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The History of North Wyke

The following information and most of the pictures are reproduced by kind permission of the present owners of North Wyke. Heraldic illustrations are by David Wicks and are reproduced by kind permission.


The mansion of North Wyke is situated in the parish of South Tawton, right in the centre of Devon. The present house was built near the site of a former dwelling house, probably a Devonshire longhouse.
Eastern Aspect of North Wyke
Eastern Aspect of North Wyke

The house is divided into four sections according to age;

  1. the East wing which is the oldest
  2. the Chapel and the Gatehouse wing
  3. the South wing, and
  4. the connecting rooms which join the East wing to the Chapel.

The walls are built of locally quarried Cocktree freestone and are (practically throughout) three foot thick with an inner and outer face of stonework filled with cob or similar clay-like substance. The blocks of stone in the East wing are smaller and more irregular than elsewhere in the house. This wing dates from 1242 when William-de-Wigornia made North Wyke his principal residence. The main entrance to the house was by an external staircase to the first floor of the East Wing, which was a common feature in English manor houses of the period.

The Northern room on the ground floor of the East wing was originally the 'Brewhouse' with a vast open fireplace. This fireplace measured over ten feet across initially but has at some time been reduced to seven and a half feet. To the right of the fireplace is the 'hiding pit' measuring in each direction 45", the old measurement of one ell. This hiding place was entered by a trap door in the Armoury above, and situated as it was, above the oven, it would not have been an obvious place to look for a fugitive, neither could it have been very comfortable.

Within the Armoury is an oak partition containing three closets, the right hand one containing the trap door entrance to the hiding pit. These closets were built against the chimney to keep the armour dry and prevent rust.

The next significant room to the Armoury moving southward is the Arabesque Frieze Chamber. This room is reached via a corridor which on the East side is constructed of adze hewn oak of probable pre-Tudor origin. Rising from this passage is a staircase of solid banks of oak and there is another similar construction in the Chapel block. The 'Arabesque Room' itself has a most excellent example of Tudor panelling in black oak including a wardrobe and internal porch. The frieze is a remarkable example of workmanship of days gone by.

North Wing from the Gatehouse 
East Wing from the Gatehouse
The North wing is shown in the plan of 1785 to be wholly used as stables and the upper space for storage of forage and grass for the horses and brewing. The South wall of the upper storey has many pigeon holes, this was usual on granaries as pigeons had a dual role as scavengers and as a source of food.

In the South wing the Eastern ground floor was once the Buttery serving the hall cross the Passage facing the Gatehouse. The Buttery has some fine wood carving over the mantelpiece and the ceiling is most unusual. The Hall was originally open to the roof and there is evidence of a former 'Minstrels Gallery' above the Fraunce or oak screen.

Gatehouse at North Wyke
The Gatehouse at North Wyke

The block containing the Chapel and Gatehouse runs parallel to the South wing across the Forecourt. The centre portion of the building (about sixty one feet) is the oldest part, probably dates from 1439, the remainder was added by 'Warrior Wykes'.

The Gateway is granite and carved with the arrowpoint design, and is similar to Throwleigh Church porch which was built in the fifteenth century. High above the gate on the South side is the Royal Coat of Arms with the Garter Motto and supported by a lion and a dragon, the arms of Edward Vl. The Guardroom over the entrance is reached by a staircase of solid baulks of oak and this stairway was pegged to an adze hewn partition which rose to the roof to give privacy to the porter in his kitchen and chamber above.

The Gatehouse in the 1920s

To the east of the Gatehouse is the Chapel which conformed very closely to the regulations laid down by King Henry III for the structure of chapels in Royal Residences. The Priest chamber was on the upper floor, but in the usual manner of medieval chapels did not extend over the whole space but left the Sacrarium open to the roof. The Chamber was separated from a Gallery (oriel) overlooking the Sacrarium and protected along the outside by a low screen. The huge beam carrying the partition rests on the remains of what was originally the East wall.

In the East wall above the altar are two windows and on the corbels of the upper one are carved three Danish battle-axes of the Wyke arms and the three lozenges of the Giffards marking the marriage of 'Warrior' John Wykes and Mary, daughter of Sir Roger Giffard of Brightleigh. This window, being similar to those in the Gatehouse gables, suggests they were all built by Warrior Wykes.

The crenellated portion joining the Chapel to the East wing of the house is modern and was built in 1904 by the Rev. Wykes-Finch who employed Mr. George H. Fellows Prynne of London as architect to restore North Wyke. During excavations some foundations were found which suggested that a long gallery ran from the East wing directly to the oriel of the Chapel with a wall to the courtyard side of the green where spectators could watch games, bowls, archery, wrestling etc. taking place, or otherwise sit at leisure.

The two storey (though there is evidence of a cellar) building in the garden was originally a Malt House or a Malting.


In the reign of Henry II (c 1227), the land at North Wyke belonged to William de Wigornia. He was either the son or grandson of Robert, Earl of Mellant, and Worcester (Wigornia).

The Wyke family was Norman in its origin and the Coat of Arms, "Ermine, 3 Danish battle-axes, sable", is the same, with a change of tincture as the ancient coat of arms of the Danish Rings (Planchie). The aforesaid Robert took the place of his father as head of the Warrior line of "Bernard the Dane", a Saxon prince who accompanied his cousin Rollo as second in command on his invasion of Normandy. The Wyke coat of arms came into existence in the early days of heraldry (1180-1280).

The Wykes sometimes known as Wyk or Weekes, were in occupation of North Wyke in 1216. William de Wyk followed the William mentioned above. Next came Walter de Wyk (1263) and his son Walter (1278). Roger Wyk held the estate in 1346, and he was succeeded by his son William Wyke, who married Katherine, daughter and co-heiress of John Burnell, of Cocktree and Crooke Burnell and who brought with her Cocktree and other lands, thus increasing considerably the Wyke estate to some 6000 acres (2400 ha). William had four sons, Richard, Roger, Henry and John.

Richard, the eldest son, succeeded his father sometime between 1420 and 1425. In 1426 he married Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of John Avenell from Blackpool in South Molton. John Avenell was the younger son of Robert Avenell (who represented in the male line Baldwin de Brionne who married the niece of William the Conqueror and who was made Baron of Okehampton and Vice Commes of Devon for life). This marriage carried the arms of the Barony of Okehampton and of the Avenells into the Wyke family, Ralph de Avenell was Third Lord of Okehampton.

In 1439 licence was granted to Richard Wyke, Elizabeth his wife and Joan Avenell his mother-in-law to hold Divine Services celebrated by qualified priests. This gave them permission to erect three Chapels, although it is thought that the one at North Wyke was already partly or wholly constructed by 1439.

Richard and his wife Elizabeth had three sons, William, John and Richard. John, the second son, held very high and lucrative appointments under Kind Edward IV and he was in such high favour that the King stood godfather to his son Edward, who was most obviously called after his Majesty as this was the first time this christian name was used by the Wykes. John was appointed Warden of the Stannary Court of Devon and Cornwall and in the Letters Patent his name is spelt John Wykys.

From the Close Roll I Ed. IV (1461):- John Wykes, Armiger, the office of Controller of all the King's Gold and Silver mines in the County of Devon, the said John to receive annually in and for the said office, £4 per annum, to be paid in equal parts at Easter and Michaelmas.

In 1479 the following gift from the Crown to John Wykes appears: "To John Wykes, gentleman is granted for life for his good services to the King in England, Ireland Wales and beyond the seas, and in recompense of £155 etc., due to him from King (Ed IV) the Island of Lundy by Northam, Co. Devon, with all its fishings, fowlings, profits etc., for the space of three miles around the island and numerous other particulars".

Effigy of Roger Wyke 
Effigy of Roger Wyke,
Trent Church, Somerset
Roger Wyke the second son of William Wyke and Katherine Burnell was given the manor of Bindon near Axmouth in South East Devon by Nicholas Backe, who married his mother's sister, but died childless. Roger accompanied the Earl of Devon in the war of Henry V against France and fought again at Agincourt in 1415. He was member of Parliament for Plympton in 1413. Besides the manors of Bindon and Trent he owned lands in South Tawon, Crooke and elsewhere, probably inherited from his mother's family the Burnells. He relinquished the Wyke arms of the 3 Danish battle-axes and assumed the arms of his mothers family. His effigy is in Trent church.

Richard Wyke, the younger son of Richard Wyke and Elizabeth Avenell, took Holy Orders and was Rector of the Stannary Town of Lydford and built the tower there. He died as Rector of Sampford Courtenay and his will was proved at Canterbury in 1483 when his name was written as Richard Wyke.

William, the eldest brother, succeeded his father Richard in about 1470 and is described in the old deeds as "William Wyke the Elder". His eldest son, another William, was head of the house in 1500.

Probably the most notable member of the Wyke family was John (locally known as Warrior Weekes). John (Warrior) Wykes married Mary, one of the daughters of Sir Roger Giffard of Brightleigh, who by his wife Margaret, the only child of John Cobleigh, was heiress to the large estates in North Devon of the Fitz-Warren family. Her eldest brother John married Mary, the daughter of Sir Richard Grenville, of the Revenge.

John Wykes (b.1524 - d.1591) was Constable of the Parish in 1553 and lies in effigy in the Wyke Chapel in South Tawton church. He was a captain in the Devon Militia and held command in a horse regiment as he lies not only in armour, but is represented with spurs as well. He fought at Havre de Grace and was wounded. It is possible that he also fought in the Armada wars as he was away from home at that time. He obviously didn't spend all his time away as by his wife, Mary Giffard, he had eight sons and three daughters.

Warrior Wykes is credited with completing the building of the mansion and its chapel, and the Rev. Wykes-Finch, a descendent on the distaff side, restored the premises at the turn of the 20th Century.


North Wyke had its hey-day in the 15th and 16th centuries when much of the original house was altered and new rooms built. In the 17th century the estate began to decline due to extravagance and bad management. The debts were so great in 1650 that when John Wyke died his body was escorted for burial by twenty retainers as his son was worried in case the body should be arrested for debt on the way.

About 1660 North Wyke was held by John Weekes (Wyke) who lived with his mother and unmarried sister Katherine. John was a very sick man and rather weak of mind. His mother and sister were afraid, that as the heir to the estate was his uncle of Cocktree, they might not be very well provided for, so they got in touch with a distant relation (a Richard Weekes) with origins at Hatherleigh and Honeychurch. Richard Weekes was a gentleman pensioner of Charles II but spent a lot of his spare time in prisons, usually for debt. He came down and worked his way into the consumptive John's favour and suggested he needed a change of climate from South Tawton so he invited him to Plymouth. Once he had John settled in Plymouth, he got Drs. Darston & Salter and William Yeo to coax the sick man into settling the estate in favour of Richard Weekes, which wasn't the intention of John's mother and sister. In 1661 it was clear that John was dying so he was rushed back to North Wyke where he died on 21st September, but before he expired his mother and sister got him to revoke the Will verbally, as they had found that the crafly Richard had outwitted them. On the following day, a Sunday, Richard Weekes arrived with a party of men, including a locksmith, and with sword drawn he burst into the house. When Katherine tried to bar the way he knocked her down and locked her mother into a closet. He cleared the house of the servants and proceeded to take possession.

Katherine went to a neighbours for refuge and her mother, when released, went to relatives at Burston Manor in Zeal Monochorum.

In 1662 the whole estate passed into Chancery and after the forty years of legal action which followed Johns death both parties were bankrupt. North Wyke remained in Richard Weekes possession.

The estate finally passed out of the 'Wyke' family in 1713 (having had ownership for the previous 500 years) when John Weekes (Richard's grandson) sold it to his father-in-law George Hunt for a life annuity of £163. Hunt then leased the farm to his son-in-law Clapp for fourteen years for a rent of £150 per year. When George Hunt died in 1768 North Wyke was divided between his daughters, Elizabeth Luxton and Mary Clapp. The house was split into two parts.

In 1785 Andrew Arnold bought West House. The Arnolds planted a vine which grew for over a hundred years and became part of the character of North Wyke until it was dug up in the early part of the twentieth century. In 1844 East House, North Wyke was owned by Mr. Theo Tickel and tenanted by Robert Aysh. Sometime between 1844 and 1892 the Arnold's rented East House and farm, as well as owning West House. In 1 892 John Arnold bought East Farm and house and let it to Mr. Hearn.

Rev. William Wykes-Finch
Rev. William Wykes-Finch
In 1895 the whole of North Wyke was bought by Rev. William Wykes-Finch for £4000. The farms were still rented. Rev. Wykes-Finch was a direct descendent of the "Wykes" (see family tree). He completely renovated the house and built the two rooms connecting the East wing and Chapel. Unfortunately after his death in 1920 his son only lived for another two years and the property passed to a cousin.
Edwin Stanbury

In 1928 Edwin Stanbury bought North Wyke estate for £5000. In 1939 the property was sold again, this time to Mr. Luxton. In 1945 it was bought by a Captain N. Watson, who in 1955 sold North Wyke for about £30,000 to Fisons Ltd. Fisons used the estate as a fertiliser research station and the house as offices and a hostel for visiting workers. The old stables were made into laboratories.

The Crown Estate Commissioners bought North Wyke in 1981. They rent it to the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research.



13th Century Wykes family in possession
1520 (?) "Warrior" Wyke born
1543 Warrior Wyke married Mary, daughter of Sir George Gyffard of Brightleigh
1592 Warrior Wyke died
1661 John Weeks died. Richard Week of Hatherleigh (a cousin) takes property. Long litigation but Hatherleigh branch of family retain North Wyke
1713 John Weeks, aged 26 (grandson of Richard?) sells to brother-in-law George Hunt for a life annuity of £163
Between 1713 and 1768 George Hunt leased the farm to his son-in-law Robert Clapp for 14 years at a rent of £150 per year
1768 George Hunt died, his wife divided North Wyke between his daughters Elizabeth Luxton and Mary Clapp
1774 Thomas Luxton died, Elizabeth continued to live in North Wyke (East House)
  Thomas Lethbridge became tenant of East Farm ( ?)
1781 East House and farm tenanted by Thomas Lethbridge. West House and farm tenanted by Andrew Arnold at a rent of £70 per year
1785 Andrew Arnold bought West North Wyke from Mary Clapp's heirs
1824 Andrew Arnold still alive and farming West farm. East farm leased by Mr Potter (from Mr Tickel?)
1844 East North Wyke owned by Mr Theo Tickel, tenanted by Robert Aysh
Between 1844 and 1892 Arnolds continue to own West House and farm and rented East House and farm for 14 years from Tickel family
1892 About this time John Arnold bought East farm and house and let it to Mr Hearn
1895 The whole of North Wyke bought from John Arnold's widow by Rev. William Wykes-Finch for £4,000. John Arnold's brother-in-law Edwin Stanbury tenanted West House and farm
1905 Edwin Stanbury tenant of all farm land (rental value about £160 per year)
1920 Rev. William Wykes-Finch died
1922 His son, also Rev. W. Wykes Finch, died. Property passed to a cousin (Mr. Sneyd?)


Original Arms of Wyke of North Wyke 
Original Arms of
Wyke of North Wyke
The Wyke family was rich in heraldic devices, the first being "Ermine, 3 Danish battleaxes, sable". Then with the marriage of William Wyke to Katherine Burnell her arms of "Argent, a Chevron between 3 Barnacle geese, Sable" would have been impaled with those of William. The Burnell arms were also used by the Wykes with differences, "Argent, a Chevron, ermines between 3 barnacle birds, Sable" (Roger of Bindon) and
Bindon Arms 
Bindon Arms
"Sable, a Chevron, ermine between 3 barnacle birds, Argent". The next addition to the Wyke arms would be in 1426 when Richard Wyke married the Avenell heiress and added to his armorial bearing the arms of the Barony of Okehampton and three others also belonging to his wife, thus the shield over the Old Gateway.

The Coat of Arms on the new part of the mansion is that of the builder, the Rev. Wykes-Finch, and is the Finch Arms. "Argent, a Chevron between 3 griffins, passant Sable" quartered with the maternal Wykes "Ermine, 3 Danish battleaxes, Sable" with in escutcheon the arms of the Perrings, "Argent on a Chevron, Sable between 3 pine cones vert, as many leopards faces of the 1st".

Also appearing in connection with Wyke marriages are the Giffard "3 ermine lozenges" and the Hole family of Black Hall, South Tawton similar "or 3 lozenges, an amulet in centre".

High on the gatehouse, marked with the letters ER is the Royal Coat of Arms with the Garter Motto and lion and dragon supporters; this is the badge of Edward VI rather than of Elizabeth I as Elizabeth used the motto "Semper Eaden". Various reasons are put forward as to why licence was given to erect this stone, but it appears to have been placed in its present position by John (Warrior) Wykes in Tudor times. It may have been granted to him for his service to the Crown as Captayne of the Posse Comitatus.

Although the Wykes rendered considerable service to the Crown, church and country, none of them seem to have received the accolade of knighthood or to have been elevated to the peerage.

The title of Armiger appears in some instances but this is a somewhat in-between rank between commoner and peer entitling the holder to use armorial bearings.


Plan of North Wyke

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