On the 10th May 1873 Mrs. Isabella Singer laid the foundation stone of the "Wigwam". The Wigwam was to be a large French style villa, built of small yellow bricks which were made of pure clay and so, impervious to damp.

The bricks were made at Kingsteighton a village near Newton Abbot. The villa was to be built on a slope. Large red rough cut stone was used for the walls of the basement and Portland Stone was used for all the facings over the doors and windows. The entrance was on the first floor and faced north. There was a long carriage drive curving upwards towards the entrance porch, which was supported on four Aberdeen Granite Columns. This lead to a vestibule and a hall with adjoining cloakrooms and waiting rooms. On the East side of this floor, Mr Singer had a theatre designed where he and the children could entertain their guest by acting Shakespeare's plays.

This theatre could also be used as a dining room by removing the private box. On this floor were also a breakfast room, a banqueting room and four drawing rooms where the ladies would sit and do their needlework. A staircase to the second floor went up from the West Side of this floor to the family's private rooms. The third floor rooms were for the servants and house staff. The ground floor, or basement, contained a large fitted kitchen, a scullery, china and glass cabinets, storeroom, butlers pantry, dairy and still room, footman's bedroom, wine and beer cellars, heating boilers, workshops, and the servants hall. There was also a lobby leading to the secretaries office in the north west comer, which was below the nursery wing.

There was a second main staircase leading from the entrance on the east side of the Wigwam, between the schoolroom and the theatre, to the hall on the first floor. The French windows on the first and second floor had balconies with wrought iron railings. All the sash windows had railings for safety which were made by the local blacksmith in Paignton, a Mr Ashplant. It took longer to build the Wigwam than was expected, even with the large workforce that was employed. Mr Singer would walk amongst the workmen, then change his mind over some detail of the building and send Mr Bridgman off to Paris and other places in France to view other villas. After which the alterations would take place.

The name "The Wigwam" was really Mr Singer's idea of fun. When he travelled across America he met many Red Indians and their families, and their homes were called wigwams. Having a large family himself, he decided he needed a big wigwam for all his children! His daughter was given the Red Indian girls name "Winneretta".

When the winter weather arrived, he felt the cold so keenly he had to give up his strolls among the workmen. It was then he turned his attention to the sitting room of Oldway Villa. Sitting in front of the fire, he was unable to watch the men at work, so he decided to have a window set above the fireplace. This was not a simple job. The flue and the chimney had to be moved and twin flues had to be placed on each side of the window with twin French chimneys on the roof. Double glazing was added to the inside of the window in the form of two mirrors which were slid across the window when the light faded. When the work was finished, Mr Singer would sit, keeping warm while he watched the men at work on the building site.

Not knowing the names of all these workmen, he had the idea that men of different trades should wear different coloured braces or neckerchiefs. Perhaps the plumber wore blue, the joiners brown and the brick-layers red, and so on. If Mr Singer knew that certain workmen should be working within his view, and he could not see that certain colour. he would send a servant to find out where they were. Mr Singer paid good wages and he expected good work.

© copyright Dorothy Atkinson

Return to: [Isaac M. Singer And The Wigwam Chapter 9] details