Most domestic gatehouses date from the late 14th and 15th centuries. When life became more peaceful from the late 15th century gatehouses gradually came to be regarded as status symbols to impress rather than as a means of protection as at Shute.
Shute was originally a medieval house, much enlarged and remodelled around 1500 by Cicely Bonville who married Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset. In 1554 the Grey’s house was forfeited to the Crown, eventually being sold to William Pole of Colyton who made it his home. It was probably his son, Sir William Pole, a writer and Antiquary who built the gatehouse after succeeding in 1587. With its battlements and possibly genuine medieval gargoyles, the style is consciously antiquarian. During the restoration by the Landmark Trust evidence was discovered that the window on the top floor had once formed a nearly continuous band with the windows in the turrets, in keeping with the ‘more glass than wall’ fashion of the time.
With windows of this kind allowing a ‘fair prospect’ it is likely that the upper room was used as a belvedere or outlook, probably to watch the hunt taking place in the old deer park on the hill opposite. On its other side the gatehouse would have opened into a forecourt or courtyard and there is evidence that the gatehouse was at least roughly aligned on the porch in the main front of the old house. The existing flanking walls probably incorporate earlier and lower walls that would have enclosed this forecourt. The entrance to the rooms over the gate arch would have been by outside steps.
After the building activity at Shute in the 15th and 16th centuries little more was done for two hundred years and it is likely that for most of the 18th century the house saw only the minimum of maintenance. With Shute by this time probably dilapidated, John William Pole, who had inherited Shute as a three-year old orphan, set about building a new Shute House on an entirely new site in the light and restrained style of Robert Adam. He preserved the old gatehouse as an interesting entrance to his newly landscaped park with the drive passing through it and on up to his modern mansion on the hill. Unfortunately the greater part of the old Bonville house blocked the intended route and so this was demolished, leaving only what might have been the medieval high end as adapted in the Tudor period. Round the gatehouse itself the ground was made to run up to parapet height on refashioned screen walls.
What is not known is whether the gatehouse was lived in as well as the side lodges. Records come only with the first full census return of 1841, which lists two households under ‘Lodge’ and ‘Lodge Wing’. This, and later census returns show the buildings to be occupied by a variety of families, probably employed on the farm or estate, involved in various trades such as agricultural labourers, carpenters, gardeners and a dairyman. By 1871, one occupier was Job Adams, a bailiff or farm manager, either for the Shute estate or the tenant of Shute Barton.
The final stages
During the 1870’s the two side lodges were taken down and replaced by the existing pavilions, which echo the Elizabethan architecture of the gatehouse itself. A carpenter’s shop which had been on the site also disappeared in the general tidying up. In 1926 the Shute estate was inherited by Sir John Carew-Pole. He lived at Antony in Cornwall and so not not needed as a home Shute House became a girls’ school in 1933. Shute Barton continued as a tenant farm until, after being empty for some time, Sir John repaired it and gave it to the National Trust in 1959.
The last people to live in the gatehouse were the Newbys. Mr Newby was a caretaker to the school, and his wife Mary, the daughter of a former agent for the Shute estate, continued to live on in the gatehouse after her husband’s death, without running water or electricity, until about 1958 when ill-health forced her to move out. It remained empty from then until 1981, with the arrival of the first Landmark clients.