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The Raleigh Estate
The Raleigh Estate stands in 1,000 acres of stunning farm and woodland on the banks of the River Dart between Dartmouth and Dittisham.
Sarah and Duncan Green are the current custodians, with a direct maternal lineage to the great Elizabethan explorer Sir Walter Raleigh.
By The Dart caught up with Sarah and Duncan’s sons, Rob and Nik, who are increasingly involved in many of the estate’s activities.
Rob said: “The Raleigh Estate came into our family in 1873 and has gone through a few incarnations since then, although a lot of what was happening here in the 1870s – such as the farming and forestry – is still going on now. Although we are descended from Sir Walter, and he lived at Greenway on the banks of the Dart as a young man, he never actually owned the land that constitutes the present day estate.”
Although a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter spectacularly fell out with James I on his accession to the throne and was beheaded. His wife was left in poverty – and allegedly carried his head around with her in a casket! The family wealth ended there until further down the line another ancestor, Edward Raleigh, made his fortune in India. He left instructions that on his death an estate was to be purchased. The Seale estate was duly bought from the Seale family who were wealthy Dartmouth merchants.
“Frederick Raleigh bought this land, which formed the Raleigh Estate, and his son Edward Raleigh lived at Mount Boone until it was reluctantly sold to build the Britannia Royal Naval College.”
Nik explained: “The Royal Navy approached Edward to buy the land to build a college. Edward refused and there then ensued a nine year legal battle, which ended badly for Edward. In 1897 the government invoked the Defence Act of 1842 to compulsory purchase the land from him. It was forever a bone of contention for Edward. He left Devon and moved to Somerset, vowing never to return.
“The land – 250 acres of the 3,500 acre estate at the time - was sold for £25,000 and there is a theory that should the Ministry of Defence no longer need it they have to sell it back to the estate at the same price. This theory could stem from the fact that land which was compulsoy purchased during the wars, for airstrips etc, was given back to landowners at the same price, although it has been documented in history books that the BRNC would indeed be returned to the Raleigh Estate.
After Edward’s departure, the estate was left for decades with tenant farmers under an estate manager.
Nik said: “Our grandmother used to come down from Sussex twice a year in the 1930s and stay at the Royal Castle Hotel.
“The estate continued under the watchful eye of an estate manager until our mum and dad decided in 1974 to move down from Sussex – to do the ‘Good Life’ thing! Dad had a furniture factory, which he relocated to Newton Abbot and they moved into Hole Farm overlooking Old Mill Creek. At that point Hole Farm was still being farmed with horses, there was no electricity and there was just one cold-water tap from the well. Rob and I were desperate to move out as soon as we moved in!”
Their sister Helen was born after they moved to Hole Farm and they all learned to love the country way of life and have fond memories of idyllic summers – climbing trees, sailing, playing in the woods – “doing all the things kids should do!”
Duncan and Sarah continue to look after the farms on the estate and also manage around 40 moorings in Old Mill Creek.
All three children attended the local primary school in Dartmouth before going off to boarding school in Plymouth.
After school, Nik taught sailing and watersports in the Mediterranean for seven years and then lived in Plymouth managing training and development for China Clay producer Imerys. Rob went to university in London and worked for the book publishers HarperCollins, travelled the Americas, and worked for the BBC in Bristol. Helen moved to London to train as a nanny, following in her mum’s footsteps – Sarah worked as a Norland Nanny in London, including a stint working for the Speaker of the Houses of Parliament – before settling back at Hole Farm.
Rob and Nik moved back to Hole Farm eight years ago to bring up their own families. Along with their sister Helen they have seven children between them, all at local schools: “We fill up half the local school bus!”
Rob is running a web design and marketing company from the estate and Nik divides his time between management consultancy, outdoor education and running a firewood business.
Rob said: “Nik and I always dreamt about building a business from the estate and now we are building a collection of them. The more we can diversify, the more we can ensure the sustainability of the estate”
“For the last few years we have been focussing on developing the estate as a centre for outdoor education in partnership with a company called Young Spirit. We also work with other local companies such as Sea Kayak Devon, Monty Halls Great Escapes, Dart Adventures & alternative hen weekend organisers, Babes in the Woods. We’ve also just started working with disaster relief charity Shelterbox to provide corporate training.
The forestry side of the estate is also very active - with around 250 acres of mixed hard and soft wood, . The commercial crop of softwoods are currently due for harvesting. Sadly, the discovery of Phytophthora Ramorum (Sudden Oak Death) has accelerated this process. On orders from the Forestry Commission to reduce the spread of this disease , they have so far had to fell about 20 acres. Work is also being undertaken to improve Sandquay Wood with all softwoods being cleared to be replaced with broadleaved woodland.
Nik said: “We recognise that the true value of the woodland is in the activities we can do in them and this is driving our business strategy. We are keen to let managed access to this wonderful resource, and have permissive footpaths through some of the private woodland. The school residential trips are a real hit - the children canoe in from Dittisham and approach the estate from the water. It’s another world for a lot of them and they love their stay here – using bushcraft to develop valuable life-skills.
“We’re very proud of what we’re achieving here. We aim to make it sustainable to live on the estate and generate employment for others so people can earn an income from its resources.
At all times we try very hard to keep a sustainable approach to the estate that fits our ethos – low impact activities on the environment.”
For more information on the estate visit www.raleighestate.co.uk
First Published August 2013 By The Dart