R R Lee, R.A.

Frederick Richard Lee, R. A.

Eminent Victorian Artist

FR Lee Barnstaple Bridge

Lane to Pitt Farm
The Lane to Pitt Farm, Raleigh, Pilton,
 by F R Lee, 1830

The portrait, above,  of F R Lee as a youngish man is in the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon and was displayed in our Exhibition there in May 2017.  The Museum has several paintings by Lee, including a large one that can be seen in the foyer, and a charming smaller painting of Barnstaple Bridge (left) that was shown in our Exhibition (apologies for dazzle on photograph, it was taken during the Exhibition)


We were also able to display - thanks to the Athenaeum at Barnstaple Library - this painting, also on the left. (again the photograph is not best quality as taken while exhibition was on.)

It was discovered in recent years, and has been restored.
Pitt Farm and Raleigh are on the opposite side of Pilton to Manning's Pit, and this painting was done before F R Lee moved to Pilton. Interestingly, when Benjamin Manning came to Devon from Tiverton, he first worked at a lace factory in the
 Raleigh area of Pilton.

F R Lee was a prodigious artist and it is believed that there are many more of his paintings in existence still, that have not been rediscovered.  It seems more likely than not that he must have gone out into Manning's Pit at times to sketch or paint, just as so many artists living in this area do so today. The field had not yet attained its name, so the painting might be difficult to identify, especially as trees grow, fall and are replaced.  But we are still looking!  We have also made contact with the Melbourne Public Library in Australia recently, and we are hoping to find out more about any paintings by Lee that can be found there - to read more about Lee's trip to Australia, scroll down.

A link to 58 of F R Lee's paintings in various locations:

One or two paintings look as if they could be possibles, especially Cover Side.

Guildhall 2017
People filing into the Guildhall in 2017,
at the Town Council Planning Meeting
 about Manning's Pit
F.R. Lee was born in Barbican House, near Trinity Church, Barnstaple, in 1798.

His father was a successful architect, as was his older brother, Thomas, who designed Arlington House and the Barnstaple Guildhall (see left)  among other buildings. Thomas was drowned while swimming at Mortehoe, and there is a tablet commemorating his death on the wall of St Anne's Chapel in Barnstaple.

In 1818 Lee became a student at the Royal Academy where he may have met J.M.W. Turner, whose family came from North Devon and whose uncle lived in Barnstaple (first in central Barnstaple but later in Littabourne, Pilton.) Lee was elected to the Royal Academy in 1838 and became a very successful and famous Victorian landscape artist. He did not like painting animals and because of this two other famous artists, Sir Edwin Landseer and Thomas Sidney Cooper often collaborated with him.

Broadgate House
Thanks to the Henry Williamson
 Society for this image

Sunfish from Lee's travels
Lee lived with his first wife Harriet in Kent, and they had a daughter Sarah Catherine, but after Harriet's death and his later remarriage, Lee moved back to Devon, and bought Broadgate House in Pilton in 1858. His second wife Mary died within eighteen months of their marriage, but Broadgate House remained the family home, and his daughter Sarah was to live there with her husband Col Hugh Hibbert for many years.

Lee's other passion in life was sailing, and he traveled extensively in his yachts, to places like Spain. The thumbnail on the left gives you a link to a charming painting in the Royal Academy of  a sunfish that he caught while sailing from Algeria to Gibraltar in 1857, not long before he moved back to Devon.

In 1872-3, Lee sailed round to Australia and back in his yacht Linda. This generated considerable interest in the Press, both locally and in Australia.  The report from the SW Daily News on the right mentions that he sailed past Amsterdam Island but was unable to land because of the wild surf. "Strange sounds were heard, as if proceeding from a fog horn or speaking trumpet..."  It also mentions the fact that several of his paintings were already hanging in Melbourne Public Library, and that he was keeping a diary of his voyage - we wonder if that still exists?
F R Lee arrives in Australia

The North Devon Journal report of his return makes equally interesting reading, especially as it describes him making a visit to his son law Col Hibbert in Broadgate House. This seems to show that the Hibberts were living in Broadgate well before Lee's death. Other evidence for that fact is that their children were baptised at Pilton Church, and in this report Col Hibbert is a Magistrate in Barnstaple.

F R le's return from Australia

F R Lee Obituary
We know that Lee had properties in South Africa as well, and in fact he died there. on June 5 1879.

Here are details from a newspaper report of his will:

"The will (dated July 27 1878) with a codicil (dated May 17, 1879) of Mr Frederick Richard Lee, RA., late of Broadgate house, Pilton, near Barnstaple, Devon, who died on June 5 last, at Vleesch Bank, Hermon Station, Malmsbury, South Africa, was proved on the 30th ult. By Colonel Hugh Robert Hibbert and Archibald Donaldson, the acting executors, the personal estate being sworn under £25,000. The testator leaves his estates in South Africa and all his property in London and elsewhere to his daughter, Mrs Hibbert, subject to the payment of annuities and legacies to his son, grandchildren and others."

More about Lee and J.M.W. Turner R.A.

While researching newspaper reports in the British Newspaper Archive we also discovered that
at the sale of the Broadgate Estate in 1918 a painting titled “Burning Mill at Yeoford” was sold. It was described as being by F R Lee, R A, and also “touched in” by J M W Turner.  R A.   This seems to indicate collaboration between the two artists. The report was in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 16 May 1918.

Sarah Hibbert

Sarah Hibbert, F R Lee's daughter, was also an important figure in the life of Pilton for man years. Her husband Colonel Hugh Hibbert, fought in the Crimean war, became a war hero, and was later to become very involved in Pilton and Barnstaple life. He was Mayor of Barnstaple in 1893 and the couple entertained Royalty at Broadgate house in 1895.  After the Colonel's death, life was to become more difficult for Sarah, who was faced with saddling the debts of a wayward son. She eventually had to sell the Estate to settle these debts.

Link to page about Sarah and Hugh Hibbert

The couple's granddaughter, Ida Loetitia Hibbert, married Henry Williamson (she is featured as a character in the book of Tarka The Otter). \Williamson was very fond of Sarah (known as Grannie Hibbert) and dedicated his book, The Village Book, to her

Broadgate House
  This photograph shows the back of Broadgate House, as it is today. It was taken from the pavement outside the house where the Munros (and the young Saki) lived. They were very close neighbours, and we have been told that the Hibberts and the Munros did indeed socialise. although it is often said that the Munro children rarely saw any neighbours.  The Hibberts had young children around the ages of the Munro children, and they would have seen each other every Sunday at Church, as well as walking to and from the Church the same way.

We will be updating this website with a more detailed page about the Williamson family connections soon, but until then more information concerning these families can be found on the Sarah Hibbert Page, our Timeline, and the Saki and Manning pages.

ome of the information here comes from Margaret Reed, who is so knowledgeable about Pilton's History, and you can read her page on the Pilton Story Website which gives more details and the full story of Lee's life, at the link below

Frederick Richard Lee - his life, by Margaret Reed.

About our Exhibition and Manning's Pit

Benjamin Manning    Sarah Hibbert      Saki

Manning's Pit Timeline