Just a mile or so from Torquay sea front, a country lane leads to a small picturesque village that is a world apart from the hustle and bustle of Torquay Harbour.
The village centre harks back to a bygone era when it was part of the Cockington Manor Estate: It has all the quintessential ingredients of what every visitor’s idea of an old Devon village should look like; a place where thatched cottages with hanging baskets entice people into their gift shop or garden for the obligatory Devon ‘Cream Tea’, but there’s more to Cockington than that, and in a separate article I will be describing the estate that surrounds the village which is now a 420-acre Country Park. In this blog though, I’m going to give a short introduction as to how the ancient manor became what it is today and what the village has to offer.
Early records show that at the time of the Norman Conquest the estate was owned by a certain Alric the Saxon, after which, according to the Domesday Book, the first Norman Lord of the Manor of ‘Chochintona’ was William de Falaise, who then sold it on to the Fitzmartin family.
It was Roger Fitzmartin who changed his name to Roger de Cockington, and the estate stayed in the family for over 250 years until it was acquired in 1375 by the next influential family – the Carys.
You can see a reference to the Cary family name all over Torquay because they were not only influential locally, but nationally as well. George Cary was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I, but in 1654 after supporting the monarchy during the Civil War, Henry Cary may have kept his head, but lost the manor that the family had owned for 236 years.
It was sold to some rich silversmiths from Exeter – the Mallock family – who kept it for another 278 years.
During the early 1900’s Agatha Christie, who was a friend of the family, often visited the court and took part in some of the amateur dramatics that took place here. She dedicated the book ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’ to Christopher Mallock.
The first thousand years of Cockington’s history is quite straightforward compared to the last 80 though because since the Mallocks left, the estate has become less unified. In 1932 they sold the entire estate to the Cockington Trust, who then sold the farmland and Manor House (Cockington Court) to Torquay Corporation for £50,000, and in 1947 sold the village to The Prudential finance company.
In 1991, after a joint effort between Torbay Council and the Prudential, the estate was designated a Country Park, a status which it still retains today allowing the general public free access to all its amenities.
Whichever way you travel to Cockington, whether it be by car, the not too frequent local bus service, or by foot alongside the water meadows, you will arrive at the village centre, which hasn’t changed all that much from the time it was the centre of the original Saxon settlement.
Bearing in mind that there was no coast road until 1840, it’s not difficult to imagine what life was like around here when horses were the main form of transport. At the crossroads the lanes still lead to Torre, Paignton, Marldon, and Totnes, and although there’s no blacksmith anymore, the 14th century forge would have done a brisk business for many years I would imagine.
Nearby Rose Cottage was where the blacksmith lived before it became a village store and post office during Victorian times.
The Old Schoolhouse, which today is a gift shop, is even older than the Forge. Originally built in the 12th cent, it started life as a Devon Longhouse, which meant that the inhabitants had the dubious honour of sharing their accommodation with the livestock.
Across the road from the Old Schoolhouse is an arch with a thatched roof that leads into an area that used to be part of Home Farm. It would have been at the heart of the village and village life right up to 1939 when it stopped being used a working farm.
Most of the old buildings associated with it have since been converted into a variety of uses, but all of them keeping their traditional appearance as much as possible and put to use much as you would expect it to be for somewhere like this.
Weavers Cottage Tea Shoppe used to be the farmhouse, and next to it is an old granary with a waterwheel (which needs some attention), but your first port of call should be the Linhay which is just on the right-hand side as you walk through the arch.
A Linhay (or Linny) traditionally had an open front with two levels – the lower to store wagons, and the upper one for hay. The one here though housed animals which is why the supporting pillars are circular to help prevent them getting injured.
The reason why you should make the Linhay your first port of call is because it has now been converted into a Visitor Centre for the Country Park.
Before the new Visitor Centre was built a nearby hut was used for the purpose, and one of its regular volunteers was yours truly.
In close proximity to the village centre is ‘The Drum’. Many South Devon villages have a thatched pub and Cockington has one too, but it might not be quite how you would imagine it to be. Whereas most thatched village pubs are hundreds of years old The Drum was only built in 1936 and there’s a good reason why.
After Torbay Council bought the estate from the Mallocks in the 1930s, the famous architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens, was commissioned to build a new model village and The Drum was the first building to be constructed. After it was completed, war was starting to loom and, in the end, it was the only part of the planned new village to be finished.
Consequently, it does appear to be slightly incongruous to the rest of the village – but it does show how the village could have looked if the Second World War hadn’t had intervened.
These days Mitchell & Butler has a 999-year lease under the Vintage Inns label. They have spent a million pounds on restoring and bringing the pub into the 21st century, and it has to be said, that there were a few disgruntled locals when they took the venture over.
When they introduced a ban on dogs coming into the pub it didn’t go down too well, but that soon changed and when I was in there recently there was a Shetland Pony at the bar!
In my next blog I will be exploring the wider area around the village into the area now covered by the Country Park, so please join me for a visit to another part of Torbay’s rich tapestry of places to enjoy.