Save Manning's Pit Petition -
now closed

About the Exhibition
Benjamin Manning
F R Lee
Henry Williamson


Sarah Catherine Hibbert

Sarah Catherine Hibbert

daughter of F R Lee  R A

and her husband

 Colonel Hugh Hibbert

The image on the left was sent to us by a family member living in Australia. It was painted by Sarah's father, F R Lee, R A, when Sarah was
21 years old.


Broadgate House in the Hibberts time -
with thanks to the Henry Williamson
 Society for the photograph

Sarah Catherine Augusta Lee was F R Lee's daughter, and she was born in 1840. In 1850, Sarah Catherine's mother, Harriet Eves Lee, died. Sarah would have been only ten then, and they were living in Kent at the time, although they had also lived in London and Crediton, we believe. Sarah Catherine was the youngest of Lee's children, and also appears to have been the one who was closest to him.
Seven years later, her father married again, in 1857. Lee's second wife, Mary Jane, was childless and owned Broadgate House, in Pilton, along with its estate. Sadly Mary Jane died suddenly within 18 months of their marriage, and ownership of the Broadgate Estate passed to Lee.

Col Hibbert

Click on the image above
for more about his career
in the Army, and a full size
Hugh Robert Hibbert, Sarah Catherine's husband, was born on the 19th December in 1828, at Birtles Hall Over Alderley, in  Cheshire.
In 1847, he entered the Royal Fusiliers Regiment and went with them as a captain to the Crimea. An article in the Macclesfield Express in 2016 recounts the story of his heroism there, and is very much worth reading. He was severely wounded. On his return he was honoured by the town of Macclesfield, with a public holiday on the day in which he was presented with a magnificent sword. The article is based on research by historian Dorothy Bentley Smith.
Hugh Hibbert is also sometimes credited in Pub Quizzes as being the inventor of the grenade.  This link gives more detail, in his own words.

In 1861 Hugh Robert Hibbert and Sarah Catherine Lee were married in London. How they met, we do not yet know, but both families were successful and wealthy, and as a war hero Hugh Hibbert would have made a dashing figure in English Society at that time.

According to the British Empire website Colonel Hibbert was Commanding Officer of the 7th Battallion from December 1863 until he retired in October 1871. This Battallion went to India during this time.  Whereas Saki's father, who worked for the Indian Imperial Police, was only able to come home once every 4 years, it appears that Colonel Hibbert made more frequent visits home, by the number of children that were born to the family, unless of course Sarah travelled to India as well on occasions - we have just  (2019) received the information that one of their daughters, Essex Mary, was born in India, so there is some evidence that she did.

Although he had been greatly honoured in Macclesfield as a returning hero (see linked article above, earlier) at some time after he had married Sarah Catherine, Hugh Hibbert chose to make his wife's home his own. Sarah's father had a yacht, and spent many months at sea during the last years of his life, so the Hibberts rather than Lee were probably the main residents of Broadgate House from the late 1860s and 1870s, and after Lee's death in 1879.

The Hibberts were to have seven children but the youngest, Hugh Frederick, born on the 2nd August 1862, only lived until the 20th of October of the same year.  The next child born was Hugh Thomas (5 Aug 1863) and then they had four daughters, Victoria Catherine  (baptised 13th May 1867, Pilton Church), Essex Mary,  (born on 28 August in Saugor, Bengal, India) Margaret Dora (baptised Pilton Church 1871) and Frances Caroline (baptised 11 February 1873, Pilton Church)  as well as another son George Frederick (baptised September 14th, 1875, Pilton Church.) 
Incidentally, Frances Caroline married George Chichester, brother of Sir Francis Chichester's father. After her death, George married her sister, Essex Mary.

The Hibberts and Manning's Pit

We have no concrete evidence as yet that they used Manning's Pit, but there are numerous reasons why it is likely. In Victorian times, sport generally meant hunting, shooting and fishing, and without evidence to the contrary we can be pretty sure that Colonel Hibbert took part in these activities, and if so, he would surely have used the Bradiford Valley, and the Manning's Pit area. It is now, and was then, the perfect place for family picnics.

When the news that Manning's Pit was for sale first broke, one of the very first things that locals exclaimed was "Where will the children go to sledge if it is sold and built upon?" Manning's Pit, in the words of another local, is the "Cresta Run" of Pilton. The story mentioned elsewhere of the vicar sledging on an oil painting only shows how important this feature was to the neighbourhood.

Pilton Church
Pilton Church Porch

Top of the "Cresta Run"
When it snowed in late Victorian times, what are the odds that a Crimean War Hero took his own, (and perhaps his Munro neighbours as well) children out sledging in Manning's Pit?

When he left the Army, Hugh Hibbert became a Magistrate in Barnstaple. He was interested in Politics and we know he was one of those who nominated Sir Robert Carden as a candidate for the 1880 Barnstaple Election that the Munro family attended (Ethel Munro described this.) In 1893 he became Mayor of Barnstaple, and in 1895 Colonel and Mrs Hibbert entertained Royalty at Broadgate House, in the person of the Duke of Cambridge.
In the same year, Hugh died, and he was buried in Pilton Churchyard - to be joined by his wife when she finally died in 1931.

Hibbert grave
The Hibberts and Saki

As mentioned on the Saki Page, the Munro and Lee/Hibbert families lived opposite one another, attended Pilton Church, and had much in common (connections to both India and Kent, plus politics for example.)

While biographies make much of Saki's isolated childhood, and his eccentric aunts, we have found no mention - so far - of any influence from the Hibbert and Lee family.  The importance of the interesting neighbours across the road from the Munro family seems to have been somewhat forgotten, but what could have been more exciting to a young boy like Hector Munro than living in close proximity to an actual war hero?

Colonel Hibbert appears to have been a modest man, and his wife a very kindly woman, the chances of them showing friendship to these motherless children are high. Broadgate House was a treasure trove of  works of Art - we believe that there was also a Gainsborough in the house - it is easy to imagine how much a visit there could excite and influence a young boy who lived a rather drab life.

H H Munro
Did Colonel Hibbert ever show his sword to young Hector? We do not know.  Interestingly, in the photograph above, taken during World War One, Hector Munro is wearing the uniform of the Royal Fusiliers, Colonel Hibbert's old Regiment


St Peter and Mary Magdalene Church Barnstaple
St. Peter's Church in Barnstaple, a photograph of the memorial window is on the right.

This window is directly opposite St. Anne's Chapel, which has a plaque on its outside wall in memory of F R Lee's brother, the architect Thomas Lee, who was drowned at Mortehoe.
In around 1880, following the death of her father F R Lee in South Africa,
Mrs Hibbert commissioned a Memorial window in St.Peter and St. Mary Magdalene's Church in Barnstaple. More details can be found on this forum, and we hope to learn more ourselves about this. This may indicate that while the Hibberts attended Pilton Church, the Lee family attended St.Peter's as their local Church, rather than Trinity Church, which is close to where F R Lee was born.  
There is a memorial to Lee's brother at St Anne's Chapel,
close by St Peter's as well, and there is more about this on the page
 about F R Lee.

Sarah Hibbert when old
On the left, Sarah Hibbert as Henry
Williamson would have known her -
"Grannie Hibbert."

On the  right, the memorial window that Sarah Hibbert commissioned in honour of her father, in St. Peter's Church Barnstaple.
Memorial window

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 16 May
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette
May 16, 1918
Click for larger version.
Cuttings from British Newspaper Archive

In 1918 Sarah Catherine Hibbert was sadly forced to sell virtually everything to cover her son's debts.  There are many reports of the sale, in all the local papers, and as we perused them during our research for the Exhibition we were very excited to come across the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of May 16, 1918 (on the left,) because it alone, out of all the reports, mentions a particular painting "A Burning Mill at Yeoford," by F R Lee, with the added information "touched in by J.M.W. Turner, RA."

We knew already that F R Lee collaborated with both Sir Edwin Landseer and Thomas Sidney Cooper, but have seen no mention anywhere before of any collaboration with Turner, despite their common family links to Barnstaple and Pilton.
Here at last seems to be concrete evidence that J M W Turner did collaborate (at least to this extent) with Lee, and therefore knew him.

F R Lee, portrait by Briggs RA
Poignantly, the sale also included the portrait of Sarah's father (see left) by Briggs RA. It was bought by Mr C E Roberts Chanter on behalf of the Athaneum, and it is now in the museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, where it was one of the most special exhibits in our Exhibition.  We can't help wondering how sad she must have been to see it sold. Click on the cutting from the North Devon Journal of May 16, 1918, below, to read more:

Lee's portrait sold

Cutting from British Newspaper Archive
There is no doubt that Sarah Catherine was exceptionally proud of her father, and in the late 1890s at an Exhibition in Barnstaple she allowed a number of his works to be displayed with great fanfare in the Local Press. At that time, his works were highly valued, but by the time that she was forced to sell them they appear to have slumped in price.

Henry Williamson and his links to Manning's Pit

In 1925 Henry Williamson married Ida Loetitia Hibbert, Sarah and Hugh's grandaughter (her mother was Margaret Dora, who had married her cousin Charles Hibbert against the wishes of her family in around 1889.)
Williamson had met Charles Hibbert and his daughter while he was researching otter hunting for his book Tarka The Otter. Both Ida and Charles appear as characters in the book, and Ida's siblings were also later to appear as characters in some of his other books.

Henry Williamson and Ida Loetitia Hibbert

Sarah Catherine Hibbert (known as "Grannie" Hibbert) was very kind to the young couple, and Williamson was very fond of her. When he published The Village Book in 1930 he included a Dedication to her in the frontispiece.

You can read more about this  on our link above, and on the Henry Williamson Society website.  We are grateful to the Henry Williamson Society for information that they have given us, about both the Hibbert family and Saki (H H Munro) as well as giving us permission to use the photograph of Henry and Ida Loetitia.

After the sale of Broadgate House, except for an initial brief interlude, Mrs Hibbert was to spend the rest of her life living in No 2 Bellaire Cottages, just across the road from her former home. The Williamson family have confirmed that Henry and Ida Loetitia (known as "Gypsy") did visit her there, while he was researching Tarka The Otter. You can read more on our page about Henry Williamson.

Manning's Pit, with its river and otters, was only a couple of minutes walk away -  you just had to go round the bend  in the road to the right of the cottages, into Northfield Lane, and there was the footpath into Manning's Pit.

Henry Williamson

More to come as well about Sarah Catherine Hibbert, F R Lee and the Longstone - as well as F R Lee, and the six, or perhaps seven, mills of the Bradiford Valley.

The photograph of the Longstone taken in 2016 shows the wall around Broadgate House. F R Lee extended the wall to encircle the Longstone. That wall was taken down when road improvements took place in the 1960s.
Note the banner on the wall, put up by modern day residents!
The Longstone