In this text superscript is represented with '^' and a macron with ō
ITS MOORLANDS, STREAMS, & COASTS
LADY ROSALIND NORTHCOTE
With Illustrations in Colour after Frederick J. Widgery
London Exeter Chatto & Windus James G. Commin M CM VIII
Deep-wooded combes, clear-mounded hills of morn, Red sunset tides against a red sea-wall, High lonely barrows where the curlews call, Far moors that echo to the ringing horn,— Devon! thou spirit of all these beauties born, All these are thine, but thou art more than all: Speech can but tell thy name, praise can but fall Beneath the cold white sea-mist of thy scorn.
Yet, yet, O noble land, forbid us not Even now to join our faint memorial chime To the fierce chant wherewith their hearts were hot Who took the tide in thy Imperial prime; Whose glory's thine till Glory sleeps forgot With her ancestral phantoms, Pride and Time.
The first and one of the greatest difficulties to confront a writer who attempts any sort of description of a place or people is almost sure to be the answer to the question, How much must be left out? In the present case the problem has reappeared in every chapter, for Devon is 'a fair province,' as Prince says in his 'Worthies of Devon,' and 'the happy parent of ... a noble offspring.'
My position is that of a person who has been bidden to take from a great heap of precious stones as many as are needed to make one chain; for however grasping that person may be, and however long the chain may be made, when all the stones have been chosen, the heap will look almost as great and delightful as before: only a few of the largest and brightest jewels will be gone.
The fact that I have been able to take only a small handful from the vast hoard that constitutes the history of Devon will explain, I hope, the many omissions that must strike every reader who has any knowledge of the county—omissions of which no one can be more conscious than myself. A separate volume might very well be written about the bit of country touched on in each chapter.
This book does not pretend to include every district. I have merely passed through a great part of the county, stopping here at an old church with interesting monuments, there at a small town whose share in local history—in some instances, in the country's history—is apt to be forgotten, or at a manor-house which should be remembered for its association with one of the many 'worthies' who, as Prince says—with the true impartiality of a West-countryman in regard to his own county—form 'an illustrious troop of heroes, as no other county in the kingdom, no other kingdom (in so small a tract) in Europe, in all respects, is able to match, much less excel.'
From the 'Tale of Two Swannes,' a view of the banks of the River Lea, published in 1590, I have ventured to borrow the verses that close an address 'To the Reader':
'To tell a Tale, and tell the Trueth withall, To write of waters, and with them of land, To tell of Rivers, where they rise and fall, To tell where Cities, Townes, and Castles stand, To tell their names, both old and newe, With other things that be most true,
'Argues a Tale that tendeth to some good, Argues a Tale that hath in it some reason, Argues a Tale, if it be understood, As looke the like, and you shall find it geason. If, when you reade, you find it so, Commend the worke and let it goe.'
Sonnet by Henry Newbolt page v
Chap. I. Exeter 1
II. The Exe 13
III. The Otter and the Axe 47
IV. Dartmoor 71
V. The Teign 89
VI. Torbay 106
VII. The Dart 119
VIII. Kingsbridge, Salcombe, and the South Hams 141
IX. The Three Towns 155
X. The Tamar and the Tavy 179
XI. The Taw and the Torridge 201
XII. Lundy, Lynmouth, and the Borders of Exmoor 244
XIII. Castles and Country-Houses 272
List of authorities consulted 315
The Guildhall, Exeter Frontispiece
Exeter from Exwick To face page 2
Exeter Cathedral 5
The Exe: Tiverton 13
Exmouth from Cockwood 45
Ottery St. Mary 47
Beer Beach 65
Seaton Headland 67
The Windypost, or Beckamoor Cross 71
Yes Tor: Dartmoor 73
Lustleigh Cleave 75
Wistman's Wood 77
Lydford Bridge 84
Hey Tor 89
Fingle Bridge 91
Chudleigh Glen 101
Teignmouth and Shaldon 103
Torquay from the Bay 106
Berry Head 113
Brixham Trawlers 115
Dartmeet Bridge 121
Holne Bridge 123
Fore Street, Totnes 129
Sharpham Woods: River Dart 133
Dartmouth Castle 139
Bolt Head 146
Slapton Lea 151
The Tamar, near Saltash 155
Drake's Island, Plymouth Sound 171
Brent Tor. From Lvdford Moors 179
Tavy Cleave 185
Brent Tor 198
Bull Point: Morthoe 223
Barnstaple Bridge 227
Lantern Rock: Ilfracombe 244
Countisbury Foreland 255
Lorna's Bower 265
Waterslide: Doone Valley 267
Doone Valley 269
Powderham Castle 272
Berry Pomeroy Castle 285
Compton Castle 295
Okehampton Castle 297
Sydenham House 299
Pynes, near Exeter 308
'Richmond! When last I was at Exeter, The mayor in courtesy show'd me the castle, And call'd it Rougemont: at which name I started, Because a bard of Ireland told me once, I should not live long after I saw Richmond.'
King Richard III., Act IV, Sc. ii.
There are not many towns which stir the imagination as much as Exeter. To all West-Countrymen she is a Mother City ... and there is not one among them, however long absent from the West, who does not feel, when he sets foot in Exeter, that he is at home again, in touch with people of his own blood and kindred.... In Exeter all the history of the West is bound up—its love of liberty, its independence, its passionate resistance to foreign conquerors, its devotion to lost causes, its loyalty to the throne, its pride, its trade, its maritime adventure—all these many strands are twined together in that bond which links West-Countrymen to Exeter.' Mr Norway is a West-Countryman, and he sums up very justly the sentiment, more or less consciously realized, of the people for whom he speaks, and especially the feeling of the citizens.
Not only the Cathedral, the Castle, and Guildhall, bear legends for those who know how to read them, but here and again through all the streets an ancient house, a name, or a tower, will bring back the memory of one of the stirring events that have happened. One royal pageant after another has clattered and glittered through the streets, and the old carved gabled houses in the side-lanes must many a time have shaken to the heavy tramp of armed men, gathered to defend the city or to march out against the enemy.
'Exeter,' says Professor Freeman, 'stands distinguished as the one great English city which has, in a more marked way than any other, kept its unbroken being and its unbroken position throughout all ages. It is the one city in which we can feel sure that human habitation and city life have never ceased from the days of the early Caesars to our own.... The city on the Exe, Caerwisc, or Isca Damnoniorum, has had a history which comes nearer than that of any other city of Britain to the history of the ancient local capitals of the kindred land of Gaul.... To this day, both in feeling and in truth, Exeter is something more than an ordinary county town.'
The city is very picturesquely placed, and before ruthless 'improvements' swept away the old gates and many ancient buildings, the general effect must have been particularly delightful. 'This City is pleasantly seated upon a Hill among Hills, saving towards the sea, where 'tis pendant in such sort as that the streets (be they never so foul) yet with one shower of rain are again cleansed ...,' wrote Izacke, in his Antiquities of Exeter. 'Very beautiful is the same in building;' and he ends with some vagueness, 'for considerable Matters matchable to most Cities in England.' The earliest history can only be guessed at from what is known of the history of other places, and from the inferences to be drawn from a few scanty relics; but there is evidence that Exeter existed as a British settlement before the Romans found their way so far West. It is not known when they took the city, nor when they abandoned it, nor is there any date to mark the West Saxon occupation. Professor Freeman, however, points out a very interesting characteristic proving that the conquest cannot have taken place until after the Saxons had ceased to be heathens. 'It is the one great city of the Roman and the Briton which did not pass into English hands till the strife of races had ceased to be a strife of creeds, till English conquest had come to mean simply conquest, and no longer meant havoc and extermination. It is the one city of the present England in which we can see within recorded times the Briton and Englishman living side by side.' In the days of Athelstan, 'Exeter was not purely English; it was a city of two nations and two tongues.... This shows that ... its British inhabitants obtained very favourable terms from the conquerors, and that, again, is much the same as saying that it was not taken till after the West Saxons had become Christians.'
The earliest reliable records of the city begin about 876, when the Danes overwhelmed the city and were put to flight by King Alfred. A few years later they again besieged Exeter, but this time it held out against them until the King, for the second time, came to the rescue, and the enemy retreated. Alfred, careful of the city and its means of defence, built a stronghold—very possibly in the interval between these two invasions—upon the high ground that the Briton had chosen for his fastness, and on which the Castle rose in after-days. Rather more than a hundred years later Athelstan strengthened the city by repairing the Roman walls. But it is with an event of greater importance that Athelstan's name is usually associated, for it was he who made the city a purely English one by driving out all the Britons into the country beyond the Tamar. It is probable that there was already a monastery in Exeter in the seventh century, and that it was broken up during the storms that raged later. In any case, Athelstan founded or refounded a monastery, and in 968 Edgar, who had married the beautiful daughter of Ordgar, Earl of Devon, settled a colony of monks in Exeter. About thirty years afterwards the Danes, under Pallig, sailed up the Exe and laid siege to the town, but were repulsed with great courage by the citizens. Beaten off the city, they fell upon the country round, and a frightful battle was fought at Pinhoe. A curious memorial of it survives to this day. During the furious struggle the Saxons' ammunition began to run low, and the priest of Pinhoe rode back to Exeter for a fresh supply of arrows. In recognition of his service, the perpetual pension of a mark (13s. 4d.) was granted him, and this sum the Vicar of the parish still receives. Two years later the Danes made a successful assault upon the city, and seized much plunder, but made no stay.
Edward the Confessor visited Exeter, and assisted at the installation of Leofric as first Bishop of Exeter, when the see was transferred from Crediton. The Queen also played a prominent part in the ceremony, for Exeter and the royal revenues within it made part of her 'morning gift.' Leofric instituted several reforms, added to the wealth of his cathedral, and left it a legacy of lands and books. The most interesting of the manuscripts is the celebrated Exeter Book, a large collection of Anglo-Saxon poems on very different subjects. To give some idea of their variety, it may be mentioned that, amongst other poems of an entirely distinct character, there are religious pieces, many riddles, the legends of two saints, the Scald's or Ancient Minstrel's tale of his travels, and a poem on the 'Various Fortunes of Men.'
Seventeen years after King Edward's visit, William the Conqueror's messengers came before the chief men of Exeter demanding their submission. But the citizens sent back the lofty answer that 'they would acknowledge William as Emperor of Britain; they would not receive him as their immediate King. They would pay him the tribute which they had been used to pay to Kings of the English, but that should be all. They would swear no oaths to him; they would not receive him within their walls.' William naturally would not listen to conditions, and arrived to direct the siege in person. For eighteen days the repeated attacks of the Normans were sturdily resisted; then the enemy dug a mine, which caused the walls to crumble, and surrender was inevitable. 'The Red Mount of Exeter had been the stronghold of Briton, Roman, and Englishman;' under the hands of the Norman here rose the Castle of Rougemont, of which a tower, a gateway, and part of the walls, stand to this day. In proportion to the size and strength of that castle, however, the remains are inconsiderable, but it fell into decay very long ago, and as early as 1681 Izacke writes of 'the Fragments of the ancient Buildings ruinated, whereon time ... hath too much Tyrannized.'
In the year after King Stephen began to reign, Baldwin de Redvers, Earl of Devon and keeper of the Castle, declared for the Empress Maud, and held the Castle for three months against the citizens, headed by two hundred knights who had been sent by the King. At the end of this time the wells ran dry, so that the besieged were driven to use wine for their cookery, and even to throw over their 'engines,' set on fire by the enemy.
Henry II granted to the citizens of Exeter the first of their many charters of privileges, and in the reigns of King John and Henry III the municipal system was very much developed, and the city first had a Mayor. Under Edward I a beginning was made towards the almost entire reconstruction of the Cathedral. Bishop Warelwast, the nephew of William I, had raised the transeptal towers—a feature that no other English cathedral possesses—and since his time the Lady Chapel had been added, but the design of the Cathedral as a whole was evolved by Bishop Quivil. He planned what was practically a new church, and his intentions were faithfully carried out. Before his day the towers were merely 'external castles,' but Bishop Quivil broke down their inner walls, and filled the space with lofty arches, and the towers became transepts. Bishop Stapledon spent huge sums in collecting materials, but before much progress with the work had been made he was murdered by a London mob, in the troubled reign of Edward II; and the actual existence of much of the building is due to Bishop Grandisson, who, sparing himself in no matter, lavished treasure and devotion on his Cathedral. Writing to Pope John XXII, the Bishop said 'that if the church should be worthily completed, it would be admired for its beauty above every other of its kind within the realms of England or France.'
One of the most beautiful features of the Cathedral is the unbroken length of roof at the same height through nave and choir, the effect intensified by the exquisite richness and grace of the vaulting. And the spreading fans gain an added grace, springing as they do from that 'distinctive group of shafts' which, says Canon Edmonds, 'makes the Exeter pillar the very type of the union of beauty and strength.' In the central bay of the nave, on the north side, is the Minstrels' Gallery, one of the few to be found in England. It is delicately and elaborately sculptured, and each of the twelve angels in the niches holds a musical instrument—a flageolet, a trumpet and two wind instruments, a tambour, a violin, an organ, a harp, bagpipes, the cymbals, and guitars.
The choir is unusually long, and from the north and south aisles open chapels and chantries, in some of which the carving is very rich and fine. The Bishop's throne is elaborately carved, and more than sixty feet high, and yet there is not one nail in it. During the Commonwealth a brick wall was built across the west end of the choir, completely dividing the Cathedral. This was done to satisfy the Presbyterians and Independents, each of whom wished to hold their services here, and the two churches formed by this division were called Peter the East and Peter the West. The screen in the west front was added after the Cathedral was finished; it is covered with statues in niches, figures of 'kings, warriors, saints, and apostles, guardians as it were of the entrance to the sanctuary.' High above them, in the gable niche, is the statue of St Peter, to whom the Cathedral is dedicated.
King Edward and Queen Eleanor kept Christmas at Exeter in 1285, and here the King held the Parliament which passed the Statute of Coroners that is still law. During this visit the King gave leave to the Bishop and Chapter to surround the close with a wall and gates, for at this time it was used to heap rubbish upon, and 'the rendezvous of all the bad characters of the place.' Edward III granted his eldest son the Duchy of Cornwall—a grant that carried with it the Castle of Exeter, and to the King's eldest son it has always since belonged.
Henry VI in 1482 visited the city in peace and splendour. Margaret, his Queen, came about eighteen years later, while Warwick's plans were ripening, and the event is marked in the Receiver's accounts by the entry: 'Two bottles of wine given to John Fortescue, before the coming of Margaret, formerly Queen.' Not long afterwards Warwick and the Duke of Clarence fled to Exeter, which had to stand a siege on their behalf; but the effort to take the city was half-hearted, and in twelve days the attempt was abandoned. Edward IV arrived in pursuit, but too late, for 'the byrdes were flown and gone away,' and a quaint farce was solemnly played out. The city had just shown openly that its real sympathies were Lancastrian, but neither King nor citizens could afford to quarrel. 'Both sides put the best face on matters; the city was loyal; the King was gracious ... the citizens gave him a full purse, and he gave them a sword, and all parted friends.'
Richard III's visit was more eventful. The allegiance yielded him by the West was of the flimsiest character, and in the autumn of 1483 a conspiracy was formed, and Henry, Earl of Richmond, was proclaimed King in Exeter. Here Richard hastened at the head of a strong force, to find that nearly all the leaders had fled, and there remained only his brother-in-law, Sir John St Leger, and Sir John's Esquire, Thomas Rame. So the King 'provided for himself a characteristic entertainment,' and both knight and squire were beheaded opposite the Guildhall. Before he left, Richard went to look at the Castle, and asked its name. The Mayor answered, 'Rougemont'—a word misunderstood by the King, who became 'suddenly fallen into a great dump, and as it were a man amazed.' Shakespeare's lines give the explanation of his discomfiture. 'It seems,' comments Fuller, 'Sathan either spoke this oracle low or lisping.'
The next siege of Exeter was when the followers of Perkin Warbeck surged in thousands round the city. Their assault was vigorous and determined; they tried to undermine the walls, burned the north gate, and, repulsed at this point, broke through the defences at the east gate. After a sharp struggle in the streets, the rebels were thrust back, and were forced to march northwards, leaving Exeter triumphant. Three weeks later Henry VII entered Exeter with Warbeck, as his prisoner. The King was very gracious to the city that had just given such eminent proofs of its loyalty, and bestowed on the citizens a second sword of honour and a cap of maintenance, and ordered that a sword-bearer should be appointed to carry the sword before the Mayor in civic procession.
Henry VIII gave Exeter 'the highest privilege,' says Professor Freeman, 'that can be given to an English city or borough.' He made it a county, 'with all the rights of a county under its own Sheriff.' An Act of Parliament was also passed to undo the harm done by Isabel de Fortibus, representative of the Earls of Devon, when she made a weir about the year 1280—still called Countess Weir—that blocked the free waterway to the sea. As the tide naturally comes up the river a little way beyond Exeter, before the weir was made ships had been able to sail up to the watergate of the city. The first attempts to improve matters after this Act was passed failed, but a canal was constructed with tolerable success in the reign of Elizabeth.
In 1549 came the siege of Exeter that followed the burning of Crediton barns. The Devonshire rebels had been reinforced by a large number of Cornishmen, who resented the new Prayer-Book, and the law obliging them to hear the services in English instead of Latin, more bitterly and with greater reason than the people of Sampford Courtenay. For to them it was more than unwelcome change in the Liturgy; it meant also that their services were read in an alien tongue. 'We,' the Cornish, 'whereof certain of us understand no English, utterly refuse the new English,' was their protest. It is curious to think that more than half a century later English was a foreign language in Cornwall. In James I's reign, 'John Norden ... constructing his Speculum, his topographical description of this kingdom,' writes: 'Of late the Cornishmen have muche conformed themselves to the use of the English tongue;' and adds that all but 'some obscure people' are able to 'convers with a straunger' in English. The bitterness aroused by the religious question was intensified by a report which was 'blazed abroad,' as Hooker says, 'a Gnat making an Elephant, that the gentlemen were altogether bent to over-run, spoil, or destroy the people.' No one could have acted with greater loyalty and courage than the Mayor, John Blackaller, and his powers were put to a hard trial before the end of the siege. Not only was there an active and vigorous enemy without, but within the walls the majority secretly, and some persons openly, sided with the enemy. The most unceasing vigilance and unfaltering resolution were needed to frustrate all plots and plans. One great danger was averted by a certain John Newcomb, an ex-miner, who, suspicious of a possible peril, watched diligently for its slightest sign. One day an anxious crowd looked at him 'crawling about on the ground with a pan of water in his hand. Every now and again he would listen attentively, with his ear in the dust, and, rising, place the pan on the spot. At last he has it. Like the beating of a pulse, the still water in the pan vibrates in harmony with the stroke of the pickaxe far underneath, and the old miner rises exultant.' A counter-mine was hurriedly made, and through a tiny opening it was seen that barrels of gunpowder and pitch and piles of faggots were heaped beneath the west gate. Fortunately, this gate stood below the steep slope on which the city lies, and on discovering the enemy's alarming preparations, every householder was ordered, at a given signal, to empty a great tub of water into the kennel, and every tap in the city was turned on. 'At which time also, by the Goodness of God, there fell a great Shower, as the like, for the Time, had not been seen many years before.' A tremendous torrent rushed down the streets, and, being concentrated upon the mine, completely flooded it.
There is no place here to speak of the straits to which the citizens were put before a sufficient number of troops reached Lord Russell to enable him to march to the relief of the besieged. Nor is there room for an account of the splendid resistance made by the rebels to the great force pitted against them, which included a regiment of seasoned German Lanzknechts and three hundred Italian musketeers, besides English cavalry. 'Valiantly and stoutly they stood to their Tackle, and would not give over as long as Life and Limb lasted ... and few or none were left alive.... Such was the Valour and stoutness of these men that the Lord Greie reported himself, that he never, in all the Wars that he had been in, did know the like.'
In recognition of the loyalty shown by the citizens under this great trial, Queen Elizabeth 'complimented the city with an augmentation of arms,' and 'of her own free will added the well-known motto, Semper Fidelis.' Encouraged by the Queen's protection, commerce increased and prospered. Guilds had long flourished in Exeter, and it is recorded that as early as 1477 there was a quarrel between the Mayor and citizens and the Company of Taylors. A Guildhall existed even before there was a Mayor of Exeter, but the present building dates from 1464. It has a fine common hall, with a lofty, vaulted roof and much panelling, and the panels are set with little shields, the arms of the Mayors, of various companies, and certain benefactors to the city. Later was added the cinque-cento front that projects over the footway, and has become so essential a characteristic in the eyes of those who care for Exeter. This front was built in 1593, and 'in its confusion of styles—English windows between Italian columns—it has all the impress of that transitional age.'
Many of the trades that throve in Exeter formed guilds, and in looking casually at the names of a few of them, one finds that the bakers had already a Master and Company in 1428-29, and that some years later the charter of the Glovers and Skinners was renewed. In 1452 there was a dispute as to whether the Cordwainers or Tuckers should take precedence in the Mayor's procession, and later again the Guild of Weavers, Sheremen, and Tuckers came still more prominently before the public.
'Trafiquing' in wool and woollen goods was the most important trade, and though its zenith was passed in the seventeenth century, it continued to do well till the later half of the eighteenth. Defoe speaks of the 'serge manufacture of Devonshire' as 'a trade too great to be described in miniature,' and says he is told that at the weekly market 'sixty to seventy to eighty, and sometimes a hundred, thousand pounds' value in serges is sometimes sold.' Probably the account given him was a little exaggerated, but Lysons quotes the statement that in the most prosperous days L50,000 or L60,000 worth of woollen goods had been sold in a week. Many were the petitions sent up to Parliament in the reign of William and Mary, begging protection for the local wool-trade, and that competition from unhappy Ireland might be discouraged. The great hall of the New Inn was used as an exchange, and here were held yearly three great cloth-fairs, where merchants from London and from all parts gathered, and stalls and shops in the inn were let to 'foreigners.' The Tuckers' Hall, built of ruddy stone, still stands in Fore Street, and the hall has a fine cradle roof with plaster panels.
The most powerful of all the companies was incorporated later than many of the guilds, for the Merchant Adventurers received their charter from Queen Elizabeth. Their power and wealth was very considerable; they cast their lines in all directions, and they secured a monopoly of trading with France. This company supplied with money, and had a stake in, some of Sir Humphrey Gilbert's and Captain Davis's enterprises, and Sir Francis Drake himself invited the 'gentilmen merchauntes' and others of the city to 'adventure with him in a voiage supportinge some speciall service ... for the defence of 'religion, Quene and countrye.'' About Charles I's reign the importance of the company gradually declined, and the society was eventually dissolved.
During the Civil War, Exeter was twice besieged, but on neither occasion so rigorously as in 1549. When the war broke out, the Earl of Bedford appointed the Mayor, the Sheriff, and five Aldermen, Commissioners for the Parliament. The defences were put in order and arms collected, and amongst other expenses is recorded 'L300 for 17 packs of wool taken from Mr Robin's Cellars for the Barricadoes.' Nevertheless, zeal for the Parliament must have been but lukewarm, for when Prince Maurice's troops surrounded the city, it was surrendered at the end of fourteen days, and after the besieged had suffered no further inconvenience than 'the being kept from taking the air without their own walls.' The next year Queen Henrietta Maria came to a city which was considered a safer refuge than Oxford, and here Princess Henrietta was born, and was baptized in the Cathedral with great pomp, 'a new font having been erected for the purpose, surmounted by a rich canopy of state.' Charles II always showed the warmest affection for his sister, famed, as Duchess of Orleans, for her beauty and charm, and a portrait of the Princess given by the King to the city hangs in the Guildhall. It is a full-length portrait, and she is represented standing, one hand lightly gathering together the folds of her white satin dress.
During the autumn and winter of 1645-46 Exeter was gradually hemmed in by bodies of Parliamentary troops stationed at posts in the neighbourhood, and with the new year the siege became a closer one. It would seem, however, that there was no very acute distress from lack of food; but Fuller, who was in the city at the time, mentions with satisfaction the appearance of 'an incredible number of Larks ... for multitude like Quails in the Wildernesse, and as fat as plentifull ... which provided a feast for many poor people, who otherwise had been pinched for provision.' As the spring advanced, the King's cause lapsed into a condition too hopeless to be bettered by further resistance, and on April 9 Sir John Berkeley, for over two years the faithful guardian of the city, signed the articles of its surrender, on honourable terms, to Sir Thomas Fairfax.
There is no space to speak of later dramatic incidents in Exeter—the trial and execution of Mr Penruddocke and Mr Grove, leaders of a Royalist rising of Wiltshire gentlemen, whose speeches on the scaffold are given at length by Izacke; nor of the joy that greeted the Restoration, when 'Tar-barrels and Bonefires capered aloft'; nor of Charles II's visit, nor the entrance of the Duke of Monmouth in 1680 with five thousand horsemen, and nine hundred young men in white uniforms marching before him. One may not even pause before the gorgeous spectacle of William III's arrival, heralded by a procession in which appeared two hundred negroes in white-plumed, embroidered turbans, and a squadron of Swedish horsemen 'in bearskins taken from the beasts they had slain, with black armour and broad flaming swords.'
It has been only possible to name the most outstanding points in the history of a city—once more to quote Professor Freeman—'by the side of which most of the capitals of Europe are things of yesterday.... The city alike of Briton, Roman, and Englishman, the one great prize of the Christian Saxon, the city where Jupiter gave way to Christ, but where Christ never gave way to Woden—British Caerwisc, Roman Isca, West Saxon Exeter, may well stand first on our roll-call of English cities. Others can boast of a fuller share of modern greatness; none other can trace up a life so unbroken to so remote a past.'
'Goodly Ex, who from her full-fed spring Her little Barlee hath, and Dunsbrook her to bring From Exmore; when she hath scarcely found her course, Then Creddy cometh in ... ... her sovereign to assist; As Columb wins for Ex clear Wever and the Clist, Contributing their streams their mistress' fame to raise. As all assist the Ex, so Ex consumeth these; Like some unthrifty youth, depending on the court, To win an idle name, that keeps a needless port; And raising his old rent, exacts his farmers' store The landlord to enrich, the tenants wondrous poor: Who having lent him theirs, he then consumes his own, That with most vain expense upon the Prince is thrown: So these, the lesser brooks unto the greater pay; The greater, they again spend all upon the sea.'
The river Exe rises in a bog on Exmoor, beyond the borders of Somersetshire. 'Be now therefore pleased as you stand upon Great Vinnicombe top ... to cast your eye westward, and you may see the first spring of the river Exe, which welleth forth in a valley between Pinckerry and Woodborough,' says Westcote.
But our author has no feeling for the rolling hills, and noble lines, and hazy blue distances of Exmoor, and without one word of praise continues: 'Let us for your more ease, and the sooner to be quit of this barren soil, cold air, uneven ways, and untrodden paths, swim with the stream the better to hasten our speed.'
The first little town that the Exe comes to in Devonshire is Bampton, nowadays best known, perhaps, for its pony-fairs, when (so runs one account) 'Exmoor ponies throng the streets, flood the pavements, overflow the houses, pervade the place. Wild as hawks, active and lissom as goats, cajoled from the moors, and tactfully manoeuvred when penned, these indigenous quadrupeds will leap or escalade lofty barriers in a standing jump or a cat-like scramble.' Cattle and sheep are less conspicuously for sale at this popular and crowded fair, held on the last Thursday in October.
The first fact recorded of Bampton's history is of such ancient date that it may be hoped the vastness of the achievement has been rounded and filled out during the flight of time; for the historian, with unconscious irony, blandly remarks that here 'Cynegils, first Christian King of the West Saxons,' put twenty thousand (or maybe more) Britons to the sword. He does not mention how Cynegils continued his propagation of the Gospel.
The nave of the church at Bampton is built in the manner most common to this country—that is, early Perpendicular, but the chancel is Decorated. In many of the churches there is some portion of Decorated work. The screen and roof of the church are worth seeing, and in the churchyard are several unusually large and fine old yew-trees, one or two girdled by stone benches. Leaving Bampton, one passes along a green and fertile valley, the fields interrupted at intervals by copses, where thickets of undergrowth and multitudes of young saplings are struggling for the mastery—a picture of prodigal wealth in plants, bushes, and trees.
Seven miles to the south is Tiverton. Tiverton is a small town, but its story is interesting, and incidents cluster round the castle, church, the well-known school, and the former kersies and wool-market, and, besides, it is filled with memories of the melancholy experiences it has passed through—fires, floods, the plague, and at least one siege.
The borough was originally granted by Henry I to his cousin, Richard de Riparis (or de Redvers or Rivers), Earl of Devon, whose descendants possessed it for nearly two centuries, when, the direct line failing, the borough and title passed to a cousin, a Courtenay, in whose family the title still remains.
Richard de Redvers, 'the faithful and beloved counsellor' of Henry I, is supposed to have begun the Castle of Tiverton, and he attached to it 'two parks for pleasure and large and rich demesne for hospitality.' His grandson, William Rivers, was one of the four Earls who carried the silken canopy at the second coronation of King Richard I, after his return from Palestine. William's daughter, Mary, married Robert Courtenay, Baron of Okehampton; and so it was that, when the House of Rivers became extinct in the male line, their possessions passed to the Courtenays, and Mary's great-grandson became first Earl of Devon of the line of the Courtenays.
It is not thought probable that the Castle as it stands contains work older than the fourteenth century. Part of the building of that date remains unaltered, and part has been transformed into a modern house. The old walls are in places covered with ivy, and on the southern side are pierced by one or two pointed windows whose stonework is more or less broken. A round tower at the southeastern angle still looks very solid and undisturbed. At a few yards' distance, on the south of the Castle, stand the ruins of the chapel; the walls of three sides are still standing, although imperfect and partly fallen down, and almost smothered in ivy. Originally this square tower at the south-west angle was joined to the Castle, and two more round towers stood at the northern angles. Near the chapel is a low wall, and looking over it one sees a very steep slope to the river, sixty feet beneath. A wide and deep moat surrounded the Castle on the other sides.
It is said that Tiverton suffered both in the Civil War of 1150 and also in the Wars of the Roses, and though there is little evidence to support this assertion, there can be no doubt that indirectly the town must have been disagreeably affected. For Baldwin de Redvers fortified his castle at Exeter, and it is very likely that retainers from Tiverton were sent to strengthen the garrison; and when the Earl was driven from the country by King Stephen, his servants and their families were probably distressed by want, if not by the sword.
During the Wars of the Roses, three successive Earls of Devon lost their lives, and many of their followers must have fallen too, leaving defenceless widows and children.
The Earls of Devon had many manors, but lived much in their Castle at Tiverton, and some were buried in the adjoining church of St Peter. To the third Earl, known as 'the Good' or 'the Blind' Earl, and his wife a tomb was erected, 'having their effigies of alabaster, sometimes sumptuously gilded.' So writes Risdon, about the year 1630, and adds regretfully, 'Time hath not so much defaced, as men have mangled that magnificent monument.' It has now entirely disappeared. The epitaph it bore was this:
'Hoe! Hoe! who lyes here? 'Tis I, the goode erle of Devonshire, With Mabill, my wyfe, to mee full dere, Wee lyved togeather fyfty fyve yere. That wee spent wee had; That wee lefte wee loste; That wee gave, wee have.'
The church is a fine Perpendicular building, and has a high embattled tower, with slender crocketed pinnacles springing sixteen feet above the summit. The roof is battlemented, and the tracery in the windows is graceful. On either side of the chancel stands an altar-tomb—that on the north side being in memory of John Waldron, on the south of George Slee, both benefactors to the town in having founded almshouses. The sides of the tombs are boldly and curiously sculptured, being covered with raised devices, and a deeply lettered inscription is engraved in the top of each. A picture of St Peter being delivered by the angel from prison, painted by Richard Cosway, hangs over a north doorway. Cosway was born in Tiverton, and the letter that accompanied his gift expressed good feeling and his warm affection for his native town.
The most distinctive feature of the church is the very decorative 'Greenway' chapel. John Greenway was a rich wool-merchant of Tiverton, and on the walls of the chapel was inscribed this couplet:
'To the honour of St. Christopher, St. Blaze, and St. Anne, This chapel of John Greenwaye was began.'
It is interesting to note, of the three saints to whom the chapel was dedicated, that St Christopher was the patron of mariners and one of the 'sea-saints,' St Blaze the special patron of wool-combers; while St Anne particularly presides over riches. An old distich runs:
'Saint Anne gives wealth and living great to such as love her most, And is a perfite finder-out of things that have beene lost.'
So that the help of all three was peculiarly necessary to make John Greenway a prosperous man!
The chapel is late Perpendicular, and it is most elaborately carved and decorated. The roof is covered with different kinds of ornamentation, and the cornice bears the arms of Greenway, of the Drapers' Company, and other devices. Along the corbel line are carved scenes from the Bible, beneath is a sea of gentle ripples, with several large ships in full sail upon it, and above and beside the windows is a multitude of different designs—merchants' marks, animals, roses, anchors, horses and men; and a very delightful ape sits on a projecting pedestal, close to the porch. The porch is extremely elaborate, both within and without. On the frieze are six panels, each carved with a different Scriptural subject, separated from one another by single figures. Over the porch are the arms of the Courtenays, and above them an emblem and more carving, besides two large niches, now empty, at each side of the door. Inside the porch, over the door leading into the church, is a carving of the Assumption, and the roof is richly carved with merchants' marks and other ciphers and designs on little shields. The roof inside the chapel is also carved; and in the floor is a brass engraved with the figures of the merchant and his wife—he in a long fur-edged robe, and she wearing embroidered draperies and jewels, and a pomander ball hanging on one of the long ends of her girdle.
It is interesting to hear that in this church Mendelssohn's Wedding March was first played at a wedding. The 'Midsummer Night's Dream' music had just been published as a pianoforte duet, when Mr Samuel Reay, of Tiverton, made an arrangement of it for the organ, and the first marriage at which the march was played was that of Mr Tom Daniel and Miss Dorothea Carew, in June, 1847.
Tiverton was famed in early days for its trade in wool. It is supposed that woollen goods were first manufactured here towards the end of the fourteenth century, and at the beginning of the sixteenth several merchants of the town were making ventures far and wide. Baizes, plain cloths, and kerseys were the most important of the manufactures, and there was some commerce in these with Spain. Traffic in woollen goods was now very brisk in different parts of the country, and during the reign of Henry VIII special statutes were enacted 'affecting cloths called white straits of Devon, and Devonshire kerseys called dozens.' In Elizabeth's reign trade prospered here as elsewhere; but later friction arose on the question of imports. The manufacturers on more than one occasion tried to introduce Irish worsted to weave into cloth, and this was met by the most violent opposition from the wool-combers, who believed that it would take away their work, although it was explained that their work depended on making serge for Dutch markets, for which the Irish worsted could not be used. The wool-combers had at different times various causes for complaint, and these they vented in riots so serious that (about 1749) the authorities asked for the protection of some troops, who were accordingly sent to Tiverton, and, on a fresh uproar not long after their arrival, were called out to quell the mob. Towards the latter half of the eighteenth century the woollen trade languished; but in the first quarter of the nineteenth century a new business sprang up—that of producing machine-made lace and tulle.
Tiverton's merchants marked their prosperity in an admirable manner, for over ninety gifts in land, money, and almshouses have been made. The gifts and bequests were usually intended to benefit the poor, but in a few cases they were for the general good. In addition there remains the memory of about twenty 'benefactions,' many of which were 'absorbed in the tumult of the Civil War or generally dissipated by neglect or mismanagement.' Greenway founded almshouses, as well as the aisle in the church, and although these dwellings have been altered to some extent, the tiny chapel still attached to them is very picturesque. A cornice contains twelve circles, within each a pierced quatrefoil, and in the centre of every quatrefoil a shield, bearing a coat of arms, a merchant's mark, or other design. The cornice is supported by several rather grotesque animals, and below, in stone letters, this legend:
'Have Grace, ye men, and ever pray For the Sowl of John and Jone Greenway.'
A wide moulded arch forms the doorway, and above are coats of arms and an eagle rising from a bundle of sticks, an emblem attached to the Courtenay arms that appears in several parts of St Peter's Church.
On Waldron's almshouses is this curious inscription:
'John Waldron, merchant, and Richord his wife, Builded this house in tyme of their life; At such tyme as the walls wer fourtyne foote hye, He departed this world even the eyghtynth of July (1579).
'Since youth and life doth pass awaye, And deathe at hand to end our dayes, Let us do so, that men may saye, We spent our goods God for to prays.'
On one wall is a pack of wool bearing Waldron's staplemark and a ship, and below them the words, 'Remember the poor.'
The greatest gift by far was that of Peter Blundell, who built and endowed the well-known school that is called after him, and founded six scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge as a further benefit to the scholars of Blundell's. His will dictates most particular instructions regarding the salaries of the master and usher, and as to the actual building, even directing that there should be 'in the kitchen one fair great chimney with an oven.'
In 1882 the school was transferred to Howden, but the building that Peter Blundell planned, beneath the steep hill close to the Lowman, is long and rather low, the colour a warm, soft yellow, still more softened by stray indefinite tints of cream and buff. The slate roof is high-pitched, the windows are square and mullioned, and there are two porches, each with a window directly above the hooded doorway, and crowned by a gable. The school-house stands back in a yard of plots of grass and pebbled paths, and shaded by great old lime-trees surrounded by a high wall.
Samuel Wesley was at one time head-master here, and was not universally popular, for his scathing wit blighted the esteem earned by his high gifts and principles.
Many of Blundell's scholars have done good work in the world, but perhaps the most famous of them are the late Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr. Temple) and R. D. Blackmore, the novelist, who were here in the 'thirties, contemporaries and friends, both 'day-boys' and lodging in the same house in Cop's Court. Twenty years before the Archbishop came to Blundell's, that celebrated sportsman 'Jack' Russell was here, embarked on a stormy career, perpetually in scrapes due to his passion for sport, which even led him to the point of trying to keep hounds while he was actually at school. Contemporaries of Blackmore's were two distinguished soldiers and writers on military subjects, Sir Charles Chesney and his brother Sir George, the author of that account of an imaginary German invasion which created so much excitement when, under the name of 'The Battle of Dorking,' it appeared in 1871 in Blackwood's Magazine.
Fire has caused terrible loss and disaster here, for as many as seven big conflagrations have taken place in Tiverton, and in one alone six hundred houses were destroyed, besides L200,000 worth of goods and merchandise. In addition, at least eight smaller, but still considerable, fires took place at comparatively short intervals, so that between the years 1598 and 1788 the townsfolk suffered from this cause no fewer than fifteen times.
A curious account exists of the fire in 1598—'when,' says the chronicler, 'he which at one a clocke was worth Five Thousand Pound, and as the Prophet saith [a footnote suggests the prophet Amos, vi. 5, 6] dranke his Wine in bowles of fine silver plate, had not by two a Clocke so much as a wooden dish left to eate his Meate in, nor a house to couer his sorrowfull head, neyther did thys happen to one man alone, but to many.... In a twinkling of an eye came that great griefe uppon them, which turn'd their wealth to miserable want, and their riches to unlooktfor pouertie: and how was that? Mary, Sir, by Fyer.
'But no fier from heaven, no unquenchable fier such as worthily fell on the sinfull Citie of Sodom and Gomorra; but a sillie flash of fier, blazing forth of a frying pan ... and here was dwelling in a little lowe thatcht house, a poore beggarly woman: who, with a companion, began to bake pancakes with strawe'—here he becomes sarcastic—'for their abilitie and prouission was so good that there was no wood in the house to doe it.... Sodenly, the fier got into the Pan.' Straw lying close by was ablaze in a moment, then the roof, then, alas! by means of an 'extreame high wind,' a hay-house standing near, and 'in less than halfe an hower the whole Toune was set on fier.'
A terrible picture is drawn of the rapidity and voracity of the flames—people crying for help in every direction, 'insomuch that the people were so amazed that they knew not which way to turne, nor where the most neede was'—and of the number of people who were burned and the desolation of the town.
As to those saved, 'the residue of the woefull people remaining yet aliue, being overburdened with extream sorrow, runs up and down the fieldes like distraught or franticke men.... Moreouer, they are so greatly distrest for lacke of food, that they seeme to each mannes sighte more liker spirits and Ghostes, than living creatures.'
The account concludes with a moral pointed in many figures of speech, to the effect that this great trouble was a judgment on the rich, who did not sufficiently consider their poor neighbours, and various cities are exhorted to take warning thereby. 'O famous London ... Thou which art the chief Lady Cittie of this Land, whose fame soundeth through al Christian Kingdoms, cast thy deere eyes on this ruinous Towne.... Consider this thou faire citie of Exeter, thou which art next neighbour to this distressed Town ... pitie her heauie happe, that knowes not what miserie hanges ouer thy owne head.'
An appeal to the public was made on behalf of these sufferers, and Queen Elizabeth responded with a grant of L5,000.
In the fire of 1612 the destruction was even greater. 'No noyse thundered about the streets, but fire, fire, in every place were heard the voyces of fire.... All the night long the towne seemed like unto a burning mountaine, shooting forth fiery comets, with streaming blazes, or like unto the Canopie of the World, beset with thousands of night candles or bright burning Torches.'
When the Civil War broke out, Tiverton, though not unanimous, mainly sided with the Parliament. After the Battle of Stratton, however, the triumphant Royalists suddenly descended on the town, turned out Colonel Weare, who was in command of the Parliamentary forces, and took possession. Many skirmishes must have taken place either in or about the town, for large bodies of the troops belonging to King or Parliament moved backwards and forwards in the immediate neighbourhood during the course of the war.
Culpeper, the herbalist, to illustrate the powers of the plant moonwort, tells of a wonderful incident that occurred to Lord Essex's horse, presumably when his army was here in 1644. Moonwort has (or perhaps had) a miraculous effect on iron, with power to open locks or unshoe horses. 'Country people that I know, call it Unshoe the Horse. Besides I have heard commanders say, that in White Down in Devonshire, near Tiverton, there were found thirty horseshoes, pulled off from the feet of the Earl of Essex's horses, being there drawn up in a body, many of them being but newly shod, and no reason known, which caused much admiration, and the herb described usually grows upon heaths.' Probably almost all the neighbourhood thought witchcraft a better explanation.
It is very difficult entirely to disentangle accounts that seem to contradict each other, but apparently Essex moved away from Tiverton after a short stay, and certainly the King sent his army to Tiverton the same autumn to halt there for a while on its way from Plymouth to Chard. And as this army was returning, reduced and exhausted, from fighting and long, hard marches in Cornwall, it could not have been sent to a town in possession of the enemy. The next year Fairfax sent General Massie to take Tiverton. The Governor, Sir Gilbert Talbot, was in a far from happy position, for afterwards he wrote: 'My horse were mutinous, and I had but two hundred foot in garrison, and some of my chief officers unfaithful.' In spite of his disadvantages, he was able to repulse the enemy in their first attack on church and castle, though unable to prevent their gaining possession of the town. Two days later Fairfax himself arrived, and batteries, furnished with 'several great Peeces,' were erected against the church and castle. The actual fighting lasted only a short time, for a shot broke the chain of the drawbridge, and it fell; the Parliamentary soldiers rushed across it without even waiting for the command, and the Royalists lost their heads and their courage and fled.
A copy of a letter that General Massie wrote from Tiverton to a Cheshire gentleman still exists, and in it he refers to a pamphlet, sent with the letter, even the title-page of which throws light on Puritan methods of influencing popular opinion against the Cavaliers. This startling page runs as follows:
A True and Strange
Who was entertained by the Devill to be servant to him with the consent of his Father, about Crediton in the West, and how the Devill carried him up in the aire, and shewed him the torments of Hell, and some of the Cavaliers there, and what preparation there was made for Goring and Greenvile against they came.
Also how the Cavaliers went to rob a Carrier, and how the Carrier and his Horses turned themselves into
FLAMES OF FIRE.
Leaving Tiverton and following the Exe downstream, the wayfarer may ponder two proverbs referring to Tiverton, neither of them especially flattering. It used to be, and no doubt is still, considered lucky to start off running directly the cuckoo is heard for the first time in the year, and thirty or forty years ago, if a girl obeyed this tradition, anyone near her would laugh and say: 'Run, run! and don't let no Tiverton man catch you!' The other saying is cryptic: 'He must go to Tiverton and ask Mr Able.' An interpretation suggested is that this was originally said to a questioner who asked for unattainable information, and that 'Mr Able' meant anyone able to furnish it. It is not exactly a satisfactory solution, and as to the reference to Tiverton, though it may be complimentary, one doubts whether it does not carry more than a suspicion of sarcasm.
Four miles to the south of Tiverton is a pleasant well-wooded valley, in which stands Bickleigh. This village was the birthplace of a rascal, who was such a brilliant and talented rascal that his adventures are very interesting. Witty, courageous, and full of resource, he had, besides, two strong points in his favour. In spite of a very rough and wandering life, his warm affection for his wife never failed, and—all dogs adored him! Bampfylde Moore Carew belonged to a very old family in the West, and his father was rector of Bickleigh. A happy-go-lucky career was foreshadowed at the very outset, for his two 'illustrious godfathers,' Mr Hugh Bampfylde and Major Moore, disputed as to whose name should stand first, and, as they could not agree, the matter was decided by spinning a coin. A few of the most interesting events in his career may be quoted from a little biography first published anonymously in 1745, thirteen years before his death. Carew was sent to Blundell's, where for a while he did well, although his tastes led him to be out with 'a cry' of hounds that the scholars of Blundell's kept among them, whenever it was possible. On one occasion some farmers complained to the head-master of the damage that had been done in hunting a deer over standing corn, and the boy, to escape punishment, ran away from school and joined some gipsies. Carew took very kindly to the life, but repeated accounts of his parents' unhappiness brought him home after a year and a half's wanderings. Though overwhelmed with 'marks of festive joy,' the call 'of the wind on the heath,' was too strong to be resisted, and in a short time he slipped away again and went back to his chosen people. He must have been a very finished actor, with a genius for 'make-up,' to have imposed on half the people that he befooled. Amongst his first roles were those of a shipwrecked mariner; a poor Mad Tom, trying to eat live coals; and a Kentish farmer, whose drowned farm in the Isle of Sheppey could no longer support his wife and 'seven helpless infants.' Carew's restless disposition took him to Newfoundland, and on his return he successfully played the parts of a nonjuring clergyman, dispossessed of his living for conscience' sake; a Quaker—here is a good example of his wonderful gift—in an assembly of Quakers; a ruined miller; a rat-catcher; and, having borrowed three children from a tinker, a grandmother. Carew once wheedled a gentleman, who boasted that he could not be taken in by beggars, into giving him liberal alms twice in one day—in the morning as an unfortunate blacksmith, whose all had been destroyed by fire; whilst in the afternoon, on crutches, his face 'pale and sickly, his gestures very expressive of pain,' he pleaded as a disabled tinner, who, from 'the damps and hardships he had suffered in the mines,' could not work to keep his family.
At the death of Clause Patch, the King of the Gipsies, Carew was elected King in his stead. Before he died, the aged King, feeling his end approaching, bestowed a few last words of advice on his followers, well worth quoting.
Of begging in the street and interrupting people who are talking, he said: 'If they are tradesmen, their conversation will soon end, and may be well paid for by a halfpenny; if an inferior clings to the skirt of a superior, he will give twopence rather than be pulled off; and when you are happy enough to meet a lover and his mistress, never part with them under sixpence, for you may be sure they will never part from one another.'
This is followed by shrewd advice as to the choice of an appeal: 'Whatever people seem to want, give it them largely in your address to them. Call the beau sweet Gentleman; bless even his coat or periwig; and tell him they are happy ladies where he's going. If you meet with a schoolboy captain, such as our streets are full of, call him noble general; and if the miser can be in any way got to strip himself of a farthing, it will be by the name of charitable Sir.... If you meet a sorrowful countenance with a red coat, be sure the wearer is a disbanded officer. Let a female always attack him, and tell him she is the widow of a poor marine, who had served twelve years, and then broke his heart because he was turned out without a penny. If you meet a homely but dressed-up lady, pray for her lovely face, and beg a penny.'
After his election as King of the Gipsies, or King of the Beggars, as he is more often called, Carew was soon involved in fresh adventures. But one day grey ill-luck looked his way; he was arrested and sent for trial to Exeter. Courage and audacity never failed him, for when the Chairman of Quarter Sessions announced that the prisoner was to be transported to a country which he pronounced Merryland, Carew calmly criticised his pronunciation, and said he thought that Maryland would be more correct. To Maryland he was sent in charge of a brutal sea-captain, and on his arrival, burdened with a heavy iron collar riveted round his neck, was set to all sorts of drudgery. Before very long he contrived to escape into the forests, and after some danger from wild beasts he reached a tribe of friendly Indians, who received him with great kindness. Later he stole a canoe, and, returning to civilized regions, posed as a kidnapped Quaker, in which character he succeeded in gaining the compassion of Whitefield, the great preacher, who gave him 'three or four pounds of that county paper money.' By the help of several ingenious ruses he was able to get home again, and soon afterwards, aided by a turban, a long, loose robe, and flowing beard, appeared as a destitute Greek, whose 'mute silence, his dejected countenance, a sudden tear that now and then flowed down his cheek,' touched the hearts of the benevolent. In an unlucky moment he was impressed for the navy; next travelled in Russia, Poland, Sweden, and other countries, but, returning to England, was again seized, put in irons, and transported. With his usual indomitable spirit and resource, he escaped once more into the forests, and after dangers and hardships reached England. Finally, he ended his days in peace where he began them, and was buried at Bickleigh in 1758.
Five miles east of Tiverton is a village called Sampford Peverell, which in the early part of the nineteenth century suddenly sprang into notice through the strange proceedings of a mysterious spirit, known as the Sampford Ghost. This 'goblin sprite,' as one account calls it, declared itself in a manner well known to psychical researchers, by violent knockings, and by causing a sword, a heavy book, and an iron candlestick to fly about the room. Two maid-servants received heavy blows while they were in bed, and there were other strange and distressing phenomena. These manifestations were continued for more than three years. Numberless visitors, drawn by curiosity from all parts of the country, came to investigate the matter, but no explanation could be found, and though there were suspicions that the whole affair was a very elaborate hoax, and a reward of L250 was offered for information that might throw light upon it, no single attempt was made to claim the money.
Sampford Peverell is a small place, and rather out of the way, but so long ago as in the reign of Edward I it is recorded that John de Hillersdon held the manor on a tenure that reflects the unquiet state of the country. He held it 'in fee, in serjeanty, by finding for our lord the King, in his army in Wales, and elsewhere in England, whensoever war should happen, one man with a horse caparisoned or armed for war at his proper costs for forty days to abide in the war aforesaid.' Hugh Peverell held the Manor of Sandford, near Crediton, on much the same terms, but had to provide 'one armed horseman and two footmen.'
Following down Sampford stream for about three miles, one arrives at the point where the stream reaches an opening into the Culm Valley, and empties itself in the Culm. A very short distance beyond is the little town of Cullompton, of which the most interesting feature is a fine Perpendicular church. An old writer insists that here was formerly 'the figure of Columbus, to which many pilgrims resorted, and which brought considerable sums to the priests'; but of this statement I can find neither confirmation nor denial. The tower of the church is high and decorated. Within, the roof, richly carved and gilded, rests on a carved wall-plate, supported by angel corbels, and most exquisite is the carving of the rood-screen, which has also been gilded and coloured. A very rare possession of this church is 'a portion of a Calvary, and above is an ornamental rood-beam, supported by angels; the Golgotha, carved out of the butts of two trees, is now in the tower, and is hewn and carved to represent rocks bestrewn with skulls and bones; the mortice holes for the crucifix and attendant figures remain.' Early fifteenth-century figures painted on the wall were discovered when the church was 'restored' in 1849, but they were covered with whitewash!
The making of woollen goods throve in earlier times in Cullompton, and a rich clothier, John Lane by name, and his wife Thomasine, added a very beautiful aisle to the church about 1526. The roof of the 'Lane' aisle is covered with exquisite fan-tracery, rich carvings, and figures of angels, and pendants droop from the centre. The pillars, the buttresses, and parts of the outside walls are decorated by carvings of Lane's monogram, his merchant's mark, and different symbols of his trade.
Three miles south-east of Cullompton is another church famed for its beautiful screen. The Plymtree screen is probably unique in bearing on its panels the likenesses of Henry VII, his son Prince Arthur, and Cardinal Morton. The upper part of the screen is a magnificent bit of carving. Graceful pillars rise like stems, and their lines curve outwards into the lines of palm-leaves, overspreading one another, while the arches they form are filled with most delicate tracery, supported on the slenderest shafts. Above are four rows of carving, each of different design—one a vine, with clusters of grapes, and this is repeated more heavily on the capital of a pillar in the nave. The screen must have been glorious in gold and vermilion, and gold lines cross each other, making a sort of lattice-work, with ornaments at the points of intersection—a large double rose, a little shield with the Bouchier knot, or the Stafford knot, or a very naturally carved spray of oak-leaves. Below, the panels are painted with saints and angels and bishops. The King, Prince, and Cardinal appear in a representation of the Adoration of the Three Kings, each one bringing his offering in a differently-shaped vessel. Mr Mozley, a former Rector of Plymtree, has written a most interesting pamphlet on the subject, tracing out the likeness of these portraits to other pictures or busts of the three. He points out that, whereas in most paintings of the Three Kings each has a crown, that of the foremost usually laid on the ground, in this group King Henry alone is crowned; the Cardinal has none; and the Prince, who is represented as very young, is wearing a boy's cap. Mr Mozley has searched carefully for a reason that would account for the group in this little church, and has found what seems to be a perfectly sufficient connecting link. Lord Hastings, who married the heiress of Lord Hungerford, and incidentally acquired the Manor of Plymtree, was the warm friend and political ally of Cardinal Morton. The son and successor of Lord Hastings was a close personal friend of Henry VI, and in consequence a colleague of the Cardinal, the King's chief counsellor. There is no date on the screen, but from various deductions it is believed to have been painted about the end of the fifteenth century, or a little later, and either during the lifetime or just after the death of the three subjects of the group, and of Lord Hastings.
Bradninch lies a short distance to the west of Plymtree, and this church contains a very fine screen and an old and remarkable painting of the Crucifixion. It was originally placed in an aisle that was built in the reign of Henry VII by the Fraternity of St John, or the Guild of Cordwainers.
The Culm runs past Bradninch, at a little distance to the east, and a few miles farther on the river passes under the dark hills of Killerton Park, a heavily wooded and irregular ridge, rising at either extremity and ending in a decided slope down to the flat space just around. The house is not an old one, although the Aclands have been here since the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when Sir John Acland moved from the estate at Landkey, near Barnstaple, where they were already settled in the reign of Henry II. He built a house at Culm John (quite close to Killerton) that was garrisoned for the King during the Civil War, and held out when almost every other place in Devonshire had surrendered. But it has since been pulled down.
There are many stories of different members of this family, but perhaps the most romance lies in that of Lady Harriot Acland, who, with serene courage, followed her husband through the horrors and hardships of a campaign.
In 1776 Major Acland was with the army that had been sent to crush the American struggle for Independence, and his wife had accompanied him. The following extract is taken from a statement by General Burgoyne, the General commanding the troops in Canada: 'In the course of that campaign, she had traversed a vast space of country in different extremities of seasons. She was restrained from offering herself to a share of the hazard expected before Ticonderoga, by the positive injunction of her husband. The day after the conquest of that place he was badly wounded, and she crossed the Lake Champlain to join him.'
When he was recovered, Lady Harriot continued to follow his fortunes through the campaign, and acquired a 'two-wheel tumbril, which had been constructed by the artillery.' Colonel Acland was with the most advanced corps of the army, and they were often in so much danger of being surprised that they had to sleep in their clothes. Once the Aclands' tent and all that was in it was burned, but this accident 'neither altered the resolution nor the cheerfulness of Lady Harriot, and she continued her progress a partaker of the fatigues of the advanced corps. The next call upon her fortitude was more distressful. On the march of the 19th, the Grenadiers being liable to action at every step, she had been directed by Major Acland to follow the route of the artillery and luggage which was not exposed. At the time the action began she found herself near a small uninhabited hut, where she alighted. When it was found the action was becoming general and bloody, the surgeons of the hospital took possession of the same place as the most convenient for the first care of the wounded. Thus was this lady in hearing of one continued fire of cannon and musketry for some hours together, with the presumption, from the post of her husband at the head of the Grenadiers, that he was in the most exposed part of the action. She had three female companions—the Baroness of Reidesel, and the wives of two British officers, Major Harnage and Lieutenant Reynell; but in the event their presence served but little for comfort. Major Harnage was soon brought to the surgeons, very badly wounded; and a little while after came intelligence that Lieutenant Reynell was shot dead. Imagination will want no help to figure the state of the whole group.' Not long afterwards Lady Harriot passed through an even severer ordeal. During another engagement 'she was exposed to the hearing of the whole action, and at last received the shock of her individual misfortune mixed with the intelligence of the general calamity; the troops were defeated, and Major Ackland, desperately wounded, was a prisoner.
'The day of the 8th was passed by Lady Harriot and her companions in common anxiety; not a tent, not a shed being standing except what belonged to the hospital, their refuge was among the wounded and dying.
'I soon received a message from Lady Harriot, submitting to my decision a proposal (and expressing an earnest solicitude to execute it if not interfering with my designs) of passing to the camp of the enemy and requesting General Gates's permission to attend her husband.... I was astonished at this proposal. After so long an agitation of the spirits, exhausted not only for want of rest, but absolutely want of food, drenched in rains for twelve hours together, that a woman should be capable of such an undertaking as delivering herself to the enemy, probably in the night, and uncertain of what hands she might fall into, appeared an effort above human nature. The assistance I was enabled to give her was small indeed; I had not even a cup of wine to offer her; but I was told she had found from some kind and fortunate hand a little rum and dirty water. All I could furnish to her was an open boat and a few lines written upon dirty and wet paper, to General Gates, recommending her to his protection.
'Mr Brudenell, the chaplain to the Artillery, ...readily undertook to accompany her, and with one female servant, and the Major's valet-de-chambre (who had a ball, which he had received in the late action, then in his shoulder), she rowed down the river to meet the enemy. But her distresses were not yet to end. The night advanced before the boat reached the enemy's outposts, and the sentinel would not let it pass, nor even come on shore. In vain Mr Brudenell offered the flag of truce.... The guard threatened to fire into the boat if they stirred before daylight.' And for seven or eight dark and cold hours they were obliged to wait. Happily, when at length she did reach the shore, Lady Harriot was received with all courtesy by General Gates, and had the joy of nursing her husband back to health.
A little to the south-west of Killerton Park lie the well-ordered park and beautiful grounds of Lord Poltimore. John Bampfylde, his ancestor, was lord of this manor in the reign of Edward I, but the line of succession has been threatened by an episode, told by Prince (in his 'Worthies of Devon'), that reads like a folk-story. At one time the head of the family was a child, who, left an orphan very young, was given as a ward 'to some great person in the East Country.' This gentleman carried the child away to his own home, and, although not going quite so far as the wicked uncle in The Babes in the Wood, behaved very treacherously to his ward; 'concealing from him his quality and condition, and preventing what he could any discovery thereof, his guardian bred him up as his servant, and at last made him his huntsman.'
To any who concerned themselves about the boy, the false guardian 'some years after gave it out, he was gone to travel (or the like pretence), in-so-much his relations and friends, believing it to be true, looked no further after him.' But Bampfylde's tenants were more faithful, and one of them, on his own responsibility, rose to the tremendous effort and enterprise of starting off in search of him. His loyalty was rewarded with full success, for he was able to find and identify the young man, and, biding his time, the tenant grasped an opportunity of talking quietly to him, and 'acquainted him with his birth and fortunes, and finally arranged his escape.' And in this way the true heir came to his own again.
In the spring of 1646 Poltimore House was chosen by Fairfax as the meeting-place of his commissioners and those sent by Sir John Berkeley, and here they discussed the articles of the surrender of besieged Exeter, and drew up the treaty that could be accepted by both sides.
Sir Coplestone Bampfylde, having 'a vigorous soul,' worked for the Restoration with so much zeal that messengers were sent from the Parliament to arrest him, and he was forced to hide.
But 'his generous mind could not be affrighted from following his duty and honour,' and as the citizens of Exeter, by this time very dissatisfied with the Government, were beginning to arm, declaring for a free Parliament, Sir Coplestone and other gentlemen composed an address, demanding the recall of the members secluded in 1648, and 'all to be admitted without any oath or engagement previous to their entrance.' He next took his way to London, to present 'an humble petition of right' on behalf of the county to General Monk, but was seized by the Parliament and flung into the Tower. His imprisonment was brief, and Charles II rewarded Bampfylde's energy by choosing him to be the first High Sheriff of the county of his reign, and later appointing him to other posts of 'trust and honour.'
John Bampfylde, a descendant of Sir Coplestone's, was a poet, and among his verses occurs this charming sonnet, on that not unknown event in Devon—a Wet Summer:
'All ye who far from town in rural hall, Like me, were wont to dwell near pleasant field, Enjoying all the sunny day did yield— With me the change lament, in irksome thrall, By rains incessant held; for now no call From early swain invites my hand to wield The scythe. In parlour dim I sit concealed, And mark the lessening sand from hour-glass fall; Or 'neath my window view the wistful train Of dripping poultry, whom the vine's broad leaves Shelter no more. Mute is the mournful plain. Silent the swallow sits beneath the thatch, And vacant hind hangs pensive o'er his hatch, Counting the frequent drip from reeded eaves.'
Poltimore is nearly two miles east of the Exe, and if a straight line across country were followed to the river, the traveller would arrive almost at the point where the Culm flows into the larger stream. The valley here is rather broad, and the river winds between pleasant, rich, green meadows and wooded hills, most of which rise in gentle, easy slopes. Not quite two miles north of Exeter, the Exe turns due south, and is joined by the Creedy, running south-west. Westcote, in flowery language, describes the scene, painting a picture which would stand good to-day, but that nearly all the mills are gone. Cowley Bridge, 'built of fair square stone,' stands just above the junction, 'where Exe musters gloriously, being bordered on each side with profitable mills, fat green marshes and meadows (enamelled with a variety of golden spangles of fragrant flowers, and bordered with silver swans), makes a deep show, as if she would carry boats and barges home to the city; but we are opposed by Exwick wear, and indeed wears have much impaired his lustre and portable ability, which else might have brought his denominated city rich merchandise home to the very gates.'
Here one may leave the Exe to follow the Creedy upstream for five miles or so, till Crediton is reached. 'Creedy' comes from the Celtic word Crwydr, a hook or crook, a name that its tortuous way must have earned. The river runs between crumbling banks of soft earth, and shifts its course a little after any great flood. It is curious to notice the difference after heavy rains between the Exe and the Creedy, for while the former will be still a comparatively clear brown, even when it comes down a great swirling flood, thundering over the weirs and hurrying along honeycombs of foam, the Creedy will have turned to a surging, turbid volume of water, of a deep red, terra-cotta colour, that leaves traces of red mud in the overhanging trees when the river has subsided.
The valley is a narrow one, and on the hill-sides are copses and orchards, lovely as a sea of pink and white blossoms, and very admirable on a bright day in September, when the bright crimson cider apples, and golden ones with rosy cheeks, are showing among the leaves, and the hot sunshine, following a touch of frost, brings out the clean, crisp, sweet scent of ripe apples till it floats across roads and hedges. Leland remarks that 'the ground betwixt Excestre and Crideton exceeding fair Corn Greese and Wood. There is a praty market in Kirton.' Kirton was the popular name for the town. Its origin is far to seek, for the saying runs:
'Crediton was a market town, When Exeter was a vuzzy down.'
[Footnote 1: Vuzz, i.e. furze.]
However this may have been, it is, at any rate, certain that the Bishops of Devon were seated at Crediton for over one hundred and forty years before, in 1050, Leofric removed to Exeter. And nearly two and a half centuries before the first Bishop settled at Crediton, religious feeling was awake, as is shown by the story of St Boniface, or, as he was originally called, Wynfrith. This saint, the great missionary to the Germans, is believed to have been born here in the year 680, and at a very early age he wished to become a monk. His desire was not at once granted, for his father could not bear to part with him, and much opposition had to be overcome before he was allowed to go to school in Exeter. After he was ordained, Boniface won the respect and confidence of Ina, King of the West Saxons, but feeling that his work lay in another country, he went to Thuringia, to throw his strength into the conversion of the heathen. Combining 'learning, excellency of memory, integrity of life, and vivacity of spirit, he was fit for great employment,' says an old writer, and he was chosen Archbishop of Mentz, becoming the chief authority on all spiritual matters in Germany. In spite of the heavy cares and toils entailed by his high office, St Boniface still laboured personally among the recalcitrant heathen, and in his seventy-sixth year
'Had his death by faithless Frisians slain.'
Eight Bishops lived and died at Crediton, and the ninth demanded that the see should be transferred from Crediton to Exeter. The chief reason put forward was that Exeter was a strong city, and less likely to be ravaged by Irish Danes and other 'barbarian pirates,' but Professor Freeman suggests that Leofric also desired the change because he had been educated on the Continent, where it was never the custom for a Bishop's chief seat to be in a village when a larger town was in his diocese. Anyhow, Leofric obtained his wish, and was led to his throne in St Peter's Church in Exeter by the King on one hand and the Queen on the other, in the presence of two Archbishops and other nobles.
The palace and park at Crediton remained in the possession of the Bishops till the Dissolution.
The beautiful Church of St Cross stands either upon or close to the site of the original cathedral of the Bishops, which, on the removal of the See to Exeter, was made a collegiate church, with precentor, treasurer, dean, eighteen canons and as many vicars, besides singing-men or lay-vicars.
The present church is mainly Perpendicular, though the Lady Chapel is early Decorated, and there are portions of still earlier work. The tower is central, square, and rather low. It is surmounted by four embattled turrets, and battlements run round the roof of the church. The whole building is of a soft rose-red colour, but the walls within were once whitewashed, and are now of a slightly cooler tint. The clustered pillars look as if, over a warm, soft grey, a faint, transparent tinge of rose-colour had passed, leaving a very lovely effect; they are tall and graceful, and delicate carving adorns the capitals. The nave is lofty and unusually long. On the south side of the chancel are sedilia, once elaborately decorated and glorious in vermilion and gold; a design resembling a very large but intricate network in gold spreads over the backs of the sedilia, and a little figure, with faint traces of colour and gilding, stands at one end. On the north side of the chancel is the effigy, lying at full length, of William Peryam; and close by is a monument to John Tuckfield, engraved with an epitaph full of praise, in which occur these lines, in peculiar lettering and spelling:
'Why do I live, in Life and Thrall, Of Joy and all Bereaft, Yor Winges were grown, To Heaven are flown, 'Cause I had none am Leaft.'
The Lady Chapel is beautifully decorated. At the south end of the choir is a large tomb, on which lie, side by side, the effigies of a knight in armour and a lady with a wonderful head-dress, large and square. The figures are somewhat mutilated, but the little angels that supported her head can just be distinguished. The tomb is supposed to be that of Sir John Sully and his wife; he, having fought at Crecy and Poictiers, lived to give evidence, at the age of 105, in the great Scrope and Grosvenor controversy.
In the south porch is a bit of early English work, a piscina and holy-water stoup side by side, under one arch, with a very slender detached shaft between. The upper portion of the font is late Norman, and is dark, shallow, and square. Behind the font a small door and tiny staircase lead up to the parvise, where is stored a library that was given for the priest's use. The books include a 'Vinegar' Bible, an Eikon Basilike, and other treasures.
There is a curious account of a miracle that took place in this church on August 1, 1315, while Bishop Stapeldon was celebrating Mass. Thomas Orey, a fuller by trade, of Keynsham, became suddenly blind one day in Easter week for no apparent reason. A vivid dream that, if he should visit the Church of Holy Cross at Crediton, his sight would return, induced him to journey there with his wife, and several witnesses, afterwards called by the Bishop to give evidence, solemnly asserted that when he arrived in the town he was totally blind. Two days he spent in the church, and on the third, he being 'instant at prayer before the altar of St Nicholas, suddenly recovered his sight.'
Crediton had for a long time a very important trade in woollen goods, which were made here as early as in the thirteenth century. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth it was one of the principal centres of the manufacture in the county, and, indeed, caused Exeter so much jealousy that weavers, tuckers, and others, petitioned the authorities until it was ordained that the serge-market should be removed from here, and a weekly one set up in Exeter, to the great and natural indignation of Crediton. 'Their market for kersies hath been very great, especially of the finer sort,' says Westcote, 'for the aptness and diligent industry of the inhabitants ... did purchase it a supereminent name above all other towns, whereby grew this common proverb—as fine as Kirton spinning ... which spinning was very fine indeed, which to express, the better to gain your belief, it is very true that 140 threads of woollen yarn spun in that town were drawn together through the eye of a tailor's needle; which needle and threads were, for many years together, to be seen in Watling-street, in London, in the shop of one Mr Dunscombe.'