A History of Town Orchard

Many of us are regular users of Town Orchard.  It is generally recognised as a precious jewel in the heart of the village.  Much visited, it is a peaceful green space, used for our traditional May Day festival, outdoor plays and performances and community events such as the old Apple Day and more recently the Wassails held by Beltane Border Morris.  It has been much written about, featured in many magazine and newspaper articles and television programmes.  What about its history?

The name sounds odd to us “Town”, in a village?  But this is a hangover from the medieval manorial system, where the centre of a settlement was always referred to as ‘town’, hence Town Orchard (the village centre is called Town Place). This would indicate the siting of an orchard here for at least 600 years, probably more. An archaeological report from the Dartmoor National Park Authority states there is evidence of earthworks, indicating the existence of old medieval field boundaries in the southern end of the Orchard.   

The earliest record we have is the Tithe Map surveyed in 1837, which shows the orchard as four pockets of land: Apportionment Nos. 477 (Town Orchard), 497 (Clover Field), 498 (West Orchard) and 499 (Town Meadow). Two of these being cultivated as orchards.  By the time of the 1884 survey for the OS 25 inch mapping the Town Orchard is shown as a single entity of 5.078 acres. The maps also show the leat which runs through the Orchard today and which used to supply some of the water to Lustleigh Mill. The land was owned jointly by Thomas and William Wills, who owned three parts and one part respectively.  It formed part of ‘Gatehouse Estate – Including Woodparks and Long Marsh’.  At that time there was no road, garage, hall, Post Office, Dairy or houses on Melrose Terrace and the land stretched all the way up to the road.

In 1907, Thomas Wills mortgaged the orchard for £2000 to Gladys Hill Robinson and Harold G. Michelmore and in 1911, conveyed 20 perches (605 yards) to Messrs Wise, Blakeway and Glanville for £30.  The conveyance makes specific reference to “the right of enjoyment of any buildings erected thereon.” This is the land the Conservative Hall was built on, now rebuilt as our Village Hall.

There then comes a very significant part of the history of the orchard.  In 1923, Wills sold the orchard to Lionel Galton Bennett for £600.  In 1961, Bennett sold a small piece of land to William Howard, together with a right of approach for vehicles.  This is the land that Brent Oliver’s Orchard Garage now stands on, and presumably at some point, further land was sold off to make way for the approach road. 

Lionel Bennett died in May 1965; the executors of his will vested the orchard to Margaret Ellen Bennett who immediately gave it to the Parish Council by Deed of Gift.  The council immediately designated it an amenity for the local population.

The Town Orchard lies within the Lustleigh Conservation Area and contains a variety of apple trees many of which are very old and on the list of heritage apples at risk. The orchard was described in 1993 by Common Ground as the “longest established community orchard” in England.  It is also officially listed as an important site on the Historical Environment Record.

Town Orchard has been used for Lustleigh May Day on an annual basis since 1954 (except during the Covid pandemic in 2020/21).  As per the covenant in the deed of Gift, it may do so “free of charge, for as long as the organisers wish”.  There is a large granite rock bearing the names of all the May Queens in the centre of the Orchard which is used for the crowning of the Queens. A permanent throne was installed on the rock in 2000.   

In 2009, the then Pre-School made a request to the council to fence off a small area of the orchard for “digging and organic gardening”.  This is the area behind Melrose Terrace still used by Pre-School for their play area.

The upkeep of the orchard is partly funded by the picking and selling of the cider apples and mistletoe plus visitor donations. The outer reaches of the orchard are regularly cleared of overgrowth by local volunteers and the grass is often grazed in an environmentally friendly way by sheep.

Lustleigh Town Orchard is a very special place, full of history, a rarity in the modern era and a true community space.  Every effort should be made to conserve it for the enjoyment of future generations.

The History of The Old Manor House

The Great Hall, Mapstone Hill

We now have up-to-date information on the history of the old manor (Great Hall and Uphill), Mapstone Hill, Lustleigh, thanks to research by Dr. Ian Mortimer, a summary of which is reproduced here:

“Now that we know that dendrochronological analysis has dated the beams of Uphill to the early fourteenth century, when we know the lords of the manor were resident, it is possible to see that the expensive building work could be that of William Prouz, who asked to be buried in the church, and eventually was. Certainly, clergymen of the time did not have the income to build such a place. The added interest locally is that an inventory of the goods of Sir John Daumarle, lord of Lustleigh, survives (published in Devon & Cornwall Notes & Queries, XXXII, part 3, pp. 79-83).

I am confident that the building now divided into Uphill and the Great Hall on Mapstone Hill was the manorial residence of William Prouz and after him his daughter Alice de Moels and then her son Sir John Damarle, and the inventory relates to its contents at the time of Sir John’s death in 1392. I don’t think the lords have been resident since then, hence the house being given to the church.”

Ian Mortimer, January 2022

Edited by Peter Mason from an email received from Ian Mortimer 26/01/2022

Ronald Painter

Reprinted from Lustleigh Parish Magazine December 2016

As you are wrapping your Christmas presents later this month, I would ask you to spare a thought for a man who lost his life 75 years ago in one of the most extensive but least known naval disasters of the Second World War. His connections with Lustleigh may only be slight, indeed he is not listed on our war memorial, but the tragedy on 19th December 1941 in which he fell deserves  being brought before a wider audience.

Ronald Painter was born on 13th March 1914 to William Scott Painter and Mary Ann Painter of Court Street, Moretonhampstead and baptised in that town on 18th April 1915. Eagle-eyed readers will, no doubt, immediately spot a connection between our village and Ronald’s father’s name, but more of that later.

The Painter family pictured behind their house Haytor View, Court Street, Moreton Front row - Willaim Scott, Ronald (aged 3) Mary Ann Back Row - Harold, Kathleen, Frank
The Painter family pictured behind their house Haytor View, Court Street, Moreton
Front row – William Scott, Ronald (aged 3) Mary Ann
Back Row – Harold, Kathleen, Frank

The Painters were a large Chagford family of stone and monumental masons. William had moved to Leigh House, Brookfield by 1901 with his mother and two of his brothers. It is thought that they may have run East Wrey quarry, and hence the move; the 1901 census entry showing William as an employer and a 1902 trade directory listing the Painters of Lustleigh as granite quarry proprietors would certainly fit with this theory.

Following William’s marriage to Mary Ann Casely in Wandsworth (her father was a prison warder there) in 1901, they had two sons born in Lustleigh before relocating to Moretonhampstead around 1905 where they had a daughter and, much later, their third son, Ronald.

Ronald attended Pound Street School in Moretonhampstead between 1922 and 1928, after which he embarked on an apprenticeship at a motor garage in Newton Abbot. Shortly after his father died in 1935, Ronald decided to follow his older brother, Harold, into the Royal Navy; unsurprisingly, with his mechanical background, becoming an Engine Room Artificer.

Ronald with Harold’s Austin Seven in the yard behind Haytor View, Moreton

Ronald’s precise history with his ship, HMS Neptune is unknown. The Leander Class Cruiser certainly spent the initial months of WW2 patrolling the south Atlantic where, in November 1939, she was part of Force “K” looking for Admiral Graf Spee. The following year, she was transferred to operations in the Mediterranean and following a refit in 1941 hunted for German supply ships supporting Bismark.

Towards the end of 1941, Ronald and HMS Neptune were back in the Mediterranean and back with “K” Force which this time was tasked with seeking and destroying German and Italian convoys carrying troops and supplies to Libya in support of Rommel’s army in North Africa. It was to be a fateful mission.

ERA Ronald Painter
ERA Ronald Painter

On the afternoon of December 18th the squadron was despatched from Malta to intercept an important enemy convoy bound for Tripoli. Neptune was leading two other cruisers, Aurora and Penelope, with the support of four destroyers, when at 0106 am, she struck a mine. The cruiser force had run into a minefield in a depth of water and at a distance from land which made it utterly unexpected.

Attempting to exit the minefield, she backed her engines, but 10 minutes later hit another mine, losing propellers and rudder and going dead in the water. Now at the mercy of wind and heavy seas, she struck a third mine. One of the destroyers, Kandahar, attempted to take Neptune in tow, but caught a mine herself, at which point Captain O’Conor of the Neptune flashed a warning, “Keep away”. At 0403 she struck a fourth mine which exploded amidships: this was more than her hull could take and she turned over and sank within minutes.

Thirty crew managed to reach Carley rafts; with all ships ordered to leave the area due to the extreme danger, these survivors had to fend for themselves. Newspapers as late as January were reporting that enemy statements said some of the survivors had been picked up and taken prisoner. In reality, left exposed to the elements and without food or water, all but one of the initial survivors perished. After five days adrift, Leading Seaman Norman Walton was found by an Italian torpedo boat, Calliope, on 24 December.

As well as being one of the worst losses of life at sea in World War II, with 763 crew of Neptune being despatched along with 73 men from HMS Kandahar, it was the worst naval tragedy for New Zealand who had contributed greatly to the crew. As well as being remembered on many national memorials (Ronald on Plymouth Naval Memorial), all 837 men are commemorated on a special Neptune and Kandahar Memorial. Unveiled in 2005 at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire, its pyramid base is orientated towards the point north of Tripoli where HMS Neptune went down. Ronald is additionally listed on Moretonhampstead’s war memorial.

Although a Board of Inquiry was held within a week of the disaster, the British worked hard to conceal the scale of the calamity with details of the losses of HMS Neptune not being released for six months. This probably explains why Ronald was officially logged as being the son of Mary Ann Painter of Lustleigh: for although she was living in Seaton when the tragedy struck, by the time the loss was made official, she had moved to Brookside in Lustleigh to live next door to her brother-in-law, Scott Thorn Painter, who ran the Cleave Hotel.

The Moretonhampstead Memorial. Ronald’s name is at bottom line centre
The Moretonhampstead Memorial. Ronald’s name is at bottom line centre

As well as various sources from which this story is drawn (and which are cited on the Lustleigh Society website, along with a couple of photographs), I would like to pay a special thanks to Norman Tregaskis, Ronald’s nephew, who has supplied additional material.

Sources used:

  • The Neptune Association
  • net
  • com
  • FindMyPast
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Moretonhampstead History Society

The Ruins of Boveycombe

Extract from Parish Magazine November 2011

If you go down to the woods today…. you might come across a small group of archaeologists and volunteers excavating the site of the ruins of Boveycombe Farm.
For those of you not familiar with the area, if you walk from Heaven’s Gate down to Hisley Bridge, approximately half way down, either side of the bridle path are a few granite walls – all that is left of one of the earliest tenements in the parish.  Prior to work on-site, in depth research into Boveycombe’s past was carried out in our archives room, by one of the archaeological team. We thought it might be interesting to look at a little of the history of this farm, abandoned (for what reason we do not know) probably in the 1940’s.

2016-01-06 13.17.17
Is this the remains of Boveycombe farmhouse? The first building you reach is to the left of the path as you walk downhill.

The Devonshire Lay Subsidy of 1332 is the first real mention of Boveycombe. It was one of the eight tenements of Lustleigh (the others being Pepperdon, Foxworthy, Pethybridge, Mapstone, Caseley, South Harton and Barncourt).  By 1603, the reign of Elizabeth I was over and James I was about to become King. In 1615, Boveycombe was “held by William Grose, rent 8/- 8d, heriot* the best beast and acreage 50 (acres?)”. Richard Caseley, aged 30, held the reversion. This meant that on the death of William, Boveycombe would pass to Richard. By 1628, Nicholas Gray was resident at Boveycombe and the acreage had decreased to 32 acres. Martin Trend held the reversion.

By the next time the Manor of Lustleigh was recorded in 1742, Gilbert Babbacombe farmed Boveycombe’s 33 acres of “land, meadow and pasture” and the rent was £2 10/-. The farm remained in the same family until the 1837 Tithe map shows it in the ownership of John Gould, and occupied by George Wills, the total acreage now recorded as being 69 and a half acres.

The recent history of Boveycombe is patchy, but it is noted in the Archive by Ann Jones, formerly of Lower Hisley, that she and her sister Tish Roberts met George Crocker, who was probably the last person to farm Boveycombe, growing potatoes there in the early 1940s.  The current excavations have revealed that one building, probably the farmhouse as it had remnants of internal lime plaster, straddled the bridle path diagonally. There is also another building – possibly a barn – on the right  as you walk downhill.

2016-01-06 13.19.16
As you continue downhill, you reach the remains of a small building to the right of the bridle path, possibly a barn.

Another mystery is the old cart track that leads to the farm. On the bridle path beneath Lower Hisley it can still be seen on the right hand side. This path followed a route between two fields of Higher Hisley, dropping steeply down through the woods and into the farm.

* Heriot – payment to Lord of Manor on death of the tenant, the best live beast or dead chattel.

Queen Victoria – Golden and Diamond Jubilees

Extract from Parish Magazine June 2012

As the nation prepares to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, how did the people of Lustleigh celebrate the jubilee of Queen Victoria?

Queen Victoria is the longest serving monarch in the country’s history, reigning for 64 years between 1837 and 1901. In June 1887, the nation celebrated her Golden Jubilee. It was for this occasion that the Lych Gate and steps to the church were built. As early as 3 a.m. the village was preparing for a party with a feast of beef and plum pudding for the men of the village. For the children and woman folk………….. “An excellent tea was prepared” (probably by themselves, after having cooked the beef and plum pudding for the men!).

Ten years later, on 22nd June 1897, celebrations were again the order of the day for Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Several weeks beforehand a committee was formed – in fact two as one dealt with celebrations for the men folk and the other for the women and children. Special prayers were said on Sunday 20th and God Save the Queen was sung, including a new verse composed by the Dean of Rochester.


On the stroke of midnight, 60 shots were fired in the “village square” and at 5 a.m., another salute took place. The church bells then rang before a short church service at 8 a.m. where Holy Communion was held. Photographs of the choir, congregation and village children were taken on the church steps. Following a similar theme from the Golden Jubilee celebrations, the men feasted on beef and plum pudding – with tea for the women and children at 3 p.m. For the rest of the afternoon there were sports with a drum and flute band from Moretonhampstead and a string band from Plymouth providing music. Bonfires were lit on the Cleave and at Bullaton Rock. Dancing followed by the light of bonfires until a late hour.


As a lasting memorial to the event, the church chancel was “painted in fresco” by Mr. Reginald Hallward, Honourable Secretary of the Guild of Clergy and Artists. An unnamed parishioner gave a brass, fixed in the arch leading to the south transept, with a border of the rose, shamrock and thistle in the national colours of red, white and blue and on it were painted the letters V. R. I.
Most of the information for the above was taken from the Lustleigh Parish Magazine, May – July 1837 and 1897, which are held in the Archive Room.

The Early Lords of the Manor of Lustleigh Part 1

From the Domesday Book we can see that in 1065, in the reign of King Edward the Confessor, the manor of Lustleigh was held by Ansgar and prior to that by one Walter.  There is quite a gap in the records until we come to the early part of the 13th century when a William de Widworthy held the manor from 1200 to 1224. His wife was called Juliana and they had a daughter Alice and a son Hugh. Alice married a member of the Le Prous family from Gidleigh and they had a son – William Le Prous.
Hugh de Widworthy inherited the manor from his father and in turn his daughter – Emma Dinham – inherited the title. Emma and her husband Robert were Lord and Lady of the manor until 1291, but having had no children the manor passed to Emma’s cousin William le Prous.
There is an effigy of Sir William le Prous in the wall of the south transept of Lustleigh church.


In the north wall are effigies of a knight and a lady. As all records of these have been lost, there is some dispute about who they are. One view is that they are in fact Sir Robert Dinham and Lady Emma Dinham. Another theory is they are William de Widworthy and his wife Juliana. On the death of Sir William le Prous in 1316, the manor passed to his daughter Emma, who was married to Roger de Moelis. From then on several ancestors and relatives of theirs held the manor of Lustleigh: Firstly inherited by their daughter Alice de Moelis and her husband John Daumarle. Secondly by their son – Sir John Daumarle and his wife Isabella. Thirdly – as John and Isabella had no children – the manor passed to Clarice, Sir John’s sister. She was married to Richard Grenville. There is some uncertainty as to who succeeded them, as by rights it should have been Clarice’s daughter Alice Carndon and thereafter to their daughter and her husband – Joan and John Durford. Historical evidence suggests that these three women were tricked out of their rightful inheritance by the machinations of the sons of Isabella by her first marriage to John Tremayne.
The next verified information cites William Burleston purchasing the manor at the end of the 14th century. It is not clear if he bought it from Joan Durford or one of the Tremayne sons; in 1403 Burleston sold the manor of Lustleigh to Sir John Wadham. To be continued in part two together with a somewhat macabre tale befitting Halloween…


The above is taken from: Chapter V, “The Story of Waye”, by Hugo Pellew and based on research by Dr. M. H. Hughes

The Early Lords of the Manor of Lustleigh Part 2

The Fragmentation of the Manor (and a story fit for Halloween)

As we left the story last month, the Manor of Lustleigh consisted of a number of farms and cottages, all of which were owned by Nicholas Wadham. There were also a few free tenements that he did not own but from whom he received a small annual “quit rent” in acknowledgement that he was their Lord.


This simple and easily understood system was about to change and be replaced by a much more complicated one. Nicholas Wadham died in 1609. He was buried in the Parish Church at Ilminster Somerset. As he and his wife had no children, the title to Nicholas’s many estates and properties in Devon and Somerset went, as was the custom, to his three sisters. They each inherited a third of his estates and so in the case of Lustleigh each sister owned one third of the Manor.  If this situation arose today the estate would probably be physically divided into three equal shares however this was not so in those days. So, the sisters inherited “an undivided one third of the Manor of Lustleigh”.


The eldest of the sisters was Florence, the wife of John Wyndham of Orchard Wyndham, Somerset. Even in those days, the Wyndhams were a famous family. Four of Henry VIII’s queens – Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr – were related to them. Two of the family attained the rank of Vice-Admiral of England in the 16th century. Later Wyndhams held high ministerial posts in the reigns of George I and George II.


There is a fascinating and somewhat macabre tale regarding Florence. When she married john Wyndham the couple lived at Kentsford near Watchet. In the second year of their marriage Florence became ill, died and was buried in the family vault of St. Decumans Church nearby. That night the verger, a man named Attwell who had assisted at the last rites, returned to the vault, prised open the lid of the lead coffin and proceeded to strip the corpse of her jewellery. The story goes that having secured all but a valuable ring that he was unable to remove, he drew his knife and started to sever the finger. To his horror, blood began to flow and the “corpse”, struggling to a sitting position, demanded to know where she was. The terrified man fled leaving behind a lantern, which Florence now thoroughly alive, took to guide her as she staggered over fields to her home. She was unable to rouse anyone at the house however, some of the servants were awoken by the howling of the favourite hound of their late mistress and went to investigate, only to retreat in terror barring the door behind them at the grim site of a blood-stained shroud that they took to be the ghost of their late mistress. Hearing the commotion her husband, made of sterner stuff, at once ordered the door to be opened and was shocked to see the wife he had just buried standing on the lawn in front of the house. Florence fully recovered and a few weeks later gave birth to a son – John – who when he grew up had nine sons to carry on the family name. So much for Florence who must have been a woman of considerable courage and initiative. The verger was never heard of again despite the family offering a substantial reward to him for being the means of restoring Florence to her family.


Florence’s share of the Manor passed to her son John (later Sir John) – that same son who was born a few weeks after Florence’s return from the grave.  Nicholas Wadham’s other sisters Joan Strangeways and Margaret Martin saw each of their shares of the Manor of Lustleigh eventually pass to their Children, John Strangeways and Joan’s four daughters – Anne Floyer, Elisabeth Hamon, Frances White and Jane Richards.


The above is taken from: Chapter VII of “The Story of Waye”, by Hugo Pellew and based on research by Dr. M. H. Hughes.

A Thatcher’s Life’ – Mick Dray

The Lustleigh Society Meeting March 2009

A Thatcher’s Life’ – Mick Dray

Thatch, even the very best, doesn’t last forever; so perhaps it is not so surprising that Lustleigh boasts among its residents not one but two Master Thatcher’s. At the Society’s February meeting we were fortunate indeed to have one of these, Mick Dray, from a dynasty of five generations of Master Thatcher’s, to inform and entertain us with his lively account of (A Thatcher’s Life’. In fact it proved to be much more than that as he gave us a non-stop and profusely illustrated account of the whole business covering different styles of thatching, the various techniques in use, the development over the years of specialised hand tools, the risks of fire (illustrated with some thought provoking photographs) and the relevant precautionary measures, not to mention the relative merits of the many different types and sources of thatching material.

It was this last topic that probably occupied at least half of the evening, not so much because there is an unlimited variety (there isn’t) but because the several different materials, ranging from wheat straw to Norfolk Reed to Turkish Reed and so on, all come from different places within or not so far outside Europe – and Mick seemed to have visited each and every one of them in his search for the wherewithal to practise his trade. The fact that he had put together a whole dossier of photographs illustrating .this added immeasurably to the interest. Different cultures develop different tools and techniques and these result in different approaches to reaping, threshing, drying, storing and transporting the final product even though the basic principles remain unchanged. His account took us back in time to when, in the UK, vehicle number plates still bore white characters on a black back-ground, to peasant communities in Eastern Europe under Communist sway, and to more advanced countries where massive machinery had come into use. It became more and more of a travelogue but none the less interesting for that.

In fact when Mick came to the end of his talk there was an immediate forest of hands raised to put a whole sequence of interested questions, a certain indicator that his sixty-strong audience had enjoyed· listening to him at least as much as he had obviously enjoyed talking to us; a propitious start to our new season of talks. Thank you Mick for such a splendid ‘kick-off’!

John Peacock


Extract from April 2009 Lustleigh Parish Magazine