In medieval times, Lifton, as a Royal Manor, was in the gift of the Sovereign, and held for its revenues by a member of the royal family or a court favourite. One Lord of the Manor was the Earl of Westmorland, another was the Fair Maid of Kent, wife of the Black Prince, Duke of Cornwall (1330-1370). It is doubtful whether either ever came near Lifton.
The only royal visitor we know of was Charles I who came unexpectedly, riding up the main street, one July morning in 1644, surrounded by his Cavaliers and men-at-arms. This was during the Civil War and Charles was making a desperate effort to rally the Royalists of Cornwall to stem the attacks of the Parliamentary Army under Essex.
Charles stayed the night at the Manor House, now The Old Rectory, which is behind the wall on the grassy mound in the main road near the traffic lights.
By Charles’ time Lifton was no longer a Royal Manor. The estate had been sold by Queen Elizabeth I in 1555 to a local landowner, William Harris of Hayne, believed to be one of her court officials. The Harris family was linked by marriage with the great Royalist family of Cornwall, the Arundells, who were said to have property stretching over a large part of southern England. By 1755 the Arundells had also inherited the Manor of Lifton.
The cockpit in the hotel garden (now the rod and tackle room) is also over 250 years old and is said to be one of the few cockpits in England which still survive. The roof is new but most of the walls are original. Inside, the circular rod rack encloses the area of a raised earth mound - which was there until about 1970 - where the cocks were set to fight.
Cock-fighting was made illegal in 1834, not on grounds of its cruelty to animals but becuase it generated so much troublesome behaviour amongst its excitable spectators! It was said to have continued in country districts long after it had ceased in the towns. Public opinion was eventually aroused against it, because of the use of steel spurs on the birds’ legs. This lethal method of fighting shortened individual conflicts, allowed more fights to take place and more bets to be laid. Among the hotel’s early relics are a pair of cock-fighting spurs which can be seen in the glass cupboard by the cocktail bar entrance.
The White Horse Inn was not then a part of the estate and around 1815 William Arundell, bought the inn for £1,680 which he thought was too expensive but he wrote that it was worth it because "it is the best and most respectable inn in the village". At certain times there were as many as 14 or 16 inns in Lifton, all of them brewing their own beer.
William Arundell gave the inn its new name and The Arundell Arms were put up outside - a shield with the martlets or swallows prominently in the centre. The Arundells, originally a Norman-French family, took this name from the French word for swallow - hirondelle.
The connection was not to last as long as William Arundell must have hoped. He had built the big house at Lifton Park, got into money difficulties, and according to local legend gambled away the whole of his estate including the inn as a stake in a snail race.
We are not certain when it happened. In 1842, he was still the owner, By 1850 the owner was Henry Blagrove who was living in Arundell’s house at Lifton Park. Perhaps it was Blagrove who had won the bet. We do not know.
The Arundell Arms (7 bedrooms, 3 parlours, a bar and stables) was then in the charge of Mrs Elizabeth Ball who also took bookings for the mail coaches which stopped at Lifton on their way to and from Exeter and Falmouth - a two-day journey on the old turnpike roads. By 1860, however, the Great Western Railway opened a station at Lifton on the newly-laid Exeter to Launceston line. Local life was transformed. It must have seemed like a miracle at the time. Lifton was suddenly in fast and daily contact with the outside world. London could be reached in comfort, within a day instead of a highly uncomfortable stage-coach journey which might last a week. The Great Western and British Rail served Lifton well for over 100 years until the station was finally closed in December 1962. The last train to run - a ceremonial and sentimental journey - had to be cancelled because of heavy snow.
From the Victorian times onwards we know the names of the owners and lessees or licensees of the hotel: William Newberry (1842), Mrs Ball (1850), John Sexton (1866), William Raymond (1870), William Ball (1883) and William Labbett (1893). We also know what the village looked like and who lived there.
A tailor’s shop, with 4 or 5 tailors, was in the house opposite the hotel, which is now the hotel annexe. The village had its own butcher, mason, blacksmith, shoemaker and dairyman. Carriers called. The penny post came every day.
On the last Thursday of every month Lifton magistrates met at Lifton petty sessional court where there was a sub-divisional office of the county police. In 1883 the sergeant-in-charge, John Vanstone, had six constables on his staff. The last petty sessions were held in 1960. (The old building still survives, adjoining the hotel on the main road, and the iron bars across the cell windows can be seen from the car park).
The village had a literary institute and a reading room and there was a National School for over 200 children which had been built in 1871 by the Lord of the Manor, Henry Bradshaw. The school building (in the hotel car park) is now used as a conference centre.
From 1900 to 1924 the owner of the hotel, Ernest Miller, rented 8 miles of trout water from Lifton Park estate, made improvements - there were now eight bedrooms-and provided a pony and trap service to bring visitors to and from the station, take them to the fishing beats, and take commercial travellers on their rounds, the travellers sometimes covering as many as 20 miles a day. The hotel had its own stables for ten horses and plenty of room for more if visitors brought their own.
In the 1920’s the first motor cars arrived, in 1926 the first advertisements for the fishing appeared. Kelly’s Directory said "there is excellent family and tourist accommodation at The Arundell Arms and Devonshire Fishing Hotel".
Albert Blatchford took over the hotel from 1924 to 1932 when it was bought by Major Oscar Morris, a keen fisherman and the owner of the Ambrosia factory at the far end of the village. Major Morris closed the hotel for four months in 1932, carried out extensive alterations and redecorations, and reopened it with a celebration dinner to which all the men were invited who had done the work. That year, 1932-1933, under Major Morris, was really the start of serious organised fishing at The Arundell Arms. A ghillie, Harold Bather, was employed. The old Tinhay limestone quarry, which had been flooded by the accidental broaching of a deep spring in Victorian times, was acquired and stocked. More beats on the rivers were bought or rented.
After Major Morris died the hotel was bought from the Morris family by my parents, Gerald and Anne Fox-Edwards in 1961. They made many improvements and transformed the hotel from a sleepy roadside inn into an internationally aclaimed fishing hotel.
Colonel Patten-Thomas looked after the fishing until his death in 1967. Roy Buckingham became the ghillie in 1969, and in 1970 made his mark in the fly-fishing world by becoming Welsh Open Fly-Casting Champion. Roy continued as Head River Keeper and taught 1,000s to fish. On his retirement in 2008 he was suceeded by David Pilkington who worked alongside Roy for 30 years.
My father, Gerald, died in 1972 and my mother subsequently married Conrad Voss-Bark. Having run the hotel for 47 years, in 2008 Anne retired and since then the hotel has been run by me and and excellent team. The family ethos continues as our 2 sons, George and Harry, work at the hotel in their holidays as waiters and barmen.
My mother passed away in 2012 but the fine standards she established are being maintained by the next generation for guests to enjoy.
Adam Fox Edwards.
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