regency houses in teignmouth

It is the small architectural details that make old buildings special and luckily for us there are still many original Georgian features that can be found at Woodlands that make the house one-of-a-kind.

It would be interesting to know whether it was because the owner appreciated and loved it exactly as it was or whether there was simply not enough money to bring the house ‘up to date’, but Woodlands fortunately, is quite intact. Woodlands was owned by the same family from 1875 to 1960 passing through three generations of the Harris family.  All the male Harris’ were solicitors in Teignmouth but by 1935 we believe there was only Elizabeth Harris left, she didn’t work and although rich enough to live alone in a very big house left it largely untouched, apart from installing electric lighting.

The house was built in 1826 when the fourth George as on the throne. Most of the restructuring that went on occurred in the 1840’s so is still very interesting from a historical point of view. The house was sold quite frequently between 1826 and 1875, we know of 6 different owners during this time, and the biggest change was to the front of the house when a front porch and dining room were added. From the back, or garden, we can see that it was originally built to follow the fashionable design principles of the Georgian period. It has a perfectly symmetrical structure with its two bays and carefully spaced windows (pic 1). Unusually the veranda curves around the bays (pic 2), the structure is wood and the roof is covered in zinc, presumably this was the work of shipbuilders who are the only craftsmen who would have been skilled at the curvature needed. It is held up by pillars cast not far away in Plymouth in the same foundary that made the Atmospheric Railway for Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

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The focal point of the house is the hall which is made of three separate rooms. On entering you will see a rather gothic looking dark fireplace under a very large round window, this leads to the second hall which though small has a vaulted roof like a church and a curved door still covered in its original red baize (pic 3) and mentioned by Nikolaus Pevsner in his book The Buildings of England: Devon Pevsner N & Cherry B. The main hall is dominated by the stairs that sweep up to the second floor (pic 4). This is the most gothic structure in Woodlands the “Strawberry Hill’ kind of gothic revival, not black and heavy, but fanciful.  The stairs begin with a marquetry hand rail and are made of wrought iron decorated with small arches and although often referred to as a spiral or curved staircase the correct term is a helical staircase, it differs from a spiral staircase in that it has no central post or column but clings to the curve of the wall. Did I mention that the walls are curved? The hall and staircase are filled with natural light from the circular roof window right at the top of the stairs which matches the round window in the hall.

The rest of the ground floor comprises the dining room, lounges and library. They all have high ceilings, very heavy wide doors and large marble fireplaces either side of which are elaborate, jeweled servants bells (pic 3). All three fireplaces were made smaller in the 1930’s with typical art deco style tiles, the cost of coal and of servants presumably making the enormous fires of the 19th Century unsustainable. The lounge has a small room attached to it connected by wooden double doors, presumably these were the private rooms of the lady of the house while the library was the domain of the master. The doors were either designed to be opened up to allow dancing, or, as there were once doors connecting the dining room to the ‘boudoir’, the boudoir to the lounge and the lounge to the library it was arranged to allow the family to go from room to room without encountering a servant or getting cold in the hall.

All three rooms have ceiling roses which were a decorative but practical feature to protect the ceiling from heat and marks caused by candle light. The candelabra (pic 3) are actually wooden, originally made to hold candles they were adjusted at some point to take electricity, the rooms also have elaborate cornicing and very tall Georgian skirting boards, much higher than we normally have today. In the library and lounge there are french windows leading out to the garden and fortunately they retain their original shutters. Although they were nailed back when the house was converted into a hotel in 1960 they are so big and heavy it was probably too much trouble to take them down, so they are now used again for their original purpose of insulation and protection.

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The bedrooms on the first floor have sea views and all the decorative features of downstairs but on a smaller scale, the ground floor was for impressing guests, the first for the comfort of the family. It is interesting to note that the second floor has 10 rooms, apart from the two main bedrooms all of a quite modest size and only one bathroom. Presumably the main bedrooms had a dressing room attached but we don’t know why a further 6 were needed. All these small bedrooms no doubt came in handy when Elizabeth Harris moved out during WW2 so that the house could be used by evacuees, they were also just the right size to convert into ensuite bathrooms a bit later on.

The exception to this is what we believe to be the Butler’s or Housekeeper’s room. This room is quite large and overlooks the front of the house and the servants entrance at the side. It has two doors, one leading to the main hall and another leading to the top floor, perfectly situated for keeping an eye on the needs of the Family while also observing the comings and goings of the servants. Another clue is that it also has a very impressive fireplace, one of the perks of the job.

The top floor has much smaller rooms and few architectural features or fires, although the census of the times do not show the house having many live in servants this is probably where they slept.

The basement runs the whole length of the main floor, it contains, of course, a very large kitchen, two wine cellars, four other work rooms and a larder with its original stone shelves and hooks for hanging game. The whole of the floor is tiled in stone flags, currently very fashionable but in practice very uncomfortable underfoot, pity the poor servants walking on that without the benefit of modern cushioned trainers! There is a dumb waiter which is still in perfect working order which was used to send food upstairs to the ‘still room’ a room set aside for final preparations and keeping food warm until it needed to be served. Clearly it took a lot of space and servants to keep a house like this running.

On Elizabeth Harris’ death the house was left to a nephew who promptly sold it to British Land who blocked up the fireplaces, added some fitted wardrobes and put sinks to all of the rooms, fortunately all easily reversible, and turned it into a hotel.

teignmouth regency theatre

 

About us

Woodlands is a grade II listed Regency house filled with charm and character. The house has an unusual, curved front with many original features still in place including an elegant central staircase, and it is situated in an extensive garden with rolling lawns and ancient trees. We offer extensive secure off-road parking.

We have two large en-suite bedrooms on offer, both of which have stunning views of Teignmouth and the sea. Guests are also welcome to enjoy our lounge, conservatory and spacious veranda which also overlook the garden and the sea.