Constructed in 1785 as part of the 11,000 acre Haldon Estate, the Belvedere commemorates General Stringer Lawrence who formed and commanded the army in India. It was built by Sir Robert Palk, one time governor of Madras, in memory of his friend and their time together in India.
The position of the Belvedere is magnificent. It occupies a site that dominates the views from Exeter and the Exe valley and from its roof can be seen Torquay (to which the Haldon estate originally extended) Dartmoor and Exmoor.
In 1992, when the Trust's attention was called to the Belvedere, it was in a sad condition. The owner was not able to marshall the resources necessary to make even the basic repairs and, given its exposed position, one more storm could have spelled the end for the roof, the windows and much of the internal structure and 18C decorations. As a result of a long lease signed just in time and with the help of English Heritage and numerous other benefactors the Trust began the work of reconstruction and the result is the restored building open to be seen by the public today.
The Trust also conducts weddings at the Belvedere and this helps to maintain its structure for the benefit of many generations to come.
The story of Stringer Lawrence and Robert Palk is told on three unique boards in the entrance hall. The East India Company encountered problems in its trading pursuits with, on the one hand competing French and Dutch companies and, on the other, with the wealthy Indian princes who controlled the supplies of spices so desired by European markets. The company with the most effective militia usually obtained the contracts to trade and this was the task set by the government for Major Lawrence, who was by then a veteran of the battle of Culloden and many skirmishes around the Mediterranean. Promoted Major-General he was very successful especially against the French at the battle of Pondicherry. One of his protegees was Clive (of India) who rose to great prominence later.
Robert Palk was a cleric born in Devon who joined the East India Company as a chaplain. His talents brought him rapid promotion as Governor of Madras, then the major trading region with Calcutta of the East India Company. So General Sir Stringer Lawrence won the military contests and Sir Robert Palk completed the contracts as a direct result. When the time came for Sir Robert to retire he had accumulated sufficient wealth to be able to purchase 11,000 acres of Haldon Hill and much of Torquay. The story of the rise and fall of the Palk dynasty and Haldon House has been recorded elsewhere, but the evidence of the enduring friendship between Sir Robert Palk and Sir Stringer Lawrence can be seen to this day in the fully restored Haldon Belvedere.
The building is a three sided tower having entrance hall, first floor ballroom with mahogany floor, second floor large appartment with kitchen and bathroom and top floor roof with its huge views of much of Devon. The restoration work was completed in 1994 at a cost of £500,000 and required the work of many craftsmen.
One of the features of the ground floor is a statue of the General made by Mrs Coade in the 1788. It depicts him as a Roman general complete with helmet and sword. It stands on a Torquay marble plinth and looks towards Dunchideock Church in the valley below where his tomb and memorial lies.
In a later project funded by Ugborough, through the Landfill Tax initiative, the Belvedere grounds were restored to better frame the tower and to give pleasure to visitors. Research showed that the original architect placed the tower in a context that included landscaped grounds to the foreground (closer to the Exe estuary) and wild grounds to the background (Haytor and Dartmoor). Following this design faithfully involved much removal of undergrowth and protection of trees to give a harmonius and pleasant feel to the gardens and an exposed feel to the surrounding grounds. Whist this work proceeded a statue of Sir Walter Drake was discovered buried in the vicinity of the old tea-house. This was conserved by the Trust and presented to Buckland Abbey for display.