Sitting in a bowl on the edge of Exmoor, between the Brendon Hills to the East, and the Quantocks to the West, Orchard Wyndham is a secret and ancient place. Look at it from the North, and it appears to be a stately medieval manor. From the West, it looks more like a hamlet. Both are true.
A rambling, occasionally grand, often frail house demands much maintenance and sensitive restoration. Orchard Wyndham has been home to the Wyndhams and their ancestors for over seven hundred years. Its history is as complex as its architecture, and as tricky to unravel.
It is known from surviving documents that the house was already built in part by 1287, the property of Thomas de Horcherd who lived there at that time. However, the history of the place likely goes back much further. During excavations in the 1970s, remains of ancient drains formed from hollowed out oak trees rammed together were discovered – the remains of much earlier occupation.
During the 14th Century, the family, its name now anglicised to “Orchard”, extended the house with a second range, and joined this to the first with curtain walls to form a central courtyard.
The house passed through the female line to the Sydenham family in the 15th Century, whereupon it was known as Orchard Sydenham. Sydenham ancestors built another great hall – still used – and other major rooms around a second courtyard.
In the 1520s, the house again passed through the female line to the Wyndham family from Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, and became known as Orchard Wyndham. The Wyndhams modernised again, opening up new windows to the outside, and building a very large wing, which has since been destroyed by fire.