A Birthday Present
This handsome, octagonal castellated Gothick tower was built in 1839 by Louisa, Lady Rolle, as a surprise birthday present for her husband. J C Loudon described it as ‘the best piece of architecture at Bicton’. The tower is said to have got its name because Lady Rolle used one of its rooms to display her rich collection of china.
The Rolles were an ancient Devon family who amassed vast acreages in the county through marriage and purchase. Their main seats were here at Bicton, and at Stevenstone, where we have another Landmark, The Library. Lord and Lady Rolle were passionate gardeners and together they created fine botanical gardens and a famous arboretum at Bicton. Today, Bicton House has become a college and the Rolles’ beautiful botanical gardens nearby are open to the public.
The China Tower had fallen empty and become a temptation for local youth, so the Clinton Devon Estates, on whose land it stands today, approached us for help with its future use. The Tower sits atop a pocket of deep countryside, surrounded by heathland and pretty villages just east of the Exe estuary, between Sidmouth and Budleigh Salterton. The handsome red cliffs that form part of World Heritage Site, The Jurassic Coast, are within close reach. Sir Walter Raleigh was born just a couple of miles away.
‘Landmark fulfils a vital role, preserving buildings that form a small but important part of the fabric and heritage of Britain, and which would otherwise be lost’
Simon Martin - Life Patron
A surprise birthday gift
The China Tower was built in 1839 by Lady Louisa Rolle for John, Lord Rolle, a charming surprise birthday gift from a young wife to her much older husband.
The Rolles were an ancient Devon family who amassed vast acreages in the county through marriage and purchase. Their main seats were at here at Bicton, and at Stevenstone, where we have another Landmark, The Library. Lord and Lady Rolle were passionate gardeners and together they created fine botanical gardens and a famous arboretum at Bicton.
Lady Rolle built this octagonal, four-storey belvedere tower secretly on a knoll wooded with conifers, to surprise her husband on his 89th birthday. It is said that he has to be carried up the winding stairs to the roof terrace in his bath chair – from where he was rewarded with a view of Bicton House with the sea beyond. The tower gets its name from Lady Louisa’s collection of china which she displayed in one of the rooms. J C Loudon was impressed: he called it ‘the best piece of architecture at Bicton’ when he visited the gardens in 1842.
Had been standing empty
The tower had no water or electricity; the ground floor originally had a range, presumably for servants to prepare refreshments, but otherwise there was just one small fireplace on the third floor. The tower was empty, derelict and with a leaking roof and mould spreading across walls when work started.
The tower was completely scaffolded and all the render carefully surveyed for cracks and repaired. Electrical cables to the tower have been buried, and air source heating installed. The parapet was re-rendered and the water repelling detailing improved. The rear service rooms were re-built on the original footprints.
A new stone window was inserted on the first floor. On the ground floor, an original flagstone floor was found beneath later screed; a new kitchen was made by the Landmark team and a tiny shower room shoehorned into the rear extension. The next two floors became bedrooms, with the sitting room on the top floor, which has windows in every available angle to make the most of the views. The Rolle Trefusis arms above the door to the stair turret were skilfully restored and the approach to the tower along Lady Louisa’s Green Drive re-surfaced. The China Tower stands ready to be enjoyed once more.
You might also like...
Here are some other Landmarks in the same region
Goodleigh, Devon - Sleeps 5
Anderton House appeals to anyone who enjoys mod...
Lower Porthmeor, Cornwall - Sleeps 5
Arra Venton was once both chapel and smithy. Wi...
Lansdown Road, Bath - Sleeps 4
Beckford’s Tower was designed by eccentric conn...
Lower Porthmeor, Cornwall - Sleeps 4
This simple granite house shares its spectacula...
Coombe, Morwenstow, Cornwall - Sleeps 4
The Carpenter's Shop is an airy conversion of t...
Peppercombe, North Devon - Sleeps 3
This thatched cottage is set in Peppercombe Val...