Preface and Contents



Being an attempt to supply the want of a history to that ancient town


Joseph Besly Gribble

Barnstaple: North Devon Journal Office (1830) Map, illus. 197 pp.

Prepared by Michael Steer

This well-written and very well researched early history of one of Devonshire's ancient towns has two chapters, each with an extensive appendix of source materials. The first chapter focuses on the lengthy history of Barnstaple, the second upon the many charities that have accrued to the Town over the centuries. A print copy of the history is held at the Bodleian Library and an electronic copy may be accessed at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=XdEHAAAAQAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=intitle:barnstaple&lr=&as_brr=1
Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several major 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.


"ALBEIT unused to tread historic ground;" although but a mere intruder into the ranks of literature ; I have ventured to stand forward, as the memorialist of the place, where, some forty years ago, "I first drew vital air."

Whilst Towns of minor importance, and comparitively of no antiquity, have had their "histories" sent forth to the world; that a place distinguished above most others in the extensive county in which it is situate - a walled town in the days of the Saxons ; one of the most ancient boroughs in the kingdom ; a naval port in the reign of Edward the third, and represented as such in a regal council held by that monarch at Westminster ; furnishing on several occasions ships for the navy of Queen Elizabeth, but particularly in aid of the renowned Drake against the Spanish armada; a garrison town in the revolution of 1642, and taking a prominent part in the events of that period ; in former years, as at present, the metropolis of the North of Devon!

That Barnstaple, thus distinguished, should have so long remained without any public record of the principal events of its history, is to be lamented; inasmuch as many valuable relics of days long past have doubtless been lost beyond recovery. It may also be charged as a reproach on many of her sons, whose talents and resources well fitted them for the execution of such a work. Only one attempt, that I am aware of, has ever been made towards the accomplishment of this object; and that, as will be seen, was defeated by the death of the individual who had engaged in it.

It is more than probable, that could I in the first instance have viewed this undertaking in all its bearings, with its attendant difficulties, labour, anxiety, and expense, I should have shrunk from the task, and never have commenced it at all; but before I could thus contemplate it, I had advanced so far as to be unable to make good a retreat. The origin of this work may be thus shortly traced.

In December, 1826, an official document, relative to the insecure state and inefficient government of the town prison, was put into my hands, with a request that I would embody the information it contained, in a Letter to the Editor of the North Devon Journal; I complied; the letter was inserted, and a second followed.

The question between the Corporation and the Inhabitants, as to the liability of the respective parties to rebuild the prison, now excited a very lively interest, and of course, a corresponding spirit of inquiry. Documents, which might haply throw light on the subject, were eagerly sought after, and many valuable records were in consequence, brought under review, which might otherwise never have emerged from the obscurity to which they had been consigned.

Some of these, with the Commissioners' report of the public charities of Barnstaple, it was proposed to publish. Scarcely, however, was the design made known, than a more extended work, which should embrace a History of the Town, was eagerly called for, and numerous offers made of materials, in aid of such, an undertaking: the result was, that the original plan became again and again enlarged; until at length, from the quantity and variety of matter on hand, it was found that Memorials of Barnstaple, instead of being comprised in a pamphlet, as at first intended, could not possibly be done justice to, in any thing short of an octavo volume. Thus was I led on, step by step, until it was impracticable to recede with credit, or without subjecting myself to considerable pecuniary loss.

Let it not then be supposed, that either vanity, or a longing after the sweets of authorship, was the spring that first set this work in motion; on the contrary, should the smallest portion of amusement or information be communicated to the reader through the medium of the following pages, he is desired to bear in mind, that he owes it to the accidental circumstance of the author's having been solicited to lend his aid in the discussion of the prison question; but for which, the "Memorials" would, in all human probability, have never been presented to the public.

It will be expected that I should assign some reason why the publication of this work has been so long delayed; and also, why a part of it only now appears.

Various adverse circumstances have contributed to the delay. By an ordinance of unerring wisdom, "Man is born to trouble;" and by a providential exercise of this decree, it has been my lot, since I commenced this undertaking, to experience the mutations of fortune to an extent that has deprived me of all I possessed, save a good reputation. Thus situated, and the subject withal of acute feelings, it will not be thought surprising that I for a time abandoned the prosecution of a work like the present.

Another great hinderance to its progress, arose from the length of time (more than twelve months) which was occupied in procuring a copy and translation of one of the charters of the borough, from His Majesty's record office. I ought rather perhaps, to impute the delay to the refusal of the Corporation to permit a copy of the document to be furnished to me at home, by which I was driven to obtain it from the Tower, and that at an expense exceeding twenty pounds - but of this more anon! Altogether, the delay has been considerable, yet it has proved on the whole advantageous; much additional information, and many curious particulars have been obtained during the interval, and interwoven with the work, which must otherwise have been wholly excluded from it.

The plan of publishing the accompanying portion of the work, rather than the patience of the subscribers should be longer trespassed upon, has met with the sanction of those to whom it has been mentioned; and it is hoped will give satisfaction generally. The charter, which has been so long waited for, being now in my own keeping, the remainder of the volume will proceed regularly, and with all practicable speed. - It may be looked for in about four months from this time.

In announcing that Memorials of Barnstaple can not possibly be completed within the limits assigned for them, viz. three hundred pages, I trust I shall not be hastily censured; feeling as I do an entire confidence, that I shall be fully exonerated from blame by all who will kindly give the subject their candid and patient consideration. To fix the precise extent of a work of this nature, even when the necessary materials are brought together, is no easy task; but in the present instance, after this had been decided on, (as was thought finally,) a considerable addition of important and interesting matter came to my hands. I could not possibly have anticipated the possession of this; but having obtained it, I should have been guilty, if I may so speak, of a literary misdemeanour, not to have turned it to account. Independent, however, of an accession of materials,

I found it requisite to treat some subjects more copiously than 1 at first intended. The Charities, for instance: on attentively perusing the Commissioners' Report, which it was at first proposed to give without comment, the information it afforded, although truly valuable, appeared so incomplete, as to render some further elucidation of the subject really necessary.

The Appendix to the report (which was attended with no trifling labour), certainly adds to the bulk of the volume; but surely not one of my subscribers who takes - and who does not take? - an interest in the welfare of the legitimate objects of the various benevolent institutions to which it relates, and whose benefit it is designed to promote, would wish the supplementary matter excluded.

It will be seen in the present publication, that I have expressed my sentiments with freedom: I shall fearlessly pursue the same course to the end of the volume. He who appears in the character of an historian, will often find it needful to assume that of a censor also, however repugnant to his inclination, and even if contrary to his interest. From this he will not, if he acts from principle, swerve through the influence of " fear, favour, or affection." But he will not, on the other hand, allow himself to indulge any unhallowed feeling which may prompt him to forget, that it is not his province to war with men, but with measures, and with such measures only, as appear to be legitimate subjects for reprehension. Such a standard, it is equally my wish, as it has been my endeavour to act up to; Rather extenuating, than setting down aught in malice.

Such a course cannot (at least to a man possessed of generous feelings) but be repulsive, under ordinary circumstances; how much more so then, where a writer is a resident of the town of which he essays to give the History; and in the habit of frequent intercourse with persons, of whose conduct as public men (whilst he regards them with sincere respect as individual members of society) he cannot, as a faithful historian, always speak in terms of commendation.

Nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice - Shakespeare. The subscribers will be desirous of knowing what the remainder of the volume is to contain. Independent of what may be termed common-place articles in a work like this - a chronological list of occurrences - modern state of the town - trade - public edifices and institutions - population, &c., &c., will be found many possessing an unusual degree of interest, among which may be noticed the following: -

An account of the proceedings of the public Authorities of Barnstaple during the Rebellion in the reign of Charles the first, including the minutes of meetings held to provide for the defence of the town, and a minute detail of expenses incurred in various warlike operations. -

Curious document relative to the bridge, 1535 - full translations of some, and extracts from other of the numerous charters granted to the borough - an abstract of the Bye-laws of the Corporation - List of Mayors from 1304, and of Members of Parliament from the twenty third of Edward the first - Transcripts of the several Inquisitions relative to the customs and privileges of the Borough, made in the reign of Edward the third, and of a similar document of a still earlier date.

Of the execution of the work I hold myself incompetent to form a correct judgment, still less am I qualified to give an opinion on the subject; but as it respects the matter on which what is now published, and that which is to succeed it, are founded, I may, and can, with the utmost confidence, assure those who may do me the honour to place part the first of Memorials of Barnstaple on their book -shelves, that part the second will be found to exceed it in interest.

My humble work will perhaps be read by some who can look back to the time when, as authors, they first placed themselves at the bar of public opinion; they will be able to judge correctly of the feelings of which I am the subject on the present occasion. I have, however, enlisted, and must now make, at least, one campaign in the Field of Literature, before I can seek a discharge; whether it shall prove successful or unfortunate, - whether I shall come off with whole, or tattered colours, - is, at best, doubtful. My work is before the public; they will be the judges of its merits, and the arbiters of its fate; to their decision I must submit, and will therefore await it, " with what philosophy I may.

J.B. Gribble
Barum, March, 1830.


Derivation of Name- Situation- Soil- Ancient History-
Descent of the Castle Manor - Barnstaple Castle - Priory
of St. Mary Magdalen - Manor of Hogg's Fee - Old
Town - Chapels and Chauntries - Appendix.

CHAPTER II., page 87


Penrose's, or Litchdon Almshouse ; Penrose's Gift,
Beaple's Gift, Palmers Gift, Harris's Gift, Rolles Gift,
Stanbury's Gift - Horwood's Almshouse - Paige's Almshouse
Canford's Gift, Appley's Gift, Paige's Gift - Harris's
Almshouse- Beaple's Gift - Skinner's Gift - Cornish's Gift. -
Jeffery's Gift - Delbridge's Gift - Olivean's Gift- Mayne's
Gift - Monies given to be lent - Appley's Gift - Lugg's Gift -
Richard Ferris, Senior's, Gift - Sir John Acland's Gift -
Horsham's Gift- Webber's Gift - Westlake's Gift-
Baron's Gift - Richard Ferris's Gift - Phillips's Gift -
Drake's Gift - Tippetts's Gift - Cordwainer's Lands -
Grammar School; Ferris's Gift, Wright's Gift - Charity
School - Alice Horwood's School for Girls - Newcommen's
Gift - Martin's Gift - Stanbury's Gift for Reading Prayers -