Old Forde House in Newton Abbot 

Archaeologists to explore hidden past of one of Devon’s oldest buildings used by rulers and nobility

Archaeologists are hoping to discover more about the prehistoric, Roman and medieval history of a building used by Kings and Devon’s most important families.

A new archaeological study could reveal more about the one of the county’s oldest buildings - Old Forde House in Newton Abbot. Very little is known about what the area was like before the Jacobean manor house was built.

A team led by University of Exeter students will use state-of-the-art equipment to try to discover previously unknown buildings or structures buried underground beneath the house and in the grounds.

Volunteers from the local community and Teignbridge Council can also help with the geophysical survey, which is the largest non-invasive archaeological investigations to have been carried out in the centre of Newton Abbot. The work will take place from 10am until 3pm on Friday, 11 January. Anyone who wishes to help should wear sturdy footwear and warm clothing.

Old Forde House is grade 1 listed and currently home to Teignbridge District Council. The original house was built in the mid-16th century and added to later. King Charles I stayed at the house overnight in 1625 on his way to Plymouth. In 1646 during the Civil War, Forde House gave shelter to Oliver Cromwell and Colonel Fairfax. William of Orange stayed at the house in 1688 on the way to his coronation in London having landed in Brixham a few days earlier.

The team of five students – first, second and third year undergraduates - will also use other equipment which can measure where medieval field boundaries lay by measuring fluctuations in magnetic fields.

Third-year student Dan Brock, who is leading the work, said: “We hope this research will give us a much better understanding of how Newton Abbot developed, and the buried archaeological features within the grounds of Old Forde House. We will be using equipment which measures variations in the Earth’s magnetic field and changes in the electrical resistance of the ground to see if we can find medieval, Roman and pre-historic features underground.

“What remains of the once substantial estate has been protected from urban development and agricultural exploitation since the construction of the first house at the site during the mid-16th century. We hope this means the buried archaeology of the area will be highly preserved and give us some clear data. This would allow us to reconstruct the estate’s development, for which there is currently little evidence, and analyse the state of Newton Abbot’s urban landscape prior to the construction of the house.

“The project will also provide valuable information as to how best the site should be managed in future and will be used to encourage the local community to engage with the historical development of the area.”

Old Forde House was built around 1610 by Sir Richard Reynell, Member of Parliament for Mitchell in Cornwall and his wife Lucy Brandon. In 1648 the estate passed to the Courtenay family through marriage. The Courtenays lived in the house until 1762 and it was sold to Teignbridge Council in 1978.

Cllr Humphrey Clemens, Teignbridge’s District Council’s Executive for Planning and Heritage, said: “We look forward to welcoming the group of experts from the University of Exeter for their studies at Old Forde House. This is certainly a unique opportunity to discover more about the grand building and grounds which have played a significant role in the history of Newton Abbot and continue to be used daily.

“It’s the unknown of what might be discovered and revealed which I hope will attract the attention of the public. I would certainly encourage them to come along and see what’s going on as it’s not every day this sort of opportunity comes up, especially on our own doorstep.

“I would also like to thank Teignbridge officers who have helped in arranging the site visit from the University. There’s been lots of preparation going on behind the scenes and this is something special for Teignbridge to host an archaeological survey at Old Forde House.”

Date: 7 January 2019

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