The Furse Family was resident on the Estate of Halsdon in North Devon (Map of Devon with Halsdon marked) from 1680 until the early 1980s . Up to 1680 the family was resident at Morshead, this being established before the first Visitation to the county of Devon in 1534. Little is known about Morshead as most records for that period no longer exist.
Although various records for short periods after the C.11th Domesday book exist, conclusive proof of lineage of the Furses of Halsdon in Parish records is not found until the end of the 17th Century with Philip Furse (1650-1720) who acquired Halsdon from a maternal uncle . Parish records before this time do not exist as the local churches were subject to attack during the English Civil War (1642-1651). The area was a royalist stronghold and so fighting was particularly bitter, leading to the destruction of a number of important local buildings.
Despite the lack of Parish records, other sources exist for lineages of the landed gentry, enabling genealogists John Green (John Green's Geneaolgy Website, Furse Family 1650-C.20th) and Carina Robins, to compile family trees.
The family's working lives mostly consisted of one or more of Church of England duty, public service in the armed forces (except for the RAF) and oil painting. See section below of more notable members of this period. Until the middle of the twentieth century, the family was generally restricted in marriage to a handful of other large families from the same part of the country, but that were of the same sphere, those being Chadwyck-Healey, Marriott, Lubbock, one of the Church of England (English) Abraham families, and Maud (see John Redcliffe-Maud). Others include the French name Dolignon, and Addington Symonds.
The earliest moves towards creating the Halsdon Estate were made by Philip Furse of Spreyton (1650-1720) and various records held by the North Devon Records Office show how the Estate was added to, showing title deeds for a considerable area surrounding the house. These included parts of Alverdiscott, Ashreigny, Beaford, Bideford, Dolton, Fremington, Great Torrington, Hartland, High Bickington, Poughill, St Giles in the Wood, Weare Giffard, Winkleigh and Yarnscombe. Despite this success during the 18th century, the Estate as it was became unsustainable. How much of this can be blamed on poor transport facilities and few natural resources in the area, and how much on a failure of the family to adapt to the changing climate of the Industrial Revolution is debateable, however the result was that it was no longer cost-effective as it was and so a good deal was sold off over a period of time during the 19th century.
These decisions proved prudent for the changes in the law brought in by socialist and liberal governments in the early part of the 20th century that changed the way property was owned and could be inherited, statuting the requirement of the payment of Death Duties. The burden of payments on inheritance was therefore diminished significantly and the Estate remained much as it was until it was finally broken up in 1983.
The house is now owned by Charlie Watts, drummer of the Rolling Stones, whose wife Shirley breeds Arabian horses on nearby land that was part of the Estate (Halsdon Arabians). The farms owned by the Estate were sold to their tenants and remaining woodland donated to the Devon Wildlife Trust (Halsdon Nature Reserve). The Estate was photographed in the late 1970s and early 1980s by James Ravilious (James Ravilious' website and BBC Tribute to JR) for the Beaford Archive (). Parts of it were photographed again, with the surrounding area, by his son Ben Ravilious in 2005 (Ben Ravilious' professional website). James Ravilious had a personal connectionn to the Furse family, marrying Caroline (Robin) Whistler, daughter of Theresa Whistler (neé Furse, see below)