Cricket St Thomas Estate

View of Cricket St Thomas house from the gardens

The Cricket St Thomas estate, originally a manor, included most of the northern part of the parish of Winsham and for generations many Winsham people have lived and worked on the estate.

The grounds (view from room 206)

Another Warner Leisure Hotel and the superb house and grounds, Cricket St Thomas, near Chard, Somerset.

Recent History

The estate was purchased in 1966 by the Taylor family as a 1036-acre property in the early stages of decline. The present manor house was built after a fire in 1820 and was designed by Sir John Sloane. There were four farms, 26 cottages, Cricket House with 20acres of gardens and two secondary houses. In 1997 a Wildlife park was opened which has been enjoyed by up to 350,000 visitors a year for many years.

The BBC television programme "To the Manor Born" was filmed on the estate and written by a member of the family. It had over 24 million viewers at its peak. The Grade II listed Georgian manor house was the setting for Grantleigh Manor in the BBC television series "To the Manor Born" aired between 1979 and 1982. The creator, Peter Spence, lived in the village of Cricket St Thomas.

Over the years the estate has been a leader in Rural Diversification with the result that the various activities on the estate now employ over 262 people.

The estate began retailing milk on the doorstep in 1980 and by 1995 was bottling over 1,000,000 pints per day. It was also at the forefront of the campaign to produce "Real Dairy Ice Cream" under the Cricket St Thomas label. The dairy factory you will see today was sold to Lubborn Cheese in 1999 following the severe decline in the doorstep business and milk prices.

250 Friesian cows are milked in a single unit on the farms. This has declined from the 600 cows that were milked on the four farms when dairy production was profitable.

Some 300 acres have now been put under the Stewardship scheme and are grazed by sheep in an effort to stem the declining agricultural returns. Cricket House and the Wild Life Park were sold to Warner Holidays in 1998 after being run by the family for nearly 30 years. After a £20 million development it now houses a 220 bed hotel and leisure spa for adults only and is 95% full all the year bringing much needed trade to the local economy and other leisure businesses in the area. It employs 180 local people.

The parish church in the gardens of Cricket house now employs its own chaplain to minister to the 450 guests and 262 staff that work on the estate. There are 200 acres of mixed amenity woodland that are managed for shooting and forestry. There is a private estate water supply that provides all the water for the Cheese making operations, the hotel and all the properties on the estate. This provides the estate with a valuable second income.

In 1995 one of the younger members of the family developed outdoor garden heaters and barbecues originally made in the estate workshops. Now housed in a purpose built factory on site, it employs 25 staff with an annual turnover of £2.5 million.

A recent planning application (2003) for three 1.3 MW wind turbines to be sited on the far side of the estate has been favourably received and will provide up to 20% of the local target for renewable energy.

An old silage pit site has recently been granted planning permission for the "on farm" composting of organic green waste. This new diversification is due to start in the next two months and should provide a valuable source of organic fertiliser and compost for the arable land. The income from these various diversifications will hopefully help to offset the present continued decline in incomes from the traditional farming and food production.

Earlier history

The history of the manor can be traced back to before the Norman invasion. It was mentioned as Cruche in Domesday Book (1086) possibly derived from the Anglo Saxon cruc, meaning a hill or ridge - a reference to Windwhistle Ridge that formed the manor's northern boundary. It was described as 'Land of the Count of Mortain' paying tax to the king for six hides, or 720 acres. It had two slaves, six villagers, five smallholders and a variety of livestock - in total valued at 100 shillings.

The manor later passed to the De Cricket family and then, around 1328, it was acquired by Sir Walter de Rodney, ancestor of Admiral, Lord Rodney. The manor was later sold to the Preston family, one of whose members, Sir Amyas Preston, captured the Admiral of the Galeasseso in the Spanish Armada.

He also led an expedition, in 1595, against the Spanish Main and launched a naval raid on Jamaica.

In 1775, the estate came into the possession of Captain Alexander Hood (1727-1814), who became a Vice-Admiral and second in command of the Channel fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. For more on Hood's career click here. In the portrait at left by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Reynolds may have employed the marine painter Richard Wright to paint the naval action in the background. It shows Hood recapturing the British ship Warwick in the Mediterranean in 1761.

Created Baron Bridport in recognition of his wartime exploits, he died childless in 1814, the barony then passing to his great nephew Samuel Hood, who was married to Nelson's niece Charlotte. Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton were frequent visitors to the house.

Samuel Hood, 2nd Baron Bridport, was born in 1788. Between 1816 and 1860 he spent over £250,000 on laying out the gardens and grounds at Cricket St Thomas. He dammed the stream that runs through the grounds, creating the chain of lakes, and planted a wide range of ornamental trees and shrubs. The Baron rose to the rank of General and became Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria. He died in 1868 and is buried at Cricket St Thomas. His wife Charlotte Mary nee Nelson (1787-1873) also died, and is buried, at Cricket St Thomas.

Their son Alexander Nelson Hood, 3rd Baron and 1st Viscount Bridport, was born in 1814 at Marylebone, London. In 1897 mounting debts forced him to sell the estate to Francis James Fry, the chocolate manufacturer. Hood died in 1904 at Royal Lodge, Windsor Park but is buried at Cricket St Thomas.

"In those days the estate at Cricket St Thomas gave employment to the whole of the village. In the house itself there were over thirty servants kept. My own father worked for Lord Bridport, and often discussed him with me. He was described as a very hard man, but this was probably a reflection on his position in life. He does however appear to have been a very generous man, and the village hall we have today was given to us by his Lordship on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, hence the name.

After Lord Bridport sold up the estate, and split up the farms, the place then became the residence of the Fry family, the cocoa people, and these were the Lords of the Manor in my time. They were a much respected family, noted Quakers, and very good, and most generous, to the whole of the village. They took a personal interest in everyone who worked on the estate or had any connections with them. They were very much a part of the village, as the war memorial will verify, when among the names you will find Harold Fry, who fought, and died, with the rest of the lads.”

Harold's brother, Geoffrey, became a politician, and was at one time private secretary to Bonar Law. There were several daughters, and they took a very personal interest in the village school. I well remember the youngest daughter, Miss Connie, also Miss Norah, who was later to become Mrs Cooke Hurle, and took a prominent part in local politics. During this period, the Cricket St Thomas estate was like a public park, where you could wander at will, without fear of being stopped, or questioned, and if you happened to meet any of the family they would be delighted to meet you, and ask after your parents, particularly if they worked on the estate, and perhaps enquire as to what the future held for you, but always with kindly interest. My father worked on the estate all his life, and helped carry both Lord Bridport, and Mr F J Fry, to their last resting place. For this both Lord Bridport, and Mr F J Fry, to their last resting place. For this service, Mr Fry left my father the sum of Ten Pounds, such was his benevolence. When the Fry family moved away from Cricket, it was a particularly sad day for the village." *

The estate passed to two other families before being broken up in 1919 and sold off into private hands. The map of the sale indicates that the whole of the northern part of Winsham parish, from Lue Farm and Midnell Farm to the northernmost part of the parish adjoining the A30, including the hamlet of Purtington, was sold. During the latter part of the 20th century the grounds of the house contained a 46-acre wildlife park which today is an important conservation centre.

The big estate at Cricket St Thomas had contracted as it passed down from Lord Bridport to Mr Fry and onto Mr Hall, (my grandfather worked for them all) and many of the farms passed to private hands. The game was still jealously guarded by the gamekeepers. Mr White, Mr Hart and Mr Bagge come readily to mind, and they were feared almost as much as the village Bobby. For one period he was 'Tiny' Weaver, a giant of a man of 6' 7".

The manor had its own church, dedicated to St Thomas, first recorded some 800 years ago with registers going back to the 1560's. The present parish church was built in the 19th century. It contains memorials to members of Hood and Nelson families and has one of the few wooden fonts in England.

The History of Cricket St Thomas church

The original parish church of St Thomas was probably built in the 14th century. The first vicars of the church dates from 1315, it had its own parson in conjunction with another church situated at Whitedown, by the main gate but this was struck by lighting and consumed by fire on the 2nd August, 1740, a man standing nearby was killed.

Towards the end of the 17th century, Cricket become a favourite resort for couples desiring to be married without the publicity and expense of attending the ceremony at their own parish church. Situated just off the Great West Road to Exeter, it was accessible in all seasons. Ladies from Ottery St Mary were married here to gentleman from Bath and Wincanton: people resident in two dioceses were married in another diocese directly contrary to the law. Over the next ten years there were 32 marriages at the church and in the period 1721-1730 there were 46 marriages. This state of affairs was brought to an end by the passing of Lord Hardwick's Marriage Act in 1754.

There are many entries in the church register relating to the Preston family who purchased the manor around 1465. Stephen Preston obtained a charter from King Edward IV in 1467 ordaining that "the fair which has continued time out of mind at the place called St. White Down within his Manor of Cricket St Thomas and shall continue to be held in crastine Penticoste and the day following". One of the members of the family, Sir Amyas Preston, was knighted for his action during the Spanish Armada.

In 1325, the estate of Cricket St Thomas is recorded as belonging to Sir Walter de Rodney, an ancestor of the famous Admiral Rodney. The older generation may remember the three great battleships: Hood, Rodney and Nelson better perhaps than the Admirals they were named after, all three men had connections to Cricket St Thomas.

Samuel Hood, 2nd Lord Bridport who married Charlotte Nelson, niece of Admiral Viscount Nelson, rebuilt the present church. A memorial to Charlotte Nelson's father, the Reverend William Earl Nelson, Duke of Bronte, stands on the left hand side of the chancel. His remains are deposited in St Paul's Cathedral beside those of this illustrious brother, Sir Alexander Hood who was second in command of the British Fleet under Lord Howe. He was made a Viscount for his services; he brought the Cricket St Thomas estate on 1757.

A memorial in the church reads "Sacred to the memory of the Right Honourable Alexander, Lord Hood, Viscount Bridport, Knight of the most Honourable Order of the Bath, Admiral of the Red Squadron of his Majesty's Fleet, Vice Admiral of the Royal Navy, who departed this life on the 3rd day of May 1814 in his 87th year. For his bravery, for his abilities, for his achievements in his profession, for his attachment to his King and his Country consult the annals of the Royal Navy, where they are written in indelible characters.

Let his monument this monument record his private virtues, he was a sincere and pious Christian, a faithful and affectionate husband, a warm and steady friend to merit. Benevolent to the brave, virtuous in distress, kind to his domestics and dependants, the patron of unprotected youth, the poor man's benefactor, by all. In testimony of her high regard and veneration this monuments erected by his very affectionate and afflicted relic, "Mary Sophia Bridport". This memorial was designed by Sir John Sloane, R.A (the architect of Cricket House).

The wooden font carved by the Hon, Rosa Hood from chestnut, brought from Bronte in Sicily, was first used at the christening of Maurice Henry Nelson Hood on 6th March 1881. In England, timber fonts are extremely rare - possibly fewer than one hundred churches have one. Another unusual point is that this church is one of the few with no right of way for approaching cars so visitors must be prepared to walk if necessary.

The alter table, reredos and panelling were carved by men of the estate. The white ensign was presented in 1931 by H.M.S Nelson to Mrs T.S Hall, then owner of Cricket House. It was flown by H.M.S Nelson on the occasion of her first voyage through the Panama Canal.

The barcode cloth (not always on view) covering the organ formed part of the altar frontal in Westminster Abbey on the occasion of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. It had been given to the church in memory of Mrs T.S Hall who died in 1943, by the judge Advocate General Sir Henry MacGeagh, Q.C.

In the churchyard, a white angel holding a sword marks the grave of General Viscount Bridport, son of the 2nd Baron, and his wife Charlotte Mary. This originally stood upright, but looked so ghostly to people at night that it was decided to lay him down to rest.

The grave of Mary, wife of Alexander, 1st Viscount Bridport, is marked by a woman rising into the clouds with bunches of flowers in her hands. On the left-hand side of the path leading to the west door of the church is a high tomb that records the names of several members of the Northcote family. On one panel is a shield bearing three crosses, a crosslet in bend being the arms of the Northcote of Credition. The chapeau (or crest), a stag passant, has practically perished. This is the only tomb with heraldry in the churchyard.

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