In 1784 Jane Parminter, daughter of a wealthy Devon wine merchant, set off on a grand tour of Europe accompanied by her invalid sister Elizabeth, an orphaned cousin, Mary, and a London friend, Miss Colville. Over several years these intrepid women explored France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and possibly Spain and Portugal, before returning to England. Elizabeth died soon afterwards.
Inspired by their travels, and in particular by the 6th-century Byzantine basilica of San Vitale at Ravenna, Jane and Mary made plans to build themselves a rural retreat near fashionable Exmouth, which would remind them of their tour and provide a home for their many souvenirs.
An unusual inheritance
In the years spent together at A la Ronde Jane and Mary indulged their passion for design, creating the shell gallery and feather frieze, along with mosaic work, papercuts and other crafted items. Jane Parminter died in 1811 and was buried in the tiny chapel of Point in View which the cousins had built on land adjoining A la Ronde. Mary continued to live at A la Ronde until her death in 1849 when she too was buried at Point in View.
Mary left a will of extraordinary length, but with two principal aims: to preserve A la Ronde and its contents intact, and to allow only unmarried kinswomen to inherit.