Family History – Downes has been owned by the same family for over 300 years –
Moses Gould was a prosperous Exeter merchant who purchased the Downes Estate in 1692, his family having lived at Dunscombe, nearby, since the early part of the century. He built himself a more substantial dwelling at Downes, which still forms the core of the present house.
Elizabeth Gould, granddaughter of Moses, married James Buller MP in 1739, so beginning the Buller connection, which was to last for 250 years. The Buller family came originally from Looe in Cornwall and James’s mother, Rebecca, was a daughter of Bishop Trelawney, who was one of the seven Bishops confined to the Tower by James II. On James’s Death in 1765 his son James inherited the Estate. Once again, the family first name was carried through to the next generation when the younger son James, who had married Ann Buller, a cousin, inherited the Estate. Their son was James Wentworth Buller who married Charlotte Howard, niece of the 12th Duke of Norfolk. It was their son Redvers, the famous General, who succeeded to the Estate in 1874. On his death in 1908 his brother Tremayne inherited the Estate. He lived until 1917 when his eldest son Mowbray took over. Once again, on Mowbray’s death in 1948, the Estate went to his brother Michael Buller who died in 1975.
There being no male Heir, Rosemary Parker, Mowbray’s eldest daughter, inherited the Estate and on her death in 1997 it passed to her son Henry who now lives there.
Downes is particularly associated with General Sir Redvers Henry Buller VC, GCB, GCMG, whose memorials in Crediton and Exeter illustrate the standing in which he was held and many of the documents in the archives at Downes give testament to this.
He was born in 1839 and was educated at Eton and commissioned into the 60th Rifles in 1858. He remained in the army for over 40 years. He served in India in 1859 and China in 1960 and them spent nine years in Canada where, as Company Commander, he took part in the expedition to put down a rebellion on the Red River in Manitoba. This exhibition had been led by Sir Garnet Wolsley who subsequently invited Buller to join his staff for the second Ashanti War 1873 in what is now Ghana.
He then sailed from Plymouth to South Africa where he commanded the Frontier Light Horse, an irregular cavalry formation recruited locally. Next came the Zulu War in 1879 immortalised in the film of that name and including such famous battles as Isandhlwana and the heroic defence of the Rorke’s Drift. As a Colonel he was involved in fighting against a large Zulu army where he rescued 400 injured men, restored the morale of the force and beat off a four-hour attack by 20,000 Zulus. He was awarded a VC for this courage in this campaign.
He then served in Egypt and the Sudan, being promoted to Major General. After this he served at the War Office where he became Adjutant General and created the Army Service Corps, quickly becoming the acknowledged expert on logistics. The second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was not going well and Buller was sent out as Commander in Chief to restore the situation. He had a somewhat mixed success and was the subject of some criticism but he certainly retained the support of the majority of his men and the general public as can be seen by the many tributes paid to him, both during his lifetimes and after his death in 1908.
Moses Gould’s original building at Downes in 1692 was in red brick, but in 1794 James Buller faced the red brick with Beer stone and the windows were lowered.
The pediment with the Buller Coat of Arms was also added. In 1840 James Wentworth Buller demolished the back part of the house, which included a brewhouse and built the present red brick back section to contain staff quarters and extra bedrooms for his family of 10 surviving children. Some time prior to 1840 the West Wing had false windows and was the wine cellar with its only entrance direct from the back of the wing in the courtyard.
In about 1868 the East Wing was extended backwards. Above the present dealings are two more ceilings, the highest being the cruck roof which shows that originally the two wings were the same size.
Prior to about 1860, the east aspect of the house was outwardly Georgian in appearance but James Howard Buller altered it to conform with Victorian taste. In 1910 Tremayne Buller modernised the house. He extended the present front door entrance and made a billiard room on the right, which is now the Museum. He also knocked down the wall to the right of the grand staircase and made the original front hall and library into what is now called the Long Hall.
The library, with books collected by James Buller, was moved into the attic of the West Wing, which was altered to provide library accommodation. Sadly, the contents of the library have since been sold.
In the spring of 1980 part of the back of the house was demolished, which had been the 1840 upper and lower laundry, the dairy, the cook’s sitting room, the scullery, larder, game larder and kitchen. These rooms had fallen in to a state of disrepair, were not considered to be of any architectural merit and were totally uneconomic to maintain.