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Watermouth Castle Painted in 1825 by

Watermouth Castle - the seat of Joseph Davie Bassett

Painted in 1825 by Frederick Stockdale


Just before Christmas in 1848, Joseph Davie Bassett died, aged 82, having been required to change his name from Davie to Bassett under the terms of his uncle's will. He had been lucky enough to have lived a full and very active life, most of it passed in outdoor activities and had inherited great wealth from his uncle, Colonel Bassett. The enabled him, at his death, to pass on a huge fortune to his eldest son, Arthur. The fortune, included the Watermouth Estate which in turn, included the village of Berrynarbor and only  then, in 1848, did it actually passed into Arthur's ownership although many sources name him as the owner in 1825.


Watermouth Castle is a listed building (Grade 2) and so we are lucky enough to be able to read the comments of English Heritage on the building's history.  They say that in 1845, architect George Wightwick, who was based in Plymouth,  was engaged to "complete the interior and to design alterations to the north front". This is at least twenty years after the work was commenced by Joseph Davie Bassett in the 1820s. So there is a mystery here - who drew up the original plans for this grandiose building and why wasn't it completed 20 years later? It certainly wasn't a matter of money - Joseph had plenty of that to throw at his pet project.


Murray's Handbook of Devon, published in 1859 describes Watermouth Castle as 

"A Gothic building, unfinished, but commenced about 40 years ago by the father of the present proprietor, A. D. Bassett Esq.

The situation is romantic and the grouping of the neighbouring knolls and ridges are strikingly beautiful"


Four years after this comment was written, Arthur's wife Harriet, the bride for whom we are told this building was intended as a home, died aged 57 on 18 Dec 1863 . The couple had had four children -  2 boys and 2 girls, There is evidence in the 1851 census that their architect had given them access to at least some of  the interior of their castle by then because they are in residence there together with some staff members:


But Arthur did not live long to enjoy his Castle. On 8 December 1870, he too died, following a riding accident at the age of  69. His joint heirs were his son , the Reverend Arthur Crawfurth Davie Bassett, and his daughter Harriet Mary Williams (née Bassett), she having married Charles Henry Williams on 7 January 1858. In Victorian times, a woman's property automatically became that of her husband  when they married, so in 1880, after Harriet's brother's death, Charles changed his  name legally by Royal Warrant,  to  Charles Henry Bassett,  so that having first been Mrs Williams, Harriet  now became Mrs. Harriet Bassett.  Harriet and Charles lived on at Watermouth with their two children , Edith and Walter, and can be found in the 1891 census with no less than 12 servants.

When in 1880, Rev. Arthur Crawfurth Davie Bassett died unmarried at Watermouth aged 50,  Harriet and her husband became sole owners of the Castle (which she seems to have preferred to call Watermouth House).  Eventually the Castle passed to their son Walter and his sister Edith but times were changing and the great wealth which Harriet's father had inherited, was beginning to  disappear - much of it spent on completing the Castle which had been a constant drain on their resources. 

In addition, Walter became involved in the construction of gigantic Ferris wheels  which turned out to be a very expensive hobby indeed.  His involvement with the Ferris wheel entailed setting up a company  which supplied the money to construct and run them. These wheels can be compared to the "London Eye" of today and Walter's company set them up at Earls' Court in London, in Blackpool, in Paris and in The Prater Park in Vienna - with only the latter surviving to this day. When he died at Watermouth in the June Quarter of 1907 aged only 43, he was virtually bankrupt having been involved in expensive litigation of one kind or another since beginning his involvement with Big Wheels.

He and his wife Ellen had no children  so the burden of carrying on the family traditions in Berrynarbor fell upon the surviving heir, Edith Bassett and her husband, Captain Ernest Charles Penn Curzon.

Watermouth was vacated by the family during the Great War when it became a military hospital. It was after the War, that the break-up and sale of the estate began. Throughout the 1920s the sale of Berrynarbor's farms and cottages continued but it was a  hopeless task to attempt to keep everything going and in 1942 Edith sold most of the contents of the Castle . She died, aged 81, at the Castle in the June Quarter of 1943. The Castle itself began a decline which was only arrested when it was purchased by the current owners who restored much of its former glory and turned it into a vibrant tourist attraction,


Watermouth Castle c. 1900

Watermouth Castle c. 1900

From our collection


Watermouth bay c. 1900
Watermouth Bay c 1900.

from our collection


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