Wednesday, 24 April 2013

(30) Adams of Bowden House, Totnes and Old House, Sydenham

William Adams (1752-1811), a merchant and banker who served several times as Mayor of Totnes and became the town’s MP and Recorder, bought the Bowden House estate from the Trist family in about 1800.  On Adams’ death, it passed to his elder son, William Dacres Adams (1775-1862), who served as Private Secretary to two Prime Ministers (Pitt the Younger, 1804-06 and the Duke of Portland, 1807-09), and who was a Commissioner of Woods & Forests, 1811-34.  He married the daughter of Mayow Wynell Mayow (d. 1807) and through this marriage inherited the Old House estate at Sydenham (Kent).  Bowden House was occupied by his younger brother, Lt-Gen. Sir George Pownall Adams (1779-1856), but passed in 1862 to W.D. Adams’ eldest surviving son, the Rev. Dacres Adams (1806-71).  His son, Rev. William Fulford Adams (1833-1912), sold it to the Singer family in 1887.  William was a friend of William Morris and father of the artist, William Dacres Adams (1864-1951) and the bookbinder Katherine Adams (later Webb) (1862-1952).  In 1862 Old House, Sydenham passed to W.D. Adams’ third son, Mayow Wynell Adams (1809-98), who wrote a brief history of Sydenham in 1878; he sold the land for building from the 1870s onwards and the house was demolished in 1902.

Bowden House, Totnes, Devon
Bowden House © Hamid van Koten

An early 16th century manor house built for John Giles, which was remodelled for Nicholas Trist in 1700-04 or 1722 to create handsome two storey east and south fronts with stone cornices and sash windows.  The nine bay south front has a 2-5-2 rhythm, giant pilasters framing the two bays at either end and the central bay, and a central pedimented doorcase.  The seven bay east front has a 2-3-2 rhythm with giant pilasters framing the two-bay end sections.  These handsome frontages however conceal the complicated remains of the older house, with a Tudor great hall lying in the angle of the two later wings.  

Inside, the east front has a richly if rather provincially Baroque entrance hall at its centre, the long axis of which is at right-angles to the facade.  On the wall opposite the windows, giant pilasters flank arched niches with full-length grisaille figures and a central doorway with open pediment and bust.  The long side walls have niches with shells and medallions above of Charles I (dated 1735) and Elizabeth I.  On the south side a broad coffered doorway leads to the staircase hall, with a good 18th century staircase around a well, with turned balusters, column newels and a ramped handrail; the fireplace opposite, not centrally placed, has a grand but rather chaotic overmantel. The plaster ceiling has a lively very large but low-relief figure of Mercury in a central panel, Victory and Pegasus in cartouches, putti in roundels and mythological scenes in rectangles; the disparate scales of the different elements are reminiscent of the entrance hall at Saltram.  Next to the staircase hall in the south wing is reused 16th century panelling and an imported wooden overmantel elaborately carved with the arms of the 2nd Earl of Bedford (d. 1585) flanked by high-relief figures of Judith and Holofernes.  From here a four-centred doorway leads into the former screens passage and the older part of the house.  The former great hall, now the Old Kitchen, has a late 16th century single-rib plaster ceiling and the remains of a Pegasus frieze.  The fabric of the hall is possibly older than the ceiling, as from this part of the house projects a much rebuilt north wing with an early Tudor wall painting on the upper floor.  Upstairs there is early 18th century panelling in the central room on the east front, and another panelled room and closet in the south range.  The house is now an alternative community, and the service wings and outbuildings have been much altered to create holiday flats.  The grounds may have been landscaped c.1788, when Rev. Browse Trist was given permission to divert a road further away from the house.

Descent: John Giles MP (c.1487-1552/3); to son, William Giles (c.1507-?81); to son, John Giles MP (d. 1606); to son, Sir Edward Giles MP (1566-1637); to first cousin, Richard Giles (1581-1648); to son, John Giles (d. 1676); to kinswoman, Mary, wife of Sir Richard Gipps, who sold 1704 to Nicholas Trist (1668-1741); to son, Browse Trist (c.1699-1777); to son, Hore Browse Trist (c.1736-80); to brother, Rev. Browse Trist (c.1742-91); to three daughters, who sold c.1800 to William Adams MP (1752-1811); to son William Dacres Adams (1775-1862); to son, Rev. Dacres Adams (1806-71); to son, William Fulford Adams (1833-1912), who sold 1887 to Sir Mortimer Singer (d. 1929); sold c.1914 to Montague Bush; sold to Robert William Campbell-Davidson (fl. 1923) requisitioned for use by US Army in WW2; used as special school; sold 1960s to Harvey family, who sold 1976 to Christopher & Belinda Petersen; sold 1990 to Bowden House Community.

Old House, Sydenham, Kent

Old House, Sydenham c.1895  Image Ideal Homes

A substantial but plain five bay three storey early Georgian villa with a low pitched roof concealed by a parapet, probably built c.1715 for Edward Hodsdon, a London wine merchant.  It was the centre of the largest private estate in Sydenham, and although outlying portions of the estate were developed from c.1860 the house itself survived largely unaltered, with grounds of 110 acres, until it was demolished for development in 1902.

Descent: Sold 1713 to Edward Hodsdon (d. 1737), wine merchant; to son, Edward Hodsdon (d. 1739); to brother, Thomas Hodsdon (d. 1766); to widow, Susanna Hodsdon (d. 1773); sold by her trustees 1786 to Mayow Wynell Mayow (d. 1807); to daughter, Elizabeth Mayow, wife of William Dacres Adams (1775-1862); to son, Mayow Wynell Adams (1809-98), who broke up the estate; the house sold by auction in 1900 to Edmondson & Sons, developers.

The Adams family of Bowden House and Old House, Sydenham

Adams, William (b. c.1725), of Totnes.  Son of Rev. Samuel Adams and his wife Susan, daughter of Bartholomew Parr of Silverton (Devon).  He married Mary Chadder and had issue:
(1) William Adams (1752-1811) (q.v.); 
(2) Samuel Adams of Totnes (b. 1770), barrack master at Hounslow; m. 1800 Elizabeth Bentall and had issue; 
(3) Mary Adams, m. Giles Welsford esq.; 
(4) Sarah Chadder Adams, m. James Hodge esq.; 
(5) Susan Adams, m. John Parr Welsford esq, banker and secretary to Patriotic Fund and Waterloo subscription.
He lived in Totnes.
Date of death unknown.

Adams, William (1752-1811), MP, of Bowden House.  Elder son of William Adams (b. c.1725) and his wife Mary (née Chadder); born 30 September 1752.  MP for Plympton Erle 1796-1801 and Totnes 1801-11; merchant and banker; Mayor of Totnes 1780-81, 1788-89, 1797-98; Recorder of Totnes, 1807-11.  He married 1774 Anna Maria (d. 1830), wet nurse to HRH Princess Amelia and daughter of Richard Dacres of Leatherhead (Surrey), and had issue:
(1) William Dacres Adams (1775-1862) (q.v.); 
(2) Sir George Pownall Adams (1779-1856) (q.v.); 
(3) Anna Maria Adams, m. Baldwin Fulford esq. of Great Fulford and had issue; 
(4) Louisa Sawyer Adams (1783-1867)
He purchased the Bowden House, Totnes estate (technically in Ashprington parish) from the Trist family c.1800.
He died 21 September 1811, aged 58.

William Dacres Adams by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c.1810.
Image from Philip Mould Ltd.
Adams, William Dacres (1775-1862), of Old House, Sydenham.  Elder son of William Adams (1752-1811) and his wife Anna Maria, daughter of Richard Dacres of Leatherhead (Surrey); born December 1775.  Private Secretary to Prime Minister (Pitt the Younger, 1804-06; Duke of Portland, 1807-09); Commissioner of Woods and Forests 1811-34.  He married 1804 Elizabeth (d. 1814), second daughter of Mayow Wynell Mayow of Sydenham (Kent) and had issue:
(1) William Pitt Adams (1804-52), diplomat; born 11 December 1804; m. Georgiana Emily (1815-92), daughter of Robert Lukin esq (who married 2ndly, Gen. Sir Henry Warre KCB) and had issue a daughter; died at Lima (Peru), 1 September 1852;
(2) Rev. Dacres Adams (1806-71) (q.v.); 
(3) Mayow Wynell Adams (1809-98) (q.v.); 
(4) Rev. Herbert George Adams (1814-51), vicar of Cornwood (Devon), m. Eleanor (d. 1900), daughter of Baldwin Fulford esq; 
(5) Elizabeth Mary Adams
He inherited the Bowden House estate from his father in 1811; and in right of his wife the Old House, Sydenham estate in 1807, and lived at Sydenham.  Bowden House was occupied by his younger brother.  At his death Bowden House passed to his eldest surviving son and the Sydenham property to his third son.
He died 8 June 1862, aged 86 and was buried at Sydenham, 14 June 1862, where he is commemorated by a monument in the churchyard.  Will proved 29 August 1862 (estate under £35,000).

Adams, Lt-Gen. Sir George Pownall KCH (1779-1856) of Bowden House.  Second son of William Adams (1752-1811) and his wife Anna Maria, daughter of Richard Dacres of Leatherhead (Surrey); born 1 January 1779.  Lieutenant-General in the Army; appointed a Knight Commander of the Hanoverian Order.  He married 1821 Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Sir William Elford, 1st bt. and had issue:
(1) Capt. William Elford Adams (1823-56), m. 1849 Anna Maria Bannerman (b. 1830) and had issue a daughter; 
(2) Rev. George Dacres Adams (b. 1824), vicar of East Budleigh (Devon), 1852-84; m. 1857 Elizabeth Agnes, daughter of Rev. R. Pattrick but died without issue?; 
(3) Arthur Elford Adams (b. 1826), m. 1847 Henrietta (b. 1824), daughter of William F. Bowman esq.; 
(4) Henry Cranstoun Adams of Lion House, Exmouth (1826-1911), m. Matilda Winslow (b. 1827), daughter of Thomas Patton esq. and had issue.
He lived at Bowden House, Totnes, which was owned by his brother.  He may have inherited property at Buckland Monachorum in right of his wife.
He died at Buckland Monachorum, 1856, aged about 77.

Adams, Rev. Dacres (1806-71) of Bowden House.  Second but eldest surviving son of William Dacres Adams (1775-1862) and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Mayow Wynell Mayow of Sydenham (Kent), born 1806.  Educated at Christ Church, Oxford (matriculated 1824, BA 1827; MA 1832); ordained deacon, 1829 and priest, 1830; curate of Stokeinteignhead (Devon), 1829; vicar of Bampton (Oxon), 1837-71; JP for Oxfordshire.  He married his cousin, Anna Maria (d. 1896), daughter of Baldwin Fulford esq. of Great Fulford, and had issue:
(1) Rev. William Fulford Adams (1833-1909) (q.v.)
(2) Philip Dacres Adams.
He inherited the Bowden House estate from his father in 1862.
He died 8 December 1871, aged 65.  Will proved 3 February 1872, effects under £7000.

Adams, Rev. William Fulford (1833-1909), of Bowden House.  Elder son of Rev. Dacres Adams (1806-71) and his wife Anna Maria, daughter of Baldwin Fulford of Great Fulford (Devon), born 19 July 1833.  Educated at Marlborough and Exeter Coll, Oxford (matriculated 1852; BA 1856; MA 1859); Clerk in Holy Orders; vicar of Little Farringdon (Oxon), 1864; Rector of Weston-sub-Edge (Glos).  A friend and contemporary of William Morris.  He married 13 November 1859 Catherine Mary (1830-1912), daughter of Thomas Horton of Bromsgrove (Worcs) and had issue:
(1) Margaret Adams (1861-74); died young;
(2) Katharine Adams (1862-1952), bookbinder (see Oxford DNB), m. 1913 Edmund James Webb (1853-1945) but died without issue;
(3) William Dacres Adams (1864-1951), artist and illustrator; born 19 August 1864; m. 1899 Marie Regina, daughter of Rev. Edward Houghton of New York and had issue one son and one daughter;
(4) Winifred Mary Adams (1867-68), d. young.
He inherited the Bowden House estate from his father in 1871 but probably never lived there and sold it in 1887 to the Singer family.
He died in 1909.

Mayow Wynell Adams
Image South London Guide
Adams, Mayow Wynell (1809-98), of Old House, Sydenham.  Third son of William Dacres Adams (1775-1862) and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Mayow Wynell Mayow of Sydenham (Kent), born 11 October 1809.  Author of A short history of Sydenham, 1878; JP for London and Kent.  He married Anna Maria (d. 1895), daughter of Major Hodge, who was killed at the Battle of Waterloo; and had issue:
(1) Edith Maria Adams (d. 1871), m. 9 November 1865 Edward R. Fisher of Thorncombe near Guildford (Surrey); died 9 October 1871.
He inherited the Old House, Sydenham from his father in 1862, but sold off the estate for building.  The house itself was sold after his death.
He died 18 Feb. 1898; commemorated by a monument at Sydenham churchyard.


Burke's Landed Gentry, 1850, p.6; B. Cherry & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Devon, 2nd edn, 1989, pp. 195-96;, accessed 27 August 2012;, accessed 24 April 2013;, accessed 24 April 2013.

Where are their papers?

Adams family of Bowden House and Old House, Sydenham: deeds and estate papers relating to Kent (Sydenham), 1530-1908 (Lewisham Local Studies & Archives, A64/1, A69/20); corresp and papers, chiefly of William Dacres Adams, 1770-1906 (British Library Add. MS. 89036).

This account was last updated 20th March 2014.


  1. Some of William Dacres Adams's papers are now at the British Library, under BL Add Ms 89036.

  2. Thank you and well spotted! This is indeed the material recorded in my original posting as in private hands, and I will amend my account accordingly.


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