Berry Park, Welcombe, Bideford, North Devon, EX39 6HH

History of Berry Park

How it all began!

During the 16th century, all the land from Berry Park* down to the cliff edge between Marsland and Welcombe Mouth was farmed, probably under the name “Mead Farm”. At that time a row of farm cottages was built to accommodate farm workers and their families. Those cottages are now known as Primrose and Garden Cottages.

Four hundred years ago wood was scarce for building so local people would collect the timbers from shipwrecks, of which there were many in these waters, for use in their buildings. The timbers in the roof of Primrose Cottage can be clearly seen to have once been ships’ timbers and some show the scars of a wood boring beetle found only in tropical waters! The roof of the cottages was replaced during the winter of 1999/2000 and many more of these ex-shipwreck timbers were revealed.

Probably during the late 1700’s, Primrose Cottage was “modernised” by the laying of Delabole slate flagstone floors and the installation of the latest model kitchen range forged by Thomas Box at Marhamchurch (just south of Bude) using materials brought to the forge by the famous wheeled barges used on the Bude canal. These features can still be seen in Primrose Cottage.

By the late 1800’s a Mr William Walker had built, and was living in, the spectacular “Welcombe House”, a three storey, flat roofed house with a large west wing.**

Mr Walker, who, is reputed to have been related to Johnny Walker of Whisky fame, decided that his daughter should have a home of equal splendour nearby. In 1870 he commissioned the building of Berry Park, another three storey, flat roofed house after the style he favoured, as an “extension” to the cottages already on his land. As it happened the local hotel, “The Blue Fox”*** (which was behind the church), was due for demolition at the time and much of the stone was transported across the village and used in the building of Berry Park. No expense was spared, and Mr Walker built a masterpiece of Victorian architecture with spectacular pitch pine ceilings, staircase and doors, and impressive marble mantelpieces with individually hand painted tiles around the fireplaces.

Berry Park was given to his daughter as a wedding present and its similarity in appearance to a wedding cake may or may not have been intentional! Sadly it seems that Mr Walker and his daughter later “fell out” over the issue of the planting of some trees on the land between the two houses and were never reconciled. Mrs Skinner (nee Walker) and her family lived at Berry Park while their son grew up, but had left by the time he was drowned in HMS Hampshire during World War 1 (along with Lord Kitchener). A stained glass window to the memory of the family can be seen in St Nectan’s Church, Welcombe.

It seems that Berry Park lay empty and became almost derelict until 1917 when a family by the name Oke moved in. Samuel Oke lived with his two spinster daughters in the cottage while his son Edward lived with his family in the main house. Samuel Oke was born in South Hole in 1854, the twelfth of thirteen children of William and Jane Oke. He moved from South Hole to East Town (near the church) and then to Berry Park, with his family, in 1917. At one time he earned a living as a rabbit dealer, travelling between Welcombe and Holsworthy. He was known to have considerable skill in the treatment of sick cattle and his expertise was much sought after by all the local cattle farmers.

His wife was called Betsy and they had 7 children. The family farmed the 10 to 15 acres of land which was then a part of the property, but perhaps it was hard to make ends meet, as it was about that time that Berry Park welcomed its first holiday makers

Guests would all assemble in the dining hall (now the Games Room) for breakfast, lunch, high tea, and dinner or when the weather was fine they would be provided with splendid packed lunches and teas. It sounds idyllic until you remember that there was no electricity, no running water and only one bathroom. Guests all had to do 20 pumps of the hand pump to raise water from the well before they were allowed to sit down to breakfast! The conversion of the main house into self-catering apartments was started by Mr Jack Faulks in the 1960’s and further conversion and improvements have continued ever since. The popularity of holidays at Berry Park has continued to grow and we now have upwards of 150 families staying with us each year.

* We are not sure about the origin of the name Berry Park but many defended sites in Devon are named Berry or Bury from the Anglo Saxon word “Burh” meaning any enclosed site from a small domestic enclosure to a large walled town.

** Welcombe House was almost completely destroyed by fire on Sunday 17th March 1929. It has been rebuilt as a much smaller, two storey building with a gabled roof and can be seen from our first and second floor, west facing windows.

*** You may have heard of the infamous author, playwright and poet Ronald Duncan who lived in Welcombe until his death in 1982. One of his books entitled “The Blue Fox” is a compilation of semi-factual articles written about his life in a fictitious, but thinly disguised village in rural North Devon.