Friday, 19 August 2016

Mark Rolle: His Architectural Legacy In The Lower Otter Valley - Alan Ford


Am I a geek?

Rather than spending time down the gym or shopping online or whatever it is you're meant to be doing these days, I sometimes just walk around (with my head in the clouds) looking at the local architecture. I tell you, it can be a rewarding experience.
Of course, it's not quite the same thrill but just as rewarding can be reading books on local history, one such book being Mark Rolle: His Architectural Legacy In The Lower Otter Valley by Alan Ford.

Let me cut to the quick immediately and say yes, it's a weird and wonderful book. Essentially, the Rolle family once owned half of Devon and in 1842 at the tender age of six, Mark Rolle inherited the lot. By all accounts he was a very moral man of 'delicate constitution and retiring disposition', and in 1865 for no financial gain on his part started a building programme in East Devon, repairing and building new properties for many of his tenants.
And that's it, basically. That's what the book's about. It's almost as if it was written for me personally because who else might possibly be interested in reading about this?

If you walk around East Devon and look at some of the old properties here - in Budleigh Salterton, East Budleigh, Otterton and so on - you'll see a lot of them have a signature stone at the front inscribed with the initials MR, and then a date. These are the ones that Mark Rolle had a hand in building or repairing.

There's a subtext to this story, however, and that's all to do with the abject poverty that many of the farmers and workers on the Rolle Estate were living in at that time. These people were paying rent for the pleasure of living in what can only be described as hovels.
For sure, Mark Rolle had no obligation to improve their living conditions and so Alan Ford praises him for doing so but I suspect none of it would have happened were it not for the subtle machinations of Rolle's land agent at that time, Richard Lipscomb, who I would say is the true hero of the story.

This is indeed a weird and wonderful book containing a great number of lovely photos of local barns and cottages to boot.

Am I a geek?
                                                                                                                                                                              John Serpico

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