The Pynes estate originates in Norman times. It is understood that the Du Pin family came to England from Aquitaine in France with the court of Henry II of England . As knights of the Royal court, King John granted them land near Upton Pyne, in Devon. The family held the estate for 10 generations until it passed to the Larder family through marriage around the end of the 15th Century.
Pynes later passed to a branch of the Coplestons. Whilst living at Pynes Sir John Copleston, Sheriff of Devon, was knighted in 1655 by the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, to reward his support for the Parliamentary cause during the Civil War.
The present house
“Pynes owes everything to its situation, which is retired and beautiful, though but a short drive from the city of Exeter”, Ackermann’s Repository of the Arts, February 1825.
The original parts of the present house were built around 1700 by Hugh Stafford, into whose hands the estate had then passed. Pevsner described the original house as “an excellent example of a double-pile William and Mary house that became popular after the Restoration, but relatively rare in Devon.”
Hugh Stafford, the last of the Staffords of Pynes, was known for his love of cider. On sweet cider, in a letter to a friend in 1727, he wrote, “It may be acceptable to a female, or a Londoner, it is ever offensive to a bold and generous West Saxon”.
His daughter carried the estate to her husband, Sir Henry Northcote, from whom is descended the present Earl of Iddesleigh.
Under the Northcotes, the estate prospered and Stafford Henry Northcote extended the house to its present dimensions around 1851.
Northcote served as Chancellor of the Exchequer under Disraeli, before he was made Earl of Iddesleigh by Queen Victoria in 1885. He later held positions as Foreign Secretary and First Lord of the Treasury under Lord Salisbury before dying suddenly in 1887, not at Pynes, his family home, but at his official residence, 10 Downing Street.
Before serving as Chancellor, Sir Stafford assisted Prince Albert with preparations for the Great Exhibition of 1851, an enduring symbol of the Victorian age and one of the greatest exhibitions the world had seen. Shortly after, following extensive alterations to Pynes House, Sir Stafford is believed to have welcomed Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to stay at the house. The alterations included a magnificent stone entrance hall designed by the celebrated architect, Ambrose Poynter. It is said that the myrtle bush in the rose garden grew from a clipping given by Queen Victoria from her wedding bouquet.
On Albert’s death in 1861, Sir Stafford proposed the setting up of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter as a practical memorial. The museum prospers today, having been designated ‘Museum of the Year 2012’ by the Art Fund, and is praised for its ambition and imagination. Today, a statue of Sir Stafford stands in Northernhay Gardens, overlooking the museum. Another statue can be found in the central hall at the Palace of Westminster.
The literary world has also touched Pynes House. The second Earl, Walter Stafford Northcote, was a great admirer of Jane Austen and a firm believer that the house was the inspiration for Barton Park in Sense and Sensibility. In her book ‘In the Steps of Jane Austen’, Anne-Marie Edwards agrees that Jane’s Barton Park is Pynes House and thought it likely that Jane would have stayed at the house during one of several holidays in Devon, enjoying some of the beautiful country walks undertaken by the equally energetic Elinor and Marianne in the novel. This charming association has been passed down through generations of people in the local area and today remains as popular as ever.
During his schooldays, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was rescued from the estate river, having run away from home, by his schoolmate, the seventh baronet of Pynes.
Research into the history of Pynes House is ongoing, so please get in touch if you have any information or pictures that will help to create a more detailed account of the house, or the people that have lived and worked here.