The Webb-Medley Family

Maria Louisa Medley (1840-1919)

Maria Louisa (Molly) Medley, born 1840, was the daughter of Henry Courteney Selous, a distinguished artist and illustrator of Victorian children’s books. Among other things he received the commission to paint the Opening of the Crystal Palace Exhibition 1851, this painting now resides in the Victoria & Albert Museum. The painting shows the Archbishop of Canterbury giving a blessing in the presences of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

George Webb Medley (1826-1898)

George was born into a family that made its fortune in Jamaican sugar plantations. Following the emancipation of the slaves in 1843, the family returned to England. George was 14. He did not go to university but was clearly well-educated and was inter alia a well known chess champion. He entered the Stock Exchange specialising, with success, in railway investments. He was an advocate of Free Trade and wrote a number of pamphlets on the subject. He twice stood for Parliament as a Liberal but was not elected.

George married Maria in 1875, when he was 45 and she 36.

George died in 1898 and his Will shows his gross estate at £260,000. In modern terms this is many millions of pounds. Almost everything was left to his wife but among smaller bequests was the sum of £1,000 to the Reverend Charles Voysey if the Theistic Church, Piccadilly, London.

Winsford Tower

They had Winsford Tower, Halwill Junction, built as their country retreat sometime around 1884. It must have been an impressive mansion with lots of rooms lavishly furnished, full of portraits carefully chosen and they would have employed a lot of staff. In the grounds stood cottages for a gardener and a bailiff, a lodge, a boating lake, walled garden, greenhouses as well as a garage designed to match the architecture of the big house. Inside there was a billiard room, study and a grand staircase leading to the tower and numerous guest bedrooms.

The Webb Medleys entertained well and would invite guests to travel down to Devon to enjoy cultural weeks involving singing, music and painting. There was also tennis, croquet and boating on offer to guests. In truth, Molly (as she was known to family and friends) took a great interest in art in all forms and was generous in her support. She had many of her father’s paintings hung at Winsford Tower, it was there that Maria’s distinguished father died in 1890.

Described as a sumptuously appointed country house with magnificent terraced gardens giving panoramic views of nearby Dartmoor. After Maria died the house gradually fell into disrepair and was finally demolished in the 1950s. However, the magnificent walled garden created by Maria still survives.

Gerard Robert Townshend Leigh-Hunt (1873-1945

In particular, she paid for the education of Gerard Leigh Hunt, a distant relative who, as a child showed great promise as an artist. He was one of a large family and so the chance of having financial support to develop his talent was very welcome. As a result at the age of 21 he exhibited at the Royal Academy in London and went on to become a noted portrait painter. He obviously stayed at Winsford Towers on many occasions and painted pictures of the locality. There was also a portfolio of photographs showing the house and grounds in their heyday which gave an insight into the life and times of the Webb Medleys.

Winsford Cottage Hospital

Edward Medley-Costin

In 1898 George Webb Medley died and in his memory, Molly commissioned C F A Voysey, a well-known and talented architect and designer, to draw up plans for a hospital to benefit the people living in Halwill and 14 adjacent parishes.

Maria died childless in 1919 and her fortune was distributed amongst her extended family. The artist Gerard Leigh Hunt was one of the beneficiaries but the bulk of her estate, including the Winsford Cottage Hospital, passed to her nephew Edward Costin who, as a requirement of the terms of the will changed his name to Edward Medley Costin.