If there were a league table of how often a house and family appear on TV or in the papers, an unexpectedly high entry would probably be the Fulfords of Great Fulford in Devon. Having featured in other programmes and even their own series, it’s almost a surprise that it has taken Country House Rescue this long to visit (Thursday 5 July, 20:00, Channel 4). Despite the bluff and occasionally hostile exterior of Francis Fulford, the Fulfords are a remarkable family – both this generation and the many which have come before them. The question is; with so few houses still lived in by the original families, will future Fulfords be able to stay in their notoriously imperfect house?
Great Fulford falls firmly in that category of houses which Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd described as the ‘illustrious obscure‘; those many smaller, privately-owned houses which lie nestled in valleys and hidden by their own land – in this case, a not insubstantial 3,000-acres. Pevsner described it as ‘…a substantial courtyard mansion, larger than most in Devon though characteristic of the county in its reticent exterior and its patchy and undocumented history of rebuilding and remodelling…‘. With a core which stretches back to the 1500s, the house has grown and been embellished as funds and whims permitted creating a lengthy listing desciption which would make a larger house very proud. A major remodelling in the 1800s has been suggested as being to designs of Sir Jeffry Wyatville but neither Pevsner nor Colvin mention this and the listing discounts it.
So although some aspects of the actual house remain a mystery, one aspect which is very clear is the remarkable endurance of the family, with the current owner, Francis Fulford, being the 26th (or 27th – he’s not sure) Fulford of Fulford, a line stretching back over 800 years. Very few families are able to trace back their lineage so far, even fewer are still in possession of the original family seat. Yet they do survive, despite the best efforts of tragedy and unforgiving tax regimes to unseat them.
One such family has featured on Country House Rescue before: the Kellys of Kelly, also in Devon, who have a proud history dating back to the 1100s. In 2010, Ruth Watson visited the beautiful if rapidly deteriorating Kelly House [more on that visit in this previous blog post: ‘A glimmer of hope‘] to find an owner almost in denial as to the decrepit state of their home. Proving that Country House Rescue can be a positive catalyst for change; the house is now slowly being restored with help from various students of architecture, surveying and other related fields. By contrast, the Fursdon family of Fursdon House (also in Devon!) have fully adapted their estate to offer all the usual activities which have ensured their beautiful 750-acre estate and elegant house (which, in a truly modern way, you can follow on Twitter, @fursdondevon, and Facebook) not only brings in an income but is also a home.
These smaller houses form the backbone of the local history of an area; so embedded that their name denotes the place. In a fascinating series of articles in ‘The Field‘ magazine, starting in 1984, Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd toured the length and breadth of the UK seeking out these lesser known seats and their even more private owners. To read these amazing histories is to realise the depth of history which our nation enjoys, including:
- Cruwys of Cruwys Morchard, Devon
- Dymoke of Scrivelsby, Leicestershire
- Staunton of Staunton, Nottinghamshire
- Charlton of Hesleyside, Northumberland
- Leighton of Loton, Shropshire
- O’Conor of Clornalis, Ireland
- Eyston of Hendred, Oxfordshire
- Frampton of Moreton, Dorset
- Mynors of Treago, Herefordshire
- Heneage of Hainton, Lincolnshire
- Houison Crauford of Craufurdland, Ayrshire [who will also be in this series of CHR]
- Munro of Foulis, Ross-shire
So although not unique, the Fulfords are rare. In many ways the Fulfords are a refreshing alternative to the slick corporate manicure of many homes or the stately preservation of the National Trust (though all have their place). This is a notable family who have, against all odds, achieved something exceptionally rare amongst stately home owners. This has to be admired and although unconventional they are a fascinating part of the tapestry of our nation. Some part of me hopes that they achieve a beautiful equilibrium of succeeding enough to ensure the survival of the house, but not too much so as to compromise the character of their lives or Great Fulford.
- ‘Can the Fulfords clean up?‘ [Daily Telegraph – 2005]
- ‘Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Francis Fulford, landowner and writer‘ [The Independent – 2005]
Country House Rescue – Series 4 [Channel 4]
Country House Rescue – Episode 4 [Channel 4]