spreyton



THE HISTORY OF SPREYTON

An early photograph of Spreyton


The History of Spreyton is written below but the following pages may be of interest;

Origins

The first mention of Spreyton is in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it is called Espreitona or Spreitone. The name is Anglo-Saxon and means “settlement in the brushwood” (from spraeg (brushwood) and tun (settlement or farm). Spraeg has also given us the modern word “spray”, as in a spray of flowers. The Anglo-Saxons settled Devon in around 700 AD. Spreyton may well have been chosen by one of those early settlers as the site for establishing a farm – although it is not inconceivable that it was a Celtic settlement before then.

The settlement would probably have started as a single farm. Dependants and labourers would have settled nearby and other families would have joined them, leading eventually to the typical Devon village with a central settlement surrounding a church and a series of scattered hamlets and farms.

In the early Anglo-Saxon days, the land on which Spreyton sits would probably have been part of the royal estate of the Kings of Wessex. But towards the end of the Anglo-Saxon period, the Anglo-Saxon kings began granting portions of land to their chieftains or nobles, either as a reward for services rendered or in the expectation of loyalty in the future, thus creating what became known as manors, land held by a “lord” with the effective right to pass it on to his heirs. By the time of the Domesday Book, the manor was the basic administrative unit. The monarch remained the owner of the land, however, and could confiscate the manor and “grant” it to someone else – although in settled times he would not normally do so arbitrarily.

Norman Conquest and the Domesday Book

William the Conqueror, when he arrived in 1066, confiscated most of the manors from their Anglo-Saxon holders and bestowed them on his own favoured followers. Spreyton was no exception. The Domesday Book records that, in 1066, the owner of Spreyton Manor was an Anglo-Saxon called Osferth or Osfrith of Okehampton. William seized Spreyton along with Osferth’s other lands, and granted them – together with dozens of other Devon manors – to one of his companions from Normandy and his chief lieutenant in the county, Baldwin, Sheriff of Devon and Baron of Okehampton.

The Domesday Book records the manor as having 27 households in 1086, quite large for a rural Devon manor. Of these households, 14 were “villagers” or villeins; 10 were smallholders and three were “slaves” (i.e. bound to work on their master’s farm). The villagers were free tenants who were required to provide labour services like so many days ploughing on the land of the lord of the manor. The land that they farmed belonged to the lord, but other things being equal would pass to their children when they died, so there was a degree of stability. Ultimately, as the manorial system collapsed, the villagers became yeoman farmers who either owned or had a long lease of their land.

Given the uncertainty about the units of measurement used in the Domesday Book, it is impossible to calculate the area, but it was probably roughly co-terminous with today’s parish. Much of the area would have been covered in woodland. However, there was enough arable land for 12 plough-teams (ploughs pulled by oxen) to plough in a season, although the Domesday Book notes that there were only eight active plough-teams, two belonging to the Lord of the Manor and six belonging to the men of the village. By way of livestock, there were 11 cattle, 60 sheep and 35 goats.

Later mediaeval Spreyton

Baldwin is likely only to have set foot in Spreyton as part of a baronial progress through his many domains, and a steward would have been appointed to run the manor. Manors were in many ways self-governing units with their own courts. The “court baron” dealt with property rights and transfers, the organisation of common fields or pastures, hedging and ditching obligations, straying beasts, etc. The court baron would meet every few weeks and was administered by the steward of the manor. It was normally a condition of free tenants of the manor that they should attend these courts. The “court leet” dealt with petty criminal offences and could impose fines and other punishments. The jurisdiction of the court leet varied according to the manor. A document of 1285 records Spreyton as one of the relatively few where the lord of the manor had the right or “liberty” to impose the death penalty (“gallows”). Other rights included “assize of bread and beer” (regulating price, weight and quality), and “waifs and strays” (the right to take possession of unclaimed property and stray animals).

Sometime before 1166, Baldwin or his successors (who became the Courtenays, Earls of Devon) granted the Manor of Spreyton to Willam Talbot. We know nothing about the origins of the Talbots, but they were to stay in Spreyton for the next 300 years or so. The Talbots probably lived at Spreyton Barton. “Barton” is often the name given to the house of the lord of the manor. There used to be a convenient gate from Barton into the churchyard providing a short-cut to the church for the occupants of Barton, an indication of their importance. The Talbots part-financed the building of the present church in the mid-1400s, as is recorded in the Latin inscription on the timbers of the chancel roof which says that Richard Talbot, Lord of Spreyton, gave of his goods for the building.The 15th century was a time of relative prosperity for Devon from the wool trade and many parishes built themselves new churches at that time. ​​​Click here for more on the History of the Church

In 1332, Edward III raised a “lay subsidy”, a tax to provide “for great and arduous affairs in Ireland and elsewhere”. It was levied at a 15% rate on all people with moveable goods worth 10s or over, quite a high threshold at the time, so only the most prosperous were caught by it (household and farm equipment was excluded, so effectively the goods counted were animals and crops). Only four people in Spreyton were required to pay:

William Talbot: 12d;

Christine de Bykebeare [Begbeer]: 8d;

Alexander atte [at] Combe: 8d;

John atte [at] Crosse: 8d.

This is the first record we have of the inhabitants of Spreyton. The last three people were no doubt the richest of the free tenants of the manor (Cross was probably a farm that has now disappeared, and was perhaps situated at Spreyton Cross).

It was possibly during this early period that a predecessor of the Tom Cobley Tavern was established in the village. Until the 1950s, the pub was called The White Hart, this being the badge of the Plantagenet kings of England who reigned from 1154 to 1485. It is a common pub name in Devon. The forests of Devon, including no doubt some of the woodland of Spreyton, were royal hunting grounds and inns would have been named The White Hart in homage to the monarch.

The Wars of the Roses (1455-1487) caused some breakdown in law and order, from which Devon was not immune. The records of a court case in the National Archives (C1/28/383) describe a violent feud between the tenants of the Earl of Warwick in South Tawton (where he was lord of the manor) and one Philip Coplestone of Copplestone. Most of the events described took place in South Tawton. But one episode spilled over into Spreyton church. On 22 April 1463, when one of the Earl’s tenants, William Pollesland (Powlesland)

“was in the parish church of Spreyton hearing mass and other divine services, the said Philip Coplestone sent thither at the same time John Coplestone, John Clefhanger, Hugh Ceigge, Walter Codie and many other riotous and misgoverned people by the number of 40 persons … which then and there, by commandment of the said Philip, entered into the said church, the priest being at mass, and then and there, not sparing the time nor place, with strength and great violence took the said William Polleslaunde out of the said church and led him with them in great fear and duress unto the place of the said Philip at Coplestone, and there by great menace caused the said William for fear of death to be sworn upon our lord’s body to the said Philip to be his man.”

The 1500s to 1700s

In the late 15th century, the Talbots ran out of male heirs. A surviving daughter had married into the Kelly family, owners of the manor of Kelly in West Devon, and they inherited Spreyton Manor. The Kellys were firmly ensconced at Kelly, but it seems from the records that a younger son or other member of the family quite often took up residence in the Spreyton manor.A 1544 list of people paying tax in Spreyton, for instance, records Oliver Kelly as the biggest tax-payer, and George Kelly was a tax-payer in 1581.

By this time, the manorial system was beginning to crumble. The services that tenants of the manor had to give to the lord had been commuted into cash rents. The courts fell into abeyance. And in the 1600s and 1700s the lords of the manor began the widespread selling off of the freeholds of the properties belonging to the manor, although usually with the obligation to pay the lord of the manor a small rent in perpetuity. Soon, the lordship of the manor consisted of little more than the right to collect these small rents.

In Spreyton, one of the main purchasers of manor property was the Battishill family from neighbouring South Tawton. They acquired inter alia Barton, Week and part of Falkedon, ultimately building up a 900-acre (365 hectare) estate which remained in the family until 1913. They thus became the biggest landowners in the parish. There are several monuments to them in Spreyton church. The Canns of Fuidge were the other big Spreyton family, also well represented in the church. They were first noted in the Spreyton records as early as 1524, and may well have been there long before that. Apart from their own farm of Fuidge, they acquired the other part of Falkedon, Coffins, Rugroad and Croft, as well as several properties in Hitisleigh. ​Click here for more on the history of Spreyton farms

Spreyton thus found itself by the 18th century with two large landowners who farmed their own home farm but let most of their properties to tenant farmers. There were, however, other people who bought property in Spreyton and the village never had one dominant landowner. In the 17th century the Hore family, again from South Tawton, were significant landowners, as were the Furzes, both with memorials in the church. The Risdons were another prominent family. And in the 18th century one Tom Cobley arrived on the scene and acquired several properties in the north of the parish. Thomas Cobley (c.1697-1794) was a well-known character in his day, a rich bachelor. He had a great number of nephews and nieces and two of his brothers called their sons Thomas after him, doubtless in the hope that old Uncle Tom (who lived into his late nineties) would make them his heir. He also had a great-nephew called Tom Cobley. Nobody knows which of the Tom Cobleys is the one with the grey mare in the song, or even whether the expedition to Widecombe Fair started in Spreyton. Tom Cobley the elder was buried in Spreyton churchyard, but no record of his grave remains. His great-nephew Thomas, however, who died in 1844 has a handsome gravestone near a corner of the church.

Generally, Spreyton seems to have been an uneventful place avoiding involvement in wider affairs, although its inhabitants duly did their bit when called upon. In 1569, when an attack from the Spaniards was anticipated, Elizabeth I’s Privy Council issued a directive to the counties to hold a general muster (i.e. an inspection) of all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60, and to make returns to the government with the names of the men and their arms. In each parish, the more important parishioners were made responsible for “presenting” the muster. In Spreyton, the presenters were George Kelly, Walter Cann, Henry Bowcher and Richard Yolland. Five pikemen and three billmen were mustered. In 1678, Spreyton held a collection towards the rebuilding of St Paul’s Cathedral, towards which a large number of parishioners contributed. The Churchwardens’ accounts also show that 5 November,the date of the discovery of the Gunpowder plot, was regularly celebrated by the bellringers, with the churchwardens supplying beer.

The Spraiton Demon

There is one occasion on which events in Spreyton made wider news. In 1683, one Francis Fey, servant to Mr Philip Furze (one of the local landowners), was in a field near his master’s house when he was accosted by a spectre in the shape of his master’s deceased father, carrying the staff that he was wont to carry when living for killing moles. The spectre complained that various minor legacies in his will had not been paid and asked the young man to arrange their payment, which he did. The ghost then made a couple of other appearances, on one occasion throwing the youth off his horse.

Soon after, a female ghost started appearing in the Furze household and between them these ghosts proceeded to play numerous tricks on the members of the household, twitching off their wigs, tearing the young man’s clothes to shreds and other unpleasant things.

These happenings were recorded in detail in a letter “from a Person of Quality in the County of Devon, to a Gentleman in London”, and subsequently published as a pamphlet, given a wide circulation. The Rev Sabine Baring Gould, who wrote several books on Devon folklore, commented sceptically that it was pretty obvious that the mischievous and idle youth was at the bottom of all this bedevilment.

​Click here for more on The Demon of Spraiton 

1798: the Spreyton volunteers

At the end of the 1790s, there were fears that the French revolutionary forces, under their new energetic young General Napoleon Bonaparte, would invade England. The British Government responded by encouraging local communities to organise companies of volunteers to act as a sort of Home Guard, ready to fight the French in the case of an invasion.

Not all communities did so. But in Spreyton, fired by patriotic zeal, John Cann of Fuidge(1773-1819), raised a company of volunteers in April 1798 and was appointed its captain. The creamware jug in the photograph, inscribed “Success to the Volunteers of Spreyton”,was probably made to celebrate its creation. It is now in the Okehampton Museum.

The company held exercises once a week, and a field was hired (presumably from a local Spreyton farmer) for 2 guineas a year for this purpose.In March 1802, a peace treaty was signed with France and the following month the Spreyton Volunteers were disbanded. ​Click here for more information about the Spreyton Volunteers

The fall of the Canns and the rise of the Lamberts

John Cann’s next exploit, in about 1816, was to open a bank in Exeter, called the ‘Devonshire Bank’, with two partners, Williams (a former Mayor of Exeter) and Searle. The following year a branch was opened in Okehampton. In 1817 and 1818 the bank issued bank-notes, of which a number survive. When Captain Cann died in 1819, he left everything to his widow Rebecca, who took his place in the partnership. Unfortunately, there could scarcely have been a worse time for starting a bank, as the boom brought about by the Napoleonic wars was coming to an abrupt end. On 20 December 1820, the bank was forced to suspend payment ‘in consequence of a severe and unexpected run’, and the partners were declared officially bankrupt. The Canns had made a lot of money out of investing in lime quarries in Drewsteignton at a time when there was increasing demand for lime as an agricultural fertiliser and were by then extremely rich by local standards, owning some 1500 acres (600 hectares). Everything had to go as a result of the bankruptcy and the Cannes left Spreyton after 300 years or more of being one of its leading families. Local people could not understand how the Cann fortune could have disappeared so rapidly. Rumour had it that Captain Cann had buried his money under the serpentine wall in the kitchen garden at Fuidge.

Family fortunes rise and fall, and the 19th century saw a new family in Spreyton coming to prominence, the Lambert Gorwyns or Lamberts (they dropped the Gorwyn towards the end of the century). They were in fact connected to the Canns. John Cann’s uncle George Cann, who had been one of the investors in the lime quarries, had acquired several farms in Spreyton and Hittisleigh. When he was killed in a fall from his horse in 1804, he left most of his property to his sister’s son George Lambert Gorwyn of Cheriton Bishop. George was already living at Falkedon, presumably in anticipation of his inheritance, and now found himself the owner also of Coffins, Rugroad and Croft as well as farms in Hittisleigh, Cheriton Bishop and Drewsteignton.

George and his immediate descendants were a thoroughly rackety and quarrelsome lot. George quarrelled with his only son and when he died in 1837 cut his son off with the proverbial shilling, leaving his by the very extensive property to his two grandsons, who were still minors at the time. The Spreyton property want to the elder grandson, another George, who appears to have been just as quarrelsome as his father, constantly involved in lawsuits with his neighbours and even physically attacking one of them on the highway. He kept moving between his various properties and was burnt out of one of his Hittisleigh farmhouses by angry tenants who set fire to a woodrick by the house. He finally married his housekeeper, late in life, and settled at Coffins, after which he seems to have become a lot calmer.

George Lambert MP

The obnoxious and George Lambert of Coffins had one son, also called George, born in 1866. When George junior was a child, his father quarrelled with the churchwardens over the seating in the church to which he had contributed financially and swore never to set foot in the church again. George junior’s mother, a farm labourer’s daughter of strong character, decided that her son ought to attend some sort of religious institution and took him surreptitiously to the Methodist chapel that had by then been established in Spreyton and was attracting many of the tenant farmers and farm labourers. The Methodists were strongly Liberal (the left-wing party at that time) and George developed a strong social conscience. He was quickly drawn into local politics. By the time he was 21, he was on the Okehampton Board of Guardians, the body that administered the poor law. When Devon County Council was created in 1888, he became a county councillor and remained on the Council for the next 63 years. In 1891, when he was only just 25, he was invited to stand as the Liberal candidate in a by-election in the neighbouring South Molton constituency (which included Bow but not Spreyton). He won unexpectedly, on a platform of rights for workers and tenant farmers. He represented South Molton (which later included Spreyton) until 1945, with one gap. He was a junior Minister from 1905 to 1915 and became Spreyton’s most famous son. Throughout he continued to be an active farmer and was immensely popular all over the county. ​Click here for more information about George Lambert MP

In 1945, George was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Lambert of South Molton. His son, another George, had just come out of the army and stepped into his shoes as the local MP. When his father died in 1958, he succeeded to the peerage and later retired to Switzerland, handing over the estate to his son Georgie. The latter was tragically killed in a motor accident in 1970 and the Lambert farms were sold, bringing to an end yet another Spreyton dynasty.

A view of Spreyton in the 1800s.

The 19th century saw the start of the census, which enables one to have a much clearer view of the parish. Spreyton had a population of around 360. It is difficult to know how this compares to earlier time. In 1841, when all men over 18 were required to swear their allegiance to the established church. 73 people did so in Spreyton. One probably has to multiply this by three or four to obtain the total population, so while it may have been smaller in the 1600s, it was not that much smaller.

Population of Spreyton 1801-2011

1801333
1851384
1901360
1931287
1961267
1981291
1991274
2001295
2011380

Spreyton is revealed in the 1851 census as a village still entirely based on farming. There were 16 farms and two smallholdings, probably fewer than in the past as the 18th century had seen a significant consolidation of farm holdings. Almost all the farms had substantial households, as it was common for the young farmworkers to live with the farmer’s family (especially when the farmer had no sons of an age to work on the farm). Married labourers usually lived in cottages nearby. Farmworker was by far the commonest profession with 40 “agricultural labourers” and 25 “farm servants” – teenage apprentices working on the farm – recorded in the census return. The next commonest occupation was domestic servant with 26 people so described. Most of these servants were teenage girls working in the farmhouses helping the farmer’s wife with her various duties.

A big farm could easily employ half a dozen or more people, especially if there were no adult sons in the family. Except in the grandest households, the entire household, servants and apprentices would eat together, the same food at the same table, as any other arrangement was too difficult to organise for a busy farming household. The apprentices were often orphans or youngsters for some other reason cast on the charity of the parish; apprenticeship was seen by the parish authorities as a way of providing for their current upkeep and future livelihood. Often the arrangement seems to have worked out well and there was a good relationship between employers and apprentices; for instance, in 1804 George Cann of Falkedon left 5 guineas to his apprentice Samuel Powlesland when he reached the age of 21, a significant sum in those days. But it was not always a happy life. The Spreyton parish register records the burial of two Falkedon apprentices who hanged themselves: Elizabeth Howard age 12 in 1809 while ‘bound apprentice to Mr George Lambert there’; another aged 12 in 1831. The inquests found respectively insanity and ‘temporary derangement’.There may not have been ill-treatment; it is likely that the girls came from a disturbed family background and the whole experience of apprenticeship in a strange household may just have been too much for them.

Agriculturally, Spreyton was a parish of mixed farming, part arable, part stock-keeping. All the cattle would have been traditional red Devons, raised chiefly for beef but also for milking. Farms made their own cheese, butter and clotted cream. They all had orchards and also made their own cider. Up until the mid-20th century, farm labourers received a bottle of cider a day as part of their wages and an unlimited amount at harvest time when everybody was expected to work from dawn to dusk. Some of the farmers probably lived in some style, but even William Battishill at Barton, the main landowner, was still probably nearer a hands-on farmer than a country gentleman.

The other inhabitants of the parish were people serving this agricultural community, making it largely self-sufficient. Top of the social scale was the Vicar, living in the large parsonage. There was the White Hart inn (the innkeeper doubling as a shoe-maker); a married couple serving as schoolmaster and schoolmistress plus another schoolmistress; a shopkeeper; and a village policeman (not mentioned in the 1841 census so probably a recent introduction). Unusually for a village of this size, there was also a doctor, a younger son of the Battishill family who had trained as a surgeon but apparently decided to return to the village as a general practitioner. In the village proper (or “Spreyton Churchtown”) there were a number of essential tradesmen, usually with one or two apprentices (often their own sons), including another shoe-maker; a carrier; a butcher; and a blacksmith at Spreyton Cross. At St Cherries there was another blacksmith and a thatcher; a tailor lived at Cramphay; there was a mason at the old mill cottages near South Beer; and a couple more carpenters operating from outlying cottages. Several wives billed themselves as dressmakers

Spreyton had two sets of water grist mills for grinding the corn, both on the river Troney. There were two mills near South Beer known as Spreyton or Horracombe Mills, probably very ancient. There was another (or possibly two others) near Spreytonwood Water known as New Mill or New Mills. Both sets had cottages next to them, probably to house the mill-workers. The mills belonged to one of the big landowners and that landowner would often insert a clause in the lease of his tenant farms requiring the tenant to grind all his corn at the landlord’s mills. By the mid-19th century, however, the mills seem to have stopped working (although there was still a corn dealer in one of the cottages by Horracombe Mills at the time of the 1841 census), and almost all trace of them has now disappeared.

Devon roads were notoriously atrocious, although people did manage to get to the regular fairs and markets such as Widecombe fair, either on horseback or in pony-carts or other horse-drawn transport (ploughs, in the first part of the century were still mainly drawn by oxen as they had been since the Domesday Book). There was a regular livestock market in Spreyton until the 1950s, to which farmers from all around would drive their stock on foot along the roads.

The Wars of the Roses (1455-1487) caused some breakdown in law and order, from which Devon was not immune. The records of a court case in the National Archives (C1/28/383) describe a violent feud between the tenants of the Earl of Warwick in South Tawton (where he was lord of the manor) and one Philip Coplestone of Copplestone. Most of the events described took place in South Tawton. But one episode spilled over into Spreyton church. On 22 April 1463, when one of the Earl’s tenants, William Pollesland (Powlesland)

“was in the parish church of Spreyton hearing mass and other divine services, the said Philip Coplestone sent thither at the same time John Coplestone, John Clefhanger, Hugh Ceigge, Walter Codie and many other riotous and misgoverned people by the number of 40 persons … which then and there, by commandment of the said Philip, entered into the said church, the priest being at mass, and then and there, not sparing the time nor place, with strength and great violence took the said William Polleslaunde out of the said church and led him with them in great fear and duress unto the place of the said Philip at Coplestone, and there by great menace caused the said William for fear of death to be sworn upon our lord’s body to the said Philip to be his man.”

Life was not all hard work. Like most Devon villages, Spreyton had an annual “revel” with sports and games and much boisterousness. Revels began in mediaeval times and were originally festivals to celebrate the dedication of the local church to its patron saint and took place on that saint’s feast day (although when the saint was St Michael, as in Spreyton, with a feast day on 29 September, the revel was normally moved to midsummer (or the Sunday immediately before) to avoid clashing with any late harvesting).Revels soon lost almost all religious connotations, and an 1896 article in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association comments that in Spreyton the only indication by then that it was a church festival was that more people than usual attended the evening service in church that day. The article also quotes an eye-witness as saying that the Tuesday after the revel was a general holiday, but that on Wednesday, if a labouring man is caught doing any work by the frequenters of the public house, he was seized and carried back into the public house and obliged to treat the company there assembled. The Spreyton revel finally fizzled out in the Second World War, although unsuccessful attempts were made to restart it after the war.

Michael Lambert (born in 1912) remembered that the revel took place in the afternoon and was preceded by turnip planting in the morning. Turnips seem to have been a significant crop in Spreyton. An article in Woolmer’s Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of 8-15 September 1838 headed “Extraordinary turnips” reported that:

We have seen several specimens of this nutritious root, of the Globe and Stone species, measuring two and a half feet upwards round, grown among brambles, ferns, coltsfoot, ash roots, and almost every description of impoverishing weeds, on a poor estate called Coffins, in the parish of Spreyton, in this county, the average value of the land of which is not seven and sixpence per acre. Swedes and mangelwurtzels are to be seen on the same estate, though a very backward season, equally prosperous.

And on in June 1839 the same newspaper reported that:

A very improved turnip drill of simple construction has lately been invented by Mr W.C. Cann, of Spreyton, calculated for sowing the ashes and seeds at the time of ploughing, a model of which has been sent for inspection at the Agricultural Room, 197 High Street, Exeter. This implement has answered Mr Cann’s most sanguine expectations on his own farm. [Willam Croote Cann farmed at North Beer]

The coming of the railway heralded a number of changes in what had until then been a way of life that had altered little over the centuries. Fertiliser and other heavy goods, for instance, could be brought in by rail, and farmers could make arrangements with shops as far away as London to sell their produce, taking produce such as eggs and butter to Bow station to be put on the train to their destination. By the end of the century, isolated Devon villages like Spreyton were for the first time beginning seriously to connect to the wider world.

The 20th century

Spreyton Post Office

Another view of Spreyton in the mid-20th century

With the mechanisation of agriculture and the coming of mains water and electricity, the 20th century saw a complete transformation of rural life. Spreyton remained a backwater longer than most and electricity did not come to the village until 1955, an event that was described by Grace Lambert in a ​letter to an uncle in London. One of the immediate changes was that cows would be milked by machine, enormously increasing the size of herds that a farmer could keep. The introduction of tractors and farm machinery such as first reaper-binders and then combine harvesters gradually eliminated the need for farmers to employ a host of farm workers. Motorbikes and cars meant that travel to local towns and villages suddenly became easy. Whereas marriages had previously been largely been within Spreyton and the immediate surroundings, people now brought in partners from far afield. Above all, people who worked in Crediton and Okehampton and other towns found Spreyton an attractive place to live, and the population of the village has been steadily rising.

By the end of the 20th century, the viability of smaller farms had become increasingly problematic. Farmhouses were no longer needed and were sold to incomers either as residences or to run new businesses such as B&B. The land that used to belong to the farmhouses was purchased by the neighbouring larger farmers, and the pattern of small or medium-sized family farms that had prevailed for 1,000 years or more has almost disappeared.

A visitor’s impression of Spreyton in 1942(From the Western Times of 20.11.1942)

Proceeding along the quiet lane that leads from Whiddon Down to Spreyton … before entering Spreyton, I admired a cluster of old-world cottages, which looked so tidy and neat, and their name of St Cherries fascinated me. Spreyton, a clean-looking village, has much to commend it. Its charming surroundings, its quietude and peace, would gladden the heart of a pastoral poet. At one end of the street is the church, with its embattled and pinnacled tower standing like a sentinel over that perfect rural scene. The village is really one street, in which I observed three old-fashioned pumps, and I liked the little old school near the market with its old bell which had summoned so many scholars in days gone by and had hurried them on their way. I see that this building is now used as a County Library. Near the lych-gate is an upping-stone or lifting block, and close by are the remains of a perished tree which is prevented from falling by wooden supports. I understand that the villagers have an old jingle about this old tree which runs:

“If this old oak should ever fall down,

T’would be the end of Spreyton Town.”

As we made our way along the church path, we admired the fine avenue of limes, twelve on each side, which I like to regard as representing the Twelve Apostles, each with a companion at counterpart; and an ancient oak tree, hollow, which seems to be very much alive. A service was in progress, and we heard those glorious hymns “Son of my Soul” and “Thy hand, O God, has guarded”. … Near the porch of Spreyton Church is the grave of Thomas Cobley Gent. Of Colebrooke, his wife, and nephew. Standing here I could see the truly magnificent view of the spacious Dartmoor ranges, with Yes Tor, High Willhays, and Cawsand; while Hay Tor Rocks looked very homely to us. It also gave us a good idea of the length of Uncle Tom Cobey’s journey to Widecombe Fair. Looking up at the ancient tower, I was astonished to see an elderberry, about three feet high, growing out of the coping of the belfry; and it seemed to be flourishing. We rested in the cobbled porch with its fine granite step and old studded door; and at the close of the service we entered the church.

We received a very kind welcome from the Vicar (Rev. F.G. Clayton), who conducted us over his beloved church. The interior is strikingly picturesque in its great antiquity; and we were told that the site of the edifice has seen one thousand years of Christian worship. One of the most interesting relics I have ever seen is the wonderfully rare altar-stone, which is now in its proper place, although our guide remembered it when it was in the porch forty-five years ago. This stone, of Dartmoor granite, is large and thick, and we were invited to kneel before it and place our hands upon it. It is amazing to record that, despite the hardness of the stone, we could distinctly feel two depressions which had been made by the countless hands which have been placed there over the long, long centuries. We were also shown the graves of two clergymen; one stone has a Latin Cross and the other a Celtic Cross. The very old font has numerous figures around its base, which suggests that they form some kind of connected story; and there is also another font, carefully preserved as a relic, which was discovered some years ago in the churchyard, where it was used to catch the water from the roof. A few of the original tiles, also with illustrations upon them, are to be seen in the aisle. The timberings in the roof are most unique and nicely carved. It appears that from the time of Henry II, to that of Henry VI, the parish of Spreyton was held by the Talbot family, and the ceiling of the chancel roof has a long Latin inscription which commemorates that family’s associations.

Before leaving Spreyton, I called at a charming old cottage hard by the church in order to perform the pleasant duty of conveying to Mrs Snell and family the greetings and good wishes of Mr and Mrs Snell of Embleford Crescent, Moreton. I always think that there is something particularly happy in taking personal messages of goodwill, and, after a good chat with the good lady, we started our homeward walk. This led us again to St Cherries, but we took the lane through Fursham and Treable Farm and past Ford House to Drewsteignton. This is a beautiful walk, and how I loved all this delightful countryside.