The Picturesque had been born on the Welsh borders on the estates of Sir Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight, but it was Lady Georgina Gordon, the young second wife of the 6th Duke of Bedford, who saw that the Tamar valley had equal possibilities. Lady Georgina was the daughter of the Duke of Gordon, a family regarded by contemporaries as wild Scots. She was described by the Duchess of Devonshire (who disapproved of her) as "very pretty, very bewitching, and clever certainly". She loved children and had twelve of her own, nursing them herself which was unusual and regarded as slightly improper in her day.
Lady Georgina chose the site and may well have worked with the other three members of the quartet to whom we owe the creation of Endsleigh. They were her husband, a sensitive and scholarly man with a great interest in trees and botany; Humphry Repton, who around 1800 had encouraged the taste for "natural landscape" in contrast to the more formal perfections of ‘Capability’ Brown; and finally Jeffry Wyatt, or Wyatville as he became, who actually designed the buildings that Repton had proposed. Although the planting at Endsleigh has greatly outgrown his plans for it, the landscape remains very close to Repton’s vision - a work of maturity illustrating the fullest development of his ideas.
Repton visited Endsleigh in 1809 and made recommendations for landscaping and designs for a house. He eventually put these together into one of his famous ‘Red Books’ (so called because of their red morocco leather bindings) with watercolours cunningly fitted with flaps to show the same view "before" and "after". It is now at Woburn Abbey, the principal residence of the Dukes of Bedford.
In the event it was Wyatville’s designs for the main Cottage that were chosen and it was finished in 1815. Endsleigh was never intended as a full time residence. It was in effect a very grand holiday cottage and the Duke and his family would stay here for about two months in the summer, with other visits early each year for the shooting. But it was always meant to be visited by others and it soon appeared in guidebooks of the area.
In the 20th century Endsleigh was visited less often by the Dukes of Bedford, but the whole estate was immaculately maintained and the house and garden kept in readiness for their possible arrival. The estate was finally put up for sale in 1956 and the house and park together with the fishing was purchased by a syndicate of friends and neighbours, founding the Endsleigh Fishing Club Ltd. The main Cottage became a hotel, then still keeping much of the original furnishing and retaining the atmosphere of a privately-run house. In 2004 the Fishing Club found it could no longer afford the estate which was sold with the Cottage to a branch of the Trusthouse Forte Group. The main house became a hotel and most of the furniture was sold.
The Swiss Cottage
Jeffry Wyatville designed the Swiss Cottage around 1815. Originally surrounded by an Alpine garden, it is a particularly good instance of the taste for placing Rustic buildings in such a landscape. The ground and attic floors were designed to be lived in by a labourer and continued to be so until 1962. The Duke of Bedford had separate access to the verandah and the rooms on the main floor, all furnished "a la Suisse with wooden chairs and platters, hornspoons etc."
It was used for picnics and shooting lunches, but like the rest of the grounds it could be visited when not in use by the family. Emma Prior, the daughter of Sir William, a frequent shooting visitor, wrote in her diary on August 8th 1847: 'Lovely views from the windows and delicious walks in all directions. Dark wooded banks and the Tamar winding below. The view from the Swiss Cottage pleased me best. The Dairy was exquisite and quite the best I have ever seen, and the various little cottages about the place are so pretty. We had a lovely day'.