Crediton & District

History Group Archive

These topics were discussed at previous meetings


At our January meeting, local historian and author Elly Babbedge gave us a very well-received talk based around three “lives” from Cheriton Fitzpaine. Elly has done an immense amount of research into the history of the village, and blended this into her tales of the people she referred to as “The Tanner, the Lunatic and the Pauper”.

We came away knowing much more about rural occupations in the past, differing historical approaches to dealing with mental illness and some thoughtful reflections on how communities then and now deal with issues of social care.

At our February meeting, Tony Gale gave a presentation on the history of trees and woodlands in England. We debunked a few myths about how much woodland there was in the mediaeval era. We learned about the traditional uses of various woods (using alder wood to make clogs!); the massive importance of coppicing right up to the twentieth century; and how the incredible growth in demand for timber for commercial shipping worried the Royal Navy two hundred years ago.

In March, Peter Budd gave us another of his well-crafted audio-visual presentations – this time, looking at the traditional occupations of people on Dartmoor. Given the weather we experienced that month, we were all doubly glad not to be destined for the cold, hard life of so many of our recent ancestors.

In April, we remembered the 1960s. Well, some of us did. One member admitted to having been to the Isle of Wight Festival but, “couldn’t remember much about it” – a classic quote! Lots of old photos, favourite LPs, memories of work, hobbies and what we ate – and even a couple of dresses saved from the era. Lots of people have already been canvassing for a session on Remembering the 1970s. Probably one for next year.

Our event for May was a joint trip with the Churches & Historic Buildings Visiting Group to Killerton House for the Suffragette Exhibition – see Keith Barker’s report on the Churches & Historic Buildings page.

At our July meeting, Keith Barker gave a most enjoyable talk about the History of English Placenames. Apparently, some of us had travelled that day across a sandy ford; others from a village with a church (not really surprised by that…); and yet others had a lucky escape while crossing a brook haunted by an evil spirit.

Keith had done a great deal of research with a special emphasis on local placenames – so members from Sandford or Cheriton now know the origin of those names; and anyone passing through Shobrooke will tread warily when they cross the brook that flows through the village.

In August, we swapped our usual monthly meeting for a walkabout – an early evening walking tour of the West Town of Crediton.

John Heal shared some of his in-depth knowledge of sites such as the Town Square, the Great Fire of Crediton, the High Street (who knew there were so many historic courts leading off it?), Searle Street, St Lawrence Green and St Lawrence Chapel.

Discussions about St Lawrence Chapel have sparked further investigations and discoveries since our walk. If you want to know more, you’ll just have to come to our next meeting.

In October, we got a bit fanciful. We used a previously unremarked single sheet document from the Devon Heritage Centre to take us back to Crediton in 1651 - a play reading with a cast of characters including the Official Receiver for Devon, a bemused bailiff and a curiously poetic Auditor from the Exchequer. A novel way to present what was, on the face of it, a rather dry tale of unpaid rents. Tony Gale’s modern transcription of the document is on our archive page.

In November, we were introduced to dowsing by Alan Murray. Alan’s presentation looked at the background and history of the subject – and we then went across to the parish church for a practical demonstration. With several people walking around the aisles holding dowsing rods, whilst others were working on preparations for the Christmas tree festival, any member of the public looking into the church might have wondered quite how diverse religious practices had become in Crediton. Our thanks to Alan for a though-provoking session.


Keith Barker gave us a well-researched talk on the history of surnames. Along with the long list of occupational names (Carpenter, Baker, Cook) and patronymics (Johnson, Peters, Edwards), we discovered that some members of the group were descended from people who had acquired nicknames with meanings like “bald”, “tubby” and “merry, wanton and licentious”.

We also learned that our Prime Minister’s surname suggests a sunny disposition, whilst the Leader of the Opposition should have a voice like a crow. Clearly, we don’t all inherit the characteristics of our forebears!

Tony Gale and Peter Budd gave us an update on exploring the Anglo-Saxon boundaries of “Cridie” – including some photographs of unexpected views and tales of getting a bit lost (and wet) in the woods.

Peter Budd gave us an excellent presentation about the Western Rebellion of 1549, an episode wryly remembered as the “Commotion Times” – but a more harrowing tale than that name would suggest. This being a proper U3A History Group, we looked at some of the recent evidence and some of us left the meeting keen to find out more.

An enthusiastic group of history-lovers joined us to look at sites in Copplestone, Coleford and Colebrooke.

Tony Gale gave a summary of current thinking on the Copplestone – an important Anglo-Saxon monument first recorded in 974CE as a boundary marker. How and why this stone was carried here from the western edge of Dartmoor no-one really knows, but it’s a tour-de-force of decoration, even if much of the detail has been eroded. There are plenty of unanswered questions about why it was erected, what the carvings represent and how it has been “mucked about with” over the last 1,000+ years – we might come back to this topic in more detail, some time.

The walk proper started at Coleford, where we met local historian Neville Enderson, a man with a deep and detailed knowledge of the village. Neville explained that until the nineteenth century, Coleford was on the main road west from Crediton. Not only did Charles I pass through with his army in 1644 (and possibly stood under the porch of Spencer Cottage to review them) but his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, is reputed to have passed through the village in disguise on her way to Falmouth, fleeing the country after the birth of her daughter at Exeter. Neville also told us about the coming of the railway (now the Tarka Line) and the impact that had had on the village.

We walked to Colebrooke and met Neville again for a tour of the church. We looked at how the building had been adapted to meet changing religious practices (removing the rood screen, building extra aisles) and the role played by prominent local families including the Copplestones, the Corytons and others. Two notable bench-ends and one fine wall monument led to discussions about heraldry – a “wild man” holding the Gorges shield on a bench end, and the arms of Coryton and Mills on the memorial to Lady Elizabeth Coryton. Further research reveals that the unusual device on the Mills shield is a Fer-de-Moline, or millrind (the ironwork which supports the upper millstone), a fine example of canting heraldry (“Mills” represented by milling equipment).

Neville then showed us the grave of Colebrookes’s most notable celebrity. Abraham Cann was a professional wrestler who became Champion of All England in the 1820s. After retiring from the sport, he returned to his native village of Colebrooke and lies buried under an ornate stone.

Having worked up a good appetite walking back to Coleford, we rounded off the morning with lunch at the New Inn.

By common consent, we should do something like this again in the Spring. Thanks to Peter Budd for the photographs:
1 and 2 – The Copplestone
3 - Spencer Cottage, Coleford
4 - Gorges bench end, Colebrooke Church
5 – Coryton memorial, Colebrooke Church
6 – Churchyard and Abraham Cann’s Grave, Colebrooke

Our October meeting drew a big audience all eager to learn from Tony Gale about Britain’s First Road Atlas, published by the remarkable John Ogilby in 1675. We talked about the problems encountered by seventeenth century travellers (we moan about potholes and confusing road signs but things were much, much worse then) and we considered some of the challenges involved in designing and creating an entirely new sort of map. We also looked at how the Atlas described the main route through the Crediton area – including a fascinating amount of detail and several roads which can still be followed today.

John Heal presented a selection of old photographs of Crediton – part of the archive held by the Crediton History & Museum Society (CHAMS). John’s detailed knowledge of the town and its history was invaluable in picking out several fascinating details in the photographs – and we were all invited to help in identifying some of the inevitable “don’t knows”. Who might be able to identify the elegant gent in the hat at the Coronation Market of 1911 (see photo)? Why is a man in uniform holding two small flags in this photograph looking east along Union Road? We might ask John back again some time to share some more of this wonderful archive with us. In the meantime, click on the CHAMS link above right.

Georgina Edwards gave us a presentation on The Border Reivers and the Debatable Lands. We heard tales of villainous characters and dark deeds in the region lying between Scotland and England, a lawless place right up to Tudor times – just the thing to promote good cheer at Christmastime. Thanks to Georgina for helping to put things into perspective for us.

Click on a picture below to see it full-size with more details.