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The Making of the Tombstone Survey.
Tombstone Survey 1973 - 1981
Above: Tomb of the Knowles family
During the 1970s a dedicated group of volunteers set out to map the churchyard of St Andrew's, and to transcribe the names, but not the ages or relationships, of those recorded on the tombstones. The results of their efforts - monumental in more senses than one - are not in one unified document, but now another group hopes to amalgamate all the work that was done forty years ago.
Meanwhile both the Museum and the Information Office have copies of at least some of the documents, available for personal inspection.
Below is the background to the survey - not the survey itself. It ranges from a description of the flora and fauna, to the fashions in tombstone design, to examples of epitaphs. It also mentions a number of Ashburton people laid to rest in the churchyard.
Very many thanks to Bob and Meg Heath and the Ashburton Museum, for allowing and enabling me to reproduce it here.
Document Notes (2013):
(i) This digital version of the document was created in June 2013, from the original
typed copy found in the Ashburton Museum. The original document is in the
Museum and can be inspected on request.
(ii) The original document does not have any identified date or author, but it is assumed
to have been typed in circa 1981/82 after the completion of the Tombstone surveys.
(iii) The grammar, style and page layout of the original has been retained wherever
When we embarked on the project of cataloguing the tombstones in Ashburton I don’t know if we
quite realised what we had taken on. It is 8 years now since we started, and a number of us have
spent many hours in the churchyard describing the stones, writing down the words, only a few
remained finally indecipherable, and most difficult of all, getting them plotted on to the plan made
for us by Brigadier Shewell.
I found it a delightfully peaceful place to work, disturbed only by the cawing of rooks in the limes
and the thrushes feasting on the yew berries in September, (lately this has been spoiled by the noise
from the A38 and the view exposed by demolished old buildings). While deciphering the words of
an epitaph my imagination would wander to the many hundreds of Ashburtonians who must be
buried here and what it would be like if, as in Stanley Spencer’s picture, they all came bursting up
into our world.
I looked up White’s Directory of Devonshire for 1850 and learned that in that year there were in
Ashburton, 15 bakers, 6 blacksmiths, 3 booksellers (including one who sold printed music), 16 boot
and shoe makers (including Peter Foot who was also Parish Clerk), 9 butchers, 5 cabinet makers, 9
carpenters, 3 coopers, 5 corn millers, 3 curriers, 4 earthenware dealers, 29 grocers, 4 ironmongers, 6
linen drapers, 3 maltsters, 7 milliners, 6 nursery gardeners and seedsmen, 6 stonemasons, 6 tailors,
1 tanner, 2 tin miners, 3 watch makers, 3 wheelwrights, 3 wine and spirit merchants, 4 woolstaplers.
What a bustling and self sufficient little town! Very few of these appear as such on the tombstones
which mostly record only names and dates and possibly epitaphs. Nor are the workers (as against
tradespeople) put into the picture. I have looked in vain for a tombstone to George Sparks
mentioned by Crossing in his "Dartmoor Worker" as “known as a driver far and wide who died in
1884 and is buried in St. Andrews, Ashburton, in which town he passed the whole of his days. At
the funeral his favourite grey horse was led immediately behind the corpse".
But Miriam Adams was one of the workers who had a stone put up by public subscription in 1858.
She was Letter Carrier to the Post Office and “discharged her responsible duties with uniform
cheerfulness and strict fidelity”, evidently a much loved figure on her pony with dog at heel. And in
1903 Mary Jane Salter, district nurse for 11 years, had a stone “subscribed for by over 300
inhabitants of Ashburton to perpetuate the memory of one so much respected and esteemed for the
good she did to all classes”.
It is the more prosperous of the tradesmen and business men whose families take a certain pride in
naming their trade like W.E. Stentiford printer, died 1835, and John Foot, builder, 1846. A link with
mining comes in Captain Peter Coade, mine agent, died 1845, who "for the space of 40 years
worked in the fear and love of God, and after a long affliction endured with patient resignation
exchanged the suffering of mortality for the deathless felicity of Eternal Life”. And poor Wil1y
Nicholls killed at Owlacombe mine in 1841.
The importance of the wool industry is apparent in the tombs of wool merchants and subsidiary
tradesmen. Mr. John Winsor, sergemaker died in 1772 and has a finely cut slate memorial in the
east wall of the vestry. Joseph Hurst, the currier died 1814, William Mann the tanner in 1632 and
Richard Elliot, tallow chandler, besides Peter Fabyen sergemaker who died 1843, these all
prospered on products of the sheep.
From the family vaults we can trace the progress of the most prosperous families like the Caunters.
John, the serge maker died 1772, the next John 1793 “who for various virtues of neighbour friend
and relative stood conspicuous in the circle of his acquaintance”. He lived at the time of
Ashburton’s famous sons, John Dunning, William Gifford and Dean Ireland and must surely have
known them. We find the next son John a JP, and living at Waye.
The Hern vault starts with William Hern, the tanner who died in 1791 and ends with John Hern
(died 1914) of Chuleigh, the house that sadly was demolished for widening the A38 in 1972. In the
churchyard extension, then are large marble memorials to the family including William Hern, OBE,
MRCS, who died 1939, and George Hern, MRCS, LRCP, who died in 1935.
The Tucker family was prominent in the town for 6 generations. Starting from professional roots,
Moses Tozer, surgeon, died 1791 is the first name on the family vault. Robert Tucker was
succeeded by Robert Tucker. They founded the solicitors firm of that name and took leading parts
in public life in Ashburton. One branch of the family, that of Major General Sir Charles Tucker is
commemorated by 2 tall crosses, one north of the church to his first wife who died in Secunderabad,
the other in the churchyard extension to himself and other members of his family.
Several Vicars of Ashburton have memorial stones, William Marsh was Vicar for 25 years and died
in 1861, and during his time, Mary Cook “faithful servant of the Vicar” died in 1842. Charles
Worthy, after 18 years died in 1879. William Birch was Vicar from 1879 to 1900 and died in 1912.
Richard James Bond, DD, Vicar, 1900 to 1922, died 1922, and Gerald Jones, Vicar here 17 years
and Prebendary of Exeter Cathedral, died in 1962.
Five parish Clerks are commemorated, first Zachary Pinsent, 1677, whose ledger stone lies at the
vestry door, Joseph Mudge who died in 1828 after 32 years as clerk, Peter Foot, died 1878, and
John Ball Lee, 1882. John Palk was clerk and sexton for 37 years and died in 1942.
Schoolmasters occur in a varied range. W.F.Honywill, for 33 years was master of the Free School,
and died in 1850. Mr. Butchers 45 years “Schoo1master of this Parish” died 1919 and has on his
tombstone “I pray thee write me then as one who loved his fellow men”. Mr. Husson, 35 years
“Schoolmaster of this Parish” has a stone erected by his old boys. James Mortimer was Headmaster
of the Grammar School 1875-1915, and died in 1929.
We learn also that in 1843 died Mr. Skinner of Magdalen College, Cambridge, who “for 20 years
conducted a musical and mathematical school in this town”.
The Arts are further represented by Wiiliam Mann, the blind poet who died in 1862 and Frederick
Foot the artist, youngest son of Peter Foot (above), died in 1908.
The fashion for outdoor tombstones coincides to some degree with the Empire, and it is interesting
to note the names of sons who died in far away places recorded on the family tombstones here. The
Cockey tomb tells us that the Rev. Cocky was curate here for 23 years and had 9 children, of whom
one died in Australia in 1877, one, a midshipman in the Royal Navy died at Cadiz on H.M.S. Achilles
in 1810, and one was drowned when at Trincomalee with the Royal Navy.
In 1845 Henry Luscombe died at Calcutta aged 16. Did he go out under Jardine’s sponsorship, one
wonders. Others died young in Chungking, Canada, Africa, Trinidad, and later a retired officer of
the Colonial Administrative Service, C.D. Cobham, who had been Commissioner at Larnaca,
Cyprus. Besides such as these there are all the War deaths, War Office stones for those lost in the
1939-46 war, names on family tombstones of some who fell in 1914-18, Frank, son of John
Honeywill was one of those killed in the Boer War, no names from the Crimean, and some whose
life had been in the Indian Army, like T.E.Rogers, who had been Superintendent of the Bengal
Marines, and died at Waye in 1896. Perhaps the most poignant of all the stones is that of the young
French Officer, Francois Guidon, aged 22 who is said to have been captured at the battle of
Waterloo, and died as a prisoner on parole in September that year when the war was just over. He is
buried on Strangers Hill and the willow tree at the head of his grave is said to have grown from a
cutting from one brought from St. Helena, (Napoleon Bonaparte’s last home) by a French soldier in
1871 to Napolean III in Chislehurst, Kent, where he was then living.
In early times the churchyard would have been used for fairs and games and would not have had
memorial stones in it. The church-warden’s accounts record charges for burials in the church.
Probably the floor was largely made up of memorial ledger stones which would have been removed
at one of the restorations in the last 200 years. There remains our oldest tombstone at the west door,
to Harris the Tanner, 1637, with the message “Fear not to die, learn this of me, No ill in death, if
good thou be". Close to the church on the south east are a few tombstones of the 18th century
including the granite one in the wall of Church Walk of 1760, “Near this place lyeth the remains of
Wm. Cooke, Maltster", Also Johanna, his wife’, (and 4 more lines undeciphered as yet), all cut in
the coarse granite, plain and simple. In 1570, the churchwardens paid “for mending the Tomb
Stone” and we read of the new wardens in 1575 receiving the accounts at the Tomb Stone, which
surely must be the same Counting Tomb where the accounts were presented in the 19th century. We
can see it today.
Above: Plan of the 'Old Section' Ashburton Churchyard.
Many thanks to Bob Heath for supplying a copy of this.
Whereas the earliest tombstones are of granite, by the 18th century slate had come into use. So
much easier to cut, with Portland stone, it lent itself to the elegant style of Georgian times. Many
beautiful slates are used, ranging in colour from dark grey, through mauve to a delicate grey green.
They are cut in a variety of shapes, and the lettering is elegant too, some plain, some in swirling
copper plate, many kinds of letters, large and small, and sometimes beautiful scroll work at the top
of the stone. The local engravers who have named their work were R.Pomeroy and T, J and E,
Sampson, lettering but no carving possible in the local stone. The graves of this period are marked
mostly by a headstone, no crosses, but there is a sprinkling of large chest tombs and family vaults.
This style continues through the old part of the churchyard, where the trees grow, and makes it a
pleasant place. There is one little figure with drapery, urn and wreath, rather beautiful, and one
column topped by an urn. Where the headstones and footstones that line some paths came from
originally, it is hard to guess. It was a fairly careful if indiscriminate tidying up.
Fashions in epitaphs change with the period. The Georgian interest in the style of the individual
comes out in praise, “Peace be to the memory of so useful and excellent a man”, Samuel Letheridge
Mann; and Mary Sunter, “A bright example of every Christian Virtue”. And
“Afflicted by our loss we lay thee here,
In silent sorrow e’en thy dust is dear,
For never child shall weep, nor widow bend,
O’er kinder parent, partner and true friend” .
is on the grave of John Foot, builder, died in 1846. However, there is some revolt against this
fulsome praise in Joseph Sunter’s
“Praises on tombs are trifles spent,
A man’s good name is his firmest monument”.
And often there were warnings,
“As I am now, so you must be,
Prepare for Death,
And follow me”.
The Georgians and the Victorians were much concerned about death. It was ever present with every
family, like the Rowlands, John and Mary, who died in 1813 and 1840, whose tombstone bears this
“Weep not for us six children dear,
We are not dead but sleeping here,
Our guess is when our grave you see,
Wait but awhile you’ll follow we”.
Numerous children died, no doubt of illnesses avoided or cured today. Of Laura Mary Knowling,
beloved child, died 19 months, they said,
“Not in anger, not in wrath, the Reaper came that day,
T’was an angel visited this green earth, and took our flower away’
There are frequent records on family tombs ending, “And 5 infant children” or 6, or 4. Quite often it
is “Another folded lamb”. Many stones were put up to young people with extremely poignant and
“Our lovely bud so soft and fair, called hence by early doom, Only to show how fair a
flower, in Paradise can bloom”.
Consumption was a dreaded killer, “T’was pale consumption sure but slow that stopped her fleeting
breath”. And was it scarlet fever that killed Ann Marie Dennis, aged 4?
“Although my friends your tender care,
O’er me did watch being all in vain,
The flaming fire did me consume,
And Christ has called me to the tomb”.
The stone to Ann Pomeroy aged 23 engraved possibly by her father, R. Pomeroy with loving care,
tells a long sad tale,
“To perpetuate the memory of the much beloved and lamented Ann Pomeroy who only a
short time previous to her appointed Nuptials, the Lord thought proper to take unto Himself,
leaving her friends and ONE ever deeply to lament her”.
There was more suffering than we have any idea of in our age of drugs and pain killers, to such a
degree that it seemed right to mention it on tombstones, like John Woolaway, 1873.
“Afflictions great long time I bore, Physicians were in vain,
Till God saw fit to take me home, and ease me of my pain”.
There is a certain robust acceptance in Joseph Hyde’s epitaph. He died aged 16 in 1817,
“In bloom of life I was cut down,
To meet old Death without a frown”.
The mystery conveyed by Ann Badcock’s (she died in 1838) could inspire a detective story.
“What’s in my mind let no man know,
And if my friend should prove my foe,
All my secrets the world will know”.
And was Jane Turner who died in 1783 an interesting case for psychologists? or did she suffer some
‘Within this silent shade I rest, hid from the world, the world from me,
There is no one knows how I am blest, in the Divine Obscurity”.
From the 17th century onwards, it is possible to detect a strong Puritan and Evangelistic tradition in
Ashburton. There is the well preserved chest tomb of “Wm Pearse Minister of ye Gospell in this
town” died 1690 aged 66”, whose rejoicing was the Testimony of a good Concience”. He was an
early minister at the Great Meeting. Later there was Wm. Thoresby, 1806, “Who laboured with
great success 20 years in connection with Rev. John Wesley, and many were turned to
“With flaming zeal and flowing tears, he laboured for the lord,
‘While he addressed the people’s ears, his Master own’d the word”.
Many stones have evangelistic exhortations like that of Margaret Trekkle 1817, “Having found
Redemption through the blood of the Lamb, (and then in large letters), READER HAST THOU”?
There is the vault of Henry Gervis, surgeon and JP, and his family of the 19th century with an urn—
topped column inscribed on its north face with an evangelistic sermon and Bible texts. Alongside
this is the stone of the Wesleyan ministers sons saying,
“When you stand where the young sleepers await the Resurrection Morn,
Oh, lift the heart in praise of Him who gave the Victory”.
In 1873 died Thomas Rowland “who for 60 years blew the Gospel trumpet with a certain sound”.
At about the turn of the century burials took place in the extension to the churchyard which was
consecrated in 1901. What a different scene it presents from the old part. With improved transport a
wide range of stone for memorials was available, granite, pale grey, and deep pink from Cornwall
and Scotland polished now to a high gloss with new tools, Forest of Dean brown, grey Portland
stone, and dazzling white marble from Italy became fashionable. Also of recent years crosses came
into vogue, often of rough granite on rough base and of Celtic or plain or elaborate style. Marble
lends itself to carving, and soon there were angels and doves, urns and flowers, clasped hands and
intricate borders and patterns on the tombstones, cut by skilled local craftsmen. All this
heterogeneous collection of materials and ideas creates a confused and crowded appearance that is
not congenial to the local scene, unlike the old part where the local stone is used and seems part of
the landscape. The fashion for kerb stones has meant a problem for cutting grass which, without tree cover becomes very rank. The only overall unity seems to be the lettering on the tombstones which is now uniform in shape with lead inlaid, sadly lacking the character and interest of the old craftsmen’s cutting. Fashion in epitaphs has changed too. There are few child deaths and the accent is now on the comforts of religion, and
hopes of meeting loved ones beyond the grave. Heaven is above all a place of rest and peace. Very
few of the tombstones of the first half of this century are without the words “At rest”, or “Peace,
perfect peace”, “He entered into rest” or “Her end was peace” and “R.I.P.”.
The names on the stones are interesting. Some of the oldest surnames are still about in Ashburton,
Eales, Foot, Hext, Mann, Harris, Pearse, Pomeroy, Tucker and Yolland. A couple wanting a name
for their child might well get some ideas from the churchyard, Aaron and Abraham, Caleb, Jabez,
Nathan, Hannibal and Zachary have not been used much for boys recently. And for girls, there is a
choice of many, like Alvena, Dinah, Mahala, Olympia, Rupertia, Selena, Sybella, Treyphena, or
how about “English Game”, (alias “Cissie’)?
I attempted to find out some history of our churchyard, and I made use of the Churchwardens
Accounts 1479-1530, edited by Alison Hanham, and so delightfully translated by her into words we
can understand today. I found regular entries for payments for cleaning the cemetery, also making
and repairing the church gate, and for roofing the gate in 1492. In 1529 there is a charge for making
the paths and in 1530 they had to buy rope for tying a pig that came into the cemetery. Then there
was carriage of stone for the cemetery wall. In 1535 they were paving, not only in the church, but
between church and church gate, which required purchases of sand, stones and sieves “2 tamies and
a zeve to syfte the son with”. Shortly after that there was a visit from the Bishop, and payment “for
ryngyng agen My lorde bysheppe”, more repetitions of previous running costs, others “for making
allear wall between church and church gate (allear being like alley). And after all these busy
improvements, is it not appropriate to see a charge “for playing a Christmas game within the
church”? In 1542 it is “for le gate at the church style” and “setting the grate in the churchyard”,
meaning railings, and 5 years later for carrying cope stones and wall stones for making the cemetery
wall. In 1569 “spannys (iron bolts) and nayles” were required for mending the church gate again,
recurring expenses through the years as today. We begin to get a picture of the churchyard walled as
it is today to west and east with paths through it. The wrought iron gate that we see now was made
in 1700, but the area now known as Strangers Hill was not included. In the Tythe map of l840 there
are buildings along the entrance approach which with the land along West Street comprised the
“house and garden of Benjamin Parham”, In 1864., The Exeter Flying Post carried a news item that
“the tender of Mr. Thomas Hext, Mason “was accepted for taking down the first portion of the old
buildings adjoining the entrance to the churchyard”. This gives us a date for that northern addition
to the churchyard and the planting of the great trees, Coast Redwood, Wellingtonia, the Atlantic
Cedar, and the Thuja, the first now higher than the church.
The next trees to be planted must have been the yews and conifers south of the church, and those
pollarded chestnuts and limes and elms along church walk that look so grotesque when the leaves fall. We counted the annual growth rings
of one dead elm that had to be felled. The score was 82. So that put the planting date at the turn of
the century. “Plant a tree in '73” was a national campaign that spurred many Ashburton societies
and Organisations and individuals to plant trees, hawthorns, Whitebeams, Silver Birch, a
Hornbeam, a variety of Maples, 2 Yews, and 2 Cypresses along the path and borders of the new
sections. In 1980 the Dartmoor National Park supplied trees, and the Primary school children helped
to plant then in the gaps alone the old railings and among the graves in the new section, Judas trees,
Amelanchier, Rowan, Holm oak, Portugal Laurel, and Cornus mas.
The churchyard was extended in 1884, when the Vicar and the Trustees of Parish Lands gave the
land. It was consecrated in 1901. The public footpath ran through the area, and in 1903 an
application was made to the U.D.C. for a diversion so as to put the churchyard in a ring fence as it is
now. It meant leaving out the little corner triangle in the South East (though this is officially
cemetery land). There had to be a public enquiry because Mr. Firth held that the changes could not
be affected on consecrated ground without an Act of Parliament however, the Chancellor of the
Diocese, after the meeting in the town hall, approved the new path and a Faculty was granted in
1903. In due course the area was tilled, and in 1956 the latest extension was taken into use. A hedge
of Lawson’s Cypress was planted along the boundary with Orchard Road.
One of the attractive features of the churchyard is that it is full of living things. Because there are
big trees, and because the vegetation and grass are not poisoned nor cut and tidied excessively it
‘provides a home for birds and reptiles, small mammals and insects that make a chain of life. Birds
nest, and find safe roosts in the trees, there is even the winter shelter that tree creepers like.
Hedgehogs and slowworms find suitable homes and feed on the insects that live in the ivy and
elsewhere. When clearing vegetation in the new part one would quite often find that the mounds
were not graves but ant hills or 'emmett's eels" as we say in Devon. I am a little surprised that there
are not more wild flowers, a few celandines in the spring, and on a still winter afternoon, a rich waft
of scent from the winter heliotrope that is thriving among the emmett’s eels.
In these days when poisons and drastic cutting drive wild life from much of the countryside, a safe
place like our churchyard can become a sanctuary. Long may it be so. The lichens on many of the
tombstones, so sure a proof of our unpolluted air, are varied and beautiful. They are so slow
growing and some are rare, so they are of interest and worth preserving. And the old tombstones
themselves are museum pieces. Such craftsmanship is unlikely to be seen again. Let us keep thern
in their beautiful setting.