History of West Down – Latest News

February 2023

From Nigel Ramsell – 3rd February 2023

I came across the West Down web site today and noticed there is a family history section.  I’m descended from the West Down Phillips’.

My 3 times great grandmother was Charlotte Phillips daughter of George Phillips and Ann Snow.  She was born in West Down in 1826.  She married John Goss from Georgeham in 1845 in West Down (I guess at St Calixtus).

Similar to many other North Devon people, they made the journey over to industrial South Wales, in my case Swansea, where they were living in 1851.  They never went back.  Their daughter Ellen Rachel Goss married another Devon Barnstaple/Fremington man, William Dobbs in Swansea.

I visited West Down, East Down, Georgeham and Shirwell a few years ago, all sites where I have family connections with a friend who is descended from the Georgeham Tuckers’ (by coincidence we are both descended from William Snow of Shirwell).  One thing that struck us was even today, how isolated the communities are.

Email: nigelramsell@gmail.com


July 2019

West Down Surnames

Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was known as Poll Tax.

Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to “develop” often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

A study in 2016 analysed sources dating from the 11th to the 19th century to explain the origins of the surnames in the British Isles. The study found that over 90% of the 45,602 surnames in the dictionary are native to Britain and Ireland

Some surnames seem to be specific in certain geographic areas and West Down and it’s surrounding parish are no exception. Here are some of the more well known family names in the village and the local area.

ACKLAND habitational name from Acland Barton in Landkey, Devon, named with the Old English personal name Acca + Old English lanu ‘lane’or habitational name from a minor place named from Old English ac ‘oak’ + land ‘land’

CHUGG  –  English (Devon): possibly a variant of Chuck. Possibly an altered spelling of the Austrian (Tyrolean) surname Tschugg, from Romansh tschugg ‘mountain ridge’ (from Latin iugum ‘yoke’), hence a topographic name for someone who lived near a ridge or pass.
In 1891 there were 150 Chugg families living in Devon

COPP –  this interesting and curious surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and has two possible interpretations. It may be of topographical origin, given to someone who lived at the top of a hill, from the Olde English pre 7th Century element “copp”, Middle English “coppe”, a summit. However, the surname may also derive from a nickname, originally given to someone with a distinctive head, or to someone who was boastful – from the old english word for top – copp.

GAMMON  –  this surname is derived from the Anglo-Norman French word “gambon,” meaning “ham,” which comes ultimately from a Norman-Picard form of the Old French “jambe” meaning “leg.”

HOOKWAY  –  is almost certainly derived from a place name – possibly the village of Hookway near Crediton – and in the 19th century was a widespread Devon family surname.

ISAAC & CODRINGTON  –  there is a very grand plaque in the nave of the Church in memory of Francis Isaac who died in 1658. His son Robert married Anne Codrington in 1653.

Her family lived in Gloucestershire and her father John, with his brother, Sir Christopher had sailed to the British Caribbean colonies of Antigua and Barbuda in 1642.

Here they invested in buying land and just 150 years later the family was at the head of one of the largest slave plantations estates in the Caribbean, boosting the family kitty back home in Dodington with a large fortune.

Evidence exists today on Barbuda of the Codrington’s wealth and success; still standing is their home,The Highlands House, and also a 56-foot high defence tower used once to keep other European’s out and slaves in. The island’s capital is still named after the family.
The ancestral home, Codrington Manor, is now owned by Sir James Dyson.

KIFF  –  this interesting and unusual surname is of Germanic origin, and is a metonymic* occupational name for a maker or repairer of wooden vessels such as barrels, tubs, casks and vats.

PARMINTER  –  within the north transept at St Calixtus Church is a memorial plaque to the Parminter family of Aylescott. Sadly, the only son, Thomas, died in 1867 returning from Australia at the age of 22.

This interesting surname, with variant spellings Parmenter, Parmeter, Parmiter and Pammenter, derives from the Old French “parmentier”, from “parement”, fitting, finishing, a derivative of “parare”, to prepare or adorn, and was originally given as an occupational name to a maker of facings and trimmings for items of dress. The surname was first recorded in the latter part of the 12th Century

PHILLIPS  –  this surname is of early medieval English origin, and is one of the many surnames generated by the male given name Philip, itself coming from the Greek “Philippos”, a compound of “philein”, to love, and “hippos”, horse; hence, “lover of horses”.

ROACH is a topographic name for someone who lived by a rocky crag or outcrop, from Old French roche (later replaced in England by rock, from the Norman byform rocque), or a habitational name from any of the places named with this word, such as Roach in Devon

TUCKER  –  the name was spelled Tucker or Tooker in England and comes from the Old English, pre-7th Century verb tucian, meaning “to torment.” It would have referred to a fuller, also known as a walker: one who softened freshly-woven cloth by beating and tramping it in water.

VERNEY is of French origin, and is locational from either Saint Paul-du-Vernay in Calvados; from Vernai, a parish in the Arrondissement of Bayeux; or from any of various other places in Northern France of the same name.

YEO  –  is a toponymic surname meaning “river”, either for people who lived near one of the Rivers Yeo, or any river in general. The word comes from Old English ea, via south-western Middle English ya, yo, or yeo.

* metonymic means a substitution of of the name for the thing meant – i.e. ‘crown for king’

** topographic/toponymic is a surname derived from a place name. This can include specific locations, such as the individual’s place of origin, residence, or of lands that they held, or can be more generic, derived from topographic features. e.g. John of Roach or Eric of Yeo

Compiled by Tony Stafford, July 2019 – with information freely available on Wikipedia and other google search sources.

          June 2019

A Visitor’s enquiry reveals tragic accident in 1888

Dear Mr Gibbs

Following your phone call this evening, I was able to find quite easily the Coroner’s report into the accident you mentioned.

As far as I can see, the site was on Dean Lane, leading from West Down village towards Dean Cross at a point now called Crookman’s Corner on the OS map.

Dear Tony

Many thanks for taking the time out to look into my husband’s query, which he was making on my behalf.

On our return to Cardiff today we actually drove to Deans Lane and with the help of Google Earth were able to see where Crookman’s Corner had been before the road was straightened out as recommended in the Coroner’s Inquest. I was also able to look at an old Victorian OS Map which clearly shows the terrible bend in the road at that time.

Thank you also for sending a copy of the Inquest Report. George Wilkey was the brother of my adoptive great grandmother. I am in the course of trying to find out who my maternal grandmother’s biological parents were. I came across the accident when looking into the cause of the early death of my great uncle, who is buried in Barnstaple Cemetery.

Many thanks again for your much appreciated help. I would be quite happy for you to publish the Coroner’s Inquest report on the West Down website. I found out from your website that the Inquest was held in what is now Myrtle House, previously known as the New Inn.

Thursday 7 June 1888

BARNSTAPLE – Fatal Accident To A Barnstaple Man at Westdown.

A distressing accident occurred in the parish of Westdown on Saturday afternoon, one man losing his life on the spot and another miraculously escaping a similar fate.

GEORGE WILKEY, a married man residing at Derby, and in the employ of Messrs. J. D. Young and Son, ironfounders, of Barnstaple, started from Barnstaple on Saturday morning in order to deliver a quantity of heavy goods in the parishes of Georgeham, Westdown, and Morthoe. He drove a waggon, to which two horses were attached tandem fashion. WILKEY was accompanied by a young man named Hill, residing in Princess-street and employed at the Derby Lace Factory. After visiting Georgeham and Westdown, WILKEY was about to proceed to Morthoe, when a terrible accident happened at a dangerous part of the road known as Crook’s Corner. The waggon contained several bars of iron, which, it appears, were loaded on one side of the vehicle only (the material which occupied the remainder of the waggon at the commencement of the journey having been duly delivered to customers), and as the corner named was being turned there was a lurch which led to the terrible accident here recorded.

The waggon was overturned, the vehicle and its contents falling upon the driver and Hill. Assistance did not arrive for over an hour, and it was then discovered that WILKEY was quite dead, while it was feared that Hill’s legs were broken. On the removal of Hill to the North Devon Infirmary, however, it was found that the injuries he had sustained were not so serious as had been anticipated. Further particulars with regard to the lamentable event will be found in the subjoined report of the proceedings before the Coroner.

The Inquest on the body of the deceased was held at the New Inn, Westdown, on Monday, before J. F. Bromham, Esq., Coroner. Mr Robert Phillips was chosen foreman of the Jury. The first witness called was JAMES WILKEY, who said he was a labourer in the employ of Messrs. Hutchings, wool and corn merchants, of Barnstaple. He was a brother of the deceased, who was a waggoner in the employ of Messrs. J. D. Young, and Son, ironfounders, of Barnstaple.

Deceased was about 36 years of age. He last saw him alive about half-past seven on Saturday morning, when he was in his usual health. He heard of the accident between four and five o’clock on the same day. The deceased left a wife and five children, the youngest of whom was five weeks old. – Thomas Ley, deposed that he worked for Mr Tucker, farmer, of Westdown. About a quarter past two o’clock on Saturday afternoon he saw a waggon on the road in Westdown parish, two horses, harnessed tandem fashion, drawing it. There were two men in the waggon; one was sitting on the fore-board and the other in the waggon. The vehicle contained some iron. When the waggon passed him the leading horse was cantering and the other horse was trotting; they were then going down a decline. He saw no more of them. – John Menhinnit, baker, residing at Westdown village, deposed that a little before one o’clock on Saturday, he saw Mr Young’s waggon, with two horses harnessed to it, outside Mr Taylor’s smithy. He saw Hill there. Shortly after three o’clock he was driving to Wellingcott when, as he turned Crook’s Corner, he saw a waggon overturned in the road; the waggon was on end, the hinder part being in the air. He saw a quantity of iron bars, casks and other things strewed about the roadway. The leading horse was standing free, except that there was a chain on its back. The shaft horse was on the ground on its side, with its head towards the waggon – in fact, it had turned right round. Witness was accompanied by a boy. He saw the legs and part of the body of one man, who, as he afterwards found, was the deceased. He was about to move the iron which rested upon him when he heard a groan coming from a point a little to the left. He moved some iron, and discovered the man Hill. He freed him as well as he could, and lifted the waggon, but Hill was unable to get up himself. By moving the horse’s head he was better able to see the other man, and he then found he was dead. As he was unable by himself to extricate Hill he sent the boy for assistance while he remained on the spot and kept the horse which was still on the ground quiet. He managed to free the front horse from the chain. In about five minutes the boy returned with some men, and the deceased and Hill were then extricated. WILKEY was quite dead. Hill was faint at times but not altogether unconscious.

There happened to be a cart at hand, and Hill and the deceased were put into it, and conveyed to the New Inn. Just where the accident occurred there were two sharp and dangerous turnings in the road, which was on an incline. Several accidents had happened at the same spot. In his opinion it was a very dangerous place indeed and certainly ought to be altered. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew that it was a dangerous corner and that accidents were constantly occurring there. A stranger driving there in the evening would almost of a certainty meet with an accident. – Henry Gammon, carpenter, residing at Dean, Westdown, said that about half-past three his wife told him that an accident had happened at Crook’s Corner. He went to the spot, where he found Mr Menhinnit. He found the waggon and the men as described by the preceding witness. Hill, who appeared to be very much injured, told him that he thought he had been lying there for about an hour and a quarter. He borrowed a horse and cart from Mr Pile and conveyed the men to the New Inn. After Hill had been attended to and had had some refreshment, he conveyed him to the North Devon Infirmary. He was there told that none of Hill’s bones were broken. Previous to that he had sent his man with the horses to Barnstaple. He saw Mr Wm. Young when he was at Barnstaple and told him what had happened. – P.C. Joseph Sanders, who arrived on the scene of the accident shortly after Gammon, also gave evidence, and said he considered Crook’s Corner a very dangerous place. Several accidents had happened there. He saw the waggon when it was in the village previous to the accident, and noticed that there were some heavy iron bars loaded on the near side, while there was nothing on the other side to counter-balance it. Part of the load had been left at Westdown. The iron bars were projecting over the front of the waggon; they were 16 ½ ft. long. This would, no doubt, account for the accident. – Henry Gammon, re-called, said he had a conversation with Hill while on the way to Barnstaple. He asked him how the accident occurred, and Hill said, “The iron was loaded the near side, and this made the waggon lurch over as it turned the corner.” Hill further said that after the accident occurred he called to the deceased three times, but got no answer.

The Coroner proposed that the Inquest should be adjourned to the 25th inst. in order that the attendance of Hill (who was then unable to leave the Infirmary) might be secured; but the Foreman (Mr Phillips) said the Jury were perfectly satisfied that death was the result of an accident and did not think it necessary that the Inquest should be adjourned.

A verdict of “Accidental Death” was then returned, the following rider being added – “The Jury are unanimously of opinion that the place where the accident occurred is very dangerous, and that unless the roadway is altered future accidents will be sure to occur; and the Jury desire the Coroner immediately to communicate with the Highway Authorities on the subject.”

November 2018

Read about a West Down Ghost – Pillow Stone Ghost

See old village photos kindly supplied by Toni Buchan  – Village group 1911 Coronation

October 2018

The Diary of Mervyn Roach :

Mervyn Roach was the son of the late Richard & Eliza Roach, who ran the Post Office & General Stores in the village of West Down. He died on the 23rd December 1915 and is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves section of Bethune cemetery.

This diary is a record of daily life in France until he went on leave. He returned to the front but did not take up the diary again.

His name is on West Down war memorial and there is a memorial tablet on his parents’ grave in West Down churchyard; he was 25.

Mervyn Roach was Toni Buchan’s grandfather’s half-brother. Toni was born in the village and lived here for many years in The Old Vicarage.

Please click on this link to see the website created by Toni Buchan http://civilserviceriflemanww1.uk/

December 2018

The Diary of Aaron Phillips 1858

My great grandfather Aaron Phillips was apprenticed to a linen factors in London in 1858 and in June the temperature rose to 48deg. the hottest ever recorded. It was at the time of the “Great Stink” when the Thames became an open sewer, which led to Joseph Bazalgette building the new sewerage system for London.

Because there was a strong likelihood of a Cholera outbreak, Aaron was sent back to West Down for the month of June to avoid the worst of the hot weather and he must have been told to write a diary of his days back home.

The village already has a copy of his diary as it was originally written, but it is difficult to follow because of the lack of punctuation and unusual wording. I have rewritten this diary using his own words but making it easier to understand.

I thought this might be of some interest as it gives an insight into life in West Down in the mid 19th Century. I have been able to identify most of the people he refers to in the diary and I have put these into brackets. Many of these names must still be familiar in the village as will be some of the places he visited. I hope this is of interest

Aaron Phillips diary 1858

November 2018

The Great War 1914 – 1919 – We Will Remember Them

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as the “war to end all wars” it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. An estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilians died as a direct result of the war.

Whilst the war ceased on the 11th November 1918 it was not officially ended until a peace treaty was drawn up and signed by Germany and the Allied Powers on the 28th June 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference.

This booklet was researched and has been produced to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War 1 and to acknowledge the ultimate sacrifice made by the brave men of West Down village in a conflict that claimed the lives of 908,371 on behalf of the British Empire.

Click below to download pdf file

West Down World War 1 War Memorial Booklet