Highampton Local History Group


At the January meeting, Sue Rose of the Exbourne Local History Group gave an extremely interesting talk on “The Manor or Exbourne”, in which she outlined the system of tenure known as a “Feudal Estate” that was introduced as early as AD 700.

Exbourne LHG secured Lottery funding to finance the research into “The Manor of Exbourne” and this research extended back to the time of the Domesday Book and beyond.

There were at least three manors covering the Exbourne parish - Dornaford, Coxhall and the Manor of Exbourne.  We learnt how the latter is mentioned in Domesday and the settlement dates back to before the Norman Conquest.

The talk was full of interesting facts and clearly much in-depth research had been undertaken to uncover connections and the trail of ownership of the Manor up until 1919 when the last known Lord of the Manor was Col. Kemball.


For the February meeting, our Chairman introduced Roger Cleverdon, whose talk of his life’s journey from Hatherleigh to Westminster Abbey and back again was as entertaining as it was fascinating; a very interesting insight into the world of Choral music.

Roger took us from his beginnings as a chorister at Exeter Cathedral, through his time at the Guildhall School of Music, to Southwark Cathedral and London University, to his long and successful career at Westminster Abbey.

Through the years his career was interspersed with appearances on TV with Monty Python, the Two Ronnies and for many years performing alongside Donald Swann.  A most enjoyable and informative talk.

History as it Happens:

Unfortunately, a coach fire took place on Saturday, 21st February, outside the village shop. Electricity and telephone lines were damaged.  Western Power restored power the same day but almost three weeks elapsed before the telephone connection was restored, despite constant pleas from those in the village who were affected and pressure from our Parish, Borough and County Councillors and even our local Member of Parliament.

However, a brilliantly composed letter from the Clerk of the Highampton Parish Council finally stirred BT into action to make the all important re-connections.

The village telephone box (still out of action) was destroyed and damage to both the Parish Council noticeboard and the shop windows occurred due to the intense heat. The coach was completely destroyed.

Pictures of the incident have been copied to a CD and donated to the Group’s archives.


There was no meeting in March.  Instead our members enjoyed a most interesting walking tour in and around Okehampton, led by local historian Paul Rendell.

Paul had entertained the group with an illustrated talk on Okehampton and its surrounds the previous October and so was able to point out many of the points of interest contained within that talk.  A most enjoyable afternoon was had by all.


The Annual General Meeting of the HLHG took place in the Village Hall on Wednesday, 22nd April, immediately prior to the monthly meeting.

The Chairman, Maurice Thomas, gave his Annual Report and said that the group had had another successful year with the attendance of a number of guest speakers and illustrated talks, as well as some planned outside visits that included Buckland House at Buckland Filleigh, Beara Court at Black Torrington and a most interesting walking tour in and around Okehampton.  At Christmas, we again joined up with the Highampton Community Group for a social buffet at the Golden Inn.

Photographs and other items of local interest, including a bundle of historic deeds relating to a cottage in the village, continue to be handed in for inclusion in our ever expanding archives.  We are extremely grateful to the donors for their kind generosity.

For the monthly meeting which followed the AGM, members were entertained to a most interesting talk by Gerald and Irene Williamson entitled ‘Horse Drawn Power in the West Country’.  This fascinating and amusing illustrated talk gave an insight into Cornwall’s coaching routes which were the best, serviced by some of the finest coaches before the River Tamar was bridged by Brunel.  The captivating talk continued with the story of the epic journey in 1805 by John Richard Lapenotiere taking despatches from Falmouth to London with the news of the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Lord Nelson.

Gerald and Irene will be returning to Highampton later in the year when they will be giving another of their valued illustrated talks to the local Highampton Ladies Group.

The meeting closed with the usual refreshments.

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For our May meeting, our chairman introduced Dennis Bater whose illustrated talk on ‘Hatherleigh Tales of Rail, Crime and War’ was immensely interesting, with many of the photographs evoking memories of past events and of people who are no longer with us.

Tales of murder and mischief and photographic archives of the railway line in Hatherleigh and beyond, which was closed in the 1960s and now forms part of the Tarka Trail, were all most entertaining; a fascinating and enjoyable evening that closed with the usual refreshments.


In June, our members were pleased to learn that Charles Inniss, whose book 'Torridge Reflections' was published 2012, and was the subject of an interesting talk by the author at one of our meetings shortly afterwards, has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours’ List for services to the community. A well deserved honour for a much respected local personality whose involvement over many years in conservation work on the River Torridge is well known, together with his involvement with the nearby Hatherleigh Cricket Club and other community activities.  


It was also learnt that Maurice Thomas has purchased a new laptop for the History Group which is to be funded 50/50 by the History Group and Highampton Community Group.


The chairman then introduced local historian Paul Rendell who gave a very interesting and factual illustrated talk on West Country Buildings—from traditional Dartmoor Long Houses, farm houses through tinners buildings and ash houses. This proved to be a very informative and enjoyable evening that closed with the usual refreshments.


Unfortunately the planned visit to Downes House, Crediton, on Monday July 27th had to be cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. The chairman had occasion to telephone Downes House to check on a number of points only to be told that the house has been closed since 15th July and there will be no more public tours of the house and gardens until the end of August, after which date the house will be closed to the public for the winter months. Sadly our visit will have to be deferred until 2016.


At the August meeting the chairman was pleased to report that the group had received a generous grant from the Highampton Community Group towards its cost of a new laptop that will enable the group to store, digitally, their many archive photographs that have been accumulated since its inception, and to make future projector presentations.

Under ‘History as it Happens’ it was noted that Primrose Farm has made an application for change of use of farm buildings to 3 or 4 dwelling houses and planning permission has been sought. The Trustees of the Ruby Run have kindly donated a cheque towards the village hall extension; and Maurice Thomas (our chairman) and his wife Joan have celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary and renewed their vows in Holy Cross Church, Highampton followed by a family lunch in the Half Moon, Sheepwash.

It was with sadness that our members learnt of the death of Hugh Courtney, 18th Earl of Devon, who lived at Powderham Castle. He died peacefully on 18th August 2015 at the age of 73.

The chairman then welcomed back local author Liz Shakespeare for her third visit.  She gave the group an interesting and entertaining talk on her novel, “The Turning of the Tide”.

This is a fictional tale of the 19th century, based upon fact and actual people.  It tells the story of a single mother from Clovelly, Selina Burman, and her time in the workhouse in Bideford followed by her subsequent employment as a servant in the household of Dr Ackland, a popular GP in Bideford who was committed to social change.   


Liz gave us an insight into the depths of her research and her efforts to bring these characters back to life.  Following the talk, Liz answered questions from members of the group and had copies of “The Turning of the Tide” and her other works available for sale.


For the September meeting, the History Group was entertained by Mr Mike Ritson who gave an extremely interesting illustrated talk on his experiences when caught up in the recent earthquake in Nepal where he was trekking in the Himalayas.  Mr Ritson planned to return to Nepal in the weeks following the meeting to help with the rebuilding of the village where he had been staying at the time.  A collection was made at the end of the evening to go towards the purchase of tools and materials required for the rebuild.

The meeting was followed by the usual refreshments.


The October meeting was chaired by Charles Dumpleton, the Vice Chairman, as Maurice Thomas was recovering from a recent spell in hospital.

After the usual business of the meeting had been concluded, Charles introduced our guest speaker, the eminent Dr Todd Gray, MBE, who is Research Fellow, Department of History, Exeter University and is the author of more than 40 books on the history of Devon.

Dr Gray entertained the Group with a talk illustrating how the grand gardens of Devon evolved from the 13th century through to the present day.  This proved a most informative and enjoyable evening that touched close to home through the drawings and watercolour paintings of Sir Edmund Prideaux who, in his day, took time out to record the gardens of nearby Dunsland House, Buckland House, Heanton Satchville and many other historic properties in the West Country.

The meeting closed with the usual refreshments.

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On this occasion, Charles Dumpleton took the chair and after the usual business of the evening, he introduced Maurice Thomas who had stepped in at the last minute after the booked speaker, Pamela Vass, had to cancel due to illness.

Maurice gave an interesting and informative presentation on the history of his old home, Burdon Grange.  His talk described the ancient history of Burdon, or Buerdune as it was known at the time of the Norman Conquest.

From the Burdon family tree we learnt that the estate was held by Lucya de Burdone in 1241 for one-tenth of a Knight’s fee and it remained with the successive members of the Burdon family until 1862 when Charles Burdon sold the manor, farm and lands to James Reddaway of Buckland Filleigh and then moved to Wales to live.

The mansion house was one of the oldest and largest properties in the parish of Highampton at the time.  It was, however, very much reduced in size by a previous occupant, Mr Robert Burdon, during the early 1800s to make it a more manageable home in which to live.

The Reddaway family held the Lordship of the Manor for a number of years until it was ultimately sold to a businessman, John Trenaman, of Hatherleigh.  It then passed through the hands of four separate people, namely John William Gilbert Hole, Charles Richard Westlake and later his son, Claude Richard Westlake, before coming into the hands of the present owners.

The Thomases acquired Burdon Grange in 1979 and set about restoring and enlarging the property on its old footprint to create a Nursing Home which was officially opened in 1982 by the late Sir Peter Mills, the former local Member of Parliament.

The meeting closed with the usual refreshments.


There was no meeting of HLHG in December but rather a “Christmas bring ‘n share nibbles and drinks” supper, held jointly with the Highampton Community Group in the Village Hall.  This proved to be a very convivial evening.  

The HLHG archive was opened and an exhibition was displayed in the main hall, overseen by Charles Dumpleton who was on hand to answer any questions from the general public.  

Our Chairman, Maurice Thomas, brought along part of his private collection of historical items including the impressive Burdon Family Tree and also an interesting family scroll, written in Latin on vellum parchment extending to almost 11ft in length.  

The scroll traces a family lineage back to William the Conqueror’s illegitimate son, William Peverel, by the Saxon princess Maude Ingeirica.  William Peverel was born prior to the King’s marriage to Matilda of Flanders.  This fine work of art is beautifully illustrated with 75 hand-painted coats of arms and is hand-written with Latin inscriptions throughout.

The exhibition included old documents and photographs such as these of the Old Post Office which is currently being converted into two cottages.