Kingston House is now widely regarded as being one of the finest surviving examples of early eighteenth century architecture in Britain today.
Construction of the present house commenced in 1726 and was completed by 1735. Further work to the roof drainage led to the magnificent rain hoppers on the North and South elevations of the house being added in 1743. Kingston House was built for the wealthy wool merchant John Rowe, whose family had owned the Kingston Estate since 1502, (when they acquired the land as part of a marriage dowry). John Rowe, a wealthy land-owning wool merchant, (whose family was amongst the most important Catholic families of the West of England), had 'a fine modern built mansion built, commensurate with his standing in the county.'
Kingston House faces East, (as had the Roman villas due to the prevailing warm winds from the east in Italy), stands on a solid plug of slate, and the building diminishes at each story in order to maintain the correct perspective of the building, in the same way that Greek & Roman columns were shaped to take account of the curvature of the human eye. Circumventing the house, is a subterranean passage which is designed to allow draughts, thus preventing rising damp. Sadly, the ambitious design of the house was not so successful at roof level, the original concept was to have the water collected from the pitched roofs fed through rendered vertical channels between the walls, however these cracked and leaked, causing water damage within the house, thus requiring the addition of the external downpipes and hoppers in 1743.
The neo-classical architecture of the house, which was becoming more and more popular as many educated young men returned from 'The Grand Tour' of Europe suffused with visions of the splendours of classical Greece & Rome, perfectly reflects the more understated grandeur of the early Georgian period, in contrast to the Palladian movement that became so influential from 1760 onwards.
John Rowe was the nephew of William Rowe, who was appointed Lord High Sheriff of Devon by the ill-fated James II in 1685. James II, as a devout Catholic, was fully intent on returning England to the Catholic faith, by force if necessary. Immediately upon his accession to the throne he replaced all key figures of authority with Catholics, including William Rowe's appointment to Lord High Sheriff of Devon. After two years of his reign, a powerful alliance of Protestant nobles attempted to dethrone James by backing a rebellion supporting the claim of the Protestant Duke of Monmouth. The forces of James II, successfully defeated the army of The Duke of Monmouth and thereafter set about the suppression of the revolt with unparalleled brutality. In 1688, James' fate was finally sealed when secret negotiations with the Dutch King William of Orange concluded with William agreeing to become King of England. In the depths of winter, William set sail for England with a Dutch army, and having been blown off course, landed at Brixham in Devon. Amongst the deputation sent to meet William at Brixham was William Rowe from Kingston who died in Forde House in Newton Abbot on the return journey. The remains of the house that William Rowe lived in still survive as part of the walled vegetable gardens.