Exeter Civic Society

Exeter Civic Society

Ford, Richard

Richard Ford, 1796 – 1858, Author and traveller

The wall plaque can be found at the junction of Meadow Way and Church Street, Heavitree.

The inscription reads:

Exeter Civic Society. Richard Ford (1796–1858) Author and traveller lived in Heavitree House on this site

RICHARD FORD was born in London but spent much of the latter part of his life in his house in Heavitree, which he called “Ford House”. His main claim to fame is as the author of a Handbook for Travellers in Spain, published by John Murray in 1845. This was one of a new kind of travel guide, both descriptive and practical, for middle-class British tourists, who had been discovering the continent in large numbers since the end of the Napoleonic Wars. What was special about this guide was that it introduced the British traveller to an exotic country that had been previously bypassed in favour of France, Italy and the Rhineland. The guidebook was based on his experiences when travelling in Spain in the early 1830s with the hope that the sunny climate would improve his wife’s delicate health. Interestingly, an earlier edition of his handbook (1839) was withdrawn from publication as it was considered too offensive to the Spanish and the French!

Richard Ford settled in Exeter after his first wife’s death (he subsequently twice remarried) to be close to his younger brother, the Rev James Ford, and initially lived in Southernhay. After purchasing the house in Heavitree, Richard Ford devoted himself to laying out the gardens and constructing a summer-house in the “Moorish style”. The house itself contained many valuable paintings as well as his extensive library of Spanish books, many of which are now in the British Library. Ford was also a skilful amateur artist and interested in aspects of Devon life such as the use of cob, which reminded him of traditional Spanish building techniques. He was at various times vice-president and president of the Devon and Exeter Institution.

After his death in August 1858, the house passed to his son Sir Clare Ford. It was sold in 1898 and demolished in 1958, and the grounds were built over. He is buried in the grounds of the parish church of St Michael’s, heavitree with the inscription on his tombstone “Rerum hispaniae indagator acerrimus” (keenest explorer of things Spanish). JW