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 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.
In the early 1980s, Ruth and Maurice founded The Sharpham Trust as a charity, which had as its basis a marrying of Eastern and Western philosophy. Maurice was much influenced by Wittgenstein and Buddhism. The Sharpham Trust was tasked with caring for Sharpham House and Estate and taking forward Maurice and Ruth’s passions including the arts, Buddhism, conservation and rural regeneration.
Amongst many activities, Maurice was chairman of both the Town and Country Planning Association and the Dartington Hall Trust. He was a founding member of Green Alliance and of the Henry Moore Foundation, co-founder of Schumacher College at Dartington and a supporter of Resurgence magazine from its inception. He was a patron of the Polish artist Zdzislaw Ruszkowski, many of whose works adorn the walls of Sharpham House.
Click here to read our entry on the Historic England website
Sharpham House & gardens on Parks & Gardens UK website
View JMW Turner's sketches of Sharpham House, in the Tate Britain
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