Past Remains

A view of yesterday from today

Chanter's House, Ottery St Mary, Devon.

With most places that I visit I can usually find some historical or architectural information about them, but occasionally there's the odd one that I can find absolutely nothing at all and have to waffle a bit, either with anecdotes of my visit, some detective work from a basic knowledge of buildings and observation of various clues, or both. This isn't one of them! ;)

This is the other kind of odd one I come across that has so much history, reams and reams of it, that I don't know where to start. Both are equally difficult to write up, therefore I'll only touch briefly on the people side and concentrate more on the architecture, as that's my interest and one of the main purposes of Past Remains. I'll save my waffle for the other kind (which, incidentally happens to include the Old Coachhouse, also in Ottery St Mary, and which I visited round about the same time).

A Grade II* listed building, this gorgeous house was originally the chantry belonging to a group of church buildings comprising a close around the 14th century church of St Mary, and dates from the 1340s College. The largest of the buildings, The Chantry was the residence of the Chanter, Canter or Precentor; a senior canon who, being the first or lead singer, was responsible for leading the chants during Divine Service.  Very little of the original fabric remains however, apart from some of the walls and painted beams. It was largely rebuilt and became known as Heath's Court, with further extensions added around the 17th century core in the 1840s. Then later remodelled in 1876.

It was during it's phase as Heath's Court that Sir Thomas Fairfax stayed here in 1645, when Parliamentary troops were stationed in the town. The dining room was used as the 'Great Convention Room', where Oliver Cromwell and General Fairfax met to plan the West Country campaign during the Civil War.

The entrance on the town side includes this unusual and imposing gate, below, which echoes the design of the portico on the courtyard door. And below that, a totally enchanting door in the nearby wall.

The house was bought by James Coleridge, the elder brother of the romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in 1796. It was subsequently passed down to James's son, Sir John Taylor Coleridge, in 1838, and it was he, along with his son, who carried out the first extensions of a new service range, stables and coach house. The drawing room was also rebuilt and the grounds were extended and landscaped.

And finally, a photo of the former gatehouse, which I took some years before I saw the house itself.

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