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Mornacott dates back to 1286

Mornacott is a stunning classical West Country estate set within the parish of Bishop’s Nympton, near South Molton in North Devon. It enjoys some of the most spectacular views and scenery that Devon has to offer all based around the environment of a working farm.

The Parish records show that Mornacott dates back to 1286 and reference is made to Mornacott in the Doomsday Book although most of the current buildings are of 17th Century origin. Earlier occupation of Mornacott is however evidenced by the remains of a hill settlement atop one the many valleys which has been dated back to the 5th Century BC by English Heritage.

The main dwelling at Mornacott is a classic 17th Century Devon Longhouse built of cob and stone with later additions which included the incorporation of an old cider press into the main dwelling.

Of particular note to the west of the main house is an 18th Century bank barn, once used for the threshing of corn, and retaining one of the finest remaining examples of a traction roundhouse.

The early occupation of Mornacott is clouded by the mists of time but for many years Mornacott was in the ownership of the Passmore family who were one of the largest farming families in North Devon tracing their farming roots back to 1572.

Their occupation of Mornacott was interrupted briefly in 1710 through the granting of a 99 year lease to James Courtney in exchange for four broad pieces of gold marked with globe and sceptre and £390. But In 1825 William and Betsy Passmore took over Mornacott from John Passmore and brought up their family there, doing their duty as parishioners by taking on pauper boys who were apprenticed by the North Molton overseers of the poor. Indeed in the 1841 Census William Passmore was recorded as having two such apprentices living with their master's family (together with two labourers and two female servants).

At the time of the tithe apportionment in 1840 Mornacott comprised only 200 acres and a large piece of the land was given over to a limestone quarry for which the original of a 21 year lease of 1780 survives, giving the Lessee, George Spencer, the right to mine rock and to erect lime kilns.

By 1861 William Henry Passmore had become head of the Passmore household remaining at Mornacott until his early death in 1866 when it passed to his younger brother Edmund who raised eleven children at Mornacott until his sale of Mornacott in 1891.

Thereafter Mornacott was farmed for many years, at one stage in the early 20th Century being briefly incorporated into the lands of nearby Whitechapel Manor until the Manor and the lands were split and sold separately with the Manor later becoming a hotel of some considerable repute.

Mornacott Today

In 2006 the task was begun to restore Mornacott to its former glory.

The house and buildings, which had become run-down with many of the smaller buildings almost derelict, were the subject of a major rejuvenation project sympathetically undertaken with due regard to the English Heritage listing of many of the buildings.

Many of the previous repairs carried out to various of the buildings had been undertaken through expediency rather than with sympathy for their character and style and modern materials had been used to undertake many of the works. Softwood timber, cement based mortar and unsightly concrete blocks had been used to make good buildings in many areas and these were quickly replaced with natural materials, including oak sourced the from the hitherto unmanaged and overstocked woodland at Mornacott, together with traditional lime mortar and cob. Much of the stone used in these works came from the quarry on the land which had been unused for many years.

The works have also allowed the flexibility to adopt the best of modern technology and the house and associated cottages and buildings are now heated with bio-mass energy from woodchip fuel sourced, sustainably, entirely from the land.

The land area was increased to 850 acres through the purchase of several adjoining blocks and has also benefited from many reclamation works.

Five miles of overgrown hedgerows were re-laid in the traditional manner, 12 miles of fencing was replaced, 10 miles of ditches were cleared, 60,000 tonnes of stone was used to make good rutted and dysfunctional farm tracks and 236 field gates were replaced.

In conjunction with The Woodland Trust a planting programme was begun to create three new native broadleaf woods at Mornacott which will further enhance the land as they grow and mature over the forthcoming decades.

The River Yeo which bisects Mornacott was cleared of fallen dead trees alleviating much flooding at times of heavy rain and the old Tiverton to Barnstable railway line, closed in the Beeching cuts of the 1960’s, was resurfaced as a farm access track.

In the early stages of undertaking these works an old droveway was unearthed which would have been used many years ago for driving sheep and cattle to nearby markets. With some financial assistance from Natural England this was reclaimed and now forms a convenient North to South access across many acres of farmland.

Today Mornacott looks much as it would have done in its heyday benefiting from the fabulous views which stretch from Exmoor to Dartmoor, classic North Devon plunging valleys and lush natural pastures in the most tranquil of settings yet conveniently close to the A361 North Devon Link Road.