'Sidholme’ has much to offer the visitor – beauty, comfort and history. This gracious Victorian mansion has been welcoming guests for over 170 years. It was originally built for the 6th Earl of Buckinghamshire in 1826 and was known as Richmond Lodge (House). The Lindemanns changed the name to ‘Sidholme’ and Wesley Guild Holidays (later changed to Methodist Guild Holidays and presently trading as Christian Guild) have been providing Christian Holidays here since 1931.
The 6th Earl of Buckinghamshire was a clergyman. At one time he was Rector & Prebendary of Wolverhampton, but latterly he was described as a Clerk of Holy Orders, a clergy without care of souls.
In 1816, the Earl married Mary Williams, daughter of John Williams, a lawyer of Carmarthen. They had six children, four sons and two daughters. Mary died in 1825 and the Earl was remarried to Maria Isabella, the eldest daughter of Rev. Godfrey Egremont in 1826. There were seven children from the second marriage, three sons & four daughters. All the Earl’s sons married, but five daughters died unmarried.
The Earl brought his new bride to Richmond Lodge in 1826; it was a relatively small building then, the main entrance being on the south side. A staircase went up from the front door and the evidence still remains in the change of panelling in the Back Hall ceiling. The present Front Hall was then the Courtyard, wide enough for horses and carriage to pass through.
The first floor window overlooking the Front Hall is in the original Countess’s boudoir. She could sit there and observe the comings and goings of Richmond Lodge.
The Earl had the Music Room built on in 1848 as a private chapel and place for musical soirées. Local history suggests that the Countess quarrelled with the Vicar and the room was built so that the family could worship independently. It is reputed to be the finest Music Room in Devon. Magnificent chandeliers of cut-glass, originally gas-lit, hang from a beautiful hand-painted ceiling, of which it has been said, “I feel we are sitting in heavenly places as I lift my eyes to this spangled firmament on high”. The painted panels around the ceiling all depict musical instruments, not one design is repeated. At both ends of the room is the coat of arms of the Buckinghamshire family. The two marble fireplaces have mirrors with elaborate Rococo frames. On a raised dais is a beautifully carved pipe organ, single manual, in a Gothic case, on which the famous musician Paderewski played.
A broad staircase rises elegantly to the first floor, from the top of which a splendid vista is obtained. It is easy to imagine finely attired ladies making an entrance by gracefully descending these stairs.
Richmond Lodge was the Buckinghamshire Family residence for about 50 years. The Earl was a benefactor to Sidmouth Parish Church, the East Window, depicting the Crucifixion and the Evangelists was his gift in 1860.
The Earl & Countess of Buckinghamshire are buried in Sidmouth Churchyard with their two daughters Charlotte & Louisa who lived from 1887 at Hampden Lodge (now Claremont) opposite the Knowle Park, Station Road.
‘Sidholme’ was opened as a Christian Guest House for young Methodism at Easter, 1931, when one hundred guests were accommodated. It was purchased by Willersley Castle Ltd., as a Wesley Guild Guest House for £8,000. The first directors were Owen R. Lewis, Secretary, Rev. George Allen, T.S. Starkie and A.W. Lowe. The first manageress was Miss Mabel Heath. The policy of establishing holiday homes for Wesley Guild, which was essentially an organization for young people to meet together in a Christian environment, had been in operation since 1915 when Abbot Hall and Willersley Castle (in 1927) were opened.
‘Sidholme’s’ official opening was on Wednesday, 8th April, 1931. The Methodist Recorder reported that “Running water has been fitted in all the bedrooms, and everything possible has been done to give those who stay there all the comforts and conveniences of a modern hotel, and that at an extraordinary low figure. There are two points in administration which struck me as particularly admirable. First as regards the staff: their status is not the conventional one, but one of mutual service, and gratuities are not permitted to be given directly to the house staff, though a minimum sum per week is expected as a contribution to the staff fund.
The second is that as many young men in business are unable to book their accommodation early, a number of rooms will be reserved for men till within a fortnight of any holiday week”.
The opening ceremony commenced with the hymn “Praise ye the Lord ‘tis good to raise”. The President of Conference, DR. Workman, performed the opening ceremony saying that he looked upon the opening as a religious act as in one sense a man’s religion could be judged by what he did with his leisure.
The luncheon which followed was served in the Music Room. Mr. T.S. Starkie in a speech said that his feelings were those of Augustine, who before a baby was born to him said he did not want a child, but when a fine boy came he christened him “Deodatus”- meaning God-given. This Home, he believed, was God-given to the Guild.
On behalf of his directors he thanked Col. Gilbert Davidson, D.S.O., the former owner of the mansion, who fully appreciated the object for which the place was to be dedicated, and who had treated them in a generous spirit, leaving behind all kind of things, including the fine organ and the billiard table. Col. Davidson had to his personal regret been unable to be present at that ceremony, but had sent a telegram of good wishes in these terms, “All the best to the new enterprise”.
In the afternoon the Wesleyan Church was filled for the dedication service by the President whose text was 1 Cor. 15 v 58.
At teatime a Guild Rally was held at Sidholme. The Methodist Recorder reports, “Through the dreary drizzle troops of hearty Methodists made their way to Sidholme, & monster motor-coaches decanted streams of young folk from Teignmouth, Exeter and Bridgwater. Even the spacious Music Room has its limits, and many were compelled to linger disconsolately in the hall and on the stairway, unable to find standing room within”.
Sidholme was closed & used by Her Majesty’s Government as an Intelligence Centre, during the war. In 1947, when things were getting back to normal the terms were:
Multiple Room £3.00s per week: 10/6 per day.
Single and Double Rooms £3.15s per week: 11/- per day.
With additional charges of 10/- for Christmas and Easter.
Guests were asked to help on the domestic side, such as making beds and clearing tables, and to bring their own soap, towels and serviettes.
By 1981 when the Golden Jubilee took place, 250 000 guests had stayed at Sidholme and there had been only five changes of management. Rev. James K. Whitehead was house director for 41 years. During a dinner given in his honour to celebrate his 40 years as director in September 1983, he commented “Butlins and Laker can run holidays, but we exist to provide a holiday with a religious challenge. I am confident it will continue to develop because there will always be people wanting holidays with a Christian background and influence”.
The present history of ‘Sidholme’ is of loving restoration of the outside of the house and modernisation & refurbishment of the interior to provide accommodation which reaches modern standards, whilst retaining its natural charm and beauty.
In 1982 an extensive restoration programme commenced to bring the house up to Grade II listed building of Special Historic and Architectural Interest.
The exterior work first involved the South and West faces of the house, restoring all windows, replacing lead guttering and wrought iron work, repairing ancient chimneys and the roof structure. Local craftsmen carved and decorated the scrolled barge boards and hand cut and shaped lead sheets and wrought iron to match the originals.
In 1987 work commenced on the exterior of the Music Room. Whilst working on the roof, dry-rot was discovered in a main ornamental arch. Extensive interior work was needed to renew and replace the arch and make good the elaborate decorations. Then followed the painting of the ceiling and walls, and cleaning of the chandeliers, which were re-hung on winches to facilitate easier cleaning. The interior decoration was undertaken by one man, a retired craftsman who first worked on ‘Sidholme’ as an apprentice when the house was opened in 1931, and has been involved in painting contracts ever since. When the walls were stripped, old painted murals were revealed and the wallpaper, designed to the original pattern, was hand-made in France. The Music Room, now restored to its former grandeur, is still a focal point of the house, being the venue of concerts, dances, social activities and religious services.
In March 1989 new building work was started to extend the Dining Rooms & add more en-suite bedrooms. This extension was cleverly designed to blend in well with past architecture yet provide modern, comfortable accommodation. The south facing new Dining Room also serves as a Conference Room and the three en-suite bedrooms above include all up-to-date facilities together with picturesque views of the Sid Valley. It is appropriate that the Dining Room extension opened on 19th April, 1990 was named ‘The Richmond Room’. Mrs. Kerry, wife of the Chairman of Directors, Mr. W.I. Kerry performed the ceremony.
The grounds are a haven for the naturalists and gardener since they contain many rare species of tropical plants and trees. The whole area is part of a tree preservation area, and what would be more idyllic than to wander through ornamental gardens with velveteen lawns and ferny nooks with fragrant flower beds, shaded by great shady trees overlooking some of the finest views of Devon. Near the top of the garden, where the new swimming pool is located, was a rocky pergola reconstituted as part of the 50th Anniversary of the opening of ‘Sidholme’ in April 1981, and the two lily ponds on the side lawn still remains an attractive feature. The roundabout on the front drive was originally a Victorian Orangey, the heating pipes can still be seen under the magnificent early flowering Camellia Trees.
More history can be obtained from the shop at Sidholme hotel.