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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Car Tour 1, Ashburton Prayermongers

Carrying on the walk through Ashburton we reach this imposing entrance to a very historic group of buildings. When I see details like these curved steps it cheers my soul that our ancestors so long in the past saw the importance of making a special effort to go that extra mile to make something attractive in the public space. How much easier and cheaper it would have been to put some straight square steps here.

To go the extra mile - The first records of the phrase "go the extra mile" come from around 1900. It's a reference to a line from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount in the Bible: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” Many people interpret it to mean that they should always try to do more than is asked of them.

This is St Lawrence Chapel with it's adjoining Grammar School. A plaque attached describes this place as "A lawful meeting place of the Annual Courts Leet and Baron since 1593".

Although the tower is of late 15th or early 16th century date, and the nave mostly rebuilt in the 1740s, some of its fabric dates back to the late 13th century and is part of the Chantry Chapel given to the town by Bishop Stapledon in 1314. Its historic significance is therefore considerable, not least because it may have been part of a Bishop’s Palace and was converted to a Grammar School in 1593. The Tudor style of the classrooms added in the late 19th and early 20th centuries blend well with its essentially Gothic appearance. (

The court leet was a historical court baron (a type of manorial court) of England and Wales and Ireland that exercised the "view of frankpledge" and its attendant police jurisdiction, which was normally restricted to the hundred courts.

These courts were the earliest form of public justice before centralised state government took over the role.

Frankpledge was a system of joint suretyship common in England throughout the Early Middle Ages and High Middle Ages. The essential characteristic was the compulsory sharing of responsibility among persons connected in tithings. This unit, under a leader known as the chief-pledge or tithing-man, was then responsible for producing any man of that tithing suspected of a crime. If the man did not appear, the entire group could be fined.

While women, clergy and the richer freemen were exempt, otherwise all men over 12 years of age were organised in the system for mutual surety.

Tithe - A tithe is a one-tenth part of something, paid as a contribution to a religious organization or compulsory tax to government. Tithes predate Income Tax.

Income Tax was the first tax in British history to be levied directly on people's earnings. It was introduced in 1799 by the then Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, as a temporary measure to cover the cost of the Napoleonic Wars.

Someone should let the government know that the Napoleonic Wars are over, why are we still paying it? In like manner, VAT was introduced when we joined what later became the EU, well we have left, why are we still paying that? While I am having a rant about tax can someone explain why the local petrol price was £1.67 a litre for about three weeks until the Chancellor removed 5 pence of fuel duty per litre last week. Petrol is now £1.69 a litre, how does that work?

It is interesting to note that the age of maturity back in the Middle Ages was 12. Today's age of maturity is nearer 42. Back then average life expectancy was just 43.

The Grammar School was rebuilt in 1911 but only survived as a Grammar school until 1938. It later became a County School and then a Primary School until the 1980's. Today it is a museum.

Another plaque of 1914 states,

To commemorate the 600th anniversary of the foundation of this school, the spire of this ancient tower was reconstructed by the generosity of past and present scholars.

Something which would be useful in schools today are the stocks, still on display in the school yard. As the Victorians used to say, "Spare the rod, spoil the child". If there were ever any doubt about Victorian wisdom then just open your eyes. Today, children are the only things society deems it advantageous to deliberately "spoil". We deliberately "spoil", nothing else. "Spoiling" children is something parents aspire to and proudly boast of. The original meaning of the word seems irretrievably lost.

A walled lane runs from St Lawrence Chapel across the river Ashburn and comes out at the church.

Magnolia is a large genus of about 210 to 340 flowering plant species in the subfamily Magnolioideae of the family Magnoliaceae. It is named after French botanist Pierre Magnol.

The Magnolia evolved pre-bee as it is an ancient genus, so bees had not been invented. They were not has-bee-ns they were never have-bee-ns.

What is assumed to be the flower is actually a bract, the flower being inside. Their original homes form a "Disjunct Distribution".

I had to add that fact as I had not come across it before and it sounds great.

It means related species groups being found in different geographical locations. In this case some being from South east Asia while others are from The Americas. This can be the result of the range of a species increasing or the range of a species shrinking.

This makes it all the more interesting that Pierre Magnol was one of the innovators who devised the botanical scheme of classification. He was the first to publish the concept of plant families as they are understood today, a natural classification of groups of plants that have features in common. His work may be regarded as one of the first steps towards the composition of a tree of life.

There are a staggering 210 Listed buildings in the conservation area of Ashburton.

This is St. Andrew's Church Grade 1 listed. Essentially 15th century, the perpendicular style of the church survived the not entirely sympathetic restorations carried out in the 19th century.

The earliest record of the church dates back to the late 1100s, when John Le Chaunter, Bishop of Exeter (1186 - 91) gave it to the Dean and Chapter of Exeter Cathedral. 'The manor and church were then the personal property of the Bishop'. (Old Ashburton)

Set up inside the church is a space for prayers for the people of The Ukraine. Strangely after I viewed this photo during editing I noticed that two coloured lights were cast on to the floor from the multi coloured stained glass window above. The colours were blue and yellow.

This is an unusual memorial, below, to John Knowles Esq. F.R.S. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society in London, born in St. Paul's Deptford, London in 1781. He died in the Parish of Ashburton in 1841.

Early in life he became a clerk in the surveyor's department of the navy office. He attained the chief clerkship there about 1806, and held this post until 1832. He published two or three works on naval matters, including The Elements and Practice of Naval Architecture, 1822. For his scientific researches he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. Knowles is best known, however, from his long, intimate friendship with Henry Fuseli the painter, and the circle to which that artist belonged. He was the executor of Fuseli's will, and a devoted admirer of his art.

Knowles died, unmarried, at Ashburton, Devonshire, on 21 July 1841, aged 60. He was one of the original members of the Athenæum Club, and his portrait, drawn by Charles Landseer, is No. 25 of the series of lithographs, published as Athenæum Portraits, by Thomas McLean. He was corresponding member of the Philosophical Society of Rotterdam.


The Royal Society, formally The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, is a learned society and the United Kingdom's national academy of sciences. Founded on 28 November 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as The Royal Society. The society fulfils a number of roles: promoting science and its benefits, recognising excellence in science, supporting outstanding science, providing scientific advice for policy, fostering international and global co-operation, education and public engagement.

Prominent Fellows have included, Isaac Newton (1672), Charles Darwin (1839), Michael Faraday (1824), Ernest Rutherford (1903), Srinivasa Ramanujan (1918), Albert Einstein (1921), Paul Dirac (1930), Winston Churchill (1941), Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1944), Dorothy Hodgkin (1947), Alan Turing (1951), Lise Meitner (1955) and Francis Crick (1959).

A memorial, below, to Rebecca Michelmore, who died in January 1886. She left £1000 in Consols, the interest to be given each year to ten poor men aged 55 and over, and ten poor women aged 45 and over. In addition the interest on £200 in Consols was to go to the Sunday School.

I make that £1.50 each per annum. That's a Potnoodle today, back then it was about four days skilled wages.

Even the interest rate is carved in marble. Consols were Government Bonds with a consolidated interest which was fixed.

Unlike temporary taxes which are still in place today hundreds of years later, the "fixed" interest on a Government Bond was later reduced. What a surprise. At the time Rebecca died it was 3 %. By 1903 it was 2.5 %. All consols were finally redeemed by the Government in 2015. They are no more.

Given their long history, references to consols can be found in many places, including Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, Howards End by E. M. Forster, Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham and The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy.

There is a near complete list of the Vicars of Ashburton on display going back until the year 1257. Here you will find some interesting notes about some of these vicars.

The Black Death - 1346-1353

'At Ashburton...John de Undele was instituted to the Vicarage in November 1335, and it appears that he held it till the fatal year [1348], when he was succeeded by David Penylis, who died just before Christmas. His Institution is not recorded, owing, no doubt, to the confusion which prevailed; but on the first of January Richard Yuri was instituted, who seems to have fallen immediately, for his successor, Thomas de Botercombe, was instituted only ten days later.'

Preface to The Register of John de Grandisson, Bishop of Exeter

William Marsh, aged 53, was Vicar of Ashburton on the 1851 census. At a Police Meeting in 1856 the Rev Marsh suggested that alterations be made to the practice of many shops staying open late on Saturday night, sometimes into the Sabbath. Grocers, tea dealers and druggists were those he cited.

Western Times 3 May 1856

Richard James Bond.

In 1902 there was a 'Painful incident' at the funeral of a young woman*, conducted by the Rev R J Bond. A coroner's jury had brought in a verdict of 'Suicide whilst of unsound mind', and because of this the vicar refused to allow the body inside the church. Shops and houses were closed - as were the church doors - as the funeral procession passed through the crowded streets, and large numbers of inhabitants accompanied the mourners. The vicar read a special service at the graveside, but the whole funeral took only fourteen minutes.

The general mood of the town was of 'detestation' for the vicar's behaviour.

Western Times 24 January 1902

It seems that many things don't change and that the populace have always had a more humane and instinctive knowledge of right and wrong, in ways not witnessed in those that rule over them and form the establishment.

Again by chance, I took a photo of this view of the churchyard only to find later that right in the foreground is the actual grave of John Knowles mentioned above.

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Mar 30, 2022

Good Stuff Gethin. Never heard of Consols what a great concept and a generous gift.

BTW very happy my school did not have stocks, yours truly might have spent some time wiping rotting food from by blazer!

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Mar 30, 2022
Replying to

Isn't it weird how you come across something for the first time and then suddenly it is everywhere. Went into another church today and there it was again. Thanks for registering for my blog.


Unknown member
Mar 27, 2022

WOW again! Firstly before I forget the number of the photo.....number 6 is beautifully captured. The way the light is angled, the tree in full bloom hanging over, the person ahead of you walking...just the whole scene is a story telling scene. But moving on, the church photos especially the ones inside of the windows and the alter are very eye appealing. You found yourself another great spot to click away. 😊

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