The people of Coleton Fishacre

The D'Oyly Carte family at their tidal pool at Pudcombe Cove

Discover the people who helped to shape Coleton Fishacre house and garden, the D'Oyly Cartes.

The D'Oyly Cartes

Rupert D'Oyly Carte, of Gilbert and Sullivan and the Savoy Hotel fame, and Lady Dorothy, the younger daughter of the Earl of Cranbrook, chose the location for their country home while they were sailing. From their yacht they spotted this valley leading down to the sea; work began constructing Coleton Fishacre in 1925. 
 
Lady Dorothy and Rupert D'Oyly Carte moved into Coleton Fishacre, their newly built country home, in 1926. The family enjoyed an outdoors lifestyle, with sailing trips, swimming in Pudcombe Cove, and entertaining friends.

 

Rupert D'Oyly Carte

Son of Richard D'Oyly Carte, the impresario behind Gilbert and Sullivan and the Savoy Hotel. Rupert succeeded his father as Chairman of the Savoy Hotel Company in 1903, and ten years later took over the management of the Opera Company from his stepmother. Rupert was responsible for modernising both companies, patronising artists and designers who brought a fresh and colourful approach. 

 

Lady Dorothy

Rupert D'Oyly Carte married Lady Dorothy Gathorne-Hardy, the younger daughter of the second Earl of Cranbrook, in 1907. Lady Dorothy was described as having the ‘common touch’. Dark haired, she was a handsome woman and noticeably taller than Rupert. Lady Dorothy stayed at Coleton Fishacre during the week while Rupert was in London, enabling her to indulge in her favourite pursuits of fishing, gardening and sailing. 

 

Life at Coleton Fishacre

As well as a love of the outdoor life, Rupert and Dorothy loved their garden. They would often sail their yacht out on weekend jaunts to south Cornwall gardens in search of inspiration. On Saturday mornings they would walk around Coleton Fishacre garden together, discussing their plans for planting. 
 
The couple also enjoyed entertaining; weekend guests included musicians like the conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent and painters such as Charles Ricketts. Guests came for bridge parties and were put to work weeding the garden.
Rupert and Bridget D'Oyly Carte at the building site of Coleton Fishacre
Rupert and Bridget D'Oyly Carte at the building site of Coleton Fishacre
Rupert and Bridget D'Oyly Carte at the building site of Coleton Fishacre

 

Family life

The D'Oyly Cartes had two children, Bridget and Michael. Tragedy struck in 1932, when Michael died in a car crash in Switzerland, aged 21. This caused a rift between Lady Dorothy and Rupert which would never heal, and in 1936 they separated. After their divorce, she left England and settled in Plymouth, Tobago. Lady Dorothy became a prominent member of the community and unaffected by racial prejudice, was a tireless fundraiser for local charities. 

 

Bridget D'Oyly Carte

Rupert and Dorothy's daughter was one of the first pupils of Dartington School. After school, she married her cousin in 1926, a marriage which lasted only four years. From 1939 to 1947 she was involved in child welfare work in London. After 1948 she devoted herself to running the opera company. She also formed the D'Oyly Carte Opera Trust as a charitable organisation, was a director of the Savoy Hotel group, and became a Dame in 1975.

 

Coleton Fishacre after the D'Oyly Cartes

Bridget sold Coleton Fishacre in 1949, because it was too far from London. Rowland Smith, a well-known London motor trader and owner of the Palace Hotel in Torquay, became the new owner. Rowland and his wife Freda maintained the house and garden with great care until his death in 1979. Coleton Fishacre was offered to the National Trust just before Freda's death in 1982.