First image scan and caption, and transcription from Charles Eastlake, by George P. Landow. Remaining images and text added by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use the images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the sources and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.]

Knightshayes, near Tiverton, Devon — the seat of J. H. Amory, Esq., M.P. designed by William Burges (1869) Drawing from Eastlake, facing p. 356.


This grand house was commissioned by Sir John Heathcoat-Amory (1828-1914), the grandson of John Heathcoat (1783-1861). The latter was a self-made and ingenious man who had moved his lace-making enterprise down to Devon in 1816, when workers' unrest over mechanisation had started to threaten factory production in his works at Loughborough. The move had been successful, and the enterprise went from strength to strength: Shirley Nicholson explains, "The demand for hand-made Honiton (Devon) lace, popularised by Queen Victoria's wedding outfit, was great, but this was very expensive so the general populace was delighted when the machine-made equivalent became available, and boldly patterned 'lace curtaining' (such as that hanging in the the drawing room window at 18 Stafford Terrace) could be purchased for reasonable prices." The success of the Heathcoat Lace Works in Tiverton eventually enabled his grandson, also named John, to embark on this new and ambitious family home close by. The choice of William Burges as architect/designer was an inspired one.

Left: John Heathcote. Source: Felkin, facing p. 180. Right: Heathcoat Lace Factory, Tiverton, Mid Devon, in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. Source: Historic England (see bibliography).

Commentary on Knightshayes by Charles L. Eastlake (1872)

Knightshayes, near Tiverton, the residence of Mr. J. H. Amory, M.P., is another example of this architect's skill in the field of domestic architecture. A reference to the illustration of this building will show that, though the main front is uniform in its general masses, the entrance doorway is not precisely in the centre. This slight deviation from what is commonly called symmetry in design was no doubt adopted for convenience of internal arrangement, and is an instance of the ease with which a Gothic elevation may accommodate itself to exigencies of plan without sacrifice of artistic effect. In the case of an Italian villa such a license would have been almost impossible.

The class of art to which Knightshayes belongs is of a severer type than that adopted at Eatington, and less emphatically national than that which characterises Leyes Wood. The reddish local stone employed for the masonry is extremely hard, and there is a kind of sympathy between its stern unyielding nature and the robust rather than refined character of the work with which it is associated.

Massive walls, bold gables, stout mullions nearly half the width of the lights which they divide, large and solid looking chimney shafts, corbelled from the walls or riding on the high pitched roofs, are the principal incidents which give this building dignity and effect. Such gentler graces as are imparted into the design by aid of mouldings or decorative sculpture (as in the central dormer) indicate a French origin. The great feature of the interior is a large hall to be used for the reception of the owner's tenantry. This is fitted up with a gallery and rostrum at one end, and is eminently picturesque both in plan and proportions. For this quality of design as well as for a certain vigour of treatment, Knightshayes may be considered a typical example of the Revival. [356-57]

Knighshayes Court (National Trust) today © Richard Croft, originally posted on the Geograph website and available for reuse under the terms of the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence.

Unfortunately, the interior of the house could not be completed to Burges's design. Burges had prepared the most elaborately detailed plans for it, but funds ran low, and in 1874 the work was turned over instead to the able but "cheaper, less fastidious" and certainly less visionary designer, John Diblee Crace (Crook 301). Burges's plans would come in useful elsewhere, and the interiors are still splendid, with at least some examples of Burges's work, such as an attractive walnut table — and a large number of his architectural drawings. Knightshayes is now a National Trust property, renowned not only for its general plan and many decorative enrichments, but for its splendid gardens and parkland as well.

Links to Related Material


Crook, J. Mordaunt. William Burges and the High Victorian Dream. Revised and Enlarged Edition. London: Francis Lincoln, 2013. [Review]

Eastlake, Charles L. A History of the Gothic Revival. London: Longmans, Green; N.Y. Scribner, Welford, 1872. [Copy in Brown University's Rockefeller Library]

Felkin, William. A History of Machine-Wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufactures. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1867. Internet Archive, from a copy in Robarts Library, University of Toronto. Web. 22 April 2024.

Heathcoat Lace Factory, Tiverton, Mid Devon, Devon. Historic England. Reference: RBO01/12/OP07254.

Nicholson, Shirley. Correspondence with JB, 23 April 2024.

Created 6 February 2008
Last modified 23 April 2024