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registered charity no: 1146359
The History of Cliff House

Prior to 1774 there is record of a building know as Cliff House existing between The Grange and Ringrone House which was owned and occupied by the Principal Customs Officer of the time. For many years the house was owned and occupied by many prominent members of the Salcombe community including a Mrs Prideaux who constructed Cliff House Gardens in a terraced design below the house.

After her death Mr Herriot from London purchased the house, demolished it and constructed the existing building. In 1919 The Salcombe Yacht Club were looking for suitable premises. Andrew McIlwraith (see below), the Vice Commodore, had previously purchased Cliff House for his daughter for £5,000.00 who apparently did not wish to live there.  He then invited SYC to select the rooms they wished to use for their club activities and gave them a 99 year lease for a modest rental and other considerations. The lease has been subsequently extended to 2073. McIlwraith also decided that other areas of the building should be allocated for use by the people of Salcombe and the Reading Room on the first floor became the Public Library.


The remaining ground floor areas, not used by SYC, were altered to accommodate a large Assembly Room with additional facilities to enable its use for all manner of functions. The remaining rooms were to be let. He took one room for his own use and paid the Trustees £35.00 per annum in rent.

In 1921 McIlwraith set up Cliff House Trust with five Trustees, of which he was one. In the indenture they were charged with “an absolute and irrevocable gift of hereditaments ..... for the benefit of the inhabitants of the Parish of Salcombe”. This was later widened to include other people. In 1922 Cliff House Trust achieved charitable status with the Charity Commissioners keeping a watching brief over its affairs. McIlwraith also gave the Trust a number of houses to ensure an income from rents that would be used for the maintenance of Cliff House. At least three of these were Orestone End, Cliff Road, 42 Fore Street and The Tower in Newton Road.  These have subsequently been sold with the permission of the Charity Commissioners.

In 1961 permission was also obtained to sell part of the grounds know as Cliff House Woods, together with planning permission for two houses, but there was outrage in the town and the idea was shelved.  A Trust was formed to own and maintain the woods for the benefit of the public for all time.

At the inaugural meeting of the Society of Friends of Cliff House (this name was later changed to Friends of Cliff House Woods) they gave a cheque for £2,750.00 to the Trustees of Cliff House. The Friends continued to raise funds for Cliff House Trust for many years. More recently their efforts have been largely directed to maintaining the woods, keeping the area tidy and buying and planting trees and shrubs where necessary.

In 2005 Cliff House Trust disposed of its last saleable asset a narrow strip of land adjacent to the flight of steps from Cliff Road to Devon Road.

Note: Andrew McIlwraith was a Scot born in Ayr, who, with Malcolm McEacham founded a London-based shipping and mercantile firm, McIlwraith, McEacham & Co (now ASP Ship Management), trading with Australia. They built up a fleet of ten ships sailing under the name of the Scottish Line to Australia (Victoria and Queensland). In 1880, he pioneered the shipping of frozen meat and in 1887 opened a branch of his company in Melbourne, Australia. He made the last of his many trips to Australia in 1912, after his successful reorganisation of the Tokyo tramways, and retired to Salcombe in Devonshire, England in 1913 at the age of 69.