This was a time of great change in Simonsbath. In 1879 Frederic Knight’s only son had died at Simonsbath, aged just 27, after a short illness. Frederic Knight never fully recovered from his tragic loss and with no other immediate relatives to succeed him he decided to sell his Exmoor and Brendon estates. They were sold to Lord Fortescue (3rd Earl) of Castle Hill, Filleigh in 1886 subject to Frederic Knight retaining a life interest. He was still running the estate when James Welch came to Simonsbath. It had been in the Knight family for about 75 years and Sir Frederic Knight was then in his 80s.
In 1897, after James Welch had been there about five years, Sir Frederic died and Viscount Ebrington, the son of the 3rd Lord Fortescue, took over the management of the estate.
The Fortescues immediately started a programme of improvements – refurbishing Simonsbath House, building some new cottages and renovating existing farmhouses, cottages and buildings, including the workshops and sawmill by Simonsbath Bridge.