The information gathered by eighteenth century Bishops in the course of their visitations provides a rich source for the study of local history. An examination of the returns from 1744 and 1779 largely upholds the picture of the Church in Devon presented by Arthur Warne that the county's clergy were diligent in the exercise of their duty, and that the laity were well provided for in terms of religious worship. In a substantial majority of Devon parishes two Sunday services were conducted by a resident incumbent. Where this was not the case, the appointment of a curate or residence of the incumbent in a neighbouring parish meant that adequate provision for worship was usually made. Pluralism and non-residence were constant features of the eighteenth century church in the county. However, this is not necessarily an indication of clerical abuse and cannot be read as a measure of the ill-health of the Hanoverian church. Where direct comparison is possible with other areas of the country, the Anglican Church in Devon was generally performing well.

However, the visitation replies are the same as any other historical source and are not without their shortcomings. The information was being gathered for specific ecclesiastical purposes, and not with the interests of future generations of historians and antiquarians in mind. Where information was not specifically requested, it was generally not volunteered except by those clergy who entered into the process with more than average levels of enthusiasm. With the possible exception of the question about abuses in the management of parochial charities, the questions did not seek information that might shed light on conflict within the parish. Mechanisms of ecclesiastical government already existed for this purpose in the form of the church courts. While Nicholas Clagett was at pains to point out that the replies would not in anyway prejudice the individual making them, the clergy were understandably reticent in seeking to test this assertion. Moreover, the accuracy of the information provided undoubtedly varies from one parish to the next depending upon how close a grip an incumbent had on parochial affairs. This is particularly the case in relation to population estimates and returns of the numbers of nonconformists in a parish. With these qualifications accepted, the visitation returns have a good deal to tell us about the people and communities of eighteenth century Devon.

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