Filleigh is located within North Devon local authority area. Historically it formed part of Braunton Hundred. It falls within South Molton Deanery for ecclesiastical purposes. The Deaneries are used to arrange the typescript Church Notes of B.F.Cresswell which are held in the Westcountry Studies Library. The population was 220 in 1801 319 in 1901 . Figures for other years are available on the local studies website. In 1641/2 51 adult males signed the Protestation returns.
A parish history file is held in South Molton Library. You can look for other material on the community by using the place search on the main local studies database. Further historical information is also available on the Genuki website.
Maps: The image below is of the Filleigh area on Donn's one inch to the mile survey of 1765.
On the County Series Ordnance Survey mapping the area is to be found on 1:2,500 sheet 21/3 Six inch (1:10560) sheet 21NE
The National Grid reference for the centre of the area is SS603280. On the post 1945 National Grid Ordnance Survey mapping the sheets are: 1:10,000 (six inch to a mile: sheet SS62NE, 1:25,000 mapping: sheet Explorer 127, Landranger (1:50,000) mapping: sheet 180. Geological sheet 293 also covers the area.
Illustrations: The image below is of Filleigh as included in the Library's illustrations collection. Other images can be searched for on the local studies catalogue.
Extract from Devon by W.G.Hoskins (1954), included by kind permission of the copyright holder:
FILLEIGH on the main road from Barnstaple to South Molton, is a parish dominated by the great Fortescue mansion and park of Castle Hill. It probably derives its name from the original dedication of a Celtic church to St. Fill, companion of St. Kea who is commemorated at Landkey (q.v.), like Philleigh in Cornwall. The present church is, however, dedicated to St. Paul. It was rebuilt in 1732, but most unfortunately rebuilt again in the Norman style in 1877. The interior is completely dull.
The Fortescues were by origin a South Devon family, but as with all rising families their younger sons married heiresses and founded new branches elsewhere. In 1454 Martin Fortescue, second son of Sir John Fortescue, who was Chancellor and Chief Justice to Henry VI, married Elizabeth, the heiress of the Denzil or Densell estates, and so acquired Filleigh, Wear Giffard, and Buckland Filleigh. The original estate was small, but it grew by slow degrees until in 1873 it amounted to rather more than 20,000 acres and was one of the four largest estates in Devon.
Castle Hill is one of the few country houses of any size or sophistication in Devon: "a prodigious string of golden- hued buildings, crowned here and there by little domes" rising from tiers of mown terraces and backed by lofty trees. (This account is base mainly upon Country Life 75 (1934), 272-7, 300-5, and 84, (1938), 426-30.) It faces a wide avenue running up the opposite hill, which is crowned by a "ruined" triumphal arch. The main road runs through the park on a level with the house, which "bursts entire upon the eye. The "Castle" is a sham ruin (early 18th century) on the top of the hill behind the house, answering to the triumphal arch on the opposite summit, but is now completely obscured by trees. This sham has given its name, however, to the mansion, which had previously been simply the manor house of Filleigh.
The original Tudor or medieval building had a forecourt looking N. into the hillside. In 1684 Arthur Fortescue of Penwarne in Cornwall proceeded to enlarge and turn the house around. This reconstruction was still in progress in 1694 when his son and heir Hugh Fortescue (1665-1719) petitioned the Bishop of Exeter for leave to make a new entrance to the church as he was "rebuilding his mansion." (E.D.R. Patent Books, Vol. 1 (1628-1733,) fol. 148. Petition dated 15th January 1694.) He did not, however, spend much on building. The mansion as it stands today is mostly the work of his son Hugh, who succeeded to the estate in 1719, became Lord Clinton in 1721, and was created first Baron Fortescue of Castle Hill in 1746. He was, according to Hervey, "of mean aspect, and meaner capacity, but meanest of all in his inclinations." He retired from public life in the 1730s and began to transform Filleigh into Castle Hill, refacing the central block of 1684-94, and adding the low wings at either end, so giving the house an extraordinary length. This was required by the nature of the site, on a narrow ledge which prevented the normal projection of wings on either side of a forecourt. The Saloon of 1730-40 probably occupied the site of the great hall of the Tudor house, the Library that of the buttery. The Saloon rose to the full height of the facade and looked across the hanging terraces, over William Kent's formal lay-out of the park, to the distant triumphal arch. The greatest extravaganza of the Kentian plan was a complete ruined" village, which a more economically-minded Fortescue later reconditioned into habitable cottages. Further internal and external changes were made in the late 18th early 19th century, when much of William Kent's early landscape gardening was deformalised. The most important changes were made by Edward Blore in 1842-3. He enlarged the house, and added the mansard roof, the cupola over the central block, and the flanking towers and domes. This roof and the domes obscured the fact that Castle Hill was an important example of early Palladian architecture, contemporary with Holkham and Houghton.
The whole of the central block, including the Saloon with its magnificent plaster ceiling by a Parisian plasterer (c. 1735), was gutted by fire in 1934, and in the rebuilding of 1934-8 the opportunity was taken to restore the house to its original early Georgian proportions. Neither the Victorian mansard roof nor the Saloon were replaced, and the house was made more convenient inside. The main (S.) front is now much more pleasing, its true character once again revealed. The terraces, the "ruins," and the lay-out of the park survive to testify to "one of the most complete realisations of William Kent's conception of landscape gardening." The park is extensive (830 acres), well wooded, and very beautiful, making use of the sweeping undulations of the natural landscape with its streams, woods and hills, but also manipulating it on a grand scale. The parish church, for example, stood somewhere near the SW. corner of the present house before 1732, and was shifted to its present site because of the building and gardening operations of Lord Clinton at that date, just as the Morices shifted and rebuilt Werrington church (q.v.) for precisely the same reason in 1742. Probably the old main road from Barnstaple to South Molton was pushed S. at the same time, as the map suggests that it once ran below Oxford Down directly in front of the mansion.
The Fortescues have been one of the most distinguished families in Devon, and one of the most widespread. Since the 15th century few generations have passed without their name being prominent in county or national affairs. Between 1382 and 1702, 31 Fortescues were members of Parliament. In the parliament of 1592 there were no fewer than eight of them together. In Devon alone, their name is to be found in 46 parish registers, and in 20 more outside the county. (Fortescue, A Chronicle of Castle Hill, 1,4.) All the branches of the family but one have disappeared from their Devonshire estates (cf. the Chichesters), and that is the branch at Castle Hill, represented today by the 5th Earl Fortescue, now Lord Lieu-tenant of the county.