The Magnolia at Valentines  by Georgina Green


In the Valentines Park Conservationists Newsletter no.13, November 2002, you will find a paragraph about the Magnolia Grandiflora which grows against the south front of the mansion. It says “We do not know when this tree was planted, but the magnolia was another late 17th century introduction from North America, where it reaches a height of 65 feet or more.”

I have always loved this variety of magnolia as when I was young we often stayed with family friends who lived in a wonderful Regency house in Dorset. They had a magnolia like this at the back of the house and it was a great treat if we found a flower blooming outside our bedroom window.

Last summer I spent a few days in Exeter trying to discover more about Sir Charles Raymond’s origins. I put a few more twigs onto his family tree and explored the area where he had lived as a child. However, while delving in the records I discovered that the memorial in Barking church is misleading when it says he was the “Son of John Raymond Esq of Marpool in Devon”.

A very detailed history, based on the church records, says “In 1690 the Raymond family sold the tenement of Marpool to James Rodde of Exeter …it remains the property of her [his widow] descendants until the present day [1946]… Marpool Hall was a new house; the old farm remaining till within living memory, on the hillside.”

I wondered if Charles had lived at the old farm house?

Further on I found “Children of John and Bridget Raymont appear in the parish register from 1667 onwards. The last entry is a son of George Raymont, 1673. Their house, the capital messuage of the reputed manor of Rill, was occupied by them over 130 years – “the Old Manor House” in North Street, Exmouth.”

To my surprise there is an old house, called ‘The Manor House’, as no.13 North Street. The listing says: “This is probably an early 18th century brick house but now with a stuccoed façade. It was given the name ‘The Old Manor House’ in the 19th century.”

Another reference says that “Sir John Colleton, who had taken over the so-called Manor of Rill and the Old Manor House, is believed to have introduced the Magnolia into this country…”  Well, at that time I was trying to get to the bottom of a reference to Sir Charles Raymond introducing a variety of camellia into England, so this made me sit up. From another book in the Devon Record Office I quote the following:

“Sir John Colleton, Bart., was for many years in South Carolina and on his return to this country settled in Exmouth. He brought with him what was a new species of a beautiful flowering shrub, and planted it in his garden which then bordered the Exeter Road. The Magnolia – for that was the shrub – thrived in this climate, and its popularity grew. It is believed that the plant Sir John brought with him and named Magnolia Grandiflora Exmouthiensis was the first introduced into this country. His residence must have been at the rear of North Street close to the Exeter Road…”

Alan Mitchell, in his book The Trees of Britain and Northern Europe (Collins) says the common Southern Magnolia was introduced from USA in 1734. The introduction of the ‘Exmouth’ variety a little later is consistent with this, as Sir John Colleton died in 1754. I can’t help wondering if Charles Raymond saw this plant when he returned to Exeter at some time. We know he kept in touch with Exeter because on 8 August 1774 he was made a Freeman of the City. I don’t think our magnolia is old enough to have been planted by Sir Charles Raymond, but it is an interesting coincidence.

© Georgina Green 22 April 2004