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Sticklepath is a village on Dartmoor, in the county of Devon, England. Its history is unusual in that, unlike most villages, it did not evolve around a manor. It never had a rectory or a squire. It owes its being and development to two factors - geography and religion.

Sticklepath [1] lies along the old ridgeway path between Exeter and Launceston, once the capital of Cornwall. A couple of miles to the east, the ridgeway passes a place called 'Harepath' which is Anglo-Saxon for 'The way of the warriors'. The name Sticklepath derives from the Saxon 'staecle', meaning 'steep', as it lies at the foot of a high mount, over which the path had to cross, on its way to Cornwall. It also lies at the point where the river Taw crosses the ridgeway and also where it was crossed by the old 'Mariner's Way', the route sailors took from Dartmouth to catch their next boat at Bideford. Although there is no written evidence of pre Norman settlement here, both the name and the choice of location for the chapel would indicate this to be true.

In 1147, Bricius, the chaplain to Queen Maud, daughter of Henry I, was granted land between the path and the stream, below Sticklepath woods to build a chantry chapel (where services were sung for the dead family of the benefactor) by Robert Fitzroy in his manor of Sampford, within the barony of Okehampton. In 1152, the Courtenay family sailed to England from France with Eleanor, wife of Henry II, and in 1242 Sir Hugh Courtenay married the heiress to the barony of Okehampton and thus, both Sampford and Sticklepath came under Courtenay control until the last family member was executed by Henry VIII in 1539 and the estates passed to the crown. One lasting result of this early history was that Sticklepath remained mainly within the parish of Sampford Courtenay, until it became a civil parish in its own right in 1986.

What the occupations of the villagers were, during this period, can be guessed at. The land to the south of the village is first, steep woodland then moorland. To the north, the land becomes increasingly more suitable for farming. In the 1294 it was recorded that Hugh de Courtenay of Willey had one grist (grain) mill (where the Finch Foundry Museum is today) and one fulling mill just before the Taw River Bridge, where Albany stands today. The first recorded farmers to live in the village were Geoffrey and Mary Colet, in 1407. In 1565 there were 10 water mills established in the village on the stream that ran, parallel to the road, into the Taw and by 1600, a large farm complex, Hole's Tenement, was established on the site between the present day Willey Lane and the Devonshire Inn car park. These two factors, farming and milling, together, as we shall see, with religion, were the major elements in forming Sticklepath, until the middle of the 20th century.

After the loss of Courtenay support, the Chantry fell into neglect and decay so that by 1649, a survey for Oliver Cromwell stated that it should be joined to Belstone. At about this time, the Quakers, being persecuted and imprisoned in Exeter and Launceston, seeking somewhere safe to live and practice their religion, moved to Sticklepath, their numbers grew to about 200 and they bought the piece of land (now behind the Museum) as their burial ground. It is thought that some, from here, may have sailed with the Pilgrim Fathers from Plymouth. Others integrated and prospered. In 1678 John Ballamy bought the mills by the burial ground (Ballamy's Tenement) and in 1713 Benjamin Ballamy was the first Quaker buried in the cemetery. Another Quaker, Cresset Stevins, bought the mill by the Taw.

The main farm produce, both of Sticklepath and its surrounding neighbours, being grain and sheep, there developed much industry based on grist milling and wool fulling (shrinking, compacting and beating) mills. In the late 1700s there was Curzon's or Wilmott's mill at Cleave, three mills on the old Ballamy's Tenement (later Manor Mills now Finch Foundry) and two grist mills, later Western and Carnalls, beside the Taw river bridge.

In 1743, John Wesley, passing through the village, was stopped and befriended by Quakers. The following year, he stopped and famously preached by the White Rock on the mount above the village. From this time, Wesley's Methodism took hold in the village, first with meetings in private houses and then, in 1816, with the building of the Methodist Chapel. The early 19th century was yet another period when religion and industry came together to develop Sticklepath. In 1810, the Methodist Pearce family, wool staplers and serge makers from Horrabridge and Hatherleigh, rebuilt the burnt down Western & Carnalls mill and turned it into the flourishing Cleave Mill wool factory. In 1814, the Finch family (which produced several Methodist ministers) took over the lease of the Manor Mills, converting first, part into an agricultural tool factory and then, with the decline in the wool industry, converting the rest.

The Finch family prospered and finally bought the premises and much property in the village, as well. In 1830, William Pearce bought the old Quaker burial ground and gave it to the village as an un-denominational cemetery. Fire destroyed the old cob and thatch Chantry chapel, in 1850. This was rebuilt in 1875 by John Cook, a property owner and former butcher and landlord of the Cornish Inn (once the 'Wagon & Horses', now the 'Taw River Inn'). The village hall was donated to the village in 1897 by a descendent of the Pearce family and has been improved and added to ever since.

In 1949, the mills by the Taw, at Albany, were converted to living premises. By the 1950s, Cleave mill was derelict and in 1960 was converted to dwellings. The hammers and wheels of the Finch Foundry fell silent in 1960. They are now banging and turning again in the form of the Museum of Water Power and Rural Industry.

[edit] References

  • The Story of Sticklepath, Sticklepath Women's Institute
  • The Finch Foundry Trust and Sticklepath Museum of Rural Industry, R.A. Barron

Coordinates: 50°44'N, 3°56'W

(Source: Wikipedia)
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