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John Pearse, a Hatherleigh Poet

Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries vol. VII, (1912-1913), Exeter: James G. Commin. 1913, pp. 43-43. [1815-1885]


John M. Martin

Prepared by Michael Steer

Little has been recorded about John Pearse, eccentric poet of Hatherleigh and subject of this rather quaint Note. It is likely that he was related to the Pearse family of nearby Sticklepath who are credited with the formation and building of the wool milling business there. Wool milling was a significant feature of Sticklepath in the 19th century. 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.

Note 16. JOHN PEARSE, A HATHERLEIGH POET. - Mr. Crossing, in that part of his Folk Rhymes of Devon which accompanies D.& C.N.& Q. of July last, quotes a poetical petition which the poet sent to the Okehampton Board of Guardians in Jan., 1885, praying that he might be given a right-foot shoe to replace one that was worn out. He gives his age as 70.

I happened to hear John Pearse reciting some of his own poetry under somewhat peculiar circumstances just sixty years ago this month. The place was the Dartmoor Inn, about half-way between Tavistock and Okehampton, and the time was about midnight. The big public kitchen of the inn was full of men, dealers in the smaller kind of produce sold in the country markets of those days, and the occasion was one when they were particularly busy, for it was close on Christmas Day.

Tavistock great market day had been held on the previous day, Friday, and Okehampton great market came on Saturday, and the regraters who bought in the one and sold in the other made the Dartmoor Inn their resting place; and whilst their horses enjoyed the halt and a feed after the long pull up from Tavistock, the dealers refreshed themselves with glass and pipe; and at the time I came among them they were listening to verses which were being recited by our poet. They were received with great applause, and followed at intervals by the singing of songs by other members of the party - songs mostly rural and local, but there were ballads of the old country-side that would have enchanted the ears and rejoiced the heart of the genial poet who in later years has taken much trouble to collect, and has reproduced, Songs of the West.

This was the only time I saw John Pearse, and I do not remember hearing or seeing mention of him until I saw Mr. Crossing's article on "Hatherleigh Moor". What his daily occupation was I never knew, but I have been told that he was in the habit of attending such meetings as that I have described, where, by the recitation and sale of his poetry, he was said to be doing a good thing for himself.

As he was 70 years old in 1885, he would have been born in the year of Waterloo, and 36; when I saw him at the Dartmoor Inn. Presumably in the 34 years that had passed between that night and the time of his appeal to the Guardians for another shoe to replace that he had worn out in his quasiprofessional wanderings, he had written many other verses besides those of which there is any evidence: if so, where are they now?                                           John M. Martin.