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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Car Tour 2 Shaugh Prior

I recently bought a small second hand book for £3 called, "South Devon and Dartmoor Car Tours".

Get it while you can. Books promoting driving cars will probably soon be illegal. This small book was published in 1995. Often when you are given books like this they prove to be disappointing but in this instance it proved to be a great little find. Next I am hoping to find some petrol to put into the car.

Part 3 of this car tour (I managed to find some petrol in an old can in an antique shop which had been overlooked), leads to Shaugh Prior on the edge of Dartmoor. We started at Ermington , headed south to Holbeton and then down to the coast at Mothecombe which I will visit another time to see the very special gardens there and the beach.

Then we followed the coast to Noss Mayo, a micro roaded village on a creek. We once spent several lovely hours visiting some friends there, because there was a Tesco delivery truck jammed up against a Waitrose delivery truck going in the opposite direction. Nobody was able to reverse as there is nowhere to go. After endless games of I Spy a generous public spirited woman sacrificed the back of her Mercedes on a low wall to enable the rest of us to break free. Oh how we cheered.

Anyone who saw the recent TV drama "The Trouble with Maggie Cole" will be familiar with Noss Mayo. It's where mayonnaise was invented. The name Noss Mayo is derived from the Latin for "Our Maionace", a Maionace being a local species of water vole that is milked to produce the delicacy.

The small harbour nearby is where it was exported all over Europe in the Middle Ages. The French took a particular liking to it and cover all their food with it, passing it off as a French invention. A French raiding party in 1756 crept into Noss Mayo creek at night and captured several Maionaces (Maionice?) to start an intensive breeding programme back in the city which subsequently became known as Mayonne. This caused a collapse in the Noss Mayo Maionace industry which sadly never recovered. To this day you can see ancient Maionace mills at the water's edge, now converted into smart second homes.

The French also like to think that they taught us everything we know about garlic, whereas in fact everyone knows the Romans introduced garlic to Britain, along with central heating and bathing. Records show that as recently as Tudor times the Queen would wash at least once a year, an idea that still scandalises the French.

More on garlic in my forthcoming post about Delia Smith's 1970's classic, "Frugal Food", a time when using garlic took off to the point where instead of cutting a clove and wiping a bowl with it like we did in the 60's, (I kid you not), we actually started crushing it and actually leaving it in the food. It was shortly after this cultural shift that the London Underground introduced air conditioning.

There was an insane rush all over Britain in 1976 for garlic crushers. Every home had to have one. Most people were still trying to get the bits of crushed garlic out of their crusher by the early 80's. Todays smart chefs just place a large knife on the garlic clove and hit it hard with their hand to crush it. The knife of course must be held flat and definitely not blade up.

But I digress.

From Noss Mayo we turned north heading for Dartmoor and Shaugh Prior.

The Domesday Book of 1086 first records a settlement here called Escaga meaning coppice or woodland. The Old English was corrupted over time to become Shaugh and the Manor was part of the nearby Plympton Priory so over time it became Shaugh Prior. The village is notable for it's pretty granite cottages.

The Grade 1 listed church of St Edward the King and Martyr has it's origins in 1150 although most of what can be seen today dates from the 15th century. Edward was crowned King of England in 975. His fate was the classic fairy tale of the wicked step-mother.

Edward was born to King Edgar-the-Peaceful and Queen Ethelfleda-the Fair and so far it sounds like a fairy tale. But like so many Fairy Tales there is no happy ending. His mother died in childbirth, a common enough event back then and his father re-married the wicked Elfrida. Elfrida was bent on removing Edward from the throne to make way for her own cuckoo in the nest Ethelred, then only seven years old.

On March 18th 978, Edward called on his step-mother at Corfe Castle in Dorset whereupon he was stabbed to death on her orders. Church leaders and monks who held him in high esteem considered he had been martyred and in 1001 he was canonised as St Edward the Martyr.

The existing parish registers commence their dates in 1565, a date unusually early for these documents. Some unusual early Christian names of parishioners that feature in the registers are, Somey, Eede, Silfine, and Gudatly.

Many of the older tombs in the churchyard date from the 1600's.

In the churchyard is a large altar tomb of granite, sculptured in two spots on the sides, as in preparation for armorial bearings. At one end is a sculpture indicating two hearts entwined, and on the top there had, once, been a plate of brass with inscription. However, with these difficulties in the way of determining its history, it was lately, accidently disclosed the tomb encloses the remains of two sisters, named BOYS who in the year 1711 died at Lower Ley, in the parish, of some contagious malady, on two consecutive days.

The porch has a ceiling supported by a groin of two intersecting porphyritic arches, one of which at one end has a human head.

The Incorporated Church Building Society was set up to help build and enlarge Anglican churches in England and Wales. Between 1818 and 1982 it gave 14,356 grants to churches, helping to pay for the building and enlargement of many thousands of churches.

It was also at the forefront of the battle for ‘free’ pews and its funding contributed to adding over two million pew spaces, most of which were free seats for all, in contrast to the then customary provision of private pews and the reliance on pew rents.

Situated in the south west corner of the Church is the overly sized and impressive font with carved wooden cover. The granite font itself is 14th century, octagonal and very plain. However the later 15th century oak carved cover is anything but plain, standing 2.6 metres in height. The style is English Perpendicular with open work in three stages and embellished with figures. On the very top is an effigy of a bishop in the act of blessing, dressed in mitre and holding a staff. It is likely that the plain panels on the middle section were once painted with baptismal subjects. The lower section has two hinged doors giving access to the Holy Water.

An interesting story surrounds the history of the font cover. During the 1867/68 partial restoration of the Church, Mr Ewan Christian had it removed for safekeeping to a local barn. Through neglect it remained there forgotten until 1871 at which point the farmer's wife decided it would make good kindling and ordered her husband to burn it. The farmer recognising what it was, saved it and it was subsequently restored to it's former glory by Harry Hems of Exeter and became recognised as unique in the whole county of Devon.

Sir Lopes Massey Lopes, 3rd Baronet, of Maristow in the parish of Tamerton Foliot, Devon, was a British Conservative politician and agriculturalist. His father, originally Ralph Franco, had succeeded to the estates and title of his uncle Sir Manasseh Masseh Lopes, 1st Baronet, in 1831, and assumed the same year the surname of Lopes in lieu of his patronymic. Both the Lopes and Franco families were of Sephardic-Jewish origins.

In 1874 Lopes was appointed Civil Lord of the Admiralty in the second Conservative administration of Benjamin Disraeli, a post he held until the government fell in 1880. Bad health forced him to decline the post of Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1877. His health also forced him to leave Parliament in 1885. Wikipedia

Sir Lopes Massey Lopes, 3rd Bt (National Portrait Gallery)

It is thought that the wainscoting around the walls may have been made from panels of old pews used during the partial restoration in the 19th century.

Wainscoting - An area of flat, rectangular pieces of wood or another material that are attached to the lower parts of the walls in a room, or the wood, etc. that is used in this way:

In its first instance, wainscoting was developed as a practicality. It provided insulation and covered up any damp that infiltrated cold stone walls. Yet, it was soon recognised as a decorative technique, adding detail and warmth to a room.

Probably from Middle Dutch or Middle Flemish waghenscote "superior quality oak wood, board used for paneling" related to Middle Low German wagenschot (late 14c.), from waghen (see wagon) + scote "partition, crossbar" So called perhaps because the wood originally was used for wagon building and coachwork.

The Chancel and Tower windows are 15th century and Perpendicular in style. While the East window of 1892 is erected in memory of one of the Martin Brothers who had a key role in developing the local China Clay Industry.

Kingsbridge-born William Cookworthy (1705-1780) found china clay deposits in Cornwall which he used to manufacture the UK’s first true hard paste porcelain, setting up the first factory in England to make it in nearby Plymouth in 1768.

Cornish China Clay experts moved to the area around Shaugh Prior to develop the China clay industry in the latter half of the 19th century.

In England from the 14th through the early 16th century, one of the variations to the Gothic style became known as Perpendicular Gothic because it emphasized strong vertical lines in many architectural elements. On Perpendicular Gothic structures, everything from windows, spires and pinnacles to flying buttresses seems to point emphatically skyward.

A memorial to a poet who neither came from here or died here, which at first seems a strange sight. Noel Thomas Carrington did, however, regard Shaugh Prior as his favourite retreat and it inspired him to write several volumes of verse the most well known being his poem "Dartmoor".

A memorial to William Martyn esquire who died in 1758 a member of an ancient local family. Martyn was a descendant of John Martyn a sailor who circumnavigated the world in 1577 with Sir Francis Drake.

There are bossed ceilings to each division of the church, and besides the commoner devices, throughout of leaves, heads &c., the chancel and north aisle present us with the two keys and sword.

Unless otherwise mentioned, detailed information about the church was obtained from "A Short History.........." of the church first published 1970 revised 2005, available at the church.

An extract from "Dartmoor" by Noel Thomas Carrington.

Dartmoor! thou wert to me, in childhood’s hour,

A wild and wondrous region. Day by day

Arose upon my youthful eye they belt

Of hills mysterious, shadowy, clasping all

The green and cheerful landscape sweetly spread

Around my home; and with a stern delight

I gazed upon thee. How often on the speech

Of the half-savage peasant have I hung,

To hear of rock-crowned heights on which the cloud

For ever rests; and wilds stupendous swept

By mightiest storms; of glen, and gorge, and cliff,

Terrific, beetling o’er the stone-strewed vale;

And giant masses, by the midnight flash

Struck from the mountain’s hissing brow, and hurled

Into the foaming torrent;

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3 comentarios

David Nurse
David Nurse
25 jun 2022

Nice post Gethin. Very interesting.

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Miembro desconocido
23 jun 2022

The charging for pews and then giving out free pews took me by surprise. I didn't know there was such a thing. Your cheap book has really come in handy 😉

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Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
23 jun 2022
Contestando a

I knew pews were hierarchical, you wouldn't want the big whigs rubbing shoulders with the peasants after all.😊 But I didn't realise there were paid for pews and free pews. I think the really lowly stood anyway and probably prayed for a short sermon.

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