The Pitts Landholdings

By 1862, Elizabeth and Nicholas Pitts had substantial landholdings in South Devon. Properties included Stubston, Barton Farm, Damrels Combe, Bennick, Ideston, Houghton Estate and Whympstone House near Modbury together with the Great Gate, Vitlidge, and Reveton farms and another farm at Blackdown near Loddiswell. In addition, the land at or near South Allington House which was known as Cornish's and Garlands, other cottages and land at or near South Allington, properties at East Prawle which had been purchased from a Richard Tucker and properties known as Down and Hollacombe near Stokenham, several cottages and gardens at Hallsands and Beesands which were purchased from the trustees under the will of the late Sir Robert William Newman and a tenement called Woodpark near East Portlemouth. They also had a property held in trust known as Holset near East Portlemouth—one of the trustees was Browse Prettejohn—and many other farms, orchards, cottages and other land in South Hams, much of which was held in trust for Elizabeth Prettejohn Pitts. In all, they owned/leased and farmed more than 2500 acres of land. A large proportion of the properties had been inherited by Elizabeth Prettejohn Pitts through the Prettejohn family. Her grandfather, Walter Prettejohn, had left substantial property to his son Walter Lamble Prettejohn and his daughter Elizabeth Harris (née Prettejohn), Elizabeth Prettejohn Pitts's mother, when he died in January 1830. Some of that property had been left in trust for his granddaughter Elizabeth Prettejohn Pitts (née Harris) when she either reached age of majority or was married. In fact she married when she was 20 years of age in 1833 and a marriage settlement (a copy is held by the Devon Record Office who have made the task of obtaining a copy well nigh impossible) between herself and Nicholas Pitts safeguarded her rights with regard to that property. When Elizabeth Harris (née Prettejohn) died in 1839, the property still under her control passed to her daughter Elizabeth Prettejohn Pitts. Then in 1850, her uncle, Walter Lamble Prettejohn, who had inherited large landholdings from his father Walter Prettejohn, left her half his vast landholdings and other wealth amounting to £10,000 (the remaining half going to Elizabeth's cousin Ann Prettejohn Pearce).

Due to the development of faster transportation through rail and steamboat and the modernisation of agricultural machinery, the prairie farms of North America were able to export vast quantities of cheap corn. Every corn-growing country decided to increase tariffs in reaction to this, except Britain (Britain had repealed the corn laws in 1849) and Belgium. By 1885 corn-growing land in England declined by a million acres (28½%) and in 1886 the corn price fell to 31 shillings a quarter. Britain's dependence on imported grain in the 1830s was 2%; in the 1860s it was 24%; in the 1880s it was 45%; for corn it was 65%. The 1881 census showed a decline of 92,250 in agricultural labourers since 1871, with a 53,496 increase of urban labourers. Many of these were previously farm workers who migrated to the cities to find employment, despite agricultural labourers' wages being the highest in Europe.

During the middle and late nineteenth century farming became more and more difficult for the Pitts family. Lands were sold and far fewer farm workers were employed. Then further problems arose. When Thomas Harris Pitts died in 1910, his son Charles Hugh Harris Pitts, inherited the remaining Pitts holdings. Unfortunately, Charles had invested heavily in German enterprises and when the First World War broke out in 1914, he effectively lost large sums of money. To compensate, he proceeded to sell large tracts of the Pitts farm land to settle his debts. Apart from the home farm at South Allington and other properties in the vicinity comprising about 1000 acres, little else was left after debts and death duties.

When Charles Hugh Harris Pitts died in 1945, his son William Nicholas Charles Harris Pitts inherited the South Allington properties. In 1946 he sold about half the land in South Allington. Then in the early 1960's he sold the remainder of the properties, including South Allington House, to the three largest tenants.

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