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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

River Avon Moor to Sea 13

This is all about Loddiswell, and I never realised when I started this project how much history there was going to be, relating to this small village. I must say at this point that I am no expert either, not a historian and not even a local, but this is something that I just enjoy doing and which has grown out of my hobby of photography and a photo blog which I started to write when we were in lockdown. I take the photos that I enjoy taking and I add the bits of history that I find fascinating, it is not meant to be a comprehensive study of any one subject.

Part 12 featured the church and some of its architecture and history, and some history of the Peek family. I have discovered that it is probably impossible to tell any history of modern Loddiswell without mention of the prolific, wealthy and charitable family that originated from this parish, made fame and fortune in London, and then brought it back home.

Take a picture like this one below and the Peek family show up in those twin towers of Loddiswell with their distinctive pointed roofs. The name also shows up in the church, on the war memorial, the pub and in it's schools, water pumps and churches. Almost no part of the lives of the villagers went untouched by the Peek family. Generations of children were educated and received medical care thanks to their benevolence, but more of that later.

In my last piece, part 12, I ended with a photo of the village and my description of it's appearance, being like a basket of eggs, like many South Hams villages. Nestled in a dip in the landscape often high up and commanding views of approaching armies from the sea, this more recent photo of mine, from a higher vantage point emphasises what I mean about the South Hams basket of eggs villages like Loddiswell. Please click on the photo to see it in a larger size.

Loddiswell is a parish and village in the South Hams district of Devon, England. It lies on the west side of the River Avon. There is evidence of occupation going back to Roman times and before at the nearby Blackdown Rings Iron Age Hill Fort. The name Loddiswell is a corruption of Saint Loda's Well, named after one of the many saints that occurred all over the west country, especially in Cornwall. More of that well later too.

Loddiswell was mentioned in the Domesday book in 1086 when the manor was valued at 100 shillings. The manor then belonged to Juhel of Totnes, but had belonged to an Anglo Saxon called Heca before the Norman Conquest. Domesday records the Land of Iudhael of Totnes in Loddiswell as having 20 villagers, 10 smallholders, 6 cottagers and 8 slaves. Back in 1086 the local livestock consisted of 1 cob, 4 cattle, 6 pigs, 42 sheep and 11 goats. After I had done my research on Loddiswell I realised that slavery would be a running theme through this piece as we will see. Slavery was ubiquitous throughout history and was certainly not something remarkable in 1086. This country just as all others, has a history of slavery but far more rare, we also have a history of abolition of slavery.

After the Norman invasion and the accounting of the Domesday Book it emerged that at that time up to 10% of the population were slaves. The Norman Conquest hastened the demise of the system and William the Conqueror banned the slave trade and also freed many slaves in some cases. By the end of his reign their number had fallen by 25% and by the early 12th century slavery in England was no more. Of course many Britons were still taken into slavery by raiding parties from North Africa, along the south coast of Cornwall and Devon also the southern Irish coast, and the slave trade continued into modern times in the rest of the world. It was much later when Britain's navy became the largest in the world, and we started to explore that world, that slavery reared its ugly head again.

Here is the memorial on the village green that was erected after the second World War and there are mentioned here some of those who never returned. Roger Peek who has a memorial inside the church was buried near where he fell in Libya.

The Western Morning News announced his death on Tuesday 6th July 1943.

ROLL OF HONOUR. PEEK. Missing since June, 1942, now known to have been killed in action in Libya, Roger John Peek, Lieutenant, Royal Dragoons, dearly-loved younger son of the late Captain R. G. Peek, 9th Lancers, and the Hon. Mrs. Peek, Hazelwood, Loddiswell, S. Devon, aged 21.

Note that it was over a year before his death was confirmed, something hard to imagine today. His father mentioned above was killed in an IRA ambush at the end of the Anglo-Irish war some years earlier. The account of his death is detailed in Part 12.

Local industries other than agriculture, included the mining of copper as well as yellow and red ochre. Yellow ochre was used for the interior and exterior decoration of cottages. It was dug from the fields around Blackdown. Where the yellow ochre had come into contact with iron deposits it turned red. The Luscombe family blended and stored the material at their farm and the 1841 census classed them as "Refiners of Colour". A later descendant of the family opened a paint shop in nearby Kingsbridge in 1882, and that business is still going today as H. Luscombe & Sons at 19 Fore Street.

Going back a bit further, a Richard Peek who was born in the parish on a small farm in 1782 moved to Kingsbridge and later to Plymouth where he worked in a Grocery business, learning about commerce. In 1807 he decided to make his fortune in London and as was considered normal at the time, he walked all of the way there. In London, he by chance met a man he had previously known in Kingsbridge, a Quaker, who recommended him for employment to a tea broker. He spent seven years working, learning and getting promotion during which time his two brothers William and James joined him.

The three brothers eventually set up their own business and seeing a gap in the market as regards trading methods they were able to offer tea for sale at a much reduced price. The company of William Peek tea merchant is mentioned in a Directory of 1818. By 1923 Peek Bros and Co was a well established firm. James branched out into the manufacture of biscuits in 1857, which led to the famous company of Peek Frean.

Richard Peek meanwhile had become a great exponent of the anti-slavery movement and The National Portrait Gallery has in it's collection a group portrait including Richard, which shows all of the leading abolitionists of the time. In 1829 he became a member of The Corporation of London and in 1832 Sheriff of London. Soon after this he retired to his former birthplace on the farm near Loddiswell replacing the small cottage in which he was born with the large country house called Hazelwood. From here he devoted the rest of his life to philanthropic activities to the benefit of the village and its inhabitants.

This is the Congregational Church part funded by Richard Peek, which I will expand on later.

Peek was on the organising committee and attended the 1840 World's Anti-slavery convention in London. The second international Anti-Slavery convention was in 1843 when Peek was a vice-president of the convention with other notables including John Cropper who had also had a business in Liverpool. Peek took the chair of the convention.

Peek was reported as being an instigator of The Patriot magazine which did much for forwarding abolitionism in Britain. One of his gifts was a contribution towards a chapel at Dodbrooke in Kingsbridge, which was to be used by the Bible Christians; in addition, he supplied weekly free medical attention in his home village of Loddiswell, as well as funding a news and reading room in 1839.

Following the Reading Room came The British School of 1853, The Congregational Church of 1864 and the Church School of 1870.

This is the old British School on the right. It was built in 1853 for the sum of £1500 by Richard Peek (£120,000 in today's terms) who also endowed it with £30 (£2500) per year to cover costs. He additionally made other payments for the poorest children of the village. It has now been converted into homes.

In addition to his opposition to slavery and during his tenure as Sheriff of London he funded a missionary to visit the prisoners in Newgate Prison. He was also noted for his hatred of capital punishment and it was said that he would meet the Secretary of State, Sir Robert Peel at odd hours in an attempt to intercede on behalf of the condemned.

Richard Peek would also open his home once a year to give tea to the local Sunday schools.

The Western Times 10th August 1850

Hazelwood - On Wednesday, the 31st, Richard Peek, Esq., gave his annual treat to the teachers and children of the different Sabbath Schools in the neighbourhood, including Loddiswell, Staunton, Brownson, Morley and Hazelwood. About three hundred children partook of a comfortable tea on the green. This beautiful and pleasant vale, surrounded by well wooded hills, and with the pretty river Avon meandering through it, was the scene of much innocent gaiety, Mr. Peek and his niece, Miss Peek, being assiduous in their exertions. In the course of the afternoon some four hundred adults, members of the different dissenting congregations, also took tea in a building tastefully fitted up, for the occasion. Suitable addresses were afterwards delivered by the Reverends Hine and Mitchell, and a collection made at the close towards liquidating the debt on Staunton Chapel.

Not all of Richard Peek's generous offers were equally well received though. On the occasion of the marriage of the Prince of Wales in 1863 there was a general holiday to celebrate. Many of the old newspaper records I discovered in writing this piece were weird, wonderful and also very sad, but this was one of the funniest, because in it's brief matter of fact announcement so much was said while being left unsaid.

The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 6th March 1863

LODDISWELL. There will be a general holiday in this village, a public dinner will be provided for every inhabitant of the parish. R. Peek, Esq., having been solicited for a subscription for the purpose he sent £2 with a proviso that there should be no beer or cider drank with the dinner. The committee returned the subscription.

And who could blame them?

The Western Daily Mercury 4th May 1864

KINGSBRIDGE POLICE. MONDAY. William Eastley, of Modbury, labourer, was summoned by P.C. Pope for being drunk and riotous at Loddiswell, on the morning of the 2nd March last The defendant went to Pope and asked him If he (the defendant) was wanted. Pope said, “When I want you I will send for you. Defendant then knocked off John Tucker's hat, and kicked it between the constable's legs, and otherwise misconducted himself for nearly an hour.—For the defence James Luscombe, of Loddiswell, ochre refiner, was called to speak as to the defendant’s being sober, but the bench fined the defendant 5s. and costs.—The defendant was then summoned for assaulting the constable Pope in the execution of his duty, at the same time and place.—Fined 10s. and costs. The money was paid.

Brixham Western Guardian 28th April 1910

LODDISWELL. During Saturday morning a very nasty cycle accident occurred in the village. Two lads, who are staying with friends near Wrangaton, contemplated riding to Kingsbridge. When passing through the village one of them named Lang, aged 15, ran into the pump at the corner of the Peek Private Road. He was thrown heavily, and sustained a deep gash on his head. Dr. Webb was soon in attendance, and after sewing up the wound and attending to the sufferer, allowed his removal to his friends in a conveyance: This is the first cycle, accident that has taken place in the village.

This is the old National School of 1872 which was amalgamated into the British School building in 1916. In 1937 it served as the Primary School for a further 19 years and serves as the Village Hall today.

I had not been able to find out if there was still a well at Loddiswell so when I did my first walk I was hoping to find out one way or another. By the time I got to this sign I was still not sure, old places being what they are you don't necessarily find a well in a street called Well Street or a station in a road called Station Road.

At this point a man appeared so I asked him if there actually was a well still visible. He pointed at this sign and said "it's down there but I wouldn't bother if I were you." I explained that I was taking photos of the village and he was singularly unimpressed and not a little puzzled. I asked him how far away it was as I was now getting weary and it went down hill. I didn't want to end up half a mile away and at the bottom of the hill. He assured me it wasn't far but still insisted I was wasting my time.

As I went down the road I first came to another sort of well, a Butter Well, something I had only seen once before right next door to my home. Apart from knowing that butter needs to be kept cool and that a spring in a niche in a shady wall will do that when refrigeration has not yet been invented, I am none the wiser as to why they are at the side of a main road. Were they for selling home made butter? Was it awaiting collection before going to market?

Sure enough "The Historic Environment Record for Exmoor National Park" describes a Butter Well as "A small stone structure, usually at a spring or bog, in which dairy products were kept cool on slate shelves."

Eventually, tucked away from the centre of the village I came to the eponymous Loda's Well which has had a millennial makeover. They have made a nice job of it too and it is a nice cool spot to sit and contemplate for just how long people have come to this spot to collect its crystal clear water of life.

A sign to one side covers the modern health and safety warnings, advising imbibers to boil the water first. So it does appear that the water is in theory potable.

This is the only pub left in the village today, The Loddiswell Inn, and there is Richard Peek in his official robes and regalia as Sheriff of London, on the pub sign. Given his proviso at the celebration dinner about no beer or cider being offered, I am not so sure he would approve of his face being used to sell alcohol but it is at least some sort of memorial which otherwise appears to be lacking.

Loddiswell was a village built with packhorses in mind, and an occasional horse drawn cart or coach if the roads and weather allowed. Picture the local main road through the village as an hourglass, and this is the neck of the glass right here where the sand flows through. Articulated vehicles are banned because two opposite right angles make then dangerous at best or impossible at worst.

I can't help thinking that this sign below applies to most of the South Hams in general. Personally I find oncoming vehicles in the middle of the road on most journeys, even where there are clearly two lanes with a white line down the middle.

To alleviate some of the problem a small one way system right here makes an island of this old cottage and the Congregational church behind it.

Right in the middle of the narrow gap is the village store, next to an alley which once led to the old chapel.

Let me tell you something that happened to me recently. I went with some friends who were visiting the area to have lunch at a local seafront pub specialising in seafood. As we ate our fish and chips, the door swung open and a large trolley full of storage boxes appeared followed by a man pushing it. I presumed it was a delivery.

As our meal continued our visitors were transfixed by what was happening behind me which involved various rustling and banging noises and a lot of chatter. After about ten minutes our visitors, from America said what on earth is that guy doing. I turned around to see two tables in the restaurant pushed together and the tops of those tables covered in what appeared to be a travelling Post Office, which is what it turned out to be. It immediately answered the question raised by the photo below when I saw it. I had just encountered a Pop Up Post Office for the first time.

Was this sign a spelling test for the school children? Did any of them pass?

The bottleneck was soon to close for resurfacing, which would cut the village in half. It is another part of the way of life around here, that one either finds oneself complaining about the state of the roads or complaining about the fact they are shut for repairs.

The village is criss crossed with small alleys that were never wide enough to be promoted to wheeled transport.

This is the imposing exterior of The Congregational Church.

The Western Daily Mercury 6th October 1864

Opening of a New Independent Chapel at Loddiswell

The opening services..........took place on Tuesday.......

The chapel is built somewhat in the Italian style, and is a very neat structure, capable of holding about three hundred persons. The foundation stone was laid Whit-Monday, 1863, by Richard Peek, Esq , of Hazelwood, and at a meeting which was held at Loddiswell about that time that gentleman came forward very liberally, offering double the amount of subscriptions which the committee could raise towards erecting the building............ The higher end of the building consists of two campaniles, one on each side. At the back of the chapel there is a school room, and just above the pulpit is a gallery which will also be occupied for the use of the Sunday School children. Opposite the pulpit is another gallery for the use of the choir and congregation. The ground on which the chapel is built adjoins the British School room, and was kindly given by James Peek, Esq., of London, and put in trust for the use of the congregation. The builder and architect was Mr. Pulliblank, of Kingsbridge, and the cost of the building will be about £85O (£50,000).

Only thirty years later there was a performance at the church which would surely have brought tears to the eyes of Richard Peek had he still been alive, as this performance would not have been possible were it not for his life's work.

The Totnes Weekly Times 10th February 1894

The well-known American Ex-Slave Jubilee Choir, who have been visiting various places in the neighbourhood during the past few weeks, were at Loddiswell on Tuesday evening. The service, consisting of quaint slave songs, solos and melodies, was held in the Congregational Chapel, the Rev. R. Mark presiding over a good audience. The quaintness, pathos, and beautiful harmony of parts was much appreciated. About half-way through the programme Mr. Fernandez (an escaped slave) gave an account of his experiences both as a slave, in his escape from slavery and during the great United States war. When all the pieces given were so well executed it is difficult to single out for special mention, but, "The slave's song of victory" ; “No more auction block for me" : "Run, Mary Run" and “The Lord’s Prayer ’’ were greatly appreciated. The choir will be at the chapel conducting two services on Sunday next. Large numbers are expected.

A note on the use of the word quaint, which could today be deemed to have some negative intent. It's meaning has changed over the centuries and it is little used today. At the time of this review it's meaning was anything but negative, meaning "unusual or old-fashioned but charming or agreeable".

The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette 3rd May 1856

Amputation - A remarkable case of amputation was performed at Loddiswell on Friday week. The wife of Mr. James Alger who is about 32 years of age, has been suffering excruciating pain during the last seven years from wounds in her leg and thigh. Some years since she was persuaded to have the limb taken off, but she would not until now consent. On Friday, Mr. Square of Plymouth, performed the operation, which was completed in one minute and three quarters. There were eight other surgeons present. The patient was placed under the influence of chloroform, but so weak was she that a great deal of caution was necessary in administering it. She states that, although unconscious of pain, still she heard the gentlemen talking, and thought they were doing something to her, but could not tell what, She is in a favourable way, and hopes are entertained of her ultimate recovery. The whole of the expense, which is considerably more than £20 (£1,603), has been defrayed by R Peek, Esq.- an honourable instance of disinterested benevolence.

The Western Times 26th May 1904

AN OLD OFFENDER AT KINGSBRIDGE. Yesterday at Kingsbridge Town Hall Catherine Sullivan was charged with being drunk and disorderly at Loddiswell, and with assaulting PC John Rowlands whilst in the execution of his duty. Accused pleaded guilty. According to the evidence of P.C. Rowlands and George Osmond, also of Loddiswell, accused was outside the New Bridge Inn, Loddiswell on Bank Holiday. She very drunk and made use of disgusting language, and when the police man proceeded to arrest her, she stabbed him in the leg with a hat pin. The Chairman said there were 79 previous convictions. The woman was sentenced to two months' imprisonment with hard labour but apparently this did not affect her in the slightest degree, and she exclaimed "doesn't matter, I want to get towards Exeter "

The remains of this old pub sign in the front garden of what is now New Bridge House is where the New Bridge Inn once operated.

The Western Morning News 13th May 1865

Lot 6. A FREEHOLD MESSUAGE, or Dwelling-house, now and for many years past used as a Public House, and called or known the "Bridge Inn" situate in the said village of Loddiswell; together with the Stables, Brewhouse, Buildings, and premises at the back of the said public house; also, two excellent Gardens, and a very productive Orchard, also behind the said public house; all of which said premises contain together, by estimation, 1a or 89p or thereabouts. (There are four roods in an acre, and in turn a rood contains 40 perches.) All the aforesaid lets are in the occupation of Mr. James Talman, and are close to good roads. A large ale-house business has been and is now carried on at the "Bridge lnn", and the present offers a rare opportunity to any person wishing to embark in that business.

This thatched cottage is called "Little Gate" and when I first walked the village it was a sorry sight all covered in scaffolding. This was in October 2022.

How different it looks just a few months later.

In 1851 the estate of "Great and Little Gate" was sold, and at that time they were a single property of 97 acres "of most excellent pasture" with "uninterrupted land and sea views and including some of the most beautiful building sites in the west of England."

The Totnes Weekly Times 24th January 1891

Loddiswell - Probably owing to the sudden thaw which set in on Tuesday, a large snake from 2 to 3ft. in length was tempted out of its lurking-place, and being observed by Mr. John Luscombe, of Little Gate, was quickly killed.

By 1936 "Little Gate" was for sale as a single property of 19 acres.

This is a detail from the road going south out of the village to Kingsbridge. It is just as well so many local people worked in quarries as it is cut out of the bedrock. This route out originally led to a steep down hill and very narrow lane which emerged at the river at Willing's Mill. Here it was possible to cross the Avon at New Bridge. In the 19th century a turnpike company cut a new, wider and more gently sloping route, down to the river to meet a much wider and more substantial New Bridge.

I have added a red line here to show the original route of the main road to Kingsbridge straight ahead. To the right of the red line is the later turnpike road built in 1827.

Which of these would you rather drive down? The old route is by now, very rutted with much water erosion and in some places the surface is bare rock. It is classed as an unmetalled road but I would say lack of tarmac is the least of its problems. The four feet almost vertical drop at the start would be the first major challenge or obstacle. This is caused by the raised route of the new road right next to it.

It was difficult enough to get up that slope on two legs.

Here was what looked to me like a worn wheel rut in the rock, I have lightened it in the edit to make it more visible.

In the next part of the journey, part 14, I will be showing four bridges in a row and the history of them, as I work my way down the river to Aveton Gifford. The first is the bridge at Willing's Mill or New Bridge later renamed New Mill Bridge to save confusion with the newer New Bridge further downstream.

My research sources were The British Newspaper Archive, The Book of Loddiswell and Wikipedia.

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John Durham
John Durham
Apr 25, 2023

Another fascinating journey. I really appreciate your efforts to document these places and events and love seeing such wonderful sights. You are truly fortunate to live in the midst of such a lush trove of beauty and history.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Apr 27, 2023
Replying to

Thanks John, glad you enjoy them.


Unknown member
Apr 23, 2023

Nice set. Quite an extensive research on your part and of course you would be the one to find the mistake in that sign 😉

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Apr 24, 2023
Replying to

I realise not your thing but the history aspect really interests me so am moving more in that direction.

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