In an old aerial photograph of Torrington, probably taken in the 1930s, there are very few houses in Warren Lane: Culver House, Uplands and Rock Mount (overlooking Mill Street common), Enfield, The Warren (now called Warren House), Hillcrest, Torridge House and Penhallam. Warren Lane seems to have had a variety of names over the years including Fares Lane, Rack Park Lane and Dedalls Lane. The houses in this street have lovely views over the Torridge valley.
The Warren may well have been built over 250 years ago and the magnificent holm oak by the front gate is believed to be much older than that. The castellated walls in front of the property are similar to those at Castle Hill erected by the Rolles in the 1840s. It is thought that the house was called The Warren because the owners kept rabbits which were a welcome addition to the diet of impoverished townsfolk. Existing documentation dates back to the 1860s when the house was part of the Town Lands of Great Torrington. In 1872 it was proposed by the Town Council that The Warren should be used as a smallpox hospital but the Trustees rejected this proposal. Captain Walter Bayntun Starky purchased The Warren in 1923 for the sum of £1,450. He had worked as a civilian engineer for the government in India and been given an honorary title. He was three times Mayor of Torrington in 1930, ’31 and ’33. His wife retained some of her colonial ways and a local man remembers calling at the house and, when he rang at the front door, Mrs Starky told him, from an upstairs window, to go to the tradesmen’s entrance at the back. This he duly did only to be told, ‘Not today, thank you!’
Mr George Doe, local historian, Town Clerk and twice Mayor, lived next door at Enfield. The drain from his house and his cesspit were, rather inconveniently, in the garden of The Warren.
Torridge House, a ‘late Victorian gentleman’s residence’, was built in around 1870 and the house was originally square with the front door facing east. An extension was added in 1907 by Mr Boatfield, a bank manager in the town. The garden stretched down the hill to Mill Street, where there was access, and west to the commons where a house, Hillside, was built on the old tennis court. The building was turned into two flats after the war and many original features were damaged. In 1968 the whole house was bought by Theo Page, an eccentric graphic artist, who used the attic as his studio and set about returning the flats to one residence. He became ill in 1972 and the rather haphazard work on the house stopped so that when the present owners bought it in 1976 the interior was virtually derelict. Since that time they have slowly put the house back together. It has an extensive cellar, which used to be the kitchen at ground level on the south side, wine and coal cellars and various larders. There is a deep well with a very worn pump that moved water up three flights through a large lead pipe to a big tank in the attic.
Penhallam, at the end of Warren Lane, where it meets Mill Street, is a large three storey building with a square turret, divided up since the 1940s into interlocking apartments. It has fine high-ceilinged rooms and lovely westward views. The property was formerly known as Rack Park House and was renamed by George Stawell, a solicitor, who came from Cornwall in late Victorian times.