The History of Holne Park House

The original house, the ‘Manor of Holne’, is mentioned in The Domesday Book and was given by William the Conqueror to William de Faleise after the Norman Conquest in 1066.

The de Faleise family owned the house and estate for the next 820 years, until in 1886 it was purchased by The Honourable Richard Westera Dawson, third son of the first Earl of Dartrey.

After he took up residence in Holne Park, Richard Dawson became a Magistrate, Deputy Lieutenant and in 1909, High Sheriff of Devon.  Together with his wife Jane Emily, Richard rebuilt Holne Park House into the mansion.

There were nine indoor servants and up to thirty men who worked on the estate including gardeners, gamekeepers, grooms, woodmen, foresters, masons and thatchers.  Today there are approximately 100 members of staff, all doing very different jobs.

Richard Dawson died in London in August 1914 leaving his wife to raise their only son Dickie and two daughters, Norah and Mollie. Dickie went to France with the Third Battalion of the Coldstream Guards.  Sadly, he was killed in action only months after the death of his father.  Leaving no family, his life is commemorated by a beautiful window in nearby Holne Church.

The estate had been Mrs. Dawson’s great interest but after ‘losing’ her entire family, her interest waned and in 1926, 1,237 acres were sold, mainly to sitting tenants who bought their own farms.  After her death in 1932, Holne Park House and the remaining estate was sold to Stephen Simpson the current owner’s great grandfather. 

The Simpson family have never lived in the house, instead they leased the house as a hotel.  During the war the house was taken over by the RAF as the West Country Signals Headquarters and in 1959 the Outward-Bound School became the tenants for sixteen years. 

On relinquishing this lease in 1975, the Simpson family decided to retain Holne Park House and estate and open it as the River Dart Country Park.  Over the last 40 years the park has developed and now welcomes over 75,000 visitors every year.

In 2006, over a quarter of a million pounds was invested in the refurbishment of the mansion house.  Since then the house has hosted over three hundred weddings, conferences, corporate training events, private parties and Christmas celebrations.

On entering the Country Park, you cross Waterworks Bridge.  This is the youngest of all the granite road bridges crossing the River Dart and is the only one in private ownership.  It was built in 1904 to carry water from Venford Reservoir to Paignton and the pipes still run under the bridge.  Legal documents stated that the cost of the bridge was not to exceed £500 and it is thought that this sum was only slightly exceeded.

Holne Bridge is at the north boundary of the Country Park and was built around the year 1413 by order of Bishop Stafford of Exeter when the old one was swept away in a serious flood.  It has four arches, three of which are semi-circular and the fourth segmental. Encouragement for its building was given by the Bishop who granted an ‘indulgence’ to all parishioners who helped in the work.

The leat was constructed in 1850 to facilitate the working of copper mines in South Wood.  It extended 1000 yards downstream of Holne Bridge to the mines in Henbury Woods, a distance of almost one mile.  The leat provided power (via a ten-foot diameter overshot water wheel) to operate pumps which kept the mines dry, as they extended below the level of the River Dart.  The mines were active until 1855 when, due to rising costs, production ceased.

The lakes and hydro power were formed by the Dawson family in the late 1880s with the top section of the leat providing the water to feed them.

In the 1930s the concrete sluice was built as an offshoot from the leat upstream of the lakes, to provide waterpower to drive a turbine to power the house prior to mains electric.

In 1984 a Kaplan turbine was installed which provided power to the house and surplus to the land.  Unfortunately, it was costly to maintain and fell into disrepair in 1998.

The Archimedes Screw installed in 2007 is the third hydro-electric turbine to generate electricity for the mansion House.

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The Dawson Family

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The Dawson Room