Some notes about Drewsteignton during the Eighteenth Century

By Paul Greener

The Rectors

William Reade had been Rector since the Restoration in 1660 and his appointment had probably been helped by his marriage to the daughter of the royalist Dr. Short who had been ejected in 1647. Mr. Reade described the parsonage in his glebe terrier of 1679 in the following terms:

To the Parsonage House itself there are two gardens... the rooms... are these viz. Imprimis Room over the outer gate with a little closet adjoyning to it. A Large Hall... a parlour planched with new oak boards hung around with green stuff not long since by the present incumbent.3
He also describes seven rooms upstairs, a buttery, a kitchen, larder, dairy, brewhouse, shippon, 'pultry' house, barns and other outbuildings. It was a gentleman's residence and lived in by all his successors except one old man who was non-resident and died after two years in office.

The next Rector, from 1704, was John Pendarves, an Oxford graduate, the 38 year old son of a Cornish gentleman. Little more is known of him except that he hired out his 'sleem' (a sledge?) to the overseers, when a house was being built, for 'carring hay and straw... 4s.9d' and that he died of the epidemic which swept through the parish in 1711.4

He was succeeded by Dr. Thomas Rennell, a 36 year old scholar who gives an idea both of the parish and himself in his reply to Bishop Claggett's visitation questionaire of 1744. There were, according to him, 100 or 120 families in the parish, a vague figure which when averaged would represent a population of about 500 and this included one recently conformed dissenter. Dr. Rennell ministered for 42 years, having two services each Sunday with a sermon in the morning and, at the least, an exposition of one of the lessons in the afternoon. He was appalled at the local children's lack of religious knowledge and wrote 'I have now ordered that those between ten and twenty to come in ye evenings on Mondays and Thursdays where I or my son instruct them for an hour or more... ' Whatever the response was from local teenagers, at the end of a working day, it is not recorded but the Rector's authority appears to have been impressive. Long after his death a local yeoman left his son 'my gold ring that I had for mourning for the Revd. Dr. Rennell.'5

In 1753 Thomas Hurrell was instituted and in 1764 answered Bishop Keppell's questions in a forthright way. There were 130 families in the parish, the number of regular communicants had increased by ten since his predecessor's time but there were now two resident families of presbyterians. However by 1779, when Bishop Ross sent out his questionnaire, there were now about 140 families and neither papists nor dissenters in the parish. William Davy At this time Mr. Hurrell also held the benefice of Tedburn St. Mary, about two miles away, and no longer lived permanently in Drewsteignton but employed a curate at fifty guineas a year. This man was William Davy (right) who buried the Rector in 1781 and filled the registers with his small cramped handwriting for five years. As well as his ministry in the parish Mr. Davy was engaged in writing and printing 500 sermons which he called 'A System of Divinity'. Numbers 39 to 122 were devoted to 'The Several Virtues and Vices of Mankind'. As luck would have it, his weekly sermons at Drewsteignton had got as far as the 'Vices' which his listeners took to be a personal affront and complained to the Bishop. Not long afterwards this well-intentioned man moved to Lustleigh where amongst other good works he founded and endowed a school receiving the approbation he deserved.6

After a number of curates who ministered during an interregnum and with an absentee Rector, the Revd. Bryan Roberts, who was soon to become Doctor of Laws, came to the parish at the end of 1783. He had only been priested the year before at the age of 29 and eventually was the first of a succession of Rectors to become a J.P. The only record of a visitation during his time was in 1798 when his answers were terse such as 'Services ... twice on the Lord's Day with a sermon in the morning as expected' and'Sacraments 4 times a year with 50 communicants.' He counted 'about 120 families', which was surely an underestimate, and ' No papists or dissenters.' For many years there had been a small charity with the principal of £10 and for a time Dr. Roberts distributed the annual interest of 10s. to 'four aged persons' as it had been intended. He should have known the law, but presumably became tired of this chore since he handed out £2.10s. to each of the old people and extinguished the charity.7

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  1. DHC, Moger Supplement II D115, Glebe terriers. [back]
  2. DHC, 2165/A PO1. Overseers' accounts 1708-10. [back]
  3. Westcountry Studies Library. Printed volumes of wills. William Ponsford of Winscombe, yeoman, 13th October 1762. [back]
  4. Parson Davy is mentioned in more detail in Cecil Torr, Small Talk at Wreyland (Cambridge, 1979), vol. 1, 32-35.[back]
  5. Report to the Charity Commissioners (1830), Public Charities of Devon, 300-302. (Copy in the Westcountry Studies Library.) [back]