Frederick John Snell.

The chronicles of Twyford, being a new and popular history of the town of Tiverton in Devonshire: with some account of Blundell's School founded A.D. 1604 online

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Online LibraryFrederick John SnellThe chronicles of Twyford, being a new and popular history of the town of Tiverton in Devonshire: with some account of Blundell's School founded A.D. 1604 → online text (page 2 of 45)
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houses in that quarter, however venerable their look, are certainly
later than tin; iJuiimonian era.

I must add a few words on the names. Local etymology is, in
many instances, such a tricky and " parlous" theme, that he wlio,
first of men, undertook to enlighten us on the derivation and
meaning of that truly remarkable word "Skrinkhills" deserves
great honour for his industry and courage. It would appear that


the term " Skrink " is only the miserable remnant of a grand
Cornu-British and Armoric word '' squirinak," signifying " long-
legged." Harding observes that in British all names of hills
" refer to the resemblance parts of the human frame " — a dogma
which the printer may have assisted him to formulate, but which,
notwithstanding, may find acceptance with some people, especially
readers of Ossian. I learn from the same authority that
"Cranmore" is compounded of two Keltic words, which mean
either " green" or " stone moor." In this connexion it would be
unpardonable should I fail to speak of the river, anciently •' Isca,"
then, convertibly " Ex " and " Aisse," now invariably " Exe." We
cannot err in identifying the name with that of the Usk, and
there seems to be no manner of doubt that the meaning of the
word, which is British, was " water." Thus we have been able to
eke out the testimony of the tumuli with the evidence of local
names, which, surviving all changes, have served as a lasting
memorial of those who bestowed them.

The Britons, as we are all aware, were succeeded in the govern-
ment of the island — at least, the southern portion — by the
Eomans ; and one anxiously enquires whether any or what dis-
coveries have been made tending to throw light on the limits of
their conquest and the particular localities in which they settled.
It would be foreign to the purpose of this work, even if the writer
possessed the necessary stock of learning, to enter at large on this
question It may, however, be stated, that there are satisfactory
proofs, both in the testimony of authors and in architectural
remains, of the presence of that imperial race at Exeter ; and that
at various intervals along the valley of the Exe, at Cadbury, Bick-
leigh, Tiverton, and Bampton, have been found Eoman coins.
Here we must confine ourselves to the discovery which is naturally
of special interest to ourselves. In detailing the nature of the
treasure-trove and the circumstances under which it occurred I
feel that it is but just to Colonel Harding, who was an able man
and generally wrote sound English, to quote what he says. He
thus writes : " In April, 1845, while some workmen were sinking
a drain on Little Gornhay, in an orchard immediately behind the

farm-house they discovered a large jar, about two feet

below the surface, containing several hundred Eoman coins.
They were chiefly copper washed with silver, and a few of them
entirely so, all evidently of the third century. Several of these
coins fortunately fell under the observation of Captain Shortt

author of ' Collectanea Curiosa ' and of ' Antiquities of

Exeter ' ; and a few are in my own possession. These chiefly
were of Antoninus Pius, Severus, Alexander Severus, and Julia
Augusta. Several of the washed or plated pieces are Quinarii ;
and most of the coins are of the debased currency or pecunia
majorina, which abounded in the age of Severus and his successors.
They were generally in very good preservation."


So much for the " find." How these coins came to be hoarded
at Little Gornhay is another matter, and one which offers a fine
field for the exercise of the imagination. We picture to ourselves
some hapless Briton, a Eoman in all but blood, hiding in trembling
haste his accumulated gains, before embarking on his flight from
the merciless Saxon, and vainly hoping to recover his store, when
the victors were sick of havoc. This perchance is dreaming, but
the passage will not be wasted on the reader, if it diverts his mind
from a fallacy which the mention of Eoman coins is well calculated
to suggest. We are not to assume, because Eoman coins have
been met with in the neighbourhood, that therefore this part of
Devon was completely within the sphere of Eoman organization,
still less that the slopes of Skrinkhills were studded with Eoman
villas in all the grandeur of tesselated pavements and artistic
pottery. If villas of the sort had ever existed, the ruins would
still remain. It is possible, no doubt, that such is the case, and
that an accident similar to that which led to the discovery of the
coins may reveal to us fragments of a genuine Eoman structure.
Till then, and on the present evidence, we must adhere to our
verdict of " non-proven." Before dismissing the subject I must
refer to some theories regarding certain roads, which, in the
opinion of a respectable antiquary, Mr. James Davidson, may con-
ceivably be Eoman. One of these roads 1 have already mentioned
as leading from Tiverton to Exeter. It passes, Mr. Davidson
says, a " down " called Exeter Hill, where the road was named
Long Causeway, and was well-paved for the distance of a mile.
This causeway, he thinks, may have been a legacy from the Eomans.
1 am compelled to differ from Mr. Davidson. His conclusion was
formed probably from general considerations; and although lam not
in a position to state when and by whom the causeway was made,
there are reasons which lead me to think that it was at no very
ancient date. In 1678 a merchant of Tiverton, named John Lane,
left 20s. per annum for the repair of the " long causeway between
Tiverton and Butterleigh, in pitching and paving of it, and not
otherwise to be therein employed." Now, on the face of it, it
does not seem likely that in the year of our Eedemption sixteen
hundred and seventy eight John Lane should hav(^ betrayed such
tender sohcitude about a road which, supposing it to be Eoman,
had been in existence for so many agL-s, and shown such an
eminent capacity for taking care of itself. It appears much more
probable that the causeway had been constructed within living
memory for needs which had not then passed away, and that Lane,
being generous and philanthropic, was anxious that the benefits
which he had received from it should be ti-ansmittcd to succeeding
generations. The other case to wliich Mr. Davidson alludes has
reference to a branch of a great Eoman road from Taunton to
Exeter, called the Portway, which is supposed to have struck oif
at Leonard Moor, near Uffculme, and led, through Ilalberton, to


Tiverton. Both these theories mai/ be correct, but as it is
impossible to attain to any certainty on the subject, it is better,
perhaps, to leave them where they stand, without further

AH this time we have been referring to a state of things which
existed before Tiverton, properly so called, came into being.
Whatever arts or civilisation the neighbourhood may have boasted
at an earlier period, there is reason to believe that, on the advent
of the Saxons, everything was begun de novo ; and, if Dunsford's
surmise is right, the new town arose, in the opposite direction,
from a cluster of cottages round Tiverton Castle. The date of
the first Saxon colonisation cannot be ascertained, but it can
hardly have taken place before the first half of the seventh
century. According to old writers, Marianus and Florentius,
there befel A.D. 620, at Bahantune (Bampton), a great battle
between the invaders under Kenegel, the first Christian king of
the West-Saxons, and the Britons. Of the latter no less than
20,000 men are stated to have fallen. The magnitude of the
slaughter sufiiciently attests the nature of the struggle. It was
war to the knife, and, if a remnant of the Britons escaped, it was
only that they might become hewers of wood and drawers of
water to the victors. Their wives and daughters were no doubt
appropriated by the Saxons.

That Tiverton was founded by the Saxons is evident from the
name, which is contracted from Twi-ford-town and obviously
refers to the fords, which preceded the erection of bridges over
the Exe and the Lowman. The name Lowman, unlike that of
the sister stream, appears to be of Saxon origin, being derived
from the loam, with which the bed of the river, over most of its
course, is silted. The word is sometimes, though less generally
spelt ' Loman,' which is, perhaps, slightly preferable, the other
spelling being due to an irrational attempt to make sense out of a
name, which has ceased to convey any meaning. By the Saxons,
however, the stream was called ' Suning,' and it owed this
description to its sluggishness, a quality which it still retains.
Here it is well to confess that we know extremely little of Tiverton
previous to the Xorman Conquest, and even for a considerable
time after. It is not a bad remark of Dunsford, that the great
fact we may be certain of is, that "successive genet ations lived and
died." In the absence of any positive data we must be satisfied
with the two sources of information which are alone open to us,
inference and tradition. In the Domesday-book the hundred of
" Tunvertone " or " Tavvetone " is quoted as forming part of the
royal demesne : and it is stated to have been held by several
persons in the reign of Edward the Confessor, as vassals of the
king. It is possible, therefore, that Tiverton may have been
one of the small towns or villages which were built or restored by
King Alfred the Great after the war with the Danes. It is clear


that, compared with other towns, Tiverton could not have been
a place of any size under the Saxons, for while Exeter had 476
burgesses, Barnstaple 83, Lidford 69, Totnes 110, and Okehamp-
ton 4, only 41 were left to be distributed over the remainder of
this large county. The hundred was divided, for purposes of
police, into twelve departments, or tythings. Each tything
consisted of ten families, who were severally responsible for each
other's good conduct and the preservation of the peace ; and the
whole was under the government of a portreeve. Traces of this
arrangement continue to a very late period, but it was practically
superseded by the grant of a charter in the reign of James I.

In 1002, according to tradition, the people of Tiverton took
part in the general slaughter of the Danes, commanded by
Ethelred the Unready. This dire event was fixed for Sunday,
November 13, the festival of St. Brice, " when the Danes that
were in the town of Twyford upon the river Isca or Aisse were
massacred by the womnn with much secresy in the night "
(Hewett's Memoirs). Kingsley in " Hereward the Wake"' thus
criticizes the affair :

" For a while they had been lords of all England. The Anglo-
Saxon race was wearing out. The men of Wessex priest-ridden
and enclosed by their own aristocracy quailed before the free
Norsemen, among whom was not a single serf. The God-descended
line of Cerdic and Alfred was exhausted. Vain, incapable,
profligate Kings, the tools of such prelates as Odo and Dunstan
were no match for such wild heroes as Thorkill the Tall or Olaf
Trygvasson or Svend Forkbeard. The Danes had gradually seized
not only their own Danelagh and Northumbria, but a great part
of Wessex. Vase sums of Danegelt were yearly sent out of the
country to buy off the fresh invasions which were perpetually
threatened. Then Ethelred the Unready, or rather Evil-Counsel,
advised himself to fulfil his name and the curse which Dunstan
had pronounced against him at the baptismal font. By his
counsel the men of Wessex rose against the unsuspecting Danes ;
and on St Brice's Eve, A.D. 1002, murdered them all, man,
woman, and child. It may be that they only did to the children
as the fathers had done to them ; but the deed was ' worse than a
crime ; it was a mistake.' The Danes of the Danelagh and
Xorthumbria, their brothers of Denmark and Norway, the Orkneys
and the east coast of Irehnid, n-'mained unharmed. A mighty
liost of vikings passed from thence into England the very next
year, under Svend Forkbeard and the great Canute ; and after
thirteen fearful campaigns came the battle of Assingdon in Essex,
wh(;re ' Canute had the victory ; and all the English nation
fought against him ; and all thi; nobility of the English race was
destroyed.' "



The Middle Ages

•'TJlf.HE condition of Tiverton at the time of the Conquest is set
ji^nk forth in that conscientious and comprehensive work, the
''■^^ Domesday book. From this we learn that in the hundred of
Tiverton there were twenty hides, that of these the King had in
his own clear payment fifty-four shilhngs for nine hides, while the
King and his Barons had in their demesne five hides and one
virgate ; that of these the King had three hides and a half, and
Gotselmus, half a hide, and Walter of Clavill, half a hide, and Odo,
the son of Gameline, one virgate, and William the Doorkeeper one
virgate, and Harmeric de Arcis, half a virgate. After this all the
other hides and virgates are satisfactorily accounted for, but the
reader shall be spared further details. The Domesday book,
though a triumph of statistics, is unquestionably dry reading; and
though the eye gleams with sudden interest at the mention of
William the Doorkeeper, and one wonders who he was, and why
he was called the Doorkeeper (it is to be feared we shall never
knort')? this is poor compensation — a solitary grain among
abundance of chaff. The truth is that these particulars can only
be thoroughly enjoyed by a seasoned antiquary, who by dint of
long practice has acquired a taste for them, and as this descrip-
tion applies neither to the bulk of my readers nor to myself, we
will take the liberty of skipping them. To prevent misconcep-
tion, however, it may be as well to state that a hide is a measure
of land, and a virgate, it is easily understood, is a fraction of the

* There has been considerable,(lispute as to the extent of a " hide " and
its factors. Sir John I'hear, in a jiaper read before the Devonshire
Association, 18'J1, sums up tlie matter as follows: " Tliere iamuch evid-
ence to lead to the conclusion that as a rule in later Auglo-Su.\on days


The nature of this work forbids my presenting a finished
biography, so far as one might be composed, of each Lord of the
Manor, but it is proper that the reader should be possessed of the
principal facts as regards the earlier incumbents of the office, and
that for a sufficient reason. The distinction is now little more
than titular, but in the beginning it was not so. Befoi-e the
grant of a charter, the Lords of the Manor were the represen-
tatives and vicegerents of the King, exercising a varying degree
of power according to the circumstances of the time, but in the
feudal epoch it was very great. Of this we shall have ample
proof hereafter. At present we have to do with ' auncestrie ' ;
our task is genealogical. The person, then, whom William the
Conqueror invested with the lordship of Tiverton, as well as many
other lordships up and down the county of Devon, was a certain
Baldwin de Brionis. H,e was called also ' de Molis ' or ' de Sap,'
for not as in these days, when a number of aliases, instead of
buying favour, is apt to create suspicion, the possession of many
names, intimating as many fiefs, was then esteemed an honour.
In the case of Baldwin his name ' de Brionis ' was derived from
his father's title of Brienne, a place in Normandy, while that of
' de MoHs ' had reference to the Castle of Mola in the same duchy,
where he was born. He was a connexion, both by blood and
marriage, of the Conqueror, his grandfather having been the
natural son of Eichard, first Duke of Normandy, while he himself
was married to Albreda, William's niece Baldwin was succeeded
by his son, Eichard de Brionis, who died without male issue in
1137, leaving his inheritance to his sister Adehcia, styled Countess
of Devon. It is not known whom she married, but she had a
daughter AHce, who was wedded to a Eichard Avenell. The
pedigree here points to an involuntary system of matriarchy, or, to
use a term which has attained only to brevet rank in English
literature, " petticoat-government." Sons would not be born.
Thus Alice was the mother of Matilda, who, when she was come
to years, became the wife of Eobert de Abrincis, or Aurancis, Lord
of Eolkstone. By him she had three daughters, and having
married en secondes noces Eobert Fitzroy, a natural son of Henry
I., was blessed with a fourth daughter. The eldest, Hawisia,
wedded Eeginald de Courtenay, grandson of Louis le Gros, King
of France, and with her the succession of great heiresses ends. Her

the quantity of cultivable arable land, or full family share was 120 acres,
or thereabouts; the yardland (virgate) or quarter sliare being conse-
quently thirty acres, and the ferling or fourth part of the yardland seven
and a half acres, or fifteen half-acres." This is perhaps as near as we can
get to the truth on this subject. It is bare justice, however, to Sir John to
state, that he does not in any way commit himself, his next sentence
beginning " But although thiswas so, yet, nevertheless, etc." In fact, he
tells us that the expression " half a hide" is no real clue, so that we are
about as well off as we were before.


son Eobert married Mary, the youngest daughter of William de
Eedvers, Earl of Devon, and had issue a son, John de Courtenay.
John was the father of Hugh de Courtenay, who in 127i was
made Earl of Devon and received the Manor of Tiverton as part
of his maternal inheritance. After this the lordship of Tiverton
remained in the Courtenay family, with but slight interruption, for
nearly three hundred years.

In this account we have traversed a period of more than two
centuries and have been in several ways anticipating. We must
now hark back to the point from which we set out. The reader
may have noticed— or if not, he may do so now — that Hugh de
Courtenay inherited Tixevton from Ms motlier. She, as we have
said, was the daughter of William de Eedvers, and therefore not a
descendant of Baldwin de Brionis, whose posterity has been faith-
fully traced. The conclusion is evident — that in some way the
Manor of Tiverton had shpped out of their hands. This was most
certainly the case. It would seem that Baldwin de Brionis had a
brother, Eichard Fitz-Gilbert, who, doubtless for sufficient
reasons, assumed the additional name of Eedvers or Elvers. Now
Eichard was a favourite of Henry I., who being desirous to mark
his esteem for him, bestowed Tiverton and the honour of
Plympton upon him and created him Earl of Devon. How such
a transaction was possible, seeing that Tiverton was already the
property of his brother's family, is not explained, but the fact,
being indubitable, must be taken on trust. If any shade of
dishonesty attaches to the proceeding, it may be palli-
ated perhaps by the constitutional maxim that the King can do
no wrong, or, failing that, by the usual plea in such cases, that
people in those days didn't know any better.

The seat of Baldwin de Brionis had been at Exeter, where he
had greatly enlarged the Castle, and his interest in Tiverton was
chiefly of a monetary nature. Eichard de Eedvers changed all
that and — such at least is the belief — was the founder of Tiverton
Casth;. Here he took up his abode, and resolving to make himself
comfortable, introduced to the astonished gaze of the inhabitants
what was at that time the novel luxury of glazed windows. He
likewise provided for his entertainment out of doors. In old
numbers of the Tiverton Gazette it is common to find in the
correspondence column the term "Park'' in inverted commas, a
mode of treatment which, it is needless to say, was not intended as a
coiiipUment. This was before the acquisition of the People's Park,
and the name was applied to a somewhat steep, but very ordinary-
looking field, which was traversed by a church-path and open
therefore to the public. The writers of these paragraphs seem to
have found no small difficulty in reconciling the aspect of the
spot with their preconceived ideas of what a park ought in strict-
ness to be, and from their own point of view may possibly have
been justified in condeuuiing it. They appear to have imagined


that " the Park," as it then was, " was all for their delight," and
that in the storied past some benevolent person had studied their
happiness by throwing open to them the pleasant walk, and the
very charming view which " the Park " affords. This account, how-
ever, is not quite literal. The church-path we doubtless owe to the
liberality of a former Lord of the Manor, but the Park itself was
designed for the special gratification of the owner and his immediate
friends. Originally it was on a far larger and more imposing
scale, comprising one hundred and sixty acres.* On the other side
of the town was Ashley Park, also belonging to the Castle and of
even greater extent, covering as it did no less than six hundred
and twenty one acres. Both these parks appear to have con-
tained deer, evidence of which survived in a curious usage. The
parish of Tiverton was formerly divided into four portions, Pitt,
Tidcombe, Priors, and Clare. In addition to these, however,
there was a fifth portion called " All Fours," which included the
areas once occupied by Ashley Park and Castle Barton, and
was subject to a modus, or compensation for tithes, which bore
the singular name of " buck and doe money," being no doubt an
equivalent for the yearly presentation to each rector of a buck
and a doe. This modus must have been agreed to when the parks
were destroyed. As a buck and a doe could no longer be given,
an annual payment in money was substituted. As early as 1602
50s. per annum, or 12s. 6d. to each rector, was paid for Ashley
Park, and 30s. for Castle Barton. The actual disparking, how-
ever, appears to have taken place some time before. Cleaveland
in his history of the Courtenay family ascribes it to Henry VIII.,
acting under the advice of Sir Richard Pollard. " The great
park of Okehampton," he says, "Tiverton Park, and all the parks
belonging to the Earls of Devon were destroyed by the King — an
act which his Majesty is said to have afterwards much regretted."
How these parks were destroyed, it is impossible to say — probably,
however, by banishing the deer, felling the timber, and parcelling
out the demesnes. According to a deed, dated February 2, 1624,
one eighth of the " disparked park called Ashley Park " had been
enclosed shortly before by Roger Giffard.

The son and successor of Richard was Baldwin de Redvers, who
entered upon his inheritance in 1107. This Baldwin appears to
have been of a pious turn, and, to quote a classical analogy, was
the Numa Pompilius of the dynasty. He built three monasteries,
that of Christ-church in Hampshii'e, Querrarra in the Isle of
Wight, and Lira in Normandy. What is more to the purpose, he
founded near Exeter a priory in honour of St, James, and, that
the monks might never want a plentiful supply of cash, endowed

* At Bolham there was formerly a large stone called the " Earl of
Devonshire's Stone," which has been supposed to mark the limit of the


it with the ecclesiastical revenues of Tiverton. " Totam ecclesiam
de Twivertona cum omnibus pertinentiis suis, per manum praedicti
domini Eoberti Exon. Episcopi donavi et praesenti scripto
confirmavi " are the words of the pact, and thereto Baldwin de
Redvers set fast his seal. As might be expected, the result of
this one-sided agreement was to introduce a world of confusion
into parochial affairs, and although the discussion may be some-
what tedious, I do not think a fitter place could be found for
dealing with the subject than in this chapter. Before, however,
we address ourseh^es to this somewhat formidable theme, we must
say a few words about the church, since the mention of ecclesi-
astical revenues evidently pre-supposes an edifice devoted to the
worship of the Almighty. As the conversion of the English to
Christianity took place some time before the Norman Conquest,
it is requisite to imagine that even in those days Tiverton boasted
a church, but whether of wood or stone, we cannot say. The
existence, however, of such a building is purely a matter of infer-
ence, all traces of it having long since passed away. As regards
the present edifice, our first notice of it carries us back to the
year of grace 1073, when Leofricus, first Bishop of Exeter, in the

Online LibraryFrederick John SnellThe chronicles of Twyford, being a new and popular history of the town of Tiverton in Devonshire: with some account of Blundell's School founded A.D. 1604 → online text (page 2 of 45)