Letter from the Reverend John Tossell Johnson (1790)

Transcribed by Debbie Kennett

The following letter, published in Richard Polwhele's A History of Devonshire Volume III, page 415 (first published in 1797) appears to have been sent to Richard Polwhele in response to a request for information on the history of the parish. John Tossell Johnson was the rector of Ashreigney from 1787 to 1829. His successor was George Tossell Johnson who was presumably his son.

"Ashreigney is most commonly called Ring's-Ash: It is also called Ashraignye, Aishreigney, King's Ash; and I find in my title deeds Esse-Regney from the family of Esse, formerly settled here, so that the etymology becomes easy. The parish is about five miles in length, and two and half in breadth, and abuts on Burrington to the north, from which it is divided by a small brook called Mellabrook, which falls into the Taw at the eastern extremity of the parish. It borders on Chulmleigh to the east, from which it is separated by the river Taw aforesaid, over which are two bridges, the one a stone bridge of 3 arches, maintained by the commissioners of the Barnstaple turnpike; the other is a wooden bridge, and partly supported by the occupiers of lands of the Rev. Henry Hawkins Tremayne, within the parish of Wembworthy, and partly by the tenants of Sir Jacob Wolf, bart. of Chulmleigh. This parish abuts to the south on Winckleigh and Wembworthy, from which it is disjoined by a small rivulet called Hollacombe-Water, over which is a small wooden bridge, forming a communication with those parishes. It borders on Dolton, Beaford, and Roborough to the west. The parish is well wooded with oak, and watered; and is inclosed with quickset hedges, excepting about 800 acres of waste or moor lands, which afford pasture for sheep and black cattle. The other parts are a due proportion of arable, meadow, and orchard. The soil is principally a stiff clay. The situation is high and healthy. The parsonage-house is a modern building, partly slated, partly thatched, about half a mile to the north-east of the church. The church is an ancient fabric, dedicated, according to Ecton, to St. James; tho' from the anniversary revel or wake being held at Lammas, this is questionable. The church is 53 feet and half in length, 28 in breadth, and 24 in heighth, and is partly divided from the chancel by the remains of a sort of skreen or rood-loft. There is a vestry. The tower, consisting of a ring of four bells, is about 50 feet in height, and appears to have gone from it's [sic] perpendicular. The church and church-yard abut on the western extremity of the village, which is nearly in the center of the parish. About a mile to the west of the church is the village of Piddlecomb [sic] 1 belonging to this parish, where the vestige of an old chapel may be traced. But to return to the church; 5 plain wall stones are affixed within it; two of which simply record the memories of so many female branches of the Melhuish family; one is inscribed to Richard Babbage, a young man who died whilst educating at Oxford for the church. The other two belong to some obscure families. There are several floor-stones in the chancel, as well as the church; in the former, near the communion table, we meet with a Latin inscription on the floor denoting it to be the place of burial of a Mrs. Shortrudge, the relict of a former rector. There is also adjoining to the above a similar memorial in English, of the Shepheard's, two of which family, father and son, have been rectors of this church. There are a few head-stones in the church-yard, but neither there nor in the church are there any inscriptions, which, I should suppose, can merit a literal transcription. I can at present trace five rectors that have preceded me; the first was _____ Slade, the next Hugh Shortrudge, then followed William Shepheard, who was succeeded by his son William Shepheard; then came John Cutcliffe, my immediate predecessor. The present incumbent, the Rev. John Tossel Johnson, is seized in fee of a moiety of the manor of Ashreigney, and also of the advowson; the other moiety belongs to trustees for some charitable uses, and the representatives of the late John Carew, esq. The rector is entitled to all sorts of tythes in kind, according to law. I had nearly forgot to mention that we have several charitable institutions here. A school endowed by the trustees of the late Mrs. Gertrude Pyncombe, with six pounds a year for the instruction of boys in reading and writing; another by the same munificent person, with four pounds a year for girls, &c. A widower derives forty shillings annually from the same charitable hand." Letter from the Rev. John Tossel Johnson, 1790.

1 Riddlecombe. A hamlet in Ashreigney which was an ancient Domesday manor.