Shapcott Barton near Knowstone, on the edge of Exmoor, has several claims to a place
in local history. One of these is that it is the ancestral home of the Shapcott
family, members of whom still visit from all over the world.
Another is that it has some very fine architectural details which warrant a Grade
II* listing and are sometimes accessible to the public by appointment.
But it is another claim on visitors’ attention that may make even more of an impression
on their imaginations.
Above the entrance porch there is a small chamber, with a blocked doorway leading
from one of the bedrooms.
The only access nowadays is via the attic, and it was this route that a visiting
child took one day in order to see what he had been told was a priest’s hole.
What he brought out surprised everyone. Bones and a chain are, one might think,
the stuff of fiction rather than real life.
A local teacher identified the bones as human and they remain in the house to this
day, to be passed on to the next owner. Their origin remains a mystery.
Shapcott, clearly, is a house with a history. Occupied by the Shapcotts until 1770,
when the last of the family died in Exeter, it stands on a site identified in the
Domesday Book, nestling among fields south of the windswept heights of the moor.
During the Civil War, the Shapcotts gave their support to the King and were heavily
fined by the Roundheads as a result.
The house was built in about 1600 to a three-room and cross passage plan, with three
adjoining, gabled wings at the back to contain service rooms. The family decorated
their home in a style befitting their important status. The entrance door has a
moulded surround with very weathered ram’s horn stops, while another internal moulded
door surround has fine foliated stops.
Several of the rooms themselves are equally impressive, with many panels divided
by studded cover strips. There are two dressed stone fireplaces upstairs and the
early arrangement of first floor rooms is still evident, with partition walls forming
However it is the plasterwork, the framed ceiling of the original “hall”, and its
plank and muntin screen that make the biggest impression. Between the cross passage
and the hall is a partition cover with re-used 17th century panelling on which there
are carved decorations, some in Renaissance style and some in geometric, lozenge
Inside, the hall ceiling is divided into 24 panels by superb, elaborate mouldings,
dark with age. In some of the panels the original plaster decoration is complete,
in others it is partial and in yet others there is none at all, though the plaster
is thought to be of a similar date.
A large, dressed stone fireplace stands on the rear wall, while a large handsome
plank and muntin screen divides this room from the inner parlour. In the latter
room, the ceiling had to be replaced by the present owners, who used replacement
beams sawn from elm on Lord Mantagu’s Beaulieu estate in Hampshire.
Upstairs, Shapcott Barton has five bedrooms and a bathroom, with dressed stone fireplaces
in two of the rooms and a beautiful plaster frieze depicting winged horses in another.
Below the cross passage, where once there was a cider house and stables, a separate
cottage was created in the 1950’s, providing three-bedroom accommodation which looks
out on to its own area of garden.
The farmhouse has an unusually leafy outlook. Rather than viewing its own yard and
buildings, it looks down a long stretch of lawn to trees and fields in a shallow
The working part of the farm lies a little way behind.
The house is set down a long, private, unmade lane, surrounded by 192 acres of ring-fenced
arable and pasture land.
Despite its peaceful seclusion, it is only about three miles from the North Devon
link road and half-an-hour from the mainline station at Tiverton Parkway ……..