Welcome to the

High Bickington Historical Society 

High Bickington is a small Ridgeway village situated in the heart of North Devon and stands 600 feet above sea level, overlooking the beautiful Taw Valley where the river meanders towards Barnstaple Bay.

Despite the scattered nature of the Parish, it is soon obvious to those who visit that there is a strong community spirit and a strong love of local history.

The society meetings are  held at 7.30pm on the 4th Wednesday of each month at the High Bickington Community Centre (Tel 01769561387) during the winter and spring - September until April.

This is the programme for 2016 - 17

 Review of 2016-17 talks

Meeting on 28th September 2016

“Early Victorian Farming in North Devon” by John Bradbeer

John began his talk by comparing 14th century farming with Victorian farming and pointing out the difference that the early farmers would have been surprised at the amount of land cultivated in Victorian times and the start of some mechanisation. They would notice that the cattle were much larger because of improved breeding programmes.

In 1836 The Commutation of Tithes Act was brought in, the tithe was a payment in kind [originally a tenth] of the harvest for the benefit of the church. The tithe Apportionment was a listing of all parcels of land with ownership etc.

Parliament then lays down categories of land use such as arable, meadow, pasture etc.

The Process takes place with a surveyor and valuer who maps parish lands and

draws up an allocation of tithe.

We were then shown a detailed sample of charts and maps which were very interesting but too many to list here.

The talk was of special interest to members who were local to the area.

Meeting on 26th October

“Bradicks of Bibeford” by Sharon Snell

Sharon began by giving us a short resumé of her previous talk and then went onto part two of the Braddicks family.

Her Grandfather Leslie Grange Hookay was a more refined character than his father Hobart who left school at 14 and trained as a carpenter. He loved sport such cricket, football, golf etc. He was rather a lad about town and enjoyed cigars and whiskey! He also improved the business by sourcing furniture from further afield to appeal to a wider clientele and became quite a wealthy man. He met his wife Sylvia on the golf course and married her in 1931.

Hobart also introduced Hire Purchase to Braddicks which was a novelty in those days, but this again increased the company turnover. He also became a fireman during WW2.

Leslie Hookay opened the Elizabethan Resfaurant 1951 and was now very much involved in the running of the company.

In the 1960's camping and caravanning became more prominent and was well catered for by the family.

Meeting  on 23rd November 2016

“ Devon Dialect “ by Iris Wood.

Iris began by donning an old sack apron and jamming a straw hat on her head, we knew we were in for a fun time!

She then uttered several sentences in broad Devon which to some of us outsiders sounded like a foreign language.

Iris explained that unless the Devon Dialect was spoken more often it could and would die out, she said it was a beautiful and soft dialect, not unlike the Devonshire scenery. Explaining just a few of the Devon words and what they mean were ones like “apple drain” when a wasp had eaten the inside of an apple and just left the outer skin and one I particularly like “flitter mouse” a bat and just one more I can squeeze in “grass qualing” harvesting. There were many more but too many to list here.

Iris finished up with a poem where the last line was “with a piece of binder string” on each verse which we all joined in reciting.

I said at the beginning about having a fun time and we all certainly had that!

Meeting on 25th January 2017

“ History of Quickes Cheese“ by Stuart Dowle

This was the talk we were looking forward to with the hope of some cheese nibbles! We were not disappointed, after a very interesting talk by Stuart explaining how Quickes Cheese came about and was located at Newton St. Cyres in about a 300 acre estate, with 150 acres of that as woodland, with many trees.

The cheese making is all done by hand and is quite a complex procedure far too detailed to go into here and if anyone is interested they do run guided tours.

The 350 cows have been bred over the years from a Kiwi Friesian, a Swedish Red, Montbeliarde and Jersey mix to produce the perfect milk for cheese making.

Getting back to the tasting we were spoilt for choice with a selection of mature, smoked, vintage, and ewes milk cheese, unfortunately no goats cheese.

When we had finished tasting we selected our preference and purchased same.

Thanks to Stuart we had an informative and amusing talk appreciated by all.

Meeting on 22nd February 2017

“Fever” a story from a North Devon Church Yard by Liz Shakespeare

Liz gave us a talk some time ago and we looked forward to this one which was centred around Littleham and its church yard.

Liz brought with her several of her books “The Memory be Green”, “All Around The Year”, “The Turning of the Tide” and the one she talked about now “Fever”.

Her interest was aroused when on one of her frequent walks in the church yard she noticed a grave stone with the date 1871 and the sad inscription concerning a father and his three children who had all died at a young age. This made her curious as to why they and several others had died in that year.

The Registers were still held at the church and after obtaining them for research it led her to finding maps etc.,of the surrounding area. It then became apparent that scarlet fever was the culprit caused by poor hygiene and open sewers and spread rapidly because the poor people could not afford a Doctor.

Liz read several sections from her book and we all thanked her for a very interesting evening.

For more information about Liz can be found here

Meeting 22nd March 2017

“North Devon Savages” by Peter Christie

This was a fascinating story which concerned a family living in the North Devon village of Nymet Rowland in the 1870s the families name was Cheriton and the head of same was Christopher Cheriton.

They lived in primitive conditions whose lifestyle caused national outrage. Although their behaviour was extreme the Cheritons did have some defenders, in particular the Reverend T J Leslie from Appledore, who wrote several letters to The North Devon Journal pointing out that many of the anonymous accusations were false and that the Cheritons did attend church and arguing the possibility that rich farmers wanted the family out of the parish and could easily persuade the journalists to “interview” a poor family.

Many of their crimes were small, such as poaching, which seemed to upset the landowners and many of the cases were dismissed.

Peter showed us family trees he had researched concerning the Cheritons over the years which highlighted the number of illegitimate children in the family!

This was a very interesting talk which I cannot give justice to in this short review.

Peter Christie has written several books concerning the family which should be of interest. Further information can be found here

Reviews by Cliff Ford

Review of 2015-16 talks

Meeting on 23rd September 2015.

The speaker was Dennis Bater and the subject was Winkleigh Airfield 1942 - 45 with slides.

This was an interesting talk which gave a real insight into the use of Winkleigh Airfield during the war and the work involved converting a large field into a fully functioning airfield.

Many logistical problems had to be overcome, roads to be widened to accept heavy machinery such as bulldozers etc.

One big headache was the layer of clay which created massive drainage problems which had to be solved. Over 1000 Irish navvies were employed at Winkleigh. The total cost of development was

On January 1 st 1941 the first solitary RAF pilot landed a Boulton Paul Defiant night fighter and so began its history as a wartime airfield.

Many sorties were flown from Winkleigh, besides heavy bombers there were Beaufighters and later Mosquitos.

One Lysander squadron which was very hush- hush flew SOE agents to missions behind enemy lines. The Air Ministry never admitted that the squadron existed.

There is lots of information online at jackiefreemanphotography.com - worth a look!

Meeting on 25th  October 2015

The speaker was Geoffrey Cleverdon and the subject was The History of Hatherleigh Moor

This was an interesting talk regarding Hatherleigh Moor whose history goes back 1000 years. In 1943 Roman tiles were found on the moor and more tiles were found when the moor was ploughed up to support the war effort.

The "potboilers" are interesting, they reside within the borough bound of Hatherleigh and are properly registered as such, under the Commons Registration Act 1965. The inhabitants of properties built since 1 965 do not qualify for potboilers rights.

Hatherleigh moor is an area of fand to the east of the town extending over 400 acres. The land is common to the potboilers. In 1941 it was requisitioned by the War Agricultural Committee and cultivated for food production. Wheat, barley, oats, rye and potatoes were grown. In 1951 it was handed back to the potboilers. The income from cattle and sheep grazing is distributed to the potboilers at Christmas.

In September 1 644 a battle took place on the moor when the Roundheads were defeated by the Royalists and made their last stand in Great Torrington.

Meeting on 25th November 2015

The speaker was Andy Lane and the subject was A brief history of North Devon Red Cattle

This was an interesting talk by Andy who has been 12 years Breed Secretary and has dedicated 52 years of his life to the love of the Devon Red which is an ancient breed in the South West of England.

The early improvers of the Devon breed were Francis Quartly and his elder brothers, Rev. William and Henry the eldest, who took over the Williams herd and lease in 1816.

During the Napoleonic Wars most of the farmers of Devon took advantage of the high prices and were selling off the best blood lines. Francis Quartly had the foresight to refuse to sell his best specimens and founded the Champion Herd. Instrumental in the founding of the new breed was John Tanner Davy and his brother William of Rose Ash.

In 1884 the Devon Cattle Breeders Society was founded and took over the herd book.

The Red Devon are excellent foragers and convert it to first class meat which js marbled [means it will cook in its own fat] and good flavour. They are also very docile and can be used as draught oxen, their fat can be used for tallow, and their thick hide for leather.

The breed has fallen out of favour recently because of the continental breeds which mature more rapidly, however, that meat has always been of a lower eating quality than that of the Red Devon.

The breed is now firmly established in America, Australia, New Zealand and Brazil.

Meeting on 27th January 2016

The Parson Jack Russell Story a talk by Jonathan Edmunds.

This was an interesting and informative talk with a bevy of information about John Russell who was a big man of over 6ft in height a talented boxer and a bit of a rabble rouser who loved to hunt. He was born in Dartmouth in 1795, the eldest son of John Russell by his wife Nora.

He was educated at his fathers small school and then Plympton Grammar, also Blundells School Tiverton from 1809-14 where he kept a pack of hounds, then on to Exeter College, Oxford.

The story goes that Russell acquired his first fox terrier "Trump" from a milkman while studying at Oxford about 1815. Trump was then crossed with a Devon hunt terrier to create the Parson Terrier which was a bit longer in the leg.

Russell was appointed vicar at St. James Church Swimbridge in North Devon in 1832 and served for 40 years. He was also rector of Black Torrington.

Its said his sermons were short by Victorian standards because his horse was usually saddled up in the churchyard ready to go!

In 1836 at Swimbridge he married Penelope Incledon-Buryt third daughter and coheiress of Vice-Admiral Richard Incledon-Bury lord of the manor of Colleton, Chulmleigh Devon who resided at Doniton Swimbridge. Russell is said to have expensive sporting habits both on and off the hunting field, which drained the substantial resources of his heiress wife and left the estate of Colleton in poor condition.

The local pub at Swimbridge is still called the Jack Russell and its sign is a reproduction of a painting of "Trump" commissioned by the then Prince of Wales [later King Edward VIIJ with whom Russell was very friendly and visited Sandringham quite often.

Russell died on April 28th 1883 and was buried in the churchyard of St. James's Church, Swimbridge.

Meeting on 24th February 2016

Wool and other Trades on the Rolle Canal a talk by Dr Hugh Reed.

This was a very interesting and detailed talk by Dr. Reed whose family has a long history of association with North Devon, 200 years of business history and living conditions in the Torrington area and 19 generations [1500 - 2000) in North Devon as well as 7 generations at Staple Vale [1 799 - date].Wool was a dominant product in farming prior tol 800. The Rolle Cana} was used to transport wool and various other commodities during this period.The Rolle Canal extends from its mouth into the River Torridge at Landcross 6 miles southwards to the industrial mills and corn mills at Town Mills [now called "Orford Mill"], Rosemoor, Great Torrington and beyond to Healand Docks and weir on the Torridge where survive the ruins of Lord Rolle's limekilns, upstream of todays Rosemoor Garden. Town Miils were built by Lord Rolle and were powered by a stream which flowed past his seat of Stevenstone.The town of Great Torrington was built on the wool trade in the first instance and then general livestock farming and processing, glove making, dairy production and glassworks. Torrington is surrounded by common !and on all but the eastern side and administered by the "conservators" being 385 acres in all, 20 miles of public rights of way. It was donated to Torrington in 1 1 94 by the feudal baron of Gt. Torrington.Rolle road is the site of the Rolle Canal which opened in 1827 to help transport clay, lime and other commodities between the boats on the tidal river at Landcross and the lime kilns, clay pits and farms around Torrington. It ran through common land but was ciosed in 1871 . Later it was filled in to create a toll road across the Common.The railway branch line from Barnstaple to Bideford was extended to Great Torrington in July 1872 by the London and South Western Railway which built a railway station and locomotive depot. This was later closed to passenger traffic because of the Beeching Axe.

Meeting on 23rd March 2016

“Braddicks of Bideford” a talk by Sharon Snell

This was a fascinating insight into the long history of the Braddicks family and told in an interesting and amusing way by Sharon.

John Joseph Braddick came from a farming background in South Devon to Bideford in 1864 to work as a clerk on the Southern Railway. He married Sophia Short, a grocers daughter, and ran the family general store business in Mill Street. They had twelve children.

The talk was made more interesting by the various early photos of the family. This store eventually progressed over the years to the many successful businesses the Braddick family now run in Bideford and Westwood Ho! including The Pier House Restaurant, once called The Merley Hotel, which was purchased by the Braddick family in 1951 and it became part of their holiday business.

Meeting on  27th April 2016

“Lynmouth Flood Disaster” a talk by Sally Wilson

On the 15th and 16th of August1952 a storm of tropical intensity broke over south – west England with tragic consequences for Lynmouth in particular. 34 people died over the two days.

Sally gave us an insight as to what this was really like for the residents of Lynmouth as she was evacuated there, at the time, staying with her Grandmother in a house that was eventually destroyed by the flood. The family managed to escape through the rear of the house at around 4pm with

the incredible noise of the water and rocks rushing past the windows and went to safety on higher ground and then to Lynton Town Hall but with no possessions such as change of clothes etc. for by this time they were pretty wet! Later some clothes were supplied by the generosity of the people of Lynton and then they were taken to Minehead to recover and transported there by, of all things, a Black Maria!

The reasons for the flooding are various, one suggestion is that it was caused by the RAF seeding clouds as an experiment to produce rain, and another to do with the re-routing of the river. No full investigation was ever completed.

Thanks to Sally we had a very interesting first hand account of what that day was really like.

Reviews by Cliff Ford

Visits to local houses of historical interest, etc, have included:

Hall House, Bishops Tawton. 19th century home of a branch of the Chich  ster family.
Bull House, Pilton. 15th century former priors' residence.
Rashleigh Barton, Wembworthy. Late medieval manor house.

Honiton Barton. 17th century house.

Coombe Martin silver mine.

Lynton and Barnstaple railway.

Guided tours of historical South Molton and Langtree.

Stafford Barton Manor, Dolton, partly dating back to at least 16th century

Grateful thanks are due to the owners for allowing us to visit their private homes by special arrangement.

Sept 28th “Early Victorian farming in N Devon”   talk by John Bradbeer                     

Oct 26th: “Braddicks of Bideford” continued talk by Sharon Snell

Nov 23rd: “Devon Dialect talk”  with Iris Wood                                                        

Dec No meeting - Happy Christmas

Jan 25th : “History of Quickes cheese”  talk by Stuart Dowle                                       

Feb 22nd: “Fever” a story from a North Devon Church Yard by Liz Shakespeare

Mar 22nd: “North Devon Savages”  talk by Peter Christie                                          

April 26th “Story of Welcombe, the first P.Y.O fruit farm in north Devon” by Peter Barnes

Please contact us for more information -

Chairman  Colin Muddell  561183                                    Programme secretary Margaret Bolt 560265

Secretary  Stella Burrows 560309                                    or email us

The Story Of High Bickington

This was originally a booklet produced in 1937 by R.W. Pitman, headmaster of the village school 1929-1937. Its input to her own research is acknowledged by Avril Stone in her book, The Book Of High Bickington, published in 2000. Thanks are due to Neil Hudson, member of High Bickington Historical Society, for his transcription from the original booklet.

The book is displayed here in pdf format which can be viewed separately and printed if required.

During 2015 - 2016, members of the Society have been recording details of the memorial stones in the aisles of the Parish church of St Mary, High Bickington. The full details of this research are listed here in pdf format which can be viewed separately and printed if required. We hope that you will find this information interesting.