Canonteign, Chudleigh, and Dunsford, 1783–1803

The drawings in this group were made at various picturesque sites along the River Teign as it skirts the eastern border of Dartmoor. Though these locations were not as close to Exeter as other sketching spots like Peamore and Pynes, they were still within easy reach of the city. They are a miscellaneous group and are not associated with any single sketching tour, but taken together they demonstrate what a plentiful supply of modest picturesque scenes, especially including waterfalls, was available to Towne in east Devon. As he wrote to a member of London’s Royal Academy in 1803 in answer to a complaint that he was too frequently absent from the capital: “I hope you will allow a Landscape painter to see nature sometime in the year.”1

Chudleigh Rocks

Chudleigh is some ten miles south of Exeter and very near Ugbrooke Park, the home of the Barons Clifford of Chudleigh, for whom Towne had worked in the 1770s. Towne made a study near Chudleigh in 1785 (FT434) and others in 1787 (FT538, FT539, FT540, FT541, FT541a) that may have formed part of a series (as at least two, FT538 and FT539, are numbered) and show the falls at Chudleigh Rock. These were a popular beauty spot visited, for instance, by John Herman Merivale and his wife Louisa Heath Drury in 1805 (see FT881c). Although the rocks were not in Ugbrooke Park itself and Towne’s sketches of them post-date the life of his former customer the 4th Baron (1726–1783), two of these works were owned by a twentieth-century Lord Clifford (FT541, FT541a) and were therefore probably acquired by the 4th Baron’s son and successor, Hugh, 5th Baron Clifford of Chudleigh (1756–93). He probably also commissioned Towne’s 1793 studio watercolour of the Mer de Glace (FT573).

Canonteign Falls

Canonteign is a country estate five miles or so north-west of Chudleigh along the River Teign, and about eight miles south-west of Exeter. At the southern tip of the estate were the Canonteign rocks and a noted waterfall, the highest in England, which became a frequent object of study for both Towne and for his pupil John White Abbott between at least 1773 (FT031) and 1803. The estate was the property of William Helyar (1720–1783), although it was tenanted by Thomas Charlwood between 1767 and 1772/73. In its seclusion and gloom it fitted perfectly that mood of retirement that appealed so much to Towne’s circle and Exeter gentlemen more generally. The visual appeal of the waterfall is captured in two accounts by Revd John Swete dating from 1792 and 1794. Although Swete described the fall itself, he was equally impressed by its setting and, in particular, the approach that Towne chose repeatedly for his views.2 On his later visit Swete wrote: 

I walk’d towards the Waterfall, in my way to which I past the lower skirts of a common and on a nearer approach following the narrow Path I found myself under the thick covert of some spreading Oaks – which at the same time that they offerr’d me a shelter from “Days burning Eye” presented thro the opening beneath their branches a most advantageous view of the noble rock towering most sublimely above the surrounding woods. Possibly there will not be found in Great Britain a nobler object of the kind than the one I had before me – I have seen others more immense; of greater height and bulk! but I never met with a rock so compact, and of so beautiful a form, and taken in all its circumstances, so picturesque and romantic.3 

There are many studies by John White Abbott of Canonteign and he was also sketching there in September 1803 (Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery), no doubt alongside Towne. In 1809 Abbott told Fanny Merivale: “If I liked, in the Summer, to accompany him on any of his Sketching Rides to Canon teign he should be glad to take me.”4

Dunsford Bridge

A few miles further up the Teign than Canonteign is Dunsford, a town at the edge of Dartmoor some six miles south-west of Exeter. Probably it was a natural stopping point for Towne on his crossings through the moor to and from Plymouth. As well as the sketches catalogued in this section that are dated 1785, 1787, and 1791 (FT448, FT546, FT570), two further examples appear in Towne’s 1815 sketchbook (FT783, FT784).


  1. 1 Letter from Francis Towne to Ozias Humphry, 23 November 1803.
  2. 2 Swete 1997, pp.11–12.
  3. 3 Swete 1997, vol.2, p.54.
  4. 4 Letter from Fanny Merivale, Barton Place, 24 January 1809, quoted in Paul Oppé papers.


Article title
Canonteign, Chudleigh, and Dunsford, 1783–1803
Article DOI
Cite as
"Canonteign, Chudleigh, and Dunsford, 1783–1803", A Catalogue Raisonné of Francis Towne (1739-1816), (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2016),

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