Local administration

                                              The Stanneries

'Owing to the almost total neglect of Tinning in the County of Devon, for a series of years previous to my appointment to the office of Vice Warden of the Stannaries in 1784, and the office itself having being vacant for a long space of time, the antient public records and documents relating to the Stannaries have been lost.'

Reports from committees of the House of Commons, July 1800, appendix H.15, p259

'Notice is hereby given, that a general meeting of the special deputy wardens of the stanneries of Devon, will be held at the Bedford Arms Inn, in Tavistock, on Saturday the twenty ninth day of this instant August, at eleven o'clock in the forenoon, for the purpose of carrying into execution an act passed in the 38th year of his present Majesty's reign, intitled "An act for raising a body of miners in the counties of Cornwall and Devon for the defence of the kingdom during the present war." By order of the Lord Warden.'

Exeter Flying Post 20 August 1801 p3 col2

Edward Martin of Moretonhampstead appointed Steward of the Stannary Courts of Ashburton, Tavistock, Chagford and Plympton, by the Lord Warden of the Stannaries.

London Gazette Issue 17188 5 November 1816, p1

'The administration of justice, as it relates to the tin mines in Devonshire and Cornwall, is in the hands of the Stannary Courts, which are courts of record in these counties. They are held before the Lord Warden or his substitutes, by virtue of a privilege granted to workers in the tin mines, to sue and be sued only in their own courts, in order that they may not be drawn from their employment by lawsuits in other courts. The peculiar privileges of the tinners, and the laws by which they are governed, are more ancient than the time of Edward 1......they were confirmed however, by a charter of Edward, were fully expounded by a private statute 50 Edward 111, and since explained by a public Act 16 Charles 1 c.25. According to these acts, while the miners are employed in and about the Stannaries, they can be impleaded only in the Stannary Courts, in any matters, except land, life and member....

...Anciently [the Stannary Courts] were held at Crockern Tor, on Dartmoor....Mr Polwhele, writing about the year 1795, observes that the president's chair, the jurors' seats etc. remained entire, cut out of the rude stone; but that it had been for a long time customary to open the commission and swear the jury on the site of the ancient court, and then to adjourn to the courthouse at one of the Stannary towns. Indeed the custom of even opening the court at Crockern Tor has been for many years disused, and the seats have been destroyed by the removal of stone for building materials.

The history of Devonshire, the Rev. Thomas Moore, undated, p530ff


The stannary laws which have been in force from an early period in the mining district in the south-western part of the county, constitute the only peculiarity in its civil jurisdiction; the stannary parliaments, which have long fallen into disuse, anciently met in the open air, on an elevated spot called Crockern Tor in Darmoor: the stannary towns are Ashburton, Chagford, Plympton and Tavistock: the stannary prison was at Lidford Castle, now in ruins.

A Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis, Vol 2, London, 1833
Above: Crockern Tor. Looking over the top rocks towards the B3212 below.
The copyright on this image is owned by Graham Horn and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

'It is not known when the last Parliament was held at Crockerntor...Probably the latest, (which may have been adjourned from Crockerntor) was that convened in 1903, when Lord Granville was Warden, and the Hon. Samuel Rolle, Vice-Warden, and on this occasion the "Parliament of Tinners" was summoned to meet at eight o'clock in the morning of September 23. The courts of the Stanneries, however, remained (and in a modified form continue to do so in Cornwall); one of the latter was held at Ashburton in 1757 (when John Hill, of Ashburton, proclaimed one pair of tin bounds called Broomshill), and there were many subsequent courts held here even after most of the tinners had left the district.'
History, Gazetteer and Directory of Devon, William White, Sheffield 1878-79, p40

'Early in the year 1800 a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed "to enquire into the state of the Public Records of this Kingdom and of such other public instruments, rolls, books and papers as they should think proper and to report to the House the nature and condition thereof..." '

The commission was renewed in various years.

Henry Gervis, as Portreeve of Ashburton, replied to Commissioners: 'Ashburton 19 Dec. 1832. Sir, ...In the archives of this borough I am sorry to say no ancient records or manuscripts exist that can in any manner illustrate general or local history. The only documents we possess are deeds and wills which relate to the public schools and the charities of the town and parish...'
General Report to the King in Council, from the Honourable Board of Commissioners on the Public Records, 1837, pv and 429
                                 Manors, boroughs and parishes

Manors. A manor was a civil administrative unit. It could be a single piece of land, or several. It could be part of a parish, or could include more than one parish. According to http://www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk the manor was 'the main building block of the feudal system'. The Domesday Book recorded the details of manors.

A lord ruled over a manor, which consisted of land (including things like woods and ponds) and buildings (including barns and stores). Tenants often rented parts of the manor, paying rent or giving services, and manor court rolls recorded the details. A court baron dealt with the everyday running of the manor, and some manors (Ashburton included) also had a court leet that dealt with disputes and nuisances. The findings of the courts were recorded in a court roll.

The court roll for Ashburton for 2 May 1424, preceeded by a series of enrolled title deeds relating to Ashburton, dating from the 12th century to 1421, is held by Birmingham Archives. It is extremely fragile and cannot be produced for examination.

The same archive holds other material relating to the manor court.

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk, Galton Papers, Birmingham Archives, ref MS3101/A/F/1/1
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk, Galton Papers, Birmingham Archives, ref MS3101/A/F/1

Between 1553 and 1555 there was a dispute between Thomas Stukeley and John Forde, gentlemen, and John Wylkockes, keeper of the bishop's palace at Exeter, concerning the detention of court-rolls of the manor of Ashburton. These had been 'demised to complainants with the borough by John, late bishop of Exeter, Devon.'

National Archives C 1/1381/85-87

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk - Accessed 7-1-2014

John Veysey, Bishop of Exeter, had died in 1554. His 'last years as bishop were marked by the enforced surrender of the bulk of his episcopal lands to the Crown.'
The Voices of Morebath, Eamon Duffy, Yale University Press, 2001, p148

Nicholas Orme says that Henry VIII began the 'plunder' in 1545, ordering Bishop Veysey to lease the manors of Crediton and Paignton to courtiers. In 1546-7 Ashburton was amongst other manors leased.
The Church in Devon, 400-1560, Nicholas Orme, Exeter 2013, p176. Reference for the leases of a number of manors: Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, xx part 1, p282; xx part 2, p444; xxi part 1, p143, 248, 473, 758; xxi part 2, p381.

George Oliver says that the manor was licenced on the order of Edward VI to Francis Poole and others, in the third year of the king's reign (ie 1549). Oliver adds, 'Sir W Pole says "Both the manor and the Borough belonged antiently to the Bishops of Exeter, but now remain to them only the sad remembrance of how much their predecessors had, and how little they have now." '
Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Devon, George Oliver and John Pike Jones, Exeter 1828, p142

John Saintclere has also been linked with leasing the manor from Bishop Veysey - allegedly for 80 years from 1546.


'John late Bishop of Exeter being in right of his Bishoprick aseized as of fee of and in the manor and borough or town (Ashperton, Devon) in which it was customary to hold a court of view of Frank pledge, and to hold two fairs in the year on the feasts of St Lawrence and S. Martin,and to collect tolls of such as brought certain kinds of merchandize for sale and also seats for stalls, did by Indenture dated 11th August 38 Henry VIII (1546) demise them for eighty years to Johannes Sayntclere Armiger who on 31st May 5 Edward VJ assign them to Mauricius Dennys Mils, who 14th June 7 Edward VI assign them to Johannes Alworth, who 22nd Decr I Maria did assign them to Johannes Forde and he by will made 14th Jany 29th Elizth did devise them inter alia to the plaintiff Thomas Forde.'
Exchequer Pleas, A. 108. 14 James I in 91d. Thomas Ford v Richard Shaptor, quoted by P F S Amery in A Tangle in the History of Ashburton, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, vol 28, 1896, p213

Henry Gervis, above, says: 'The only documents relating to the borough of Ashburton are the court books of the lords of the borough, now extant rather more than one hundred years, in which the proceedings of the annual court leet are entered; these consist of the presentments of the jury, of the officers of the borough of the current year, of alienations of lands in the borough from one person to another, of deaths of free tenants, presentments of nuisances, and other similar presentments.'

op cit p 429

http://www.victoriacountyhistory.ac.uk/explore/themes/government-and-administration/manor  - Accessed 7-3-2016  

http://www.medievalgenealogy.org.uk - Accessed 7-3-2016   

Halshanger Manor
'The Borough of Ashburton consists, not only of lands and tenements in the parish of Ashburton, but also of the manors of Halsanger and Halwell; the former extending into the parish of Ilsington: that these manors form part and parcel of the Borough of Ashburton, as shown by the decision of the House of Commons in 1710 and 1714...'
Parliamentary Papers 1780-1849, vol 10, part 2, p188

Right: Halshanger Manor, rebuilt in the 19th century (see below)
My own photograph 2017
'Halsanger* is a manor extending over part of the parish of Ashburton, and supposed to run a short distance into the adjoining parish of Ilsington...Halwell is a manor extending over property in Ashburton, but what particular property formed the manor is not now known.'

Accounts and papers relating to Parlialmentary representation, Boundary reports, Dec 1831-August 1832, vol 38, p127

*Sometimes known as St Lawrence's Lands. 'Receipts - Rents as before, and xiiid iiiid for lands in Halshanger which belong to the chapel of St Lawrence, and now in the hands of George Ford esquire.'  The Parish of Ashburton in the 15th and 16th centuries, as it appears from extracts from the Churchwardens' Accounts, London, 1870, p32

Devon Archives and Local Studies Service holds estate papers for the Woodley family of Halshanger, 1695, 19th-20th century

Ref 1164B/2/8,9,6/15,17,7/1-4,17,20,10/4,8,14,28,11/16 http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/N13724103 - Accessed 8-05-2017

1493-1500 Dowenyng versus Carpenter. Detention of deeds relating to a messuage and lands at Halshanger, Hoke Hode, and Ayssheperton.
Ref C1/198/29 http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C7460159 -
Accessed 8-05-2017

1525-26 '13s 4d for various expenses and costs incurred for the title of the lands and tenements formerly John Downyng's at Halshanger and Aysshberton.'
Alison Hanham, Churchwardens' Accounts of Ashburton, 1479-1580, Devon and Cornwall Record Society, Torquay, 1970, p77

1526-27 'Expenses in riding and labouring for the right and title of the tenements of Halshanger, in dispute.'
ibid p78

1527-28 'Besides the lands and tenements of Halshanger, now in dispute for two years past between the parishioners and John Ford.'
ibid p80

1533-34 '13s 4d received of the warden of Saynt Laurens for anuel rent of Alsangger Barten.'
ibid p91

1540-41 '£5 to William Coke for the final concord made between the said William of the first part and the parishioners of the other, for the right in dowry of his wife, formerly wife of John Downyng, in the lands of Halshanger.'
ibid p108

1548-49 'Allowance of 12d from Buklond, and 6s 8d of the rent of Halshanger.'
ibid p123

1771 a bond in Plymouth and West Devon Record Office concerns Peter Woodley of Halsanger, gent, Aaron Tozer of Newton Bushell, gent, and Robert Abraham of Woodland, gent for the first part, and William Bastard esq. The bond relates to the bounds of Buckland in the Moor common.
Ref 74/698/2 http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/595a638b-d972-4766-8659-b60c8e66b269 - Accessed 8-05-2017

1813-1816 Ashburton Museum holds the estate plans of Halshanger

Ref 197BK http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/N13563307 -
Accessed 8-05-2017

1843 A lease in Plymouth and West Devon Record Office concerning mining rights over Halsanger has James Woodley of Halshanger as one of the parties.
Ref 73/115 http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/ac5dfa94-de8b-4124-a1fb-e8ee5f2276cb - Accessed 8-05-2017

In 1883 Ilsington Parish Church was undergoing restoration. Memorials of the Woodley family, of Halshanger Manor, dated from 1593.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegrams, 10 April 1883 p2 col6

'In a field known as Lower New Park, belonging to Halshanger, the hedge at the higher end of the field belongs to Ilsington, whilst the lower portion is in the parish of Ashburton.'
Totnes Weekly Times 2 November 1895 p2 col6

Mrs Woodley, widow of James Woodley, was 80 in 1909. 'When one looks around and sees the new buildings that have been erected, the spacious farm premises above, and this beautiful house in which she resides, built during our late squire's lifetime...'
Mrs Woodley died in 1919.
Totnes Weekly Times 11 September 1909 p2 col1
Western Morning News 7 March 1919 p3 col5

Henry Passmore died in 1921. He had been a clerk of works and had superintended the building of Halshanger House, Ashburton.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 30 December 1921 p12 col4

Ralph Woodley Woodley, of Halshanger Manor and Lord of the Manor of Ashburton, died in January 1927. He was buried at Ilsington.
Western Morning News 18 January 1927 p2 col7


According to White's, the manor of Ashburton was 'sold in moieties' (ie halves) sometime after the reign of James 1st. At the time of the directory, Lord Clinton and Robert Jardine were lords of the manor.

White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Devon 1878-79 p105

'When James I created his son, the unfortunate Charles, Duke of Cornwall, he gave him the manor and lands of Ashburton, which is a proof that they, at that time, were in the crown. By a grant of Charles II the same passed to strangers, and Lord Clinton, the writer understands, is now the owner...'

Dartmoor, a Descriptive Poem, with notes by W Burt, N T Carrington, London 1820, p177

'In the reign of Charles II it [Ashburton] belonged to Sir Robert Parkhurst and Lord Sondes, Earl of Feversham...[Sir Robert] sold his moiety to Sir John Stawell, of Parke, in South Bovey, by whose executors it was sold to Roger Tuckfield, Esq., from whom Lord Clinton, the present proprietor of one moiety of the borough, claims. The other moiety was, about the same time, purchased by Richard Duke, Esq., and is now vested in Sir L V Palk, Bart.

A Topographical Dictionary of England, Samuel Lewis, London 1842, p80

The courts were (and are) held in St Lawrence Chapel: 'By deed bearing the 27th December, 38th Elizabeth, Hugh Pomeroy, John Blundell, George Knoll, and John Rewell, granted and confirmed to John Caunter and others of Ashburton, and their heirs, their house or chapel, called St Lawrence's Chapel, and a piece of land adjoining, called the Chapel-yard, and the said John Caunter and others covenanted with the said grantors, to permit the homage of the manor and borough of Ashburton, for the time being (according to an ancient order and custom used in that behalf), to have the use of the said chapel and yard, yearly, at the two law days holden in the said manor and borough during the time of the sitting of the said court...[The chapel] is now in a bad state of repair, notwithstanding which the grammar school is kept in it, and parish and other public meetings, and the courts of the lords of the manor are held in it.'

Report of the Commissioners concerning Charities, containing that part which relates to the County of Devon, vol1, Exeter, 1826, p143

Until 1822 the courts leet of the two lords of the manor were held separately: the stewards of Lord Clinton and Sir L V Palk at that time held the courts on alternate years. But in 1822 the courts leet were joined together.

Evidence given in court in the case of Rex v Woodley, reported in the Western Times

Western Times 2 August 1834 p2 cols4,5

'The manor belongs jointly to Lord Clinton and Sir Lawrence Palk, Bart, through whose united influence the two members have for some years been returned.'

The Panorama of Torquay, Octavian Blewitt, Torquay, 1832, p 180

In 1834 a case, Rex v Woodley, came to court in Exeter resulting from a dispute at the previous year's selection of the court leet jury: James Woodley had to show by what authority he now held the position of bailiff.

The case established that it was the custom in the borough for the bailiff to select a list of freeholders. This list was presented at the court leet, and the Lord of the manor's steward then selected a jury from the list. Amongst other duties the jury appointed the portreeve, the returning officer in elections of Members of Parliament.

In 1833 the steward, not the bailiff, selected the list, and the bailiff, Mr Richard Caunter, objected. Mr Caunter then summoned his own list of freeholders.

The steward of Lord Clinton refused to use Mr Caunter's list, and swore in his own. This jury then elected the new bailiff, James Woodley. 

During the course of the case Mr Smith, the steward, refused to hand over documents to the court, saying that they were private documents of Lord Clinton. Lord Denman C J, presiding over the case, said that Mr Smith clearly held some documents in a public capacity as steward, and held others in a private capacity as attorney of Lord Clinton. He ruled that the former documents must be produced.

The verdict was given for the crown, 'nullifying the election of Mr Woodley as bailiff'.

Western Times 10 May 1834 p1 col5

Western Times 2 August 1834 p2 cols4,5

Sherborne Mercury 4 August 1834 p4 col5

See below for a section on the Portreeve.

Boroughs. People of a town could petition the Crown concerning their ancient rights and privileges. If the monarch agreed he or she could award the town a charter* confirming those rights, and the town became a borough with a degree of autonomy and an entitlement to elect Members of Parliament. Townsmen (usually called burgesses**) administered the borough, whilst the lord of the manor usually continued to hold manorial courts.

* Again, Henry Gervis, above, says 'Ashburton is a borough by prescription, not an incorporated borough.'

I take this to mean (but I may be wrong) that the town had been regarded as a borough for so long that a charter was not necessary to affirm its rights. When debating another borough it was argued that 'Clitheroe is not a borough by prescription for it had its origin within the memory of man'.

op cit, p 429

The Legal Observor or Journal of Jurisprudence, May-October 1844, vol 28, London, 1844, p470

** Ashburton had burgesses, as shown by the 'Chart of the Burgesses of Ashburton concerning the chantry in the chapel situated in the court of the Bishop in the same town' in connection with the St Lawrence Chapel. See the St Lawrence Chapel and Grammar School under Ashburton Schools for more details.

http://www.victoriacountyhistory.ac.uk/explore/themes/government-and-administration/boroughs-and-charters  -
Accessed 7-3-2016    

http://medievalwriting.50megs.com/word/borough1.htm - Accessed 7-3-2016    

'The limits [of Ashburton] are at present unknown. No document is in existence from which it can be collected that they ever were accurately defined; nor does any trace remain of a Perambulation.

Resolutions of the House of Commons:

Resolved, 26 February 1707 that the right of election for members to serve  Parliament for the Borough of Ashburton, in the County of Devon, is in the freeholders having lands and tenements holden of the said Borough only.

Resolved, 17th March 1710, that the freeholders of the lands and tenements called Halshanger and Halwell, lands lying within the Borough of Ashburton, and subject to pay a Borough rent, have a right to vote for Members to serve Parliament for the said Borough of Ashburton.

....At the late election, which was the only one contested since 1761, persons were admitted to vote in right of estates and lands situated in various parts of the parish and at a distance from the town, whilst the intermediate properties afforded no qualification.

The situation of these lands has given rise to an impression that formerly the Parish and Borough were co-extensive, but no argument can be brought forward in support of this opinion... we therefore recommend that the limits of the parish, which are accurately defined, should for the future form the boundary of the Borough.

Parliamentary papers, House of Commons and Command, 1832, vol38, part1, p127                                    

Parishes. A parish was (and is) a unit of Church organization, the boundaries of which might or might not co-incide with those of towns and villages in the area. The focal point of every parish was its parish church - and the focal point of every church was its tower.

https://www.ice.cam.ac.uk/component/courses/?view=course&cid=7772 - Accessed 7-3-2016  
Above: Map showing the parish boundaries of Ashburton
Kain, R.J.P., Oliver, R.R., Historic Parishes of England and Wales: an Electronic Map of Boundaries before 1850 with a Gazetteer and Metadata [computer file]. Colchester, Essex: History Data Service, UK Data Archive [distributor], 17 May 2001. SN: 4348

Acknowledgement is made to R.J.P. Kain, R.R Oliver, the Economic and Social Research Council, the History Data Service and the UK Data Archive.

Above and above right: Ashburton/Staverton Boundary marker, Bulliver's Way
My own photograph circa 2013

At the end of the 19th century the effects of the late Miss Cockey included an account of the 'taking of the bounds' of Ashburton in 1613, which was given to the Portreeve to be put into the town archives.

In 1895 the custom was revived, and a large number of people set off from The Brewery, after sampling refreshments provided by Mr W H Mortimer. They crossed the railway and followed the river Yeo through Stone Park to Gulwell Bridge, and then went through Gulwell Cottage garden. After crossing Mrs Westaway's garden they went over a high wall, dropping 15 feet and wading through 10 feet of mud and water. Leat Park garden was crossed, and the river followed through Gulwell meadows. At Priestaford farmhouse 4 bond stones were examined - these once marked the bed of the river Yeo.

The party had to go through 3 feet of water under Pridhamsleigh bridge, and they then followed the river through the Furzleigh estate. The river Dart separates Ashburton from Buckfastleigh and from Holne, and this river was then followed, and waded through going under Dart Bridge. Black Rock House and the quarries were passed on the left, before arriving at Buckfast Mills and St Mary's Abbey grounds. They arrived at a little island below Hembury Fort, proceeded to Sandy Gate, and then went under Holne Bridge. The group then went on the Lovers' Leap (formerly Landscove Torr)

There was a bond stone dated March 4th 1837 at the point where Buckland meets the parish. After going up through the wood by Auswell stream, they arrived at Muswell well, where there was another bond stone dated March 4th 1837.

Right: Ashburton/Buckland boundary stone
My own photograph 2017

The boundary line continued through the ruins of the threshing floor of Auswell farm, and the party moved from Threshall Stone to Stidwell well, and reached the stone on top of the hill known as Grey Mare. They followed the road to the Beacon, then on to Cold East corner. Then they inspected Willams' Well and Blackslade Ford, and followed the wall to Grey Goose Nest. Lunch was taken in the ruins of Newhouse, which was the limit of the boundary against Widecombe. Rippon Tor was on the right.
Above: Remains of Newhouse.
My own photograph 2016

Later they proceeded to Lower New Park in Halshanger - the higher end belongs to Ilsington, and the lower to Ashburton. Following the stream  from Langaford Bridge, they arrived at Owlacombe and Hook's Cottage. The group then followed the River Lemon to Owls Rattle, and went under Lemon Bridge. The boundaries of Ilsington, Bickington and Ashburton met in a corner of an orchard, and the party went down through the orchard, over a hedge and onto the Newton Road. They then followed the road as far as the smith's shop at Water.

The route then went along the boundaries of Bickington and Torbrian, to Coombe Cross, passing then through fields on Goodstone grounds to the top of Mead Hill Cross. Here there was a stone indicating the division of Ashburton, Torbrian and Woodland. They followed the highway to Great Sanctuary, crossed the road to Higher Barn estate, and then went to the top of Whistley. The final leg of the journey was to Chuley pond and Chuley House.

Totnes Weekly Times 2 November 1895 p2 col5,6


                                                                     The Portreeve

'Ashburton is .....an ancient borough by prescription, and is governed by a chief magistrate called a portreeve, who is chosen yearly at the courts of the lords of the manor, and is the returning officer at elections for members in parliament.'

A new display of the beauties of England, or a description of the most elegant or magnificant public edifices, royal palaces, noblemen's and gentlemen's seats, Part 2. Anonymous 1776 p368

Amongst the costs and expenses noted by the Churchwardens in 1482-83, and in subsequent years, is a payment of rent to the portreeve: 'Item.....for rent received from the church tenements for the said year - 6½d' By 1578-79 it is recorded 'to the portreve for high rentes 8s'.

Churchwardens' accounts of Ashburton 1479-1580 Alison Hanham, Devon and Cornwall Record Society 1970, p2 and p185.

1830. The portreeve presided over a meeting in the borough, which resulted in a petition being sent to The House of Commons. The petition called for a reduction in taxation, and a revision of the Tithe Laws.

Western Times 18 December 1830 p2 col4

The portreeve, court leet and court baron continued (and still continue today), but from 1894 these institutions lost their administrative power, and became largely social and ceremonial.

 In 1902 Kelly's Directory says the following of Ashburton: 'It was not affected by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835, but continued to be governed by a portreeve and bailiff, elected annually at the court leet held by Lord Clinton as lord of the manor.

Kelly's Directory of Devonshire and Cornwall, 1902 p30

                                                                 The 1920 and 30s


'An air of excitement was generated when in November the court leet assembled. It was a long drawn out procedure, the names of all the householders were called out and a fine of one shilling was imposed on absentees. This was not enforced and was eventually forgotten.

As our house was opposite the (St Lawrence) Chapel we had a good view of all the events like the emerging of the portreeve. I well remember watching the newly appointed dignitaries posing at the top of the steps. In those days you needed a long  pocket to hold this office. I remember one particular year in the 1930s when to my mother's horror I could be heard saying 'Come quickly, Mummy, it's the little pock faced man who comes to church'

Many thanks to Hazel Bray for the above


Right and below:
Ashburton Museum holds drawings and descriptive text of the portreeve's regalia.

The text reads: 'The chain consists of 55 silver gilt links, each link inscribed with the name of a portreeve of Ashburton with date of office from 1831 to 1932, some links having two dates of office inscribed thereon. These links are alternately spaced between silver gilt links in the form of the letter 'A' the whole held together with the necessary plain links. There are five medallions and one badge of office depicting the Ashburton crest, the latter is detachable from the rest of the chain of office. The chian hangs from the shoulders in a double row of links both back and front.'

Below: The top half of the drawing inverted to show the earlier portreeves.
Many thanks to Bob Heath and to Ashburton Museum


At the end of 1950 Insurance Agent Richard Arscott was inaugurated as Ashburton's 1129th portreeve, succeeding Mr J A Sawdye.

At the court, which was held in the Chapel of St Lawrence, Fred Wills, the town crier, called for all freeholders to attend - Mrs Marjorie Morris, Steward of the Lord of the Borough, then recited over 400 names. 350 freeholders risked being fined the customary 1s for non-attendance.

Other officials of the court, which together formed the leet and baron juries, included:

Bailiff -  Robert Garner

Breadweighers - J A Sawdye and R G Robertson

Aletasters - W J Eales and J Shepherd

Viewers of the Markets - R Bonstow and N Stanbury

Viewers of the Watercourses - A Fallows and J Brooking

Pigdrovers - Messrs Bradford and W Cartwright

Scavengers - Messrs F Wills and W Labden

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette ! Dec 1950 p6 cols 6/7


Above: Richard Arscott when Portreeve.
Many thanks to Frances Berry for this picture. To find out more about the painting, see the 1950s section of the Virtual Museum 


                                                                     The Eight Men

'There was.....a certain body corporate, known by the name of the eight men, otherwise the eight men of Ashburton, having several liberties, privileges, pre-eminences, advantages and commodities.....'

Writ issued to the Dean of Exeter Cathedral, 1680s.

'There is not, nor is there had, nor ever was there, nor ever was there had any body corporate known by the name of the eight men.....'

Reply by the Dean

Pleas of the Crown in matters criminal and civil , Tremaine, Rice and Vickers, Dublin, 1793, p 469 For more on this see below.


'(Churchwardens) are accountable to the Rector, Vicar, new Churchwardens and Parishioners, for what Goods and Money etc. they have received for the Use of the Church; and this must be done at the End of the Year........But by a particular custom they may give up their Accounts to Twenty-four of the chief Men.....'

Parish Law, Joseph Shaw, printed by Henry Lintot, 1755, p90

The number twenty four turns up in the Churchwardens' Accounts for Ashburton in 'certayne agreamentes' of 1570, which state that the annual accounts shall be made in the vestry by the Eight Men but with the help of twenty four others, twelve of whom shall be from the Borough, and twelve from the 'Manner'.

Churchwardens' accounts of Ashburton 1479-1580 Alison Hanham, Devon and Cornwall Record Society 1970, p193

In 1537-38 £6 was delivered by the churchwardens to the Eight Men, together with 26s 8d from the store of Saint Mary Magdalene.

Churchwardens' accounts of Ashburton 1479-1580 Alison Hanham, Devon and Cornwall Record Society 1970, p103

Eamon Duffy says that the custom of having a small number of senior parishioners was 'common in the West Country.' He is writing about Morebath in Devon, where the number varied between three and five. 

The Voices of Morebath, Eamon Duffy, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2003, pp30,31.


The website www.britishfarthings.com says that cities and boroughs often issued 'town-pieces' or tokens. Ashburton was amongst the towns in Devon to coin and circulate such pieces, but it is the Moretonhampstead halfpennies that are particularly relevant here. Moretonhampstead issued two dated 1670, both bearing the words 'For ye benefit of ye poore'. In addition to this, one of them has 'Ye 8 men & Feeffees of Moreton.'

http://www.britishfarthings.com/Tokens/17th-Century/Devonshire/Devonshire.html Accessed 4-1-2014

Documents exist from the parish of Anthony in Cornwall from 1669/70, which deal with the 'chusing' of eight men or governors, and deals with their jurisdiction over buildings, church seats, rates, maintenance, choice of churchwardens etc.

When John Baron senior, a yeoman of Egloskerry, died in the 1600s, his will of 1623 left £10 for the benefit of the poor. The 'eight sidesmen of the parish' were instructed to buy wool and spin it and then return it to the Eight Men.

Ruanlanihorne Parish Church registers list the men selected to be the eight men of the parish in November 1702

National Archives E 134/21Chas2/Trin1

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk - Accessed 26-1-2014

Documents in the Cornwall Record Office, AM/176/1,2  1623

Documents in the Cornwall Record Office, P 199/1/2  1685-1812

Devon Record Office holds various items connected to the Eight Men of Broadclyst, including an Act Book containing minutes of meetings, and accounts of building materials.

Eight Men also appear in Kenn.

Document in the Devon Record Office, 1310F/A 16  1605 - 1609

Document in the Devon Record Office, 1286M/APF 1  1668

Four men, and later eight men, feature in accounts from Winsford in Somerset. 

Somerset Archive and Record Service D\P\wins/4/1/1  1556-1599; 1556, 1573-1599

But the Eight Men existed outside the south-western counties: Lancashire Record Office has a document showing Henry Gregson appointed as one of the Eight Men for the Lower End of Preston parish.

Lancashire Record Office DDA 113  23 Jan. 1743/4

What were the activities of the Eight Men of Ashburton?

In 1559 the whole parish made 'certeyn aggreamentes' concerning how local affairs would be run (not necessarily the first time that this was done.)
The wardens could not make any financial agreements above the sum of 20s without the Eight Men's consent.
When the accounts were settled, the Eight Men had the power to 'let and sett' all the church lands.
The position of being one of the Eight Men seems to have been for life, although there was a mechanism for his removal should there be a dispute with the others.
They came from either the 'Borough' or the 'Manor', and if a deceased man came from the Borough then the Borough elected the replacement. If he came from the Manor then the new man would be elected by the 'voyse of the hole londmen.'
The Eight Men had to agree with the choice of ale wardens–'alle drayers'–and if any of the eight had not served in this office they had to do it 'without any denya(l).'
Churchwardens' accounts of Ashburton 1479-1580 Alison Hanham, Devon and Cornwall Record Society 1970, p193

In 1530-31, under 'Payments for defending various lawsuits' the Eight Men, described as elected chief or principal men, appear in the Churchwardens' accounts of Ashburton. They are defending their right to the title of various tenements, and are paid £9 9s 9d. In 1533-34 they are again defending church land*, this time against Master Ford, and are paid £11 4s 2d. 
*Or it is still the same case

In 1546-47 they agreed that Philip Lapp should be the sexton, his office to begin from the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist.
Churchwardens' accounts of Ashburton 1479-1580 Alison Hanham, Devon and Cornwall Record Society 1970, pp93,119

During the next accounting period, 1547-48, the Eight Men, together with four wardens, were paid 13s7d for riding to Totnes. This was for the visitation* and 'on other business.'
In 1549-50 they, and an 'Official', were paid 6s expenses for a dinner, and in 1552-53 the Master Official was paid 2s for his work, and the Eight Men and wardens were paid 6s 8d expenses at the same time. Expenses for a dinner turn up more than once, and in 1563-64 4d is allowed for drink for the men which they had during 'the sercheyng of the evydences.'
ibid p 120,124,127,152

In 1675-76 'Mr Tresorer' is welcomed to the town (the welcome involves a 'pottle of wyne.') The wine cost the Churchwardens 12d; the banquet for the Eight Men and the wardens cost 2s 2d.
ibid p178

Also in 1552-53, the Eight Men were paid to view the writings of the church. During the 1564–65 period 2d was spent on bread for the Eight Men whilst they were performing this task.
Ibid p127, p153

*Visitations were visits made every few years by the bishop or his representative to the parish, to inspect both the clergy and the laity. Wardens were expected to declare problems within the parish; other activities included the inspection of licences and permits, examining wills brought by executors, and checking endowments and pensions.
The Routledge Companion to the Tudor Age, Rosemary O'Day, Routledge, Oxon, 2010, Chapter 10

They often determine payments to those in need. In the 1530-31 Churchwardens' accounts they ordered 6s 8d be lent to William Whyte.
12d was paid to mariners as a gift in 1560-61–this was by order of the Eight Men. In 1569-70 they ordered that a poor man be paid 6d, and (another?) poor man 2s.
Churchwardens' accounts of Ashburton 1479-1580 Alison Hanham, Devon and Cornwall Record Society 1970, pp87,144, 164,165

They are often in charge of buying or selling commodities: for instance, in the accounts spanning 1569-70 they sell 'le tymll', timber, to John Rewell.
ibid p163

They were also prominent in collective decisions with the parish regarding contracts of employment and the arrangement of apprenticeships. During 1571-72 John Alys, pewterer, agreed to repair all the church lead for the remainder of his natural life, for the sum of 40s in hand. The contract, or covenant, was made with the 8 Men and the 'parysshe.'
The 8 Men and 'parysshe' also arranged the apprenticeship of Francis Nyghtyngale to William Hoper for seven years.
ibid p170

Thomas Tayllor and Nycholas Erell were in trouble during this period, for breaking the 'ordynancez and statutes' of the church. They had to 'sybmytt them selffes to the grace and favour of the 8 men of the parysshe.'
ibid p166

The men are sometimes named.
A list that Alison Hanham believes to be pre 1515 shows the Eight Men as: Johannes Dolberre senior, Johannes Soper, Johannes Ollysbrome, Willelmo Kesse, Thomas Predyaux senior, Thomas Mathew, Johannes Crocker and Johannes Wreyfford.
ibid p 192
Circa 1530 the ownership of a tenement, curtilage and gardens in Ashburton is in dispute. Originally in the Stroite family, Jane Ford, a great great granddaughter of Richard and Isabel Stroite, claims the property, but it is now 'of' William Whyte. 'Eight of the chief men and rulers of the lands, goodes and catalles of the instaures of the seid parysshe churche' are the named defendants: these include John Wydecombe, John Devyll, John Wyndeyate and William Noseworthy, wardens of the 'instawre' of St Andrew in Ashburton parish church, John Knolle (or Knolling) the sexton, and others.

National Archives, Chancery collection. C 1/634/37

In 1562-63 they are: Laurance Wydecomb, Christoffer Warreyn, Thomas Dolbeare, William Whyttwaye, John Elys (the elder), William Mewcomb, Robert Predyaux and William Nycholl. In the accounts covering those years they are leasing a tenement in North Street to John Waylsshe, and have the consent of the 'hole parysshe' to do so.

At some time between 1574 and 1580 they are: Christofer Warrynge, William Mewcombe, William Fermouth, Recherd Mewcombe, Harrye Ascott, Robert Payge, George Knoll and John Elys.
iChurchwardens' accounts of Ashburton 1479-1580 Alison Hanham, Devon and Cornwall Record Society 1970, pp xviii,150,192

In an indenture dated 8 February 25 Elizabeth (circa 1583) a Robert Page and a William Feymouth granted to William Knolling and 21 others some premises believed to be a house, orchard and garden on the south side of East Street.* These premises were only to be rented out with the consent of the eight men, who also had to determine the amount of rent. The profits were then to be used for the relief and maintenance of the poor of Ashburton, as the eight men thought fit. 
Report to the Charity Commissioners, HMSO, 1908, p8
*Conclusion by Charity Commissioners in 1822.
It seems more than likely that Robert Page is the same Robert Payge listed by Alison Hanham above, and possible that William Feymouth equals William Fermouth.

In a similar indenture of 14th December 7th James 1 (circa 1610) Thomas Prideaux, of Totnes, left an annuity of £2 12s to provide thirteen poor people of the parish of Ashburton with one penny white loaf every Friday after morning prayer. The annuity came from rents from various lands: Sparnham, fields near Mead Lane, a close at Fowlaford and Breadon's lands, and the choice of recipients rested with the constable and eight men of the parish.
Ibid, p 12

Laurence Blundell's will of 18th March 1637, proved in the PCC, gave an annuity of £4 to maintain the school at Ashburton, plus another £4 towards the education and maintenance of a scholar, Martin Butler. After Martin Butler ceased to be a scholar the annuity was to pass to another deserving child, 'as should, from time to time, be nominated by his executors, and the eight men of the said parish....' After the death of his wife another £6 was to be paid for a scholar, 'as should be appointed by his executors, and their heirs, the vicar of Ashburton, and the eight men or sidesmen of the said parish.....'
Ibid pp 19, 20

In 1735 Edward Gould left the substantial amount of £200 in trust to augment 'the maintenance of the schoolmaster of the free-school of Ashburton', but the people in charge of this trust are the minister, the churchwardens and the sidesmen of the parish. There appears to be no mention of the eight men as such.
Report to the Charity Commissioners,
HMSO 1908, p11

The above examples seem to equate the eight men with sidesmen, as often seems to be the case – for instance in Ashburton and Its Neighbourhood Charles Worthy states 'These eight men were the sidesmen who are always so called...'
Ashburton and Its Neighbourhood, Charles Worthy, 1875, printed L B Varder, East Street, p24

However, whilst the eight men were selected for life, Shaw's Parish Law makes it clear that in the 'great parishes' at least sidesmen were chosen every year.* but their duties are similar (if not identical): 'In process of time...it was usual for Bishops to summon some credible persons out of every Parish, and it was directed in the Citation, that four, six or eight, according to the Proportion of the District, should appear together with the Clergy to represent the People, whom they examined upon Oath concerning the Manners of the People , the Condition of the Church, and other Affairs relating to it.'
Parish Law, Joseph Shaw, printed by Henry Lintot, 1755, p133

*This is still the case. 'The sidesmen of the parish shall be appointed by the annual parochial church meeting' www.churchofengland.org/media/35582/lay.pdf - Accessed 4-4-2014

A note on the back cover of Ashburton register of baptisms vol X 1796-1812 gives an account of the appointment of 8 sidesmen at the counting tomb in the churchyard at evening service, to be sworn to that office on the following court day. "On 13 May 1804 Rev John Lane Kitson Vicar proffered (?) 8 persons for the affirmation of the parishioners."
Transcription by Mr and Mrs Hatch. Thanks to Jeremy Hatch for this document.

In 1793 a book was published containing legal cases collected by Sir John Tremaine, John Rice and Thomas Vickers, entitled 'Pleas of the Crown in matters criminal and civil.'

One of these cases concerns a John Yolland  during the reign of Charles II (1660–1685). He had been elected 'into the place and office of one of the eight men of the parish of Ashburton', but the dean of the cathedral church of St Peter in Exeter had not 'admitted the said John Yolland into the place and office.....nor have administered to the said John Yolland, according to the duty of your office, the oath in the parish of Ashburton in the county of Exeter.'

A writ was issued to try and force the dean, Richard Annesley, saying that John had 'great damage and grievance' and 'manifest injury of his estate'.

The dean agreed that there was an 'ancient and laudable custom of choosing the said eight men in the parish of Ashburton' and that 'upon the death or deaths of one or more of the said eight men some other person or persons......have been used and accustomed to be chosen.'

But, he argued, this choosing happened on the first Sunday after the 6th May, and not at any other time; and the person elected was presented to the dean or his surrogate at the next visitation. John Yolland's predecessor, William Friend, died on the 1st May 1681. The first Sunday after the 6th May was the 8th May, and John was not elected on that date. This was the reason he had refused to admit him.

Pleas of the Crown in matters criminal and civil , Tremaine, Rice and Vickers, Dublin, 1793, p 467-469

Above: During what I have called 'The Pew Wars' of the 1760s and 1770s, the Eight Men are still evident. In a letter to Richard Harris, Attorney at Law, Thomas Furlong says the following:

'Having no church rate, whether the rents and profits of the church lands are not given to the eight men of the parish of Ashburton or sidesmen ffeoffes or trustees and such rents appropriated towards repairing the parish church of Ashburton and that when the Woodleys also (?) hath wanted repair in the roofing and             it hath been repaired by the moneys arising from such rents.......'

From my own collection
For more on the 'Pew Wars' see the section on St Andrew's Church under Churches and memorials.

Following on from Laurence Blundell's will, (see above) in 1822 the Charity Commissioners stated that they had seen a bond dated 18th September 1812 given by William Aldridge Cockey of Ashburton to the vicar, two churchwardens, and eight sidesmen in the sum of £200, on condition that the vicar and sidesmen appointed Thomas Cockey to receive the £10 a year.  
If the eight sidesmen are equivalent to the eight men, (also see above) this is the most recent Ashburton reference to them that I have found.
Report to the Charity Commissioners, HMSO, 1908, p20


                                         The Parish Council and the Urban District Council

There were nine applicants for the post of scavenger, which became vacant in 1889. The job went to George Pomeroy, who in addition to a salary of £28 12s per annum also nad the perk of 'the proceeds of the sweepings'.
Western Times 18 October 1889 p8 col5

In 1894 there was much talk of how the town was to be administered. A new Local Government Act (56 & 57 Vict. c. 73) formed a second tier of local government below the existing county councils. The Act dictated that there must at least be a Parish Council - the only question was whether instead Ashburton should have a District Council. The arguments centred around which would be the most cost efficient.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 22 March 1894 p6 col3

In April a committee formed to consider the matter recommended that a Parish Council would best serve the community. Mr G C Foot proposed that the recommendations be adopted, and this was seconded by W Jennings. However, Mr Jennings then proceeded to divert off into 'personal matters' and was eventually ordered to sit down by the chairman.
Others at the meeting supported a 'Local Board', but the proposal to form a Parish Council won the day, by a large majority.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 20 April 1894 p10 col6

Mr Jennings is probably the same Mr (Walter) Jennings, a journeyman painter, who 'gave his interpretation' of the new Local Government Act at the St Lawrence Chapel in October. He announced that he would be standing as a candidate for the Parish Council, together with other working men - but his call for fellow candidates to join him on the platform was unsuccessful. 'No-one responded to his appeal'.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 30 October 1894 p5 col3

The first meeting of the new Parish Council was held on 31 December 1894
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 2 January 1895 p3 col4

The next year a meeting of the Parish Council (Called Rural District Council by the same paper in June) included the following officers:

Rev W M Birch

W T S Smerdon

J P Tucker

J Endacott

T W Mann

F White

G C Foot

J Honywill

J F Baker

W Irish

J Lamason

Footpaths were discussed, and a list of the Fire Brigade's appliances was received from Capt. Tucker.

It was reported that there was 'great disatisfaction' amongst the ratepayers over the Clerk's salary.

Western Times 17 May 1895 p6 col4


In 1896 The Rev W M Birch presided over the last meeting of the old Parish Council

Western Times 17 April 1896  p6 col3                    

In 1896 the new councillors were elected:

Successful were:

G C Foot, land agent

J F Baker, accountant

F W Yates, gentleman

W T S Smerdon, gentleman

J Cock, mine agent

P F S Amery, gentleman

Rev W M Birch, vicar

J P Tucker. merchant

F White, china dealer

J Lamason, brush manufacturer

T Lambshead, farmer

W Irish, gentleman

G Andrews, shoemaker

J H Mitchelmore, foreman tailor

J Cock, jnr., farmer

Unsuccessful were:

J Endacott, builder

W E Jennings, painter

J Honywill, labourer

J H Pomroy, builder

Western Times 1 April 1896 p3 col2              


By 1900, the Western Times is calling Ashburton an Urban District Council

Western Times 9 July 1900 p4 col7

The 1902 Kelly's Directory says the following: "Since 1898......... the government of the town has been entrusted, under the Local Government Act 1894, to an Urban District Council of 12 members, formed 15th April that year.

Kelly's Directory of Devonshire and Cornwall, 1902 p30

In 1906 The Ashburton, Buckfastleigh, Brent and Ivybridge Almanack also refers to Ashburton as an Urban District Council



1907 A meeting of the Urban District Council decided that in various areas of the town the old paving was to be taken up and new concrete laid. This included North Street and West Street, and from the top of St Lawrence Lane to the Railway Inn. Cobblestones in the footpaths (which might relate to Bowden Hill only) were to be replaced by tar paving.

Western Times 11 June 1907 p2 col4


Left: Mr. W. Langler at a council election.
Many thanks to Lerida Arnold for the above photograph

1929 Mr W H Folland's tender for a horse, cart, and man to work with the steam-roller was accepted by the Urban District Council. He was to charge 12s per day.

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 14 November 1929, p2, col5

Above, left and below: Booklets for the Portreeve's Dinner, 1942 and 1945. Brian Baker was Portreeve in 1942, and F. More Easterbrook in 1945
Many thanks to Lerida Arnold for all of these items.

In 1949 Brain Bernard Baker was up for re-election to the Urban District Council.

Above and below: Bill Cartwright and Brain Baker were both candidates in the Devon County Elections in 1952
Many thanks to Lerida Arnold for the above documents.


 Above: Members of the Town Council, and list of Clerks to the Council. This plaque can be seen in the Town Hall.

Many thanks to John Germon for this photograph.

Below: Mrs G M Morris, Clerk to the Council. Here she is wearing the wig and gown as she appeared each year as Clerk to the Court Leet and Baron Jury. This photo, probably from the 1960s, was taken when the library was housed in the St Lawrence Chapel.
Many thanks to Rachel Wood for the photograph and information.