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Shilstone House, Modbury, Devon

Shilstone is a lovingly restored Georgian house in the heart of the Devon countryside, overlooking an important historical landscape, which includes the only known and nationally important C17 water theatre in the UK.

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In 1997 Lucy and Sebastian Fenwick stumbled across a grade II listed farmstead in the heart of the South Hams then known as Shilston Barton. Intrigued by the remains of a designed landscape and clear signs of an important early house, they purchased the site and embarked on a lengthy project with the Devon Rural Archive to discover more about the landscape and earlier dwellings. The landscape soon began to give up its secrets revealing extensive building work from the medieval period to the present day, much of which had been covered but not lost. Two sets of double terraces, medieval fishponds, sunken lanes and a ha-ha as well as an early walled garden and a courtyard of fine barns separated from the main house by a crenelated curtain wall all hinted to the importance of Shilstone.

The discovery of the only surviving 17th century water theatre and associated gardens confirmed the suspicions and revealed an incredible connection with Hampton Court Palace. Archaeological excavations in the surrounding landscape were also fruitful and revealed a prehistoric presence on the site, possibly dating to the Neolithic, but undoubtedly of second century BC date into the Roman period. The project also uncovered the foundations of a substantial medieval house shown through documentary sources to be the former Domesday manor of ‘Silfestana’.

Tour features

All tours are conducted by resident archaeologist Abi Gray and begin at the Devon Rural Archive where guests can view artefacts from the site, historic documents and photographs from the restoration project. Visitors will be guided through the ground floor of the house looking at architectural styles of 1600–1730; the formal gardens and wider designed landscape. Guests will explore the history of the site through its surviving archaeology and rare architectural features before seeing the results of a 17-year project to restore the house.

Group leaders must liaise with resident archaeologist Abi Gray directly to avoid possible issues arising.


Thank you for such an insightful tour of Shilstone and its gardens on a glorious summer's day. The water theatre was, I thought, most interesting. I do so hope that it will eventually be restored, especially as you said it's the only one of its kind in the country.


From Modbury Follow the A379 into the town centre and at the bottom of the main road turn into Brownston Street (opposite the post office) and continue to the top of the hill. Head out of the town and take the second left (Mary Cross) down to a small bridge and proceed up to a T-junction. Turn right and after 200 yards right again between stone gate piers. Follow signs for DRA.   From the A38  Exit the A38 at Ivybridge and follow the B3213 to Ermington. Take the first left past the primary school and at the bottom of the road turn left onto the A3121. Take the second right signed Sheepham and proceed up the hill to the crossroads. Turn left and after approximately 1.5 miles turn right between stone gate piers. Follow the signs for DRA.

Do not use Sat Nav. Please be aware access to the estate is via narrow country lanes with limited passing places. The office is happy to advise guests on the best route, particularly those with larger vehicles. There is ample parking available next to the Devon Rural Archive.

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Useful information

Price £18.00
Duration 2.5 hours

Cream teas. Dietary requirements should be discussed with the office by the end of the previous month but please be aware not all requirements are catered for.

Special restrictions

No dogs. Because our properties are old and fragile, unfortunately we cannot include children under 14.

Disabled access

Disabled access by prior arrangement but restricted to the ground floor of the house and immediate gardens. Disabled cloakroom at the Devon Rural Archive

Tour dates

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  • Booking

    To book a tour of this property on one of the tour dates click the tour booking button below. To request a group visit of this property with your party or club on a specific date click the Request a group visit button.

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