The Longhouse

We aim to cater for the needs of all visitors in our home based, 2 bedroom bed and breakfast. The following statement is a summary of our provision. If you have any specific questions please feel free to call us and we will endeavour to help.

The History

It would be difficult to talk about the Longhouse without giving a moments thought to its interesting history. An unremarkable building constructed with utility and economy in mind rather than design or fashion.

Sir Norman Lockyer (1836-1920) Son of a Rugby lecturer, educated abroad and at the time working for the British Army had always maintained a private interest in astronomy. This private interest leads to considerable discoveries about the sun and stars. Based on previous advancements he set out to define what the sun and stars were composed of, by measuring the spectrum of light given off. This involved the use of a relatively new instrument, the Spectroscope. In 1868 both Norman Lockyer and Pierre Janssen observed a solar eclipse and from the light readings, jointly shared the discovery of a new element Helium. I find it fascinating to think that helium was not discovered on earth for another 35 years in 1903. Named helium after the Greek word Helios (sun). In 1875 he was offered a place in the Science Dept at South Kensington, by the Prime Minister of the time, Benjamin Disraeli. He became the Director of Solar Physics and retired from this position in 1913 as the South Kensington Observatory was being forced into a move away from London because of the ever increasingly tall buildings that surrounded it.

It has been noted that this retirement caused him a feeling of deep loss. He had already started building a house half way up Salcombe Hill and had bought land that encompassed the hilltop itself. Following a conversation with his friend Lieutenant Colonel F McClean they decided to build the Hill Observatory as it was first known. To build his own house he had already quarried flint, gravel and sand from just below the peek of Salcombe Hill and had used an inclined steel rope railway to convey the material down the road to his own house. The Longhouse was built on the northern part of this quarry and was constructed using flint and concrete poured into shuttering. There are many examples of this construction method, in the shape of many garden walls of properties on Salcombe Hill. The Longhouse was built here so it did not interfere with the observatory view and was described as having a red ruberiod roof that blended with ‘the general colours’ around it! The building was made of five rooms, twenty foot square, placed end on end. It served as office, library, spectroscopic laboratory, wireless room and photographic developing room. The combined libraries of Lockyer and McClean used all of the available space and spilled over into the Porters Lodge. The Porters Lodge is still our closest neighbour but I have found little or no information on its origins. Lockyer and McClean financed the original buildings and domes, until subsequent incorporation of the observatory looked for external funding. The most outstanding difference in the landscape in 1912 was the complete lack of trees anywhere on the hill, giving uninterrupted views along the coast. At a time when labour was cheap the use of local material must having been a major saving. There are still some of the homemade concrete and flint blocks around and they are almost impossible to drill into. The site is five hundred and sixty feet above sea level and stands on seven and a half acres, the Longhouse occupies one acre of this original site. They had tapped into a natural spring, which pumped water up, to the crest of the hill and gravity fed all of the buildings below it.

Norman Lockyer was a man of incredible energy who before his death in 1920 originated and edited the science journal Nature, still available today. I have also been told that it was his continual lobbying that introduced science into secondary education. As a young man he had been a friend of Darwin and Lord Tennyson, all young students at the time who had not yet made their distinct mark on the world.

Following the death of his father in 1920, Dr W J S Lockyer became director and managed the observatory. In 1939 ten full time researchers were employed at the observatory, which had gained international acclaim. Exeter University took control in 1946, over the next twenty years interest in geophysics waned and the last professional astronomer left in 1962. By the mid 1970’s the observatory has fallen into decline, it had been stripped of it’s equipment and the university were in discussion with property developers. East Devon District Council quickly registered the entire site as Grade 2 listed blocking any chance of redevelopment. This created a public outcry and a quarter of a millions pounds was raised to buy the site outright in the name of EDDC. Forty-seven acres were sold to the National and Woodland Trust. Reopened in 1989 popularity of the observatory rose and a further investment of £150,000 from EDDC ensured it’s future. Membership of the Observatory Society rose to two hundred interested individuals, the Society leasing the site for thirty years and maintaining it. Membership continues to grow and extensions to buildings have continued. The Longhouse and Porters Lodge were sold privately in 1989. The new owners Les and Shirley transformed the former office into a beautiful home. Restructuring the open interior into a four bedroomed spacious house, which certainly has it’s own character.

We took over ownership in 2003 and have spent the last ten years upgrading the interior and landscaping the gardens. It’s a difficult plot to manage and all of the construction advantages of flint do not help with planting at all. The local name for this covering of soil is Puddingstone. Having said this once established the shrubs and perennials enjoy the free draining soil. You have probably realised by now that The Longhouse is in fact a bungalow by any other name and how the word house crept into its title we have no idea.

Apart from the odd plane leaving Exeter airport and the regular flight over of the replica Tiger Moth from Dunkeswell airdrome, birdsong is as noisy as life gets here. Just after Christmas 2008 we sat and watched a deer drinking from the pond, probably washing down it’s latest victim, one of Lynne’s shrubs. It is a joy for us to share this small oasis with our visitors and provide a comfortable stay in what is certainly the most beautiful place we have ever lived in.


Pete and Lynne.