High Bickington is a small Ridgeway village situated in the heart of North Devon and stands 600 feet above sea level, overlooking the beautiful Taw Valley where the river meanders towards Barnstaple Bay.

Despite the scattered nature of the Parish, it is soon obvious to those who visit that there is a strong community spirit and a strong love of local history.

The society meetings are held at 7.30pm on the 4th Wednesday of each month at the High Bickington Community Centre (Tel 01769561387) during the winter and spring - September until April.

Programme for 2018-19

Sept 26th: “Charter of the Forest -800 years”

Myc Riggulsford

Oct 24th : “War Graves Commission”

Alan Pateman-Jones

Nov 28th : “Cathedral Close fire –Clarence Hotel” 

Todd Gray

Dec No meeting -Happy Christmas

Jan 23rd : “West Country Thatching”

James Marshall

Feb 27th : “George Newnes”

Jonathan Edmunds

Mar 27th : “Braddick family -part four”

Sharon Snell

April 24th : “Grandmothers Journal -a WW1

nurse” Bobby Farrington

Everyone welcome – Non Members £3

Life & Death in Rural Victorian England & Wales

The collection of national statistics began in earnest with the first decennial census of 1801.  The 1841 census had been extended in content, & spawned a debate on most aspects of life which continued throughout Victoria’s reign & beyond. The data for this note has been extracted from a late Victorian Parliamentary Report laid before Parliament by the Registrar-General, John Tatham. The Report, in two parts, presents data at the National level examining occupational mortality in Victorian England & Wales, concentrating on the decade 1881-1890. It illustrates the desperate struggle experienced by our forebears for survival during the C19th. & contains detailed analysis of the national data, a selected summary of which has been included in the comparative tables reproduced here. An attempt has been made to reflect differences between rural & urban communities, highlighting certain occupational groupings. The value of ‘living in the countryside’ is clearly demonstrated!

This research was compiled by one of our members, Neil Hudson, and can be accessed from here.

Neil has now collated detail from the 1841 1851 and 1911 census information insofar as they relate to High Bickington. Each set of information can be seen if you click onto the dates highlighted above. Further information can be obtained from Neil via the Society monthly meeting

The Story of High Bickington

This was originally a booklet produced in 1937 by R.W. Pitman, headmaster of the village school 1929-1937. Its input to her own research is acknowledged by Avril Stone in her book, The Book Of High Bickington, published in 2000. Thanks are due to Neil Hudson, member of High Bickington Historical Society, for his transcription from the original booklet.

The book is displayed here in pdf format which can be viewed separately and printed if required.

St. Marys Church - Memorial Stones

During 2015 - 2016, members of the Society have been recording details of the memorial stones in the aisles of the Parish church of St Mary, High Bickington. The full details of this research are listed here in pdf format which can be viewed separately and printed if required. We hope that you will find this information interesting.

 Visits to local houses of historical interest, etc, have included: 

Eggesford House. Built 1820-30.

Hall House, Bishops Tawton. 19th century home of a branch of the Chichster family.

Bull House, Pilton. 15th century former priors' residence.
Rashleigh Barton, Wembworthy. Late medieval manor house.

Honiton Barton. 17th century house.

Coombe Martin silver mine.

Lynton and Barnstaple railway.

Guided tours of historical South Molton and Langtree.

Stafford Barton Manor, Dolton, partly dating back to at least 16th century

Cross, Little Torrington. Historic estate in the parish and former manor of Little Torrington, Devon

Grateful thanks are due to the owners for allowing us to visit their private homes by special arrangement.

Review of 2018-19 talks

September 2018 “Charter of the Forest” by Myc Riggulsford

This was an interesting and in depth talk by Myc. He explained that the Charter of the Forest of 1217 is a charter that re-established for free men rights of access to the Royal Forest that had been eroded by William the Conqueror and his heirs.

It was originally sealed in England by the young King Henry lll, acting under the regency of William Marshall, 1st Earl of Pembroke. It was in many ways a

companion document to the Magna Carta and redressed some applications of the Anglo-Norman Forest Law that had been extended and abused by William


Forest to the Normans meant an enclosed area where the monarch had exclusive rights to hunt etc. It consisted of trees, heathland, grassland and wetlands. Land became more and more restricted as King Richard and King John claimed greater and greater areas as royal forest. Royal forests were the most important source of fuel for cooking heating, charcoal burning, pannage [pasture for pigs] turbury [cutting of turf for fuel etc. Which made life as a peasant very hard.

Myc gave us a lot more interesting facts which sadly I haven’t space to relate here


24th Oct. 2018 “War Graves Commission” by Alan Pateman-Jones

We had an interesting talk with some fabulous pictures of Commonwealth cemeteries in various countries.

The Commission was founded in 1917 as the Imperial War Graves Commission and the name changed to Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1960.

Owing to wear and tear on the grave stones they are replaced as necessary and some 2300 are replaced every year. The funding needed to maintain and cover staff costs amounts to 61.5 million pounds per annum. This is covered by grants from various governments throughout the world.

The Cross of Sacrifice was designed to imitate medieval crosses found in churchyards in England with proportions more commonly seen in the Celtic Cross.

Cemeteries with more than 1000 burials normally have a Stone of Remembrance designed by Edwin Lutyens with the inscription “Their Name Liveth for Evermore”. The Stone was developed by Rudyard Kipling to commemorate those of all faiths and none respectively. In contrast to the Cross of Sacrifice the design for the stone deliberately avoided “shapes associated with particular religions”.

Alans talk was most interesting and enjoyed by all.

23rd Jan. 2019 “West Country Thatching” by James Marshall
James began by giving us a brief history of how he started his career in thatching by helping his Father and then taking up an apprenticeship at 15, he has now
been 30 years in the trade and qualified for 21 years. Then he explained the materials he had brought with him, straw which came from
Winkleigh and water reed which came from Hungary! He then demonstrated how to tie up the straw in bundles which are called ‘dollies’ and are used to place
around the perimeter of the roof namely eaves. Next was the water reed which is stiffer and more difficult to work with but is the main material for the roof.
The old cob wall spars [which are made from hazel and twisted to form a vee shape] are pushed through the thatch into the cob whilst it is still wet.
Regarding the spars, some are now plastic and much cheaper than hand made hazel ones.
James showed us some of his basic tools such as shears with a wavy edge to create a shaped edge, a tool called a ‘drift’ to shape the reed and a mallet.
Nowadays, James explained, there is no apprenticeship, only time served counts at present. This was a very interesting talk enjoyed by all.

Reviews by Cliff Ford

Review of 2017-18 talks can now be found here


Please contact us for more information -

Chairman  Colin Muddell  561183                                  

Programme secretary Margaret Bolt 560265

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