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.
Maurice & Ruth
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.
Ruth Ash was the daughter of Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst, the founders of Dartington Hall and was born in 1926, a year after Leonard and Dorothy were married and shortly after they purchased the Dartington Hall estate.
Ruth married Maurice Ash in 1947. Their first home was at Dartington and it was here that Ruth began the work she would later take further: spinning, dyeing and weaving. Ruth and Maurice moved to a farm in Essex in 1950 and for the next twelve years Ruth was contentedly busy: creating a lovely garden, establishing a nursery school and raising their three daughters, and a son who died at a young age.
Ruth and Maurice bought Sharpham House and estate in 1962. Ruth again created a beautiful garden and took up weaving once more. She also became actively involved in The Dartington Hall Trust: as a member of the board of Trustees, as Chair of the Gardens Committee and as a devoted member of the Dartington Community Choir.
In the 1980s, their daughters having flown the nest, Ruth and Maurice wrestled with the dilemma of what to do with an historic house and 550 acres of land, which none of their daughters were able or willing to continue running. In 1982 Ruth endowed the Sharpham Trust as an educational charity and a programme of seminars and activities was developed.
In 1985 Ruth became ill with motor neurone disease and died, aged 60, in 1986. Maurice continued to live in Sharpham House until his death in 2003.
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