Also written Hethe in a document recording a property transaction in 1517, according to The place-names of Devon. Heath is quite a common Devon farm name and presumably denotes a farm created out of an area of heathland.
There is not much in the public archives about the history of Heath. It was part of the Manor of Spreyton and was probably one of several smallish farms that the Lords of the Manor let for income. In the parish records there is a reference to the burial in 1569 of William, son of John Taylor of Heath. In the 1670s and 1680s the tenant was John Linscott, according to parish records. In 1694, Robert Hore was churchwarden for Heath (the job of churchwarden used to rotate between the occupants of the various farms). Robert Hore was a man of substance who also rented Bush and had property in South Tawton, so he had probably rented Heath to give himself extra land.
Most farmers took apprentices, often young children, who worked on the farm while being taught “husbandry” and lodged in the farmhouse with the farmer’s family. Girls were usually apprenticed as house servants, but also sometimes for farm work. There are good records of the apprentices taken by Spreyton farmers, and these give some indication of who was occupying what farm when. In 1742, Samuel Row took one Elizabeth Melhuish as an apprentice to work for him in the house at Heath. By 1769, William Powlesland took Mary Hill as an apprentice for “husbandry”, i.e. to work on the farm at Heath.
Throughout these changes in tenant, Heath continued to be in the ownership of the Lord of the Manor. During the 17th and 18th centuries, however, properties belonging to the manor began to be sold off, the chief purchasers being the Cann and Battishill families (prosperous local yeoman farmers).
William Battishill of Spreyton Barton acquired half of the Manor of Spreyton in 1639, including a half share of Heath. The Battishills seem subsequently to have acquired the freehold of the rest of Heath. By the end of the 18th century, however, they appear to have sold the farm to George Cann of Falkedon (1703-1804, the younger brother of John Cann of Fuidge), a rich bachelor. The exact situation is unclear, as late 18th century documents mention both William Battishill of Barton and George Cann in connection with Heath. For instance, in 1772 George Cann took an apprentice called Samuel Martin to work on the farm at Heath. In the same year, William Battishill of Barton also took an apprentice for Heath called Wilmot Cann (Wilmot being a girl’s name), who was apprenticed for an odd duo of trades: cordwainer (shoemaking) and ‘housewifery’. However, by the 1790s the Battishills are no longer mentioned and land tax records show George Cann as sole owner (with John Lee as the tenant), so he had presumably by then bought out any Battishill interest. Thereafter, the history of the farm is fairly well documented.
1804: George Cann of Falkedon died in 1804 from a fall from his horse.He left most of his extensive property to a nephew, but bequeathed Heath to his unmarried niece, Susanna Lambert Gorwyn (1755-1831), who had been living with him at Falkedon. It is unlikely, however, that she ever moved into Heath.
1805: Susanna, by then aged 50, married another George Cann (1744-1832), from a different, but equally wealthy, branch of the Cann family (he owned Bush, North Beer and properties in South Tawton). Before the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870, a woman’s property became her husband’s on marriage, so George became the owner of Heath. George and Susanna lived at the George’s home farm of Bush in Spreyton village and Heath continued to be let to John Lee and then, from 1813 to at least 1831, to Richard Paddon.
1832: George Cann died aged 88. He bequeathed Heath to his nephew, confusingly yet another George Cann (c.1791-1867). This George Cann lived at Dishcombe in South Tawton and continued to rent out Heath (in 1835 it was let to Thomas Jackman), or used it to house his farm labourers. But the census shows that by 1861, he had moved into Heath himself with his wife Elizabeth, perhaps on retirement (as he was 70 by then), leaving his son at Dishcombe in South Tawton.
1867: George Cann the younger died, bequeathing Heath to his son George Dunning Cann (1857-1921), who was a prominent local solicitor. George Cann’s widow Elizabeth continued living at Heath until her death in 1876, but thereafter Heath was once again let out to tenant farmers. A 1917 lease in the possession of the current owners gives the rent at that time as £108 a year. By then the farm consisted of 124 acres, compared to 71 acres in 1842 at the time of the tithe apportionment, so the Canns had obviously added to it, probably by taking fields from Bush. With the farm went a cottage in Spreyton village, which, according to the notice advertising the farm for rent, the tenant could take to house a labourer at an annual rent of £5.
1924: Heath was finally sold for £2,280 to the newly married Frank Gerrard from North Devon – his wife’s sister was married to the owner of the neighbouring farm of Combe and suggested he might buy it when he got married. Heath is still in the Gerrard family.
From 1941 to 1944, a searchlight battery manned by the Royal Artillery was based at Heath, aimed at enemy aircraft flying towards Bristol and Cardiff. The Nissen huts they used are still there. A small gold ring in the shape of a serpent, thought to be Roman, was unearthed by Frank Gerrard’s son while he was hoeing swedes in one of the fields and is now in the Exeter museum.
The farm was a medium-sized one by the standards of the parish. The four-bay cob and thatch farmhouse has a Grade II listing from Historic England, described as early to mid 18th century, although possibly with earlier parts – the 18th century building probably replaced and followed the plan of an earlier building, possibly some sort of open hall house heated by an open hearth fire. It was modernised sometime in the 19th century, perhaps when George Cann went to live there. The 18th century barn and linhay are also listed. The descriptions are as follows:
Farmhouse. Early-mid 18th century, but parts may be 16th or 17th century; modernised in mid-late 19th century. Plastered cob and stone rubble; stone rubble stacks topped with 19th century brick tops; thatch roof, replaced with corrugated asbestos over stables, rear block and out-shots.
Plan and development: L-shaped building. The main block faces south and is built across a gentle hillslope. The house has a 3-room-and-through-passage plan house. At the left end there is an inner room kitchen with a large end stack. The hall, now the dining room, has an axial stack backing onto the passage which now contains the 19th century main stair. The lower end room is now a parlour with a gable-end stack backing onto the stable block at the right (east) end. Service rear block projecting at right angles to rear of the inner room kitchen which contains one unheated room behind a through passage along the back of the main block. There is a series of out-shots to rear of the main block, the latest one blocking the passage rear doorway. Although no features earlier than the 18th century appear in the house its plan-form appears to be 16th century. It may have been rebuilt on the old foundations
although early fabric may survive and be hidden under later plaster. The house probably began as some form of open hall house, maybe heated by an open hearth fire. The fireplaces would have been inserted in the later 16th and 17th centuries and the house progressively floored over. Now the farmhouse is 2 storeys throughout.
Exterior: the main house has a very attractive 4-window front of similar mid-late 19th century 2 and 3-light casements with glazing bars. The passage front doorway contains a contemporary 4-panel door, overlight with margin panes, panelled reveals and flat hood on shaped brackets (now propped on cast iron posts). The front wall continues right as the blind rear wall of the stables. The roof is gable-ended. The rear block (also gable-ended) includes a first floor 19th century casement window containing rectangular panes of leaded glass.
Interior is largely the result of the mid-late 19th century modernisation. The large kitchen fireplace is granite with a soffit-chamfered oak lintel; it is early 18th century or even earlier. No other carpentry detail shows and the joinery and other detail is consistently mid-late 19th century. Roof was not accessible except in the stable where it is carried on A-frame trusses with pegged and spiked lap-jointed collars. The front garden is enclosed by a low stone rubble wall with rounded granite ashlar coping and includes monolithic granite gate posts, square in section with rounded heads.
Barn and linhay. Probably 18th century. Local stone rubble with cob wall tops; corrugated iron roof, formerly thatch.
Plan and exterior description: L-shaped building facing into the farmyard behind Heath Farmhouse. On the east side of the yard is a threshing barn facing west. It has large opposing double doors to the threshing floor right (south) of centre and rear left is a hayloft loading hatch over a small doorway All the doors are 19th century. Its roof is hipped each end. An open-fronted linhay projects forward at right angles from the left end of the barn. It is an unusual type of linhay being 2 bays to the ground floor cow byres and 3 bays to the tallet/hayloft. Between is a beam across the front of enormous scantling. The lower timbers appear to be secondary or replacements but those set into the top are original and rise through the tallet to support the outer principals of A-frame trusses. Roof is half-hipped to left.
Interior: barn is open to the roof which is carried on A-frame trusses with pegged lap-jointed collars. Smaller similar trusses over the linhay.
Although Heath became a freehold property, the Lord of the Manor continued to have a right to an annual “high or chief rent” from the owners of Heath. The original rent, which may date back to medieval times, was probably 4 shillings, as the documents show that the Hole and Kelly family, who both had a quarter interest in the manor of Spreyton, were collecting 1 shilling each from the occupant of Heath. The right to collect this rent and other Spreyton manorial rents was later acquired by the Cann and Battishill families. As they also owned Heath and would not have collected the rent from themselves, the effect of this acquisition seems to have been to cancel the manorial rent for Heath, although other Spreyton rents continued to be payable throughout the 19th century.
Occupants of Heath as shown by the census
1841: Thomas Jackman, a 44-year old farmer, with his wife Ann, five children and one apprentice.
1851: George Wadman, agricultural labourer, and family.
1861: George Cann, 70-year-old farmer of 132 acres, employing 4 labourers and 4 boys. The household included his wife Elizabeth; his niece Elizabeth Lynch; a dairymaid, housemaid, carter, ploughboy and cow boy.
1871: Elizabeth Cann, annuitant aged 73, with another Elizabeth Cann, aged 70 (presumably a cousin) visiting from South Tawton; and a 26-year-old servant, Elizabeth Powlesland.
1881: George Powlesland, 34-year-old farmer farming 122 acres with 2 labourers and one boy. The household consisted of his wife Ann; a house servant, Anna Maria Wonnacott, and a ‘farm servant’, William Lang, both aged 14.
1891: George Powlesland with his wife; the grandmother and mother of his wife; a widowed sister, Susan Brock; and 2 farm servants, John Lee and James Bibbings.
1901: John Page, 42-year-old farmer, and his wife Selina and a 61-year old unmarried agricultural labourer, William Ayers.
Fields belonging to Heath in 1842
Acreage(acres, roods, perches)
|414 ||Broad Park||4.2.16|
|419 ||Houses and court||0.0.35|
DOCUMENTS IN THE DEVON HERITAGE CENTRE RELATING TO HEATH
Indenture of 5.10.1757 between (1) Richard Hole of North Tawton and wife Julianna; (2) Thos Hole of North Tawton; and (3) John Battishill of Drewsteington. It lists the various properties owned by Richard Hole (a big landowner). These include one quarter of Heath.
DRO ref: 2914/A/PF 20. The Holes were big landowners and had inherited a quarter share of the Manor of Spreyton. Around this time, they were disposing of their holdings in Spreyton, and probably sold Heath to the Battishill family, while retaining the rights to the manorial rent from the property.
Conveyance of 6.3.1758. Arthur Kelly of Kelly conveys to John Cann the younger for £30 all his quarter share of the Manor and Lordship of Spreyton and all the high and chief rents:
- 3s 3d from Coombe
- 1s 9d from Bigbeare
- 6d from Puddicombe Park;
- 1s from Heath
- 3d from Bigbeare
- 3d from East Bigbeare
- 1 ½ d from West Bigbeare
- 2 ½ dfrom Down’s Bigbeare
- ¼ one pair of gloves from Croft
DRO: Lambert Estate papers
Conveyance of 29.9.1800. Juliana Hole of Exeter, widow and devisee for life under the last will and testament of her husband Richard Hole late of the parish of Holy Trinity in Exeter, Clerk, and Robert Hole of Trinity College Cambridge, Clerk, fourth son of Richard and Juliana Hole, and devisee in fee under the will of Richard Hole convey a number of properties to JohnLambert Gorwynof Cheriton Bishop, Gentleman [who then sold the properties in Spreyton on to his cousin George Cann of Falkedon]. The deed mentions inter alia the conveyance of the rights to high or chief rents from a number of properties [also sold on to George Cann], including 1 shilling for Heath, part of the Manor of Spreyton, described as being in the occupation of “heirs of Battishill”.
Will of George Cann of Falkedon, gentleman, dated 1802
Bequeaths (inter alia)£1,000 and the freehold of Heath (occupied by his tenant John Lee) in the parish of Spreyton, together with the Great Tythes of that property, to his niece Susanna Lambert Gorwyn, then living with him.
Lease of 27.12.1827. George Cann of Spreyton, gentleman, leases Heath to Richard Paddon of Spreyton with the sheaf or great tythe for 14 years, with instructions not to plough up Lower Heath Hill.
DRO ref: DD 34224
Will of George Cann of Bush in Spreyton, gentleman, dated 1831
The will inter alia confirms the conveyance made by George of Dishcombe in South Tawton to his nephew George Cann, son of Thomas, preparatory to George’s marriage to Elizabeth Ash; and bequeaths also to Georgethe rest of his estate, including (in Spreyton) Bush and its tithe revenues; Risdon’s Cottage and Heath and the taxes and tithes due from them; the cottage occupied by Henry Honey; his quarter share of Cross, Middleton and St Cherries; his half share of Northcott now occupied by Richard Northcott; and his quarter share of the house and meadow now in the hands of John Newton; and (in Drewsteignton) Davyland; and (in South Tawton) Allisdon and Long Down.
Lease of 7.2.1835: George Cann leases Heath for 14 years to Thomas Jackman.
DRO ref: DD 34224
Will of George Cann of Heath, gentleman, dated 1863
- to his wife Elizabeth: an annuity of £30 chargeable on the revenues of Heath;
- £100 to each of the children of his brothers Mark, Thomas and William Cann and of his sister Elizabeth Stone;
- £5 each to all the household servants, daily workmen and labourers who have worked for him for at least 12 months and are still with him at the time of his death;
- to his son George: his properties of Allisdown and Langdown in South Tawton; Heath and certain cottages in Spreyton; Davyland in Drewsteignton and all his other real estate. George is also appointed his executor.