Established as we now know it by an Andrew Vowler as a small farm during the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Parnacott evolved over successive generations to become a country gentleman's estate. (That of my great-great grandfather, John Vowler J.P. He was also a D L L of Devon.)
It is likely, given its quite prominent position on the upper reaches of a low hill and plentiful supply of well water and wood, that Parnacott was the site of a dwelling that predates the cottage we now retreat to when letting the 'big' house, but, clearly, much research remains to be undertaken. 'Place Names of Devon' of 1931 records 'Parnyngcot' in 1306. 'Pyarnyngacote' in 1315 and 'Pernycote' by 1330. The researchers believe that 'Pearn' was probably the root; 'cott' was and is a standard suffix originally designating a humble habitation and also as 'cote' latterly associated with a larger one, usually a farm. 'Pearn' is a long established surname and is of Old French pre 10th century origins. It derives from the male given name "Pierre", the ultimate origin of which is the Greek "Petros", meaning "The rock". This name was extremely popular throughout Christian Europe in the Middle Ages, largely due to St. Peter, regarded as the founding father of the Christian Church in view of Christ's pronouncement, "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church". The Latinized form Petrus, without a surname, appears in The Domesday Book of 1087. It is not impossible that Parnacott was originally Pearn's cott - cottage habitation. Peter's Cottage. (I like this because Peter is a Vowler Christian name, and is actually one of mine!)
I often wonder whether the Romans were here; it is widely accepted they were in Stratton, just across the border, and I understand they were nearby in Okehampton. (Time Team and such like please get in touch!)
If we ignore, for the moment, the most modern bits, the Victorian bathroom 'wing' and ground floor conversion, there were three significant building phases. Parnacott started as a small cob-walled cottage, one up, one down, soundly roofed in Delabole rag slate, which, as the family prospered, about half way through the 17th century, was added to in the shape of a quite large, very solid Devon cob farmhouse. (Recently, I have been told that the Cottage may well originally have been thatched.)
Further land was acquired, wealth accumulated and Parnacott House, as such, came into being with the construction of a rather handsome Georgian front around 1820. My 3 and 2 times great-grandfathers were responsible for this 'gentrification'.
Photo dated circe 1860 - to be confirmed.
Three farms and almost 800 acres made up the estate of my Victorian great-great-grandfather, Justice of the Peace and a Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Devon. (His portrait, and that of his 'long suffering' wife, Harriet, adorns a wall in the dining room. John Vowler was a local philanthropist and did a great deal for both Chilsworthy and Holsworthy!
John Vowler of Parnacott
I always think of my family being here for over 400 years but there were, in fact, intervals when no member of the Vowler family lived at Parnacott, two of them being during the world wars. From 1914 to 1918, I believe the house was used as a nursing home for convalescing officers, and in World War II the house was commandeered by the Army. During the early years of that war, Parnacott was, I am told, in some way at the organisational heart of the air defences of the south west, with the drawing room full of telephones and maps, and the yard ready with dispatch riders on motorcycles. I believe the outfit that was stationed here at Parnacott was Royal Artillery with a Searchlight - we have found an R A cap badge in the grounds. The searchlight and/or ack ack gun would have been sited out on the front with excellent views out to the south and southeast. German bombers could easily have flown over at night heading for the docks at Bristol and in South Wales. During the Plymouth blitz the sky to the south must have been red. It is possible there was a second army outfit here later, possibly with half-tracked vehicles. I wonder if they were US Rangers. We know there were Rangers stationed in Bude in the lead-up to D-Day. They used the beaches and cliffs in preparation for the Normandy invasion. (I would be very grateful for more information on this aspect of Parnacott's history.)
We do know there were both men and women stationed here together – much to the disapproval of some locals - many huts in the grounds, a large Nissen hut at the top of the yard and one old barn was designated the Armoury. (This was one of my favourites when I was growing up in the '50s!) At one point there was even a boxing ring set up on the front lawn!
Parnacott has always been, I imagine, a busy place but its heyday must have been around 1900.
Today, sadly, those many acres, the estate farms and barns no longer remain in the family, but the house, its gardens, grounds, walks, lanes, yard and outbuildings are very much here and ready, once again, to be pressed into service, to welcome guests and to be enjoyed.