Village Lives

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Key Landmarks

Staverton Bridge

The Church of St Paul de Leon

The Steam Railway

History of the village

Staverton is a village situated in the South Hams, Devon. It is 3 miles from Totnes and 7 miles from Torbay. It lies on the banks of the beautiful river Dart nestled in the river valley.

The name Staverton, or Stouretona, means “the village by the stony ford.” The ford, an ancient crossing many centuries older than the bridge, was situated by Town Mills, and provided a route from the village to Dartington.

However old the real history of Staverton parish may be, written records go back to the time of King Athelstan (925-940), who gave extensive lands to the monastery of St. Mary and St. Peter in Exeter, so that the income from the lands could support the work of the church. Falling on hard times however the monastery subsequently sold the manors. In 1050 Leofric became the Bishop of Exeter and he regained all of the lands which had been given by Athelstan, and Staverton and the nearby manor of Sparkwell returned to the church’s keeping. Later, in 1088, the Doomsday Book records the manor of Staverton as being worth £7 and Sparkwell as 15/-(shillings) a year.

Over the centuries, boundaries have moved and manors have been split. By the 15th century, Sparkwell Manor consisted of Sparkwell, Beara and Blacker, names which still survive today. Barkingdon and Kingston were separate manors. From Saxon times, the Wolston family was associated with the area, originally with Sparkwell and later with Blackler and Beara. Their name survives today in Wolston Green, a hamlet within the parish boundary.

 Sparkwell and Kingston were later owned by the Barnhouse family, and passed via Agnes Barnhouse to her husband John Rowe. Barkington was owned by the Worths until the 17th century. The boundaries of the manors were not always as they are now, but where field names were recorded, it is easy to trace the historical boundaries of ownership. Some are still referred to as they were over a thousand years ago.

 The manor of Staverton continued to provide income for the Chapter of Exeter. Changes to legal title were made in 1148 concerning the church at Staverton. The Chapter of Exeter was instructed to appoint an “upright man as Vicar and allow him sufficient maintenance.”

 Some hamlets became independent of the church and changed hands frequently. Tradition has it that Pridhamsleigh was lost as a gambling debt by the Gould family, forebears of Sabine Barring-Gould (who wrote the words to Onward Christian Soldiers). However, the Church retained much of the land and this is reflected today with the Church Commissioners still owning substantial areas of the parish.

 The River Dart forms one of the parish boundaries and appears to have caused some problems in the past. For many years the riparian rights (the right to use water – a valuable commodity in those days – as now!) were leased by the Chapter of Exeter to Buckfast Abbey. The monks resented any use made of the river down-stream, lest it reduced their supply of salmon, and they would often resort to violence and intimidation of a most irreligious nature, which sometimes landed them in the Courts. The last such incident appears in the Court of the Star Chamber records, just before the Dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. A mill, probably sited near the present Staverton bridge, was leased by the Abbot of Buckfast to one John Macy, and it appears that some of the monks had broken in and violently taken stock from the mill for no apparent reason.

 The parish seems to have a long tradition of education. As early in the 19th Century, there were four small schools within its boundaries. The location of these is not known and it is likely that they were Dame Schools, the most common form of education prior to the 1870 Education Act. Reference is also made to teachers working in the parish since the 17th Century.

 Landscove School was built in 1855, and was originally designed for 50 children. It was enlarged in 1897. The school and school house was financed by Miss Champernowne, as was Landscove Church and vicarage.

 Staverton School was built in 1875 at a cost of £900. It was designed to provide education for 70 children. During the five years from 1870, when education became compulsory, children were taught in the Court Room, now the Village Hall. The Headmistress however, had to wait until 1878 for a house to be provided. Staverton School has been closed since the 1950’s but Landscove School continues to thrive and we now have St Christopher’s School, a private Prep School and Nursey, based in converted 19th Century barns on the edge of Staverton village.

 The slate quarries at Penn Recca in the northern part to the parish have contributed significantly to the history of the parish.  The earliest records of the quarries is 1338, when Penn slate was used by John Holland, a half brother of Richard II, for roofing Dartington Hall. However, they later fell into disuse. Their revival in the 19th Century had a major influence in the development of the parish. During this period, Penn slate was used for the roof of the Houses of Parliament. Sadly however, the only thing worth preserving from the quarries’ long history is the chimney on the road from Penn to Parkfield.

 By 1845, when Penn Recca mine was opened and expanded, over four hundred people lived more than two miles from Staverton Church. It was therefore decided to build a second Church in the parish. The land chosen was near Thornecroft where the majority of the slate miners’ cottages were situated. At the time it was used for allotments and the field was called Landscore. This name changed to Landscove when the church was dedicated in that name. There are therefore two ecclesiastical parishes within the civil parish of Staverton and Landscove has become the name for the hamlet that was traditionally known as Wolston Green.

 The land for Landscove church was given by the Dean and Chapter of Exeter, and the building was generously funded by Miss Champernowne a former owner of Dartington Hall. The cost of the building work is reputed to have been £3,000. The architect, John Loughbrough Pearson also later designed Truro Cathedral. The vicarage, now Hill House, was also funded by Miss Champernowne, and dates from around the same time.

 The slate quarries, which finally closed in 1908, also had an influence on the development on the roads of the parish. In the 19th Century, the road system was very different from now, and the main road from Ashburton to Totnes ran through Five Lanes, on through High Beara to Bumpston Cross, passing about six hundred yards from the adit (horizontal entrance) at Lower Coombe making it easier for the transport of the slate to either town.

 Like many rural settlements, the population of the parish has been in steady decline since the mid-19th Century. Population statistics are scanty prior to 1801, when the first Census was carried out. However, a report of around 1750 said that as many hogsheads of cider were made each year as there were men and women in the parish, and this was about 2,000 hogsheads.

 The 1801 Census shows a population of 1053, 473 males and 580 females. The highest recorded population in the 19th Century was in 1851 with the total of 1152, 562 males and 590 females. This was when production in the slate quarries was at its peak, but a sharp fall occurred by 1861, with only 949 people in the parish. The Census report notes that this was due to the decline in employment in the slate quarries. The1881 report also comments that agriculture remained the main source of employment in the parish despite the relatively large numbers employed in the quarries.

 From 1861 onwards, the population of Staverton has continued to fall slowly, the lowest figure being in 1971, with 551 people living in the parish. By 1981, this had increased to 627.

 The fact that Staverton village alone at one time could support three public houses, bears testimony to a once larger population. In 1850, the Landlord of the Ring O’ Bells Inn, whose name survives in Ring O’ Bells hill, was the aptly named Robert Beer! The other two pubs at the time were the Church House Inn (now the Sea Trout Inn) and the Union Inn. The exact location of the latter is not known but was possibly in the Sherwell Close area. In addition, there was also the Live and Let Live at Wolston Green which still exists today.

 This has been only a brief glimpse at some of the more notable events and developments which have taken place over the centuries. It is hoped however, that it helps to put the parish into it’s historical context and links us with the men and women who played their part in shaping the parish which we know today.

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