The Appledore Estate

Back in the 1960s my father started receiving letters from all over the world asking him what he knew about the Melhuish family history. The answer was pretty well nothing, but the reason for the flurry of letters was more interesting: the expiry of a lease covering large parts of Appledore and Northam.

The story goes back to the mid-18th century when Roger Melhuish Esq owned Northam Manor and a great deal of land around Northam and Witheridge. In order to raise money, Roger disposed of Northam Manor and a great deal of other property on a  lease to run for 200 years from the death of his son William. As his son died in 1770, the lease expired in 1970, and this is the "Appledore estate". The property included a great deal of the centre of the old town of Appledore. At that time the properties should have reverted to the heirs of his other son Thomas, vicar of Witheridge. There is a memorial tablet in Northam church commemorating the lease and giving some details.

Melhuish Memorial Tablet in Northam church

Sacred to the memory of ROGER MELHUISH Esqr late of this parish who died Sept 6th 1745. And of ELEANOR his Wife, who died Octr 25th 1740. She was a prudent virtuous Wife and excellent Mother. He was truely an honest Man. They left behind them five Children; William, Thomas, Frances, Eleanor and Elizabeth. William married Mary the Daughter of James Awse Esqr of Torrington and died without Issue March the 27th 1770. Two hundred Years after whose Death the following Estates will revert to the Heirs of Thomas Melhuish Vicar of Witheridge.

The Manor of Northam, Watertown, Martins Ground, Higher and Lower Assells, Lords Meadow, Hengist Castle, Ford, Lewis Hill feild, Grigs Close, Gutter Meadow and other Tenements in Northam Parish. Radford in Abbotsham. North Grindon in Roseash Parish. Downland, Foxdown and Downey Ground, Witheridge Parish. Frances married Thomas Benson Esqr who died leaving three Children John, and Peter and Grace the Wife of John Husbands of this Parish Gent. Elizabeth died Unmarried March 23d 1783. And three days after died Eleanor, the Relict of Joseph Veale Esqr without Issue, at whose request this Monument was caused to be erected by her Brother THOMAS MELHUISH.
Note that the above is as precise a transcription as possible, including a few odd abbreviations and capitalisations. 

Northam Burrows News ArticleInevitably the land had passed through many hands during the intervening two centuries and estates had been broken into smaller parcels and sold on. There had been a great deal of development including much of the town of Appledore and the seaside resort of Westward Ho! In 1895 the lordship of the manor had been acquired by the Royal North Devon Golf Club and their golf course occupied the Northam Burrows. If all of the leased estate was to be claimed by the heirs of Thomas Melhuish in 1970, a lot of people were going to worry about the impact on their properties. This was first highlighted at a meeting of the potwallopers of Northam as can be seen in the adjoining newspaper article from the Western Morning News dated 22 Oct 1938.

As the expiry date of the lease grew closer, a lot of people suddenly took a lot of interest in their possible Melhuish patrimony. The two best charts I have found (in the Melhuish file of the Westcountry Studies Library) were compiled by Rev J Chanter and Benson. They are both difficult to read as they were hand drawn and the writing is very small in order to pack in a lot of information. However they appear to be very similar.

Roger married twice and had a total of sixteen children. However he didn't pass on his fecundity to the following generation, mostly due to early deaths. Of his seven children with his first wife, only one lived long enough to get married (three times!) and she had no children of her own. Amongst the other nine, we find marriage records for two sons and two daughters.Melhuish heirs Under the conventions of the time the daughters can be largely discounted from the matter of inheritance, leaving just William (born 1718) and Thomas (born 1721).

The lease of Northam Manor and the other lands dated 31 Oct 1743 is stated to be "to provide for younger sons and daughters of Roger and pay debts of William amounting to £1632 . 6 . 0." It is not entirely clear to me whether the £1632 . 6 . 0 is the total sum of the lease or the amount of William's debt. However, as he was just 25 years old at the time, William seems to have accrued debts very rapidly, whatever the sum!

William was the eldest son and might normally expect to inherit from his father but the lease specifies that the estates will revert to the heirs of Thomas (the second son). Although William didn't marry until 1746 and had no children, this couldn't have been foreseen in 1743. It would appear that Roger may have been  somewhat displeased with his eldest son.

Thomas's eldest son William died young when he drowned while crossing to Ireland. Second son Richard died without issue, although he was married twice. At this point it becomes apparent that possession of the Melhuish surname would be of no benefit when attempting to claim inheritance to the estate.

Thomas had two daughters and these must be the lines which would ultimately lead to the claimants on the estate. Elder daughter Susanna Elizabeth married Prockter Thomas and had two children. Younger daughter Mary married Richard Hole but appears to have not had children.

Although the most recent part of the story falls within my own adult lifetime, I don't at present know what happened after 1970. For the moment all I can do is reproduce another newspaper clipping (left) from August 1971 which suggests that there were four people with a good claim on the estate. More information will follow here when I have completed further research. In the meantime, feel free to read a few more random newspaper clippings about the Appledore Estate:
Melhuish millions stay puzzle till 1970, about 1950
Golf Club to sell Burrows rights for £5?, 25 Aug 1961
Zero Hour Nears, 27 Feb 1970
Still no grants for Melhuish property, 13 Aug 1971
Melhuish trustees appointed, 7 Jan 1972

Paul Melhuish

21 Apr 2022, 18:11


My husband remembers his Aunt submitting her Melhuish tree in the 1970's but finding out that she was descended from the 'wrong' family.

Commented by: Coddjan , 3 Jun 2022, 09:00

At last I have been able to visit Northam church and photograph the tablet that commemorates the lease of the estate. So I've just added the photograph to this article and updated the transcription. There's also one more newspaper article that I found recently.

Hopefully I'll be doing at least one more article soon about the Northam and Witheridge branch of the Melhuish family.

Paul Melhuish (Admin)

Commented by: Admin, 5 May 2023, 11:16