When approaching or leaving Barnstaple by road or rail, an imposing building sited near the top of rising ground west of the river Taw arrests the attention. This is Tawstock Court, a manor house which was mentioned in the Domesday Book.
It is a magnificent building which has had an eventful history beginning with the granting of the land on which it is built to Geoffrey de Mowbrey by William the Conqueror. The manor house was constructed in the 12th century and then passed down through the hands of many prominent families, including De Tracy, Fitzmartin, Audley and Fitzwarin. In the late 15th century, the Bourchier family made its home at Tawstock and William Bourchier, 3rd Earl of Bath, ordered a new manor house to be built.
It was used as the headquarters of the Parliamentarian General Fairfax during the Civil War. In 1654, Tawstock Court passed to Lady Anne Bourchier, who later married Sir Chichester Wrey, creating the Bourchier Wrey lineage.
A fire almost completely destroyed the house in 1787 but it was rebuilt soon afterwards. The Bourchier Wrey family continued to occupy Tawstock Court, and made significant improvements to it, until Sir Robert Bourchier Sherrard Wrey, 11th Baronet left in 1917 and the property was let out.
In 1941, the building became a school for boys evacuated from London during the Blitz. It continued as a private school after the war and went on to cater for boys and girls from the ages of 3 months to 13 years. In the 1970s the school was doing sufficiently well to be able to purchase the building from Sir Castel Richard Bourchier Wrey, 14th Baronet.
St Michael's thrived for many more years with pupil numbers reaching 300 by the turn of the millennium. However, the economic downturn which began in 2008 meant that the school struggled to attract sufficient students and numbers gradually fell to around 170 in 2011. In December of that year, it was was announced that the school would not reopen after the Christmas holiday. The announcement was greeted with expressions of dismay and sadness, made all the more poignant by the fact that the school had recently received a glowing report from the Independent Schools Inspectorate.
While the main school closed, the popular kindergarten continued to operate on the premises. A few years later it relocated to Sticklepath where it still offers pre-school children first-class care and education.
In 2012, the Peryer family purchased Tawstock Court and brought much-needed investment to the building. It re-opened in 2019 as a venue for weddings, business conferences and quality accommodation.
Contact details: Tawstock Court- 01271 446333