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Martin Hartnett Interview on Prominent Monuments in the Churchyard at St Johns Church Hatherleigh

[Marian Southwick] (0:01 – 0:29)
Today is the 26th of March, 2024. I’m Marian Southwick interviewing Martin Hartnett, a member of the History Society, talking about some of the imposing monuments in Hatherleigh Churchyard. The recording is taking place in the old schools at 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…
[Martin Hartnett] (0:29 – 10:21)
Yeah, I’ve got some research that I’ve been doing on some of the larger prominent monuments in the churchyard, which I’m happy to have a little talk about. There are a number of large and imposing monuments in the churchyard, many with either a railing or a chain surround. These belong to some of the prominent families and individuals who have made their mark one way or another on the town’s history.
To the east of the church, above the top path in the area that’s known as the Old Bowling Green, there’s several, and among them are a large stone obelisk in a railing enclosure with a gate. This is for the Mallet Veal family of the Passaford estate and Morris family of the Fishley estate. These were very much the local gentry and were linked with the Mallet family from Ash House in Iddesleigh, who were also prominent landowners in the area. Among those remembered in the inscriptions are James Harris Veal, who died in 1876. He was a magistrate and deputy lieutenant for Devon. Also his son, Henry Mallet Veal, a local justice of the peace.
It was reported that the blinds were drawn and business all but suspended in the town for his funeral. Passaford was purchased by their ancestor, the Reverend W. Veal of Iddesleigh in 1620. On the Morris side of the monument are recorded William Chumbly Morris, who died in 1845, and his wife Jane, who was the sister of James Harris Veal. They were the parents of Lieutenant Colonel William Morris, who distinguished himself in the charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854 during the Crimean War. And there’s a monument in his honour that stands proudly at the top of Hatherleigh Moor. A little further along on the west side of the path is a large open plot with a low chain surround. The inscriptions here are around the curb, which is now broken, and offer Thomas Gascoigne and his wife Harriet. They were also owners of the Fishleigh estate and in-laws of Henry Mallet Veal of Passaford, whose daughter Caroline Mallet Veal married their son, the Reverend William Birch Gascoigne in 1885. Back on the east side of the path, there’s a rectangular railing enclosure surrounding a large memorial stone inscribed to the memory of Thomas Roberts, who died in 1848, and his family. He was the handless schoolmaster, a schoolmaster in Hatherleigh for nearly 50 years, who had lost both of his hands as a youth in the Navy due to a grenade accident. He came to Hatherleigh in 1797 to open a school, which was initially in the old vestry room over the main church gates, which was demolished in 1856. Using many ingenious attachments of his own design, he was talented at many things, including carving and writing beautiful calligraphy. His school was very successful, having 80 boarders in 1813, and in 1814, he paid for a gallery to be built in the church to accommodate his pupils. To the west side of the path again, a rectangular tomb with railing surround and ceramic inscription plaque is for Edmund Herring Laffer, or Laffr.
He was a local chemist and shopkeeper whose shop was on the corner of Market Square. The son of a naval commander, he appears to have added the final E to the family name of Laffer himself. His uncle, a landed proprietor, another Edmund Herring Laffr, but without the E, was listed as one of the local gentry, and also in his will left him 10 shillings to be laid out in purchasing a Bible and common prayer book.
Above the path again, moving further south, is a large granite cross with chained enclosure to the memory of Samuel Hooper and his wife, Sarah, and daughters who lived in Reed House in Higher Street. Samuel was a surveyor and architect and held the position of architect to the Duchy of Cornwall. He was the town’s port reef, historically the Lord of the Manor’s bailiff, a position of authority in the town, charged with keeping the peace and other duties.
He also sat on the council as well as many other organisations in the town. His son, Samuel, also an architect, created the design for the town’s war memorial in the churchyard. South of the church, at the eastern corner of the old church house, there stands a red marble obelisk inscribed to the memory of William Hooper, who died in 1847, and his wife, Jane.
He was one of five brothers listed as masons on the 1841 census, who may all have worked with or for him. He was a master letter carver and had a broad repertoire of styles, and many of the monuments and headstones in the churchyard bear his signature. In addition to being a monumental mason, he also built many large properties in the area, including the vicarage, Strawbridge House for the Lord of the Manor, the National School in the Square, dated 1838, and both Highampton and Exborne Rectories.
Moving to the north of the church is a large granite cross with bronze plaques and railing surround, which is the memorial for Lieutenant-Colonel George Pearce, who died in 1894, a member of the Pearce family who opened the first bank in Hatherleigh in 1856 at Bank House next to the co-op where he was born. He was a member of the Devon Rifle Volunteers and went on to have a distinguished career in the military. In 1875, as a captain aged 22, he won the prestigious Queen’s Prize for Rifle Shooting at Wimbledon.
He also went with the British team to the international competition at Creedmoor in America in 1882, which was between the Rifle Volunteers of Great Britain and the National Guard of America, at which he was champion. The British also won the return match at Wimbledon in 1883. He was much respected and celebrated in the town, and the Belvedere Tower, a folly in Moor Lane off Sanctuary Lane, finished in 1879, was built by public subscription to commemorate his prowess.
This is a two-storey tower, the open upper platform, with battlements giving almost 360-degree panoramic views to the far horizons. It is, however, no longer accessible to the public. His memorial in the churchyard was erected by public subscription too, and was unveiled on the 2nd of August, 1894, following a procession from the town bridge and service in the church.
West of the porch, by the boundary wall, is a square plot with chain surround, which is the family plot for the Lang Oldham family, the Lords of the Manor. This contains memorial stones for four members of the Lang Oldham family who bought the manor in around 1790 and built the manor house at Strawbridge in 1840. The current Lord, in fact Lady of the Manor, is a descendant of this family, and a local resident still.
As a point of interest, the Manor of Hatherleigh was owned historically by the Tavistock Abbey until the dissolution of the monasteries when it eventually became the property of the Arscot family from Tetcot, near Holsworthy. These were both absentee landlords, which is the reason the town does not have an ancient manor house. The church gates bear a carved inscription in memory of Philip M.
T. Lang Oldham of Strawbridge, who in addition to being Lord of the Manor and benefactor, was also honorary church organist until his death in 1934. His coffin was of plain oak, made from a tree on the estate by his own carpenter, and was borne by road from Strawbridge by two relays of bearers made up from estate workers.
In the church porch, a stone memorial plaque above the door is in memory of the Reverend Samuel Field, who was Vicar of Hatherleigh from 1831 until 1862. He had the new vicarage built in the early 1830s and oversaw much improvement and beautification of the church. The memorial tablet says that both he and his wife were interred in a vault beneath the church porch.
The early gentry and church benefactors were buried within the church itself with several memorial inscriptions in the floor, now beneath the carpets. Some memorial stones have been removed from the floor and placed in the churchyard along the wall of the path to the vestry door. This was possibly in around 1832 when the north wing extension for a new gallery and vestry was built where the organ now sits.
Among those moved are memorial stones for the Yeo family, early owners of the Fishery Estate. The earliest one is for John Yeo of Littlewood, who died aged 88 in 1587. There are also stones for his wife, Anne, née Honeychurch, who died in 1592, and George Yeo of Hewish, who died at Fishley in 1606.
And lastly of note, John Dark, who died in 1789 and family, who through inheritance and marriage also held the Fishley Estate.
[Marian Southwick] (10:22 – 10:28)
Thank you very much, Martin. It’s very kind of you to collate all that information for the project.
[Martin Hartnett] (10:28 – 10:29)
You’re very welcome, thank you.