Mount Boone House
Mount Boone House in more glorious times
Buildings Now Gone - Mount Boone
Sometimes a building is torn down and everyone heaves a huge sigh of relief because it was ugly and did no good for a place’s image. Sometimes buildings come down and are mourned instantly, as a perfect example of their type.
There are some, however, which slowly disappear from the public’s conscience, until it is too late to do anything about it. The loss of Mount Boone House, when it was finally torn down in 1905, was a drawn out and sad end to the existence of a dwelling which was associated with a number of the town’s most notable sons. It’s not clear when the first house was built on the hill running down to the Coombe mud that we now call Mount Boone, but it seems clear that some sort of dwelling was there in the 17th century, when young Thomas Boone took on responsibility for it.
He definitely seems to have been living in a house on the site in 1642 - when it was first named as ‘Mount Boone’ – at the start of the English Civil war. As he gives his name to one of the town’s major areas, he really should be better known. A staunch Parliamentarian, Boone was good friends with Oliver Cromwell. It’s not clear whether he was in Dartmouth when it fell to the Royalists in 1643.
He even stepped in for Dartmouth MP Roger Matthews in 1646 at Parliament – around the same time that Dartmouth was being won back from the Royalists.
He was clearly a well-respected member of the Parliamentarian group, and was active in national politics. In fact Cromwell chose Boone to travel to Denmark, Sweden and Russia on diplomatic missions.
All that time away on matters of state meant he did not have the support of the well-to-do in Dartmouth. But he was clearly liked and respected by the townspeople.
Even support from the leader of the land didn’t stop the town’s hierarchy - who felt threatened by this ‘incomer’ with so much power – spending the equivalent of £10,000 in legal fees to try and stop him being MP when he was elected in 1658.
Their reasoning? He shouldn’t be allowed to be MP because he had been elected by the townspeople themselves, and not the ‘Freemen’ of the town, as was the tradition. A freeman was someone who could buy that freedom. The town’s rich people were upset they hadn’t got to choose the MP but the poor people had.
Then the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1660 put an end to his political career. He returned to Dartmouth and used his wealth, built on the Newfoundland trade, to extend and improve his house looking over the town and the Mill Pool.
The house, gradually added to over the years, passed through several more generations of the Boone family – which became the Harris family as a female inheritor, Mary, married someone from a rich bunch in Cornworthy – until 1724.
The Mediaeval mansion was then sold to one John Seale, an extremely rich merchant from London and the Channel Islands. John Seale set about updating his new house and tried to fit in to the town’s community. He went about purchasing much land, including the Coombe Estate which overlooked the Coombe Mud to the north, which spread all the way beyond Sandquay. He married well and clearly thought he would soon be part of the establishment.
The Holdsworth’s family WERE the establishment in Dartmouth – between 1715 and 1830 a Holdsworth, or someone related to them, was mayor 76 times.
When John Seale was not even chosen to be a freeman, he knew who to blame: The Holdsworths.
And so began a long-running feud (see elsewhere in this month’s issue for an explanation of how this fued started and developed).
As the Seale family slowly rose in pre-eminence and their wealth kept growing – so did Mount Boone house grow. They extended the house and gave it a new storey. The house was, by all accounts, beautiful.
Then, in 1873 the latest incarnation of the Seale dynasty, Colonel JH Seale, sold the house and the whole of the Coombe Estate.
He sold it to a surgeon from London, a Mr EWW Raleigh, who bought it as an investment. He never lived there, and in fact, no one ever did again.
It began to decay, slowly, and was broken up into plots for auction in 1899.
In 1905, when the Britannia Royal Naval College was built on part of Raleigh’s Coombe Estate, a picture shows the ruins with the different auction lots marked on them.
Soon after they were pulled to the ground and ten separate properties were built.
A building which was as steeped in history as it was beautiful and impressive, had been allowed to decay and disappear. How it happened seems almost beyond belief, as today an internet and newspaper campaign would have seen it saved, possibly by the National Trust.
In many ways it’s a lesson for us to protect our heritage and to realise the gems we have in front of us – often taken for granted because they are familiar.
Had it survived, Mount Boone House would have been a remarkable addition to the physical heritage of the town – as it is, it is only a memory.
First published October 2011 By the Dart