Churchyard at Dunkeswell Abbey 'Blest by the power, by heaven's own flame inspired, That first through shades monastic poured the light; Where, with unsocial indolence retired. Fell Superstition reigned in tenfold night' from 'Written on Visiting the Ruins of Dunkeswell Abbey, in Devonshire' by Mary Hunt Photo Julie Sampson
If you've stumbled upon this piece you might wonder what it is. If so, please take a look at From the Devon Ridge where a Book Began, where I explain this blog... So I've reached D in this A-Z of places linked with Devon's women writers. There are several places I could have featured, but I decided on Dunkeswell, because the parish is the hub of a whole district towards the eastern edges of the, county s broad sweep of lands during the late C18 early C19 were owned and to a large extent, controlled, by one family, the Simcoes. It is usually General John Graves Simcoe, first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, you're likely to encounter if you search the family online. But my interest here is his wife, Elizabeth Posthuma Gwillim Simcoe. You won't find it hard to gather information about the Simcoes. There is a gallimaufry of data out there about them. I have written of Elizabeth Simcoe in another blog. She appears in Devon Women: Travelling and Writing; and in Devon Celebration: Ten Women Writers. You can also find about her life and useful links atSouth-West-Women-Writers.
Meanwhile, I have to confess that Mrs Simcoe only appears in passing in Writing Women on the Devon Land (see DevonBookFindsaWay); but, given that, although as well as artist, Simcoe was a prolific and expert diarist, and letter-writer, in my opinion her writing does not feature in the top league of those women writers from Devon whose texts are pre-eminent. But then, neither should she be ignored; Elizabeth Simcoe's contribution to literature was not insignificant. Simcoe compiled insightful diaries of her stay in Upper Canada; classics of their genre, the journals provide the arm-chair traveller and historian with graphic and spirited documents detailing the rich diversity of that country during the late C18.Here are a couple of little tasters; hopefully, if you're not acquainted with Mrs Simcoe they may whet your appetite.
Wed. 28th Nov. Went to the Fort this morning. Mrs. Macaulay drank tea with me, and I had a party at whist in the evening. The partition was put in the canvas houses to-day, by which means I have a bedroom in it as well as a sitting-room. These rooms are very comfortable, about thirty feet long. The grates did not answer for burning, and I have had a stove placed instead, though as yet a fire has not been wanted. The weather is so mild that we have walked in the garden from eight till nine in the moonlight these last two evenings.
Mon. 3rd Dec. The Governor went to the Landing, and I went to the Fort to see Capt. Darling's stuffed birds. The most beautiful of them he called a meadow lark, the size of a blackbird, the colours the richest yellow, shaded to orange intermixed with black; the Recollect, a light brown with a tuft on its head and the tips of the wings scarlet, like sealing wax; a blackbird with scarlet on the wings they abound here in swamps; a scarlet bird called a King bird, the size of a small thrush; a bird like a canary bird, but the colours much brighter; a grand Due Owl. Among the animals there was a skunk like a pole- cat, with black and white marks. (Elizabeth Simcoe, Mrs Simcoe’s Diary, ed. Mary Quayles Innis)
Just snippets I'm afraid. As well as all the info. available online, there is at least one biography about the writer, with detailed narrative following her life in and out of Devon.
Here, I want to spread the word about Elizabeth Gwillim Simcoe and her work and highlight her family links with Devon. And also, I'd hope to tempt a few of you who might read this to go out and explore the places and their connections with Mrs Simcoe and her family,
I want to outline some of the places in these parts that connect the family Simcoe with Devon. You can find special sites associated with them in the Dunkeswell district, because, scattered around in these territories are various fascinating remains that are in one way or other connected with the many members of the Simcoe family, or/and their friends. If you take time to look there is a plethora of history still ingrained in the very stones in, on and around buildings in this area. There is a fascinating recently published book The Historic Landscape of Devon, (by Lucy Ryder), which contains a section telling us all about the local landscape, its historical layerings and the details of Elizabeth Simcoe's land ownership hereabouts. Unfortunately, the day I went off on recce for the sites, a few obstacles came my way. At Dunkeswell church there was a special prayer meeting in progress, which meant the interior of the church could not be seen. Meanwhile, at Dunkeswell Abbey, the ruins were cast in scaffolding, which meant they were neither visible, nor photogenic. Also I found it was not possible to view the inside Holy Trinity church and last but not least, access to the path nearby the abbey ruins, which runs out along the nearby Madford river, was blocked.
So, instead, for my photos, I concentrated on the peripherals: the views; the entrances; the paths; the trees; panoramas through the trees. I didn't get to Buckerell church that day; it's where the Simcoe couple married, but if you want to find more about them there do look at Beacock Fryer's biography of Simcoe . The present-day Wolford Lodge (built on the 5000 acre site which the heiress Elizabeth was able to buy on her marriage), Simcoe's original Wolford - there is a photo at DCC Dunkeswell here) sounds wonderful, but on the day of my visit time allowed just a cluster of photos of Dunkeswell's landscapes, in phone camera's burst mode.
Best place to begin a Devon Simcoe travel trail (perhaps depending which direction you're arriving from) is at Wolford Chapel, as far as I am aware the sole little piece of Canadian land you will find in the UK., but which was originally thought to be the remains of a Medieval chapel.
View to Wolford Chapel through trees.
I have to confess on my visit, on a damp cold winter's day, the interior of the chapel felt disheartening, a little too chilly and dank to stay and appreciate the C16 panelling, which is thought to have been brought over there from the parish church (then in ruins), probably due to Elizabeth's own influence. The chapel requires a sunny spring or summer day to encourage one to go inside.
Memorial Plaque to Eliza Simoce, one of the Simcoe daughters.
For me, Wolford chapel's most moving features are found outside, where at the bottom of and alongside the south and east walls, memorial plaques are placed to five of the eleven Simcoe children. I had read that only one of the Simcoe's daughters (the youngest, called Anne) married and that that was after her parents' death and that even harshly, it was the girls' mother who insisted that they must not marry. I can not verify this theory, but I have a feeling if it was true then it was more likely because after her own marriage Elizabeth realised that to maintain independence girls in the C18-19 were much better off staying single.
Leaflets inside Wolford Chapel
Before I leave the chapel, I note that there are exquisite views and vistas to be glimpsed along the track to the chapel, where in between winter's tree skeletons and laurel greenery, you can see out over the ridges, woods and fields, toward the area around Awliscombe.
View between trees from Wolford Chapel
Up the road a mile or so, there is Dunkeswell parish church, whose main interest apropos Elizabeth Simcoe is that it was the main place for her family to worship, and indeed, was rebuilt through her own influence (using stones from nearby Dunkeswell Abbey and from her own funds).
Elizabeth Simcoe was a dedicated evangelist and directed her own children to follow her own zeal in a plethora of good works. You can read the sermon preached at the church on the occasion of Mrs. Simcoe's funeral on January 27th 1850.
Given that when we reached it, along the bendy lanes north from the village, Dunkeswell Abbey's ruins were covered with scaffolding and the church not accessible, I have to confess my visit there this time was disappointing.
Peep through the trees to the C19 church on site of Dunkeswell Abbey
But, I cheered myself up with thoughts that this must once have been an impressive structure, which inspired at least one poem written by a woman with local Devon links, the rather mysterious Romantic woman poet Mary Hunt, who wrote the Wordsworthian inspired Lines written at Dunkeswell Abbey. Hunt was a close friend of Elizabeth Mary, and because of her connection with the Simcoe family is also linked with Dunkeswell. I have written a piece about her, and her poem, Devon's Romantic Woman Poet, which is published on Scrapblog of the South-West and also today, a follow up,Mary Hunt Devon's Romantic Poet and the Devon Connection at Dunkeswell. Before we left Dunkeswell we took a look (but could not walk beside, as our way was blocked) at the idyllic Madford river, which borders the parish and I think is a tributary of the river Culm.
Exeter Environs A - Z of Devon Places & Women Writers
E is Easy
Well, at first glance, Exeter 'for E' seems an easy choice of places for this A-Z of Devon women writers, in the sense that many writers linked with Devon were also connected with the city. But, when I sat down to begin writing this piece I realised that actually Exeter may be one of the hardest of this A-Z of Devon places. In other words, perhaps too many of the writers on my lists were closely associated with Exeter! It would be possible to have a whole blog devoted just to them. I've found information that shows us women writing in one way or other from the earliest historical records right up to the mid C20. In the book I'm completing, Exeter is threaded like a gem throughout the text as a central county hub, which connects individuals to one another and through the centuries. This is no surprise of course, as Exeter represents a historical slice of time for Devon.
I can't mention or include all the writers here, but will have a go at selecting a cluster of them. It gives me a chance to include a handful of authors who don't appear in my book, as well as others who are. A few of them are already well known, but others may be new to you ...
I'll begin just after the Norman Conquest, during the Siege of Exeter, in 1068, when Gytha, mother of King Harold and widow of Earl Godwin of Wessex, managed to escape from Exeter through the Water Gate, and was rowed away, with her group of 'travelling noblewomen', down the river Exe to eventual freedom, at Steep Holm. Gytha had been staying in a town house in Exeter.
We are told about Gytha in the Anglo Saxon Chronicles:
7 her ferde Gyða ut, Haroldes modor, 7 manegra godra manna wif mid hyre, into Bradan Reolice, 7 þær wunode sume hwile, 7 swa for þanon ofer sæ to Sancte Audomare.[and in this year Gytha, Harold’s mother, went out and many wives of good men with her, to Flat Holme, and remained there for a while and thus from there over sea to St Omer (France)]
Wikipedia is good on Gytha She is said to have escaped Exeter with the help of a priest from St Olave's church, the church that she had founded in Exeter.
St Olave's Church Exeter
Why am I including Gytha here, as a writer? You might well ask. No, as far as I am aware, there are no documents which present this early noblewoman as an active author of texts. But, during the times of Saxon and Norman England, women who were closely related to royal circles all had a participatory interest in literature. Many royal women during these years were closely connected with Devon and in particular with Exeter. I discuss these royal women and their engagement with literary activity in more detail in Women Write in the Devon Landscape
Well, now we're jumping up through the centuries to Elizabethan England, when several important women writers were closely associated with Devon. One of them was the translator/writer Anne Locke/ Prowse, who lived in Exeter after she married the then mayor. Before her move to Exeter C16 writer translator Anne Lock Prowse was influential at Court. In 1576, a miscellany published in London by James Sandford, an English edition of The Garden of Pleasure, began with a dedication which situated Queen Elizabeth I within the company of a group of learned and eloquent women, who were her near equals and her own compatriots. Anne, then Anne Dering, is named along with others, including three of the famous Cooke sisters.
Anne Lock moved to the southwest of England circa 1585, when she married Richard Prowse, mayor of Exeter in 1590, then apparently spent the rest of her life in Devon. It was whilst she was living in the county that her translation of John Taffin’s devotional Of the Marks of the Children of God was first published, in 1590. Little seems to be known of her time in Devon, but Anne Prowse’s earlier life is quite well documented. Her father, a court functionary, was a diplomat for Henry VII, her mother, a silk woman. Anne moved to Geneva with her friend John Knox in 1557 to join the community of Protestant exiles there. She seems to have been an important figure in Protestant circles of that time.
With Anne Prowse’s mercantile background, her new home in Exeter probably provided a familiar and safe haven within a welcoming community. Possibly she was a member of the congregation at St Mary Arches; in that church are monuments commemorating several mayors of the city and one, to Thomas Andrew, in 1504, has the arms of the Merchant Adventurers.
St Mary Arches Exeter
Archival tit-bits mentioning Prowse hint at possible lost narrative threads and these seem to be located somewhere in the interface between the various trading exploratory activities of Exeter based merchants and the pursuits and networks of local Puritanical circles.
Some of Prowse’s female acquaintances may have had their own links with the south west. She was possibly distantly related to poet Anne Dowriche through marriage and there were other local women such as the female relations of Francis Russell, second Earl of Bedford, whose Devon base was then Bedford House in Exeter; his three daughters, Margaret, Anne Russell Herbert and Elizabeth were of the same generation as Anne Locke and Anne Dowriche and they were related to other women also known for their writing. Anne Prowse does not feature in Women Write in the Devon Landscape, but I have included her in the information section of the website SouthWestWomenWriters as well as in its Chronology.
St Olave's and Mary Arches churches
Leaping up through several more centuries and we can look at one C19 Victorian woman who was associated with Exeter through her life and writings. Emma Marshall (1828-99) was author of Winifred's Journal of Her Life at Exeter in the Days of Bishop Hall and a prolific and popular author of her time - here is a list of her works. Perhaps you reading this have heard of Emma Marshall. I have to confess I had not, until by chance I stumbled upon her one day. At the time, I was seeking information not about women writers in Devon, but about another (often related) research preoccupation, family research. (slight diversion here. I was trying to find ancestors of a certain Rebecca Hall, a great grandmother x 5 or 6 from Broadwoodkelly and had reason to believe her family line might be related to that of Bishop Joseph Hall, of Exeter. And, with a google search, up popped Emma Marshall, this once famous female author). To be honest, it was not surprising that one of my research fields interconnected with another; it had already happened several times before. 'You can't have one without the other' had become a frequent underlying refrain of mine. And no -although I have not given up - I did not find (and have not yet found) Rebecca's Hall parentage connected with that of Joseph, the Bishop. But, I did pick up yet another name to add to my Devon women writers collection, which by the time I found the latest name was already chock-a-block with entries. Redressing the balance it's pleasing to include Emma Marshall here in this Exeter entry; unfortunately, because of space, other than a brief paragraph, her life and writings do not feature in the manuscript of the main book I've written. Emma lived in Exeter early in her marriage and at one time lived at 38 High Street, which I believe is now the site of Mountain Warehouse.
38 High Street Exeter
Emma's recreation of an imaginary journal penned from the perspective of Winifred, servant to Bishop Joseph Hall, in C16 Exeter held many detailed accounts about that woman's day to day life; an imagined world within a once real world, whose real author's vanished life linked up with several other such forgotten author's lives. When I returned to have another look at the text I'd been annoyed to find that Winifred's journal conjuring everyday life in the C16, once freely available in cyberspace, had suddenly disappeared into the nether-worlds of virtual reality, making the author's own lost real life vanishings more poignant.
As often happens with writers, Emma wasn't the only author in her family. Her youngest daughter, Christopher St John, or Christabel Marshall, born in Exeter in 1871 ought to be more acclaimed than she is. A playwright, novelist and campaigner for women's suffragist, Marshall was born 24 October 1871, at 38 High Street, Exeter. Unfortunately, like her mother, she is missing from my book.
Although she does not appear in Writing Women on the Devon Landscape, I have written a short piece on my other blog about Emily Shore and her Exeter Journal in Emily in Exeter . I'm not sure that you can read the whole journal text without payment, but there is a wonderfully detailed and illustrated account of this young journalist /writer by Barbara Timm Gates, in Self Writing as Legacy. This version, the best source of information about Emily Shore, digitises Emily's diaries so that the reader can see how the original version was changed both by herself and by her sisters.
Excerpt from Emily Shore's Journal. See By M. Emily Shore [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Barbara Timm Gates explains and Wikipedia repeats that:
Extracts of her [Shore's] journal were published by her sisters Louisa and Arabella in 1891, more than fifty years after her death. A second edition was published in 1898. Today only some parts of her journal are extant, but in 1991 it was discovered that Arabella had left two of her sister's journals to the British Museum. These journals are now in America as they were not delivered at the time. These journals reveal that Emily's autobiography was, to a degree, converted into a biography by her then elderly sisters.
There is another link to a printout of Emily's journal.
Emily Shore, eldest of five children, was born on Christmas Day, in Suffolk, in 1819. She began her journal when she was eleven years old and kept it until her death, in Madeira, at the age of nineteen.
Emily Shore See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Timm Gates notes that the young girl's journal's entries were written - 'From July 5, 1831, at the age of eleven, until June 24, 1839, two weeks before her death from consumption'.
Gates continues that
She wrote of political issues, natural history, her progress as a scholar and scientist, and the worlds of art and literature. In her brief life, this remarkable young woman also produced, but did not publish, three novels, three books of poetry, and histories of the Jews, the Greeks, and the Romans, and she published several essays on birds. Written in an authoritative voice more often associated with men of her time, her journal reveals her to be well versed in the life of an early Victorian woman. (see Journal of Emily Shore)
Emily's visit to Exeter took place between 1836-7, when she was about seventeen. She arrived with her mother on the Salisbury to Exeter coach, in October 1836. In Exeter they stayed with Emily's aunt, uncle and cousins, at 7 Baring Crescent, and after ten days, her mother left her with them. Her daughter recorded: 'Mama went away today leaving me here for seven months, a hundred and seventy one miles from home but I think I shall be [as] happy ... for Aunt Bell is exceedingly kind'. (Journal). Emily resolved to take up her studying again but must also have found time to explore her surroundings. The early pages of her Exeter Journal provide detailed descriptions of walking expeditions where, accompanied by her uncle she took in the city sights.
from Emily Shore Journal 1836, in Exeter
Emily evidently was able to explore Exeter's surrounding villages and countryside; her journal includes references to days out and about exploring.
..'it reminded me most strongly of past days, when, in full health and strength, I used to ramble for hours amongst the woods and fields of dear Woodbury, in unwearied search of some unknown warbler. .. Exeter April 7th 1837'.
Other women writers have delighted in the panoramic view set before them from the vantage point of Northernhay and Rougemont Gardens. In particular, during the early years of World War One E.M. Delafield, drafted her first novel in the park. I have written about Delafield in detail, in the manuscript of Women Write in the Devon Landscape, so here I will just provide a couple of links - to a Scrapblog piece-Sad December, and Devon Celebrations.
View from Northernhay Gardens
There are other authors who ought to appear here, such as Priscilla Cotton and Susanna Parr, but they will need to wait until the next part 2 of this A-Z.
The little parish of Martinhoe in north Devon has to represent the 'M' in this A-Z of Devon Women Writers & Places. I began the journey toward writing a book about women many years ago, long before I researched then embarked on the written study of particular women writers. During the late eighties and early nineties, whilst researching and writing up my PhD, I ventured up to the remoter landscape north of the county to find where author/poet H.D.’s once stayed, in north Devon. She was there For several months in 196, during World War One she lived at Martinhoe then along the road at Parracombe. Just as many other women writers associated with the South West, H.D. had significant connections with at least two of its counties, in her case it was with three (Devon, Cornwall and Dorset).
What fascinates me about writers whose lives and texts cross county boundaries is the way their experience feeds into a kind of communication with the land space on which they writers lived and wrote, the way it affected their individual and combined selves and the ways in which their textual, literary roots also branch out and extend far beyond the surface, creating and recreating an endless kaleidoscope of inter/intra personal intertextuality.
Born in the U.S., H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), but much of her life and writing was influenced by our South Western shores and coasts. Without her presence I would not be here writing at all.
Woodland Cottage Parracombe Photo Julie Sampson
I've already written about H.D.'s stay in Devon during 1916 in an earlier blog Scrapblog of the South-West and also in companion pieces on the same blog. and again here. There is also an essay I wrote about H.D. in Devon on the H.D. Web. I have no intention of repeating the same material in this piece. It is more of a marker, a page to mark H.D's importance in my whole project.
1916 February 22. HD. at The Schoolhouse, Martinhoe, Parracombe, North Devon
writes to Amy Lowell, her book [SEA GARDEN] has been accepted by Constable but will not come out in three months as she had hoped because of paper shortage; tells Lowell that she IS m Devon; discusses poems [Fnedman notes: not seen by LHS (H D. to Amy Lowell, [unpuL letter],
1916 February 24. HD. writes to George Plank; gives new address on envelope: "New address / c/o Mrs Dellbridge / Martinhoe / Parracombe / N. Devon"; says "some of us, no doubt all will turn up Isola Bella on Friday"; sets tune for 7:30; continues "we must be back early as we take mornmg tram' We are movmg our furniture to 44 Mecklenburg Square Fnday PM. Indicates that dinner will include herself, Aldington and John Cournos and perhaps F.S. Flint as they had asked 111m to dme With them that evenmg--they had planned a tea on Monday [for Plank and the wnutalls?] but it has all gone mentions confusion [LHS note: from this letter It seems as If the decrston to move to 44 Mecklenburg Square was a hurrted one]; mststs that dinner must be Dutch—says " we can't ask Flint otherwise & we can't impose on you forever and ever" (HD. to GP, [unpubl. letter]).
1916 March 6. HD. at Woodland Cottage. Martmhoe. Parracombe. North Devon writes to Harriet Monroe (Zllboorg notes).
1916 March 22 (?). HD. in Devonshire: writes to F.S. Flint: describes wanting actX1ttes and domestic life: says they are on their own trout stream (called the Heddon): the place is charming but there is only enough room for them and John Cournos (If he comes): speculates that Pound had expected to get Aldmgton's post on THE EGOIST had writtten a "charmmg Macheavelhan [SIC] note" to them which they had not answered: refers to widening gulf with Amy Lowell (HD. to F.S. Flmt.
1916 March 27. HD. at Woodland Cottage, Martinhoe. Parracombe. North Devon: Richard Aldmgton writes to F S. Flint and comments on her erotic attraction and his desire to sleep with her (Zilboorg introd. [draft)). Richard Aldington writes to Amy Lowell giving above address (Zilboorg notes: Houghton)
And here is a few extracts taken from a piece written about the journey I took with a friend some years ago down to the far west of Cornwall, on a follow-up quest to Martinhoe, to find the location of the poet's stay there, a couple of years after her trip to Devon ...
.... This has to be near Lyonesse’, I remind myself, echoing H.D.’s own description some (clock-time) 70 years ago. Sun-slant time is low behind this haze of mist, which envelops us, just as it does twenty clock years later, up on the wild north Devon coast reaches, when I am try to locate H.D.’s temporary home, near Martinhoe.
Today we’ve been driving along the snake-like, zigzagging B3306, between Zennor and Cape Cornwall. My friend finds this place creepy and would, I suspect, be content to turn around and make tracks homewards. I decide not to tell her about Alistair Crowley, about witches and other slightly sinister past inhabitants and goings-on in the area. All she knows, after I told her during the journey down from Devon, is that for a while during, World War One, D.H Lawrence lived not far away from here, up at Zennor, and that in 1918, H.D., the poet, (who was a friend of Lawrence) also spent some time (clock) somewhere round here; that she came away from the war turbulence of London to ‘accompany’ the composer Cecil Gray at the house he had rented (with Lawrence’s guidance) near, or at Bosigran; that she first met her lifelong lover/companion Bryher here, when H.D. invited her for tea; that she became pregnant here; that the pregnancy had had a negative impact on her already threatened marriage to Richard Aldington; that whilst here she worked on several significant texts, including the roman-a-clef Bid Me To Live; A Madrigal. My friend knows that, for both personal and academic reasons I wish to find the place where H.D. stayed. I want to feel the impact of this moor and sea-scape that forms the west Penwith peninsula, to let it inhabit me, as it had then possessed H.D.
I feel a stranger, an impostor. Traditionally, Cornwall, not Devon, is known as the Celtic land. And yet, the spiritual atmospherics of this part of Cornwall correspond with and complement that elemental landscape in north Devon, further east along the coast, which is also associated with writer H.D. For me, this landscape also resonates with that of Devon’s central mid-Devon region set between the two moorland plateaux, with its subliminal sacred-roots. I can imagine how extended and underground labyrinthine root systems which some call ley-lines, might travel through and along the line of the counties, beneath the palimpsest layers of their mutual prehistory, under the ancient field systems, the archaeological strata, the high moorlands. I understand my home county as a distinct entity, but also view it as part of a more extensive tract of land, which is defined by its common geological, historical, anthropological and social histories.
I shall absorb the mystic, mysterious aura of the peninsula's territory so as to bind me back into the atmosphere of her book, which, in turn will open perceptions toward re-membering the writer's time/thyme here, in 1918. For, it was H.D.’s affinity with this west Cornwall landscape that prompted my own preoccupation with landscape and text. After serendipitously coming across her writings one day, I began to understand the magical sacred appeal of my child-landscape with fresh eyes and to see why the location of my roots had such an emotional pull. In turn, that enabled me to explore the implications, both for self-identity and for my own writing.
That’s why I’m here; I want to breathe in this Penwith air, absorb the intoxicating essence blend of place and poem, the mix of panorama and prose; read the elaborate script set in the exquisite scene:
‘The jagged line of cliff, the minute indentations, the blue water that moved far below, soundless from the height, were part of her.[2}
....We stop in this car-space beside the old mine-shaft by the road, and after a sip of coffee begin to make our way along the tinners' tracks, which define this strip of coast land reaching out onto the cliffs. Walking along the edge of exhilarating South Western coasts, we should soon be able to see beyond these cliff-paths. But, though seemingly guided by unseen presences, we can not see far A fog-horn's booming in the seaward direction and disembodied voices whisper to us, stealthily as the mist. We do not know the language, yet can follow the trail of hieroglyphs seaward/sea/w/ree/a/ds.
Though mystified, we know which track-fork to take when it splits, as it seems to, every few yards. Hiss-hiss. Here-here. Hiss-hiss. Mist here must represent the spirit/s of the place, I think. And, we have been travelling along the snake-road, genius-loci of Cornwall’s most sacred space. I do not feel threatened by stories of this area as an oppressive ‘spiritual black country’. On the contrary, the mist wraps itself comfortably around us and as we saunter across the grassy sward tracks, begins to trail into ribbons and then to lift, to disperse, so that by the time we reach what is left of the fortifications of Bosigran Castle, the sun is hovering over the Atlantic spread below us. Other than the springy, tangy and lightly scrubby heath at our feet, which is stippled with tiny violets, we are cocooned in a blue shroud. A heaven of Cornish seas; the bliss of springtime South Western skies.
My friend, sun-worshipper, wants immediately to bathe in one of the ‘room’ enclosures that are formed between the castle’s esoteric relics. I wonder if H.D. had occasion to do the same, to remove her garments and lie out in the sun when she visited the ruins. But then, I also wonder if, when she was here, the stone walls of this place were, at least to some degree, still intact. A lot can change in clock-time over seventy years. In its hey-day Bosigran must have been a massive and magnificent castle; it ran across the neck of the headland and may have been a ceremonial site. I remind myself to look out my copy of Bid Me to Livewhen I get home, so that I can re-visit the place as though from H.D.’s eyes, follow the footsteps of the poet as she trailed around the paths of this coastline.
It is whilst we are doing a recce of the castle that we hear the knockings. They are loud and are echoing over from the next hill of this broken line of headlands that culminates at Cape Cornwall. Instantly, I remember that Cecil Gray – and possibly H.D. herself - spoke of experiencing these phenomena and that the knockings were rumoured to be the ghostly after-echoes of tin miners quarrying in the locality. My friend shrugs, grimaces. I do not know what to think. Although this region is known for its mystical goings-on, both historically, and now, I am not really a believer in ghosts; just interested in the enigmatic possibilities of mysterious cryptic occurrences, which could as easily be interpreted in psychological as in psychic terms. But those knockings are for real; we both hear them. I allow them to melt and merge as soundscape to accompany the inner map of H.D. in Cornwall beginning to form in my mind.
Next question is, where did she stay? Where was this large house that was called ‘Bosigran Castle’ or, in H.D.’s novel BidMe to Live, ‘Rosigran’? Was it purposely named after this ancient ruined castle? We venture down other tracks looking to find the site where a once ‘sizeable’ cottage may have been, may still be. But there are no buildings here and no evidence of any. We realise that we may not be at the exact location, that the site may be a little to the north east and that the house's name may have confused us. Did H.D.'s then lover Cecil Gray and his companions want their friends to think they were living in the castle? It’s also possible that the house may have gone, some years ago.
Today we have no more time to explore. We will return. H.D’s words buzz around my head:
I suppose we will come back ... I will never see you again ... I will go on scribbling.’
I shall return to H.D’s South Western sea lands; even if I have to cover, or cross, the same ground.
It seems as though yesterday, though in clock-time is a long time. In clock-time it’s a long-time; it still seems as though yesterday.
There is also a sequence of my poems written in commemoration of H.D.'s time in Devon published in Shearsman Magazine 111/112: see a few extracts below.
though few seem to venture to this abandoned plot,
where at the time of the latest tide
a twist of drift left
the gravitational curve,
a centenary - the sea's-time.
'you are useless, O grave, O beautiful' (H.D. 'The Shrine')
At the Fort; The Beacon, Martinhoe We arrive from the old Roman carriageway
above the sea, next the sky,
in coastal chasms, white against white
gannets and gulls
breaking surf -
our multimedia screens still on
flashing in-perpetuum into our comfort-zone rooms,
every opportunity, we whip out phones from pockets or bags,
burst from our finger-tips -
we remain alive with interactive possibility,
yet find it impossible to conjure a picture from the swiftly lit
spark of a stated fact.
Here only flashes, a series of dots and dashes
cracking along faults of the rocky screes on this north Devon coast
from long-ago beacon fires
intended for those, rudderless,
tossed in the turbulent sea,
in the Channel,
watching for life or death landings.
'I have stood on your portal/and I know-/you are further than this, still further on another cliff'
1. In which the name of the heroine, Julia Ashton, an avatar of H.D. herself, always seemed to me to be a close sound-echo of my own name. H.D’s writing sound-effect, or phonotext, is always significant, so this closeness had hooked me into the book. 2. From H.D., Bid Me to Live; A Madrigal. 3. Returning from her solitary walk along the cliff tracks, H.D./Julia in Bid Me To Live, briefly describes the house as it ‘loomed suddenly like a greyship, rising from the sea’ and someone noted it was a ‘big lonely house on the edge on the wildest part of the coast ... with seven rooms and a great view out towards the Scilly Islands out the front’ and that it was ‘near Gurnard’s Head’ (Mark Kinkead-Weekes, D.H. Lawrence Triumph to Exile, vol. 2, 1912-22; The Cambridge Biography of D.H.Lawrence (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Interestingly, H.D. did not refer to the castle itself in her book, which seems strange, given its size and historical importance. 4. Bid Me to Live. I have been down to Penwith several times since, including once with participants of the ‘H.D reading party’, in the early 1990’s, when a group of us manoeuvred the lanes and byways from Trevone Bay toward Cape Cornwall. Again, not one of us could work out where the house in which H.D. lived for several months was sited. I remember some heated discussion; but eventually we gave up our search in return for the delights of a local Cornish cream tea. 5. H.D.
Around Lapford, possible places of the site of Dowriche's home in the C16. Lane and Vie of Parsonage Farm & Court Barton across the road from the church. Photo Julie Sampson
It’s not easy to adjust your field of vision and cut out all the paraphernalia of modern life, even in a small village, or hamlet. The traffic and take-aways, the maze-like housing estates, all the accoutrements of contemporary rural life screen out what is inevitably there somewhere, just below and behind the surface. A wall; a ruin; a high hedge; an eave jutting out from a building; a mound in a field; an old house over there, with turrets.
See there, the other side of the valley; there's a monument inside the village church (if, that is, you're lucky and the door is not locked). But here I am, late autumn, atop the village, walking up toward Lapford church; the village landmark. I am lucky. Unusually for nowadays, the door is not locked. I go inside, to look at the angels. Lapford is an ancient village set above the river Yeo and the interior of its C12 church has a flourish of ancient carved woodwork: bench-ends, roofs, and the icing on the cake, an especially fine vaulted rood-screen. Most of these were added to the church from the C15 to early C16.
As I stare up to the nave-roof, the carved angels set in between the vine leaves look down. It’s a mutual gaze and I’m thinking that those six centuries ago Anne Dowriche, newly married wife of the local clergyman, may have similarly stared up at the angels, in reciprocal admiration...
In the late 1960’s my journey to school at Crediton from the much smaller parish of Cheldon, a little to the north, following the road’s slope winding around and down past thatched houses and shops to the river Yeo, in the valley below, went through Lapford, passing the high church tower on the right, half-way down. Later, there were nights out at the Malt Scoop Inn. It took several more decades, a renewed interest in local history and Devon’s women writers to tempt me back to the village on the hill...
I have already written about writer/poet Anne Dowriche, both in the manuscript of Women Writing on the Devon Land(from where part of this blog-post is taken), whilst a couple of papers about her and her long epic poem, The French Histoire, have appeared in Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 2009 (see Abstracts). Anne Dowrichealso appears several times in my other blog, Scrapblog a writer from the South-west, where, in Anne Dowriche/Edgcumbe's French Historie I noted: It had always seemed puzzling that an unknown wife of a clergyman (of Lapford and Honiton) and daughter of a prominent Elizabethan Devonian family should be the author of a 2,400 line poem, a long and inherently gory narrative epic about the long-winded French Wars of Religion during the C16. see Anne Dowriche's French Historie& its Westcounty Connections.
My research on Anne Dowriche has been noticed and picked up by Dr. DebapriyaBasu who has written about the C16 poet in her own research. See, for example, Writing History; Anne Dowriche
This post's focus is to muse a little on this forgotten important C16 writer's links with the parish of Lapford, in the hope of unpacking some of the complex interweavings re the writer's family and social circles, so it is not the place to examine Dowriche's poem in detail; but it's important to stress the strangeness of this unusual text's connections with Devon and if nothing else I hope this blog-post may lead to a few more clues about the background of the whole text and its writer, which may be of use to future researchers and also of interest to more casual readers. If you're one of the latter and you're interested to read about the poem itself, wikipedia is a good place to start and the previous blog-posts, plus the papers in DA Transactions may also be useful.
I will admit that before it finishes this post may take you,at least in spirit, into the intrigue and mire of the C16. As I write this piece, BBC is broadcasting its series about Elizabeth's Secret Agents, which if you happen to watch it, will provide an excellent background to the Zeitgeist of the times of Anne Dowriche.
Every time I take a break from Ms Dowriche and her life and texts I breathe a sigh of relief. Each time I return to take another look, to consider the contextual background of the author's life and poem, I am quickly engulfed in its literary repercussions and am swept, yet again, into the complicated throes of Dowriche's milieus. So many of the people who surrounded the writer had their own fascinating lives, including tantalising links with others; each of them seems to provide yet another clue within the convoluted C16 jigsaw of this important woman writer's life; an endless labyrinth of mirrors within mirrors. All to soon though, exhausted with trying to make sense of them all I have to take-a-break and get away from her and those who surround her.
When I first chanced upon Anne Dowriche some years ago now (and I write about this first encounter inWriting Women on the Devon Landscape), it soon became clear that the known facts about the writer's life were apparently sparse. Yet, as I also soon discovered, more and more academics from both sides of the Atlantic were, and are, taking an interest in her life and poem. I kept asking myself the same question; there seemed no sense as to why an apparently unknown gentlewoman living in Honiton in the heart of Devon in the mid C16 would decide to write a macabre epic poem about the complex religious controversies of the period. And, given that it is such a long poem, why had I not heard of it before? Why was The French Histoire not on the agenda of the county’s literary canon and why is Anne Dowriche not included in the lists of its famous – or even infamous, writers?
From the preliminary information I could find, Anne, one of the earliest of all the Devon women writers I’d ever traced, seemed to have been a decorous gentlewoman. Married in 1580, to a clergyman who during the mid to late C16 was responsible for two of Devonshire’s mid C16 parishes (at Lapford and Honiton), she was from the Edgcumbes, a large and extended family of important Devonian landed gentry; her father, Sir Richard Edgcumbe, from Cotehele in Cornwall, was builder of Mount Edgcumbe. But, superficial study suggested there was little else to find out about his daughter. That changed gradually as I explored various archives and sites that connected with her or others of her family.
I had to find out more. That's when I first set off, back along the tracks, here, to the mid Devon village, where the author must have actually spent live (quality) physical time. For, it was at Lapford, where, in or about 1567, Hugh Dowriche, was inducted as rector. Anne Edgcumbe's marriage to Hugh took place in 1580. In 1587, Dowriche became rector of Honiton, so presumably the family moved from Lapford to Honiton at about this time; it was from Honiton that Anne completed and sent her poem out into the world. She addresses her readers directly:
From the Preface of The French Historie
Several of the Dowriche couple's children’s births were registered in Lapford, which suggests that before the move to Honiton the family home may have been in or near Lapford village, rather than the Dowriche family estate, at Dowrich/e manor, in the parish of Sandford (which is not many miles from Lapford).
According to other researchers the couple had five, possibly six, children: William (?); Elizabeth (c 1583); Aleana (1585); Marie (30 Nov 1787); Anne (18 Jan 1589); and Walter. I have not been able to find documentation about all of them, but have located records that show Marie's christening registered at Lapford in November 1587; and her sister Anne's, registered at Lapford, in January 1590.
Interestingly, George, another Dowriche child, was registered at Lapford in 1613. His father was William, who may have been one of Anne and Hugh's children; perhaps he remained in the parish.
Records of Dowriche children registered at Lapford parish.
It looks as if poor Walter, the youngest child at an early age; there is a record of a Wa(l)ter Dowreshe's death in February 1591, which is two years after Anne's poem was published. The record of his death is at Honiton where I assume the family made their home following Hugh's take-up of the post there.
Record of Wa(l)ter Dowreshe's death in Honiton
But let's return to Lapford. Where, I kept asking myself, would the C16 clergyman and his family have made their home here in this little village? It is not easy to be certain, for the records, such as they are, suggest different places. I think we can narrow the possibilities down to two however. One of them is Court Barton, (see photo at top of this post) which, sited just across the road from the church, is still prominent in Lapford. One record which I had found suggested that Hugh Dowriche's predecessor as rector in the village,Rev Christopher Saunders had himself lived at Court Manor. I can't place the document at present, but must have located it via Discovery or local archives. This would suggest that the Dowriches took over Court Barton as their home.
(It is interesting to digress for a moment from the main thread at this point just to look in a little more detail at the dates of these clergy's residencies in the parish. I hope the following list of Lapford clergy is sufficiently clear to read; it shows the changeover from Rev. Saunders to Rev. Dowriche taking place in August 1567, a date which, given the assumed birth year of Hugh Dowriche, is itself intriguing. For, according to G.E. Trease, in an article in in Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, vol. 33, (1974-1977), Hugh Dowriche (sometimes spelt Hugh Dowrishe) matriculated at Hart Hall, Oxford, in 1572 at the age of 19. (See also The Clergy Database). If I'm correct with my calculations, that makes Hugh Dowriche's birth year about 1553, which fixes his age at the changeover at Lapford as only 14. Even for Elizabethan England, that seems remarkably young. I don't have enough expertise apropos the normal practises of clergy appointments in the C16 to be able to explain the apparent contradiction here but can only think that perhaps the initial appointment, by the owner of the advowson in those years (stated as Thomas Arundel), was in name only and that Hugh took up his official duties in the parish following his matriculation when he was almost 20. Alternatively, there are confusions re the facts of the dates (of birth/of matriculation). Hopefully someone else will be able to clarify this one day).
But, to return to the likely location of the Dowriches Lapford home, at least one document suggests that the family were connected not with Court Barton but, instead, with the rectory or parsonage, the site of which, I understand was where Parsonage farm is nowadays, which is a mile or so north east of the village. A path just up the road from the church leads directly to the site. (See the photos at the top of this post). Dowrich versus Kelland available at Discovery, tells us that there was a dispute in 1597 between Hugh Dowriche (of Honiton) and Richard Kelland of Lapford regarding bonds for goods apropos 'the rectory and parsonage of Lapford'. I have not as yet had a chance to study this document; but the more it seems to help us provide new clarity about the everyday life of the Dowriche family, the more it seems, as well, to hinder! The Clergy Database has Hugh Dowriche's year of death as 1599, but my assumption has always been that the couple moved their family over the hills eastward to Honiton and therefore they would have not had any association with Lapford after 1587. The existence of this document suggests that the Dowriches still had some links with Lapford parsonage. Could they have split their time between the two parishes, or was the connection with the Lapford rectory an unfinished legal matter from the past when the Dowriches did live in the village? But beyond that, there are other possibilities. TheKelland Dowrichedocument may help to provide an answer about this, so when/if I'm able to find about it I'll return and update this post accordingly.
Well, here I am yet again engulfed in the C16, mesmerised by Anne Dowriche and her kin. I did not intend to take the narrative of this post beyond the boundaries of Lapford, the central linch-pin of the whole piece in this A-Z. As I've written the piece up so far I've mulled over the circumstances of the poet and poem and before taking my leave am going to take the opportunity to reflect a little more about how the geographical situation of the mid Devon village may have affected the author as she went about developing her long poem. (Incidentally, this is exactly why I began this blog, as it provides a place to site more extensive and supplementary information and reflection about various writers than there isspace for in the manuscript Writing Women on the Devon Lands).
Slotting together and mapping various genealogical charts which centred on either Anne, or her and her husband Hugh's family, it dawned on me that in the C16 the location of Lapford, more or less in the centre of Devon, must have been an excellent site for the Dowriche family as they went about their daily lives, which would inevitably have included various and probably many social encounters with their immediate family and more extensive kinship circles. Supposing we could return to the years of the mid to late C16. As we extend out the radius from Lapford, say within a 15-20 mile radius, we reach various parishes, places where individuals from the couple's family lived or had estates. As I read around various archives for this blog-post I concentrated on Hugh Dowriche's immediate kin (rather than Anne's Edgcumbe, or Tregian family (who incidentally I have already looked at and written about in my other blog, Anne Dowriche/Edgcumbe and The French Historie)and soon realised - something I'd missed before - that the backgrounds and literary connections of the Dowriches were probably as significant as the author's own birth families of the Edgcumbes and their ilk.Many of the C16 Dowriches married into other important Devon families, whose manors or estates were in parishes within travelling distance of Lapford.
Every which way we look there's someone else from the family who hooks up with another, and another, all from the top rung of the then prominent Devon families, and most interestingly, frequently, the men were involved in some kind of literary pursuit or, if not authorship some kind of lived contact with another man who did write.I admit that initial browsing on such archival sources as A2A will bring up a plethora of documents related to these prominent family's leading men and their various disputes concerning grabs for land and disagreements about ownership etc., but as well as the legal and land-related material available through online archives it doesn't take too long to find one or other document via Discovery, Google or other online archive, which with a few clicks links to a manuscript, a book, say of a journal or memoir, or play, or poem, which when located and read allows its reader insight into the life of that man; sometimes, through the text, it is possible to hear his voice.
The implication of this for me, as researcher seeking more valuable information about Anne Dowriche, as well as looking for other forgotten C16 women who may have had significant literary interests and impact during this period, is that somewhere, lurking in the spaces, on the margins, or round the edges, of the extant archival documentation, there were (or are) missing, (or as yet undiscovered) fragments, which could tell us something about their lives or writings. And, as well, they might lead us to other sources which might help in our understanding of the lost connections between the already identified cluster of C16 women from south-west England who wrote. If nothing else we can locate their once homes and search for their forgotten memorials. In her brilliant paper 'Women Writers and Literary-Religious Circles in the Elizabethan West Country', Micheline White concludes that a research methodology that 'prioritises geographical locality kinship and religious affiliation provides valuable insight into connections between women and into the historical matrices in which they read, thought and wrote'. (See Women Writers) It is in the spirit of her work that I'm jotting down some of the links and associations that pop up out of the virtual ether.
If nothing else we can locate the women's once homes and search for their forgotten memorials. I won't pretend it is easy; it is most definitely not! The genealogical interweavings of Devon's C16 gentry and noble families are mind-bogglingly confusing and it doesn't always help that present day family history researchers contributing to the charts and facts..
A-Z of Devon Places and Devon Women Writers Her-Story at Hartland
My choice of Hartland for 'H' in this A-Z of Devon places associated with Devon women writers is twofold; I have two 'Devon' women in mind. They lived centuries apart and, for different reasons, both of their lives and specific connections with Hartland are swathed in mystery. They are Elizabeth Stucley Northmore, whowas a C20 writer and the very much earlier Gytha, the C11 Danish noblewoman who spent part of her life in Devon, and became mother of kings and queens.
Not much appears to be known about either Gytha or Elizabeth; but they share certain characteristics, especially their upper-class ancestries.
Fifteen or so years before she escaped from Exeter down the river Exe and from thence more or less out of his or herstory, Gytha mother of King Harold, is said to have founded Hartland's first collegiate church:
The history of the area is obscure, however the first recorded building here was a collegiate church served by twelve secular canons founded ca. 1050 by Gytha, Countess of Wessex (mother of King Harold). Traditionally the church was founded in thanksgiving for the preservation of her husband's life in a storm at sea; a better tradition associates her husband Godwin, Earl of Wessex and holder of the royal manor of Harton, with the foundation.(Wikipedia)
A stained glass window at St Nectan's church at Hartland depicts Gytha, but her Devon links are more directly associated with Exeter and her dramatic escape from the city during the Norman conquest. And no, I can not tell you that Gytha was an C11 writer; neither can I state that she was a Devonshire woman. And sadly, there is nothing else I can add about her connections with Hartland. But, I have written about Gytha in the chapter I have called Pastscapes, in Writing Women on the Devon Land, in which I have attempted to narrate a chronology of women who wrote (or may have written) texts in the county during the early hazy centuries of the pre-Medieval age. Approaching the years coming up to the Norman Conquest Gytha held a pre-eminent presence in Devon; she is referred to in many contemporary documents. Like her royal predecessors and followers who also had strong Devon connections - Elfrida, Emma and Edith - Gytha, owner of massive and spread-eagled acreages of Devon land, came from within the heart of networks of richly literary minded people. I picture her with a circle of kinswomen who were in one way or other actively engaged in contemporary literary activity, such as the reading circle gathered around the Exeter Book's texts.
I have not had a chance to re-visit Hartland or the abbey in recent years, so this blog piece does not include any scans of my own recent photos. However, I did once, many years ago, have the honour of being invited to tea there with the then owner and his wife. (And no, if you have already come upon the piece for Castle Hill at Filleigh in this blog and read about my tea-visit there many years ago, I did not and do not make a habit of being entertained at Devon's most prestigious places). But both of these visits were directly or indirectly due to locally born author Elizabeth Stucley, who during the mid 1960's, became a part-time neighbour, and consequent 'friend' of my family after she bought and renovated a derelict cottage in Cheldon, the Devon hamlet/village where we then lived.
Around Cheldon in 1960s
One of the Stucley family's main residences, at Affeton castle, was, and is just east along the lanes from Cheldon. Sir Dennis, Elizabeth's younger brother was gifted Affeton in 1947 and I wonder now if the cottage his sister restored was one from his extended estate:
In 1947 he was given by his father the estate of Affeton, when it comprised the manor and parish of West Worlington, with the exception of the glebe land, Burridge Farm and woods in Chawleigh parish with further land in the parishes of Chulmleigh, Cheldon and Meshaw. He made substantial improvements to the tenanted farms to which he brought mains electricity and piped water supply, with "modern amenities" for every house on the estate see Affeton
Back at Cheldon, the letting cottage restored by Elizabeth the writer, Bull's Mead, became the holiday haunt of a panoply of people, all of whom lit up our rural idyll, bringing life, fun and games to what was then a predominantly reclusive neighbourhood. The eye-opening swinging sixties events just had not begun to infiltrate the place. Well, not until Elizabeth marched in with her motley crew. Street View from Cheldon shows the cottage the author renovated, just left on the road past the church heading toward Chawleigh.
Cover and first page of Elizabeth Stucley's popular children's novel Magnolia Street
Elizabeth Stucley herself was one of those larger than life gregarious, eccentric characters. You never knew what she was going to say, do, or plan next. She'd turn up out the blue, trousered, tousled greying hair, in her Citroen (memory says it was green, but I'm not sure I can depend on that), with her adopted son, or/and other hangers-on, including his girl-friends. Her image and persona perfectly matched that of the exotic adventures described in her various books. Inevitably, once the party had settled in someone from the cottage would pop down to us in the Barton house below to ask some favour: could they have a bath? a bottle of milk, loaf of bread? a lift to Chulmleigh? Elizabeth took to dropping in for coffee and chat with my mother. When one day she discovered I was keen on English literature, but had reached that stage when I did not know what to read for pleasure - on the cusp, but not ready for adult books, too old for children's, she took it on herself to write (or perhaps scribble) me a reading-list on some note-paper. I treasured that list for many years - it spread over several pages - and intended digging it out of the old drawers to scan for this blog. But no, sadly. the list seems to have gone! Elizabeth knew that we could not afford to buy many books and it was the zenith of the period when the Mobile Library van's fortnightly visits to our remote parish was one of the highlights of our life. Between us, in the little hamlet community, every month we piled up a veritable tower of books. Anyway, Elizabeth's suggestions for me took account of the mobile library's stock and I followed her directive on the shelves toward Mazo de la Roche's Jalna series, which soon had me in thrall. I had no idea - until now, as I do a little light research for this blog - that de la Roche herself lived in Devon for some years and set her novels in the county - and now, knowing that fact, am beginning to wonder if, although the two women were thirty years or so apart in age, Elizabeth may have even known her. Many of the literary fictional classics were on the list as well -'You need to read widely and have a broad sweep of books in your head' -Treasure Island, Moby Dick, Jeeves, Gone With the Wind. There were books by Dickens, Brontes, Winston Graham, Daphne du Maurier. Both of the latter writers were of the same age as Elizabeth Stucley, all born between 1907- 1908; I don't know if she had met either of them. Our visiting author (steering well clear of Enid Blyton) did tell me about her own children's books. Out of curiosity, I read Magnolia Buildings.But I was fast growing out of that stage and soon returned to Mazo de la Roche and Winston Graham. My favourite of Stucley's books now as I remember those days is her travel memoir, A Hebridean Journey; With Johnson and Boswell, written in 1956, which follows in the steps of Johnson's and Boswell's famous tour of 1773.
Elizabeth treated my mother to a couple of weekends in her home at Bath, and me to day-trips with her and her various entourage. It was on one of these that we went to tea with her brother at Hartland Abbey. On the way, we called in to her old family home in Bideford, Moreton House. Here is part of what Wikipedia says about the house:
The now "Stucley" family, which had inherited other substantial residences at Hartland Abbey, Affeton and North Molton, sold Moreton House in 1956, after which it was occupied by Grenville College, a private school, which vacated the site in 2009. The house is a fine example of Georgian architecture and had at one time ornate gardens with two lakes, fountains, waterfalls and formal herbaceous borders. The house with five acres of land was offered for sale in 2014 for the surprisingly low price of £500,000 and reached national prominence when the Daily Mail newspaper pointed out that a small one car garage in Kensington, West London, was at that time for sale at the same price as the 28-bedroom Moreton House. The estate agent explained the low price by saying that the house was "too big" (34,250 sq ft., 28 bedrooms, 19 reception rooms, a ballroom and eight bathrooms).[b] The house's former name is memorialised by an industrial estate called "Daddon Court" a short distance to the south of the house.
When we visited back in the distant 1960s, it was the summer holiday, so the place was more or less vacant. This was a period when, a teenager, I was not especially aware of or bothered about local history and families and places; I'm not sure I had a clue what Moreton must have meant to Stucley herself who behaved as though she were my 'mother', or 'teacher' surrogate. I see now how she considered me to be yet another ingénue, a protégé, who she needed to bring out and educate in the ways of the world. Now I realise that Moreton must have been the author's home from the age of six or so, in 1913, when her father moved there:
Hugh Nicholas Granville Stucley, 4th Baronet (1873–1956), eldest half-brother, son of Louisa Granville. He had moved to Moreton House in 1913 and made substantial alterations. Sir Hugh served as a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy. He was elected to the Bideford Town Council and served as Mayor of the Borough. It was the thirty-seventh time that a member of his family had served the Borough as Mayor. He was also elected to Devon County Council in 1906 and was a county alderman in 1908. His main interests were County Finance and Education. His personal interests were fishing, shooting and landscape gardening. It was he who designed the beautiful gardens which Moreton House was formerly well known for. From 1939 to 1945 during World War II Moreton House became the temporary home of King's Mead Preparatory School, which moved from its premises in Seaford in Sussex. Sir Hugh moved to the lodge house and looked after those boys who were too young to be boarders at the school.
Although my memory of the day at Moreton and Hartland is at least, hazy, I do remember the exuberant pleasure that Elizabeth took in re-visiting her childhood home, conducting us on a tour round its gardens and accessible rooms as though she indeed still belonged there and had every right to assume ownership. And so on, or back, to Hartland Abbey, where this reminiscing feature is supposed to be focused, the place where I imagine Elizabeth was either born or spent much of her early childhood. Although she may as a young girl, alternatively, have lived, like her brother Dennis, at Pillhead, East-the-Water, Bideford; but if so, I'm sure the children would have had ample opportunity to visit the family's main ancestral estate. In my head, I have a photo I took of the abbey with my then Kodak cresta camera. It sits in an old photo album beside a black and white image of a young teenage girl and her mother, close and cuddling one another, sweaters on, faces wreathed in laughter and bodies swathed in scarves. They, and we are on a north Devon beach somewhere. We have probably stopped for lunch, They are friends of Elizabeth Stucley and they must be with us on this day trip. I do not recall the woman or girl's name. I can not even find either of the photos. Just as the reading-list presented to me by the author, over the course of time the paraphernalia have dispersed, who knows where. Possibly they are still somewhere here in my now-home, shut inside a book in a drawer or box. One day they may come to light again and if so I will restore them to this blog. So ... the afternoon tea at the abbey? That's all it is. A static memory. Crystallised. There is, I'm rather ashamed to admit, no detail. I was no doubt tongue-tied. Mesmerised. Terrified of dropping the china; scared I'd make a terrible faux-pax. No doubt Sir Dennis (Elizabeth's brother) and his wife Sheila were charming. I think they would have been well-used to their sister turning up uninvited, with her latest cohort. I wonder now, with hindsight, if author Elizabeth was an acquaintance or indeed friend of the Stucley family's cousin-in-law, also writer, Winifred Fortescue, who I wrote about in one of the earlier of these pieces. Winifred is said to have loved Hartland Abbey and decamped there several times. The two women were some twenty years apart in age, but given that Winifred's time at Hartland was during the years of the Second World War, it is possible that the two crossed paths, quite likely more than once. From what I have read about Winifred and what I remember about Elizabeth, the two women shared similar temperaments, an idiosyncratic joie de vivre. If you have come upon this feature having googled for Elizabeth Stucley the author, then you may think you have been cheated as you won't have discovered much about her. I have tried to note down a miscellany of my memories about her from the years in which she was an occasional part of our village community. I wish I still had my diary of those days; I wish I'd written down what my mother told me of Elizabeth; even her mementoes of her Bath holidays spent with the writer. But I didn't. I don't. When Elizabeth Stucley died, in 1974, the ones I'd left behind in my family were just about to take their leave of Cheldon for a new home across the valley. I'm not sure when they last saw her. My own time in the parish had finished several years before. (Incidentally to this blog-piece, I dwell on how my generation - the last of the pre-digital era - retain the old-fashioned artifacts of time's passing, and think how, with all the negatives aspects of our brave new lives, at least our new digital devices should have their up-side, as they ensure the preservation of our memories, for posterity). So, except in passing, as a name, due to lack of space, author Elizabeth Stucley does not make an appearance in my own book. I wish I could include her. Like many other women authors, she is missing from the Devon literary canon, almost without trace; but that is the reason I wanted to re-memorialise and reinstate her here.
View from beside river Taw at North Tawton toward Cosdon Photo Julie Sampson
North Tawton, my Devon parish of choice for 'N' in this alphabet, will often feature on this blog. You will already find the parish mentioned in its introductory pages and at least one other post. This small central Devon town, the place of my childhood years, is anchor for my book about Devon's women writers. It has to be the parish of choice for this A-Z, although I could have picked out several other 'Norths', such as North Molton, North Lew or North Bovey, or other N's, such as Newton Abbot, Newton St Cyres ... For this letter, unlike some, I was spoilt for choice.
Sadly, during the last few weeks, when I have been reflecting on this blog piece, a prominent member of the contemporary North Tawton community has passed away. I want therefore firstly to join in the tributes to Dr JeanShields, an acquaintance, a family friend of my late parents and of my uncle, whose invaluable, painstaking and rigorous research and writing about local history over a period of many years has provided the community with a wealth of invaluable historical material relating to North Tawton and beyond to many other Devon places. Amongst many other achievements - including those attained in her other medical personal - Dr Shields co-edited The Book of North Tawton, a rich resource for anyone who has connections to the parish, or indeed is researching its past. Many times since I've started to research for my book on Devon women writers, when looking up information about the parish and its history, but stumbling on a block, I've turned to the book shelves for The Book ofNorth Tawton.Invariably, a fact, a new or overlooked detail will surface somewhere and I'll be off again. Down a new track of discovery. Some of the information which I'll use in this piece emerged in this way.
Dr Jean Shields, North Tawton's, local history researcher/writer will be sorely missed ...
… Here we’re in the very centre of the beating red-heart of Devon, the farming centre of the county, whose distinctive earth, generated by the underlying red sandstone, explains the landscape’s densely imprinted patterns of criss-crossing tracks, green-lanes, high-hedges and copses. This special territory lying within the remit of Devon’s nemetostatio, in the heart of the land of once sacred groves, (See for example Blaen's book Devon's Sacred Grove) whose gentle rolling hills front the distinctive dramatic grey-blue backdrop of moor, has already garnered a frisson of attention from archaeologists. But it’s not only historians, and like-minded specialists who’ve remarked on the unusual interest of this landscape; it’s also garnered attention, from creatives, such as noteworthy writers. Many who come about this blog and piece about North Tawton will know of the parish's links with the C20's most famous literary couple, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, who lived in the centre of the area; both authors intuited their Devon homeland as cynosure of mysterious presence. Now, in the years since the poets’ deaths, the vicinity in and around North Tawton has become focus of literary quests and pilgrimages, as those in search any hint of missing narrative connected with the literary pair trawl the local byways in search of a special symbolic token of their lived and textual pasts. It feels entirely appropriate that any researcher looking for missing threads of female literary lineage should begin here, within the boundaries of these distinctive lands lying just beneath and north of the county’s most famous moorland slopes. After all, it was in this landscape that Nemetona/Diana, (See for Example Trees of Anglo-Saxon England) the Celtic goddess presided over the once sacred groves ...
Lane north of North Tawton on Bondleigh road Photo Julie Sampson
As a female poet/writer acclaimed internationally, who had close links with NorthTawton, Sylvia Plath stands alone. I have not found evidence of any other individual woman writer who was closely associated with the town (except of course our recently bemoaned contemporary researcher Jean Shields). But, as with so much of Devon's lost literary heritage concerning the contribution of its women, as the researcher turns the pages of archival references, or clicks through a series of linked google searches, there are many tantalising gaps, which often seem to almost touch on a snatch of lost information. Someone who may have written, or have had special interest in literary activities. A woman who was closely related to a learned man. A figure, silhouetted, lurking in the shadows.
The further back we go, the more interesting things become.
Way back in the medieval period North Tawton emerges as a point of convergence for a cluster of royal or courtly celebrities, the notoriety of whose lives left distinctive marks on the pages of the distant future. The notion that the environment of a backwater mid Devon medieval town may have witnessed the shenanigans of medieval entanglements may seem unlikely and yet there are historical and other familial associations which, for me, are suggestive of such. For, from the time of the Domesday Book until at least C13/14, like its twin parish South Tawton a couple of miles away, North Tawtonwas an ancient demesne of the crown; its manorial lands were in the hands of the king. Its manors might have been held by people close to the monarch, either as family members, or closely associated with the court. There are at least couple of families whose associations with the parish are verified in its manorial histories and whose close and complicated interweavings leave a host of tantalising questions. Their various intrigues centred in or around the edges of the parish weave in and out of the labyrinth of Devon’s female writers, occasional hinting at a smidgen of other lost female centred literary links. Not of course that one is going to stumble on a long lost woman writer. It is too long ago and archives have already provided names and texts for known woman writers of the C12/13 - such as, for instance, the mysterious Marie de Meulan or Marie of France (who may herself have had links with the southwest of England). It is a question of raising the possibility that certain identifiable women from this long ago time may have been well-educated and as such, been potential candidates for having taken an interest in literature, perhaps as readers, or patrons. It was common for noble women of the time to be cultured and to have literary inclinations.
Richard of Cornwall is said to have interceded on behalf of Joan’s brother, the learned knight Henry de Bath, who became Chief Justice of England during the mid C13. The siblings were said to be children of Walter de Bath. When Henry, a judge during the reign of Henry III, fell into disgrace with the king, he was eventually restored following the Duke’s intercession.
Interestingly, in the context of Devon woman writers, the C19 Tavistock author Anna Eliza Bray placed Henry de Bath and his plight into the heart of one of her short stories. You can read the story, Fontina, or The Pixies' Bath, taken from A Peep at thePixies. Although it is a fairy/pixie tale apparently based on folk-lore and legend, at the story’s core is a background of considerable historical research. Bray must have read round her subject thoroughly; her texts can prove quite valuable for a modern researcher. On the other hand, her facts do need checking. The background of the life that she has provided for her ‘hero’ Henry de Bath may or may not be authentic.
As far as I'm aware there is no evidence to back my theory about his (alleged) sister Joan as a literary woman (and there is as yet no verification that she was definitely daughter of Walter de Bathe from North Tawton, although there is general agreement that seems to make this likely), but, given the ins and outs of her family and social associations, we can assume this enigmatic lady to have been highly cultured. It seems feasible that like her brother Joan would have been educated to a high level. The de Bath/Bathe/Bathonia men feature in Devon and the nation’s canonical history books. For over many generations they established reputations as intellectuals, judges, barristers, learned knights and antiquarians.
Richard Duke of Cornwall was himself a man of intellect and was widely read. What may be especially intriguing with regard to Joan de Bath/Valletort, is the context of the literary associated background apropos his creation of Tintagel Castle down in Cornwall. Here is an account provided by English Heritage:
What attracted the earl to Tintagel was something else, something literary: a reference in a text written in the previous century, the History of the Kings of Britain, by the cleric Geoffrey of Monmouth. Tintagel plays a central role in Geoffrey’s racy story of how an ancient king of Britain, Uther Pendragon, is driven mad with lust for Ygerna, the wife of one of his barons, Gorlois of Cornwall. Gorlois prudently removes his wife to an impregnable stronghold on the coast, the castle of Tintagel, but then rather less prudently withdraws to another fortress nearby. The pursuing Uther and his men inspect Ygerna’s refuge and realise that no ordinary attack can succeed: The castle is built high above the sea, which surrounds it on all sides, and there is no way in except that offered by a narrow isthmus of rock. Three armed soldiers could hold it against you, even if you stood there with the whole kingdom of Britain at your side. At this point in the story, the ‘prophet’ Merlin proposes a supernatural remedy: by means of a magic potion, he transforms Uther into the exact likeness of Ygerna’s absent husband. The ruse is entirely successful. The guards of Tintagel allow him into the castle, and Ygerna takes him into her bed: That night she conceived Arthur, the most famous of men, who subsequently won great renown by his outstanding bravery. If these were not literary credentials enough, Tintagel also features in a second legend, which confusingly later became part of the Arthurian cycle, but almost certainly had completely separate origins. This was the story of the adulterous love of Tristan and Isolt, the wife of King Mark of Cornwall, Tristan’s uncle. Much more of the action in this late 12th-century story takes place at Tintagel, presented as the stronghold of King Mark. Earl Richard was a cultured and literary man who would have known these legends extremely well. The overwhelming likelihood is that he built the castle at Tintagel to recreate the scene from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s story and, in so doing, write himself into the mythology of King Arthur. English Heritage
I can’t help but imagine that, in his creation of Tintagel perhaps Richard, known as notorious womaniser, was influenced by his apparently long-standing liaison with Joan de Bath/Valletort. As far as I am aware, she is the only one of his woman concubines whose legacy has lasted as her name is documented and also she is the only one whose children by Richard are also named and recognised.
But not only was Richard a man of learning, so were the women who surrounded him. Both of his first and second wives are linked with literary pursuits. Isabel Marshall, Richard’s first wife, Countess of Cornwall, and widow of Gilbert de Clare, plunges us right into the centre of the medieval female literary milieu Isobel Marshall's family were focus of literary connections and patronage centering round the well-known C13 chronicler Matthew Paris, who ran a kind of C12 circulating library amongst his aristocratic friends. These included Isobel's nieces, Countesses of Winchester and Arundell, who were daughters of her sisters Sibyl and Maud. Isobel may herself have been a recipient of books and manuscripts disseminated by Paris. The chronicler requests:
Please send to the Lady Countess of Arundell, Isabel, that she is to send you the book about St Thomas the Martyr and St Edward which I translated and illustrated and which the lady Countess of Cornwall may keep until Whitsuntide.
But, to return to Devon and North Tawton and the elusive Joan, Richard of Cornwall's alleged mistress. As so often happens, tracing the identity of a woman, even one of high birth, from these far off times, is a project fraught with complications. Not to be entered into lightly I have found, if you don’t want to end up tearing out your hair! Although various sources refer to Joan as Richard's long-time mistress, there is by no definitive consensus about her identity. And there is still uncertainty about her family origins. Rather than marrying into the Valletort family, Joan de Bathe may have been born one of them. Or, indeed, she could have been born de Bathe and married a Valletort. Both of these are given as possible identities of the woman. Different pedigrees provide alternative family trees. And not only is their uncertainity as to Joan's authentic family origins, historians give us conflicted accounts about the timeline of Richard's and Joan's liaison.
by Joan, daughter of Sir Reginald de Valletort, he [Richard of Cornwall] had an illegitimate family, consisting of at least two sons,* Richard and Sir Walter, with apparently Sir Lawrence, and as is affirmed two daughters, Isabella and Joan. The date of this prolonged liaison cannot be determined. It was probably early in his career, but the evidence adduced by authorities is slender, and their statements contradictory. It seems, for example, uncertain as to whether Joan de Valletort was widow of Sir Alexander, or Sir Andrew, Okeston when she is said to have been mistress of Earl Richard, or whether after the Earl tired of her, she married Sir Alexander, to whom she bore a son and successor.
It is beyond the scope of this blog piece to trace and argue the various possibilities of Joan’s birth family. I doubt anyone will ever be certain of Joan's parentage. Nor am I in any position to have an opinion as to which may be correct, but I am sure that if she was daughter of either of the families Valletort or de Bathe Joan was in some way closely linked with North Tawton. Both de Bathes and Valletorts had established home bases in the parish during the period of C13. And serendipitously, taking us back full circle to the two women writers mentioned in this piece (Sylvia Plath and Jean Shields), the two sites were later to be each of their respective homes.
The site at de Bathe (with its famous and mysterious pool) was the home of Dr Shields. Traditionally, it is said to have once been the 'Great' estate of the de Bath family and is located on the periphery of the once Roman site, just south of the town of North Tawton. Many sources claim that from a long line of Devon's male de Bath worthies, Walter de Bathe, Sheriff of Devon held the de Bathe estate at North Tawton (as well as that of nearby Colebrooke, Sheepwash and Topsham). It seems generally agreed that the North Tawton site had long been the family's chief residence (for instance, one of the Devon historians remarked that their residence there 'ran so very far back that he could not trace out and overtake the original thereof'. Quoted in The Gentlemen's Magazine).
(From The Blue Hour: A Portrait of Jean Rhys, by Lilian Pizzichini)
A to Z of Devon places and Devon women writers - B
During the very early 1960's for almost a couple of years two of the twentieth century's now most famous women writers lived within twenty miles of one another, in mid Devon. One was Sylvia Plath, who moved to North Tawton, in 1961 and left there late 1962; the other Jean Rhys, who moved to Cheriton Fitzpaine in 1960 and stayed there until her death in 1969. Plath and Rhys are probably the two foremost C20 writers whose Devon home base must appear on this A to Z of Devon women writers places. Both authors have drawn countless followers and admirers to seek out their Devon homes and in Rhys' case, grave, in Cheriton's churchyard. One of these visitors remarked that finding the grave was a 'moving moment' Another, the poet Olive Senior, wrote a long poem called Meditation on Red about her visit to the Cheriton grave, which both conjures up the sensual response of the poet herself and also expresses the complex reactions of both author herself and the locals at the time of Rhys living and writing in their village:
Opening of Senior's poem
children/ making faces/ at you/ who knew/ how to spell/ little knowing / in that grey mist / hanging/ over Cherton Fitzpaine/ how cunningly you masked/ your pain/ how carefully you honed /your craft/ how tightly you held /your pen (extract fron Meditation on Red)
It has taken me many years to visit Rhys' grave in Cheriton, but I eventually made it, on a brilliant sunny winter's day. Rather surprisingly, the stone is propped up against the church wall just left of the main door. At least the village has recognised the author's once presence in their parish, because she is mentioned in the church guide book.
Going back some years, back in the sixties and seventies, following publication of and acclaim for her most famous novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, people frequently went to the village in search of the novelist. One visitor wrote up an account of her trip to Devon; Rhys had seemed preoccupied by her ambivalent feelings to her home.
Then she said, suddenly “I’ve lived here six or seven years. I loathed it at first; then I got resigned to it. Fixed it up, found it better. I miss a lot living in Devon, miss meeting the people who wrote to me after the books were re-published. I don’t think I’m liked in the village, they think I’m strange. I’d like to get away but I won't now.
Another visitor, Louis James, wrote an academic paper about her experience with the novelist, The Lady Is Not A Photograph: Jean Rhys, D.Litt., and "The Caribbean Experience". See Journal of Caribbean Literatures, Vol. 3, No. 3, Jean Rhys (Summer 2003), pp. 175- 184. Louis explains how, with colleagues, she went down to Devon from Kent, to present Rhys, with an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Kent. James explains that
She accepted the Honorary Doctorate when it was offered her. But, at the age of eighty-seven, with deteriorating health, she did not wish to make the long journey from Cheriton Fitzpaine in Devon where she was spending the summer, to receive her degree.
So, as James tells us, in an unusual change from protocol, the university took the degree to its recipient:
In the case of Jean Rhys, the University made the exceptional decision to award the Honorary D. Litt., in absentia. On that day of July, an empty red leather chair represented Jean Rhys on the dais, addressed by the Public Orator Professor Robert Gibson with an accolade recording her life and achievements. At the side, a portable Grundig tape deck ticked away, recording the oration. On the 20th of July two cars set off from Canterbury to her cottage in Cheriton Fitzpaine, carrying Professor Foakes as Chairman of English Literature at Kent, together with Professor Mark Kinkead-Weekes and myself as teachers of Common- wealth Literature. We also took a set of doctoral robes, the Grundig tape recorder, the Orator's recorded speech, and several bottles of champagne. The summer Jean Rhys spent at Cheriton Fitzpaine in 1977 was proving, in Carole Angier's words, "fairly disastrous" (638). Apart from intensifying health problems, Jean had begun to fall violently out with Janet Bridger, her young companion, nurse, and typist, with strains intensified by Jean's struggle to find the right approach to writing her proposed autobiography. Then there were other anxieties, too, of which I knew nothing at the time.
James provides a fond and amusing account of the time she spent spent at the by now renowned author's house. I can't resist including another short extract:
There is no shortage of material about Jean Rhys on the internet. A google search will coax out all sorts of goodies. In particular the Jean Rhys Archive has information about the whereabouts of various materials and texts. I wrote a little about Rhys and Plath in a very early piece in Scrapblog from the South-West. She makes an appearance in my own Voices from Wildridge and some thoughts about her appear in Crossing the Water, a more recent feature in my other blog. A poem 'Rhys and Plath; Cheriton and Court Green' was published by Shearsman and appears in my collection Tessitura. You can find it on Scrapblog.
Writing Women on the Devon Land A-Z of Devon Women Writers & Places On the Ways to the Old Literary Roads around Okehampton
I could have chosen Offwell, Ogwell, Okeford, Otterton, or Ottery St Mary. But for this Alphabet of Devon Women Writers (up to about 1960), I settled on Okehampton. It's partly nostalgia, the town being a favourite place of my childhood, where I (albeit fairly briefly) and before me, both my parents attended school. I don't know of any individual woman author whose home was in the parish up to circa 1960 - but I do know several who included the place in their writings. Rosalind Northcote, Mary Ward and Sophie Dixon all set down in text their personal responses to the scenic, and/or historical characteristic of the Okehampton locality ...
... It is not just the romantic lines of Okehampton castle ruin that call, either when you spot Okehampton castle from the dual carriageway of the A30, or as you negotiate the upward swirls of the road curling up and away from the old town deep in the valley beneath, or through light reflected leaves on the left of the road. It is also the intricate lineage of the genealogical patterning of the past, which suggests that this near empty shell must once have harboured both men and women closely connected to the topmost ruling class, who were likely to be of the then literate fraternity. By the time you see the ruin you have entered the hallowed receptacle of the moor. Before you, are a multitude of enticements.
For me, the northern doorway to Dartmoor's charm has always been the historical marker of this well-known Devon castle. Rosalind Northcote's travelogue/guide-book/historical survey, Devon; its Moorlands, Streams & Coasts(See on Project Gutenberg) outlined the ruin and its vicinity as it appeared in the rustic environment of the early C20.
The castle of Okehampton stands about half a mile from the town and looks on one side over fertile hills and valleys, woods, and rich meadows, and the gleaming waters of the West Okement, on the other towards the bold, changeless outlines of the outer barriers of Dartmoor. The castle was once surrounded by its park ... The Okement rippling over a rocky bed – the name ‘uig maenic’ means the ‘stony water’ – hurries past the foot of a knoll on which the castle rises out of a cloud of green leaves that shelter and half hide the walls. Protected by the river and a steeply scarped bank on the south, a natural ravine on the north and a deep notch cut on the western side, the mass of slate rock that it stands on was a point of vantage.[i]
By West Okement, from where you can see glimpses of ruins of Okehampton Castle glinting through the trees.
Old Town Park Local Nature Reserve Okehampton
There are copies of Northcote's Devon book available from various sites, including Abe Books. I tend to agree with the fairly recent review of the book on the jsbookreader blog. The best feature of Devon; its Moorlands, Streams & Coasts is its inclusion of colour plates of Devon scenes, by acclaimed painter Frederick John Widgery. I feel rather mean saying this about this, but tend to agree with jsbookreader'sassessment: Devon; its Moorlands, Streams &Coasts is 'largely built around scraps of learned but much-recycled material'.
Colour Plate of Okehampton Castle, painting by FJ Widgery. taken from Devon: its Moorlands, Streams & Coasts.
Devon; its Moorlands, Streams & Coastsis a book which anyone who likes to collect Devon history, or landscape books collectors, would love, and ought to have in their library. Of nostalgic value, the text is in the tradition of and influenced by such canonic male-authored Devon books as Crossing's Guide to Dartmoor; but once you get into the mind-set of the time in which it was written, Devon; its Moorlands, Streams & Coasts does havea certain time-less appeal and Rosalind Northcote's passion for her home county is evident. There are individual touches which the author most likely obtained from personal visits to many of the places she describes. Daughter of Walter Stafford Northcote, Second Earl of Iddesleigh, Lady Rosalind Northcote wasn't the only author in her family. I'm not sure whether she had any literary female relations, but both her father and her brother Stafford Harry Northcote, Viscount St Cyres also wrote and published books, whilst her grandfather, Stafford Northcote First Earl of Iddesleigh, also had literary interests. For centuries, the Northcote family seat was at Pynes House near Exeter, which, though nowadays known as Devon's Downton Abbey and popular as a local wedding venue, is also known locally for its apparent close association with Jane Austin:
'The second Earl, Walter Stafford Northcote, was a huge admirer of the literary talent of Jane Austen and believed most fervently that his house was indeed the inspiration for Barton Park in Austen’s iconic work, Sense and Sensibility. This tale is still told in the local area and remains as popular as ever' (Pynes House Website)
I'm not saying the information isn't out there in the archives, but in the limited time I've been able to devote to researching Rosalind Northcote I've not found much about her life; maybe someone out there does know about her, or has come across documentation about her in a record office somewhere. The Pynes archives at A2A certainly seems promising. There are a couple of tantalising snippets dotted round the web. One concerns Lady Rosalind's next youngest sister, Lady Elizabeth Northcote, who in 1914 married Sir Randolph Bruce in a celebrated wedding held at Pynes. According to one source, there had initially been plans for Bruce to marry author Rosalind, eldest daughter, but she was found 'prickly' and 'unapproachable' (see Lady Windemere) Elizabeth was 38 at the time of her marriage, quite old for her generation. There are various easily accessible online accounts about this couple; a year after their marriage they travelled to Paris with Rosalind, which suggests the two sisters were probably close. The same description notes that unlike her sister (!) Elizabeth had a 'sweet disposition' and 'was very thoughtful of others' (Lady Windemere). Sadly, Elizabeth died within a year of her marriage, probably of appendicitis.
Lady Rosalind survived her other siblings and died at Pynes in 1950. A visitor to Pynes during her last years is said to have commented: 'She was a law unto herself quite a formidable woman. She used to spend most of her day in a large sitting room with the windows open, chain smoking.' (Lady Windemere).
But, at this point, though it is tempting to stray further I must not wander away too far from Okehampton, the subject of this blog piece. One hundred years before Northcote's Devon book another local Devon author wrote about Okehampton castle and its surroundings. Sophie Dixon'sC19journals provide us with another detailed panning shot of the castle and its vicinity in an even more pastoral, pre-technologically dominated landscape than that about which Northcote wrote.
Pages from Sophie Dixon's Journal which mention Okehampton, 1830
I get the feeling that unlike Rosalind Northcote, Sophie Dixon had more first hand acquaintance with the places she wrote about. You'll find Dixon's name pops up readily in Google searches, especially linked to various descriptions and accounts of Dartmoor. For instance:
For sometime Dartmoor was the home of Miss Sophie Dixon, the charming writer, and her acquaintance with it was extensive. She was in the habit of taking long rambles, setting forth at an early hour, and covering as much ground in a day as many would do in three. Sometimes when on a pedestrian tour she would rise at midnight, and start on her journey soon after, in order to avoid walking under a burning summer sun (Quoted in William Crossing's One Hundred Years on Dartmoor).
Contemporary writers often refer to Dixon, probably because her writing is striking in its detail and immediacy. In his Garden History of DevonTodd Gray notes that she was 'decisive in her writing'. Along, with Anna Eliza Brayand Rachel Evans, two other contemporary female author/travellers whose homes were in the vicinity of Tavistock, Dixon contributed to the C19 discourse of Dartmoor discovery.
… we passed near the source of the Lyd, and then altering the direction of our steps the Sourton Tors rose before us, until again diverging to the right we came in view of the West Okement, winding amid a rocky channel, below a descent almost precipitous ... The valley inclining almost to a ravine, the river enters by a winding channel at the foot of Black Tor, which closes the view in a southerly direction. An extensive range of hill, dark with heath, occupies the opposite side of the valley, while a third mountain meets it below.’
... Following a trip to the locality of Fatherford I scribbled a short piece reflecting simultaneously on my own visit and what I re-imagined of Sophie Dixon's ...
If you're lucky ... on moor's northen slopes, at the, just, still, tranquil site of Fatherford, just east of Okehampton and on the edgelands of the multiplying, mushrooming new housing estates, you can reflect and muse beside west Okement’s mirror river, where the wooden bridge crosses over into the glade the other side, where water’s lyrics, a ‘voice of waves’, will lull you to the beguiling wild haunts that writer Sophie Dixon intuited a hundred or so years ago ... Royal ferns flutter at our feet, taking us, slowly, surely, into their green and empty world, beyond glittering light. Sophie knew she felt, she heard, here, where road and river dissect, where dual worlds seem to briefly meet and part, here, where one looks (and moves us to loop unhurriedly, like snails snaking the undergrowth at our feet), back to the past and the other hurtles us onto the future, which can’t wait; this conveyor belt of concrete we cannot get escape. As you leave the glade, spin around to catch a glimpse of your past, and hers, before a covey of orange monbretias in the hedge by the stream flare a signal, we are still here, still here, here, here, find us. Us ...
Sophie Dixon also wrote poetry. Her Castalian Hours is made up of a sequence of poems; its title poem Stanzas Written on Dartmoor revels in the wildness and solitude of Longaford, and the surrounding moorland. It's with pseudo-Wordsworthian delight that she captures the scenic grandeur of moor's romantic enticements
And these are yours oh Mountains, these around Your time-bleached summits, mingle in the air A potent voice, a passion stirring sound ...
William Crossing praised Dixon’s poems in his Dartmoor travelogue 'Amidst Devonia's Alps' but nowadays, like Rachel Evans and Anna Eliza Bray, although versions of her books are still obtainable, unlike that of their male equivalents, Crossing and Carrington, these women’s published writings are not generally recognised or acclaimed as being significant Dartmoor texts. This is a shame, for between them the trio of C19 Tavistock women fully documented a kaleidoscope of Dartmoor’s richly diverse data. There are, I believe, as yet unexplored interconnections between the three women, Bray, Dixon and Evans, linking both their lives and their texts. All three left a rich legacy of documents, which are testaments to the moor’s unique contribution to Devon’s landscape and heritage and are also encyclopedic in their value to the researcher. If a researcher wants to know something about someone or somewhere concerning Dartmoor’s history, then the likelihood is that they will eventually find the answer in one of the texts of Bray, Dixon or Evans ...
... I'm asking myself, am I straying again from the ostensible main theme of this blog-piece? I hope not. I don't think so. Okehampton is very much enclosed within, or in the dip of the wrap-around protective landscape cloak, so the Dartmoor-linked comments about the women authors I've so far discussed are relevant ...
... Some fifty years or so before Dixon's journal was published, in 1807, in her collectionOriginal Poems, a Devon poet called Mary Wardevoked the ruin in a poem titled 'Oakhampton Castle'. Albeit rather laboured in tone, Ward's poem's darkly laboured iambic lines project an appropriate mood of Gothic splendour:
stupendous pile whose mouldering towers/declare the wide uncultured day/when thou couldst boast terrific powers/that sought to make the world obey.
Ironically, the considerable historical significance of such an ancient skeletal and now ruined building as Okehampton Castle is emphasised because of the poet's use of overly ornate language. The style may be ornate, as well as foreign to contemporary ears, but the underlying message is authentic and eternal. Such an edifice, sunk into the foundations of solid earth within our land was – and is – forever replete with the stories of those who lived before. Nevertheless, Ward’s poem about the once striking and significant castle makes its own original contribution to the maintenance of the site’s importance in public memory. 'Oakhampton Castle's' flourish of romantic ornamentation can help to preserve reflecting fragments of history as they are wrapped within the sparse shell of a ruined building in the landscape. The poem aims to mirror the reality of what was.
However, other than her poems in the collection Original Poems, little seems to be known about the poet herself. Mary Ward herself is elusive and attempts to discover anything substantial about her have proved well-nigh fruitless: she is said to have come from Brixham; she dedicated her book to the Countess of Loudon (who might be this Flora Campbell); she was an acquaintance of the owner ofRaithby Hall, in Leicestershire, Robert Carr Brackbenbury, who rather intriguingly, was also known as a poet. Yet, that is all I have found... If there is anyone out there who knows anything about this elusive C19 poet, please get in touch, so I can add more information about her ...
... Before I leave the lanes and literary losts of Okehampton I'll just mention I've included a short fragment of fiction based on an imagined scenario at Okehampton castle in Part Two of the as yet unpublished Writing Women on the Devon Land. It's based on Hawisia ... a real noblewoman of the C12, whose ancestors from Okehampton were closely connected to the Norman/Plantaganet royal court. Following a lot of detailed and genealogical research, it occurred to me that this Hawisia may well have known the mysterious C12 poet Marie de France ... 'Someone, who in the mind's interior depths, heard a whisper from that long-ago past, telling me that yes indeed, she was Marie and not to leave her (and her circle of kin including Hawisia) out, from my own reinvented (or as I now see it, reinventing) story' ...
Here's a snippet from the opening of the fictional fragment:
Okehampton Castle’s ruins lie like an abandoned fairy-tale
in a hollow on a spur of shale between two rivers flowing beneath Dartmoor.
There’s a deep ditch between it and the country around.
Outside the still quite massive wall of the castle,
above the curling west Okement river,
lie the immense lands of the Chase -
the hunting-park of the medieval Courtenay family -
which once sprawled its green-throw beneath the splatterings of C20/21 edifices.
There’s the army camp,
the relatively recently constructed A30, the golf-course,
I have written about Joanna both in my book, and in my other blog, see Woman Clothed in the Sun at Scrapblog whilst a poem about her was published in the collection Tessitura. I'm not going to make more comment here except to say that like her contemporary, Mary Willcocks aka 'Caraboo', from Witheridge, Joanna Southcott is fascinating. I find her totally bizarre and yet compelling, perhaps in part because her family lived only a few miles from a district where many of my own ancestors were based. When I read that she had over 100,000 followers (in the C19 that is a LOT), I can not help but wonder if a few of my forefathers and foremothers were drawn into her orbit.
Book Blurb about Frances Brown's biography, Joanna Southcott
For those who may wish to follow up Joanna Southcott there are plentiful available sources, books, online sites archives etc. out there. A google search will quickly bring up many possible search-trails.
A – Z of Devon Women Writers & Places Plymouth's Literary Past in the Writing of its Women
Early Plymouth Radicals
Yes, I know I could have chosen Paignton, Pinhoe or Princetown as the parish to represent P in this A – Z of Devon’s Women Writers (up to ca. 1965). There’s a cluster of women linked with these places whose lives and writings could be included. But really, it had to be Plymouth. Or, rather, given its important place in Devon’s history and the fact that it is the second largest city in the south-west, Plymouth could not be left out. Over the years (and up until circa 1965) plenty of women writers have lived or written about Plymouth and its surrounding area. I’ve already mentioned a few in passing in previous blog posts - see Frances Gregg, the War and The Mystic LeewayThe Parker Circle of Saltram and Caroline's Garden; a Countess at Mount Edgcumbe. I'd like here to at least acknowledge a handful of others on this A-Z of Devon places associated with women writers of the past.
Back in 1654, having recently traipsed across the rough waterlogged tracks of the wild Devon moors on her way to Cornwall, notorious Fifth Monarchist prophet Anna Trapnel found herself behind bars in a Plymouth prison. Trapnel’s apparent crimes included ‘witchcraft, madness, whoredom, vagrancy, and seditious intent’, all accusations probably manufactured by Cromwell’s henchmen after she’d had the audacity to condemn the Protectorate.
For Trapnel, newly converted visionary who was experiencing frequent and long-lasting trances, the stark moor landscape was a direct sign of God, its idiosyncratic tors ram-full of metaphorical Biblical meaning. Apparently amazed by the ruggedly bleak landscape Trapnel tramped across the moors, remarking later
'that's a far journey indeed … My thoughts were much upon the Rocks I passed by in my journey and the dangerous rocky places I rode over … now I feared not, but was very cheerfully carried on, beholding my rock, Christ, through those emblems of Rocks …[i]
The young prophetess was not in the city of Plymouth for long; she was soon hauled out and transported back to jail in London. Orlando Project has a vivid description about the context of Trapnel’s Plymouth sojourn:
At Truro she once again spoke in public (or at least in her lodgings in front of an open window) and began to pray, sing, and go into trances. She again became a centre of popular interest. People came to pull her out of bed and out of her trance, to take her before justices of the peace on suspicion of being a witch. She refused to wake, even when her eyelids were forced open to check on her state of consciousness. Thus arrested for "aspersing the government", she was brought before judges at Plymouth, notably Judge Lobb. She pleaded not guilty on God's express orders. She was interrogated, bound over in recognizances of £300, and sent back from Plymouth to London, still a prisoner. (See Orlando)
Trapnel was down in Cornwall again the following year, in 1655. Coincidence maybe, or possibly the notoriety surrounding her preaching and consequent punishment had a spin-off; for in the same year two Plymouth born women were also charged after interrupting their church minister in the middle of a service - purportedly at ‘the steeple house’, at St Andrew’s Church; the women were taken away from the city and plonked into prison up the road, in Exeter. Though like Trapnel this pair became well-known for penning influential religious tracts, unlike her, they were Quakers.
The women were Priscilla Cotton and Mary Cole, who whilst in prison, from October 1655 to sometime in 1656, co-authored a short, passionate and confrontational pamphlet titled To The Priests and People of England (read extracts and about this text at Radical Christian Writings) – which is said to be the first known extended female defence of female preaching. Arguing that inspired women are duty bound to speak and that church ministers are ‘weakwomen’, their text critiques the state Church of England and challenges a wife’s duty to be subservient to both husband and the ‘head’ of church. Cotton also penned and published As I was in the Prison-House, in 1656 and A Briefe Description, 1659 and A Visitation of Love, in 1661. There are various online sources which feature these two women.
From text of To the Priest and People of England
Priscilla Cotton was born in Saltash and married a Plymouth Merchant called Arthur Cotton. As far as I can tell no one has yet established the identity of her parents, but after a quick search via Find My Past, it looks as if Priscilla’s maiden name was Martyn and that her marriage to Arthur Cotton (also traceable via Find My PastRecords), took place inPlymouth, on 20 June 1646:
Marriage of Priscilla Martyn to Arthur Cole
and below birth of their daughter Elizabeth
Mary Cole was the wife of a Plymouth merchant. She may have been Mary Head, who married a Richard Cole in Plymouth in 1643,
Record of marriage of Mary Head & Richard Cole
or/and a relative of Nicholas Cole, who is mentioned in various sources as a distributor of Quaker texts. Pamphleteering women played an important part in the early Quaker movement and consequently their works are significant in terms of changing and challenging the roles of women both in that sect and in the wider community, during the years of upheaval before and during the Civil War. Because of this, the Quaker women writers have sometimes been labelled as ‘Mothers of Feminism’ (See Print Culture and the Early Quakers).
Plymouth in those mid-century years of the C17 was a popular place for female preaching, imprisonment and subsequent writing. Given the number of women involved and the close dates, it’s possible that there may have been a network of like-minded radical women working in the south-west (and beyond), perhaps crossing the sectarian divides to achieve a common purpose. (SeePrint Culture). Katherine Martindale’s name sometimes appears along with that of Cole and Cotton as another woman who took part in the insurrection against the priest, in 1655 (See History of Plymouth). The following year, two more women found themselves in jail after speaking aloud after the priest’s sermon:
The women’s written protest included ‘a warning to corrupt magistrates who are persecuting the innocent and the just; witness your practices at Exeter prison’ (See The History of Plymouth from the Earliest Period to the Present Time). Some sources note that Killam’s and Pattison’s protest took place in 1655, the same year as Cole and Cotton were in trouble. Pattison and Killam were from the north of the country, but they had travelled down to Plymouth from the north of the country.
The tracts written by all these women share common features: they are typically co-authored, collaborative works, rather than single-authored; they are frequently written and issued from prison; they concern similar themes and issues. It’s easy from our own secular age to side-line these women and their works, but it seems to me that Devon – and especially Plymouth – should be proud of these radical literary foremothers, who were not afraid to stand up, speak their minds and in a day when on the whole women did not put pen to paper, make their protests last the test of time.
The Three Reynolds Sisters
It was in the second decade of the C18, only sixty years so or after the appearance of the C17 sectarian women’s writings, that three sisters, not-to-be-ignored C18 literary women were born in Plymouth, or to be more precise, in Plympton. A trio of writers of a generically idiosyncratic bag of texts, that would, from the perspective of the C21 all be considered highly unusual texts. One was Elizabeth Reynolds Johnson, Pamphleteer, whose writings could (in some ways) be viewed as successors to those of the earlier protest tract writers. Elizabeth, who some have labelled ‘pious’ and other as ‘literary theorist’, penned a series of pamphlets, including The Explication of the Vision to Ezekiel,1781, but each of these was apparently printed anonymously. There’s a fascinating piece, which includes the story of how (as one of only two women who ever tried) Elizabeth entered her pamphlet ‘The Astronomy and Geography of the Created World, and of course the longitude', into the competition for the search for longitude, at The Elusive Ladies of the Longitude.
Elizabeth’s older sister Mary Reynolds Palmer’s writing achievements could hardly have been more different from those of her predecessor tract writers, nevertheless Mary wrote at least one text which, though hardly well-known, has not completely disappeared from the literary radar. ‘A Dialogue in theDevonshire Dialect' was once assessed by The Dictionary of National Biography, as the ‘best piece of literature in the vernacular of Devon". The text, written in the form of a play, is an account of the county’s various characters, customs and in particular, the idiosyncratic Devon dialect.
From A Dialogue in the
Unfortunately, as has so often happened to many women authors through the centuries, the publishing fate of Dialogue in the Devonshire Dialect was not straightforward; the publication and attribution of authorship to Mary Palmer was notautomatic. Although extracts from the text appeared in periodicals during Palmer’s lifetime, the text wasn’t attributed to her and whilst a proportion of Devonshire Dialect did get printed over a century later in 1837, (see images above), even this edition hardly gave credence to its author. It took another two years before a complete edition of the original was published, edited by Palmer’s daughter, Theophila Gwatkin. I'm not yet sure if the copy available via Amazon is this full text.
None of the sisters appear to have remained in Plymouth. Following marriage to a local solicitor called John Palmer (and Mayor of the town), in 1740, Mary Palmer moved away to GreatTorrington, probably spending the remainder of her life at Palmer House.
Elizabeth married William Johnson in 1753 (see an ancestral tree here, have not checked this); the couple were married in and also settled in Torrington, where apparently, she stayed after her husband abandoned her, along with their seven children. Frances doesn’t appear to have had a permanent home-base and may occasionally have returned to Plymouth throughout her life.
But, even if their life-journeys took them away from their home-town, the Reynolds sisters are fascinating to consider in light of their local Plymouth/Plympton connections. Firstly, they were all siblings of their much-more famous artist Joshua Reynolds and it is mostly through him that details of his sisters’ – and their family’s lives - become traceable. Secondly, as I’ve so often found after starting to dig around the archives, the sisters appear to have been participants in a network of contemporary interrelated literary/artistic..
A is for ... Ashridge This track, leading to Ashridge Court, in mid Devon, is typical of this part of the county. It has always seemed to me that Devon's lanes, almost always edged with the high hedges associated with the county and also, intersecting with one another in maze-like interconnections, are unique.The first feature means that if you're in such a lane invariably you can not see over the top of the bank to the vista the other side; the second leads to visiting strangers becoming hopelessly lost in the lane labyrinth. These features match the experiences I have sometimes had with material for my book Voices from Wildridge. At times, in the early stages of writing, overloaded with material, and in the middle of a chaos of papers, I have sometimes struggled to find a way in, or indeed, out again.
Sampson family at Ashridge, circa 1920s.
But that does not really explain why I have inserted the image of Ashridge lane at the head of this post. Any Devon lane would have served the purpose! But Ashridge is and was special. Sited just north-east of the parish of North Tawton where I was born and just a mile eastwards of what was once our family home at Wildridge, the estate is a mysterious and ancient one. You will not find much easily accessible information about Ashridge's history, except that its origins are thought to be C14, when in '1380 Richard de Bosco or Attewood of Ash Ashridge married Eulalia daughter of Oliver Champernoun of North Tawton' (See North Tawton: A Devon Market Town, by Rev. Fulford Williams, in Transactions of the Devonshire Association, 1954). There is a site of an ancient chapel marked on the Ordnance Survey map; yet, no information as far as I can find about the origins of that chapel. And just like the chapel, the estate's surrouding woods, ponds, fields, buildings and indeed, ubiquitous lanes, hold many secrets.
At this point, I want briefly to bring in another sub-thread from my own book, that of family history. Ashridge, for instance, is the background site in one of the family photo-albums I've inherited, which contains several photos of the estate featuring members of my family. Ashridge's ancient woods, track and fields were a popular walking trails for my grandparents' generation. Problem is, I don't know who all the individuals in the images are, nor do I know anyone alive who will know. They will exist for ever as people in a picture in an album, but their names will not ever now be identified. Those who did know have gone. Often there is as much mystery, or missing information concerning these unknown individuals (who incidentally, more often than not, are or were, women rather than men) as that around the women writers whose lives and texts I've been chasing up. Likewise, as I have researched my home county's forgotten women writers I've often come up against that old brick wall impasse, finding a mysterious name buried in a list of author names, in an out of print and obscure source or, whilst knowing the title and contents of a novel, have not been able to find information relating to its author. Another common happening is that frequently, whilst looking up various women writers I've found myself meeting up with branches and individuals from my own ancestral tree. Well, I'll leave the coincidences and interconnections between ancestry and literary history to another post and take you back to where I started this piece. Geographically, Ashridge is within the topographic territorial space which delineates the so-called nemeton area; land of the sacred wood or sacred groves. If you are unfamiliar with this term and its associations with the mid-Devon district, the online account Nemeton in the Ancient World provides a fascinating introduction. I first encountered the term and the local associations with it, in ‘Devon’s Sacred Grove’ (Westcountry Folklore No.17), by Dr. Angela Blaen. The opening chapters of Writing Women on the Devon Land includemore about nemeton's links with mid Devon sites and literature. But, no, in case you are asking, as yet I have not found any particular woman writer associated with Ashridge! For me, the place is iconic, it represents beginnings, a way in to the heart of a mystery. In terms of my own research apropos Devon's forgotten women writers, as archetype, Ashridge stands sentinel for a great many other similar Devon sites and locations, whose rich past has become overlaid with superimposed layerings of history. And, I believe if only we could enter a time warp into the past we'd come upon women who were writing or in some other way involved in literary pursuits who lived in these great old houses.Taking into account the fragments of information that are available about mid Devon manor's past, I believe women living there could have been important bearers of literary activity. With that in mind, one of the protagonists of a fictional fragment included in my book, an imaginary female in the Wood family, lived and was brought up at Ashridge. I hope you will eventually meet up with her and her cousin at their C13 home at Court Green, in North Tawton. A is for ... Ashton
Interior of Ashton Church
Ashton in the Teign valley is my other 'A' place, but for quite the opposite reason from Ashridge. It was to the parish of Ashton that one of Devon's most significant women writers, the proto-feminist C17 poet essayist Mary Lady Chudleigh moved on her marriage, staying there for most of her life, writing poems and essays and actively engaging with individuals from her renowned female coteries.Thus, for me, Ashton stands out as a special and unique site, where the once-upon-a-time woman who wrote lyrics making her famous in her own life time, in contradiction to many of the other women who appear in my own book, remained an important name in future literary histories.
Interior of Ashton Church
If you don't know Ashton but want to go there in search of the poet, the first place to head is Ashton church, where not only will you find wonderful screens but also monuments and memorials to members of the Chudleigh family, including Mary Chudleigh's own children. Sadly, ironically, there are no monuments of the poet herself. Indeed, as far as I know, after her death there has never been a commemorative memorial anywhere. But, just down the road from Ashton's parish church there are still surviving features of this important Devon author's home, the once Chudleigh family manor, at Place Barton.
Well, for anyone who may previously have stumbled upon this blog and given up bothering to look again, thinking I'd forgotten to update it, here I am - and it is - again. Yes, admittedly I have been preoccupied with other writing projects, but the impasse here, in this A-Z was the letter. 'J' - and the complex deliberations involved as I tried to identify the identity of a certain Saxon lady.
If any of you out there knows of a woman writer back through the centuries (before about 1960) who has lived in or has an important connection with a parish in Devon beginning with J, please let me know!
But then, at the outset I am restricted, given that there is only one 'J' parish. Jacobstowe! I love the parish; before the large family decamped down to Brixham it was the childhood home of my maternal grandmother, who recounted many nostalgic memories about her family. For several years their father Robert Abbott was Farm Bailiff of the Broomford estate (which, incidentally, in a future life was to be the sometime home of Noel Edmonds).
(Anyone reading this who's keen on family history might like to skip over to my other familyhistory site). I write up this piece in memory of Annie and her siblings.
I will pop in an old photo, where Grandma appears as pupil teacher in Jacobstowe; it must have been around the late 1890's as she was about 16/17, having been born in 1884.
Annie Abbott a pupil teacher at Jacobstowe with her class. Annie is at the back 4th from right. Several of her younger siblings are also in the photo.
But, no Annie Abbott was not a writer, though scribblings in her sister's autograph book suggest she enjoyed writing lyric verse.
Perhaps, in another life, or if she were living now, when, in one way or another anyone who wants to be can be writer, Annie may have pursued her literary interests. But during those days, late C19, life in rural Devon was hard; Grandma had, instead, to earn her keep, learn to cook and care for her younger siblings. That was the story of a great many women's lives for at least one more generation.
Before I go on, I will include a short extract from Annie's daughter's memoirs; here she describes the family's life in Jacobstowe. You will see at the end of this extract how, with regard to education and literary endeavour Annie's life journey, as girl, meant a totally different destiny from that of her brother:
My mother seemed to enjoy those teenage years in Jacobstowe when the Rector and Schoolmaster were the most important people in the village. The years she spent there must have been good for her, as, with her affinity with the Schoolmaster, the Rector, his wife and the Lady of the Manor, Lady-White-Thomson, many of her talents were encouraged and given their expression. Much of her cooking she learnt from her mother, Elizabeth, and from the cooks in the Main Kitchen where she spent many hours of her time. She learnt to appreciate music from her piano lessons with Mrs Kruger, the Rector's wife. Some of this knowledge she passed on to her younger sisters, Fran and Ida. They all three became very enthusiastic members of the Church Choir. A group of them met in the Schoolmaster's house where they held Gilbert and Sullivan evenings, where they performed on various instruments. Annie played the Mandolin, Will Stone the Violin. Suzy, his sister had a good voice. My mother also had Wood-Carving lessons. To the ensuing role of Farmer's wife she brought experiences which were to benefit her children, in later years.
At the age of 16 Annie became a pupil-teacher in the school at Jacobstowe and would have liked to have gone on to College to train but her father couldn't afford the fees; in those days there were no grants. Her brother, Fleetwood, fared better because he went on to St. Luke's College in Exeter paid for by Mr. Stone, the headmaster. (written by Clarice Sampson).
Anyway, to return to the main theme in this post, the more I considered it the more I realised that Jacobstowe is an excellent choice to include in this A - Z, but not because the parish can be identified as the home of one or more famous, respected, or even a single amateur female author. Anything but, apparently. But instead, because of the dearth of specific names associated with the parish, I see the place as a kind of case study, a blank-page, which exemplifies how (in general) until the mid C20 women as writers have tended to face the same fate: eventual absence from the literary canon. Just because there are no names rising above the parapet about a particular place doesn't mean they were not there. Once you begin to delve into the records in any way - i.e., google, or old books, or record offices etc, there are tiny little snippets of data staring up at you. From spaces in the ether. From the depths of history. In the archives they are just names, often passed over, as if irrelevant.
Jacobstowe, just as so many of its surrounding Devon parishes is an enigma; its history is fascinating. The Old English meaning of 'Stowe' is Place, often with the added implication of 'Holy', or 'Meeting' Place. Inevitably, as with any rural place in this part of the country, you need to start with the church; if there is anything of historical interest to be found, you can bet it will be there. And Jacobstowe really does come up with the treasured goods, because only a couple of years ago whilst the church's pew platforms were being repaired an unexpected discovery turned up a find, which in context of Devon church history was described 'as rare as hens’ teeth’. The archaeologists found 'the building’s original Eastern wall and a semi-circular wall – or apse'. A piece in Tavistock Times about the excavations notes that
An apse is a semicircular or polygonal termination to the choir, chancel or aisle of a church building. First used in pre-Christian Roman architecture, the apse often functioned as an enlarged niche to hold the statue of a deity in a temple.
The findings suggest there may have been a building here during Celtic i.e., pre-Anglo-Saxon times and are so important that they may mean complete re-evaluation of the history of church construction in the south-west. (See Antiquarian's Attic). Jacobstowe may have been a very early holy-site. As Antiquarian's Attic notes,
We know that Irish monks were coming to the West Country in the 5th-7th centuries so perhaps they came here too and formed a Christian community.
(You may like here to wander off and take a look at Boniface's Other Women a previous post in my other blog, for an alternative or supplementary view about the beginnings of Christianity in the south-west. This piece is part of a much longer and now revised chapter included in Writing Women on the Devon Lands).
Apropos Jacobstowe's early church, in the eastern wall of the porch there are two stone motifs - a daisy wheel, or rosette and a Greek cross, which experts believe may be of the C12.
motifs in stone at Jacobstowe church Photo Julie Sampson
artist's impression of how Jacobstowe church may have looked in the Anglo-Saxon and Norman period (See The Parish Church of St James Jacobstowe; A History and Guide to this Ancient Church - my copy obtained in the church)
The first female name surfacing in any archive with a (possible) connection with Jacobstowe coincides with the late Saxon, early Norman period, the days of the original church.
I say possible with good reason, because recent commentators argue that Ælfgifu, Aleuea, Aleuesdef, Allef, Alueua, Alueue, Aluiua, Alveva, Alwewe, Aueue, Elfgiuæ, Elueua, Æleueua, Ælueua, Ælueue (all forms of the same name used in the Domesday Book) was not associated with Jacobstowe.
Many sources about the Domesday Book tell us the following:
Alueuia habet I mansionem queae nocatur Iacobescherca quam ipsa tenuit ea die qua rex Eduuardus fuit uiuus et mortuus et reddidit gildum pro i uirga et dimidia. Hanc potest arare i carruca. In ea habet Alueuia i carrucam et ii cotarios et i suruum xiiii oues et ualet per annum xl denarius.- Exon D. (487) 450
Alueuia has a manor called Jacobeschurca, which she herself held on the day on which King Edward lived and died, and it rendered geld for one virgate and a half. This can be ploughed by one plough. In this Alvevia has one plough and two cottars and one serf, (and) fourteen sheep; and it is worth by the year forty pence.
And in the volume Devonshire written in the early C19, it is noted that it was probable that Alveva, a Saxon lady, held Jacobstowe at the time of Domesday:
And yet another C19 source relates how Alveva and Jacobstow/e are connected:
However, one hundred years later, at the beginning of the C20, local historians began to change their minds and in one issue of Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries (see below) the writer was adamant that Jacobscherche, Alveva's holding as stated in Domesday was not Jacobstowe, but rather, St James' Priory in Exeter.
Who am I to argue with the specialist historians? I can't. And yet, in some ways, why not? It is far more romantic to imagine Alveva, whoever she may have been, as connected as landholder of the lands circling the then new Celtic church of the little Devon parish. If nothing else, the recent unexpected discoveries at Jacobstowe church tell us that our assumptions about the history of this area are still to be challenged. And the so-called 'expert' historians do not always get their facts (or spellings) correct, because, or for example (as in the passage above) a frequent confusion seems to be to conflate, or swop, Jacobstowe in Devon with Jacobstow, in Cornwall. Although I understand the reasoning in the extract above, what puzzles me is that if Jacobscherche in the DB is the church or priory in Exeter, rather than Jacobstowe, why is the latter not mentioned in said DB? Fair enough, C11 Jacobstowe might indeed have been part and parcel of Hatherleigh, as suggested, but now the remains of the original church have been discovered, does that not suggest otherwise? Was Domesday Jacobstowe, a distinct estate with its own special little holy site - where the 'river Ock streameth by Stow'? (Risdon) I wonder.
Perhaps we ought to change tack and consider the identity of Alveva, Alvenu, or Aelfgifu. Who, in any case, was she? Well as far as I can tell, the sources do not seem to make much effort to explain or examine her specific identity. And where they do there is not necessarily agreement. Re Aelfgifu and its alternative names/forms, the domesday pase website notes that
'A provisional attempt has been made to identify the people recorded in Domesday Book who bore this name; however, the material remains to be checked and edited, and profiles of these people remain to be written.'
This is not surprising perhaps, given the complex variations in spellings of this name. It is hard to be sure and I am not Janina Ramirez. But I have some ideas. Firstly, the chances are Aelfgifu was from the heart of the then Saxon/Norman royal network, many of whom held lands recorded in Domesday Book. During the time of the late Saxons and early Normans many of these were closely and intricately connected with what is now Devon. And Jacobstowe is situated on the edge of what was then a large royal estate or demesne, whose centre was the upper reaches of the river Taw. In 1066 North Tawton was still royal and South Tawton was held by Gytha, mother of Harold. (See, for example, below taken from W.G. Hoskins, Provincial England; essays in social and economic history).
from Hoskins' Provincial England
Some of the women from the royal clan were born in Devon, or/and lived there, or/and held lands there. Famously, Gytha, Harold's mother, was in and made her escape from Exeter in 1067, at the height of the Norman Invasion.
I have written about some of these Saxon and early Norman royal women in the manuscript of Writing Women on the Devon Land (See From the Devon Ridge). In particular, I have tried to emphasise these women's probable literary expertise. For example, Elfrida or Aefthryth, a Devon daughter who became Queen of England, whose own words when in the throes of a land dispute apropos lands near Taunton, can still be read, when she sends her humble greetings to an Archbishop:
I bear witness that Archbishop Dunstan assigned Taunton to Bishop Aethelwold, in conformity with the Bishop's charters ... And the king said that he had no land to grant out, when he durst not, for fear of God, retain the headship himself; and moroever he then put Ruishton under the Bishop's control. And then [Wulfgyth] rode to me at Combe and sought me
This rare example of a text attributed solely to an Anglo-Saxon queen' is a 'writ, composed sometime between 999 and 1001, which stands out as the only extant document in Ælfthryth's own voice ... Ælfthryth not only acts primarily on behalf of female litigants, but the surviving record explicitly highlights gender as the principal reason behind her intervention [but] as an authority specially qualified to represent female concerns to male authority. (See Old English Newsletter). I quote here from Ælfthryth's writ directly because I wanted to give the sense of these historical women's vivid presence, as well as their commitment to literacy and intellectual pursuits. Surely, we can take as given that Countess Alveva/Aelfgifu of the disputed Domesday 'Jacobscherche' came from the inner circle of the then Wessex royals; or if not, was jostling amongst them. But even that narrowing of the field leaves a tangle of possible candidates. Aelfgifu was a very popular Old English female name and if you begin to look it up in a google search (for the appropriate time period) you may, like me, soon become bemused by the results. Taking into account my own peace of mind and the focus of this blog-post I am trying to narrow my selection of possible women to two; one of them was Queen Aelfthryth's daughter-in-law, AElfgifu or Emma of Normandy wife of ..
At Brixham 'The merry boats of Brixham Go out to search the seas; A staunch and sturdy fleet are they, Who love a swinging breeze; And before the woods of Devon, And the silver cliffs of Wales, You may see, when summer evenings fall, The light upon their sails'. (The Wives of Brixham by Menella Bute Smedley)
A to Z of Devon places and Devon women writers - B
Excerpt from my poem about Flora Thompson in Brixham
B for Brixham
Page from Miss Green's Journals 1841
It's unlikely that you reading this don't know of Brixham, in Torbay in the south of Devon. Chances are you may have been there. Brixham is one of the county's prime tourist places as well as one of Devon's most famous fishing towns, In my first post in this A-Z of Devon places and women writers I noted that, as I've trawled the county in search of places associated with various authors, it has often happened that my quest to find one or other writer has coincided with individuals from my own family history. The coincidence has happened enough to make me decide to include snippets of our own family genealogy as a kind of sub-text in my own MS., Voices from Wildridge. Sometimes, that has meant that a writer was living in the place during the same time as certain people in my own family; sometimes the author lived at a house or home nearby where a branch of the family lived. In either case, for me the coexistence is often intriguing. My dual research subject fields meet up with one another and each has helped in some way with the other (if that makes sense). Here, at Brixham, the resonance is especially meaningful. My late mother's paternal family, fisherfolk, the Greens, were from there; or, at least, were in Brixham for a couple of generations, after a great grandfather ran away to sea, to escape an unhappy childhood in Suffolk.
Though, as I've since discovered there were other women writers connected with the town (including Menella Bute Smedley, who wrote The Wives of Brixham quoted above), two women authors with direct Brixham links stand out and in each case, as I've explored their respective lives and writings I've also stumbled upon insights about my family; and vice versa. One of the writers was the C19 diarist Miss Green who I'll talk about in a minute. The chances are you have not heard of her. In contrast, everyone knows about Flora Thompson, especially since the BBC's production of Lark Rise to Candleford. Perhaps though, you reading this may not have known that Thompson spent the last years of her life in Devon. Much has been written about this popular author, including the recent biography, Dreams of the Good Life: The Life of Flora Thompson and the Creation of Lark Rise to Candleford by Richard Mabey, which is available from Kindle. Flora does make an appearance in my own work, and there is an excellent Flora Thompson website devoted to her. Here, I'd like to comment a little more about her Brixham and Devon links.
I am fascinated with the way some writers such as Thompson transfer places so that a beloved home is written about only when the writer has moved to another location. It seems as though often there is need to put space and distance between one's real life and one's imagined life, before the former can be written about. The book that made Thompson a household name, Lark Rise to Candleford, (the first book of which was written 1938-9) was not set in Devon; yet Thompson, as 'exile', admitted that unless influenced by the nearby Devon moorland: '[she] might never have felt driven to record her inland childhood as she did exiled in Devon'. It's as though Dartmoor revivified a lost memory trace for the writer; the landscape transformed into a beautiful interior landscape recalled from her childhood in Oxfordshire, which allowed the vista of tors and moorland space to set the writer free to travel to other inner regions. Thompson's fascination with moor and its impact on the writing of her own work intrigues me, as does her close association with Brixham itself. Flora's home in the town, called Lauriston, (see the plaque to Thompson and photos of the house) in New Road, is in Higher Town, the same part of the parish in which my grandmother met my grandfather in her grandma's parents dairy, Tregembo and where my mother was born and brought up, at Polhearne, the farm round the corner from the Pound House where my grandparents had first moved as a married couple, in 1912. The street called Dashpers is nearby. One of Thompson's unfinished fictional works is titled Dashpers, (see manuscript draft here), so I have always assumed she took the name from the nearby Brixham road.
In her later years my mother wrote about her own love of the fishing-village, a home which she left when she was eleven:
We never ceased to be excited by the sight of seagulls, which flew in by the hundreds, catching and swallowing large fish whole. The smaller fish would be discarded and then the auctioning would take place. No large co-operatives in those days. All this took place under the watchful eye of William, Prince of Orange whose statue was and still is a landmark on the quay in Brixham ...
... On bank holidays or in the school holidays we would walk to Broadsands from Higher Brixham where we lived on the farm. In those days the beaches were practically deserted and we spent long, happy hours playing in the seaside pools or picking buckets full of winkles which our mother cooked for tea. Mansands was out of bounds to us, being considered far too lonely and desolate. Another secluded beach we used to play on was called Mudstone. Walking down to it with warm sand trickling through my bare toes was wonderful.
Her childhood in the town was spent many years before Flora Thompson moved there, in 1940, but my mother's own memoirs about her years in Brixham are detailed and poignant, in a way reminiscent of the style of the well-known Thompson.
I had the criss-crossing meeting-points and places of personal family and well-known writer in Brixham in mind when I drafted a poem about Flora Thompson. I decided to create a layered text, with the poem about the author superimposed on a description of my family in the town. The poem reflects the multilayerings of life and text. Here is an extract from the under-layer of Flora and the Family, reinventing my own family in the town:
Brixham home of my maternal forbearers, whose lives and bodies are now shadows weaving in & out of Burton Street up across to Bolton Street - shapes coming from doors - they're waving back up to us - feet stepping towards the harbour - linking houses and family lines across time - some lost & forgotten for ever - a few resurrected here and given space-in-print to exist in this text-in-time. Walk the streets of this their seaside town and walk into the margins of darkened lanes, merge lines of text into the C21 virtual version where fisher and farming folk live again - throw the fishing net and catch them against a background of brimming Brixham red skies and silver seas. the fleet coming in skimming the waves and preening glorious sails.
**** Brixham's C19 personal journalist, Miss Green, in complete contrast to the well-known C20 Flora Thompson, has not left any published works and remains obscure and unknown. She is one of the invisible missing authors in my own MS Voices from Wildridge- because I found I could not include everyone I wanted to - and so is one of the writers for who I wanted to develop this blog.
Miss Green was probably born and lived most of her life in Brixham, whereas Thompson only spent the latter part of her life there but the chances you have heard of Miss Green are remote. I call her Miss because as yet I have not been able to identify the journalist's christian name.
You will find that the the website SouthWestWomenWriters includes reference to Miss Green. For me, happening on the existence of the manuscript of Miss Green's journals in an archive far away from Devon, (Birmingham University - also see Diaries for detailed commentary on Green's writings), was a real discovery, for my grandfather was a Brixham 'Green' and to begin with I thought the two families might be related. Concerning the journalist's identity, the Birmingham archive notes:
From internal evidence, it is likely that the writer is a Miss Green, daughter of Joseph Green of Parkham Cottage, Brixham, Devon. A record of the marriage of Joseph Green nd Elizabeth Adams at Brixham on 23 January 1791 is listed in the International Genealogical Index. The writer spends several months with her uncle Robert Adams, of Brompton, near Chatham, Kent who is possibly her mother's brother.
Sometimes, the complications re establishing writer identity and my other co-passion for family history research, as with Miss Green, took me off on tangents into the mires of online genealogical sites, away from the main subject of my Devon women writers project. Apropos Miss Green, I'm afraid I'm still floundering amongst the C19 higher Brixham lanes, up in Burton Street with Parkahm Villas, or New Road, St Mary's church and surrounding area, with various C19 censuses details laid out on my desk concerning the various branches of Green families, rope-makers, ship-owners, bankers and other fisher-folk kith and kin. If and when I establish exactly how Miss Green fitted into the Brixham Green family trees I will update this at a later stage. Meanwhile, if any of you finding this blog can bring any fresh insights, please do let me know.
Before we depart from Brixham and Miss Green I must briefly comment on the journalist's writing and its importance to the area in which she lived. For although, yes, her journals are for the most part parochial, focusing on the immediate locality of her home parish, the specifics of Green's writing provide the C21 reader with a social history of the mid C19 in that town and indeed, probably the whole country. She conjures a contrasting world to the one we are now familiar with, a world in which families left their homes every day to walk, rather than drive, out and about their locality, to go to church, to church and other social meetings, to meet with neighbours, family and friends for walks into the surrounding countryside and then shared tea and meals; a world in which death was a persistent concern and experience in an individual's life, not a topic to be avoided; a world in which church, caring, community and charity were accepted as the norm of life. Her diaries also tell us about the topography of the landscape around the writer and illustrate the huge differences in the locality between then and now. Miss Green knew a few of the local leading lights of her time, including particularly Revd. Henry Francis Lyte, famous writer of the now popular hymn Abide with Me. Green, who seems to have been a Sunday school teacher, evidently knew him well as she attended many of Lyte's services and provides descriptive commentary about each sermon or lecture she heard. Miss Green's church was St Mary's at Higher Brixham. A few excerpts from her journals follow below:
'We took a walk to Parkham just before dinner in the evening went to see John's wife after that to church they sang the 55 psalms 2 versions poor Elizabeth's favorites the music was to me beautiful and the words brought many things to my mind which I cannot forget, Mr Lyte's lecture was very good on the Epistles for Trinity Sunday.' (26 May 1841)
After looking at the old church we proceeded to the iron mines the view from there was very good. William accompanied us now and then we passed Mudstone but did not go down on the beach we reached home just before dark not a little tired with our long walks. (28 May 18410.
The journal entry that stays with me is Miss Green’s affecting farewell to a beloved cousin, and Uncle and Aunt, in June 1841, as they left Devon on the Steamer. They were returning to their Kent home after a holiday in Brixham. To our fast-paced C21 minds the woman's intense gaze over the water, watching the steamer pass across the bay seems tedious and slow, How could it have been like this? Yet perhaps she was the lucky one, experiencing a luxury we, with the rush of our C21 lives, do not now have.
… after tea Harriet Fogwell kindly went up on Parkham with Priscilla and I to see the Steamer come out. We saw her pass across the bay at a little before 6 in the evening we waited until nearly ten past 7 when she came out and glided very quickly along we had he glass but could not distinguish one person from another the distance being considerable, we tied a white pocket handkerchief on a pole that was our flag but I can hardly think they saw it … all seems very lonely. (Extracts from Miss Green, Journals of Miss Green, from Brixham, 1840-1: Special Collections, Birmingham).
Now we're going to zip along the south Devon coast to the east of the county and meet up with another C19 woman writer who in her life-time seems to have become a well-known figure in the town of Budleigh Salterton, or in the nearby village of East Budleigh. Just as with Brixham this east Devon district harbours the bones of a branch of my own ancestors, so similarly to the south Devon resort finding this writer has provided me rich research material. But that belongs to another story (blog). Maria Susannah Gibbons wrote novels and travel books about Devon. She was apparently born in Middlesex, in 1841 (the same year in which Miss Green was writing most of her Brixham journals), but by the 1880s had moved to Vicarsmead, in East Budleigh. Gibbon died in 1900. The main texts which are associated with the author are We Donkeys in Devon and Travels in a Donkey, 1887. Maria Susanna Gibbons makes a brief appearance in SouthWestWomenWriters and there was mention of her in an old Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries (3:2 1904 49-52). There is not much information easily available about the author on the internet, except that The OVA (a civic society founded in 1979 to interest residents and visitors in the history, geography, natural history and architecture of this area of Devon), contains a wealth of material on the Otter valley, which includes some valuable snippets about Maria Gibbons. My comments on the writer are indebted to that site. The author is described thus:
A most delightful character who epitomised the Victorian scene in this town was the writer Maria Gibbons who, with her mother, moved from East Budleigh to live at the top of Victoria Place. Her charming reminiscences of Salterton have already been quoted in this chapter. She drove a donkey tandem, and was quite eccentric in her attitude towards animals. She once had a wooden leg fitted on her broken-legged cow. Maria was the author of 'We Donkeys in Devon', and several novels, now forgotten. When past middle age she took up nursing. There have always been 'characters' in Salterton (See Ova)
Maria was evidently not without eccentricity for we learn that
In 1886 the old vicarage was the home of two ladies of great character; Mrs. Gibbons, who allowed her hens to roost on her drawing room chairs, and her daughter Maria. (ibid.)
I also learn that Maria Gibbons wrote an account titled Budleigh Salterton in 1809, a transcript of which is in Fairlynch Museum.
Before I leave Budleigh and Maria Gibbons I must just mention another Budleigh woman writer who I would not have known about if Roger Lendon (TheOva) had not written about her on their website. Miss Jane Louisa Willyams (1786-18780 was apparently born in Cornwall and moved to Budleigh forty years before her death, where in 1841, 'she lived at Prospect (now East Terrace). Willyams with her sister wrote a three volume novel called Coquetry which was published in 1818'. (See Ovafor more about Willyams). This is yet another writer from the south west who has disappeared from the radar, but one to watch out for.
F for All, or Which ... Not Farringdon, Fremington, Feniton, Frithelstock but FILLEIGH
In contrast with Exeter, which I chose to represent E in this alphabet round up of Devon places associated with women writers, the choice for F was a challenge. There are few parishes in the county whose names which begin with F, and of those, as far as I am yet aware there are not any women authors who are linked with them. If you reading this know of a women writer who lived in, stayed at, wrote about or had any other link with one of Devon's few parishes beginning with 'F', please do get in touch.
And, whereas Exeter's links with our county's women authors are multiple (again as far as I am yet aware), Filleigh only connects with one writer. And not only was she not born in Devon, but her association with the county was due to her husband.
I am lucky enough to have once been invited to tea at Castle Hill at Filleigh. It is a long story and happened due to a chain of circumstances, which involved the family of the then Ambassador of Khartoum and the sister of the then owner of Hartland Abbey - (she, incidentally was also an author and I will feature her later in this ABC). It is so long ago that I have few memories of the event, nor do I recall the people I met. It is just a memory-still. I know I was there but I was no doubt tongue-tied, daunted by this brief acquaintance with a social class with whom our family never had occasion to mix. I guess the visit coincided with the time of the co-heiress and then presumably occupant of Castle Hill, Lady Margaret Fortescue. Margaret was the great niece of the husband of the author featured in this piece, Lady Winifred Fortescue. He was Sir John William Fortescue, one of the younger sons of Hugh 3rd Earl of Fortescue (died 1905) and Georgina, Countess Fortescue.
hidden in a wooded hollow some miles from Clovelly, with its chain of lovely walled gardens, once cultivated by monks, its shady woodland walks and little excitable trout-stream cascading through the valley in a series of waterfall and still pools, until at last it dashed over the cliff and into the sea. (See There's Rosemary, There's Rue).
Winifred Fortescue does not make an appearance in my book so it's good to include her in this blog, even if only briefly. Although the author isn't closely associated with Devon, years after her husband's death she did occasionally return to his homeland. During the Second World War twenty seven years after her first visit there, she travelled down to Devon in her caravan which she called The Arc and camped near Manaton, on Dartmoor, then went on up to the north of the county, where, rather than stay on the Castle Hill estate, she returned to her husband's cousin's family home, at Hartland. You can read more about this in Maureen Emerson's book, Escape to Provence.
Page from Emerson's Escape to Provenceabout Winifred Fortescue's time in Devon
Said to be Rev., John Chanter and his wife Charlotte Kingsley Chanter outside their vicarage home in Ilfracombe. (Photo copy from Ilfracombe Museum)
Ilfracombe has enticed various women writers and in this A-Z it was the obvious choice to represent 'I'. Most famously, although she was a visitor to Devon, George Eliot stayed in the town in 1856, at the beginning of her literary career. Her contemporary, Charlotte Chanter, daughter of Reverend Charles Kingsley, and sister of the more famous authors Charles, Henry and George was local and is the central focus of this blog piece. Charlotte wrote several novels, includingOver the Cliffsas well as a travel memoir, Ferney Combes, 1856, an unusual book about her driving tour with husband across Devon looking for ferns.
Charlotte Chanter (1828-1882) in 1856 wrote a short ‘guide’ book to the area around Ilfracombe and dedicated it to her parents, the Rev. Charles and Mrs Kingsley. Charlotte illustrated her book with her own drawings of ferns and (her own) map of Devonshire. The map details the areas of her own excursions, largely along the north coast and Dartmoor. Although the first edition did not include the map, one was included in the second and third editions. (See Victorian Maps)
As writer, Charlotte Chanter's susceptibility to the charms of her home county is often evident in her fiction, as Simon Trezise notes in his book, (See passages below):
Although she was born in Lincolnshire, in 1828, Charlotte probably spent most of her childhood in Devon sharing childhood escapades in Clovelly, where their father was rector, with her more famous author brothers Charles, George and Henry. Her eldest brother Charles was born about ten years before his youngest sister, at Holne on Dartmoor, during a period when their father was curate in charge of the parish and after a spell away from Devon the family returned to Clovelly when Charlotte was three years old and stayed there for five years. Charlotte was seven when her father temporarily moved to Ilfracombe before taking up a new incumbency in Chelsea. I do not know when or how Charlotte met John Mills Chanter, but presumably they knew each other from the time of her childhood as I've read that Chanter met up with the Kingsleys in Clovelly in the early 1830s, Maybe Charlotte knew her future husband from a very early age. It is also said that Chanter was asked to go to Chelsea with the Revd/ Kingsley in 1836, but preferred to stay in Ilfracombe. The couple's marriage took place on May 10th, 1849, at Clifton Church in Gloucestershire when she was twenty and he 41. The Chanters had six daughters and one son. Charlotte died in 1882 at the age of 53 and is buried in the graveyard at Ilfracombe's Holy Trinity Church.
I have included references to George Eliot's Devon story in the book I am writing about Devon's women writers and I've introduced Charlotte Chanter, who was surrounded by men-who-wrote. But this blog-piece focusing on Ilfracombe provides a chance to explore this important Devon writer a little more.
Perhaps, given that two of her brothers, her husband, and at least one of his cousins, all made lasting impressions as authors, vicar's wife and daughter Charlotte Kingsley-Chanter becoming 'writer' herself was inevitable. In some ways, with her intense literary inclined family network, she had no choice. Much of the material that tells us about Charlotte's life is derived from information about her famous male relations, especially apropos Charles, who features in a plethora of feature articles off and online and whose life is memorialised in local museums, such as The Kingsley Museum, in Clovelly. For the most part his talented younger sister is omitted from these features.
Fragment of Family Tree of Chanter family in Devon
As well as her own, not insignificant writing output, what makes Charlotte Kingsley Chanter especially interesting is that, in parallel with the local male writing network, the writer was also a central figure in a circle of female writers. As yet I have not had much opportunity to explore the network; that is a goal for future research. But even at this early stage I have a hunch that there is a complicated web of a lost literary labyrinth swirling out round the extended networks of family and friends centred on the Chanters and Kingsleys and the north Devon district out and about Ilfracombe. Anyone researching Charlotte should reach out and extend their remit to those around her who also wrote, famous or not. Most intriguingly, although as yet I have not found anyone who has commented on the connections, I believe there must have been some link between the (eventually) more famous George Eliot and Charlotte Chanter. One fragment in a book about Ilfracombe notes that when Eliot arrived in the town, in 1856, she and her partner George Henry Lewes were delighted with 'Runnymede Villa', the lodging house they found through the recommendation of Fanny Kingsley, who was Charles Kingsley's wife and Charlotte's sister in law. In other words, there were already established family associations between Charlotte's family and Eliot and Lewes. I believe others are beginning to trace this important C19 literary network - see for example Vivarium - and look forward to seeing more exploration of it in the future. But further examination of the links between Charlotte Chanter and Eliot goes beyond the scope of this piece. Maybe one day someone reading this will have information to help fill in the missing jigsaw. Until then, I'm going to make a start into exploring the lost women's literary circle with the Charlotte and Kingsley family interconnections. I note that the female author circle surrounding Charlotte Chanter included (probably) her mother, at least one of her daughters, two of her nieces and a sister in law. Then, delving back in time one generation, it may take in her husband's aunt. Let's begin with the latter, John Mills Chanter's aunt. I believe she was the somewhat elusive writer called Elizabeth Thomas (see also Elizabeth Thomas), who I've written a little about in my other blog (see Devon Celebration). Elizabeth Thomas appears to have been a sister of John Mills Chanter's mother, Mary Wolferstan Chanter. It is through Charlotte Chanter's sister in law (wife of her brother Charles), Frances (Fanny) Kingsley, who evidently knew George Eliot (who wrote a biography of her famous novelist husband Charles), that we learn about the Kingsley siblings' mother Mary Lucas Kingsley,who was, says Frances 'a remarkable women full of poetry and enthusiasm'. (See photo below). Google books gives details of a Commonplace Book by her.Perhaps Mary Kingsley's daughter's own literary talents were inherited from her maternal as much as paternal side.
From Frances Kingsley's biography of her husband, Charles Kingsley; Early Days at Holne
Frances Kingsley (see a photo of her with her husband Charles Kingsley here and more information at Find a Grave) was mother of Charlotte's niece, the novelist Mary St Leger Harrison, (pseudonym Lucas Malet (1852-1931), who was born at Eversley in Hampshire but moved to Clovelly 1876 after marriage to yet another of the clergymen who proliferate in this family, Revd. William Harrison. The marriage did not last; it is said that the couple had financial difficulties and that Mary was ill-treated by her husband, a situation which apparently triggered her to begin writing fiction, the dark tone of which, in turn attracted readers and soon made her a very popular author. In the 1890s the couple separated and Lucas Malet moved away from Devon, although it is said she returned to Clovelly frequently until the death of her husband, in 1897. Novels written by Lucas Malet include The Wages of Sin (1890), The Carissima (1896) and The History of Sir Richard Calmady (1901), Although, now second decade of the C21, according to at least one biographer, Lucas Malet's reputation as writer has not lasted and she remains a largely ignored author, this underrated novelist attracts more public interest than do the other women writing in her familial and friendly circle. You will find all kinds of online links which explore avenues of interest concerning her life and writings. I would love to have introduced Malet in my own writing about Devon women writers, but unfortunately due to space there has not yet been a chance to do so. At the time she first penned her fiction, Lucas Malet/Mary St Leger Harrison, 'was widely regarded as one of the premier writers of fiction in the English-speaking world'. (See Talia Schaffer's review of Patricia Lorimer Lundberg's "An Inward Necessity"; The Writers' Life of Lucas Malet, in English Literature in Translation vol 47/3/2004) was apparently compared favourably with Henry James, Thomas Hardy and George Eliot. However, following the same cyclic pattern as so often happens with women writers, by the time of her death Lucas Malet, once one of the most successful novelists of her day, was all but forgotten by her previously adoring fans. Incidentally, Mary St Leger Harrison's own literary acquaintances included another once well-know Devon novelist, Mary Patricia Willcocks, (there is at least one letter sent by Malet to Willcocks held in the Devon Record Office) thus extending the C19/early C20 women writer network outward from the Chanters and Kingsley in north Devon.
Returning to the immediate Kingsley and Chanter families, I must include Charlotte Chanter's other niece and Lucas Malet's first cousin, the explorer/writer Mary Henrietta Kingsley (1862-1900), daughter of Charlotte's brother George, who of all the women so far mentioned here, is the woman/author/explorer who has maintained long-term acclaim. Although she was one of the family, as far as I am aware Mary Kingsley did not have many, if any, direct links with Devon, other than the complex web of immediate kin who had had or still had roots there. She was apparently close to her novelist cousin of the same name (Lucas Malet). One biographer relates an incident when William Harrison, Lucas Malet's husband was ill when Lucas called on her cousin to come and help her; the cameo provides fascinating insight into the inner psychological dynamics of the family. Last, but not least of this complicated women writer network which extends outwards from Charlotte Chanter, is her daughter Gratiana, who followed the writing career of her mother. Gratiana wrote both fiction and a travel/memoir Wanderings in North DevonBeing Records and Reminiscences in the Life of John Mill Chanter, M.A., which appears to be a collaborative memoir written with her father (see also Wanderings) about her parents' life. It is a useful book for providing information about the Chanters' daily life in and around Ilfracombe. We hear about Gratiana's mother Charlotte's love of German; how she translated for magazines. We learn: that of the Chanters seven children, their eldest only son Kingsley died in 1875 in America, at the age of 24; that the family's home in Ilfracombe was at the Old Vicarage, in Braunton Road; that Charlotte placed a bunch of lilies of the valley at the corner stone when the new church was opened in 1851. that the Chanter's had purchased Millslade Inn in Brendon, in 1869. There had been previous travelling holidays, including one to Nice and another to Wales, when Revd. Chanter had been taken ill. We find that Charlotte was friend of the infamous Reverend Hawker of Morwenstow - whose scenery Chanter used in her novel Over the Cliffs and that the Chanter's purchased of Millslade Inn in Brendon, in 1869. Gratiana embellished her edition of her father's memoir with descriptions about special days shared by the family, including how the family spent Christmas.
Gratiana was later the author of The Witch of Withy Fordabout which a review commented 'Although there is nothing novel in the plot of Gratiana Chanter's romance, it is vigorously written in old-fashioned rural English' (see The Book News Monthly). She also wrote short stories published in The Rainbow Garden, of which one reviewer noted 'The tales have all the charm of fairy tales, and there is a thread of exquisite fancy running through them' (see Westminster Review).
Extract from The Witch of Withyford Gratiana Chanter
As I write up this piece I realise it could be expanded in many directions. If you are interested in Charlotte Chanter and her circle you will find all sorts of online links which might take you out on a research trail of your own. Perhaps it will begin in Ilfracombe.
Compared to my post for J and Jacobstowe, the K entry, in this A-Z of Devon Women Writers' Places, is going to be relatively easy. Admittedly, I was a bit split as to which Devon parish to choose for 'K. Kentisbeare came close second because of E.M. Delafield, whose home was near the village, but the manuscript of Writing Women on the Devon Land includes extensive commentary about that author and she appears in several blog-posts in my other blog, Scrapblog of the SouthWest. (See especially Delafield's Devon DoubleScapes and Sad December at Kentisbeare; E. M. Delafield's Tragedies).
So, here, I thought I'd travel westwards to Kelly, the small parish near Tavistock, which is straddling Devon's border with Cornwall. So you will find the village on Genuki for Devon and also on Cornwall's Launceston Then. Although I don't really know the area well, having only passed through a couple of times (that's when I took the photos), I am rather fond of the place. It shares its name with the suffix of Broadwoodkelly, another Devon village in the middle of the county, the parish where many of our family's ancestors originated. Various sources note that the word Kelly has Celtic associations with 'grove', hinting at sacred links with the past; both parishes seem 'special'.
It was in this little village, tucked away in one the south-west's most remote corners, that Mary Kelly, C20 pageant writer/dramatist, lived as a child and spent some of her life. I've already written a short piece about Mary Kelly, at Mary Kelly Devon's Dramatist from Kelly and would like to have lots more time to look into her very interesting life. That's not going to happen just at present, and unfortunately Mary Elfrida Kelly does not put in an appearance in Writing Women on the Devon Land, but at the very least, I can mark her links with Kelly and Devon and post several bits and pieces collected from round the internet, whilst (though the photos will be the same) trying not to repeat what I've said in the other blog article. I hope other readers and researchers might find these useful.
Well ... I was about to begin to do just that - and you will find various literary bric and brac apropos Mary Kelly below - and accordingly, began a customary google search, only to be temporarily stopped in my tracks. I found on Kelly House's website that rather than provide information about Mary the dramatist, the present Kelly family/owners are, instead, rolling out fascinating extracts from Mary's half-sister Margaret's WW1 Diary. It is always exciting for a researcher when something or someone new turns up unexpectedly, out of the blue. I'm sure that Margaret Kelly is just one of many as yet unknown other women diarists from Devon. With the dawning of the internet, new publishing opportunities and current interest in women writers there are going to be many such revelations.
I have taken a little snippet from this important new diary just to whet your appetite, but to read more you must swiftly switch windows to the KellyWebsite where, in the Introduction you will find more about Margaret, the diarist and about how she is related to Mary, her dramatist half-sister.
So to return to Mary Elfrida Kelly, whose connections with Kelly prompted me to select that Parish for this A-Z. I found that in 1954 (?) a plaque was unveiled to the writer at Kelly church. I have not yet had a chance to visit the church and can not find this plaque mentioned in descriptions of it, so am not sure if it is still there.
You will find a biographical outline of Mary Elfrida's life at Oxford Index. whilst several online sites provide information about this woman, whose main achievement as far as her home county is concerned was that following the end of World War One she founded The Village Dramatic society. The Redress of the Past tells us that Mary Kelly composed and organised the performance of pageants herself:
The Redress of the Past about Mary Kelly
You'll find Kelly's book How to Make a Pageant is available to read online at universallibrary
I have not as yet had a chance to read or study this book or to find any of the scripts of the original pageants she authored. However, it seems from British Theatre Between the Wars (which I already linked to in Mary Kelly, Devon's Dramatist from Kelly), that Kelly's approach was frequently to promote women's interests, as well as to set down a realistic reflection of the local Devon community as she herself witnessed or observed it. In other words, she evolved and set-into-future-stone a cameo of her village and other surrounding communities as they were at the time, which is such a valuable way of promoting social history. Anyone out there whose historical interest is linked with the locality around Kelly or west Devon would surely find it valuable to seek out Mary Kelly's works.
A journal article Unlocking the Secret Soul; Mary Kelly, Pioneer of Village Theatreby Mick Wallis, is available through the New Theatre Quarterly (vol 16, issue 4 2000). Although I've not had a chance to read this, the abstract suggests it presents a much more detailed and informative resume and analysis of Mary Elfrida's life and contribution to her county's (and nation's) literary heritage.