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Hartland Abbey, Devon
The seat of the current Sir Hugh Stucley 6th Bart. of Affeton & Hartland Abbey

A brief note on Affeton by Lieut-Cmdr. J.H. Stucley, D.S.C., R.N.

At the time of the Doomsday Survey, Affeton was held by one Aeffa. It is probable that a holding existed on the site for some considerable time prior to Doomsday. It will be observed that the Worlingtons, Affeton and Cheldon are all situated at springs breaking from the north bank of the Little Dart, and as such would have been selected as centres of civilisation in earliest days, if for no other reason.
The first "de Affeton" to be recorded was one Robert who held Afton (as it was often spelt) under the Feudal tenure system, with Humphrey, Lord Stafford, as his immediate overlord. This was in the year 1272. The Aftons or de Affetons appear to have been people of some account, having provided a Sheriff for the County, 1371, and having acted as Trustees to the Acklands at the time of the Crusades. One of these, Thomas de Afton, purchased the Manor of Worlington from Walter Marwood (1368) who was the last separate owner of that property. The de Worlingtons never owned Affeton itself, which, up to the end of the 15th century was a Parish on it's own account, having it's own Church and Chaplain, and presumably having been the centre of a community of some size, since in the 15th century a reference is made to a person being "of the town of Affeton".
The last of the Affetons was Catherine, the daughter of John Affeton of Affeton and heiress of the entire property. She married a Hugh Stewkley, a member of the Cadet branch of the family then living at Stukeley in Huntingdonshire. This lady after founding the Stucley family, remarried Sir William Bourchier, Lord Fitzwarren, but the property passed to her eldest son by her first marriage. The Affeton-Stucley marriage took place in the year 1390 or thereabouts.
The property steadily increased under the stewardship of the Stucleys, until in the 17th century, it was recorded that no less than 13 manors in the possession of the family could be overlooked from the top of the gatehouse tower. The property was then described as being one of the finest in the county, being equipped with fishponds, deer parks, and warrens. The house itself was described as being in the shape of an "E", and having a tower 49 feet high (the latter still being in existence).
All went well until the Civil War. The then owner, a Sir Thomas Stucley, was a defender of the "ever faithful" City of Exeter, and during his term of office there, wrote recounting how the property and the house had been despoiled on three separate occasions - twice by Royalist, and once by Commonwealth bands.
Fairfax's Army, when marching from Crediton to Torrington, passed along the road which approached within a mile and a half of the house at a point known as the Blacksmith's Shop, enroute for Chawleigh, Chumleigh etc. He despatched a small party of men to destroy the house, which was presumably accomplished by fire. Lady Stucley, together with her servants and cattle and other valuables, hid themselves in a pre-historic earth-work which was then concealed in the depths of Burridge Wood, half way between Affeton and Chawleigh, on the south side of the river. The eart-work is now open, with fields around it, and once excited the interest of that famous antiquary Dr. William Stukeley of Lincolnshire, who mentions it in his "Itinerarium" written towards the end of the 17th or beginning of the 18th century.
The village people also hid themselves in the woods to avoid the Press Gangs, and a hoard of silver of that date, discovered in a fence at East Worlington, would show that all and sundry concealed their valuables against the depredations of either side. The house was ruined. The estates were impoverished, and Lady Stucley only survived complete bankruptcy by selling the timber. A farm house was built, presumably on the foundations of the original building, and composed very largely of the stones taken from the ruins.
I fancy that much of the present villages of East Worlington and West Worlington owe their stone work to the ruin, which must have been put to the use of a quarry - with the added advantage that the stones were ready cut for transporting away. One or two curiously worked stones can be seen in West Worlington, and one, which may have been the lintel of a stone window, lay for many years at the side of the road leading to that village, until it was brought back and re-erected in the garden in front of the gateway.
The property passed to the descendants of Sir Thomas' neice, Sarah, who married the Bucks of Bideford. The Bucks visited the property from time to time, and stayed in the farmhouse, to which reference has already been made, and which is now known as Affeton Barton. By this time nothing remained of the main body of the original building except the gate-house, the foundations (mostly covered by the Barton) and the cellars, which have since been filled in, and lay under the shorter or central arm of the "E". The building was surrounded by a moat, which was dry 60 years ago, but may at one time have been fed by the stream that passes down the eastern side of the site.
The house was never known as a Castle before my grandfather, on changing his name to Stucley, decided to reconstruct the Gate-house, and use it as a shooting-box. Before that time it was a large castellated mansion, and it's possibilities as a defence post must have been examined and discarded when Sir Thomas' wife decided in favour of the earth-works in Burridge Woods. I think it unlikely that the place was ever considered a military stronghold, although from what one reads of the lawless times in Devonshire in the 13th and 14th centuries - when landed families frequently carried out armed fueds and raids against one another - the moat and castellated walls may have provided a sense of security to the community as a whole.
When taken in hand for reconstruction by my grandfather, Sir George Stucley, in 1850, the Gateway still had it's arch under which carriages no doubt passed to gain the first inner court-yard formed by the "E" on three sides, and the moat on the other. The gate house itself was a hollow shell, filled with charred wood, and a tree grew from the top of the tower. It is related that an ass (animal not human) once made it's way up the spiral tower staircase and becoming stuck had to be released by means of knocking a hole through the side of the tower, and lowering it down with ropes.
Nothing remains of the original furnishings of the house, except two pieces of oak on which are carved the arms of the Stucley family, the first dating from sometime in the 14th century, the other from the 15th. These are preserved and form an integral part of the modern oak panelling installed by my father in what was once the guard room. This latter room has been considerably enlarged by siting the interior partitions differently from the original plan. The sizes of the windows are a fair guide to the original layout of the place. Incidentally when the foundations of the stables were dug, the half of a steel helmet - of Commonwealth design - a gold ring bearing the Stucley "Rebus"*, and an interesting old stone wine bottle were unearthed. The ring has since been desposed of, but the other two relics have been preserved at the Castle.

*The Stucley Rebus was a mark used on the family's bales, sacks etc.

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