Amazing tale of a Devon dynasty

10:25 10 March 2014

Marley fire

Marley fire


A book charting Exmouth’s original ‘bling’ family, who made millions from bird droppings, influenced James Bond and built Devon’s most expensive house, has proved so popular a new revised edition is in the offing.

Ivar BryceIvar Bryce

The tale of Victorian fertiliser salesman John Paul Bryce, who built the marbled mansion of Marley, bought the Bystock estate, entered politics, and set about becoming the quintessential English gentleman is told in The Elusive Bryce Family.

In one ostentatious show of wealth he invited residents to supper after his son Charles returned from the Boer War.

But he didn’t invite the odd family – that wouldn’t have got him noticed - he invited the entire population of Withycombe.

And in an opulent marbled ballroom he hosted 800 residents for tea ‘sports and pastimes and other amusements’.

Mike Tracey, of the Exmouth Local History Group, said: “There was dancing to a band, and then, after the children had been packed off to bed, 600 adults were given a sit-down supper, followed by a magnificent fireworks display.”

For years the myth of the Bryce family has been shrouded in mystery – they lived in Exmouth for 50 years during the reign of Queen Victoria.

The son of a Scottish businessman, John Paul arrived from Peru in 1859, loaded with cash gained from selling bird droppings – to be more exact ‘guano’, a highly valued fertiliser.

From then on he systematically bought himself a ticket into Exmouth high society, hobnobbing with the Rolle and Clinton families, hosting glittering parties at his mansion.

The publication of the original book revealed much about a long-forgotten, very rich but relatively short-lived Exmouth dynasty.

Charles’s son, Ivar, was at school with Ian Fleming.

In World War Two he joined Churchill’s Special Operations Executive, and then its American equivalent, the Office of Strategic Services, which was being advised by none other than Lieutenant Commander Fleming.

Mike said: “The two men had always been friends, but after the war they became very close, and it was Ivar who found a perfect spot in Jamaica on which Fleming built his house, ‘Goldeneye’.

“Ivar regularly supplied useful details for Fleming’s books, and was sent a first edition of every one, always inscribed with a note of thanks.

“There is, however, almost certainly no truth in the rumour that he was in any way a model for James Bond!”

He added: “To our surprise, the Journal article revealed a demand for the book.

“So we are offering potential readers the opportunity to subscribe to, and have their names printed in, a new and slightly revised edition.”

If there are sufficient subscribers the book will be published in a few weeks’ time, £12.50 for subscribers, or £15 otherwise. Order your copy at Sleeman’s, at 26 Exeter Road, or call Mike Tracey or 01395 260442.


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