Parochial history: Introduction

Pages 1-4

Magna Britannia: Volume 6, Devonshire. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1822.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. Public Domain.



There is nothing like a regular parochial history of any part of Devonshire except that of the archdeaconry of Exeter, published by the Rev. R. Polwhele, as will be hereafter mentioned.

In the early part of the seventeenth century, there were three industrious antiquaries, contemporaries, who made large collections towards a topographical history of this county: Sir William Pole, who died in 1636; Mr. Tristram Risdon, who died in 1640; and Mr. Thomas Westcote, of Raddon, who died about the same year.

Sir William Pole's collections, which consist, chiefly, of the descent of landed property and families, compiled from various public records, deeds, &c., were published in 1791, by his descendant, the late Sir John William Pole, Bart. Mr. Tristram Risdon's work, which he denominated, "A Chorographical Description or Survey of Devon," was in a great measure borrowed, as he himself has stated, from Sir William Pole's collections. This survey, which is brought down to about the year 1630, was first published in two small octavo volumes, in 1714.

Westcote's work is still in manuscript: there is a copy of it in the British Museum, and another in Sir L. V. Palk's library. In an appendage to the MS. in the Museum, he speaks as if his work had been already published, and notices many objections which had been made to it by the critics of that day. (fn. n1) Among other matters, he says, he had been accused of having omitted any mention of the great bear, which fought nine dogs when the Duke of Anjou, the French king's brother, was in Devonshire.

Mr. William Chapple, of Exeter, in the year 1772, issued proposals for a new edition of Risdon's Survey, with a continuation to his own time; for this work he had been some years making collections, and had sent circular queries to the clergy. He lived to complete only a small part of it. The title was to have been "A Review of Risdon's Survey, with Corrections, Annotations, and Additions." That part of the work which contained the general description of the county was published in 1785, four years after Mr. Chapple's death. A small part of the particular description, which was printed, but not published, together with answers to many of Mr. Chapple's circular letters and other collections, are now the property of Sir L. V. Palk, Bart., by whom I have been favoured with the use of them. A new edition of Risdon's Survey was published in 1811, in an octavo volume, with 68 pages of additional matter continuing the history of property in some parishes down to that period.

In the year 1793 the Rev. Richard Polwhele, vicar of Manaccan, in Cornwall, who had been for some years the resident curate of Kenton, near Exeter, published the second volume of a history of Devonshire, in folio, containing a "Chorographical Description or Parochial Survey" of the archdeaconry of Exeter. This appears to have been followed by a brief survey of the archdeaconries of Barnstaple and Totnes; the whole of those two archdeaconries being described in little more than 100 pages. It is called a third volume, but the paging is continued from the second. In 1798 appeared the first volume of this work, containing the natural history of Devonshire, and its general history divided into periods and heads.

Mr. Polwhele published also, in 1793, the first volume of "Historical Views of Devonshire," in quarto. This work, which was to have been extended to five volumes, has not been continued.

The city of Exeter has had several historians: its earliest history is intitled "A Description and Account of the City of Exeter," (1584,) by John Vowell, alias Hoker, who had been chamberlain of the city, and one of its representatives in parliament. This history is particularly interesting from the circumstance of the author's having been an eye-witness of many of the historical facts which he relates, particularly of the siege of Exeter in 1549.

Richard Izacke, Esq., who was also chamberlain of the city, published "Remarkable Antiquities of the City of Exeter," in 1677. Samuel Izacke, Esq., the author's son and successor, published an enlarged edition in 1723; the latest edition is that of 1741. Mr. Samuel Izacke published also (1736) a register of legacies left to the poor of Exeter, from 1164 to 1674. This work was reprinted in 1751, and again in 1786, by T. Brice, under the title of "Rights and Privileges of the Freemen of Exeter." A new edition, with additions, was published by the Rev. William Carwithen in 1820.

A history of Exeter was begun to be published in numbers by Thomas Brice, in 1802, but was never completed. Mr. S. Woolmer, in 1805, published a concise account of the city of Exeter, its neighbourhood, and adjacent watering places. In 1806 a history and description of the city of Exeter, in an octavo volume of about 450 pages, was published by Alexander Jenkins. There is also an anonymous history of Exeter, compiled from Hoker, Izacke, and others, without date. The most correct and valuable work on this subject, is a history of Exeter, compiled from the original documents; the bishops' registers, corporation records, &c. by the Rev. George Oliver (fn. n2), the Roman Catholic clergyman, in 1821. Some account of the cathedral church of Exeter, with plans, elevations, and sections, was published by the Society of Antiquaries, in 1797.

A history of Tiverton, in quarto, was published in 1790, by Mr. Martin Dunsford. An account of Mr. Blundell's foundation and other benefactions to Tiverton school, with notes drawn up by the late Benjamin Incledon, Esq., was printed in an octavo volume in 1804. A history of Bideford, in octavo, was published by John Watkins in 1792. Abraham Hawkins Esq., of Alston, published, in 1819, a volume in small octavo, entitled "Kingsbridge and Salcombe, with the intermediate Estuary, historically and topographically delineated."

The Rev. William Jones published, in 1779, in a small octavo volume, a history of the religious houses in Devon and Cornwall. A much more complete work on this subject, as far as relates to Devonshire, was published, in 1820, by the Rev. George Oliver, above mentioned. An ecclesiastical survey of the diocese of Exeter was published in a quarto volume in 1782.

A botanical tour in Devonshire and Cornwall was published in 1820, by the Rev. J. Pike Jones, curate of North-Bovey.

A general view of the agriculture of the county of Devon, drawn up for the Board of Agriculture, was published in quarto, in 1794: another work, on the same subject, drawn up also for the Board of Agriculture, by Mr. Charles Vancouver, was published in octavo, in 1808; and a second edition in 1813.

A well-known biographical volume relating to this county, called "The Worthies of Devon," was published by the Rev. John Prince, vicar of Berry Pomeroy, in 1701. A new edition, with notes, came out in 1810. The genealogical history of the Courtenay family by the Rev. Ezra Cleaveland, B. D., has much reference to this county, containing a detailed history of the Earls of Devonshire, and of the Haccombe and Powderham branches.

The following brief parochial history has been constructed in the same manner as those of the preceding counties. The descent of the principal landed property has been taken chiefly from Sir William Pole's collections, and Risdon's Survey, occasionally aided by public records, particularly the Hundred Rolls, and others in the Tower, from whence also ample materials have been obtained relating to charters for markets and fairs, the constructing of castellated mansions, &c.; and on this head I have to acknowledge the liberality of the present keeper of the records, Henry Petrie, Esq. The more modern descent of property is taken, in some instances, from the new edition of Risdon's Survey, but chiefly from information obligingly communicated by the present proprietors of estates, or their agents.

The notes relating to ancient chapels, chantries, &c., have been communicated as before, by John Caley, Esq. of the Augmentation-office.

Church notes and other local information have been collected during several journeys to various parts of the county, which commenced so long ago as the year 1807. The church notes and heraldic papers of the late Benjamin Incledon, Esq. have been obligingly communicated by his son, R. N. Incledon, Esq. of Yeo-town.

The present state of endowed schools and almshouses, and the present proprietors of landed property in each parish, have been obtained, as in other counties, through the medium of a correspondence with the clergy, who have very readily given their assistance.

It is hoped that indulgence will be shown for such errors as may have been occasioned by the author's not beingaware, in many instances, of recent changes (fn. n3), which will probably be more than usual, from the unavoidable delays which have occurred in completing this volume.


  • n1. He states one of the objections thus: "You are curious to show the possessors of manors, in the time of the three Edwards, and Henry III., and upwards; some in the Conqueror's; but you take small regard to name the now enjoyers, which would have been very acceptable." To this he answers, "If the modern possessors have a mansion-house in them, and are there seated, not one of them is forgotten; but for the generality of manors, it is very difficult, if not altogether impossible, for many of the chiefest are lately dismembered; some others in coparcenary under two or three, or perchance more; and then I must name none or all, or be reproved again. Some may change, or alter, even while I write; as two or three of the best are said to be on the point at this present." There is no date throughout the MS. It must have been written between 1628 and 1636, as it appears that Edward Earl of Bath, whom he calls the Primum Mobile of his labours, was living; and he speaks of Judge Doddridge's death as having happened not long since. The Judge died in 1628; the Earl, in 1636
  • n2. I have to express my thanks to this gentleman for the liberal use of his work, whilst going through the press, as well as for communications from his MS. notes, which will be found frequently quoted.
  • n3. See note a, p. 1.