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Hilary Gorman - Old Matford House

Thanks to Exeter Memories I was fortunate to find an article on the Tudor house in Wonford Road, known as Old Matford. Mrs. Julia Sharp had submitted the piece after researching its history. Subsequently, I also acquired an Archaeological Survey on the property authored by Richard Parker, and commissioned by the present owners, Tony Orchard and Deborah Clark.

Why I found the article so exciting, was because my family had lived in Old Matford from the 1950s until after my fatherís death in 1971. The old manor house was a wonderful family home and, as a student, I too had conducted research into the house's history as part of my final degree work. Like those who get hooked on tracing their family's roots, I spent hours in the Reference Library and old County Library in Redhills. I was astonished and delighted to see our home had featured at national level on several occasions. This added to the importance of the rescue and renovation of such a unique house.

My late father, Richard Gorman, bought part of the derelict property around 1952, as the large grounds were sold in two halves. The portion bought by my father was mostly orchard, green houses, outbuildings and the decaying house. The other half was sold for the development of new homes. The old house was in such an advanced state of ruin that it hovered between demolition or salvation! The desperate state of the internal and external disintegration made the choice of saving the property a real challenge, plus the expense of paying for labour and materials to be taken into consideration. I think lesser men would have recoiled from such an undertaking.

As a child I have vivid memories of standing in the huge fireplace on the ground floor and seeing the sky through the chimney. Most of the floors were earthen, with patches of grass making it more suitable for stabling horses! The Great Chamber on the first floor, with its plaster coats of arms, was clearly visible from the lower chamber. Some windows survived but with no glass. Looking back I do not know how he managed to glaze a dozen big windows with leaded lights and mullions. As only the shell of the house remained, the ground floors had to be concreted. However my father was determined to keep as many of the original features as possible, such as the flagstones in the passageway, leading from the front door (the impressive, mighty oak door had mercifully survived, as had the wonderful oak screens in the hallway.) All the wiring, plumbing and other services had to be installed, plus the completion of a half finished extension to the rear.

It took all of a year and more, to finish the works, to make the old house habitable and to my father's credit he sourced many contemporary works of art, and fine furniture, to complement the architecture and era of the house. Perhaps his crowning achievement was to acquire, and fit, above the entrance porch the coat of arms of Elizabeth I — much to many incorrect opinions, this heraldic emblem was not original to the house but was added in the 1950s by father. Another necessary correction is that the cast iron entrance gates to the front of the house were also installed by him. They had originally stood at the entrance of another property now demolished, in Heavitree.

Today Old Matford is considered as one of the most interesting in the area of St. Leonard's. Many changes have been effected since we had to sell our lovely home and its surrounds because of death duties. Recently, I had a kind invitation for my sister and I to view the house. We noted internal walls had been taken down, windows had disappeared and then reappeared (also doorways!), some important features had been discovered, but the massive buttress had completely vanished as had the rare gingko tree in the front garden. But, we really appreciated the opportunity to walk round our old home, with so many memories.

Although undoubtedly given the materials at hand just after the war, and the lack of expertise, some mistakes were made, but by the time of his death the survival of Old Matford was assured due to his determination to save such a piece of Exeter's history.

My father died peacefully in the house he had so lovingly restored. As a City merchant, and proud Exonian, his contribution to the preservation of Old Matford has never really been recognised, and I hope anyone interested in Exeter's rich history will, through this article, appreciate Richard Gorman's role on restoring a prestigious part of the City's heritage – he should have received a pat on the back for his farsightedness.

One part of our former ownership still flourishes in the garden, in a beautiful tulip tree given to our mother as a present many years ago, by our late brother, Rick.

I am grateful to the present owners for commissioning the very professional report which will secure Old Matford's future for other generations to enjoy.

© 2011 Hilary Gorman

Old Matford House Old Matford House entrance porch, 1906. Courtesy of the West Country Studies Library.

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