Lost Killerton

James Wyatt designed a new house for Sir Thomas Acland at Killerton, Exeter, in 1772

Archaeologists found something big in the woods above Killerton. Could it be the site of Killerton's lost house? The Lost Killerton trail will lead you through a history of grand designs, lost buildings, picturesque views and family tragedy.

Archaeologists have made an exciting discovery in the woods of the Killerton Estate. Hiding under the trees are the remains of an impressive stately home that would have been one of the grandest in Devon. The building started was in 1775 but abandoned two years later, and with few surviving records, the location of the building was lost. Now Killerton’s lost house can be seen for the first time in 240 years.

A LIDAR image of Killerton's parkland that revealed the possible site of the lost house
A LIDAR image of Killerton's parkland showing historic features including the possible site of James Wyatt's palladian mansion that was never finished.

Have we found the house that Devon never had?

The lost house was re-discovered almost by accident. A 2016 archaeological survey of the parkland included a LIDAR image showing known historic features like the old deer park boundaries and Iron Age hill fort. The image also showed something unexpected. In the woods above Killerton house was a large rectangular earth bank. The site had become hidden by laurel, which a team of countryside volunteers cleared, revealing a huge space filled with brick and stone.  The size and shape matched the surviving plans of the building and original letters that refer to ‘the house on the hill’.

Archaeologists find proof of the lost house

In late July 2017 a team of volunteer archaeologists led by Joe Bampton from South West Archaeology made an exciting discovery. They dug a trench into the earth bank and uncovered the remains of several walls and a doorway. Joe explained, “The thickness and size of these walls tell me they were part of a big building of the same scale as Wyatt’s lost house. We found part of the interior walls and the incredibly solid exterior wall. We plotted the location against the floorplan and can say that the doorway would have been the entrance to the Billiard Room, which is marked on the floorplan. Judging from the material which lay over the walls it looks like the site was purposefully backfilled using spoil once the building work stopped’.

Volunteers unearth the walls, making a major find at the site of Wyatt's lost house.
Archaeologists find remains of James Wyatt's unfinished mansion at Killerton, Devon
Archaeologists found remains of interior walls of the lost house.
Archaeologists find remains of James Wyatt's unfinished mansion at Killerton, Devon.

Fi Hailstone from Killerton’s countryside team said, ‘We never expected to find such extensive foundations under the site. The find is proof that this site is where James Wyatt started building a huge new house for the Acland family. We’ve been able to fill a gap in Killerton’s history can now put the rumours to bed – Killerton’s lost house has been found.’

The Lost Killerton trail

Follow the Lost Killerton trail to find out how exciting discoveries being unearthed in the park may finally answer the questions everyone’s wanted to ask.You'll discover the story of the changing ambitions and fortunes of the Acland family as you follow this moderate 1.5 hour, 2 mile outdoor trail. The trail runs until Sunday 1 October 2017. Pick up a leaflet in visitor reception.

Is this the site of the lost house?
the site of the lost house at Killerton near Exeter in Devon. Is this where James Wyatt's Palladian mansion would have stood?
Discover the lost orangery in the garden
The site of Killerton's lost orangery is re-created using original photographs at the Killerton estate near Exeter

Lost Killerton guided walks

Join our parkland guides for regular guided walks around the Lost Killerton route. Our guides will take you deeper into the story of Lost Killerton, the historic parkland and the wildlife that lives here.

Guided walks take place on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 11.30am. For more information see the parkland guided walks webpage by following the link below.

Volunteer archaeologists conducting an earthwork survey of the lost house

Keep up to date with the latest archaeological surveys 

We will be posting regular updates about the archaeological surveys and what we find as we investigate the lost house and the folly over the summer.

Visitors enjoying a guided walk from volunteer parkland guides at Killerton

Guided walks around the parkland

Killerton has a new team of parkland guides. Join them on a walk to find out more about the landscape, history and wildlife of the historic parkland.