Webpage created: June 11, 2018
Webpage updated: June 11, 2018
Whether Ford House existed in the 13th century we do not know but it is a fact that a Nicholas de la Forde were noted in 1238 and a John ate Forde in 1333 both in the Ancient Parish of Stoke Damerel so there must have been a property of some sort. It has always been said that Ford Hill, and the district known as Ford, got their names from a ford across Keyham Creek at the bottoms of what are now Ford Hill, to the south, and Melville Road, to the north. What was known as Ford Leat ran down from Swilly House into the Creek at this point but old maps seem to suggest it was bridged at an early date. It is not believed that any tolls were levied to cross the ford nor any accommodation required for people waiting to cross as the Creek was quite narrow so the reason for the House is unclear.
The only description we have of Ford House is that written by the Reverend John Swete, who visited the House in 1796: he describes it as 'an ancient house within a few fields of Swilly, lying westward of it in a narrow valley at the head of a creek ..... the house is of an old cast, and embosomed in groves of elms exclusive of the peep of the River, is delightfully picturesque. The situation, low, on the oozy banks of the creek, surrounded by thick hedgerows of high elms when every steaming vapour that arises, must necessarily stagnate, would at a glance appear to be insalubrious and to be productive of agues, as being pregnant with marsh miasmus. But this I did not find it to be the case, possibly owing to the effect produced on the air by the revolution of the tides'.
We know that Ford House still existed at the time of the 1841 census, which records a Baptist Minister, the Reverend George Isbell, living there with his much older wife, Frances. Curiously the other occupiers have the surname of Ford. Thomas, aged 45, was a 'plaisterer'; and his wife, Deborah, was older than him but did not come from Devon. They had three children: Elizabeth, John and James.
But the name most associated with Ford House was that of George Couch, who owned the Ford Estate. Like the Furneaux family at Swilly House, he was not a tenant of the Saint Aubyns. Whitfeld records that in 1855 the Ford Estate extended to 32 acres and when it came on the market it was bought by a syndicate known as the Devon and Cornwall Freehold Land Society.
The name "Ford House" later became associated with the Devonport Workhouse in Wolseley Road, Ford.