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Georgian history of the Holnicote Estate

The view from Dunkery Hill in Somerset, showing rolling hills and fields all the way to the coast on the horizon
The view to the coast from Dunkery Hill in Somerset | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Holnicote Estate is a vast area of land, home to moorland, beaches, woodland, charming villages as well as 14 tenant farms and 168 cottages. Its modern history begins in the 18th century when the estate fell into the hands of the Acland family and, two centuries later, large parts of Holnicote land was gradually trusted to the care of the National Trust.

A 18th-century marriage at Holnicote

The Acland family took up the Holnicote Estate in the 1700s, when the heiress of Holnicote Elizabeth Dyke married Sir Thomas Acland. Combining their surnames to become Dyke Acland, the estate became their second home and stayed in the family for nearly 200 years. The family came here to hunt and kennels were built on the estate for the North Devon Staghounds.

An Exmoor pony walking through open moorland with hills and fields near Selworthy Beacon on the Holnicote Estate
An Exmoor pony walking near Selworthy Beacon in Somerset | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Exmoor in the 20th century

In 1917, the Acland family leased 3,237 hectares (8,000 acres) of moorland to the Trust for 500 years, which included Dunkery Beacon, the valley of Horner, parts of North Hill and moorland on Winsford Hill. This was the largest area of land the Trust managed at the time and the first time any part of Exmoor was conserved for the nation.

Two distant figures at Dunkery Beacon with views of Exmoor National Park in the background
Dunkery Beacon in Somerset | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Holnicote Estate donated

Then in 1932, the first bit of Holnicote land was donated to the Trust: 348 hectares (860 acres) of Dunkery Hill. In 1935, the cairn was built on top of the Bronze Age burial mound at Dunkery Beacon, commemorating the moment another part of Dunkery Hill was gifted to the Trust.

Less than a decade later, in 1944, Sir Richard Dyke Acland gifted another 3,985 hectares (9,848 acres), as well as the Killerton Estate in Devon. It was his wish that the land be enjoyed by everyone not just the landowner and, to date, this is one of the largest donations of land given to the Trust. Today, the Trust continues to care for 4,046 hectares (10,000 acres) of Exmoor.

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