Small Talk in Wreyland, by Cecil Torr

Excerpts relevant to Moretonhampstead

Reproduced by permission from the edition published by Forest Publishing in 1996.   © Forest Publishing 1996


George  Bidder;    Battle of Bovey (1645);    Coaches;    Corn prices;   Dancing tree;  Rev. Davy,  Rev Davy;  Feoffees and parish property;  Fires;  Jacksons in America;  Library;   Market;   Jonathan May;   Peace celebration 1814;     Post ;   Prisoners of War;  Protestation Return (1641);  Railway;   SewerWray Barton ;    Wrestling

Section I (1918)

p. 5.  [Grandfather] writes to my father, 28 March 1847: – ‘Yet at Moreton, if the signboard of the Punch Bowl creaked upon its hinges, and the smoke blew down at Treleaven’s corner, rain was sure to follow, let the quicksilver be high or low’

p. 8.  Some years ago there was an ash-tree growing in the hedge of a field of mine at Moreton.  The field was let as allotments; and the tree was a nuisance to the man who had the allotment next it, as its roots spread out along his ground.  He asked me several times to have the tree cut down; but I liked the tree and was unwilling to lose ite asHe as. And then there came a thunderstorm, and the tree was struck by lightning and destroyed.  I thought it strange, but he explained it simply: – ‘I’d prayed ag’in that tree’.

p. 16.  The family of Pipard gave its name to Piparden, which is now Pepper Down.

p. 17.  Domesday  dwellings seen from Reddiford Down:  Woolley = Vluelei, Pullabrook = Polebroch, Hawkmoor = Hauocmore, Elsford = Eilauesford.

p. 23  There was another case of which I heard a good deal from my father – a murder by highwaymen about six miles from here.  The facts are noted in his diary.  On 16 July 1835: – ‘Mr Jonathan May murdered at Jacobs Well near Moreton at half past ten in the evening: he dined at my father’s that day.’  On 28 July 1836, at Exeter during the assizes: – ‘Buckingham Joe (Oliver) and Turpin (Galley) tried for the murder of Mr Jonathan May, found guilty and sentenced to be hung’.  On 12 August 1836: – ‘Saw Buckingham Joe hung’.

He doubted if they hanged the right man after all, but felt it did not really matter, as the man should have been hanged for other things, if not for that.

p. 24  ‘London, 4 January 1854.  Mr Torr bets Mr Jackson (& Mr J. Mr T. vice versa) that Buttern Down summit is at least 700 feet above Forder, Moreton, a dinner at the White Hart, Moreton, to all friends the winner chooses to invite.’  It is only 500 feet above.

p. 24  My grandfather writes to my brother, 16 January 1862: – ‘I enclose a piece of poetry, which was sent to me, on the old Cross Tree at Moreton.  The stone cross erected there with a bason on the top to contain holy water, you are aware, is a relic of Popery.  There was one at Chagford like it until some three years ago the lord of the manor, old Mr Southmead, destroyed it cross and all, for he had such dislike of Popery.  I have known others in town-places, but this at Moreton is the last that I know of remaining, and the old tree is going to decay.  I should tell you that some fifty years or more ago Mr Harvey’s house was an inn, and the innkeeper had the interstices of the tree floored over like a room, and the people used to go up and drink and smoke, and all holyday times dancing was kept up for many nights together.  I have danced there and drank there with good jovial parties:  times were different then.’  And he goes on to mention other people who used to dance there: people whom I remember in their old age, sedate and solemn, looking as though they had never danced anything less stately than a minuet.

p. 31  In those days George Bidder lived in a large house near Mitcham.  He was then a very eminent civil-engineer, but in his early days he was The Calculating Boy.  He was born at Moreton in 1806, and was well known to my grandfather.  There is a book here, dated 1820, giving calculations that he made always correctly, and generally in less than a minute.  They include such things as finding the cube root of 304,821,217 – answered instantly – or 67,667,921,875 – answered in ¼ minute – and of 897,339,273,974,002,153 – answered in 2½ minutes.  I had the cheek to ask him how he did it.  And he told me that he used his mind’s eye, and could see the figures manoeuvring in front of him.

I found it was unwise to talk at random in his presence: there were snubs at hand.  When I was about ten years old, I was talking about the well at Grenelle, which I had lately seen.  The well is 1800 feet deep, and the water rises 150 feet above ground level: temperature 80º Fahrenheit.  I said I could not make out what sent it up like that.  Between two puffs of his cheroot Bidder grunted: – ‘Steam’.

Parson Davy was always asking Bidder questions, when he was still The Calculating Boy.  But the Parson always got the worst of it, although he had some gifts that way himself, and might have been more eminent as an engineer than as a theologian.

p. 32  Davy was born in 1743 near Tavistock, but passed his early years near here at Chudleigh and at Knighton, went to the Grammar School at Exeter and thence to Balliol College at Oxford, was then ordained, and held the curacies of Moreton, Drewsteignton and Lustleigh, remaining in the last from 1786 until about six months before his death in 1826.  For that space of forty years he was practically the parson of the parish, the rector being a pluralist and rarely visiting the place.

p. 47-8  There were many fires in Moreton about seventy or eighty years ago.  In those times the insurance companies had fire engines of their own, and people trusted to these engines.  After a fire there, 11 September 1838, my father writes in his diary:- ‘The Moreton engine poured on the thatch in front of Mrs Heyward’s house, and kept the fire in the back premises.  But, as the fire was extending towards the White Hart, which was insured in the ‘West of England,’ the engine (which belonged to that office) was removed there to endeavour to preserve the inn.  As soon as the engine was removed, the fire came into the front of Mrs Heyward’s house, and extended on in Pound Street…There ought to be two engines in the place; and, as the Sun lost so much, perhaps they will send one there.’  After another fire there, 12 September 1845, my grandfather writes to him:- ‘Many houses not insured:  their owners dropt it at Ladyday last, when the advance took place on thatched houses.’  This fire was  notable event.  My father writes in his diary, Coblence, 21 September 1845: – ‘Read in the Galignani newspaper an account of the recent fire at Moreton, which has destroyed so much of the town.’

p. 64  30 January 1861: – ‘I find there was a meeting at Moreton yesterday about this line of railway from Newton to Okehampton. . . .

The existing railway from Newton to Moreton was projected in 1858, and was carried out under the Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway Act, 1862. . . . .  Work was begun on 10 August 1863, but not near here till 9 November.  In the autumn of 1864 surveys were made for an extension of the line from Moreton to Chagford; but nothing ever came of that.  The line was opened to Moreton on 4 July 1866.

p. 68-9  Until the rail reached Newton, letters came by coach to Chudleigh.  Writing to my father on 25 June 1843, my grandfather says: – ‘Our post is altered.  There is a horse-post direct from Chudley to Moreton:  the bag is merely dropt at the office locked:  he takes no letters on the road.  Now in future we shall be obliged to send to Bovey with and for letters.’  They had hitherto sent out to Kelly Cross upon the Moreton road. . .

p. 70  [Discussing coaches]  In 1841 there was an innovation; and [my grandfather] writes to my father on 22 June: – ‘Moreton, they say, is all alive:  there are three vehicles which they call Omnibusses.  Wills goes from Exeter (through Moreton) to Plymouth, Waldron and Croot to Exeter and Newton.   All grades appear to go by this means, even the farmers go instead of horseback.’

Section II (1920).

p. 2  In 1437, and perhaps a good deal earlier, there was a King’s Highway passing through the end of Wreyland Manor at Kelly, and thus coinciding with the present road from Newton up to Moreton. 

p. 5  The great roads over Dartmoor were not completed until about 150 years ago.  One of them runs north-eastward from Plymouth to Moreton and so to Exeter and London, and the other runs south-eastward from Tavistock to Ashburton. . .  About three miles out from Moreton on the Plymouth road there is a road from Ashburton to Chagford; and at the crossing of these roads the highwaymen were hanged in chains, when caught.  At least, my father and my grandfather both told me so; and such things might have happened even in my father’s time, as hanging in chains was not abolished until 1834.

p. 13  A friend at Moreton writes to him [his grandfather], 11 January 1846, ‘The poor will suffer much from the high price of corn and no potatoes.  The farmers never had such times.  Cattle and sheep are at enormous prices – a farmer told me his stock was worth £1300 more than last year’.  He writes again, 30 September 1849, ‘Farmers are down in the mouth:  cattle selling very low, and there is a complete panic.  All the little farmers will be ruined.’

The same friend writes him, 54 July 1846, ‘I had a man yesterday who has just £300 a year in land, and he thinks that corn will during the next fourteen years be very little if at all lower than during the last fourteen .[That was so].  The increase of population and the demand for labour thro’ the extension of trade and making of railroads will, he thinks, tend to keep up the price.  He says we are only now beginning to expand’.

p. 23  A friend of my father’s writes to him from Moreton, 13 November 1843, ‘We are going to have a ringing match here tomorrow.  There has been nothing else but this noise the last three or four days’.

p. 29  The railway company called the station Newton Abbot to avoid confusion with the other Newtons on other companies’ lines.  When they made this branch to Moreton, they called it Moretonhampstead to avoid confusion with the other Moretons.  But there are other Hampsteads also.  I saw a package on the platform there, sent down from London by mistake, and just endorsed – ‘Try Hemel Hempsted’ – another 250 miles by train.

Moreton is the moor town, and the moor is Dartmoor; but the old spelling is retained in Moreton, though in Dartmoor it is obsolete – nobody writes Dartmore now.  Such a name as Moretonhampstead is absurd, for tun and ham and stede are Anglo-Saxon words, all meaning the same thing.  It came into use somewhere about 1600, I do not know exactly when, nor why.

p. 38-9  On a grave in Moreton churchyard there is a little granite figure of a child with wings.  A man from Cornwall was working in a quarry near there; and when his child died, he got a block of granite from the quarry and carved an angel out of that.  It is a crude piece of work without any of the mechanical excellence of the monuments close by, yet it impresses me much more.  I fancy that the genius of the place is present there and gazing up towards those solemn hills where the Giant’s Grave stands out against the sky.

p 60  My grandfather writes to my father, 28 May 1858 – ‘There was a grand wrestling match at Moreton on Saturday, set on foot by Mr****, who said he would see one match more before he left the world.’  A few years earlier  there was wrestling at Moreton every summer.  My grandfather notes, 22 June 1841 ‘Moreton Wrestling today,’ 14 June 1842, ‘Wrestling at Moreton today and tomorrow,’, and so on, and usually with a further note that so-and-so or so-and-so had gone off there instead of sticking to work.

p. 71  My father was puzzled about a lady who lived at Moreton, where she could not possibly have many interests in life, yet seemed as active-minded and alert as if she mixed in the great world.  He spent some time one afternoon in conversation with her, trying to discover where her interests lay; but the only thing that was elicited was this – she always made a point of knowing what everyone in Moreton had for dinner on a Sunday.

Very small things made a great commotion in a little town like that.  There is a letter to my father from a friend there, 30 June 1843 – ‘We had Sand’s Horsemen here on Friday last, who managed to take about £100l, which is a larger sum than they took in Exeter in one day or almost any other place.  All the Beauty, Rank and Wealth of the neighbourhood for some miles were present – quite grand for Moreton – indeed I never saw so many persons in Moreton before.

Not many years ago a man at Moreton said something slanderous about another man there.  He was threatened with an action, and compromised it by agreeing to publish an apology and devote a sum of money to any public purpose that the injured party chose to name.  The public purpose was chosen very astutely – taking the whitewash off the almshouses, a fine old granite building dated 1637.  The building is mentioned in the guide-books, and many people go to see it.  Finding it improved, they ask about it; and then (as the astute man had foreseen) they hear the story of the other man’s discomfiture.

p. 72-3  There is a letter to my father, 12 September 1852, from a lawyer at Moreton, a very able man, who died in early life from no complaint but being bored to death.  He says – ‘I copied 29 sheets draft and engrossed a deed and settled two mortgages and a lease yesterday:  hard work that’.

There came a time when lawyers (and others) did not work so hard at Moreton.  In his diary  on 20 January 1870, two months before his death, my grandfather notes that he had been to Moreton in the morning to see the lawyer and the doctor – neither at home, one hunting, the other shooting:  so lost my labour.

Writing to my father on 3 December 1844, my grandfather says – ‘There is a literary society formed in Moreton.  I suppose it must be a sort of mechanics institute.  I fear the intellect of Moreton is too shallow to make much progress for some time.  However, that is the way to make it better.’

A friend of my father’s writes to him from Moreton on 23 November 1844, ‘We have a meeting tomorrow for the purpose of establishing a Reading Room and Library for all classes,’ and then on 13 December, ‘I enclose a copy of the rules of our Society for the promotion of knowledge. . . . We have £11 to lay out in books at once.  We have expended a portion of that sum already in the purchase of selections from the ‘Family Library’ 2/6 per vol, Cabinet and Lardner’s Cyclopaedia 3/-, and Chambers very useful elementary books on the sciences etc., all the nos (27) of Knights weekly volume 1/- each (the cheapest and best almost new publishing) and two or three of Murrays cheap edition etc. etc, in all nearly 90 volumes: cost about £7.  We are going to take in weekly the ‘Athenaeum’, Chambers Journal and Chambers Miscellany, some mechanics magazine and one or two other monthlys.  Lectures once a week till April.  The object of the Society is to benefit all classes and particularly tradesmen and their apprentices and mechanics etc. who will be much better in the reading room for a couple of hours than in a public house.  The reading room was to be open three times a week, and the librarian was to have £8 a year for the use of the room (it being in his house) including coals and candles and his own services.

There is now a Public Library at Moreton, an ostentatious building which must have cost at least a hundred times as much as the books that it contains.  People can read newspapers there and bring away light literature to read at home.  But such libraries are seldom of real use. . . .

p. 95  There were three brothers at Moreton who went out to America.  They were not relations of mine, but were connexions by the marriage of their eldest brother to one of my great-great-aunts, a sister of my father’s mother’s mother.  So far as I know the family history, it begins with Clement Jackson of Moreton and Honor his wife, and goes on through their son Abraham, born 1678, their grandson Jabez, born 1700, and their great-grandson James, born 1730, to their great-great-grandsons Jabez, born 1756, James, born 1757, Abraham, born 1767, and Henry, born 1778.  The last three went to America in 1772, 1783 and 1790, married there, and died there in 1806, 1809 and 1840.  They all settled in Georgia.  Their father had a friend out there, John Wereat; and Wereat looked after James, and James looked after his young brothers.

James sided with the colonists in the War of Independence.  He was in a law-office at Savannah in the spring of 1776, when the British ships came down from Boston  commandeering; and he joined in the resistance there and went on through the war, becoming a colonel then and a major-general ten years afterwards.  He was in the House of Representatives in the first Congress of the United States, 1789-1791, and (after a disputed election) again till 1793, and then in the Senate from 1793 to 1795, when he resigned and went back to Georgia to attend to matters there.  He was Governor of Georgia from 1798 to 1801, and a Senator again from 1801 until his death (at Washington) in 1806.  It was a strange career for anybody born at Moreton.

His brothers Abraham and Henry did not go out to America until the war was over.  Abraham became a colonel. He fought a dozen duels, and in the last one he and his opponent shot each other through the legs.  They had no seconds and no doctor, and were fighting on a lonely island in a stream, and both were nearly dead when they were found.  That was the story that my father always told me; but I see there is a similar story in Charlton’s Life of James Jackson, page 18 – They went upon the ground without seconds and fought at the desperate distance of a few feet. . . . Mr Wells lost his life, and Major Jackson was badly wounded in both of his knees.?  That was in 1780, and the Major was James, not Abraham, who was still in England then.

[More about their descendants follows].

p. 101  On coming to Wrey Barton he [his father] observes, ‘The late owner is said about fifteen years ago to have burnt all the deeds which were then more than sixty years old.’

p. 101  The old roll [of 21 September 1342] sets out the customs of the manor of South Teign.  That manor extended into the parishes of Chagford, Moreton and North Bovey, and first belonged to the Crown and then to the Duchy of Cornwall.

Section III  (1922-3)

p. 5  They had a festival at Moreton, 26 July 1814, with a dinner and a procession like a Lord Mayor?s Show.  The programme has been preserved.  ‘Smiths at work in a cart, beating weapons of war into implements of husbandry’. ‘The four corporals late of the Moreton volunteers.’  Blaze led the woolcombers and Crispin led the cordwainers, but the true patron saint was “Bacchus on a tun, dressed in character, with a bottle, glass, &c., drawn on a car.”  And at the dinner there was a cask of cider at the foot of every table.

p. 8-9  When on parole at Ashburton and Moreton and other little towns, the prisoners-of-war were obliged to live in houses which the Agent had approved:  they were not allowed out before six in the morning or after six or seven or eight at night according to the season of the year:  they might not go further than a mile from the end of  the town; and they had to keep to the main roads – if they went further or into cross-roads, fields or woods, it was the Agent’s duty to send them into prison again.  However Agents and others sometimes had blind eyes; and now and then there were escapes.  According to the Entry-book of French prisoners-of-war on parlole at Moreton (now in London at the Public Record Office) twenty-eight arrived in 1897; four of them (a Navy captain and three midshipmen) broke their parole on 27, 28 September  the Entry-book says ‘run’;  another midshipman ‘ran’ in 1809, another one remained till 1810, and a general (Rochambeau) and his servant remained till March 1811; but all the rest, and nine new-comers, left in May 1808, and no more came till March 1810.  In that month ninety-three arrived, and fifty others before October.  One of them died there, and thirty-three ran, including eight captains, eight commanders, and fourteen other Navy officers.  They mostly ran in batches:  six on 28 October and seven on 21 December 1810, five on 18 January and four on 26 January, and six on 11 October 1811.  Fifteen of the others left in 1810, forty-four in 1811 and the remaining fifty in February 1812.

Up to October 1810 the prisoners-of-war at Moreton were chiefly Navy men; but in that month a hundred and twenty-eight arrived, and these were chiefly Army men.  In the Entry-book seventy-one off them are marked ‘General Dupont’s Army, Spain’.  (This army had captiulated at Baylen, 20 July 1808.)  Only one of these men ‘ran’ “he was a surgeon” and the other seventy left in March 1811 together with thirty-three other Army men who arrived in October 1810 but are not entered as Dupont’s.  Of the 24 who arrived then, two died, two ‘ran’, two left in 1811 and 18 in February 1812.  There were only 28 arrivals from November 1810 to March 1812:  four of them ‘ran’, ten left during 1811 and weeven in February 1912, after which date a general (Reynaud) and six others were the only prisoners remaining, and they all left in November 1812.   There were no more prisoners there until May 1814: then 43 arrived, and these very soon left.

This gives a total of 379 French prisoners-of-war on parole at Moreton at one time or another; and the greatest number at any one time was 250 at the beginning of 1811.  Rochambeau was the best known of them ? he came out in full uniform on hearing of any French succeses.  He had been commander-in-chief at San Domingo, captiulated there in 1803 and was not exchanged till 1811; and in 1813 he was killed at Leipzig.

p. 10  They pulled down the old Market House at Moreton to make way for their War Memorial there.  The structure was an upstair room supported on granite columns and sheltering the open space between them; and it was a four-sided room with the corners rounded off, eight of the columns standing at the eight points where the sides began to curve.  It was not a masterpiece of architecture; but it looked quite comfortable in its surroundings there until a new public-library was built on one side of it and a new public-house on the other, and then it looked like one of the New Poor between two Profiteers.  If they were bent on pulling down the room they might at least have left the granite columns and the architrave, put on a roof, and placed their War Memorial in the space below; of it the space seemed disproportionately large they could have moved the columns closer in.

p. 15  There were Four Men of Chagford, Eight Men of Moreton and other Men of other parish towns.  In 1670, when small change was scarce, tokens were issued by the Moreton Men, inscribed, ‘Ye 8 Men and Feefees of Morton.’  As feoffees they held the parish lands in trust; and in 1756 the sole surviving Man enfeoffed thirteen new men, and they agreed that if ‘by their mortality’ they should ever be reduced to one, this one should enfeoff not less than seven more; but the agreement was not kept, and the parish lands passed to the last survivor’s heir-at-law as sole trustee.  These parish lands were the church-house, the school-house, the alms house, two public-houses called the White Swan and the Sun, and a rent-charge of 6s. 8d.  Like many other public-houses, the White Swan became the Union in 1801 in honour of the United Kingdom and the new Union Jack.

p. 22  Among my family papers I found a document of 19 June 13 Elizabeth (1571) quoting one of 24 March in the preceding year – Symon Knyghte of the Cittie of Exceter, marchante, hathe graunted unto Richard Wannell of Moreton Hampsteede, gent, one annuytye or yearly rente of twenty poundes during the naturall lyef of the said Richard and after his deathe unto Katheryne, his wief, duringe the terme of fouerscore yeares yf she so longe lyve.  Knight now lends Wannell £110 on bargain and sale of this annuity as security for repayment  . . . [including Wannell to give] Knight fyfteene hundreds of coyned white tynne good and marchantable without the letter H every hundred wayinge sixscore poundes at and accordinge to the Queenes Maiesties beame at Chagford.

p. 24  For a century or so the Courtenay family received a moidore, in addition to the market price, on granting a new lease of any copyhold in Moreton Manor; thus, on 27 October 1739 a new tenant paid £70 and one moyder of gold.  This manor did not include the whole of Moreton:  there were parts of other manors in the parish; and in one of these, the mannour or lordship of Moretonhampstead and North Bovie, the custom was pretty much the same.  Richard Knight, the lord of the manor, granted a new lease there on 30 September 1689 for £28 and a broad peece of gould, and another on 1 June 1693 for £12 and a gennye of gould.

p. 41.  The old school-house [in Lustleigh] has a tablet in the wall, with the date of 1825 and then these words, Built by subscription and endowed with Lowton Meadow in Moreton for supporting a school for ever by the Rev. William Davy curate of this parish.. . .  [The meadow was sold a century later] to the adjoining owner who had erected a pair of semi-detached residences close up to the hedge.

p. 68  [The Protestation of May 1641]  I obtained copies of the returns for this parish and seven adjoining parishes, made an index to the names, and had my index printed in 1913 for private circulation.  The return for Moreton parish does not say if anyone refused to take the Protestation, but the returns for the other seven parishes say that nobody refused:  so these returns give complete list of all the male inhabitants over eighteen years of age, that being the limit of age for taking the protestation.

There were 411 in Moreton, 53 in Lustleigh, 150 in Hennock, 345 in Bovey, 139 in North Bovey, 77 in Manaton, 179 in Ilsington and 255 in Widdicombe. . . In Moreton there were twenty men called Bowdon, and four of them were John, three were William and three were George.

p. 70  . . at Christmas 1645 there was a Royalist force at Bovey and a Parliamentary force at Tiverton.  Fairfax marched from Tiverton to Moreton, while Cromwell marched from Tiverton to Bovey by another road. . . Next day, 10 January, the weather still extream bitter cold, the forces at Moreton and Bovey had a rendezvouz near Bovey, [citing Sprigge, Anglia Rediviva or England’s Recovery, published in 1647 – Sprigge was chaplain to Fairfax].

p. 91  Moretonhampstead was provided with a sewer in 1905. The main part of the town is on a hill between two little valleys that converge into the valley of the Wrey; and a nine-inch sewer-pipe was carried down each valley to the junction of the two, and a nine-inch sewer-pipe from that point to the sewage-tanks some way further on, as if one nine-inch pipe would take the full contents of two of that same size.  Moreton is a great place for thunderstorms – the conformation of the country brings the clouds that way – and the storm-water comes rushing down the sewer-pipes and drives the sewage along; and of course the sewer-pipes were always bursting where these torrents met.  Instead of laying a larger pipe from the junction to the tanks (which would have been a costly things) the District Council placed a sort of safety-valve above the junction; and now, whenever the pressure is sufficient, the sewage throws up a fountain there.  I have gone to see the fountains at Versailles and Peterhof and other places celebrated for them, but I have never seen another fountain quite like this.  And nobody need go out of his way to see it, as it splashes out on the high road from Moreton here.