Sampson Society

Family History of Arthur & Blanche Stone, the first owners

Members who came to last years Christmas drinks at Trow Hall may have noticed the finely carved lions at the bottom of the grand staircase. The lions display the initials “AS” and “BS” and it seems likely that Trow Hall was built for this couple. Until recently their identities remained something of a mystery, but we now know that it was Arthur and Blanche Stone who built the house. But where did the money to build such a grand house come from?

Arthur Rayden Stone was born at Charlton (London) in 1866. He seems to have had a comfortable but modest background. Arthur spent most of his early life in Portsmouth, where his father worked in the naval dockyards as an admiralty clerk. There must have been some money in the family as the 1891 census records that his father had already retired and Arthur was described as a medical student.

Arthur married Blanche in 1896 and seems to have come to Sidmouth soon after. By 1901 they were living at the Bungalow, Manor Road. This house was designed by Sampson in 1895, so Arthur and Blanche may have been the first occupiers. The house is now demolished and the site given over to flats. The 1901 census indicates that Arthur was living here on his own means, so at this stage of his life (aged 34) he already had a bit of wealth.

Arthur’s wife, Blanche, was born at Deptford in 1870. Her father, Frederick Philip Preston, and grandfather, George Preston, were both partners in the firm of Josiah Stone & Co at Deptford. The business started at Greenwich around 1830 making copper nails for use in wooden shipbuilding, but grew rapidly under the ownership of the Preston family. New foundries were built in Deptford and nearby Charlton and these could handle larger items than any other in the world. (The propeller for Brunel’s ship, SS Great Britain was made by the firm). By 1881 the company employed 370 men. The firm still trades today, having been incorporated into Stone-Platt Industries, and more recently Langham Industries, the latter having numerous Stone subsidiaries. Amongst other things it specializes today in high quality precision engineered products for the aerospace and marine industries.

Blanche’s father died in early 1901. As he was a widower, with no son to inherit his share of the business, the value of his estate was probably distributed to his 3 daughters. To give some idea of the size of Blanche’s inheritance, her uncle, who was also a partner in the business, left over £230,000 when he died some years later. This was obviously a vast sum of money, and if a similar amount came Blanche’s way in 1901 it would have been enough to build Trow Hall many times over.

Arthur and Blanche brought up 5 children at Trow Hall, but by 1911 the family had moved to Sussex. Arthur appears to have had property interests there and in London. They returned to Devon after a short while and lived at Bradley Manor, Newton Abbott, a medieval manor house now owned by the National Trust. Arthur was a keen croquet player, representing Devon and regularly entering the English Championships.

The foundation stone to Trow Hall was laid on 8th April 1902. It is inscribed with the words “This stone was laid by Gerald F. J. P. Stone”. This was Arthur and Blanche’s first child, but since he was born in 1899, he would have only been 3 years old at the time! In adult life, Gerald enlisted with the Devonshire Regiment, serving in WW1 and later in Ireland and China. The Imperial War Museum holds extensive audio recordings about his army life, which he gave in 1982. The recordings are available to listen to on line.

Martin Mallinson