  After all this dull desk research we still had very little of human interest. Then we struck gold in conversation with Alfred Down (Sonny), who turned out to be the most important contributor to the history of our house. He has known it since he came here as a teenager in 1931 to look after the garden and left 60 years later in 1991. During this time thanks to being the beneficiary of two wills,  he had been owner and then again part owner of Ferndale. In the 1930s he planted the large oak trees that border the garden .

  Alfred’s grandmother was only six years old when her father, a tailor in London, died. Her mother came to live in Rose Cottage on the corner of Saddle Street as a little girl. Alfred remembers collecting parcels from Sadborow with his grandmother for a Miss Willoughby who at this time owned our house. From Alfred we learnt that Mr Marsh rented the house from the Bragges of Sadborow and that he had been followed by Miss Willowby (a relation of the Bragges), then by a Miss Wise.

  In 1915 the modern history of the house began when the Misses Jones, Ada and her sister Maude,  who first of all rented from Miss Bragge and then in 1926 purchased it. At this time the Misses Jones needed curtains making and their dresses shortened to follow the latest fashion, so they asked Alfred’s sister May, who was a dressmaker in Hawkchurch and of whom they were very fond, to come and live in. When the second world war came households were allowed to keep one inside maid, otherwise May would have had to join the Land Army.

  In ‘Thorncombe: Life and Memories and the History of the Parish’ Ron Farley recalls that, ‘The Misses Jones were very  kindly old ladies, and were on the School Governors Board, and would come into the school to mark the register, and each child would have to stand and answer present Ma’am, when they left they always made sure each child had a few sweets, or an apple or an orange. Once or twice a year they would invite all the children to a tea party at ‘Ferndale’, there were always games indoors and out. We always had to call them Miss Jones, Miss Ada or Maude, real genteel ladies, they were, anyone  village they heard was ill they would send a mild pudding or some fruit.’

  During the Misses Jones’s time, the entrance from Saddle Street was through what is now the field behind the old coach house. Their carriage was driven round to what is now our gravel drive, between clipped box hedges in diamond and square shapes. Miss Maude died in 1952 and May and Alfred stayed with Miss Ada until she died in 1963 aged 99.

  After all this, however, we still have no idea who was responsible for the building of the Georgian House, or when Laurel Cottage became Ferndale and when the 19th century extension was built and by whom. However we do know that the names was changed from Ferndale to Upperfold House in the Philpott Curran era because this had been the name of their estate in Yorkshire. The Philpott Currans came to live at Saddle Street in 1964, and thoroughly  modernised the house, making a new driveway where it is today and replacing the old glassed-in front door with a conservatory on the south end. Ronald and Fiona Harrington purchased the house on the death of Mrs Philpott Curran in 1998 and, two years later, having replaced with a modern wing all that remained of the 16th century Laurel Cottage, sold it to us in 1990.



First published in the TVT News, winter 1996 and reproduced by kind permission of Peter Bicknell who lived alone at Upperfold following Caryl’s death in 2005. The house changed hands again in 2012.