- Public Park
The Knowle was one of the most famous houses in Sidmouth in the nineteenth century but later rebuilding has not left any recognisable early features. Something of the fine grounds remain as a public park, although diminished to some extent to the north by the council car parks which are an intrusion into the parkland; the offices of East Devon District Council are rather nondescript.
The once renowned cottage orne was built in 1810 under the personal supervision of Lord L.E. Despenser and subsequently rented to the Marquis of Bute. It was owned by the collector and connoisseur T.L.Fish from 1836 to 1861 who added picturesque improvements. He also brought exotic trees and plants, animals and birds to the gardens, and on fine Mondays he would open his Marine Villa to the public. In 1850 it was stated that ‘the delightful marine villa is an elegant and tasteful residence surrounded by about 11 acres of ground,divided into lawns, gardens, and conservatories, containing rare and choice specimens of botany, as well as many fine specimens of foreign birds and animals.’ Massive rebuilding and conversion in 1882 into a hotel diminished its architectural qualities,leaving little of its early features. White (1850) noted that it was ‘the delightful marine villa of T.L.Fish Esq. This elegant and tasteful residence is a thatched quadrangular building, of one story, containing about 30 rooms and surrounded by about 11 acres of ground, divided into lawns, gardens, and conservatories, containing rare and choice specimens of botany, as well as many fine specimens of foreign birds and animals.’ Stockdale described it as ’one of the most enchanting places of this kind imaginable, is not only delightfully situated but contains an unparalleled variety of the most rare and costly articles of taste. Although the building is style a cottage orne, both the exterior and the interior have been completed with much taste, the former having a verandah three hundred and fifteen feet ionlength, with supporters covered with roses, myrtles and flowering shrubs so judiciously arrange as not to intercept the view of the sea….. much taste has also been displayed in the arrangement of the surrounding plantations….The House and Grounds are open to the inspection of Visitors’.
The original Lodge still marks the entrance to The Knowle and some garden structures - the Gothic arch, the footings of the grotto and the flint Gothic summer house survive in the gardens of the C20 houses in Knowle Drive. A substantial area of the original parkland remains, containing some magnificent trees: Cedar, Wellingtonia and Monterey pine. These mature trees are covered by a TPO made in 1956 by Sidmouth Urban District Council, which gives protection to the mostimportant trees on the site.The parkland of The Knowle forms part of the attractive approach to Sidmouth, providing an important contribution to the overall historic character and landscape of the town.
Cherry & Pevsner: The Buildings of England – Devon, 1989: 740-1
S Pugsley: Devon Gardens – An Historical Survey, 1994: 163-164
T Gray: The Garden History of Devon, 1995: 135-137