Bel Alp House, in the hamlet of Haytor Vale, Devon, combines an interesting history with a magnificent panorama over the surrounding countryside.
British women’s history is intricately bound to Bel Alp House, in the quiet Dartmoor hamlet of Haytor Vale, three miles from Bovey Tracey and nine miles from Newton Abbot.
This eight-bedroom property, is for sale through Knight Frank at an asking price of £3.5 million, once belonged to Dame Violet Wills, one of a group of prominent women who made Haytor Vale their home.
Even before its history, however, the most obvious appeal of the house, which dates from the Edwardian era but is unlisted, rests on its setting: perched high, it enjoys spectacular, uninterrupted views of Dartmoor towards the sea — views that Dame Violet saved for future generations by using her influence to ensure that no electric pylons could be built above ground.
The drawing room, with its enormous bay window and striking fireplace, is perhaps the best place to sit and admire the long southerly views across the countryside. In all, the main house, excluding the basement, offers more than 10,500sq ft of accommodation including three reception rooms, two kitchens plus master- and guest-bedroom suites, four further en-suite bedrooms, two second-floor bedrooms and a self-contained flat.
The interiors are very much the labour of love the present owners, who, returning from Hong Kong with a house on Dartmoor very much in mind, bought Bel Alp House about 15 years ago, when it was in a state of some disarray. During their tenure, they have restored it to how it would have been in its heyday, creating the light-filled family kitchen which now forms its heart, and rediscovering the garden.
The house as it stands today is also a far cry from the bungalow Bel Alp was when Dame Violet bought it in the 1920s. Originally known as Hellens House, it was one of the earliest buildings on what was to become known as Millionaires’ Row, built in 1904 as a holiday home for John Lancaster Shaw, managing director of Bentley & Shaw, brewers of Huddersfield, and commodore of the Royal Torquay Yacht Club.
Hellens House had been designed with provision for rooms to be added upstairs, which Dame Violet did upon purchase. She was one of ‘a small group of eminent women’ that used the Haytor Vale houses as their holiday homes during the earlier years of the 20th century, according to local historians Frances and Malcolm Billinge. Others included Dame Violet’s sister, Ella, Emily Pankhurst’s daughter, Christabel, and Mrs Catherine Booth-Clibborn, daughter of Salvation Army founder, William Booth.
From the early 1920s until 1959, their Haytor Vale enclave was an exclusive meeting place of like-minded women of independent means, driven by their shared Christian ideals and belief in philanthropy.
Dame Violet continued to hold court at Bel Alp until shortly before her death, when an advertisement in COUNTRY LIFE (June 11, 1959) marketed the house for sale with 50 acres.
Today, Bel Alp comes with 25 acres of formal gardens, paddocks, woodland, tennis court and a terrace for outdoor dining — plus an illustrious past and those dramatic views.
Bovey Tracey: What you need to know
- Location: Bovey Tracey is just under half an hour’s drive from Exeter
- Atmosphere: A picturesque market town with a long history — it was a Saxon settlement, became a Norman stronghold and was the backdrop to a surprise attack by Cromwell’s Roundhead army over the Royalists — Bovey Tracey has more than 100 listed buildings, plus a regular farmer’s market and a wide choice of shops.
- Things to do: Dartmoor is walking, cycling and riding paradise. Bovey Tracey also has plenty of sporting clubs from cricket to tennis and petanque. The National TRust-managed Parke estate is also well worth visiting.
- Schools: St Catherine’s Church of England Primary School in Heathfield is rated good by Ofsted. The wider area also has many well-regarded schools, including Exeter School, The Maynard, Stover in Newton Abbot and Mount Kelly in Tavistock.
Catch up on the best country houses for sale this week that have come to the market via Country Life.