Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries vol. VII, (1912-1913), Exeter: James G. Commin. 1913, pp. 275-277.
Prepared by Michael Steer
Rev William Marshall was the rector of Ashprington and called ‘The strong man of Devon’. His great-great grandson Alfred Marshall, one of the most influential economists of his time. and author of Principles of Economics (1890), was fond of telling stories about him: for example, of his driving a pony draft in one of the narrow lanes, when on meeting another vehicle he took his pony out of his trap, & lifted the trap clean over the hedge. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.
190. WILLIAM MARSHALL. He is said to have been of extraordinary strength. When he first came into the parish he found a great disposition to look with contempt upon the " Parson," and he was certainly the right man to deal suitably with any such feeling. He had very soon an opportunity of showing them what sort of man he was in a way which they would be able to appreciate.
A party of farmers had come to the Rectory to pay their tithe of corn, and while waiting for Mr. Marshall, who was out, amused themselves with trying who could swing a sack of corn to his shoulders. The Parson returned just as one of them had with great pride accomplished the feat. He rather astonished them by swinging both man and sack on to his shoulder and walking round the room with them. There was no fear after that of any lack of respect for the Rector, who seems to have enjoyed a joke as well as a little display of his muscular powers.
Another time he was called into the kitchen to see two millers who were in the habit of buying his corn, and found them sitting one at each end of the bench by the long kitchen table. They were so busy in conversation that they did not observe his entrance until their attention was called to the fact by finding themselves lifted up, bench and all, and placed upon the table.
He is said to have carried 12 cwt. across a room and to have lifted 3 cwt. with his little finger.
On his way to Totnes one day in his whisky, in the narrow lane between Ashprington post and the village, he met a man driving a horse and crooks with a load of straw. There not being room to pass he asked the man to go back a bit. This he refused to do with some insolence. Upon this the parson descended from his whisky and pitched the man over the hedge (of a Devonshire lane, mind), and then himself backed the horse till there was room for his carriage to pass.
The story of course was improved upon, and later editions say that man, horse, crooks and straw were all sent flying to- gether over the hedge. The road has of late years been widened, so there is no probability of any further incumbent exercising either his strength or his authority in a similar manner.
On another occasion the Rector was riding at some distance from home where he was not so well known, and his horse having cast a shoe he stopped at a wayside blacksmith's to have it renewed. The smith made a shoe and was about to put it on when his customer asked to look at it. Taking it in his hands with the knuckles together he bent it back till the smaller joints of the fingers met. He then told the man it was very good iron, but not well made, and desired him to hammer it out better. This was done accordingly, and the horse being at last shod to his master's satisfaction the blacksmith was asked what there was to pay. "Nothing," was his decided reply, " I'll never touch the Devil's money."
The next story comes from an old servant at the rectory, Harry Collins. A new gate being required for one of the fields he was engaged with another man in fixing it. These posts of granite from Dartmoor are about ten feet long and from ten inches to a foot square, having iron hooks let into them on which the gate is hung. The men were rolling the post with the help of levers towards the pit in which it was to be sunk, when, as Harry used to say, "Along come Maister and took up the post and put it in the hole and there he'th been ever since."
In return for Harry's story we must preserve from oblivion the poetical effusion of which he was so proud that he confided it to old Aunt Ann, his master's eldest daughter, who was riding behind him on a pillion. Pointing to Ashprington post, on which are initial letters still denoting, as they did in those days, the different roads, " Miss Nanny," said he, "I've made some verses on that there post.
A for Ashprington, and so us go on,
B for Brent, my money valth (?) skent,
D for Dartmouth, that li'th in the south,
T for Totnes, in me there's not much fatness."
Harry's only daughter was "Ailsie Collins," alias Farmer Alice," the Ashprington errand-woman. In her drab great coat and man's hat surmounting the ample frills of her cap and preceded by her donkeys, “Fortin and Jack," she was as well known and almost as important a person in Totnes as the Mayor in his scarlet gown with his mace-bearers.
It is not surprising that a man of William Marshall's powerful frame should in old age have become heavy and unwieldy. Being afflicted with gout and unable to walk up and down stairs he had a hole made in the ceiling of the room in which he usually sat, through which he was drawn in his chair by pulleys to and from his bedroom.