The Manor Rebuilt

In a letter to his sister, Frederick Walker described Halsway Manor as a “dear old house” with a “jolly old crumbly aged look.” He loved the house as it was and wrote ruefully that he supposed that the owner would eventually “proceed to make it into a ‘modern residence’ (!).” Despite these romantic sentiments he would not have been able to deny that the building was in a very dilapidated condition and badly in need of repair. Rescue for the house came in the person of Charles Edward Rowcliffe. He was a local solicitor, his family had lived in Somerset for many years and an earlier member of the family had been churchwarden at Stogumber at the time of the dispute over James Crang’s burial.

The title deeds show that the purchase of Halsway Manor by Rowcliffe and others was made in 1873. This other interest was short-lived, changing hands by sale or inheritance until 1877 when Charles’s brother, William Rowcliffe, became the outright owner and moved into the manor. Charles had instigated an extensive programme of restoration and repair to the house and William continued the process, work on the house continuing on and off for many years.

A survey by the Royal Commission on the Historic Monuments of England in 1991 brought to light details of earlier constructions in the old building. The core of the house contains remnants of a medieval open hall house with a cross wing at the eastern end and a tower which today houses the main entrance. What other earlier medieval extension eastward may have occurred is unknown, the survey found nothing predating the 15th century, but two rooms to the east of the cross wing built in the years following may have replaced earlier construction. In about 1600 a barrel roof had replaced the open roof.

The manor was a favourite subject of several 19th century artists and there is also a drawing of the house made in 1835 by the architect, John Buckler. Comparing the house with these, together with photographs taken in the 1860s, the exterior changes to the old building are clear to see. Its length was doubled by the addition of a two storeyed extension to the west; a second floor was added at the eastern end and the western tower was moved to make a balanced frontage. The gable over the bay window was removed; this was the window of Frederick Walker’s bedroom of which he wrote, “as big as a chapel with a sort of vaulted ceiling.”

William died in 1912 and the manor passed to his son, William Charles Rowcliffe. It appears that at some time part of the house was let. An account of a visit to the house by members of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society in 1908 names a Mr Charles Booth as the tenant. The account refers to the present library as a newly panelled room with “a ceiling tastefully restored in the old pattern of the plaster moulding found at Halsway,” which confirms a recent expert opinion that the ceiling is original, dating from Tudor time. The property was sold to W.N.Mitchell in 1924.

Next The Reverend John Gunn (1789-1836)