Description: Hillersdon House
Date Listed: 5 April 1966
English Heritage Building ID: 95254
OS Grid Reference: SS9962607921
OS Grid Coordinates: 299626, 107921
Latitude/Longitude: 50.8621, -3.4276
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William Charles Grant Esq JP (who also served in the King's Dragoon Guards) was the nephew of the Right Honorable Sir William Grant, Master of the Rolls, who was childless. In 1843, WC Grant married Maria, eldest daughter of William Henry May Esq of Plymstock Devon, who was also the father of the watercolor painter Arthur Powell May. WC Grant's eldest son was William J A Grant born at Hillersdon House on 5 May 1851 or 1850. (His older sister Charlotte was born in Naples Italy in c 1844 and according to the 1881 census was living unmarried at Hillersdon House at the age of 36 years with her mother Maria, head of household as WC Grant was probably deceased by 1881, and brother William J A Grant, as well as younger sister Anna Maria Grant, aged 27.) On August 7th, 1895, in Exeter Cathedral, William J A Grant married Enid Maud Forster, daughter or stepdaughter of the late Right Hon. William Forster MP of Bornhill, Brampford Speke, former Agent General of New South Wales (he resigned his commission in 1860) later in 1876 appointed Agent General of the Colony in England. Forster was also a journalist, satirist, poet (see "Australian Poets" by Arthur Patchett Martin.)
If you follow the advertisements in Trewman's Exeter Flying Post or Plymouth and Cornish Advertiser, you will find the original manor house (also called Hillersdon House, which Grant tore down and replaced with the current Hillersdon) as available to let, furnished or unfurnished, in 1813. It was then to be sold at auction 19th of April 1813, and advertised in September of 1821 as to be let for a term not exceeeding 14 years, furnished or unfurnished, with "walled gardens, Coach house, stables, dog kennells." In 1824, a Capt William Burn lived in Hillersdon and a birth of a Burn son is recorded in the newspaper.
William Charles Grant Esq had Hillersdon designed and built by Samuel Beazley, a theatre designer. Building work took place from 1848–1852.
The Telegraph has a 5 June 2009 article entitled "Hillersdon House in Devon: a decadent affair" which details some of the goings-on at Hillersdon House in the 1890s after "Billy" (also listed as "Johnny") Grant (termed an "actic explorer") took over the household. Grant was friendly with party girl of the time Elinor Glyn. William John Alexander Grant was actually a polar photographer of some renown. He sailed as a photographer with Sir Allen Young in Pandora in 1876. Grant made another seven photographic trips to the Arctic. Four voyages were in the Dutch Arctic schooner Willem Barents, the others in British yachts. Grant exhibited his photographs at the Royal Photographic Society, as well as being a Fellow of the Society and of the Royal Geographic Society. There has recently been an interest in Grant's work in both Britain and the Netherlands.
WJC Grant and his wife divorced in 1901, according to records. He died 10 March 1935. According to genealogical records, he devised his estates to Sir Mark Beresford Russell Sturgis KCB, who took the additional name of Grant. Grant-Sturgis died in 1949.
From the records of RAMM
"Grant, William Charles
The only Amazon item at RAMM from Grant is a war club from Guyana, accessioned before 1885. It is not clear how Grant obtained this object, but it could have been collected in the field by his son. There are 1180 objects from the Grant family on RAMM's catalogue database, mostly natural history, with some antiquities and numismatics. 76 ethnographic objects were bequeathed to the museum after Grant's death in 1877. A short biography in RAMM's natural history archives informs us that W.C. Grant built and lived in Hillersdon House, near Collumpton. His son, William John Alexander Grant (J.A. Grant) (1850-1935) was a well-known eccentric who 'became well known as an explorer, and [spent] sixty years, traveling all over the world'. He also donated natural history and ethnography collections to RAMM. As a boy he received 'an injury to his left eye, when a schoolboy friend accidentally hit him with a dart from a blowpipe', and the last great trip of his life was up the Amazon River.
A 1988 letter in the ethnography archive, from curator John Allan to someone called Bray, notes that 'W.C. Grant also gave Eskimo material from Franklin's voyages to Canada'. The archive includes a photocopy from Pugsley, who quotes an obituary of W.C. Grant in the 8th May 1877 Tiverton Gazette, which says that he took an active part in the parish and restoration of the church, was chairman of Conservative Committee and a supporter of schools."
Grant-Sturgis also donated items to RAMM that probably came from Grant's collection at Hillersdon.
Regina, 5 October 2011