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Martin Hartnett Interview on History of Hatherleigh Churchyard and its Residents

[Marian Southwick] (0:00 – 0:32)

Today is the 18th of March 2024. I am Marianne Southwick interviewing Martin Hartnett, a member of the History Society, talking about the history of Hatherleigh Churchyard and some of its residents. The recording is taking place in the old schools, Hatherleigh. The interview forms part of the Heritage Lottery funded project to preserve and record heritage relating to St John the Baptist Church, Hatherleigh. Martin, if you’d like to tell us what you’ve uncovered.

[Martin Hartnett] (0:32 – 3:36)

Okay, thank you Marian. Well I’ve been doing quite a lot of research into the churchyard and the inscriptions on some of the gravestones. So to start with just a little background history.

The churchyard, like many, has expanded over the centuries as more space was needed. The original churchyard surrounded the church on a fairly small island, I believe. But at the top of the churchyard, the old Monks Bowling Green, which is above the top half, so called I believe because the manor originally belonged to Tavistock Abbey and at one time there was a college of monks who lived in College Lane, probably what is now known as the old church house.

Over time monks also lived in various houses around the square. But the old Bowling Green first came into use as a burial ground for Thomasin Luxton of Hull, or Hull Court as it’s now known. He was buried there in September 1838.

To the north of the churchyard there was an extension northwards in 1890 thanks to land that was donated by the Lord of the Manor E. G. Oldham and the vicar Reverend Banks, who both gave some of their land towards it.

And at that time a new north wall was erected at the top of the churchyard. There’s a stone plinth just to the left of the path that leads from the church tower and this possibly marks where the old boundary was before the expansion. It has the year 1890 engraved on a piece of reused dressed stone which may possibly have been a pillar or doorway or window stone from alterations carried out in the church at some point.

Further along that path there’s another stone monolith which lines up with the informal path that comes down through the churchyard from the top gate. It has some illegible lettering on it and possibly the date 1918 and that may mark another divide in the northward extension. To the west of that path is what was called the new burial ground, the deed for which was signed by the vicar and the church wardens in 1931.

It was consecrated by the Bishop of Exeter on the 24th of April 1940 and the first burial in that area was in 1945. Beyond the churchyard as such the current burial ground was purchased by the town council in the early 1980s with the first burial carried out there in 2012. There used to be another entrance into the churchyard via a path which led from Market Street from the tall side gate of the thatched house at number 43 to the lady chapel the eastern end of the south aisle of the church and apparently the lady’s style was on that path which has now been walled off at the churchyard boundary.

[Marian Southwick] (3:38 – 3:40)

Would you like to talk about some of the listed monuments?

[Martin Hartnett] (3:41 – 5:51)

Yes sure well the church itself is listed grade one by English Heritage and there are three monuments in the churchyard that are also listed grade two. The War Memorial is one which was unveiled on the 11th of May 1921. There’s an early 18th century chest tomb with a chamfered granite lid which is about eight meters east of the church.

There is no inscription visible on it and it’s not immediately clear why that tomb was singled out for listing as there was another very similar looking one at the top end of the War Memorial triangle. The other listed monument is the 1788 headstone for Mary Ormdore. Her name is actually Arimdore on the inscription and that one’s six meters north of the church and it’s two stones which are virtually identical back to back.

One side has the inscription for her and the other side has a verse which is surmounted by a winged hourglass flanked with a scythe and a spade and the words my glass is run. Now there are a number of other old gravestones in the churchyard that also feature hourglasses and some with skulls and crossbones too and some of which are very naively carved especially the earlier ones. These are not the graves of pirates as some would like to believe but are memento mori which literally translates as remember you must die and a symbol is meant to remind the living of our mortality.

Another early grave comes from there apparently being some parliamentary troops that settled in Hadley at the end of the civil war after the overthrow of Cromwell and return of Charles II and the quote is that the parish records tell us that John Locke a tall grenadier officer in Cromwell’s army was buried under one of the large tombs in the churchyard on the 21st of April 1679. I’m not sure which parish records those are only his name and burial date appear in the burial register.

[Marian Southwick] (5:52 – 5:56)

Martin would you like to tell us something about some of the other churchyard residents?

[Martin Hartnett] (5:57 – 8:50)

Yes there’s a few who are worthy of note one being Miss Ida Mary Breton who was a 33 year old lady artist who was murdered in the town on the evening of the 15th of May 1905 while painting down by the river loo below Strawbridge house. This was an incident that received a lot of coverage in the press both nationally and internationally and was labelled both the Hadley tragedy and the Hadley horror. Ida was a native of Southampton and she was due to be married the following month to the Reverend Ernest Inman from Yorkshire.

She had been involved with a lot of charitable work for six years with the Society of Grey Ladies in London and later among the Fish Girls at Grimsby and quite burnt out by this work she was holidaying with her uncle Arthur Isbell at Claremont Villa which is now called Turnpike House in Oakfield Road. She was a frequent visitor to the town visiting her family and she was well known and liked here. Her funeral was a large and sorrowful gathering.

Her memorial is just to the right of the path that leads from the church tower. It’s a stepped stone plinth that was surmounted by a cross which has now fallen. It was initially thought that she had been fatally injured by cattle down by the river as she had some serious head injuries but suspicion soon fell on local man John Ware.

John, known locally as Jack, was a 22 year old labourer who was lodging in Budlar Lane and had only recently returned to the town and had just been paid off from his job. He had parted from his fellow labourers while walking home taking a route that might have led him past the river at Strawbridge. He was reported to have been acting very agitatedly later that evening and was also seen to have very wet trouser legs as if he had been in the river.

He was arrested for questioning but committed suicide that same day in the cells of the police station in South Street. It turns out that John Ware had some four years earlier in 1901 been sentenced to nine months imprisonment with hard labour for the indecent assault of a young daughter of the farmer he was working for in Doddyskynslea. He was buried the day after Miss Breton in an unmarked grave in the alley of the churchyard immediately left of the gates in the presence of an unsympathetic crowd and with no family members present.

Difficulty was had in obtaining four coffin bearers and the Oakhampton Guardians argued as to who should pay for the interment expenses. Ida Mary Breton and her supposed murderer John Ware share consecutive entries in the parish burial register.

[Marian Southwick] (8:51 – 8:54)

How did he commit suicide in the cell?

[Martin Hartnett] (8:55 – 9:26)

He actually strangled himself I believe with a handkerchief and fell to the floor banging his head and hemorrhaging. I think is the gory side of the story. There was a lot of coverage in the press of both the inquest for Ida Mary Breton and for John Ware.

Obviously he was never tried but it was unanimously thought that it was an admission of guilt and he wished to avoid his punishment for it by taking matters into his own hands.

[Marian Southwick] (9:27 – 9:34)

Can you tell us something about the parish registers list of people buried in the alley?

[Martin Hartnett] (9:35 – 10:34)

Well there are several others that I’ve found that were mentioned going back over centuries and around 1579 Philip Copley, an excommunicate person as its word is in the register, was buried in Yee Alley without priest or clerk. In 1613 Thomas Hatch, an excommunicate recusant who was somebody who refused to go to church, was also buried in the alley of the churchyard on the second day of that month by the sexton and other poor people. And the third one I found was in 1634 on the 3rd of March when Mary Arnell was buried and Thomas Arnell, an excommunicate person, was buried in the alley the same day.

So presumably they were related perhaps husband and wife but why she was in the churchyard and he was in the alley is unknown.

[Marian Southwick] (10:35 – 10:37)

Perhaps she went to church and he didn’t.

[Martin Hartnett] (10:37 – 10:55)

It could have been as simple as that. I think there was some speculation when the entries were found that he might have murdered her and then committed suicide and hence been buried without ceremony in the alley but as the others all seem to be excommunicates for whatever reason I think that’s probably what it was.

[Marian Southwick] (10:59 – 11:05)

You’ve also found some interesting inscriptions. Would you like to enlarge on those a little bit?

[Martin Hartnett] (11:05 – 12:08)

Yes, there are many interesting stories told on the gravestones. Some very sad to speak of some of the tragic stories behind them and amongst those are the many young children, several from a particular family such as Catherine and John Bowden who died in 1818 and 1824 aged one and nine respectively and they have a short inscription. Presume not on tomorrow’s date uncertain is life’s fairest hour disease and death impending wait to crush the scarcely opened flower and I think that sentiment is echoed on a lot of the gravestones of the younger children who had passed away.

Another very sad story is for Anne Abel who died in 1835 who was aged just 37 leaving a husband and 11 children to mourn their loss.

[Marian Southwick] (12:09 – 12:09)


[Martin Hartnett] (12:10 – 14:32)

It’s a large family. Another also Joan Lane who was just 18 years old buried by her parents with the wording my grave it is my wedding bed which either reflects that she was perhaps engaged to be married or that those were the hopes that the parents had for their young daughter who was taken too soon. And there’s a very dark verse on one of the broken headstones that leans behind the garages on the edge of the churchyard for James Friendship who was buried in 1807 aged 45 and it reads in pain and sickness long I laid my flesh consumed my lungs decayed I like a flower once did bloom but now lies moulded in this tomb.

But there are some more cheerful inscriptions as well. At least two feature verse which was written by John Goss who was a local resident and husband of Francis Lady Harrington and it’s also an early pioneer in the cross-pollination of peas. The grave for Richard King who died in 1816 and was formerly a landlord of the George Inn reads approach with awe here sleeps a king whose soul from earth has taken wing from this vain world its toys and toil I’m gone to reign my name is royal believe in Christ from sin refrain then you above like kings shall reign.

There’s another with the verse by John Goss as well for William Weeks who died in 1816. My name is time or parts of time or weeks composed of sevens though may my saviour wash my crime and raise me to the heavens my days are gone yet weeks remain dear wife and friends from tears refrain. And there’s one more of interest which is mounted on the east wall of the church and it’s a memorial tablet for William Tucker who died in 1845 leaving at the time of his death children grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the number of 148.

[Marian Southwick] (14:33 – 14:34)

Busy man.

[Martin Hartnett] (14:35 – 14:36)

Very busy.