Book of letters opens up 19th century history of Devon estate

An historic missing book of letters, giving an insight into the workings of the Clinton Devon Estate in East Devon, has miraculously reappeared after staff thought it was lost forever.


Book of letters opens up 19th century history of Devon estate

Book of letters opens up 19th century history of Devon estate

An historic missing book of letters, giving an insight into the workings of the Clinton Devon Estate in East Devon, has miraculously reappeared after staff thought it was lost forever.

The beautiful leather-bound book is "Number One" of a 150 volumes of correspondence written by a succession of Estate Managers in the 19th century.

The books are kept in the library of Clinton Devon's East Devon headquarters at Rolle Estate, Bicton, with one glaring omission on the neat shelves - book number one.

The book covers the period 1865 - 1895 and contains letters written by Robert Hartley Lipscomb who was Estates Steward from 1856 to 1892.

It was originally loaned to a local history researcher 15 years ago and was never returned. It has now turned up in the man's attic, and has been returned to the Estate by his wife.

Clinton Devon Estates Director John Varley said: "The book is believed to have gone missing around 15 years ago and we were really sad not to have documentation of the oldest letters from Robert Lipscomb's first Letter Book. Our archivist Gerald Millington takes great pleasure in displaying these volumes in our new, purpose built headquarters at Bicton Arena and undertaking research into local history. But he struggled to find detail about these missing years as he didn't have this valuable book.

"Then out of the blue, we received a call and the book came back. It is still in excellent condition and has been returned to its rightful home on the shelves of the Estate Office, much to our delight."

The letters include some fascinating glimpses into the history of the running of a large estate: 

January 27 1866

 To The Hon Mark Rolle, Stevenstone, Torrington

 Dear Sir

     I do not know what your wishes or ideas may be with regard to the Cattle Plague and your tenants probable loss thereby, but I venture to suggest, that, as vaccination seems to be answering so well it would be a very kind thing as well as a politic thing if you encouraged them to vaccinate, either by paying half their costs or by subscribing towards a general vaccination of your tenants stock.  I am sure that if the Plague does break out here, so many of the tenants are so unable to bear any loss that rents will not be paid..........

     I am very anxious to hear from you as to the appointment of a forester. Pile of Bagmores has been given up by the Doctors but he was alive this afternoon and there was some hope of his recovery.  He has had inflammation of the lungs.

I remain Yrs obediently

R.H. Lipscombe 

August 10 1866
To John Forsyth Esq, Belliona, Parkhill

Dear Forsyth

     Where is Colin Macdonald the rabbit trapper?  I wish you would send Rory over to the Bog of Scotsburn to enquire of his mother and to say that I will pay his expenses to Devonshire and give him a job trapping from October 1st until March or April at 16 pence a week.  I want him on the outlying Estate of Beer some 15 miles from here............ I will give him help at night if necessary to watch the traps for this is a fishing village with idle fellows in it who would steal the traps as fast as need be if they had a chance..............

Yrs sincerely

R.H. Lipscomb 


October 9 1866
To Mr W. Webb, Supervisor of Inland Revenue Monitors


     It has been represented to Mr Rolle that by the sale of liquor at Newton Poppleford during the October Fair in private houses under a right granted by some ancient charter, and by the presence of publicans from adjoining villages holding official licences, a very disgraceful state of things ensues. I have written to Mr Rolle's Lawyers to enquire about the Charter but as I know that you got all the private retailers fined last year I scarcely believe that any such Charter right exists. Mr Rolle is most anxious to do away with some of the evils of the fair and my object in now writing to you is to request that your officers will check the sale of liquor in private houses as far as possible..........

Yrs very truly

R.H. Lipscomb

Across the 150 letter books there is valuable information on the local history of East and North Devon including documentation on the River Otter and how the estuary was built by French Prisoners of War. The Clinton archive also contains maps including the original map for the estuary by James Green who was the surveyor for Devon and a well-known bridge builder.


Notes to Editors:

Images of the book and the letters are available from Annette Richman at KOR Communications [email protected]. Fuller transcripts are also available.

About Clinton Devon Estates

At Clinton Devon Estates our mission is to secure the future of the Estates and the people who live and work on them while caring for the countryside and the wider community. It is our firm belief that it is possible for the countryside to be a place for people to enjoy while providing a platform for the economic activity necessary to sustain a viable local economy and society.

Clinton Devon Estates is involved in farming, sustainable forestry, sawmills, deer management, commercial and residential property. It provides one of the region's best equipped equestrian areas at Bicton and owns the commons which form the major part of the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths. It also offers film location services.

Clinton Devon Estates statistics:- 25,000 acres of land encompassing farmland, heathland, woodland, residential and commercial property, 400 residential properties in North and East Devon, 120 business properties including CCH Property Company Ltd (developing a property portfolio of value to the local economy and communities).

For more information please visit

We are trustees for life of the countryside

– 22nd Baron Clinton, 2002

to set out against the Scots, the King’s enemies and rebels

– Instructions given by Edward 1 to John de Clinton on 8th April 1298, prior to him leading the Royal army to victory at the Battle of Falkirk. As a direct result the Clinton Barony was formed on 22nd July 1299

Do what you can to elevate your profession. It is an honourable one

– Robert Lipscomb, Steward 1865 – 1892

But our power for good or evil in this world’s affairs in a countryside is enormous

– Robert Lipscomb, Steward 1865 – 1892

Handing over something more valuable than we have today,

– Estates ethos