Trafalgar – We Won! But how did we know?

As children we went to visit friends in Gosport, and the highlight of the trip was an adventure on board HMS Victory. I seem to remember being horrified that sailors needed to tap their biscuits to clear the weevils, hated the idea of slings for sleeping, and trying to imagine being Nelson, one eye, arm in a sling, trying to handle a telescope with the other. (The horrors, other than a dread of sea sickness since even car journeys were a challenge for me at the time, clearly didn’t invade my romantic adventurer’s head).  

Perhaps the most famous British sea battle and Vice Admiral, the battle of Trafalgar took place on 21st October 1805 off Cape Trafalgar, lasting about 5 hours.  Contrary to usual practice Nelson divided his 26 ships into two rather than make one line to face the Spanish and French.  His famous message, signalled from the flag ship was ‘England expects that every man will do his duty.’  Many lives were lost both in the battle and the storm that followed. Napolean’s fleet of 33 was virtually annihilated with 17 of the ships captured. Reports suggest 4,400 opponants dead, 3,300 wounded and 450 dead with 1,250 wounded on the British side out of about 50.000 men involved.  A sniper mortally wounded Nelson in his chest/shoulder and he was forced to retire to his cabin, but is said to have known that it was a great victory.    

So how did we in England get the news?

No email or even telegram.  As already mentioned a great storm followed the battle so it wasn’t until 5 days later that Vice Admiral Collingwood was able to order Lieutenant Lapenotiere to set out to deliver his dispatch to the Admiralty in Whitehall.  Expediency was necessary.  The HMS Pickle, a fast schooner, 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, perhaps throwing another booked passenger out of their seat. 

His route across land, 271 miles, now commemorated as “The Trafalgar Way”, would have involved many stops – every 10-15 miles to replenish the horses and perhaps change carriages. Travelling non-stop it would have taken some 38 hours, passing through many beautiful and historic places.  And … yes you have guessed, Sticklepath was of course one of those. The total cost of the journey is said to have been £46 19s 1d, equivalent today to more than £4,500! His journey from Devon 215 years ago took place on 5th November – perhaps he will have witnessed some bonfires along the way?  He presented his dispatches at 1 am on 6th November – a great victory but he was also reporting the deaths of Lord Nelson and so many men. 

 Sticklepath’s Trafalgar Way Plaque with painted celebratory flags can be seen on a small building opposite the Devonshire Inn. This building apparently used to be the village candle factory, using tallow from the bone mill to make candles, many of which were used by Ramsley Mine.

Nelson loses his right eye 1794 TuckDB postcard see below

Horatio Nelson was born in in 1758 and joined the Royal Navy at the age of 12.  He lost the sight in one eye in fighting off Corsica and his arm in an attempt to conquer Tenerife.  The 20 year old Nelson had been stationed in the West Indies, in Jamaica, and was befriended by powerful slave owners.  More than 25 years later, like many Naval officers, Nelson was out of step with the growing abolitionist views.  Sadly, in 1805, well before his great battle, Nelson wrote to a wealthy slave owner of his strongly anti-abolitionist views from that same cabin on board the HMS Victory.   

Death of Nelson at Trafalgar TuckDB postcard see below

In 2020 we are powerfully aware of the horrors and injustices of the slave trade (or perhaps we are just now beginning to see ‘the tip of the iceberg’ of slavery and its on-going impacts?) Not only have my own views about the many gruesome aspects of wars ‘grown up’ but a very different, more balanced and perhaps more nuanced view of history, our ‘heroes’ and victories is long overdue.

The National Archive’s Trafalgar Ancestors database lists all those who fought in Nelson’s fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar. This includes about 1/6th of those serving in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines at the time. It includes Jane Townshend, the only woman shown to have served at Trafalgar and men who it is noted were born in a wide range of countries of Africa, America, West Indies, India, and most countries in Europe. It also explores in more detail the “complex and contradictory personal character traits and qualities” of Nelson.

Illustrations shows a huge range of historic postcards, reflecting both the technology and attitudes of the time. Those used above are from a set of 6 oilettes “Eventful Nelson Incidents” from 1906. Information about the postcards is copyright hence individual references. The three used here are: Nelson’s Blind Eye at Copenhagen



The October 2020 edition of The Beacon (the village newsletter for Sticklepath and surrounding villages) mentions that 100 years ago Olive Finch, a Sticklepath lass, advertised “Only Millinery” in Okehampton, her shop at 18 St James Street. 

Many thanks to Chris Walpole local historian extraordinaire for the information.  Here she is in 1907 wearing, I feel sure, one of her early hats, when she was a bridesmaid to Emma Rosina Bolt and William Dawe. 

Olive and Jessie Finch Bridesmaids

Olive specialised not only in ladies’ headwear, but in re-modelling of hats. Waste not want not!

More of the Dawe family and of Olive and Jessie later.

The Beacon is moving with the times – its 7th online edition – and not only includes regular local history but is definitely history in the making, now on its 465th print edition.

The Thatcher – 5 generations living side-by-side?

This is becoming more common now as people live longer, but 5 generations living in Sticklepath in 1851?

Let’s start with the family I am calling household ‘5’ in the 1841 census. It is hard to know where exactly they were living, but somewhere near Oaktree Park and the current village shop in Sticklepath. John Yeo, aged 42, an ag. lab. was living with his wife Jemima aged 40, his 4 children and his grandfather. The children were James, 17, also an ag.lab., Mary a worsted spinner aged 15, John aged 9, and William aged 3 months. The grandfather (baby William’s great grandfather) was William Way aged 78 who is described as a thatcher. Was he still thatching at 78? We will probably never know.

1907 The Thatcher a DB Tuck postcard

Ten years later 1851 census, taken 30 March shows William Waye (different spelling) ‘former thatcher’. It seems John Yeo may have died as Jemima Yeo and son John aged 10 are now living, along with our thatcher, in the household of James Crocker aged 28y, Cordwainer, and his wife Mary A Crocker aged 25 a wool sorter.

For every record you find there are immediately at least two more records needed and several questions you need to go and find the answers to! There should be records of John Yeo’s death and burial, and of a marriage for Mary Yeo to James Crocker, and of course we need to follow the family to the next census. A Cordwainer is a shoe-maker, especially one who makes new shoes as compared to a cobbler who mends old shoes for example. Mary having been a worsted spinner at 15 is now a wool sorter – is that a promotion I wonder?

Sadly though, the burial records show that just one month later, on 29 April 1851 William Waye was buried by Rev WS Best in Sticklepath ‘Quaker burying ground’. A note is made in the register that at his graveside were children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren. So a day or two earlier if passing through Sticklepath we could have seen 5 generations of the one family.

It is always a good idea to look at other burials in close proximity in the register. Sadly on 21 May, less than 4 weeks after that, the family would have been mourning the loss of William Waye Clarke, great great grandson of the thatcher.

Sticklepath Quaker Burying Ground 2020

Emma Wonnacott

This is one of my first excursions into family trees for Sticklepath folk who are not my direct ancestors.  It is exciting to find Harvey, Stanbury, Counter and Wonnacott all ‘tied together’ in one tree. I do know we each have 4 grandparents who often have different surnames, but linking well known families together is awesome.  Slightly awesome in the sense of how am I going to keep track of 500 inhabitants and their intermarrying too!

Also spotted a skill I need – drawing family pedigree charts – this gives an idea:

We first met Emma as the mother of Gertie Harvey, now she is the focus. 

When Emma Wonnacott was born on 11 December 1869 in South Tawton, Devon, her father, James, was 38, and her mother, Maria, was 34. In 1871 James was a lime quarry labourer* and he and Maria had 3 other children at home with them in South Zeal – Ellen aged 14y, Joseph 12y, Anna Maria aged 4  as well as 1 year old Emma. 

Emma’s mother Maria died in about 1877, aged 42 after 23 years of marriage. In 1881 Father James is an invalid.  He and the now 11 year old Emma are living in Spreyton village with sister Ellen and her husband James Powlesland an ag.lab aged 23 years.  Ellen is working as a dressmaker to help make ends meet.  Emma is a scholar. 

In 1891 Father James is working again as an ag lab and is now living in the middle of Sticklepath near the chapel.  Emma was a house and parlour maid (sounds a bit posh! Most local census entries just say servant.)  She worked for Francis Budd, retired barrister, at Batworthy, Gidleigh.

Emma married William Henry Stanbury Harvey in April 1894, registered  in Okehampton, Devon (I am not sure where they married). I wonder if they met when she was visiting her father perhaps? The 1901 census shows them living in Sticklepath at No 1 Taw River Cottages.  I wonder if she moved there when she married?  They had two children during their marriage. Gertie was born 1 Jun 1895 and Willie 21 May 1898.

By 1911 the family had moved to Tawside, and now sister Ellen and daughter Ada were living with them or at least staying on the census night. We also learn that Ellen had lost a child.  They took paying guests.

The 1939 register helpfully confirms the dates of birth for the family, who are still living at Tawside. William Henry describes himself as an old age pensioner and his son William James is now the farmer.  Emma died in July 1943 at the age of 73, the death was registered in Okehampton.

*South Tawton Lime Quarrying started in the 16th century, peaking in the early 1800s, and closed 1906.  These were difficult times for labourers locally as Ramsley Mine closed in 1909, farming was in recession and, as we now know, war was just around the corner. 

As always lots of questions arise. Where were No 1 and No 2 Taw River Cottages? How did the family afford to move to Tawside? What happened to Emma’s father James Wonnacott for him to be called an invalid? I wonder why he moved to the middle of Sticklepath? How did the war affect them – I have so far not found a military record for William James Harvey, perhaps he avoided it in a protected profession of farmer?

I would love to hear any more information, or perhaps add a photo?

Did you wear a school uniform?

Jayne Shrimpton has written an interesting article about school uniforms in this month’s ‘Discover Your Ancestors’ periodical. I am sure we all have school uniform stories and memories, please share some.

Sticklepath school (Sampford Courtenay Sticklepath Council School) which took pupils aged 5-14 up to 1931, did not have a uniform, but on 26th September 1921 they obtained football jerseys for the team with vertical blue and white stripes. There was not uniform when I went, by which time it was a ‘junior’ school only.

Later I went to Edgehill College, Bideford, which took international students, so no local uniform shop for me or quick ‘pop in’ to BHS! I had to go to Dickins & Jones in London to get my uniform suit and blazer and beret. We paraded in these every Sunday to chapel and church. Although I was unaware of the shop’s history*, I felt the pressure of its status and was thoroughly intimidated. A little Devon girl, used to inheriting hand-me-down clothes, in the big city after a long journey, being properly measured by austere ladies, fitted and kitted out! On a more day to day basis we had open necked shirts and jumpers (1971). We certainly were not allowed to wear trousers!

Photographs of the brother school Shebbear show an even more formal and uniform uniform in about 1950:

Prize day? About 1950?

with regulation short and tidy slicked back hair, though the loose fitting trousers and most importantly, the ‘see your face in it’ rigorously hand-polished shoes are in danger of being overlooked in the photo above!

Roger Bowden with lifelong friend Matron Blight

Looking a little further back, to the 1920s I note the younger students wore white socks – we used to joke in the 1970s that we should wear white socks for our music exams as they would make us look younger and the examiner might be more sympathetic! These are from Miss Phyllis Finch’s album. She was a geography teacher, in training, during the early 1920s.

The older girls as above wore thick dark stockings.

Jayne Shrimpton tells us this ‘gym slip’ originally designed for sports was increasingly used as school uniform. Certainly looks practical, and the layers would make it quite warm with woollen stockings.

I have just such a home made gym slip worn by Rose Ching in 1923 at Exeter University, with a photograph showing her modelling it with the team. Almost 100 years old. Above knee at the time, with the enhanced stature of today it is unlikely to be worn again! Anyone know of a good home for such items?

Do share your own school uniform stories!

*Wikipedia tells us:

In 1790, Dickins and Smith opened a shop at 54, Oxford Street. In 1830, the shop was renamed “Dickins, Sons and Stevens”. In 1835 it moved to the newly built Regent Street, becoming Dickins & Jones in the 1890s

Bought by Harrods in 1914, and in 1959 both were acquired by House of Fraser. By 2007 Dickins & Jones just became an in-house fashion brand of House of Fraser.

That Pram…

Those who read earlier posts know that I mentioned a pram. Here is a little more about it!

On 30 May 1898 Albany George Finch married his second wife, Georgina Ching of Higher Coombehead Farm, Tongue End. I imagine both families approved as the other was ‘of good Methodist stock’.

She was one year his junior. They were married in Sticklepath Wesleyan Methodist Church by the Rev. Thomas Tretheway. Georgina’s brother Loius and sister Eliza were their witnesses.

They lived in Cleave House and Georgina took lodgers and paying guests. There was no inside toilet or bathroom but 3 reception rooms plus the kitchen, and 4 very good sized double bedrooms (‘apartments’) plus a single bedroom.

Georgina and Albany had two daughters, Phyllis Irene (1902 born in Higher Coombehead Farm and Muriel Ching (1904 born in Cleave House). I suspect it was a real treat when Albany arrived home with a rather special pram. Quite a status symbol in those days. Perhaps it was bought earlier by a family member and passed on to them? I am sure it would have ‘turned heads’.

Unfortunately Georgina moved during the long exposure needed for this photograph with baby Finch. It is likely to date from 1903-1905.

Mail cart prams of this sort were popular from the 1880s through to the end of the Edwardian era, though they weren’t particularly safe for babies. There are contemporary reports of babies falling out, however the appearance was a primary consideration and some of the most beautifully decorated prams were made in this period. This one has chip carved side panels.

Convertible mail carts could be adapted with the end at the child’s feet being dropped into a foot well – allowing a larger child to sit up in the pram. It was not unusual for prams not to have a maker’s mark.

(Many thanks to Heather Robertson, Curator of Transport and Technology, Riverside Museum, Glasgow who emailed this information about 2018).

The Finch family always shared such items, re-used and re-cycled (it was generally called ‘make do and mend’ back then!) I wonder who had it next?

A heap of old photos!

When Ann and Roger Bowden of Cleave House Sticklepath died in 2015 quite a number of photographs were unearthed. Many had accumulated from deceased relatives, maiden Aunts or Roger’s grandparents (Finch family) who have lived in Cleave house since around 1898. Roger also enjoyed amateur black and white photography from a teenager, having his own ‘Dark Room’ set up in the evening when required.

A few lucky families have carefully labeled and organized photos.  More often, like these from Cleave House, some are labeled in some way or organized in albums.  Many, like the heap I found labeled ‘Odd bodies’, probably in 1978, are not immediately identifiable. There may be a name but the connection is lost.  It is tempting to discard these, but hidden clues may reveal something unexpected.  There may be items or places of interest in the photo, such as a vehicle or view of an old building. Family resemblances or a photo of the same person in a different context can help. 

Fashion helps date the photographs as well as clues from the background and framing – feet not shown here. These two were likely taken by a professional photographer, I suspect in Okehampton. The first one is labelled Reg Cook’s mother. The second is as yet unidentified.

Does anyone have photos with a similar background that might help narrow it down? I am guessing 1900-1905. Any help welcome!

Book recommendation: Tracing Your Ancestors Through Family Photographs by Jayne Shrimpton

On this day – 1934

Ann Bowden (nee Jones). Photograph by CRF Bowden

On the 6th October 1934 a baby girl was born to Morris Lloyd Jones and Emma nee Powell. They lived at 12, Westfields, Wotton Under Edge, Gloucestershire where she was baptised on 18th November 1934

Ann Rosalie Lloyd Jones.

The family moved to Dovercourt Road Bristol where they ran a greengrocers and lived above the shop. Ann helped in the shop and with deliveries on her bicycle but also had an on-going role from a young age in caring for her mother who had bipolar disorder, then called manic depression.

The war intervened and she was evacuated by the family to friends in Wotton, the Beakes. Molly was like a big sister to her and Norman Beakes the big brother she wished she had. Ann later taught mathematics and PE for a short while in Wotton.

Ann with Norman Beakes

She was successful at school becoming head girl.

Ann receiving the Maths Prize at St Georges School Bristol

She studied maths at Exeter University where she heard Roger singing and, so the story goes, it was love at first sound. Returning home from uni at the end of her first year on 20 June 1954, as she walked to her home from the bus stop she saw people had gathered. She thought it was to welcome her. However, sadly, her father had died suddenly.

Degree Ceremony 1957 Ann and Roger both “Bachelor of Science London University” having studied mathematics at Exeter.

30th March 1957 she married Roger Bowden, having 5 bridesmaids who all wore different colours under identical lacy material. Brought up in the Church of England tradition, in the car on the way to the reception she always claimed she tried to ‘swop’ the ‘obey’ for agreeing to be teetotal as his Methodist tradition dictated.

She moved to Sticklepath where she helped run “Bowden’s Haulage” and later Bowden’s hosta nursery, achieving Gold medals at the Chelsea flower show and a National collection. ( still a family business in Sticklepath).

Ann and Roger with Graham Fulger, Joyce Phillips and Paulina and team

She was a very active member of the WI, and appeared on TV concerning a WI resolution she proposed. It was to ban cyclamates, sweeteners thought to cause cancer, which were used to sweeten children’s squash. She often helped out with village events, decorating the chapel at harvest, baking mince pies for the carols evenings, serving teas and coffees. She helped organise the flower show for many years, and won many prizes there for flower arranging and baking. She also enjoyed icing cakes.

She was awarded the M.B.E. for her years of work as a volunteer on the South West Electricity Board Consumer Council in 1986.

She was my mother, but her claim for a spot here is as a campaigner for a Parish of Sticklepath (and for the bypass). She was the first Chair of Sticklepath Parish Council when the Parish was formed in 1987.

Newspaper cutting, no details of paper sorry.
Ann and Roger Bowden in front of Cleave House Sticklepath.

Interested in Postcards?

Sticklepath is lucky to have had many postcard photographs taken in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Quite a few are still circulating on eBay and other places! I always hope any I get hold of will have been posted, as messages can be great to unpick. Also the postmark and stamp often give some indication of the date.

This one posted with George V ½ penny stamp. Wikipedia says:

George V (George Frederick Ernest Albert; 3 Jun 1865 – 20 Jan 1936) was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 6 May 1910 until his death in 1936. (I note postage went up to 1 penny on 3 June 1918). I can’t read the postmark but helpfully the sender wrote the date.

It is at the top of the card in black ink, an unusual arrangement of Wednesday 15th December 1915. “Post office, Sticklepath” confused me initially – but this is the address of the sender. The Yeo family ran Sticklepath Post Office for many years. See the note in pencil top left “‘Fancy old Gert inside Tawside” we will come back to this. The pencil continues “Your photo fine trete? Write soon from Auntie P”. Plus 3 kisses. (trete? – Any ideas what that says? Is it just treat?) Aunt P is likely Poll referred to later in the card.

‘Old Gert’ is Gertrude Harvey who lived in Tawside, the arts and crafts style house on the postcard. Tawside was built around 1900 and was once part of the ‘Wood’ estate.

It is always worth using a magnifying glass (or zoom function) to study photos. This card by Chapman, photographers of Dawlish, Devon, one of the JC Yeo series, shows Tawside house with the river Taw to the left, with rather overgrown banks. There are two prams outside the house at the front. One is quite distinctive and I may know who it belonged to – more anon!

Tawside House, Sticklepath.

If you were to walk up the river here and turn around you would see Sticklepath bridge as in this postcard:

The Gertie I knew (Miss Harvey) was a real character, who lived for many years in Tawside with her brother Willie. I am sure people who knew her will have entertaining stories – I would love to hear them. She was a Methodist and as a child I used to collect ‘missionary money’ from her each week. She always had numerous kittens – this photo doesn’t do her or the 5 kittens justice! Typical housewife of the later 1960s wearing an apron. I assume the ‘Old Gert’ referred to on our first postcard must have been her, though she was only about 20 at the time! (Her mother was called Emma)

This is a picture of a Sticklepath WI outing to Sampford Courtenay Church perhaps in late 1960s or early 70s? Gertie is second from the left. Her distinctive leg shape suggests she had rickets as a child.

Our final postcard is earlier (the garden is not so developed). This one has a clear postmark, 16 Aug 1910. The message makes it clear they took paying guests at the time. Have a close look at the man on the lawn:

SUMMARY of genealogy: When Gertrude Elizabeth Harvey was born on 1 June 1895 (registered Okehampton) her father, William Henry Stanbury Harvey, an ag.lab, was 28, and her mother Emma, nee Wonnacott, was 25. She had one brother, William James Harvey (known as Willie). She lived initially at No 1 Taw River Cottages in Sticklepath (there were 2). In 1911 she was already a ‘dairy worker’ aged 15y. She helped out on the farm most of her life, living at Tawside House Sticklepath, (South Tawton Parish), from at least 1910, but moved to Effra opposite the Wesleyan Methodist chapel in Sticklepath in old age. It is likely she had rickets as a child. Willie died in 1974. Gertie never married. She died in Greenacres nursing home on 3 March 1990 in Chagford, Devon, at the age of 94.

A little (late) Geology!

I thought I was doing so well, set this post to ‘publish itself’ a few days ago on a short delay, just to prove I could. Well I couldn’t! It was still sat in drafts. 😦

So here it is… (and I am going back to the drawing board to learn how to set timed posts!)

Devon is unique among UK counties in lending it’s name (since 1840) to a geological period of time 416–359 million years ago. During the Devonian Period fish proliferated and evolution of the jaw took place. Who knew Devon was a geologists’ paradise with 13 main rock types, and can boast a history of being tropical, almost desert-like, submerged, and weathered by permafrost over the millenia!

Geologists are also very familiar with Sticklepath, as it gives its name to the Sticklepath Fault which includes Belstone Cleave, the valley shown on the topographical map I shared previously.

Also known as the ‘Sticklepath – Lustleigh fault zone’ and similar variations, it runs NW to SE from Bideford to Torbay, through Sticklepath and Lustleigh.  

This accounts for the historical mines and quarries in the area, utilising veins of copper, the presence of arsenic and tin, as well as granite for building and stone for road building.  The Sticklepath Fault seems best known for the ‘ball clay’ sediments found at a few places along its length, used for pottery since the 17th century and exported since mid-19th century.  

“it is highly plastic and can be formed into intricate shapes like tea services and toilet pans that can be handled before firing in a kiln without undue risk of damage. Moreover, after firing it has a light colour, unusual in most other clays.” (geo-devonrocksgeologyguide.pdf)

The main mineral is kaolinite, as in China Clay but with a different crystalline structure. The fact it is largely free of iron oxides gives it the light colour (unlike many clays which are reddish and used for brick-making).  The Sticklepath Fault provided an almost unique set of circumstances which allowed formation and maintenance of these ball clay pits: erosion of rocks into fresh or brackish water; trapping the ultra-fine particles before they could be washed out to sea; with little subsequent erosion or deeper burial of the sedimentary deposits. 

A good map showing the Fault and distribution of the rock types can be seen in:

An interesting detailed report with lots of photos can be seen:


Back to genealogy for the next post!

Further reading :