MEM22117 - White Rock Cottage, Simonsbath (Building)


One of the earliest cottages built at Simonsbath, possibly built as a cottage ornee to house a head gardener for Simonsbath House. By 1852 it may have been housing two families. A school was added to the complex in 1857, which became a primary school in 1958 and closed in 1970.

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Type and Period (4)

Protected Status

Full Description

The cottage is annotated on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map. [1] White Rock Cottage is of early date and at one point formed part of a Dames school before the new school was built in 1857. [2] It is likely that White Rock Cottage was one of the first houses built in Simonsbath. There is evidence to suggest that White Rock Cottage (which is single storied), was originally an agricultural building. An ice house was built adjacent to the cottage when John Knight began to build a large mansion (that was never completed) in 1830. There was already a Dame School in Simonsbath when the Rev Thornton became the vicar of Exmoor. In 1926 it was held in two rooms of the three cottages forming White Rock, on to which the school was built in 1857. Teaching at the new school was undertaken by the Rev Thornton with the help of an assistant teacher, Miss Emma Read from Chawleigh. In 1861, John H Cullen (a civil engineer) lived in the cottage next to the school with his daughter Anne, who was the schoolteacher. There were frequent changes of teachers at the school during the first 40 years of its existence, averaging a new teacher every five years. After John and Annie were Miss Louisa Brazier (listed in Kelly's Directory in 1866), followed by Sarah Richards, who lived in the schoolhouse with her husband William Richards (a shoemaker). On 4th January 1875 Annie Blackmore, the daughter of a Customs Officer and the current schoolteacher, married Thomas Scott, the son of William Scott, the Exmoor Estate Bailiff at that time. It is likely they left the Moor by 1876. In 1881 Harriet Carpenter, a widowed dressmaker, lived in the schoolhouse with her daughter Zena, who was the schoolteacher. They had left by 1883 and Miss Mary Webster lived there at this time and by 1889, Mrs Ellen Buttercase, a widow with a young son Robert, lived in the schoolhouse, but left a few years later for Canada. Further teachers included Miss Octavia Smyth (moved out by 1897) and Mrs WJ Nichols. In September 1916 there was 41 pupils in attendance at the school, double the number present in 1910. Mrs Lena White had taken over from Mrs Nichols in 1898 and had an assistant teacher, Miss Wilminshurst. Around this time each pupil had his or her own little garden plot within the school grounds, each measuring 8 by 5 feet. The girls grew flowers and the boys grew vegetables. Later, when Miss Olive Badger was headmistress (after 1928), she asked Lord Fortescue if she could have more ground for her pupils and he gave her the land where the original garden of Simonsbath House is said to have been, for a nominal rent. School children during the time of Mrs White and Miss Badger were often noted to take off after the hounds during a hunt when they were in the vicinity, sometimes with the girls following them. Previous to World War Two, children had made their way to Simonsbath School on foot or on ponies (which were left in the adjacent stables during school hours); however, during the war and because of an influx of evacuees, a school car service was laid on for the benefit of all children out on the Moor, beginning on 22nd July 1940, collecting children from Kinsford, Emmetts Grange, Wintershead and Horsen. Simonsbath School, the schoolhouse and White Rock Cottage were all sold by the Fortescues on 7th February 1956 to the Somerset County Council Education Authority, who had been renting the school and schoolhouse since 1925. In 1953 there were 20 pupils in attendance. In 1958 the school became a primary school only, with the older children attending Dulverton Middle School and from there to Minehead. The school closed in 1970. [3] The building was subject to a desk-based assessment and historic building recording in 2012. The earliest reference to White Rock Cottage was in an estate inventory of 1833, when it was the only residential building mentioned apart from Simonsbath House itself. The 'Gardener's Tool House' and the features and contents of 'White Rock Garden' were also mentioned. It was therefore presumably built in the 1820s and may have been the Head Gardener's cottage. By 1852 it may have been housing two families. The measured survey suggests the eastern end of the present group represents the remnant of an earlier building, with the two more-or-less symmetrical cottages at the heart of the complex representing a second phase of the building, appearing to date from the 1840s or 50s. The school was established on the south side by October 1857 and one of the units of White Rock cottage became the accommodation for the teacher at the new school. The school closed in 1970 and subsequently became a Somerset County Council Field Studies Centre. The site forms a complex of stone and brick former domestic and school buildings, dating from the early 19th to the mid 20th Century. The buildings' exteriors are rendered and painted in both lime and cement, with composite slate roofs. [5, 6] Simonsbath School was built at White Rock cottages by Frederick Knight in 1857 and continued in use until 1970. The schoolmistress between 1928-36 was Miss Olive Badger and she was very keen on making gardening a proper part of the school curriculum. Gardening lapsed at the school after she left but was re-introduced by Miss Bartlett and Mr Cripps in 1944. White Rock Cottage was built as a cottage ornee as part of a designed landscape for Simonsbath House in the 1830s and was part of a group that formed a focal point for two gardens, the Garden by the River and White Rock Garden. It was also part of the estate centre, housing variously the school teacher, a shepherd, a land surveyor, gardeners and a gamekeeper in the 19th and 20th Centuries. [7] The conclusions reached in [6] were revised following the removal of a substantial amount of external render and internal plaster at the Cottage in 2015. The revised study suggests the earliest phase of the building was formed from two narrow single storey semidetached cottages of stone rubble construction under a slate roof; these today form the core of the extant building, forming a main range of four rooms. None of the contemporary window opening survive, with all but one widened and raised. It is similar in footprint to the "toilet block" (MEM22304) and is likely to be contemporary, both being estate cottages, workshops or both. They may have been built in the early 1820s and are listed in an 1833 estate inventory. The sitting room of one cottage (possibly in a later extension) and the kitchen of the other were used as a Dame School in the 1840s. A large school hall was completed in 1857 to the south, creating a long southern wing constructed from rubble slate stone, rendered externally and with a slate roof. It is not clear if the school room was built before the room that connects it to the original part of the property, or if it was built on the end of it. The 1861 census records a school mistress, Annie Cullen, and her husband John (a civil engineer) living at White Rock, together with John Steer (an agricultural labourer) and family, who remained until 1892. A further later extension, dating to before 1888 may have been a further cottage that housed Fred Wayham and his family, listed in the 1891 Census as also being resident, or may have belonged to the school. Further extensions to the school were probably made in the 1950s or 1960s and included partial rebuilding of the existing structure in concrete block. [9] A reconstruction drawing of the building as it would have appeared in the 19th Century was commissioned in 2017. [10] Photographs of some of the schoolchildren are hosted on the Hoar Oak Cottage website. One of the school children boarded in Simonsbath with his grandparents in order to attend during the early 20th Century. [11] A married shepherd and a "clever boy" were imported from Wiltshire with his three children in 1840 to manage a flock of Merione sheep. John Knight stated that "I am doing my best to fit up White Rock Cottage for this family". Between January 1850 and March 1851, the expenditure on Simonsbath School was £6 4s 8d. [12] The heritage asset was assessed for inclusion on the Exmoor Local Heritage List in February 2024. It was noted that the site has a strong association with the Knight estate, served as a school for the wider community, and as an outdoor education facility. Now in use by a local Trust as a community centre. It was decided to add the asset to the Local Heritage List. [13]

Sources/Archives (13)

  • <1> Map: Ordnance Survey. 1889. 1st Edition Extract Map of Simonsbath.
  • <2> Monograph: Burton, R.A.. 1989. The Heritage of Exmoor. Roger A. Burton. 73, 96, 242.
  • <3> Monograph: Burton, R.A.. 1994. Simonsbath: The Inside Story of an Exmoor Village. Roger A. Burton. 4-7, 45, photographs opposite 48, 49, 58-9, 83, 88, 97-100, 104-5, 119-121.
  • <4> Report: Garrett, C.. 2004. An Enviable Possession: The Somerset Seat of the Knight Family.
  • <5> Report: Green, T; Humphreys, C; Morris, B; Wapshott, E. 2012. White Rock Cottage, Simonsbath: Results of a desk-based assessment and historic building recording.
  • <6> Monograph: Siraut, M.. 2013. A Field Guide to The Royal Forest of Exmoor. Exmoor National Park Authority. 12.
  • <7> Report: Riley, H.. 2014. Metric survey of part of John Knight's gardens and pleasure grounds, Ashcombe, Simonsbath. 1, 2-3, 4, 14.
  • <8> Report: Unknown. 2015. Simonsbath Conservation Statement.
  • <9> Report: Green, T., Humphreys, C. Morris, B. and Wapshott, E.. 2016. White Rock Cottage, Simonsbath, Exmoor, Somerset: Revised desk-based assessment and historic building recording.
  • <10> Artwork: Faulkner, A.. 2017. White Rock Cottage, Simonsbath, c.19th Century. Pencil.
  • <11> Website: The Friends of Hoar Oak Cottage. 2018. Hoar Oak Cottage., accessed 5 February 2018.
  • <12> Monograph: Orwin, C.S. + Sellick, R.J.. 1970. The Reclamation of Exmoor Forest. David and Charles Limited. 2nd Edition. p 66, 98-9.
  • <13> Unpublished document: Exmoor National Park Authority. 2024. Exmoor Local Heritage List assessed by the Panel on 21 February 2024.

External Links (0)

Other Statuses/References

  • Local Heritage List Status (Listed)



Grid reference Centred SS 2774 1394 (29m by 25m)
Map sheet SS21SE

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Related Monuments/Buildings (4)

Related Events/Activities (2)

Related Articles (1)

Record last edited

Apr 22 2024 3:50PM


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