Save Manning's Pit Petition -
About the Exhibition
Benjamin Manning
Colonel and Sarah Hibbert
Henry Williamson


R R Lee, R.A.

Frederick Richard Lee, R. A.

Eminent Victorian Artist

 who lived close to Manning's Pit

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.  While he lived at Broadgate House. 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.

Here is a link to an exciting  new biography of F R Lee by Kenneth J. Westwood:

Frederick Richard Lee R.A. 1798- 1879   Painter Sportsman Photographer Yachtsman

From this book, we learned that at one time critics considered Lee a better artist than Constable, who was apparently jealous of Lee's fame. While Lee's reputation has suffered since then, the time may come when it will be re-appraised. 

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.

  F R Lee's 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 Lee was drowned while swimming at Mortehoe, and there is a tablet commemorating his death on the wall of St Anne's Chapel in Barnstaple.

He was in his fortieth year when he lost his life, and the inscription finishes with this words

"He was beloved by all who knew him and his loss is severely felt by his bereaved orphan and his afflicted family"
Memorial to Thomas Lee

F R Lee and J M W Turner

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.) From Kenneth Westwood's book, we have also learned that both Lee and Turner attended various important house parties put on by patrons of the Arts.  The fact that they both had close connections with Banrstaple, and Pilton, raised our interest. We are still researching possible collaborations, and have already found one, which is mentioned further down the page.

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 both Devon and Kent, and they had three children, including the youngest daughter Sarah Catherine, but after Harriet's death and his later remarriage, Lee moved back to Devon in 1858. Broadgate House in Pilton was owned by his second wife Mary. It is only about a quarter of a mile from Manning's Pit. Mary died suddenly within eighteen months of their marriage, and Broadgate House was left to Lee. It became the family home.  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. His granddaughter married the brother of Sir Francis Chichester's father, who sailed single handed round the world in the 1960, nearly a hundred years after Lee's journey to Australia (in a far more luxurious yacht.)

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 - there are are excerpts from this in Kenneth J Westwood's book.

F R Lee arrives in AustraliaThanks to the British Newspaper Archive for this cutting

The North Devon Journal report of his return makes equally interesting reading, especially as it describes him making a visit to his son in law Col Hibbert in Broadgate House. This shows that the Hibberts were living in Broadgate well before Lee's death. Other evidence for that fact is that at least three of 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
Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive for this cutting

Here is a link to three paintings by, or after, F R Lee in the National Gallery of Victoria

More will be added here, about Lee's Australian visit.  The Melbourne Public Library gave us the above link.

F R Lee Obituary
Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive for this cutting
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 demonstrates collaboration between the two artists. The report was in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 16 May 1918, and there is a link to a newspaper cutting of this report on the Sarah Hibbert Page.

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 almost certainly did indeed socialise, despite the fact that 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.

Still to come on this page:

More articles about Frederick Lee's travels to Australia, and details about his career as an artist, plus information about the six - or possibly seven - mills of the Bradiford Valley. F R Lee was very fond of painting mills, and when he wanted to sketch one locally, his route would have taken him through Manning's Pit.

We are also interested in the fact that it seems exceedingly likely that the young Hector Munro (Saki) visited Broadgate House, and was exposed to Lee's paintings as well as other workd of Art in the house. The subject of Art, and paintings, occurs in several of his stories, most notably The East Wing... how easy it is, reading this, to imagine it was set in Broadgate House!

Some 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.