A cottage for £55 – a farm for £2,500? You should have been here in 1919
A year after the First World War ended a momentous event in the history of the tiny parish of Knowstone took place which had far reaching consequences for many of the inhabitants.
On September 15, 1919, a notice of a forthcoming sale to be held in the Assembly rooms, South Molton, "On October 9th at 4-o'clock precisely," appeared in the weekly edition of the Western Times. It was to be a prestigious sale to be conducted by Messrs Driver, Jonas and Co from up along in foreign parts – St James Square London SW1.
Sir Nicholas William George Throckmorton 9th baronet of Coughton, Warwickshire, was selling all of the Knowstone part of his Knowstone/Molland family estate. Described as the "Southern portion" in the for sale details, it was rather more than a slice of apple pie and cream – eight good stock farms from 100 to 300 acres, seven small-holdings of up to 60 acres, a grist mill, the Masons Arms pub with out-buildings and land totalling 35 acres known as Indilake and Stoutway Head, 11 cottages, two moors and 162 acres of woodland and fishing rights. In total 1,888 acres. According to Whites Directory of 1850, the total acreage of the whole of Knowstone was only 4,494 acres. An impressive booklet measuring 17 by 11 inches was sent to all interested parties, detailing the lots with maps and comprehensive information. My grandfather requested one, and fortunately it was kept and passed down through the family.
Three days before the day of the sale, the Western Times announced that the sale had been postponed "in consequence of the national rail strike." The strike was called off on October 11 when minimum rates of pay were raised from forty nine shillings (£2.45) to fifty one shillings (£2.55) per week. The sale was re-advertised as taking place on Thursday 30th October with the following words added: "...unless sold by private contract." The extra time between the sale dates was helpful to would-be buyers, as on the day of the sale the number of lots up for sale was drastically reduced from 28, with many of the tenants having bought privately. One tenant was the father of Grace Buckingham my grandmother, Henry whose father John had been a tenant of Owlaborough farm since before 1842.
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Local papers covered the sale, but were unable to give prices of properties sold privately as these were not divulged. Based on prices on the day of the sale it is fair to assume that Owlaborough with its 213 acres, 2 roods and 28 perches would have made between two, and two and a half thousand pounds. The rent being paid prior to the sale was £150 plus land tax,of £5-8s-2d (£5.41) and vicarial tithes of £14-5s-6d (£14.26p).
On the day of the sale, of the 28 lots advertised, only a dozen were up for sale. The Masons Arms was sold privately as was Rose Cottage, with its three acres two stall stable, wood house, ash pit (fertiliser from wood ash for the land) store shed and two pig sties. There was also a right of way through the property for the school authorities to reach all land which was connected with the school. It was purchased by Mr J Bray and some of the land was later donated for the Methodist chapel to be built on in 1927.
Luckett, the largest farm of 304 acres plus 12 acres of woodland, made £2,250 plus £380 for timber. Thirty years later it featured in the book about farming and the parish "Fools Rush In," by Tina Spencer-Knott.
Cottages in Knowstone were sold to the tenants and private buyers, with Henry Buckingham purchasing three close to the Masons Arms. Prices ranged from £90 for a single cottage to £185 for three adjoining ones. Only one property came up for sale in East Knowstone, a small cottage which was sold for £55 to Mr J Stone of Wheston farm near Roachill. One property outside of the parish in Twitchen was sold to to the tenant Mr T Gough.
The sale of the century was over. The final figure raised? For the 1,888 acres farmhouses, outbuildings, woodland, moorland cottages, gristmill and pub....£21,450. Today's spending power of over £460,000. To put this into context an acre of good farm land would fetch around £10,000 today. By Christmas, the ninth baronet was dead, aged 81, and Knowstone was a village no longer under the patronage of an absent squire and his whims.