Francis Towne (1739 - 1816)
  • A View of a Tree at Staplehill Farm
Pen and ink, grey wash
  • image width 495mm,
  • image length 445mm
  • sheet, verso
  • “A View of a tree at Staple Hill Farm in the parish of Ilsington, belonging to the Right Hon. Lord Clifford, drawn on the spot by Francis Towne, August 24th, 1773”
Object Type
Monochrome wash

Catalogue Number
Description Sources
Witt Library (image); 1951 Exeter catalogue


Commissioned by Hugh, 4th Baron Clifford of Chudleigh (1726–1783), and descended to the present owner.

Associated People & Organisations

Private Collection
[?] Hugh Clifford, 4th Baron Clifford of Chudleigh (1726 - 1783), Chudleigh, Devon, 1773
Exhibition History
Three Exeter Artists of the Eighteenth Century: Francis Hayman RA, Francis Towne, John White Abbott, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, 1951, no. 65
Adrian Bury, Francis Towne - Lone Star of Water-Colour Painting, Charles Skilton: London, 1962, p. 140
Benjamin Donn, 'A Map of the County of Devon', Benjamin Donn: A Commemorative Volume, Devon and Cornwall Record Society and The University of Exeter: Exeter, 1965, plate 6b


Ilsington is a parish on the eastern edge of Dartmoor.1 The preparatory sketch on which this must have been based, made on 24 August 1773, has been lost. Richard Polwhele mentions this tree as one of the most remarkable oaks in the county:

In the parish of Ilsington, on Staple-hill, belonging to Lord Clifford, is a very extraordinary oak: it hath eight different stems, evidently from one root – the largest of which is three feet four inches in diameter: the girth of the whole, taken at once, is a hundred and twenty-six feet. This tree is in the line of the hedge: and the grand trunk rises near five feet high, (about the height of the hedge) before it thus disparted into eight different stems. There are two deep and large hollows or basons about the middle of the tree, where the trunk begins to separate. This oak is extremely vigorous and flourishing; its verdure is remarkably vivid and beautiful; and it bears larger acorns, as a gentleman on the spot informed me, than any of the oaks in the neighbourhood.2 

The tree was mentioned in 1838 by John Claudius Loudon, by which time it was on land owned by the Duke of Somerset. It was “of great age, and has a trunk 37ft. 6in. in circumference”.3

by Richard Stephens


  1. 1 Donn 1965, pl.6b.
  2. 2 Polwhele 1793, vol.1, pp.94–95.
  3. 3 J. C. Loudon, Arboretum et Fruticetum Britannicum, vol.3, 2nd ed. (London, 1854), p.1758.

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