Contact details

Sticklepath One Place Study is in its early days, started September 2020. Contacts are welcomed for questions or to share information. Do feel free to contact me shields_h_f@hotmail.com with anything Sticklepath related. More useful links in the side bar. Project details.https://sticklepath-ops.npwebsite.com Follow on facebook for alerts to new posts: https://www.facebook.com/SticklepathOne

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#52 Ancestors

Doing a #OnePlaceStudy it is easy to lose sight of my own family history. Whilst the two overlap, creating databases of residents and investigating Sticklepath’s local history can ‘take over’. I therefore decided to use some of Amy Johnson Crow’s prompts for a weekly note about my own ancestors. Largely these do have a #Sticklepath connection too. The prompts are usually one word which can be used however we wish, to trigger recording something. If you are struggling to get your family history written down, why not sign up – make 2021 the year you make a start? https://www.amyjohnsoncrow.com/52-ancestors-in-52-weeks/

Week 1: (New Year) Beginnings – We are all advised to start our family history with ourselves. Perhaps for our own great grandchildren should they be interested in family history, but it helps us see what facts are possible and to realise that the facts alone do not sum up who we are! My New Year’s resolutions included a new beginning on writing up my own life story and, in the process, enjoying and then disposing of much of the memory paraphernalia I have collected over the years in many boxes!

Week 2 (Jan. 11-17): Family Legend – Most families have passed stories down through the generations. Commonly these are grandiose such as being related to Royalty. (Royalty in turn wanted to prove their connection to Adam and Eve and such ‘family trees’ can be found). No such aspirations in my family, though there was a whisper of being related to one of the four knights who killed Thomas a Beckett on 29 Dec 1170! My family tree is no where near that date as yet.

The family story or ‘legend’ that I want to look at is that a Finch is said to have walked from Sticklepath to Tavistock with a load of iron tools to sell when heavily pregnant, to have given birth and then walked home.

William Finch moved from Tavistock to Sticklepath in 1814 to set up the Foundry.  William born in 1779, in Spreyton, a little village not far from Sticklepath as the crow flies. The son of Isaac Finch and his second wife Elizabeth Harvey or Hardey, we know little of his early life, but when William married Ann Rowe in Tavistock in 1803 he is described as a whitesmith. Whilst this can mean working with white metal such as tin, I think in our family context it meant working with cold metal ie finishing the tools made by the blacksmith. Sharpening and polishing, adding handles and so on.

William was living in Tavistock with his wife Ann, and likely working in the iron foundry there.  They had three sons, William Rowe Finch, Isaac and Joseph.  By Joseph’s baptism in 1809 in Tavistock, William is a blacksmith. When William moved to Sticklepath he brought his three sons with him and chose Silverlake as their home.  I suspect Ann died in Tavistock between 1809 and the establishment of the foundry in 1814.  William married his second wife Susanna, and their three sons, John, Samuel and George, all born at Silverlake, who became the Foundry edge tool makers.  

Census 1841 household of William Finch 

William  Finch                       60y Susanna Finch                       46y Maria       Finch                       21y Susanna Finch                       12y Harriett  Finch                         9y John         Finch                       18y Samuel   Finch                       15y George    Finch                         7y James       Finch                         5y Samuel Woodley                  22y 

Silverlake is the third house on the left

There is some hint of a family scandal here, as on paper Susanna appears to be William’s half-sister, sharing the same father, Isaac Finch, but I am sure there is a good explanation. My guess is that her mother Mary was pregnant by her previous husband or perhaps had actually had the child before Isaac Finch married her.  It may be possible in the future to find out more exact dates for these events to clarify.

Back to our #52 ancestors Legend – it is highly likely that Susanna Finch was the women who walked from Sticklepath to Tavistock carrying a bag of tools for sale in the market there whilst heavily pregnant.  Their first child Maria, was born in Tavistock on 12 March 1821, (two hundred years ago), long after William moved to Sticklepath. Tavistock must have been at least 20 miles, a full day’s walk. No one would consider walking to Tavistock these days let alone when heavily pregnant and certainly not with a load of tools!

The implication that she walked straight back again however is unlikely given that we have Maria’s baptismal record, showing she was baptised by James Ash in Tavistock 25 March 1821:

England & Wales Non-conformist and Non-parochial Registers 1567-1936. Piece 0341 Tavistock Wesleyan 1808-1837 accessed via Ancestry.com Jan 2021

William had connections in Tavistock so it may have been that Maria chose to go to Tavistock for some reason, such as a relative or highly respected mid-wife. She may well have had a hand cart and perhaps did not go alone. I suspect we will never know any more details.

Next week: Week 3 (Jan. 18-24): Namesake

“Drinke and be thankful” #Oneplacelandmarks : Ladywell and other watery considerations

Landmarks, by their pure existence, structure environments. They form cognitive anchors, markers, or reference points for orientation , wayfinding and communication. They appear in our sketches, in descriptions of meeting points or routes, and as the remarkable objects of an environment in tourist brochures.”  (Richter and Winter)

Landmarks are often visible from a distance, or are features which, for a traveller passing through, mark One Place as different to another. I would add to that: ‘scars’, symbols or indicators in the environment which point to the history of our place.

“Lady Well Drink & Be Thankful” 1900-1910. Mrs Elderton of Laurel Cottage/Staplers. (Notice the standing stone to the right hand side, at about the same level as the top of her hat. Note the crosses marked on the Lintel either side of the inscription.)

Ladywell is mentioned in tourist information about Sticklepath, it represents both a physical landmark and landmark in history, before piped drinking water came down the street or into our houses. I surmise Ladywell would also have been an important social gathering point where people exchanged news whilst waiting to fill their containers. (Long before lock down, so no evidence of 2m marks!)

It is not clear where the lintel stone came from. The crosses seen on it in early photographs have eroded considerably.

First let’s orientate ourselves using some other landmarks. As you travel through the village towards Okehampton and Cornwall, look past the small St Mary’s Church to see Ladywell on the left. Just there, by the roadside, as you start to notice the rise of the hill under your feet, with ‘White Rock’ and its flagpole on the Mount above.

The tree and building are long gone, but find a pleasing bench on which to rest your weary legs, admire the village scene and ‘Be Thankful’. Probably not wise to drink!

Ladywell to right of centre below the tree, where the children stand. Shame we missed the horses… Above are White Rock and flag pole, and to the left the bare rock of the quarry can be seen. Chapman postcard

In about 1820 John Pearse, wool-stapler from Cleave Mill, had the overflow from Ladywell spring piped to the present Ladywell site, for the convenience of his Mill workers and the rest of the village. Ladywell much as we see it was built in 1831 – 2 yrs after the road was widened. A concealed pipe leads to a tank hidden beneath granite blocks and from there runs out through the short pipe we see, beneath the engraved lintel, ready to fill containers, to quench a thirst and flush the roadside drains.

Looking down from the Mount near White Rock, Sticklepath is laid out before us. The dark tree marks Ladywell, bottom left, and can see St Mary’s church on the right. (Phyllis Finch Album)
Ladywell Spring

In fact Ladywell spring, essentially a round well 2 ½ – 3 feet diameter and perhaps 4-5 feet deep, is towards the top corner of a field known as Allermead, further up the hill on the opposite side of the road (see photo below for indication of where it is),

There has been some suggestion that this was a ‘Holy Well’ and that the origin of Allermead could be essentially ‘Hallowed meadow’. I am not aware of anything to support this but being close to the church it is possible it was at one time part of the incumbent priest’s lands.

If we could pan left, just out of shot, towards the far corner of that field (known as Alder Meadow or Allermead) we would find the spring that supplies Ladywell. Imagine now we can take our camera and pan across to the right –
Looking in the bottom right corner of the photo we see the start of some buildings…
These are Pearse’s Cleave Mill buildings. (Photo about 1960?)

In 1887, the villagers arranged for the Ladywell water to be piped down the village street. This is commemorated on a plaque on the wall next to the chapel. (The wall was taken down and rebuilt with the plaque re-installed, when the road was widened). Being almost ‘outside’ the Parish, certainly not the main focus of Parish affairs, Sticklepath arranged many projects like this one without input from the Parish, relying on locals and wealthier well-wishers.

The wording suggests a standpipe would have been next to or below the plaque.
I think a stand pipe is visible on this photo, below the plaque. Before the road was widened.

Jessie Barron tells us more in her book. Referring to living conditions following the 2nd world war she says:

Her final sentence a timely reminder of the infection free, quality monitored, piped water we all take for granted, but which was a luxury innovation for our grandparents generation.

Dartmoor water whilst commonly considered ‘natural and pure’ can be contaminated in various ways, even on open moorland, due to the geology and farming – radon and radioactive carbon contamination, excessively acid and corrosive, high aluminium or other metal content, urine and faecal contamination, decaying matter upstream, and even vehicle pollution, for example.

Before moving on to the delightful subject of sewerage and Ladywell’s role, we turn to the building just above Ladywell, the shed in the foreground of Lugg’s photo:.

Photo by Lugg & sons of Okehampton

This substantial building with double ‘garage’ doors, is large enough to house a carriage. We can see posters on the lefthand side. This building was constructed and owned by wheelwright and carriage builder James Cook, as stated in his will. His workshop is on the lefthand side of the road part way between St Mary’s and Ladywell. The shed must have been demolished when the road was substantially widened and re-modelled here, perhaps in 1960s? We can see wood and a small cart on this photo. On photos further above there are wheels seen too around the shed.

Extract from the Will and 3 codicils of James Cook this final codicil dated 22 Jun 1918. He died 15 Oct 1918. Probate granted 11 Apr 1919 to Son William Gilley Cook of Shilston Farm, Throwleigh.

Sanitation – A sewerage system of a reasonable standard came much later than piped water. Until then the Well was the means of flushing away household waste through the open drains on the North side of the road. Ladywell overflow ran into a ‘tip-tank’ beneath an iron grating. This was later replaced with a siphon mechanism. Waste from houses on the South side, however, just joined the leat water. Despite knowing this, most villagers on the South side freely dipped the leat for uses other than drinking, as it flowed just by their back doorsteps. Permission to use the leat water was written into most of their contracts.

In the middle of the 17th century the whole village and surrounding lands including mills and therefore the leat supplying them with power, was in the ownership of the Lethbridge family. By the late 18th century most was owned by the Underhill family. Conveyance of the Western and Carnall Mills (Eastern end of the village just by the bridge) from Richard Underhill to George Underhill includes permission to use the leat water for up to one hour a day to water Mill Meadow, and for him and the tenants of adjoining properties to use the leat water to wash their wool on payment of 6 pence per year. The leat itself and access to it remained the property of the mill owners. (Barron). However, they and I think Cleave Mill also, had to give one hour’s notice of wool washing to the Mills lower downstream.

The W.I.’s ‘The Book of Sticklepath (Dartmoor)’ in 1955 commented that not everyone had running water to their home yet:

“Some of the modern inhabitants of the village do the same today, leaving a pail or pitcher to fill under the steady trickle while they ‘run down the village’. ”

The village school which opened in 1879 is higher up the hill than Ladywell. This caused problems for water supply and sanitation. All drinking water was carried up the hill to school. In 1938 a Ministry of Health Inspector wrote

“The water has to be carried an unreasonable distance and I recommend that this matter is given urgent attention” (Hutchison)

It wasn’t until 1952 that a pump was installed to take water up the hill to the school. School toilets could be flushed using rainwater from holding tanks above the playground, as long as it had rained and was not frozen. These tanks were only disposed of in 1970 (the year I left the school!). There were times the tanks had to be filled, for example by Okehampton Fire Brigade during summer droughts, or by a Water Board Tanker during the freeze of winter 1960-61.

The main supply for Sticklepath village now, along with Belstone’s, is pumped from Meldon Reservoir, about 7 miles away. (I remember visiting the valley before construction of the damn began in 1970, and several times since).

Meldon reservoir far left bottom corner. Sticklepath top right.
This aerial view of the same area makes the inhospitable nature of Dartmoor obvious. Sticklepath at the lower end of the blue marker, the dark water of Meldon reservoir bottom left corner.
Couldn’t resist adding a stunning photo of Meldon Viaduct. Lots more at https://dartmoortrust.org/archive/search/Meldon and for some during construction of the dam 50 years ago https://www.facebook.com/groups/296555273885240/permalink/1339073339633423/?comment_id=1339100379630719
2019 shows the water plaque bottom left in the wall next to the Wesleyan Chapel. Ladywell and its bench can just be seen in the distance above the red car driving down the road. On the right, adjacent to the 4th car in, we see the granite porch of the village hall.

Lion’s Mouth deserves a mention here, purely as a source of drinking water for residents of Skaigh Hamlet, and a pleasing stopping point on a circular walk from Sticklepath Bridge, along the banks of the Taw, through the Skaigh Valley. It likely dates from 1870 in it’s current form.

The Lion’s Mouth, situated not far from the lane leading from Sticklepath up to Skaigh Hamlet and Belstone

Rockside, as it is labelled, otherwise known as Skaigh House, one of the wealthiest estates, at one time owned by Symington who contributed greatly to our village including the building of Sticklepath Village Hall (Next week’s #Sticklepath #OnePlaceLandmark). Again drinking this water is NOT advised, after contamination was found in 2000 by the Environmental Agency.

Additional Notes: 1. Ladywell lends its name to a house on the opposite side of the road but that is not considered here. 2. We should also note residents at the East end of the village used a different spring behind the Taw River Inn in Skaigh Lane. 3. Further photographs of Ladywell can be found in “South Tawton & South Zeal – with Sticklepath – 1000 years beneath the Beacon by Roy and Ursula Radford, pages 26 and 61 – including Chapman postcard no10049, as well as a photograph by Douglas St Leger-Gordon in the WI booklet, those detailed show the position of the standing stone in relation to Ladywell better than those shown above). 4. Water supplies to parts of the village were complicated by being part of, and adjacent to, several parishes. The WI booklet again tells us: “When six ‘council’ bungalows were built down Willey Lane in 1953, pipes for their supply were attached to South Tawton mains, on the other side of the bridge.” 5. Historic England Research Records no 444182 says no evidence was found to substantiate a medieval date for Ladye Well, though the name might suggest a pre-reformation origin. 6. Sticklepath Conservation Area Appraisal suggests a 10th century date for the Ladywell stone, though this may refer to the standing stone rather than the lintel. Conservation Area Appraisal 2017 PDF – http://www.dartmoor.gov.uk. 7. Details of the history of the water supply to Belstone is given in The Book of Belstone (Walpole p131-134) much of which applies to Sticklepath, with various schemes to use Taw Marsh water proposed and some enacted.


Richter KF., Winter S. (2014) Introduction: What Landmarks Are, and Why They Are Important. In: Landmarks. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-05732-3_1

Sticklepath 1900-1950 by Jessie E Barron

The Story of Sticklepath (Dartmoor) Compiled by Sticklepath Women’s Institute 1955 reprinted with minor amendments 1993

A Village School Chronicle 1879-1979 Compiled and written by Victor J Hutchison

Robert A. Barron The Finch Foundry Trust and Sticklepath Museum of Rural Industry Printed by Jordan Phillips. ?1975

South Tawton & South Zeal – with Sticklepath 1000 years beneath the beacon. Roy and Ursula Radford 2000. Halsgrove.

The Book of Belstone (Words and images from a Dartmoor village) by Chris and Marion Walpole.

Will of James Cook from Gov.uk

50 Images of #Sticklepath A Tour of #OnePlaceLandmarks

What does one call a collection of landmarks? A Glut? An Album? A Crowd? I have settled on a ‘Tour’ of landmarks, from right to left on the map below. Some will be the focus of a blog, but not all!

The British Library 25 inch 1841-1952 ℅ The National Library of Scotland website. Many landmarks marked (1886) eg Bridge, cornmill, foundry, chapel, Ska or Skaigh View Cottages, church, stone ‘cross’, flagstaff, quarry, Cleave Mill, mill leat. School also (top left – no image available)
View entering Sticklepath “Western and Carnoll” mills on left side behind white Bridge House, with row of Elm Trees on right, pre-1928 Top left corner quarry below ‘White Rock’ with its flagstaff. School seen half way up the hill to right of midline.
Part of Sticklepath Historic Quality and Integrity map page 19 of Sticklepath Village “Conservation Area Character Appraisal” June 2017 by Dartmoor National Park Authority. Grade II or II* listed buildings and features marked in orange, images below where I can.
The River Taw flowing under Sticklepath Bridge 1905 approx.
View across the bridge. 1930s?
A plaque commemorating the bridge widening 1928 and old parish boundary stone Sampford Courtenay to South Tawton
Mill House, Taw Leat and Silverlake, (listed). The Monkey Puzzle tree let me know I was home in 1960s.
The leat runs uniquely in front of these houses, then to the left of Primula the house facing us and behind all the other houses. Note the large granite slabs forming bridges over the leat. Chapman postcard, I presume commissioned by Yeo of Sticklepath Post Office. 1910s
Primula House (Previously Temperence). Inset County ‘C’ stone adjacent to the road. 2019
C stone marking the extent of road maintenance from the bridge by the County, built into side of Primula House (listed)
On the opposite side of the road, Oak tree in field for sale in 1970s
Same oak tree with the Millennium Seat (2000) and Oaktree Park Houses (photo 2019)
Walking on, the White House on the left was the first post office, then the house on the right by telegraph pole, the two small cottages closer to us on the left took turns being the post office later. Much more recently it moved across the road to the now Village Stores, first building on the right. The Taw River ‘Hotel’ is seen. The black porch marks ‘The Dairy’. The thatched square white building protruding in the distance is where the candle factory was.
Village shop 2019
The Taw River Hotel, now Inn. Beyond this the full run of thatched cottages are listed. The man standing by bay windows at the post office of the time. The black area on the left is the smithy known as the Finch Foundry.
Commercial postcard. Photo by Roger Bowden, I am the child in the photo walking past Tudor Cottage and the porch far right is ‘The Dairy’. Mid-1960s. As noted above this whole row of thatched cottages is listed.
Looking back at the Taw River Inn and Village Shop on left. Black buildings on right are Finch Foundry.
Ralph Finch at work ?late 1950s
Foundry workers ?1920s (Young Ralph Finch with hand on hip)
2019 Finch Foundry National Trust (Helen Finch Shields in foreground)
Behind the Foundry site is the village graveyard ‘Quaker Burying Ground’, non-denominal since 1830s.
Grey house is Foundry Cottage (listed). Devonshire Inn then two more modern houses, perhaps late 19th century.
Foundry Cottage closest on left. Candle factory on right.
The Devonshire Inn. Note dormer windows, not many on Sticklepath Main Street. Chantry Cottage white house in distance. William Middle, Crimean war veteran walking down the village. Photo about 1905?
The Devonshire can be seen on the left and a new bay window further on where the Post Office resided then. A bus stop is now sited in front of this and Chantry cottage. Much road widening on the right and pavements added. Large White House on right is Sunnyside. No bus shelters ?1970
Chantry Cottage (listed) 1983. Muriel remembered buying Clotted cream here about 1910
Sunnyside. Home of ‘Butcher Cook’, early 1900s, a generous village character who was Chair of Governors of the village school. (2019)
Sunnyside (listed) 2019
Further on we turn back, Chantry cottage still visible on the right, We see Thomas Pearse’s small round summerhouse in the centre with Sunnyside behind. (Now re-sited in Foundry grounds). The thatched cottages on the left are Staplers and The Heritage. Gutters on thatch are unusual but there are plenty in Sticklepath! Stone walls as seen here are common throughout the village.
The Heritage, a Quaker’s house 1800s and Heather Cottage tucked back (Photo 1983)
The Heritage 2019
Staplers (built by wool staplers) photo 1983. Crossing over the road again….
One of the few remaining open views to countryside from the village street. Commemorative Plaque, prior to road widening 1928. I think a stand pipe tap can be made out below the plaque. Unusual Bell tower on Wesleyan Methodist Chapel.
Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, (listed) again prior to road widening 1928. Sometimes blue and sometimes painted maroon and pink over the years. The poles, street lights and wires detract from the picturesque village still today. Stone cross on top of unknown origin.
Plaque replaced lower down when the wall was re-built flush with the front of the chapel (no watery pun intended)
Village Hall with Tawburn House behind (Private house, later care home, now boutique hotel) Photos 1983 by Roger Bowden
The village hall was a centre of social activity. Bert Stead and villagers performing Babes in the wood 1960s (Photo R.Bowden)
The Old Cottage, between village hall and Skaigh Cottages had 4 entrances/seperate living areas, we see 3 entrances here. An early lamp post. In front of the houses to the left you can see the drain with which flushed household waste away, with stone bridging to each house. I note many stone walls were whitewashed in the past. 1910s?
The Old Cottage 2019. (Front wall clearly moved back to allow for pavement and road widening)
View on up the street, plaque visible bottom left, chapel (sadly dilapidated pink) and opposite is the village hall and row of 4 Skaigh View Cottages with matching porches, the old stables behind them and well pump are of some historical interest. (Photos 2019 by Michael Shields)
Cleave House, listed. ( The outline floor area is very similar to The Old Cottage)
Cleave House demonstrating the uneven glass panes. I think the iron railings were taken down during WWII?
Cleave House, built 1850s, likely by Mill owners, Ska or Skaigh View Cottages built soon after perhaps for their workers. Photo late 1970s?
Note the black wheelwright’s mandrel and the long rows of high windows are where his workshop was, labelled as ‘smithy’ on some maps. The upstairs was 23 foot length.
St Mary’s (Anglican) Chapel of Ease. 1983. At the top of this field on the right as we look …..
Remains of the Cleave Mills. Late 1960s? Would have been a landmark up to that time.
Mill buildings from far side showing closeness of Taw and also conversion to accommodation (Photo 2019)
Ladywell. Mrs Elderton
Standing stone, Parish boundary marker, showing inscription, now much corroded. Pre-1910?
Further up the lane to Belstone in the Skaigh Valley used to be visible the remains of the largest waterwheel in Mainland Britain at 70 ft diameter.
White Rock and flag pole. Wesley is said to have preached here

Many dates for the photographs are guesses. Please add comments if you spot something that suggests a different date or you have more information. I am always pleased to hear thoughts or opinions. Do contact me if you have any questions or any photos to add!

#OnePlaceLandmarks : Sticklepath Bridge

This is my first post for 2021, and first in a series for #oneplacestudies, #oneplacewednesday and January’s topic of #oneplacelandmarks. I would like to capture, for posterity, memories, knowledge and views of what it is or was like to live in, work in or visit Sticklepath. PLEASE comment on this post or with your thoughts about Sticklepath. I love to hear family stories, especially if backed up with sources or evidence. If this is your first or an occasional ‘visit’ to Sticklepath on the edge of Dartmoor – WELCOME! Please do come again!

There are many bridges on Dartmoor, primarily constructed of the local stone – granite.  The earliest and simplest are clapper bridges, a single piece of granite laid across a waterway or gulley.  Wider gaps would have required a central column or pier and two slabs, and so on.   Many were (and are) tourist attractions, such as Wallabrook. A Clapper Bridge over the Teign, this was a favourite location for a picnic and family day out from Sticklepath in the 1920s, as Phyllis Finch’s album shows: 

Wallabrook Clapper Bridge without people! (1922)
Finch Family and Friends August 21st 1922 gives an idea of scale.
Muriel Finch and Charles Bowden (Courting!) Easter 1929 Wallabrook Clapper Bridge.
Another well known Clapper at Postbridge

STICKLEPATH – There is mention of Butter Bridge, built of a massive flat stone, East of the tithe map field of this name in Sticklepath. I have no further information regards this at this time. ( 21/11/1978 King . HER number MDV20388). Any help welcomed!

Wooden bridges were also popular but have survived less well than the stone.  Dartmoor ‘Clam’ Bridges were traditionally one or two tree trunks side by side, spanning the waterway, with their top surface levelled and grooves inserted to improve grip.  A good clam bridge required major maintenance/replacement every 25-30 years.  There was traditionally one hand rail.  Many other wooden bridges were of less solid construction. Health and safety has not allowed such structures to continue and chunkier less environmentally sympathetic wood structures have almost completely replaced them.  I think the original bridge across the Taw behind the graveyard in Sticklepath, now part of the Tarka trail, may have been a clam bridge.  There have certainly been wooden bridges over the Taw in the Ska or Skaigh Valley Woods for many years.

Photos of wooden bridge in the Skaigh valley between Sticklepath and Belstone:

Phyllis Finch album 1920s
Summerhouse (?belonging to Rockside House)
Above and below Minny Storey on Belstone Bridge 1922

For more examples of Dartmoor Bridges see for example https://dartmoortrust.org/archive/search/Bridge for photos or https://drtomsbooks.files.wordpress.com/2017/11/the-old-bridges-of-devon-autumn-2017a.pdf for photos with brief descriptions.

STICKLEPATH BRIDGE, sometimes called Taw Bridge, is one of many similar 2 – 3 arched Dartmoor granite bridges with cut waters and pedestrian refuges above.  Many are very picturesque, often in a wooded valley with opportunity to fish along the banks and usually somewhere to sit and imbibe refreshments, such as Fingle Bridge: 

Unfortunately you cross the bridge as you enter Sticklepath almost without noticing, so it doesn’t have this picturesque appeal, especially as the banks have become overgrown (at least when I last visited) and it is difficult to get a full view from a public footpath.

Sticklepath Bridge early 1900s Chapman (Higher or Southern aspect)

This map shows the flood risk area associated with the upper Taw here. Sticklepath is situated at the lower end of the blue area (https://riverlevels.uk/flood-warning-river-taw-upper-from-sticklepath-to-taw-bridge#.X_Az_y2l1QJ) with Dartmoor the green area at the bottom:

THE PHYSICAL STRUCTURE – Henderson tells us in 1928:

“ A description of the bridge by Green, the county surveyor in 1809, makes its two arches 17 feet in span and the width of the roadway only 14 feet. “This bridge,” he adds, ” being built upon a rock, though rough, is very strong.” A sketch of the bridge and plan made in 1852 shows that the road had been widened to 23 feet. This widening was done on the northern, or lower side, and the cutwater, with its triangular recess, was obliterated. The upper side remained untouched with its two little arches and massive cutwater between them. Thus the bridge remains to-day, and if the widening could be effected on the lower side no harm would be done. The old part of the bridge appears to date from the 17th century, the arches of a nondescript character, as at Fingle Bridge. It is probable, however, that the bridge has been in existence since the 14th century”. ”

Western Times – Friday 24 February 1928 tells us that Mr T.H. Ormston Pearse and Mr J. Pearse submitted objections to the Devon Main Roads Committee their objections to the changing of the pointed arches to rounded arches in the widening of the bridge at Sticklepath.  To maintain pointed arches would be more costly and they had been found to be insufficient to take the load of modern traffic. When pressed for an explanation:

“ Colonel Gracey said the bridge had about the weakest form of semi-bastard Gothic arch, and the sub-committee decided there should be an elliptic arch.” The extra cost of at least £300 was a big factor.

Photos above and below taken from the lower side showing that the pedestrian refuge was obliterated pre-1928
This photo also shows the lower section of Bridge House and Cawsand Beacon behind.

However, the Western Times – Friday 20 July 1934, suggests there was more to the story.  Mr. Miller explained: “Here the archaeologists claim that the arch is of curious and interesting design. The increased speed and weight of modern traffic had very nearly caused this arch to collapse. The County Engineer averted this by putting in a reinforced concrete saddle, concealed from view, over the arch, which has the effect of relieving the arch of all pressure, of whatever kind. The widening has been carried out in the same design and manner as the ancient bridge, the same arch being carried through the new portion. The same stone has been used as far as possible in the abutments, and where this was not sufficient the moor was scoured for weathered granite. So that it is now impossible to see that any new work has been carried out.” 

The village Conservation Area Appraisal 2017 suggests that the present structure is 18th century in origin.  It is Grade II listed.  Historic England list entry 1171622, National Grid Reference:SX 64354 94028, the description says:

“Road bridge over the River Taw. Probably C18. Snecked blocks of rusticated granite ashlar. 2-span bridge, each a segmental arch rising from vertical abutments. Between the two a pointed cutwater rises into the parapet to provide small refuges each side of the road. The parapet has plain granite coping. No terminal piers.” 

Here I am standing in the re-formed pedestrian refuge in 2019. Presumably re-instated in 1928.

An unusual feature is that the leat joins the river here on the higher side. ( This plays a part in one of the village tragedies so we will come back to this exact spot in February). 

Leat joining the Taw 2019

A further source is https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=MDV13046&resourceID=104

HER Number:MDV13046
Name:Sticklepath Bridge

This tells us that the old stonework of the bridge is visible underneath, 4m wide, but otherwise no visible medieval remains are visible. (Alexander, j. J. /dcnq/14(1926-1927)115/early bridges). It also says receipts showing repairs were made to the bridge in 1629 are found in Tavistock Churchwardens’ accounts. (These and other sources from the website should be followed up in the future).

We can not know for certain when a bridge was first built here. Perhaps a Ford existed before that and I am aware there is some evidence for use of different routes through the village. We can however surmise that when built the bridge would only have been made as wide as it needed to be. Hence several alterations or re-builds have been required since. Tradition states that the carriage of King George III ( George William Frederick; 4 June 1738 – 29 January 1820, King from 1760) got stuck on our narrow bridge and that one parapet (side wall) had to be knocked down before he could proceed. (WI The Story of Sticklepath).  This postcard and of Holne New Bridge illustrates the need for triangular pedestrian refuges and highlights the need for widening as vehicles grew larger and more numerous: 

Mid 1950s?

A Commermorative Plaque confirms the later widening in 1928. 

Plaque commemorating the Sticklepath Bridge widening 1928  “At the Joint Expense of Devon County Council and Ministry of Transport”. (Photo 2019)

 There are two other associated stones of note. The bridge marked the transition from Sampford Courtenay (S.C.) to South Tawton (S.T.) Parish so it is the site of a parish boundary marker. (Photo 2019 showing relationship to commemorative plaque). 

The sharp-eyed, walking into the village, will also spot a ‘C’ stone built into the side of Primula House about 75 yards further down the road.  Legendary Dartmoor tells us:

“A statute laid down by Henry VIII in 1531 ensured that at least somebody was made responsible for the maintenance of bridges. This statute basically directed that if no landowner, City, Borough, Town, Parish etc. could be proven to be those charged with bridge maintenance then the duty fell upon the County or Shire.” 

Such bridges became known as ‘County Bridges’ with maintenance and repair funds coming from taxes levied on local inhabitants. 

“The act required that for every bridge, the road over it and for 300ft on either approach should be similarly maintained. In 1841 the Devon magistrates decided that the limits of their responsibility were to be marked by boundstones.”  These ‘C Stones’ were about 3 feet high with an incised ‘C’ on one of the faces and placed one on either side of the bridge. (This lasted until 1880 when the newly formed County Councils adopted responsibility.)

‘C’ stone built into the roadside facade of Primula House
Close up of the ‘C’ stone at Primula

WATERSMEET – Before we leave the physical appearance of the area, it is worth noting that I have seen no evidence that Sticklepath Bridge was ever part of the turnpike system (e.g. Burd, E. P., 1936, Okehampton Turnpikes).  Watersmeet the house immediately alongside has a diagonal facade reminiscent of Toll houses, however, it is more likely the architect took advantage to maximise its footprint, whilst enabling best visibility for vehicles exiting from the Mill situated behind. (Now private dwellings including Albany House and Mill Cottage).  Muriel Bowden suggested that Watersmeet was built in the early 1900s and remembered a sweet shop there run by Miss Harriet Worden, very popular with the children. Later a doctor held surgery in the two front rooms, in competition with Dr Sharp. On the other hand very early photographs do not necessary confirm it was originally built with the diagonal facades and raise the possibility that this was a later alteration perhaps after an accidental damage? I wonder if other early photographs exist? (Interesting also to see on the following photos how the right hand side of the road changes, the magnificent row of elm trees with their shadows in the first postcard disappear, the wall moves back to allow widening and a pavement and later the entrance to Oak Tree Park appears. Notice the chimney on Watersmeet appears and disappears too!)

Watersmeet, just over the bridge with orange tiled roof
Two photos above : Sticklepath Bridge with Watersmeet at the far side and the Mill in behind. Is the Watersmeet facade diagonal?
Early 1900s. The dark house facing us, on left, is Primula (referred to later).
Mid-late 1930s ? Now you see a chimney….
Watersmeet 2019. Now you don’t!

PEOPLE AND EVENTS – A One Place Study aims not only to consider local and social history, but to connect people with places and events. If the stones of our bridge could speak they would have numerous stories to tell. It was of course a frequent meeting place, and not just for romantic couples about to wander along the Taw.  The Western Times reports for example Friday 17 November 1865 that Earl Portsmouth’s Hounds meet at Sticklepath Bridge for “The Chase” on 20th. The report on Friday 04 July 1890 says:

“On Sunday week the members of this section of D. Company 4th V.B.D.R. fell in at Taw Bridge for a church parade and marched to the church headed by the band of the company.”  “15 band, 35 rank and file.”

The bridge has been crossed by many people of note: Charles I, with his Army in 1644 pursuing the Earl of Essex in Cornwall, availed himself of the courtesy of the bridge, as perhaps his wretched Queen Henrietta had done a few weeks before, when she fled from Exeter to Launceston. Prince Rupert too rode through to quarter his troops in Okehampton, some we know were billeted at Coombehead Farm (the story is told that fearing detection they cut off the head of the cockerel to prevent it crowing and raising the alarm!).

“Many were the coaches that rattled over the bridge when Falmouth became the great Packet Station of the West, and the most famous characters of the 18th century must have been jolted from their slumbers as their postchaises or coaches took the dangerous bend.” (Henderson)

As noted in an earlier blog, in 1805 Lieutenant Lapenotiere set out to from his position off Cape Trafalgar, to deliver his vital dispatches to the Admiralty in Whitehall.  His journey across the sea in the HMS Pickle, was beset with trials – rough passage such that the guns had to be thrown overboard, then be-calming.  On reaching Falmouth, Lapenotiere would have taken the first possible post-chaise express carriage passing over our village bridge on his way with the news of the triumphant battle of Trafalgar and the death of Nelson.

Much more recently, in 1916, it was at the bridge that our village policeman arrested a man accused of molesting young girls (neither he nor his victims from Sticklepath, the constable had been given a description and correctly identified the man). The Western Times of Friday 07 May 1937 reports a lesser crime:

“STICKLEPATH MAN AND PAYMENT OF FINES. Summonses “for failing to observe a Halt” sign at Sticklepath Bridge on April 18th against Edgar Leslie Gibbs, of The Stores, Sticklepath, were dismissed at Okehampton Sessions Wednesday on payment of costs. Asked to show cause why he had not paid 12s. in respect of fines inflicted him on January 13th he said he had been out of work. At one time he drove a lorry and managed his own business. Now his only income was 2s. a week on a paper round. He was quite prepared to pay 5s. per month.” (1934 Road Traffic Acts and Regulations handbook had introduced the ‘Halt at major road ahead’ sign, precursor of the ‘Stop’ sign).

In 1950 (Western Morning News – Monday 22 May) Douglas St Leger-Gordon wrote about people gathering on the bridge to admire the increasingly rare red squirrel which was visiting it’s nut store close to the bridge daily, and had almost become the village ‘mascot’.  

So far I have only had access to secondary sources, but I would be pleased to hear of any access to primary sources or other information. 

Unfortunately there are several “Sticklepath” bridges, and it is not clear if all stories relate to ours. The Western Morning News – Wednesday 15 February 1928, points to just such a confusion between what is now known as Grenofen Bridge and our village bridge. 

1307 – “BISHOP’S MONEY FOR REPAIRS. Thomas Bytton, cf Exeter, who died in 1307, was prelate renowned for the munificence of his charities. In his will he left a large sum of money for charitable purposes, and desired his executors to journey throughout his Diocese of Devon and Cornwall distributing it as they thought fit. The executors performed their task without sparing themselves, for they journeyed almost to Land’s End. When they returned, in 1310, they made out a long account of what they had distributed. Among other items find the gift of £6 13s. 4d. for the repair, of the Bridge at “Stykelepath” under the “view”or direction of “Robert the Monk there.” This was a large sum for a little bridge, whichever Sticklepath is meant, and we may suppose that Robert the Monk, in his hermitage by the riverside, touched the hearts of the executors by his devotion. Perhaps they had some difficulty in crossing the torrent owing to the ruinous state of the bridge, and Dan Robert, in giving them aid and comfort, was able to point a moral. The incident conjures up a vignette of wayfaring life in the Middle Ages”, and Henderson goes on:

“It is not surprising to find a monk taking charge of the building of a bridge, for in the Middle Ages bridge-building was generally under the auspices of the Church as a work of Christian charity. If the executors had styled him “Frater ” and not “Monachus” one would have regarded Robert as a member of the Order of Pontist Friars, specially formed for the building and maintenance of bridges.”

The Chantry Priest in our village at that time was one Robert de Esse so by my reckoning we have good grounds on which to claim this tale as our own.


References / Bibliography (other than those quoted in full above)

https://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/bridges_moor.htm accessed Dec 2020

Dartmoor Magazine, Editor’s blog Spring 2019 accessed via https://dartmoormagazine.co.uk/clam-bridges-of-dartmoor-and-a-new-book-or-two/ Dec 2020

The Story of Sticklepath (Dartmoor) Compiled by Sticklepath Women’s Institute 1955 reprinted with minor revisions 1993.

Conservation Area Appraisal 2017 PDF – www.dartmoor.gov.uk


Henderson, C. Western Morning News 15 Feb 1928 “Sticklepath Bridge Problem a plea for an ancient structure”.

All newspaper quotes accessed Dec 2020 through the British Newspaper Archive

Photos 2019 by Mike Shields

What is a One Place Study? #SticklepathOne – What progress has been made on the 10 Steps?

The year end is a time for reflection, after the main festivities and whilst we are still so full we can hardly move!

So what is a One Place Study? 

Family history + Local history + House histories?  Yes 

People, places, institutions and events in a historical context. Yes

“Researching the people of a community within the context of the place they live”. (OPS website).         Yes

Bringing photos, maps, statistics, stories, primary and secondary sources and analyses together with a view to making them accessible to others?   Yes

Bringing different types of information together in an exciting new way? Yes

“investigating a small geographical area in minute detail” (Dr Janet Few) Yes

Potentially serious, careful, accurate and detailed high quality research?  Yes

Individual project or group collaboration?      Yes

“An intensely personal brand of history” (Dr Janet Few) Yes

A brilliant resource for anyone studying ancestors in that place? Yes

True, but it is so much more.  Drawing all this information together, one place studies (OPS) combine different aspects to bring new perspectives.  Themes emerge like:

Migration -Why did people move to the place?  Where did they go when they left. Why?

War – impact on individuals and the community.

Effects of geography / geology / transport/ access / faith / political or economic state on the population.

The population structure and how groups in society behaved or were treated: the rich, poor, women, children.

What was life really like in this place at different points in time? And so on and on. 

For me a huge attraction is the range of possibilities, AND that I can choose what I want to do within it, at a level the suits me, gradually building up.    Currently I am at the stage of pulling information together, and working out how on earth to organise it all! With lock down primary sources are fairly limited – just those available via the web. 

One HUGE advantage of calling your research a One Place Study and even registering it, is the enthusiastic community of One Placers who encourage and support you.  

https://www.one-place-studies.org (Check out the blog summarising great genealogical sites each month, and the numerous videos under ‘resources’)

http://www.oneplacestudy.org – Directory with links to the fantastic websites of many One Placers.

Dr Janet Few, our amazing Devon genealogist, has written a couple of books about this form of research, most recently ‘Ten Steps to a One-Place Study’ https://thehistoryinterpreter.wordpress.com/publications/. (Full reference below, within the UK contact the author direct for a copy)

The 10 steps, slightly adapted, (apologies Janet), form a useful framework to review my progress. 

Step 1 Choose your place and its boundaries:

There are One Placers studying a village, a town, a street, a house, a crescent, a war memorial, a cemetery, a school.  No rules here, you can chose any ‘place’ that appeals to you across the world, even a moving target such as a boat!  It is worth checking the directory (link above) to check if there is already a study. For me my ‘home village’, my families home for 200 years and where I grew up, the village of Sticklepath was the obvious choice.  I have done a little work previously (publications referenced below) mainly since my parents died in 2015, but the flexible format of OPS appeals as a framework.  I took a Pharos course on the topic tutored by Janet Few in September 2020 and started from there.

Setting physical boundaries is still a challenge.  Sticklepath villagers were included in 3 different Parishes and therefore 3 different census enumerator districts. I am not sure that the current Sticklepath Parish boundaries really reflect the agricultural community of our ancestors. My boundaries remain ‘fluid’ at present. 

One key piece of advice was to chose a starting point such as a records source, a date span or a theme.  Themes include occupations and local industries, population structure and changes, and those listed above.  

Janet warns that it is easy to be enthused by the endless possibilities and not quite get organised.  That summarises my 3 months neatly!  Covid has of course largely prevented archive visits, even for those close at hand.  Living in North Yorkshire, and moving house, with much family and village history still disorganised in multiple boxes, has not helped.  However, I have also made some progress and can see some ways forward.  

I am working through the Sticklepath section of the Sampford Courtenay Census for 1851 and creating family trees for all the residents on Ancestry,  with a physical card index.  As a rule of thumb any resident is in the database (this will eventually include those buried in Sticklepath Quaker burying ground). The family trees extend, where I can, to first degree relatives of those residents – parents, siblings, spouse(s) and children.  (1851 is the first census with both names and relationships, which helps when creating a pedigree chart!).  The aim will be, eventually, to add all the individuals from censuses 1841-1911 and the 1939 register plus many other sources such as directories, Parish registers etc. etc. to create one large database.  

My main timeframe is 1770 – 1970.  Should time allow I am also attracted to a focus on the decade from 1910 to 1920, leading up to the 1921 census which should be released in January 2022.  Not started this yet, but I have booked a Pharos course on researching the 20th century to get me started! (Yes you guessed tutored by none other than JF).

Step 2 Reconstruct

This involves finding past research and books on your place, maps and images.  Trying to get an overview of changes over time. Some of this is well outside my comfort zone, but I can chip away at it…

My plan is to use the OPS ‘shared endeavour’ blogs topics planned for next year to help build the picture. These include maps, landmarks, pubs, places of worship, and women in your place.  

To be honest I find the idea of using maps both exciting and terrifying.  I can get lost going to the next street! However, I have posted a colourful topographical map which I found really interesting and have signed up to learn something more about maps, so watch this space. Pubs – could be challenging, if I tell you my ancestors built a house they called Temperance Cottage…. but I am starting somewhere relatively ‘safe’, Sticklepath Bridge.

Step 3 Populate

Work on a database of residents has already given me a new sense of how inter-related the local villages and villagers were.  Once the 1851 census database is completed (perhaps by April?) I will be able to look at overall population statistics and profiles.  I am also keen to bring in softer evidence, the stories that have been captured in various places which bring character to the people and families.  Such things I am sharing on my (free) WordPress blog and Facebook page. 

Step 4 Collect a list of sources and bring the data together.  A huge range of potential sources: biographical data from the Parish registers and gravestones; information about dwellings, buildings and institutions such as the school; Organisations such as the temperance movement in the village, scouts, political meetings; Details of events including who was present;  Seeking out oral testimony, diaries, letters etc.; newspaper reports, directories; road changes; deeds, wills and probate. (Bearing in mind that many Devon Wills were lost in the bombing of Exeter).

Whilst I have made a start on this I need to both find a way to organise the information and to ensure that I include all possible sources.  Once this is progressing I can start Step 5, to Connect, not just people in family groups, but people with places, and people with events. Connect them with a view to analysis (Step 6) and synthesising (Step 7) such as focusing on a time period or theme to draw new conclusions. I hope to use ‘NameandPlace’ software to facilitate this.  Step 8 is to Contextualise, look at Sticklepath within historical contexts, comparing the locality to regional and national patterns, perhaps comparing and contrasting with other Devon Villages for example.  

As you can see there is a huge amount of potential work here. It should come with a warning about how addictive it quickly becomes!  

Step 9 is to  disseminate or share findings.  For me an early step, with a very steep learning curve, had to be creating a website and ‘blog’.  This indeed is my 21st blog post – I feel I have come of age!  Still lots to learn about making better blogs (and shorter!) with links. High quality research I feel is for the future. Many people wait until they have more material but for me sharing the information is key, and I am hoping it will enable more people to collaborate or contribute.  I have made contact with Sticklepath Heritage Group and did a display and talk a couple of years back.  I hope this link can be developed further as there are so many aspects to explore and I have a sense that this is a key moment to capture the early photos and documents and local knowledge of the 19th and 20th centuries before it is lost. We have the technology!

I have also published some thoughts on Blacksmiths in ‘Our Place’ using Sticklepath as my main example, my ‘Christmas Present’ arriving on 24th December, in the form of Destinations the Society newsletter. (Available to members).

I have found others conducting one-place studies have been very encouraging and supportive, willing to share ideas, methodology and good practice.  Zoom and Twitter have rather taken over in 2020 from socialising at choir and orchestra during lockdown! So many opportunities online now, many free, to improve your knowledge and skills in family history. Many village history groups on social media willing to offer advice. Others like Devon Family History Society have opened their meetings using Zoom to those of us who could not attend in person – just £12 for the whole year – with many records accessible by members online!

Step 10 is about sharing the enthusiasm, encouraging more people to consider one-place studies.  I suppose this is a small step in that direction.  

Happy New Year


Few, Janet Ten Steps to a One-Place Study Blue Poppy Publishing (2020) 210mm x 148mm paperback 52 pages £5.00 ISBN: 978 1 911438 18 2 

Pharos https://www.pharostutors.com/coursesmainsd.php

Shields, Helen. Walking Sticklepath through the Centuries: Part 1, Devon Family Historian, vol. 170, (2019) pp.20-25.

Shields, Helen. Walking Sticklepath through the Centuries: Part 2, Devon Family Historian, vol. 171, (2019) pp.19-23.

Shields, Helen. Walking Sticklepath through the Centuries: Part 3, Devon Family Historian, vol. 172, (2019) pp.19-23.

https://www.one-place-studies.org (Check out the blog summarising great genealogical sites each month, and the numerous videos under ‘resources’, Destinations newsletter for members which includes those considering starting a One Place Study at some time in the future).

http://www.oneplacestudy.org – Directory with links to the fantastic websites of many One Placers.

I Will! Death records.

When I lived in Malawi (2010-12) it became very clear that planning for something eg getting a fire extinguisher to deal with any potential fire, was tantamount to inviting the fire to happen. It was difficult to plan anything in advance. Of course the English think differently – or do we? Why do we find it so difficult to write our Will? I will get around to it…. We might not want to think about our own mortality but Covid has rather brought it to the fore. Unlike a fire which we all hope to avoid, death is inevitable, we just hope it is a way off. In the event, it is so helpful to our relatives or friends if it is clear what should happen to our possessions. Of course this can include making a plan for our family history items.

Soldiers were encouraged to make a Will before going into battle. These can be found on Gov.uk in a separate tab section). Admission to hospital for whatever reason can similarly focus the mind. I updated my Will recently after a change of address, but with any change of circumstances (eg grandchildren or family bereavements) you should consider changing your will or adding a codicil to clarify your wishes. However, the costs if you involve a solicitor are very considerable. Do ask in advance is all I can say!

It was timely therefore when I came across some historic receipts and accounts of the costs surrounding creating and administering wills, which I share with you today. I have also been surprised by how many relatives have made or updated their will in their final weeks. ‘Lucky’ to get warning of their impending doom I suppose. My 2x gt grandmother wrote hers but did not get time to sign it.

Wills can of course be invaluable to the genealogist, giving relationships, married names of daughters, occupations, addresses, an idea of wealth and lifestyle, property owned etc etc etc. It can also help create a timeline of events.

In August 1945 Albany Finch, my great grandfather, became ill and clearly realized his life was at risk. We have an unsigned original copy of his last will and testament dated 22nd August 1945, witnessed by neighbours from Ska View Cottages Margaret R Tucker and Frank Richards. From the will we can learn about all his surviving children. In particular, that his son Alfred James Finch, a clerk, was settled with his family in South America.  Albany believed, correctly, that his daughter Phyllis was a civilian internee in Stanley Camp, Hong Kong. There were huge concerns for the safety and well-being of Phyllis who had been serving as a missionary in China and was subsequently interned by the Japanese for the full duration of the war with very little if any communication.

Albany did not live long enough to see the end of the war on 2nd September. He died on 29th August 1945. Phyllis arrived back in England in December. Imagine for her, after the terrible ordeal of a long internment to arrive home only a few weeks after her father died, very sad. It is perhaps only at a time of “lockdown” that we can begin to comprehend the impact of such separations and bereavements, at a time when global communication was far from what is possible today.

There are several other useful sources of information created around a death. The memorial inscription can be informative, perhaps a newspaper obituary, the death certificate, and probate records. Albany’s gravestone mentions his three infant children buried there which we may otherwise not have known about.

The Western Morning News on Tuesday 30 August 1945 said:

“The death took place at Cleave House, Sticklepath yesterday morning of Mr. Albany George Finch. He was in his 82nd year. He was one of the best- known public men in the district, a devoted member of the Methodist Church, and a Liberal. A magistrate, chairman of governors of Okehampton Grammar School, and long-standing member of Okehampton Guardians Committee.” The list of mourners hints at wider family members and friends as well as representatives of organisations he was involved with..

The death was certified by Dr C.J.Sharp. At that time village doctors would have used a microscope to help diagnose illness. He said the cause of death was ‘Leuco-Erythroblastic Anaemia’, a diagnosis based on the microscopic appearance of the blood, one commonly associated with advanced cancer. Albany was buried in Sticklepath with his first wife Mary.

The Death Certificate of Albany George Finch Male Edge Tool Maker aged 81y died 29 August 1945 at Cleave House Sticklepath, Sampford Courtenay R.D. Informant Muriel C. Bowden daughter also of Cleave House Sticklepath near Okehampton. Registered on 30th August 1945.Walter Newcombe Registrar sub-district Tawton I the County of Devon. The Red one penny stamp on the certificate reminds us George VI was king.

Probate was granted 6 Feb 1947 to his two daughters Jessie Emma Barron, widow and Muriel Ching Bowden, wife of Charles and to Ralph Finch Edgetool Manufacturer.

Ralph was his nephew, and right hand man in the business. Albany’s will is largely concerned with the business and what will happen to that. Clearly as the end of the second world war was approaching economic times were hard, rationing was in place. Albany was also aware that the production of tools by hand was becoming outdated, he and his brothers had already diversified considerably. The wording of the will is very gentle in regard to continuing the business if the local relatives want to, and what to do if, or when, they don’t want to. Albany left the proceeds of the business equally to his 4 children. Wills can potentially give a huge amount of information about the situation and family dynamics.

Sometimes, for example if the eldest son has already been given support to set up in business he may be mentioned in the will but appear to be unequally treated. There can be other reasons for an unequal split, for example grand estates tended to go to one person so it would not be split up and lost.

Beatrice Mary Bowden, Mrs William Hellier, who we met in the last post, was more organised – making her will in 1967, 2 weeks before her 87th birthday, at a cost of one pound and a shilling (a Guinea). She lived a further 5 years.

Her mother Mary Ann Bennett, Mrs Emanuel Bowden, born in 1861, was even more organised, making her will in 1935, she continued to live until 1949. Her solicitors charged just 5 shillings (25p).

The executors account for probate outlines other costs associated with the death and administration. In 1972, the year after decimalisation, Redstone’s charged just under £60 for Beatrice’s funeral, with almost £5 additional funeral expenses claimed by the executors. Probate Court fees were £3.30. The solicitor charged £32 including VAT. She left her estate to be divided between surviving siblings.

What a dramatic difference in costs less than 50 years later! Not only that but we no longer pay our dues in stamps, long gone are the threepenny bits and 10 shilling notes of my childhood and £1 notes. Local shops no longer send a monthly bill to regular customers. Cash is hardly used in these Covid times, but in 1972 credit cards were frowned upon by many. (Barclay introduced credit cards 1966 in UK). Debit cards weren’t introduced in UK until 1987. No one in 1972 imagined we would do most of our ‘transactions’ with the wave of a phone, a fingerprint, or click of a computer button!

William and Beatrice Hellier

Outline map sticklepath and surrounding villages, black line old A30

Sticklepath is a very special place on the edge of Dartmoor. My family lived here for more than 200 years. Join me to travel back in time, leaving the comfort of our automobiles as we drive from Exeter towards Cornwall along the old A30 to Sticklepath. Travellers along the ancient ‘ridgeway’ may have had a horse and cart but would mainly be on the ever trusty “Shanks’s pony”, in other words on foot, as they passed through South Zeal to rejoin our route just before Sticklepath Bridge. We follow the less steep road, built in 1830, down the hill past Ramsley Mine with its spoil heap. Many of the workers here came from Sticklepath.

We continue to Ford Cross. In my youth there was a useful garage at Ford Cross, the first place I bought petrol, now houses. Turning left here would take you to Ford Farm (colloquially ‘vord varm’) where mangolds (mangel-worzels) were grown to feed livestock and potatoes for the people.

Approaching Sticklepath, Bridge Cottage on the right.

Entering the village the first dwelling we see is Bridge Cottage on the right. There are more houses now but in 1898 this was the first. Much earlier it was known as ‘Scaw Mill’ and had a separate leat running from the moor to its small water wheel. Now Bridge Cottage and Bridge House are on opposite sides of the road. Before 1830 the main road did not exist and Bridge House holdings came out across to the road at the far side of Bridge Cottage. There were apparently 4 separate households in Bridge House and the adjacent Jane’s Cottage before 1830. Now just one.

Bridge Cottage on left between the two roads, Bridge House far side of road, Sticklepath bridge also seen.

Bridge Cottage is isolated on a tongue of land between the two roads. One hundred years ago this was the house of Will and Beat Hellier.

Born in 1876, we find young Willie taking part in Sticklepath entertainments eg in a ‘waxworks’, I presume a tableau, of “Pear’s Soap” (Western Times – Friday 06 April 1888) as part of the evening’s entertainment alongside others providing musical items and shadow theatre. Perhaps his prize winning vegetables in the Sticklepath flower show (eg Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Friday 15 August 1902) caught Beatrice Mary Bowden’s eye? William Hellier married Beatrice, daughter of Emanuel Bowden, an agricultural labourer who lived from 1843 to 1920, in 1903. Unfortunately no newspaper reports or photographs have yet been found of this event.

Beatrice was the eldest of at least 11 siblings, rather under-estimating her aged on the wedding day (civil birth registration suggests her birthday was 26th December 1880). Charles her youngest brother said they often just had a pan of fried potatoes, perhaps with some onion thrown in, to share for their dinner, and were often left feeling hungry. Beatrice was a live in servant and cook for a gentleman in Sticklepath village prior to her marriage. I suspect she will have supported her wider family and helped make ends meet as a wife, by taking lodgers (suggested by the censuses), and as her mother before her by taking in laundry (especially with a ready water supply in her garden).

William Hellier and his wife Beatrice Mary Bowden.

William was already working as a stone cutter at the age of 14. By 1911 he calls himself a miner and in 1939 he is a pneumatic driller and quarry heavy worker. He lived his whole life in Sticklepath (1876 – 1947). He was said to be “of a kindly and retiring disposition”.

Will Hellier outside Bridge Cottage

His obituary also tells us he had been in poor health for a long time. Like many miners and quarrymen he suffered with his chest. Pulmonary conditions like chronic bronchitis were common among them, and smoking may have also contributed to that. His death, from heart failure and chronic bronchitis at the age of 71 years, was certified by Dr C Sharp who lived just across the road in Bridge House.

Living East of Sticklepath Bridge they were in the South Tawton Parish. Those just over the Bridge and the majority of the village were in Sampford Courtenay Parish. This is relevant when looking for birth marriage and death certificates. The funeral took place at St Mary’s Sticklepath (which suggests he was ‘church’ rather than ‘chapel’, and perhaps means he is most likely to be found in Sticklepath burying ground). The newspaper report helpfully names the mourners which includes several sister’s married names.

Although the bridge has been widened they maintained its triangular refuges where pedestrians could avoid the passing dusty carts and carriages and later the muddier speedier cars.

Sticklepath Bridge showing the cutwater, triangular projection from the bridge helping direct the flow of water through the archways. Chapman photo-postcard, estimate about 1900.

The triangular shape continues below as cutwaters. Walking across the bridge now you hardly hear the Taw River rushing beneath the road for traffic noise. I wonder what it will be like in 20 years time -electric cars self-piloted to reduce speed, noise and accidents perhaps?

Farley and Effra 1983

Beatrice Mary Bowden outlived her husband by 25 years. In her later years she moved across the bridge into the main part of Sticklepath living in Effra Cottage (now re-named) opposite the Methodist chapel, next to Farley Cottage. She lived with her widowed sister Emily, where their mother Mary Ann had lived. My great Aunts, (Auntie Em and Auntie Beat) still boiled their kettle on a grate over their open fire in the 1960s.

Mary Ann Bowden (nee Bennett), Beatrice’s mother in Effra. Note the hooks on the picture rail with long loops suspending the frames.

This post is partly based on an assignment done for a #Pharos online course with Dr Janet Few which resulted in a publication (Shields, Helen. Walking Sticklepath through the Centuries: Part 1, Devon Family Historian, vol. 170, (2019) pp.20-25). I hope as my One Place Study progresses to be able to build portfolios for each person or family, not just a list of dates from the census.

Comments and information encouraged – please feel free to comment especially if I have got anything wrong!

How family trees grow to forests! Following Francis Hellier through the census and beyond…

One of the first things I am doing for my ‘One Place Study’ is following people through the censuses and trying to understand the relationships.  I particularly like it when I knew the more recent family members or can find something to bring the family to life.  The focus here is on Francis Hellier. It is very much a work in progress…

Francis Hellier was born in 1873 in Sticklepath.  In 1881 we find he is a ‘scholar’ aged 8, living with sister Elizabeth aged 3, brother William aged 5, sister Mary aged 11, brother Joseph an 18 year old working at the Edge Tool factory.  His father Joseph aged 53, is an agricultural labourer and mother Ellen Smith, originally from the New Inn, Drewsteignton, aged 46.

Following the census through we find 9 children of Joseph and Ellen. However the 1911 census tells us that Ellen had 15 children of whom 5 had already died. Further investigation is needed!

Hellier family tree so far from census information

By 1891 both Francis and his father Joseph are copper miners, and brother William, at 14, is a stone cutter.   Brother Joseph, still a blacksmith, has married Alma Grace Curtis of Northlew and lives 3 doors down the street. The census suggests the two households are living either side of Sticklepath Methodist Chapel. Joseph and Alma go on to have two children, Joseph and John who both emigrate to America.  Joseph (junior) returns to marry Mary Ann Hamlyn Counter of South Zeal and whisks her away to America, but sadly dies in 1926.  Mary Ann has returned by 1939 when we find her living with Elizabeth Blanche Counter – later Blanche Wonnacott.

Joseph Hellier blacksmith is one of these Finch foundry workers.

1897 brings major life events for Francis with marriage to Ellen Louisa Coaker and the birth of their first son Frank. On census night 1901 their 2 room house in Sticklepath has 6 occupants.  One of Ellen’s 11 siblings, Alberta aged 12 is staying and two more children, Ernest and Ellen Louisa have been born.  Francis’s work is still copper mining ‘below ground’.

After a gap of 7-8 years another son George is born, bringing their total to 4 children.  It is helpful that the 1911 census tells us that they had not had any other children or infant deaths. The family by then are living at Skaigh Cottage in Belstone, Francis is working as an agricultural labourer again, and the 13 year old Frank is a jobbing gardener. We await the 1921 census for more information about Francis prior to his death in 1936. 

Sons Frank and Ernest both went to war. Frank returned but Ernest, a Private in the 3rd battalion, Norfolk regiment, died aged 19. He was drowned when his transport ship HMS Aragon was torpedoed in Alexandria Harbour on 30 Dec 1917.  I think Frank married Nora Helen Cooper of Willey ( a hamlet close to Sticklepath) and by 1939 they had moved elsewhere in Devon. Their younger brother George Hellier, a farm labourer married Dorothy Wilkes in 1933 and they are living in Skaigh Cottage in the 1939 census with their son Francis G Hellier a 5 year old already at school. 

Turning finally to Francis and Ellen’s daughter, Ellen Louisa Hellier.  She married a young man who was originally from London – Albert Thomas Stead, later Sticklepath’s postman, known as Tom.  I wonder how they came to meet?  In 1939 Ellen is living opposite the Methodist chapel in Farley Cottage, I presume Tom had already gone to war and their son Bert’s entry (presumed) is not yet visible. They lived at White Rock Cottage on Back Lane Sticklepath opposite the Finch Coal yard in the 1960s when I knew them.  

Bert 1986 (at my wedding).

Census documents give us so much information but a little personal knowledge brings their story to life, and reminds us how much we miss with only a 10 yearly snapshot. In 1935 Bert was living in Skaigh Cottage Belstone with his Grandfather Francis.  It was the year he started school in Sticklepath.  I would like to quote his words from “The Book of Belstone”  p162 he says about Francis and Skaigh Cottage:

“He worked at Vitifer and Golden Dagger tin mines, then at Ramsley copper mine before coming here from Cleave Mill Cottages.  If he forgot to dig vegetables for Sunday he wasn’t allowed to get them on the day.  When we had a joint, the meat was always for the men, veggies and gravy for the children, then maybe a piece of suet pudding with treacle. There was a copper at the side of the house, a cauldron with a wood fire underneath where the washing was done.  That water came from the old Greenhill Mine leat which ran through the garden; Uncle George fitted a wire mesh over the pipe to stop the sticklebacks getting through.  I collected drinking water from Lion’s Mouth.” The Book of Belstone Chris and Marion Walpole 2002

Starting with one individual, Francis Hellier, in the 1881 census, we have rapidly linked the Hellier family with the Smith, Curtis, Counter, Wonnacott, Coaker, Cooper, Wilkes and Stead families. With Francis one of nine siblings it is easy to see how one family is quickly related by marriage to many others – we have only looked at a few of them. What is also striking is the connection to so many surrounding villages and hamlets – Willey, Belstone, South Tawton, South Zeal, Drewsteignton etc. Next time – a Hellier-Bowden marriage.

The Lion’s Mouth

If you spot any errors or have any further information, especially documents or knowledge of sources that can help me further or photographs, please do get in touch!