It was 1769, when a 16 years old boy left his families home in Saxony East Germany, for the long sea journey to the New World America. He was Adam Riesinger, whose father was a Jew and his Mother was a Protestant. They gave him their blessing and the boat fare to America.

When he arrived in New York he did any job that came his way, cleaning boots and shoes, selling news sheets, until he dropped the "Rie" from his name and then he became Adam Singer and his prospects improved. He learned the trade of a Millwright and a Cooper. Adam met and later married Ruth, whose parents were Quakers from Holland. When they were married they settled in Pittstown in the State of New York, and there their seventh child was born, a son, who was christened Isaac Merritt Singer.

Isaac and his brothers and sisters had very little education attending school only in the winter time. During the summer they would do odd jobs to make a few dimes. Isaac was ten when his Father divorced Ruth and married again. When they went to live on the shore of Lake Ontario, Isaac went to live with his eldest brother in Rochester until he was capable of taking care of himself.

When he was 12 he was working as an apprentice Lathe-Operator. This was the start of the many trades he learned, he was never frightened of hard work. He worked as a Joiner and a Carpenter, before moving into the Printing trade, where he carved the wooden type that was used in Printing. While working there he invented a wooden machine with metal strips, to carve the type, but lost his machine when the building it was in went up in flames. He did invent a second machine later but machines were now made of iron, so though it went on show at exhibitions, he made no money.

Still a Joiner, Isaac joined the Baltimore Strolling Players, in charge of the scenery. Not only did he build and erect it, but if they were short of a player, he was asked to go on stage and play a part.

Isaac loved tile life and he was very happy, but the Strolling Players, short of money, closed down when they were in a town called lllinoise. Isaac was penniless, so he went to work with a gang of labourers digging out the bed of the lllinoise to Michigan Canal. While he was labouring his mind was working on an idea for a machine that would do all the tedious, back breaking work. He invented the first mechanical excavator and rock drill but he was unable to interest the men with money to invest in his machine and sold it for $2000 dollars.


Isaac was a very big man, 6'.5" in height, with thick reddish blond hair and a bushy beard. A rough diamond, not afraid of hard work and as attractive to the ladies as they were to him.

Isaac was 19 when he married the 15 years old daughter of the owners of the boarding house where he was staying in Palmyra. Her name was Catherine Haley. He left Catherine with her parents while he travelled with the Strolling Players, but by the time he was 31 they had two children, William and Lillian.

When he received the $2000 dollars he had no intention of returning to Catherine to buy her a home of her own. Instead, he started his own Travelling Theatre which he called "The Merritt Players".

He bought a covered wagon and had his name "Merritt Players" painted on both sides. It carried his scenery and it was his home on wheels pulled by two horses when he was short of money. He went barn-storming across America as a one man show until he met Mary Ann Sponsler in New York, she was 19 years. Isaac was in love with her and with promises of marriage when he was able to have a divorce from Catherine, she eventually agreed to join him in his Theatre.

Of course, this meant living and sleeping mostly in the covered wagon. She sold tickets for the shows, stitched his costumes, shopped for food and cared for him when he was ill. She even kept the show going by acting on the stage when Isaac was too ill to do so. After a few years, he had to admit defeat and close the Theatre. The last of his $2000 dollars had been spent. The wagon and the two horses had been sold, but they were still short of money. By now Isaac had two families to support, Catherine and her two children, also Mary Ann who now called herself Mrs. Singer, as she had now two sons and a daughter fathered by Isaac.

One of Isaac's friends, knowing of his engineering skills, suggested that he put those skills to work improving the sewing machine. Different types had been invented in America, Europe and England, but no machine had been invented which could sew two pieces of material together.

Charles Wesenthall, a German, came to England in 1755 to concentrate on his machine which had a curved needle with a point at both ends and was held in the middle. This as used for embroidery and the stitching on the back of ladies gloves. Forty five years later an Englishman, Thomas Saint, a cabinet maker by trade, made a machine to sew leather. This had an "awl" attached to the front of the needle to pierce a hole.

There were many machines in America, Europe and England but they were always breaking down.


In a workshop where Isaac was working on his second wood carving machine, the Blodget & Leroy sewing machines were assembled and repaired. With 40 Dollars he borrowed from a friend George Zieber, to pay for parts and welding, he set to work, with their permission, on one of the Blodget & Leroy machines. He worked for eleven days and nights, scrapping and adjusting the parts he made, eating and sleeping when he could.

Isaac's invention was a long boat shaped shuttle which held a thin spool. Yards and yards of thread were wound evenly around the spool which, in the shuttle, went back and forth beneath the base of the machine. A straight long needle was held at the top by the machine with an eye at the bottom near the point. The eye was threaded with thread from a bobbin at the top of the machine. A wheel attached to the side of the machine when turned by a handle, activated the needle and shuttle. The needle went up and down looping the thread from the shuttle and making a stitch.

On the eleventh day Isaac was very despondent. Looking at the two pieces of material he had tried to sew together, the stitches had repeatedly knotted and the thread then snapped. His friend George went home to bed, Isaac sat in front of the machine, very depressed, just what was he doing wrong? A thought flashed through his mind, it was not the machine that was wrong, it was the tension of the thread. Once he had made the adjustments to correct the tension of the thread, it worked perfectly and stitched two pieces of material together, measuring an inch.. It was the first machine made and used by Isaac and the patent was applied for in September 29th 1850 in New York and granted in September 1856.

Isaac was now 40 years old. His marriage to Catherine was in name only and he and Mary Ann were living as man and wife with their eight children. There were two more but they had died when only toddlers.

With his invention Isaac thought his money worries were over but Elias Howe another inventor, accused Isaac of stealing his invention and he was going to take him to court and sue him.

Isaac was still short of money and was unable to hire a lawyer, but he let it be known that he was willing to give a third of the Singer Sewing Machine shares to any lawyer who would take on the case and win.

Edward Clarke, a solicitor accepted the challenge and won the complicated case. Elias Howe did not lose either. Once the patent had been granted, he received royalties from every sewing machine company that used the invention.

George Zieber having lent Isaac the 40 dollars he needed to get started, eventually was persuaded to sell his shares to the company for 6000 dollars and the firm became known as the Singer & Clarke Sewing Machine Company.


Isaac was not idle during this period. He converted machines for other manufacturers to get the money to build his own machines. He continued improving, inventing, and patenting new parts. The first machines were for workshops but sales were slow, until the employers realised that where it had taken 10 hours to make a pair of trousers, with the new machines it took just one hour now!

In 1856 Isaac made a Turtle Back Machine for use by the housewife. The machine was delivered in a large wooden packing case which was then used as a table to set the machine on. They called it the "Jenny Lind", after a Swedish Opera singer. However the Singer & Clarke Sewing Machine Company had competition once the patent was passed, so Isaac decided to be the salesman. He loved to travel and left his partner in sole charge of the company while he toured the country.

Isaac travelled with a circus, renting a marquee to display his sewing machines, but they did not sell well. He sent for his son and daughter from his first marriage to come and work the machines. They were now in their late teens and early twenties and would work the machines by hand or with their feet on the treadle, to demonstrate how simple the machines were to work.

Ladies crowded into the marquee to watch the demonstration but were very slow to buy or order one of Isaac's machines. Ladies in those days had very little money, especially married ladies. However, if Isaac knew a lady well he would allow her to take home a machine, and pay him when she could. Not a business like method explained his partner Edward. He devised the method, 5 dollars down, take home a sewing machine, followed by monthly payments of 3 dollars, until it was paid for. That was the start of Hire Purchase. If people failed to keep up with the monthly payments, the machine was taken back by the company, cleaned and restored, then sold again.

Singer and Clarke became a company and Isaac was on his way to become a millionaire.


While travelling away from Mary Ann and Catherine, Isaac had charmed many young ladies. In New York he courted another Mary and when she gave birth to his daughter Alecia, she took Isaac's middle name and called herself Mrs Merritt. In San Francisco he fathered 5 children with another Mary, who then called herself Mrs. Matthews.

After thirty years of marriage with Isaac, Catherine decided to divorce him, citing also a Mrs. J, and two ladies named Ellen and Lucy. When Mary Ann heard of the divorce she was delighted. At last they could be married.

She had shared her life with Isaac for 24 years, borne him 10 children, cared for him during sickness, shared poverty, worked for him and cheered him when he was down. When she asked Isaac to name a date for their wedding he refused to commit himself.

Isaac and Mary Ann had lovely home, No. 14 Fifth Avenue, New York, where they lived as Mr. and Mrs. Singer. Isaac was now a wealthy man. They dressed in the height of fashion and they had their own horse drawn carriages and grooms.

Mary Ann was unaware of Isaac's unfaithfulness until one day when she was out riding in her open carriage. Isaac was also riding in his carriage and pair with Mrs. Matthews, the mother of Alicia. Their carriage over-took Mary Ann's and their eyes met. Mary Ann was furious! When they both returned home, a row started which turned violent and resulted in Isaac striking Mary Ann and knocking her unconscious. The children when they went to help their mother were also attacked. Shortly after this incident, Mary Ann summoned Isaac to court on a charge of cruelty and assault.

The story, with the divorce made front page news in all the newspapers. Issac deeply embarrassed at the bad publicity, left New York and eventually America, leaving his lawyers to sort everything out.


In 1860 Isaac sailed on Isambard Kingdom Brunel's ship, The Great Eastern on her return maiden voyage to England. Leaving the liner at a French port he made his way to Paris. He soon felt quite at home in Paris and had no trouble with the language, especially when he met a young lady of 19 years called Isabella Eugenie Boyer, a divorcee, and the daughter of the inn keepers where he was staying. Isaac was now 49, very wealthy and in love again. Together they toured the sights and cities of Europe, combining business and pleasure as Isaac found new outlets for the Singer Sewing Machine Company. They travelled to England and to Scotland where, in 1867 the company opened a factory in Glasgow to assemble the sewing machines. Later in 1884 they moved to a new premises on Clydeside.

They also visited lovely Devonshire, staying in the city of Exeter. As 1862 drew to a close, Isabella discovered she was "enceinte" with child, so Isaac decided it was time to return to America and to marry. The wedding took place in St.John the Evangelist Church, New York on 13th of June 1863. a month later, on the 25th July, their first child Adam Mortimer was born in the Castle. Issac had had the castle built at Yonkers on the St. Lawrence Strait, off the Hudson River, and it was here also that their daughter Winneretta Eugenie was born on the 8th January 1865.

Isaac was very happy. He had a lovely wife with two young children and enough money to live a life of luxury. He commissioned a "sociable" which was bright yellow in colour and built like a motor coach without an engine. The horse power, supplied by black stallions and it had accommodation for thirty two people. One section was a smoking room, another was a nursery where the younger children could play and rest, and a third section was a cloakroom and toilet. There was also plenty of room to sit and talk.

Isaac would drive through the streets and avenues of New York, stopping to pick up his "other" children and their friends, he would take them to school or to visit his home. Mrs. Isabella Singer was a very understanding wife! She encouraged her husband to bring home his "other children", but not their mothers!

Proud of what he had achieved, Isaac and Isabella invited the New York society people to musical evenings and dinner parties, but their invitations were ignored by the Nobs and Swells of New York because, rough Isaac was a millionaire, he had no breeding.

Mary Ann who had been spurned by Isaac, married a Mr. Foster in 1862. Isaac had given her a house for her and their children. Mary Ann was persuaded by her lawyer to leave the house for a few days and to take her children, and was given 1800 dollars. She was tricked out of her house and clothing, and not allowed to return, by her own lawyer and by Isaac's.

Frowned on and ignored by New York society, Isaac decided to take his new family and leave America for good. He was very angry. The firm of I.M.Singer & Company became the Singer Manufacturing Company. Isaac and Edward Clarke sold their interest for shares in the company and, in 1866, Mr and Mrs Singer sailed for France on the American Liner "The Washington" when, on board ship, their third child was born, a boy, whom they called Washington Merritt Grant Singer. Grant after General Grant of the Northern Army, who later became President of the United States of America.

War was raging between North and South America and the Singer's had given General Grant 1,000 sewing machines to help the war effort. Isaac and Isabella arrived in Paris and settled into their new home at 83 Bis Boulevard, Malesherbes, with their three children. Their fourth child, a boy, was born in 1867, whom they named Paris Eugene after the city of his birth.

Isabelle Blanche was born in 1869, followed by their fourth boy and sixth child in February 1870, and they called him Franklin Morse. War had started between the French and the Prussian's and as they gained ground near Paris, Isaac decided that they should leave for the safety of England.

They fled their lovely home leaving most of their clothes and furnishings behind them. They arrived together with other evacuees, in London in January 1871. Franklin was nearly one year old.


The family stayed in Brown's Hotel in Dover Street, London. They expected the war to finish quickly so they could return to their home in Paris, but the war dragged on and on. London's climate, with it's winter fog did not agree with Isaac and Isabella Singer's health and they were advised by their doctor to move South for cleaner air.

Having visited Devonshire earlier, they decided to return and arrived in Torquay. They moved into the Victoria and Albert Hotel while they looked around the area for an Estate or land to build on. Mr Singer made enquiries concerning the Brunel Estate which included a park of beautiful trees to the East of Torquay, which was for sale. It was owned by the family of Isambard K. Brunel, who had died before his Manor House could be finished. The trustees of the Estate made excuses. They had no wish to have this flamboyant man and his family living in the area. Isaac was unable to buy land in Torquay because the Mallocks and the Careys were the landowners and Lords of the Manor.

Mr.Singer was 60 years old, still a big man and a millionaire, his hair and beard had turned grey, but he was still flamboyant in his choice of clothing and he was proud of his young wife and children. He looked a little further a field to Preston between Torquay and Paignton, where the Fernham Estate was for sale. Included in the Estate were the villas "Fernham" and "Oldway", six cottages and the Rising Sun Public House. The Estate was on high ground with views over Torbay to Berry Head. Mr and Mrs Singer were impressed with what they had seen of the Estate and an offer was made to the owners and accepted. They were now the new owners of the Fernham Estate.

Whilst staying at the Victoria and Albert Hotel, Isaac invited a young Paignton Architect, George Soudam Bridgman, to call and see him. He asked him if he would like to design a big house, a Wigwam for that is what he would call it. He wanted a pavilion where the horses could be stabled and trained, a long banqueting hall with a conservatory attached of the same length, and a round Gardinique constructed of glass and metal, built with two floors. Mr Bridgman agreed to Mr. Singer's request and started to design a large French Villa which was to be called, "The Wigwam".

Mr and Mrs Singer left the Victoria and Albert Hotel in Torquay and moved into the larger of the two villas on the Estate called "Oldway", which was on high ground. The six cottages and the Rising Sun Public House were demolished. Trees and a meadow separated Oldway Villa from Fernham Villa which was later rented.

Firstly Mr Singer decided to have the Pavilion built. He and his family were happy and comfortable in Oldway Villa, Mortimer was then 8 years old, Winneretta 6 years, Washington 5 years, Paris 4 years, Blanch 2 years, and Franklin Morse the baby, 1 year old.


Mr. Singer engaged a Plymouth firm of builders owned by J. Matcham who had accepted the contract to build the Wigwam Estate. He was able to pay good wages to the workmen and employed local men. Local employers were forced to increase their skilled workmen's rates of pay for they were leaving to work for Mr. Singer. In late 1871 work started on the Riding Pavilion. It was built on two levels, the lower level being situated just off the old road between Torquay and Paignton which was the North West boundary of the Fen1ham Estate.

The design was round like a wigwam with a pagoda style roof above clerestory windows which provide the light. It had a dirt floor where the horses could be exercised, and a balcony around two sides of the arena where family and friends were able to watch the horses and riders put through their paces. In the outside wall were a pair of heavy wooden doors as high as the walls. They were made of wooden planks set in a herringbone design, with a small door built into one of the large doors.

The horses, which were black stallions, were unhitched from the carriages and led around the building, down a slope into the yard where they were rubbed down before being put into their stables or stalls situated under the Exercise Pavilion.

The building was constructed of red and cream brick with a glazed earthenware, known as "faience" for decoration. Cream stone pillars supported two gas lamps on each side of the great doors. Above the first floor windows were cream stone blocks. These were the rooms of the grooms and coach drivers. Mr. and Mrs. Singer loved to entertain. They were also very fond of children. Invitations were sent out to the business men of Paignton inviting their children to attend a party in the Pavilion. There would be a Punch and Judy show and even a circus was engaged by Mr.Singer to entertain his children and his young guests.

When friends and relatives from France and America came to stay, invitations were sent to the traders and businessmen inviting them and their wives to a Grand Ball to be held in the Pavilion. The dirt floor would be covered with boards and an Italian Orchestra, resident in Torquay, was engaged to play the music. It is told that the day after such a Ball, many a lady from Paignton received a gift box containing a cameo brooch with the message "thank you for being the Belle of the Ball".

Mr.Singer still had an eye for the ladies. Again it is told, that many years later, when his son Paris owned the Wigwam, he employed a man who looked so like him, he could have been his brother. Did Mr.Singer have an affair with a Paignton or Preston lady? When Mr.Singer settled down to live in Oldway Villa and work had started on the Pavilion, he had three coaches built locally. A large one which they used to travel long distances, because he found travelling by stage coach very uncomfortable, also the new mode of travel, the train. A second, smaller coach he had built was used to take him and his wife to the races at Petitor near Babbacombe Downs, and to Totnes and even to Dartmoor. He also had a four in hand, a small coach pulled by four black stallions. He would gallop through the country lanes of South Devon, at speed.

On one such journey he came to a field where a marquee with stalls was set out. Isaac reined in his horses and asked the man at the gate, taking money from people entering, "what is going on here"? The man informed him "it's the Oddfellows Fete sir", to which he answered "open the gates to anyone who will accept my hospitality and send the bill to me". Mr. Singer was a very Generous man.

On his birthday, the 27th October, he invited all his new friends to a party in the Pavilion, and all the children that came to the house on that day were given a bag of sweets. On Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day, meat, vegetables, bread and puddings were given to his workers and local people by Mr.Singer.


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.


Many of Mr Singer's illegitimate children came to stay with the family in Oldway Villa, and in 1875 Alecia Merritt came to stay. Alecia was her father's favourite illegitimate daughter, an actress using the name Agnes Leonard.

She was engaged to be married to Mr. La Grove, a scientific engineer. Mr Singer decided the wedding should be in Paignton and the reception should be in the Wigwam. Guests were invited from France and America and the week before the wedding The Wigwam was alive with music, dancing and parties. Mr. Singer attended all the celebrations, but he caught a cold which developed into a more serious illness than the doctor was able to cure.

On the 14th July Alecia married Mr La Grove at St John's parish church in Paignton, but her father was too ill to give her away. Alicia's trousseau, which was paid for by her father, was made of white satin and Brussels lace. Her veil was also made of Brussels lace and she carried a bouquet of orange blossom. She was attended by six bridesmaids. Her half sister Winneretta, who was just ten years old, was one of them. The cost of all the dresses was over £2,000.

Mr Singer did attend the reception in the Wigwam, but afterwards retired to his bed. The married couple left Paignton for their honeymoon but Mr Singer was very ill. He knew he would not recover, he was losing his strength and asked for his solicitor, Yard Eastley to be sent for as he needed to alter his will. He died during the night of the 23rd July 1875, nine days after Alicia's wedding day. He was in his 64th year. Mr Singer never lived in his Wigwam, he was much too comfortable in Oldway Villa to move.

Knowing his health was not improving he had made all the arrangements for his death. He wanted a white marble mausoleum to be built in Paignton Cemetery which had recently been dedicated, but the ground was not deep enough, so it had to be built in Torquay Cemetery.

For his funeral Mr Singer was dressed in a black morning suit with a white waistcoat. He wore white gloves and patent shoes. He lay on a bed of white satin and maltese lace inside a cederwood coffin. This coffin was laid inside another of thick lead which in turn was placed inside a third one made of English Oak, with silver fittings. The hearse was made of glass and was pulled by Mr Singer's twelve black stallions.

The people lining the road from the Wigwam were able to see the coffin which was surrounded by ferns and greenery as the cortege slowly made it's way to Torquay Cemetery. In front of the hearse was a carriage carrying the Minister and Mr.McKenzie who was Mr. Singer's agent from America.

The hearse was followed by the carriage with his three eldest sons, Mortimer, Washington, Paris and also master Fred Boyer who lived with the family. They were followed by carriages containing the workmen. Private carriages followed behind with friends and business men from Paignton, also from Paris and America. With all the carriages and people on foot who joined the procession, it was said over 2000 people attended Mr Singer's funeral.

As was the custom in America, no ladies or young children attended the funeral.


Mrs. Isabella Singer and her children moved from Oldway Villa into the Wigwam where she was joined by her sister Jane, Master Fred Boyer and her maid. A few years later Jane married Sir Robert Synge of Paignton and left the Wigwam. Mrs Singer's cousin Mrs Cushworth and her husband who had been Mr Singer's secretary, also moved in. More staff were engaged to cook, clean, sew and wait on the family and guests who came to stay. The children were educated by a governess, with a Tutor for the two eldest boys, and a nanny who was in charge of the nursery.

Mr.Ward who had been Singer's "top man" with the horses, taught the children to ride their ponies with the help of his daughter and a stable hand. As the boys grew older they were taught the skills of fencing and boxing and sons of members of the staff were paid 1 shilling (or 5 pennies) to spar with them.

Work continued to complete the estate. Between the Wigwam and the Pavilion a round glass and iron work Gardinique was erected with entrances to the ground floor and the first floor. It had a high domed roof which was the same height as the Pavilion. Palm trees, exotic shrubs and plants were grown inside. A banqueting hall with windows along one side overlooking the old road, was built attached to the Pavilion, with stabling beneath for seventeen horses. Like the Pavilion it was built on a slope. In front of the banqueting hall and attached along one side, a conservatory was built of glass and fancy ironwork. They were attached to the Pavilion by a square red brick tower and at the far end a second tower was built with a pointed roof.

In 1879 the Wigwam was completed! Mrs Singer was now 38 years old, a rich young widow with a growing family. They were still ignored by the gentry of Torquay and she knew there was no chance of titled marriages for her daughters, so she decided they would return to Paris. Yard Eastley their solicitor, was left as a trustee of the estate to arrange for a caretaker and staff to take charge of the Wigwam.

Mrs Singer, Mortimer aged 15, Wineretta aged 14, Washington aged 13, Paris 12, Isabelle 10, and Franklin 9, returned to their home in Paris where Mrs Singer was soon accepted as a member of the Parisian society and welcomed into their homes. She was the widow of the founder of the Singer Sewing Machine Company.

Soon after her return, she met and was courted by a Luxembourg Noble with a title but no money, in search of a wealthy lady. He proposed marriage to Mrs Singer, who accepted and they were married. They became the Duc and Duchess of Camposelice and settled down to their life in Paris. Once they were married the Duc discovered his wife did not inherit the Singer fortune as he had expected.

Before Mr Singer died he had altered his will and added a codicil which stated that if his wife should remarry she would only receive one and a half Million Dollars in stocks and shares in the Singer Company. The rest of his fortune would be held by the Trustees until their six children came of age. He left over 13,000,000 dollars and 8,000,000 dollars in stocks and shares in the company to be divided between his acknowledged 22 children, the boys to get more shares than the girls.

There were of course more children, two of Mary Ann's had died whilst only toddlers and her eldest daughter Violetta was married, and her husband had a good position with the Singer Company so she had no need of the shares.

William and Lillian, Mr Singer's children with Catherine his first wife, received 10,000 and 500 dollars only, because they had spoken for their mother in court against their father during the divorce proceedings.

Catherine, his mistresses and mothers of his other children, received nothing in his will. Mortimer, Washington, Paris and Franklin each received six parts, Winneretta and Blanch five parts each in stocks and shares, and also their homes in Paignton and Paris.


Married life for Isabella with the Duc was not a happy one. He was cruel to her and her children, taking their allowance which they received regularly, and making life very difficult for them. They had a very comfortable lifestyle but not the fortune the Duc had expected when they had married. Adam Mortimer who turned 16 after they returned to Paris, decided to return to Paignton to stay with his friend whose father was Yarde Eastley, the Singer solicitor in Paignton. When he heard how things were with Isaac's children he contacted Isabella and advised her to make sure when the boys became 16 they must return to England. Then they would be made wards of court and their inheritance from their father would be safe.

Mortimer became a Ward of Court. Three years later his brother Washington returned to England, became a Ward of Court and joined Mortimer at college. Paris when he became 16 was in no hurry to leave for England, he loved the city of his birth and the life there. He was also very fond of his mother!

On returning home one day and hearing voices raised in anger, he entered the drawing room just as his step-father hit Isabella and sent her reeling. Paris immediately went to his mothers assistance, striking his step-father with his fist and knocking him to the floor. The servants hearing the commotion, entered the room and helped the angry Duc back to his feet. He immediately summoned Paris to a duel with pistols, the day, time and seconds to be arranged. His mother was terrified her son would be shot, and insisted he left for England at once.

Paris arrived in England in 1883 and was made Ward of Court. He enrolled at Cambridge where he studied architecture. When Isabella's youngest son, Franklin Morse was 16 there was no need for him to become a Ward of Court as his step-father had died. The Duchess de Camposeelice became a widow for the second time.

Isabella was still striking lady, when she met the sculptor Bartholdi, he asked her to sit and be his model and she was the model for the Statue of Liberty. The statue was given to the American people in 1886 as a gift from the French people. A smaller statue of the Lady of Liberty was erected on an island at the side of the Pont de Grenelle, over the River Seine in Paris. The Duchess de Camposelice was 52 when she met and fell in love for the first time.

He was a much younger man, a violinist called Paul Sohege. They married in 1893 surprising her sons and daughters who were also married by then.


After their mother's marriage the family decided to sell the Wigwam. The three eldest sons had their own homes in Paignton and no longer used the Wigwam as a holiday home it was still occupied by a caretaker and his staff.

When the brothers received their inheritance, they had a good spend though they had never been short of money before. Mortimer at 29 had spent the interest on his inheritance and was down to the capital.

The trustees of the estate were advised of the families decision and preparations went ahead for a sale by auction. Then Paris decided to buy the shares of his brothers and sisters in the Wigwam. That was in 1893.

It had cost Isaac Singer £100,000 to have the Wigwam, Pavilion, Gardenique, banqueting hall and the conservatory built. When Paris was 11 years old, the trustees bought in his name, the Redcliffe Towers Estate which had been built just above the shore line of Preston Beach. Land had also been bought between Oldway Road (the old road) and the inland village of Marldon, so the Fernham Estate covered an area of 81 acres, from Marldon to Preston sea front.

In 1904 Isabella died, she was 62 years old. Paris then started his alterations of the Wigwam which his father had built for his wife in 1875 into his own dream home, Oldway Mansion.

Paris was very fond of his mother and while she was alive he would never have altered her home, but he did plan for the future. He travelled in France buying the plans for the staircase and the sketches of a historic ceiling which were once in the Palace of Versailles.

He bought marble statues, ornate mirrors, chandeliers and paintings. Everything was ready for the work to start on three sides of the building, but the West Side of the Wigwam was left as it was in memory of his father, Isaac Merritt Singer.

© copyright Dorothy Atkinson

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