Spreyton farm histories


Spreyton farm histories

Old postcard of Bush, probably mid-20th century.

  • History of the farm
  • Historic England Listing
  • Census returns for Bush
  • Fields belonging to Bush in 1842
  • Documents in the archives relating to Bush

History of the farm

The origin of the name is uncertain. There are no other places called Bush listed in the Devon Dictionary of Place-Names, but maybe the original farmhouse was near a prominent bush.

Bush was part of the Manor of Spreyton that belonged to the Talbots in the Middle Ages. The Talbots probably lived at Spreyton Barton and would have let Bush for income. The first record of Bush so far traced is in a 1644 rent-roll, when Richard Phillipps was listed as paying 2s.6d. rent for Bush. The Spreyton parish records show that in 1697 Robert Hore was paying the church rate due from the occupant of Bush. The Hores were a large family scattered all over Devon in the 17th century. Robert probably came from the prosperous branch that lived in South Tawton. Whether the Hores lived at Bush is uncertain, as they were also renting Coffins and Heath and probably still had land in South Tawton. But they appear to have regarded Spreyton as their parish as there are several Hore gravestones in the floor of Spreyton church.

Like most of the rest of the Manor, the freehold of Bush became split between more than one owner after the Talbots ran out of male heirs. By the 17th century, half was in the hands of the Battishill family of Barton; a quarter to the Hole family of North Tawton; and a quarter to the Kellys of Kelly in west Devon. The three-quarters belonging to the first two were acquired during the 18th century by Mark Cann, a member of a wealthy branch of the old and prolific Cann family (Cann genealogy is complicated, but he was probably only distantly related to the Canns at Fuidge whose memorials are prominent in Spreyton church). “Mark Cann, yeoman” is listed as a freeholder in Spreyton as early as 1734. Mark Cann never seems to have lived at Bush (in 1793, for instance it seems to have been let to one George Powlesland, probably from Powlesland farm in South Tawton, as the latter took an apprentice to work on “Bush estate” in that year). But Mark’s son George did move there and lived there for many years. He owned a number of other farms and presumably chose to live in Bush because he saw it as a suitable gentleman’s residence, nicely situated in the village.

Until 1760, Arthur Kelly of Kelly still owned the remaining quarter of the freehold of Bush and presumably received rent from the Canns. In 1760, an interesting charitable arrangement was entered into. Arthur Kelly sold his quarter share of the freehold of Bush to four trustees, so that they could use the rental income from that quarter for the poor of Spreyton. It seems that some sums of money provided by some earlier benefactor had been lost and the grandees of the parish decided to make up for this by clubbing together to buy the quarter of Bush. The trustees were three members of the Cann family, including Mark Cann himself and John Cann of Fuidge, plus William Battishill of Spreyton Barton (the Canns and the Battishills were by this time the main landowners in Spreyton).

In 1771, the trustees gave Mark’s son George Cann (who by that time had acquired the other three quarters of Bush, no doubt as a gift from his father), a 99-year lease of their quarter at a rent of £3 per annum (implying an annual rentable value for the whole property of £12). The Charity Commissioners conducted an enquiry into this arrangement in 1823 and were clearly doubtful about it. Their detailed report is in the National Archives and the Devon Record Office. They questioned the length of the lease and appeared to doubt the appropriateness of a trustee giving a lease to his own son who was already in possession of the other three quarters of the freehold. George Cann subsequently surrendered the lease for a shorter 21-year one, and in the end the Commissioners concluded that £3 was a reasonable rent. In 1859, the Commissioners finally decided to sell their quarter to the then owner of the rest of Bush for £390.

George Cann lived on at Bush until the end of his long life – he died aged 88 in 1832 (his gravestone is in Spreyton churchyard). In 1805 he married Susanna Lambert Gorwyn from Cheriton Bishop, a 40-year-old spinster of independent means who had been bequeathed the neighbouring farm of Heath by her uncle. She died in 1831 aged 76, and is buried with her husband. They had no children, and George bequeathed Bush to his nephew, also George Cann. The latter lived in South Tawton and then at Heath. He appears to have disposed of Bush sometime between 1832 and 1842, as a John Heathman is recorded as the owner in the 1842 tithe apportionment. This was probably the John Heathman of Sampford Courtenay who later lived at North Beer; it is possible that his wife Elizabeth was a Cann and that the transfer of the property to him was a family affair.

Under the Heathmans, the property was let out to John Battishill (c.1804-1874), a younger son of the Battishill family of Spreyton Barton who had become a doctor – he is described as a “surgeon in general practice”. He was already there at the time of the 1851 census, and remained there until his death in 1874. By 1871, his widowed brother William Harrington Battishill of Barton had come to live with him. William Harrington stayed on at Bush after John’s death, living with John’s widow Alicia and her unmarried daughter Susanna. Susanna died only in 1923 and is listed in Kelly’s Directory as living at Bush until at least 1910. Susanna, her parents and her brother are all buried in Spreyton churchyard.

Subsequent residents mentioned in the directories include John Charles Stewart Amery in 1919; William Hamlyn in 1923; and Miss Mary Ann Hopkins, described as a farmer of more than 150 acres, between 1926 and 1939. A press cutting in the Okehampton Library records the house being on sale in 1940, described as suitable for a small guest-house.

The house is a large, attractive and rather grand farmhouse which would normally be associated with a correspondingly large farm. Surprisingly, Bush seems to have had very little land. At the time of the Charity Commissioners’ inquiry in 1823, it was described as consisting of 23 acres of arable land; 1 acre of meadow; 22 acres of moorland “usually covered in furze but capable of being brought into tillage”; and 1 acre let on a 58-year lease by George Cann in 1806 to the Reverend Richard Holland to build 2 cottages for his workmen, which had been done “at considerable expense”.Given the amount of moor, the farm was probably not very profitable. The survey done in 1842 for the tithe apportionment gives a complete list of the fields belonging to Bush, by which time it had grown slightly (presumably as the result of purchases by George Cann), but only to 57 acres.

It is possible that the farm was much larger in the past. But it seems more likely that it was always a small farm (50 acres was considered quite viable in days past) and that the original medieval house was smaller.The position in the village no doubt made the house attractive. When the farm was acquired by a wealthy landowner such as George Cann, he probably added to it in order to turn it into a gentleman’s residence. It certainly has undergone a number of alterations or “improvements” over the centuries. Historic England suggest that there was a major refurbishment in the late 17th or early 18th century, and then a modernisation in the early 19th century and again in 1920. However, this does not square with an account given by George Cann to the Charity Commissioners. He said that his father Mark Cann, after he got the 99-year lease of the quarter he did not own in 1771, pulled down the house and began to build a new one, but died before it was completed. George Cann said that he completed the house. This suggests a major modernisation in the late 18th century. Be what it may, the present building is a handsome residence with a number of interesting features and has been given a Grade II listing. Several of the outbuildings belonging to the farm are also Grade II listed. The house retains its granite mounting block near the entrance.


English Heritage description of Bush and its outbuildings


House, former farmhouse. The plan suggests 15th or 16th century origins but the earliest datable fabric is early-mid 17th century, kitchen wing added in mid-late 17th century, major late 17th-early 18th century refurbishment, modernised in the early 19th century and again circa 1920, this last one including Queen Anne style joinery detail by Dart and Francis. Plastered cob on stone rubble footings, cob stacks topped with 19th century brick; thatch roof.

Plan and development: T-plan building. The main block faces south-west and it has
a 3-room-and-through-passage plan. The inner room at the left (north-west) end has
a gable-end stack. Large hall has an axial stack backing onto the passage and the
service end room at the right end has a gable-end stack. Former 2-room plan kitchen
block projecting at right angles to rear of the hall, the second room with a large
gable-end kitchen block. The main block was reroofed and refurbished in the late
17th-early 18th century and therefore there is no evidence of the historic development of the house. The earliest features are in the hall and they are early-mid 17th century.

The kitchen block is wholy mid-late 17th century. The house was rearranged a little in the early 19th century. At this time the former service end room was rebuilt as a parlour and a service hall added behind. It was probably at this time that a main stair was built blocking the back of the- passage but this was rebuilt circa 1920. 2 storeys

Exterior: regular but not symmetrical 5-window front of early 19th century, 16-pane sashes. However a garden wall projecting forward divides the fenestration into a 2 and 3-window section. Then the right 3-window section is symmetrical about the passage
front doorway which contains an early 19th century 6-panel door with panelled reveals and a flat-roofed Doric porch. Main roof is gable-ended. The rear block includes a
couple of oak-mullioned casements containing rectangular panes of leaded glass at
first floor level; these may be as early as the late 17th century. Eaves on the north-west
side (to the rear courtyard) is carried down over a pent roof.

Interior: early-mid 17th century features in the hall, namely a stone rubble fireplace
(partly relined with brick) and an oak lintel given an ovolo moulding and bar run-
out stops, and the 2 crossbeams are soffit-chamfered and one has step stops. The
mid-late 17th century kitchen block has plain soffit-chamfered ceiling beams and the large fireplace has a soffit-chamfered and scroll-stopped oak lintel and contains a large blocked oven. The floor here is cobbled. Service end parlour has early 19th century carpentry. Roof throughout of A-frame trusses with pegged lap-jointed collars but those of the main block are augmented with blacksmiths nails. Great deal of late
17th - early 18th century and early 19th century joinery detail throughout.

A low granite stone rubble wall projects forward from the front. It has rounded
granite ashlar coping and there is a stone mounting block on the outside. To left
(south-west) of the house the garden is enclosed by a high plastered cob wall with
thatched coping, much of it replaced by brick along the front.

Bush House is attractive and also forms a group with its courtyard of thatched


Stable block, now used as a garage. Probably 18th century. Plastered cob on stone rubble footings; thatch roof.

Plan and exterior description: stable block facing the end of Bush House to
the south-east. There is a small door to right of the front and there is a 20thcentury
garage door in the left (south-west) end. Roof is half-hipped to right and hipped
to left. Inside it is open to a roof carried on A-frame trusses with pegged lap-
jointed collars.

This stable/garage and the other thatched farm buildings associated with Bush House
form an attractive group in the village.


Stables, former linhay. Late 17th or 18th century. Plastered cob on stone rubble footings, weather-boarded front; thatch roof.
Plan and exterior description: the stable block faces south-east into the courtyard
behind Bush House. It was originally an open-fronted linhay except at the
right end where the cob wall returns half a bay across the front. The front was
weather-boarded in the 20th century and there are stable doors each end and 20th century windows above. The centre portion has been since knocked out for a car port. The roof is half-hipped to right and gable-ended to left where it abuts a later stable block. Behind this is the original 5-bay front. Large roughly-finished crossbeams
rest on monolithic granite posts. On the top timber posts rise through the
tallet/hayloft and curve inwards to clasp the outer principals of A-frame trusses
with pegged lap-jointed collars.

This stable (former linhay) and the outer thatched farmbuildings associated with
Bush House form an attractive group in the village.


Barn, now converted to a billard room. Probably 18th century. Plastered cob on stone rubble footings; thatch roof.

Plan and exterior description: small threshing barn facing south-west onto the rear
courtyard of Bush House. Front has a central large double doorway, not quite
full height and flanked by short projecting midstrey walls. Roof is hipped each

Interior: a high ceiling has been inserted in the 20th century. Roof of A-frame trusses
with pegged lap-jointed collars.

This barn and the other thatched farmbuildings associated with Bush House form
an attractive group in the village.

Census returns for Bush

1841: John Battishill, aged 37, surgeon; his wife Alice and 1-year-old daughter Susanna; and three servants or labourers, Jane Elias aged 22, Anne Cann aged 20 and John Heard aged 15.

1851: John Battishill, aged 47, with his wife Alicia, aged 48; their son, William John Battishill aged 6; a 31-year-old maidservant, Mary Beer; and a another young servant, George Lias (probably a mistake for Elias), aged 13. The fact that no farm labourers are mentioned indicate that the inhabitants were no longer farming the land and it was probably let to a neighbour. John Battishill is described as a member of the College of Surgeons and of the Apothecaries Company, practising as a general practitioner.

1861: John and Alicia Battishill, together with their unmarried 21-year-old daughter Susanna; their son William; two visitors (Elizabeth Yelland, aged 30, and Mary Howard, aged 57); and a cook, housemaid and general servant (Elizabeth Webber aged 21; Anne Rogers, aged 14; and John Leach, aged 18).

1871: John and Alicia Battishill, now aged 67 and 68; their daughter Susanna; John’s older brother William Harrington Battishill, aged 68 and described as a widowed landowner (he owned several Spreyton farms); Elizabeth Yelland, described as a cousin; Frances E.J. Parker, a visitor aged 37; and three domestic servants: George Lethbridge aged 20; Elizabeth Webber now aged 31; and Elizabeth Middleweek aged 21.

1881: Alicia Battishill, widow aged 78, now head of the household; her 41-year-old unmarried daughter Susanna, still unmarried; her 78-year-old brother-in-law William Harrington Battishill, “retired farmer”; and two grandchildren, William C. and John H. Battishill, aged 7 and 4; and a grand-daughter D.C. Battishill. Elizabeth Yelland (aged 50) and Elizabeth Middleweek are still there, but now described as “boarders” (“retired housemaid” has been crossed out against Elizabeth Middleweek’s name; as she was only 31, she may have become incapacitated and was being kept on by the family out of charity). There is housemaid, Mary Sanders aged 23; Elizabeth Webber is still the cook; and there is a nurse Margaret Harris (presumably for the children). The property is described as “Bush House”, indicating that its farming days had been left well behind.

1891: Susanna Battishill, unmarried, age 51, is now head of the household. “living on her own means”. She has living with her three nieces and a nephew (Alice Rose aged 20, Mary aged 18, Frances aged 16, and William aged 17). These are presumably the children of her brother William John, who had become a solicitor and lived in Heavitree. There are two servants, a housemaid (Elizabeth Richards) and a general servant (Mary Hopkins), both in their teens.

1901: Susanna is still there, but now has as boarders her married niece Alice Rose and her three young children, together with a parlourmaid (M. Manning) and a 12-year-old nursemaid (Eva Webber).

1911: Susanna seems to have been staying in Exeter on census night, as the inhabitants are recorded as Mary Manning, housekeeper; and Victoria Hopkins, a 13-year-old schoolgirl.


Fields belonging to Bush in 1842

Tithe No.NAMEAcreage
(acres, roods,
403Gutter Close6.0.35


Little Common Ground3.1.0
407Middle Common Ground3.3.20
408Great Common Ground5.0.10
459Long Brake2.3.13
467Middle Brake5.0.15
472Little Cannypark5.1.38
476Houses and court0.2.6
1015Twenty Acres0.3.4
TOTAL(includingan unspecified extra 2.1.38)57.4.38

Documents relating to Bush in the public archives

Manorial rent roll of 1644. Mentions tenant of Bush. Devon Archives ref: 158M/M42

Conveyance of 25.2.1646, whereby William Battishill of Spreyton conveys to Agnes Trend, widow of Chagford for £100 a half of Bobeer, Coffins, North Beer and Bush, the latter now or late in the occupation of [illegible] Hore. Devon Archives ref: DD 34201.

Conveyance of 1683 between (1) Alexander Trend of Chagford, yeoman; (2) George Palmer of Lyons Inn Middlesex; and (3) William Asshe. Alexander Trend conveys to Palmer and Asshe a half of Bobeer, late in the possession Ann Cadlake but now in possession of Alexander Trend; a half of Coffins now or late in the possession of Alexander Trend; a half of Courtisbeer, late in the possession of John Hore but now in that of Alexander Trend; and a half of Bush now or late in the possession Alexander Trend. (This could be a mortgage arrangement). Devon Archives ref: DD 34202.

Declaration of 20.4.1745 between (1) John Trend of Chagford, gent., and his wife Agnes; and (2) Henry Hooper, gent., and William Ellis, yeoman, both of Chagford. The parties agreed that the Trends would, in the Court of Common Pleas, levy and execute a fine unto Henry Hooper and William Ellis, upon a number of properties, including Half of Bush in Spreyton, in the occupation of Jophn Trend or his tenants.

Devon Archives: Lambert estate papers.

Final agreement of Easterin the 18th year of GeorgeII’s reign. John Trend gentleman and his wife Agnes, agree that lands in Bowbeer, North Beer, Coffins, Deerparks and Bush are to go to to Henry Hooperand William Ellis who have paid £200. Devon Archives ref: DD 34204.

Indenture of 5.10.1757 between(1) Richard Hole of North Tawton and his wife Julianna; (2) Thomas Hole of North Tawton; and (3) John Battishill of Drewsteignton. The Holes affirm John Battishill’s right toa quarter ofHorracombe conveyed by a lease and releae of 7 August in the previous year. The indenture also lists other properties of which Richard Hole is seized in fee simple,including in Manors of Lampford orLamford, Fursham and Spreyton; Spreyton Bargain, Spreyholt Wood and the Brendons; Risdons Tenement; New Mills, Middle orEast Nethercott; Downhays; and Devertons orDiverdowns, all in Spreyton; Hole and Budbrooke in Drewsteignton; and Baker’s Down in Cheriton Bishop. Also listed as being in his ownership are three-quarters of Higher or Great Falkedon; and a quarter share each of Middle Falkedon;Spreyton Barton; Stockey; Bowbeer; Cann’s Falkedon; Lower Falkedon;Huddishill;Lees;Joints Tenement; Riders Beer; Parsons Begbeer; Bush; North Beer; Coffins andSpreyton Mills.

Devon Archives ref: 2914 A/PF 20

Conveyance (lease and release) of 1/2.2.1758.Rev Richard Hole conveys a quarter of Bush to Mark Cann the elder of Spreyton. It is part of Spreyton Manor, and was theretofore in the possession of Richard Brock and now in the possession of Richard Earlon as tenant of Richard Hole. Annual reserved rent of 2/6 to be paid at Michaelmas.

Devon Archives ref: DD 34206

Conveyance of 26.3.1760. Arthur Kelly of Kelly conveys a quarter ofBush to William Battishill, John Cann the younger; his brother George; and Mark Cann for £45.

Devon Archives ref: DD 34208

Lease of 3.5.1771 between (1) John Cann; his brother George Cann; and Mark Cann; and (2) George Cann the younger, son of Mark. It refers to the 1760 lease and release of a quarter of Bush by Arthur Kelly and grants to George Cann the younger the quarter of Bush, now in the possession of Mark Cann (who is seized of the other three-quarters), for 99 years at £3, with a covenant to keep the building in repair.

Devon Archives ref: DD 34209

Will of Mark Cann of Spreyton, dated 1775.

Bequeaths (inter alia)

The use of Bush to his wife for40 years, with the entry and passage adjoining it, including the chambers above; a little meadow adjoining the north-east of the house; one of the hogsties; and all convenient paths and passages to and from the said premises;

to his son George: all the corn and hay at North Beer and Bush at the time of his death, whether standing or growing in the ground or saved in barns or ricks; all his household goods at Bush and North Beer not otherwise bequeathed; the young horse that George usually rides and is called “George’s horse”; his best saddle and [illegible]; and all his implements and tools of husbandry;

Devon Archives. He may already have conveyed the freehold of Bush to his son George, as the 1771 lease refers to George being seized of the three-quarters of Bush not belonging to the charity. Alternatively, Bush may have been part of his residual estate that he bequeathed to his son Mark. The latter disappears from the records and may have died young, whereupon his property would have gone to George.

Lease of 5.3.1806 whereby George Cann leases to the Rev. Richard Holland a 1-acre parcel of land adjoiningSpreyton Cross,and a part of Bushon which 2 cottages have been built. The lease is for 58 years at £2 per annum.

Devon Archives ref: DD34214

Charity Commissioners enquiry of 1823. This reported that John Cann, the last of the original four trustees, died 1807 and now John Cann of Fuidge (his nephew) was the only trustee. Geo Cann told the Commissioners that the other ¾ of the property belonged to his father Mark and the poor’s quarter was let to a tenant at a yearly rent equivalent to £12 for whole property, subject to deductions. Upon his 99-year lease of this quarter being granted, Mark Cann farmed the whole property himself, having pulled down the old house. He begun to build a new one but died before it was completed. George Cann finished it and had since resided in it. It cost about £200 to build the house, a barn and other buildings. The whole property consisted of 23 acres arable, rather more than 1 pasture, 22 acres moor usually covered in furze but capable of being brought occasionally into tillage, 1 acre leased in 1806 by George Cann to the Reverend Richard Holland for 58 yrs at £2, for the purpose of erecting 2 cottages, which had been built by Mr Holland for £100. The whole annual value was at present about £30, a considerable part arising from the building erected since 1771. The Charity Commissioners decided that it was not improbable that £3 was still a fair value for the quarter belonging to charity, but questioned whether trustee had authority to grant lease of such a length. They noted that it had been granted to a son who owned the other three-quarters. George Cann expressed himself willing to surrender the lease for a shorter (21-year) one of same value.The practice was for the £3 to be paid to John Cann of Fuidge at Easter or Lady Day at the parish meeting. There were three John Canns; the first two exercised an uncontrolled practice of distributing the £3, plus £1 from the Hore charity, to whom they chose, showing an account that it had been distributed. Since last John Cann’s death, the practice had been to make a list of persons both resident and settled in the parish whose names are not in the Overseers accounts as having received funds during the year, and apportion the money with the agreement of the Vestry. The Charity Commissioners suggested that the parson be a trustee. William Battishill, the grandson of one of the original trustees who had died in 1768, said that he had heard that there had been sums of money for the benefit of the poor that had been lost and that the residue of about £25, plus £20 added by the trustees, had been used to purchase the quarter of Bush. The latter now consisted of a farmhouse and some cottages built by Holland. George Cann had the estate adjoining of North Beer. George Cann was now about 80. The estate worth £20 a year. George Cann said that the previous house had been old and bad, and part of a field called High Crop Park had been rented to Holland for cottages. He thought the rent of the houses should be £16: his house £8, the 2 cottages £2 each. The land for the cottages was among best. His father the let the whole out at £12. National Archives: ref: CHAR 2/65.

Will of George Cann of Bush in Spreyton, gentleman, dated 1831

This lengthy will distributes his extensive property among his many nephews and nieces. He bequeathed the residue of his estate, including Bush and its tithe revenues, to his nephew George Cann, son of his brother Thomas.

8.7.1859: Charity Commissoners want to sell their quarter of Bush. The document notes that George Cann owns the remaining three quarters and the net annual value of the quarter is £13. Prepared to sell for £390.

Devon Archives ref: DD 34227

Lease and release of25/26.12.1883. John Cann gentleman, eldest son and heir in law of John Cann deceased who was the son of Thomas Cann, who was the only surviving brother and heir at law of John Cann gentleman, who was a trustee in the lease and release of 25/26 March 1760 (whereby a quarter of Bush was to be used for such of the poor as had not constant pay of the parish), grants a 21-year lease to George Cann of Bush; George surrenders the 99-year lease he had been granted in 1771.

Devon Archives ref: DD 34216

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