Once upon a time there was a man named Isaac Singer that purchased a house in 1871 on beautiful lush grounds where he added gardens, tennis courts and bowling greens. He bought it as his private residence with the money that he made with the invention of the Singer Sewing Machine, which still stands today as the standard for the modern sewing machine. He lived from 1811 until 1875 and then this stunning house was rebuilt it in the style of the Palace of Versaille, by one of his children, Paris Singer.
This breath taking property is named Oldway Mansion and sits in Paignton, Devon England. Oldway Mansion was purchased by the Paignton Urban District Council in 1946 and was used as council offices and then marriage ceremonies till 2013 and since then it has sat empty.
I strolled around the massive home in the mist of a light rain with patches of fog rolling along the tennis courts and gardens.
There is a statue with the head of a woman and body of a lion protecting the steps going up to the back of the house. I’m not sure who it is. Perhaps a member of the royal family? I can’t tell.
What I can say, is that this hauntingly beautiful estate sits empty and rotting. It is the saddest thing to see such a lonely empty historical landmark deserted and ignored because of a lack of funding. I know that local historians are gutted to see it just sitting there like a discarded pearl at the bottom of the ocean. It seems no one can come to an agreement with what to do with the enormous estate. It should be reopened to the public as a museum, if nothing else. One can only imagine what it was like when it was a private home with parties and dinners and events. I peered through the windows and snapped some shots of a ghostly interior trapped in a time warp of opulence. A grand piano sits alone in a vast room. Parkay floors are faded and stained but the windows still have curtains and the style of the room hearkens back to a period of decadence.
I yearned to go inside but there are bolts on the doors and no one is allowed.
Crumbling brick and dead leaves are starting to collect and if nothing is done this symbol of the 1800’s will collapse.
Chard, Somerset – Courthouse – circa 1640
I visited another amazing private residence in Devon that was built in 1640 and, originally, was the town courthouse. The judge was known as “the hanging judge”. It is a thrilling monument to the times with its turrets and lovely courtyard.
There is a ghost who has been there for centuries. One day an old woman knocked on the front door, which resembles the entrance to one of the castles on Game Of Thrones, and said she had lived there as a child in the 1920’s. She brought along an old photo of herself on a tricycle out front of the place, gifting it to the current resident. He brought her inside so she could revisit her childhood dwelling and she immediately asked if the female ghost was still there. And.. yes.. she was, still entertaining and watching over his children as she had watched over this woman so very long ago. It seems this spirit loves children and therefore they are the ones who have the gift of seeing her.
The back grounds are meticulously taken care of and the flowers are in full bloom. There is Ivy clinging to the walls and framing this idyllic English garden.
Moving back to the courthouse.
There were many hanged in the Gothic brick building with its heavy wooden door and concrete stair case.
I pleaded with Val to come into the old courtroom at night and we were terrified at the top of the stairs to see a mannequin dressed in period clothes at the back of the room. A dark specter watching over its ghostly tenants. I almost pee’d myself when Val’s blood curdling scream rang out and she scramble to the door in a desperate attempt to escape.
A mischievous tenant and keeper of all things spooky stood at the foot of the stairs giggling. A practical joker of the highest order.
I took some photos where I caught a large orb. They were zipping around so quickly it was difficult to catch them on film. I could definitely see them when the light flashed in the darkness.
It was cold and ominous and the light through the giant windows cast shadows on the concrete floor and ceiling.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I retreated to the warmth of the main house where there is always laughter and music and great food. I’ve been fortunate to have been invited for more than one Sunday roast and the host does not disappoint. Big thick slices of roast beef and home- made gravy, from scratch. Cheese topped cauliflower, parsnips roasted in Madagascar honey, a perfectly crispy roasted chicken and deliciously crunchy, yet, melt in your mouth, roasted potatoes.
To top it all off, the dessert was fresh berries with clotted cream and a sprinkle of sugar. A feast for a King or a Queen or a couple of Princess’s. At least I felt like one, when I visited this incredible house and it’s owner. Whatever the atmosphere has been over the years in this ancient place, I can say it is filled with love and happiness now. I doubt it has always been.
I photographed the old church and cemetery near Val’s place in Dunkeswell. I wanted to share some of them with my readers in case any of you decide to make the trip. It just such a beautiful place.
Tubbys Diner at the WWII Airfield – Dunkeswell
Val took me for breakfast one morning in an old hanger at a WWII Air Force Base. It was called Tubbys and there was one large gentleman cooking in a small kitchen in the back of the hanger.
He whipped up a great hearty British breakfast of eggs and ham, baked beans and potatoes and toast.
One thing I did a lot of was eat on my trip. The old myth about Britain not having good food is seriously a myth. I had delicious food everywhere I went… even Val’s house… because she makes a mean Chicken Fajita, that cannot be topped!
If I want to shop, while in Dunkeswell, I go to Exeter where there is a mixture of the old and the new. Top Shop and Zara and other fashionable stores are mixed with small bakeries and vintage shops. There is always a pub or restaurant to stop and have a drink or a bite.
I think the most heart felt thing I can say about anywhere I have been in the world is the connection to people that you meet. In my case I am fortunate to have a friend that always makes me laugh and is the best travel companion you could ask for. She selflessly goes to the most touristy, cheesy spots and shows just as much enthusiasm as I do and she deserves an Academy Award for that. So my hat is off to Val and her laugh and her wonderful Devon. If you are looking for a peaceful, lovely holiday I suggest Devon, England. You will not be disappointed.