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History & Heritage

Sharpham House is a majestic 18th Palladian villa overlooking the River Dart. But it wasn't always so.

Sharpham is an ancient place and people are known to have lived here from at least 1260. The name exactly describes its situation in the Saxon words schearp (meaning sharp) and ham (referring to the bend in the river). The first known inhabitants here were a family called de Schearpham, taking their name from where they lived. Thomas de Schearpham was the owner of the original manor house that was located here in 1260. 

The house has been expanded and redeveloped throughout the centuries during which it has had a number of colourful owners. One, Captain Philemon Pownoll, a high seas adventurer, made his name in 1762 by capturing a Spanish treasure galleon.

With the wealth he accrued from securing this treasure, Captain Pownoll, a captain in the Royal Navy, engaged the architect, Sir Robert Taylor, to incorporate Sharpham's existing Tudor mansion into a new villa.

He also commissioned paintings of him and his wife Jane from the famed society portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds (read about the detective hunt to find the portraits here) and copies of the paintings hang in our Music Room.

It was Sir Robert's love of mathematics and geometry that helped him create this outstanding example of English Palladian architecture. His genius is most evident in the House's optically floating, elliptical cantilevered staircase - one of the most dramatic in England.

The House was the family home of Maurice and Ruth Ash from 1962, until Maurice died in 2003. It has been the base for Sharpham's charitable activities since the Estate was established as a charitable trust in 1982.


Click here to read our entry on the Historic England website

Sharpham House & gardens on Parks & Gardens UK website

Could Sharpham House & grounds be the work of Capability Brown? - a feature by the Western Morning news

Read about Sharpham and the village of Ashprington on Wikipedia here

View JMW Turner's sketches of Sharpham House, in the Tate Britain