The Eighteenth Century in Peter Tavy: Part 1

By Roger Meyrick

Peter Tavy is a large parish on the western borders of Dartmoor in Devon. It was identified as Tawi in Roborough Hundred in Domesday in distinction from Mary Tavy then known as Tavi in Lifton Hundred. It was not until sometime after the dedication of their separate churches, probably in the thirteenth or fourteenth century that the current names were adopted. The village of Peter Tavy lies on the east, or Dartmoor bank of the river with Mary Tavy on the west bank. As in much of Devon, the population lived in scattered farms and hamlets across the parish with a small concentration around the church of St Peter giving its name to the parish as the churchtown. The population of the parish in the eighteenth century can only be assessed from church registers and tax returns but reasonably can be estimated at about 210 in 1700 rising to 290 by the close. A census undertaken by the Rev Jago in 1781 at the request of the Bishop of Exeter placed the figure at 222. The first national census in 1801 gave a figure of 290 of whom 226 were primarily occupied in agriculture. Most of this increase can be associated with the development of the copper mines in the adjoining parish of Mary Tavy which was to take the population up to 587 at Peter Tavy in 1841 but falling quickly to 350 by 1891, a figure at which it has remained ever since.

The western Boundary of the parish in the eighteenth century followed the River Tavy northwards to Hillbridge where it crossed the river to encompass Wilsworthy and Standon Down as far as Beardown, south of Lydford. Turning southward to Cocks Hill the boundary skirted Peter Tavy Great Common on the western side of Great Mis Tor. Passing south of Roos Tor and Staple Tors it travelled westward to bisect Collaton Farm and reach Broad Road, an ancient trackway from the south to Okehampton and north Devon. The boundary returned down Batteridge Hill to meet the river Tavy at Harford Bridge, encompassing altogether some 6000 acres. The outlying manor of Sortridge lying between Horrabridge and Whitchurch was also part of the parish. The Manor of Cudlipptown lying on the east bank some two miles north of Peter Tavy was until 1882 part of the parish of Tavistock.

Peter Tavy, Huntington, Sortridge and Wilsworthy provided the manorial structure of the parish with Peter Tavy and Huntington manors owing allegiance to the Dukes of Bedford and the manor of Wilsworthy to the Tremayne family. The manor of Sortridge belonging to the Glanville family in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries devolved by inheritance to the Pengelly family. Much of the land in these manors had been transferred to freeholders in the early fifteenth century and in 1692 Jasper Radcliffe purchased the Manor of Longford from the Moore family of Cheriton Fitzpaine. Longford manor held land in many local parishes including Mary Tavy, Tavistock and Whitchurch, and could be regarded as an administrative convenience rather than one commanding homage to the owner. In the Land Tax assessment of 1780 the Radcliffe family had acquired the most land in the parish with the Dukes of Bedford, the Parson family and thirteen other freehold owners having extensive holdings.

The importance of the manor was clearly breaking down. The attendance of leaseholders and tenants at Courts Baron and Courts Leet deteriorated over the years and similar matters were recurring at every meeting. The Carswell family and the Skirrett family, the only titled families known to have lived in the parish had departed by the seventeenth century. The economy of the area lay with yeomen farmers. The higher land and open moor was used for breeding and pasture of cattle and sheep, the lower land and valleys for arable crops of corn and root vegetables. A good deal of enclosure of open land around the scattered hamlets and farms had taken place a hundred years earlier or before but casual labourers were encouraged to settle on the borders of the commons with at least an acre of land. If this proved successful they were allowed to enclose up to four to five acres and might obtain a long lease from the landowner. This was a hard option as the wages of a Headman were only £10 a year plus keep, and of a labourer 7s/week when working. He was also entitled to two or three pints of ale or cider a day, and a supply of bread corn, wheat and barley. A man with a family and the use of a farmer's cottage with an acre of grassland land would pay £2 rent a year. The annual rent for up to twenty perch of dunged land was 6s 8d. On this holding he would be able to keep a pig for slaughter at the end of the winter to be ready cured for eating in the late summer. There would be little enough left for a man and his wife and children to put towards the rental of a large farm.

The day-to-day life of the parish was in the hands of the local yeomen farmers. The role of the Manor Steward ensured that rents and taxes due to the owners were paid and that the requirements to maintain the land, detailed in formal leases, were obeyed. Living and working in the parish the yeomen practised their control through the church vestry led by the Rector.

The Rev. Thomas Pocock came to the parish in 1686 on the death of the Rev. Andrew Gove who had brought the parish through the unsettling times of the Commonwealth and the restoration of the monarchy. Thomas Pocock was a philosophical man given to the translation of books from Latin or oriental languages. When he died in 1723 the Rev. John Gilbert took his place. Gilbert built a new Rectory in the village at the site of the former building and added a fishpond to ensure fresh fish for his table. In 1740 he was elevated to the Bishopric of Llandaff but retained his position at Peter Tavy until his translation to the Bishopric of Salisbury in 1748. He ended his career as Archbishop of York.

The Rev. John Jago who had been curate to John Gilbert for a number of years attained the Rectory of Peter Tavy in 1748. He was keen on teaching and later in his career when both Rector of Peter Tavy and vicar of Tavistock he started a school in that town supported by a parish rate.The Rev. George Moore came to Peter Tavy on the death of John Jago in 1796. Like his predecessor he had been working as a teacher in Tavistock. He died in 1821.

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