Affeton, to the west of the pretty village of West Worlington in Mid Devon, is one of
those isolated spots in the interior of Devon suffused with an aura of timelessness.
Affeton Barton, as it is known today, nestles above the northern slope of the valley
carved out by the Little Dart River that flows westward past Chulmleigh where it joins
the River Taw on its northward journey to the sea.
The road to Affeton from the south crosses the Little Dart at Affeton Mill Bridge. The
climb out of the river valley gives way to open grassland to the left, and beyond the
park the tall chimneys and stair turret[note 1]
of Affeton Castle gatehouse rise high above a thick
double hedge. Behind the castle a collection of farm buildings occupy part of the plot
where the large fortified mansion once stood.
The manor is listed in the Domesday Book by its former name of Afton; a parish was
probably established there in the 13th century, with the de Affeton(or de Afton) family
holding sway as feudal lords. The de Affeton line in the parish was superseded by that of
around 1434 when Sir Hugh Stucley whose family were from Huntingdonshire married Katherine,
the only daughter and heir of Sir John de Affeton. Sir Hugh was created a knight and became
High Sheriff of Devonshire in 1448. Exemplifying the tenacity of the aristocratic family in
the heartland of rural England, the current owner of the Affeton estate has the same name and
held the same position five and a half centuries later in 2006.
Sir Hugh and Katherine were the progenitors of a Devon family that played a prominent part
in the affairs of the county and on the national stage for the next two hundred and fifty
They elbowed and fought and grabbed with the rest. They became administrators, courtiers,
soldiers of fortune and sea-going adventurers; but with all their opportunities they never
rose to the topmost rung of the ladder. 
Affeton has always been a small parish, and was effectively merged with the
adjacent parish of West Worlington when in 1437 Edmund Lacy, Bishop of Exeter, gave the rector of
West Worlington ministry over its smaller neighbour:
[with authority to administer] sacramentals to the parishioners of Affeton, and to admit them to
divine office in his own parish church; and so to receive tithes, obventions and oblations
from them, provided that the chancel, rectory house and other obligations are maintained;
all without prejudice to the benefice of Affeton and its future rectors.
The Affetons and the Stucleys after them occupied the extensive castellated mansion whose
reconstructed gatehouse we can see today at what is now known as Affeton Castle.
The grandeur of the estate prior to the Civil War was noted in William White's gazetteer of
This was one of the most splendid seats in the county, and had an extensive park, with
large fish ponds, woods, a warren, &c.
The mansion was built in the shape of an E and surrounded by a moat which has long since
dried up. The gatehouse probably dates from the mid fifteenth century. It was converted to
a shooting lodge in the 1860s, the central gateway being filled in and the interior
redesigned and adapted for residential use. The only original interior features are the
stone newel within the 49ft. spiral
staircase of the stair turret, and the first floor doorway opening off it.
As in so much of Devon, the peace and tranquillity of Affeton was shattered during the
Civil War. The Royalist sympathies of the mansion's incumbent Sir Thomas Stucley were known
to General Fairfax, and in 1646, on route from Crediton via Chulmleigh to challenge the
King's men at Torrington, a small detachment of Fairfax's Parliamentary army was sent on the
short detour to Affeton to raze the mansion and the church which had become the Stucley
Family loyalties were often divided during the Civil War, the Stucleys being no exception,
and Thomas's brother Lewis was chaplain to Oliver Cromwell until the monarchy was restored.
This disunity may lie behind the targeting of the Stucley mansion by Royalist forces on two
Thomas was most likely within the walls of Exeter which was under siege at the time, but
Lady Stucley must have been forewarned of the imminent assault. She had time to conceal her
valuables along with her servants and cattle in the prehistoric settlement in Burridge Wood
[note 3]; these days
the only inhabitants are the sheep. This settlement is shown on the map to the south-west of
Affeton, on the opposite side of the river.
Thomas's troubles did not end with the Parliamentarian victory. Later in 1646 he was hauled
before the Commissioners in Exeter to account for his support of the King during the
hostilities. He told them that his Affeton house had been plundered several times during
the war, and he was now financially ruined. This plea fell on deaf ears and he was fined
£300 for aiding the Royalist cause. To pay off his debts Thomas was obliged to sell
half the Affeton Barton farmlands on a 99 year lease.
The decorative plaque shown on the right hangs on the north wall of the chancel in the
Church of St Mary in nearby West Worlington. The inscription engraved on slate commemorates
Sir Thomas who was buried in a vault beneath the church.
A farm house or barton (in the Devon vernacular) was built over the foundations of the
sacked manor house, using stones from the ruins. The property passed to the descendants of
Sir Thomas's niece, Sarah, who married into the Bucks, a wealthy family of merchants from
Bideford. They divided their time between Affeton and their larger family seat of Hartland
Abbey on the North Devon coast.
George Stucley Buck who was the great grandfather of the present owner, Sir Hugh Stucley
the 6th Baronet, had a distinguished political career as Member of Parliament for
Barnstaple. As lineal representative of the ancient Stucley family, he was given
permission to change his name from Buck to Stucley by Queen Victoria in 1858 as part of a
He was awarded the hereditary title of baronet the following year.
The most colourful of the Stucleys raised in the family seat of Affeton was Captain Thomas
Stucley, that notorious swashbuckler of the Elizabethan age.
The third son of yet another Sir Hugh Stucley of Affeton, a wealthy clothier who was
sheriff of Devon in 1544, he was born around 1520 to Jane Pollard daughter of Sir Lewis
Pollard, though it was claimed during his lifetime that Thomas was an illegitimate son of
A cohort of royalty and popes, his remarkable life included many adventures on the high
seas as a mercenary and a pirate. He was also an arch manipulator and intriguer, acting as
political advisor and diplomat to his Catholic friends and traitor to others, most notably
Queen Elizabeth I of England who described him as 'a faithless beast rather than a
Thomas was widely portrayed in dramas and poetry after his heroic death in the Battle of
The story of how Sir Lewis Stucley was encouraged to betray Sir Walter Raleigh on his
return from Guiana by the unscrupulous King James I is the subject of this Devon Villains feature.
As you approach West Worlington from the Affeton side there is a fine view of the river
Follow the road along the ridge from Affeton to the east for a mile or so and you reach
West Worlington, with its neat thatched cottages rendered in various pastel hues nestling
closely together at the top of a steep hill. As the road bends to the right a set of shallow
cobbled steps take you to an archway through Church House into the churchyard of St
The church has an attractive twisted spire built on top of a low tower dating from the late
13th century that may have been rebuilt in the 17th century. Close examination shows the
spire to be constructed of wooden shingles.
Inside the church an ornate screen of late Perpendicular Gothic style from about 1500
encloses the chapel in the south aisle. Beyond the entrance to the church the narrow road
descends steeply between more thatched cottages.
- A small or subordinate tower, normally forming part of a larger
structure, housing a spiral or winding staircase. [return]
The spelling of Stucley offers myriad alternatives. Following the early de Styuecle, there
have been the later variants Stewkley, Stucle, Stukeley, Stuckley, and Stukely. I'm sure
there are others. I have adopted the modern spelling in use since the Stucley baronetcy was
granted in 1859. [return]
This news item from Trewman's Exeter Flying Post of September 22, 1869 gives a
different version of events. Rather than making a prior escape, the occupants of Affeton
Mansion may have been driven from their home to Burridge Wood by Fairfax's pikemen in an
act of forbearance:
Sir George Stucley has had the castle gateway at Affeton restored; and on Wednesday Sir
George entertained his tenantry in the old guard house which had not been in use since
1646, when the army under General Fairfax, upon their march to Chulmleigh, obliged the then
owner (Sir Thomas Stucley) to throw open his mansion and to borrow
himself and his valuables
in a circular encampment near Burridge Wood, which remains to this day distinctly visible.
History, Gazetteer and Directory of Devonshire by William White, Plymouth, 1850.
Reprinted by David and Charles, 1968. †
Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300-1500: Southern England by
Anthony Emery, Cambridge University Press, 2006. †
Some Old Devon Churches by John Stabb, Simkin et al, London, 1908-1916. †
Devon by W.G. Hoskins, Collins, 1954; new ed., Phillimore, 2003.
Devon, Its Moorlands, Streams and Coasts by Rosalind Northcote, Chatto and Windus,
The Life and Times of Thomas Stukeley, 1525-1578 by Juan E Tazón, Ashgate
Publishing, 2003. †
A Devon parish lost: a new home discovered
by Sir Dennis Stucley bt., Presidential
Address, Transactions of the Devonshire Society, vol. 108, p1-14, 1976. [return]
The register of Edmund Lacy, Bishop of Exeter, 1420-1455: Registrum commune
, Volume 61,
Devon and Cornwall Record Society, The Devonshire Press, 1972.
† signifies that the book can be accessed via the internet.
Much detailed historical information on Affeton and the Stucleys is found in A brief note on Affeton
by Lieut-Cmdr. J.H. Stucley, an uncle of the
current Baronet Stucley and a distinguished World War II navy veteran awarded the DSC for
action in the anti U-boat operations.
| | last modified on
04 Mar 2015