The county of Devon is universally acknowledged to be one of the most valuable provinces in the kingdom of Great Britain. It is equal to the whole of the Genoese territories; not inferior to the Balearic Islands, which were once a monarchy; and twice the size of the Algarve which is still so.


From a 1794 report to the Board of Agriculture and Internal Improvement.




 Farmland between Cheriton Bishop and Drewsteignton         





Geographical and historical context


   Until the 20th century, the Gorwyn and then Lambert Gorwyn family remained largely concentrated in a fairly small geographical area, about five miles by five, just to the north-east of Dartmoor, corresponding roughly to the present parishes of  Cheriton Bishop, Drewsteignton, Hittisleigh and Spreyton, but also taking in a tongue of rural land in the parish of Crediton that borders on Cheriton Bishop (it used to be known as the Woodland area of Crediton and is now Crediton Hamlets)1. Gorwyn, the farm from which the family took its name, is on the boundary between Cheriton Bishop and this part of Crediton, which probably explains why one of the earliest documentary reference to a Gorwyn is in a 1314 document about an estate in Crediton.


   This is still a deeply rural area, albeit now bisected by the busy A30 dual carriageway. As Polwhele says in his History of Devonshire published in 1793-7, “No picturesque views appear within distance that merit a particular description; but in shifting our situation we meet with various prospects which attract the eye; and some very extensive”. The great rounded mound of Cawsand or Cawson on Dartmoor dominates the view to the south-west; and Exmoor is said by Polwhele to be visible from a point near Medland Manor. The country is hilly, but mostly not too hilly to make good pasture and some reasonable arable areas. It is covered in a patchwork of small fields with secretive wooded valleys or ‘bottoms’ and narrow sunken lanes flanked by high banked-up hedges. Again to quote Polwhele, the parish “consists of hills and valleys and is an inclosed parish; and every inclosure may be described as a little hill with a narrow valley at the bottom of it”.


   It was not always like that. The landscape of small fields that we see today - which has been likened to a patchwork quilt thrown over the frozen waves of a stormy sea - is almost entirely man-made. Eight or nine thousand years ago, Britain had only recently emerged from the Ice Age and mid-Devon was uninhabited by man. The area round Cheriton Bishop would have been cold and unpleasant, mostly covered in thin grass and scrub. This was gradually transformed into forest as the climate warmed up. Waves of settlers then started arriving from the continent; first small dark people from Iberia probably related to the Basques (a strain still to be found in Devon and wrongly attributed to the Armada); and then Indo-European agriculturalists, including the tall and fair-skinned Celts, between 3,500 and 2,500 years ago. These later settlers thoroughly colonised Devon and have left a number of stone monuments to their presence, including the stone circles on Dartmoor, and also the stone tomb called Spinster’s Rock near Shilstone in Drewsteignton. They undoubtedly began the first clearances of the forest and scrub of the area, so that they could pasture their livestock and grow a few crops.


   The Romans occupied most of Britain in 43-47 AD, but left the scattered peasant farmers in the country beyond Exeter largely to their own devices, concentrating on the development of Exeter as a stronghold to defend the western flank of their British colony. The Anglo-Saxons, who started arriving in the fifth and sixth centuries, soon after the Romans left, were far more determined colonisers of the West Country. By the early years of the sixth century they were moving into Devon and by the end of 7th century they had probably reached the area of Cheriton Bishop. Their interest may have been more in the area’s position as the central corridor to parts further west than in its intrinsic attractions. But the area has quite good land, and no doubt some more adventurous Anglo-Saxon farmers settled there - their interest being probably more in its position as the central corridor to parts further west than in its intrinsic attractions.


   The early 10th century West Saxon king Athelstan claimed to have driven the British or Celts beyond the Tamar into Cornwall. Devon historians argue about how total the driving of the Britons beyond the Tamar really was. Almost all the place names in mid-Devon are now Anglo-Saxon, and almost all the pre-1066 owners of land in the area recorded in the Domesday Book have Anglo-Saxon rather than British names. But it seems unlikely that the Anglo-Saxon settlers replaced all the original British locals, many of whom probably kept their heads down and managed to hang on to their little bits of land. One farm in Cheriton Bishop (Treable) still has a Celtic rather than a Saxon name, so it seems likely that there were both British and Anglo-Saxon farmers in the area, and our family could be descended from either group. There would no doubt have been inter-marriage between British and Anglo-Saxon. When William the Conqueror got to Devon, he replaced the Anglo-Saxon landlords with Norman ones, but the Normans were few in number and probably made little mark on the general make-up of the population.  So by the 13th century, when our ancestors emerged from obscurity, the inhabitants of Devon were probably a fair old mixture of Celt and Anglo-Saxon with a bit of early Iberian thrown in.


   The process of deforestation in Devon, started by the ancient Britons, was slowly continued by the Anglo-Saxons. In the twelfth century, the area was still largely forested and much valued for hunting by the Plantagenet monarchs, whose badge of a white hart became a favourite name for the inns of mid-Devon (the pub in Spreyton was called the White Hart until the 1950s when an enterprising publican arrived from another county and decided to cash in on Spreyton’s most famous native by calling it the Tom Cobley Tavern). Providing hunting equipment for visiting royals was one of the feudal services that landholders had to render. For instance, a document dated 12742 records that the family who held Budbrooke in Drewsteignton (a property later in Lambert Gorwyn hands) had ‘to find the King with a bow and 3 arrows whenever he should come into the forest of Dartmoor’.


   Nevertheless, by the time of the Domesday survey of 1086, all the current villages existed as settlements and had done at least since 1066. The forest clearance accelerated sharply after a Charter for the deforestation of Devon was purchased by the men of Devon in 1204 (selling off deforestation rights in royal forests was a common way for the Plantagenet monarchs to raise money). By the Black Death in the mid to late 1300s, almost all today’s farms were also in existence (the standard size for a viable farm in medieval times was about 50-80 acres; this remained true until the 20th century).


   The often irregular shape of today’s fields reflects the laborious piecemeal clearance of the forest by mediaeval farming families. It seems likely that these pioneers first made a path from an existing road into the virgin forest and cleared a small area for a house and stable, and then gradually cleared further areas around. That would explain why so many Devon farms are some way from the road and can only be reached down a long drive.  Once cleared, fences or walls and hedges were built round the land creating enclosed fields for livestock (much earlier than in the primarily arable areas of the country where land was cultivated in open strips and animals grazed on commons until the enclosures of the 16th-18th centuries). Some of today’s field names, like ‘Newtake’ (newly taken from the forest) and ‘Furze Close’ (gorse enclosure), still reflect these early enclosures. Devon hedges were and still are exceptional in their breadth and height. They consist of earth banks often 10 feet across at their base and up to 10 feet high. On top brushwood was planted, so the hedge can be up to 30 feet high, effectively concealing the countryside from unfortunate tourists driving down Devon lanes and hoping to admire the scenery. The brushwood from the hedges was an important source of timber for fuel and for agricultural purposes (for instance the bases of hay-ricks) in times gone by.



Manors and landholding

   In Saxon times right up until the 16th century, the most important unit of administration was the manor. The lord of the manor, literally the landlord, not necessarily a titled person, held the land from the King either directly or via some major local magnate such as the Earl of Devon. The estate was administered by the manor court, a periodic meeting of the tenantry, presided over by the lord, or his steward. In some manors, including the manor of Spreyton and the larger manor of Lambert, the lord had power to inflict capital punishment. However, the lord was not all-powerful; by tradition, “custom”, or what had been done in the past, governed everything and the principle was "justice shall be done by the lord's court, not by the lord". The lord of the manor granted land to his tenants in return for service, which might be rent, work on the lord's land or military obligation like supplying an armed man in time of battle (known as “knight’s service” and later commuted to a sum of money). There were different categories of tenants. Some were “freeholders”, who did not technically own their land, but effectively had secure tenure and could become quite rich. They were the main ancestors of the yeoman farmers of later years. It seems likely that our early ancestors were such freeholders.

   Manors varied greatly in size, and their boundaries could change if lords bought or sold land between neighbouring manors. Manors could straddle parish boundaries, or there could be several small manors in a single parish. In some cases, such as the Manor of Spreyton, the manor consisted of the entire village and pretty well everything was dictated by the Lord of the Manor (there are still remnants of these old manorial holdings today, as in Dunsford where many of the farms and cottages still belong to the Fulford family). However, the area that now constitutes Cheriton Bishop was divided into a number of small manors, including Eggbeer (in which the farm of Gorwyn lies); Medland; Lambert or Lampford; and another smaller manor called Litle Lampford. This meant that there was no one dominant landowner and freeholders could therefore play an important role.


   All the manors in the Lambert Gorwyn heartlands were already separate units in 1066 and are mentioned in the Domesday Book. William the Conqueror then dispossessed their Saxon owners and granted them to his own followers. Subsequently, most changed ownership several times. Some, like Medland and  Little Lampford, belonged to the Church until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, who then sold them or gave them to his supporters.


   The big landowning families often owned a dozen manors or more. One such was the Fulford family of Great Fulford in Dunsford, a parish to the south-east of Cheriton Bishop. They acquired the big manor of Lambert through marriage in medieval times, and also subsequently acquired the Manor of Eggbear. So they were the Lords of the Manor of many of the early Gorwyns (the Fulford family still live at Great Fulford, a huge Tudor mansion, one of the few big Devon land-owning families to survive from the Middle Ages in their old home). The other important manor in Cheriton Bishop was Medland. In 1557 it was acquired by a family called Davy, who thus became the dominant family in the village – a position that they and their heirs retained until the beginning of the 19th century, when much of the Manor of Medland was briefly acquired by a rich Lambert Gorwyn.


   By the 17th century the feudal system had largely broken down. But most of the farms in the old manors still belonged to the big landowners. Some they farmed themselves. But mostly they let the farms to tenants on so-called 99-year leases “determined” by the lives of three people named in the lease – i.e. the lease ended once all three of the named people had died if that was sooner than 99 years (as it invariably was). Leaseholders would normally name their wife and children, thus ensuring that they had the farm for their lives. The leaseholder would pay a sometimes substantial sum up-front for the lease, and then a small annual rent. Whenever one of the “lives” died, an extra sum could be paid to add an extra “life” and such leaseholds could thus continue in the same family through many generations.


    From the 16th and 17th century onwards, when landlords fell on hard times they would sell what was effectively a freehold of farms on their manors, usually to the sitting tenants. Often, however, they would impose on the purchaser and his successors an obligation to pay a small annual “reserved” rent for ever (usually a few shillings). These rents finally petered out in the 19th century. The Lambert Gorwyns purchased a number of farms from the Fulford family when the latter ran into debt in the late 1700s; and George Lambert Gorwyn acquired the rights to the rents from the Manor of Spreyton from another big landowning family in the early 1800s.





   The soil in and around Cheriton Bishop is mostly heavy clay, although with lighter soil and some more stony moorland areas in Drewsteignton south of the A30. The area is generally a lot more fertile than the neighbouring parishes nearer to Dartmoor like Chagford and Moretonhampstead; but less fertile than the famous redlands around Crediton (red from the rust of the iron in the soil). On most farms there were largish areas that were too hilly or marshy to serve as other than very rough pasture. For instance, in 1655 the farm of Coffins in Spreyton was described as consisting of 20 acres of land (i.e. arable land), 14 acres of pasture and 80 acres of furze and heath3. By the 19th century, as agricultural techniques advanced, much of the ‘furze and heath’ had been brought into cultivation; but to this day, most farms in the area have a percentage of pretty useless land and fields too steep to plough.


   Most farms also had a significant area of woodland, remnants of the ancient royal forest. Timber was economically important - oak from Westwood in Hittisleigh (Lambert Gorwyn owned in the 1800s) was supposed to have been supplied to the Navy in the time of Queen Elizabeth. Wood was also essential for fuel and building, and disputes about landholdings often involved arguments about the rights to the timber. In 1769, when Mary Lambert Gorwyn of Lambert was quarrelling with her husband’s cousin who was a part-owner of the property, he accused her of taking too much timber and she listed the trees she had cut down since her husband’s death four years earlier and what they had been used for:



  • 1 pollard oak worth 9s. to be turned into a roller for use on the premises, with the limbs used for fuel;
  • 1 decaying elm worth 10s. with 1 branch already broken by the wind, to be used for firewood;
  • 1 oak worth 15s. for repairs to the well on the premises, the limbs being used partly for firewood and partly for posts;
  • 1 ash tree worth 10s made into hoops and partly for firewood;
  • 1 oak tree worth 20s, the stock kept to make floorboards, and the branches used for repairs and firewood.4



   From medieval times until the last 30 years (when the vagaries of the Common Agricultural Policy led to big changes in farming patterns), most farms had a mixture of livestock and crops.  A typical farm would grow wheat, barley and oats and turnips. The wheat would provide not only grain for bread but thatching straw, and the importance of wheat is perhaps illustrated by the fact that in Devon, the token or ‘peppercorn’ rent was often the annual payment of a grain of wheat5.


   However, the real wealth of this part of Devon was in its livestock and its wool. Crediton in particular was a big producer of woollen cloth and in most nearby villages, including Cheriton Bishop, weaving was an important cottage industry until the mid-19th century6. In the Middle Ages, profits from the cloth trade enabled most villages to extend or rebuild their churches over the hundred and fifty years between 1350 and 1500, leaving us with the handsome granite buildings that we see today.  The 15th and 16th centuries were also a peak period for the building of good quality farmhouses, and many of the farmhouses inhabited by the family (including both Lambert and Gorwyn) still have cores that date back to that period.


   Apart from sheep, farmers would probably have some pigs; and rear red Devon cattle for beef.  They would also milk a few cows, probably just enough to supply their own family and the families of their labourers or farmworkers and possibly to make some extra butter and cheese for sale; for milking by hand was a lengthy business, to which everybody on the farm had to turn a hand twice a day if there were more that half a dozen cows (the family governess of the Coxland Lambert-Gorwyns in the 19th century had to help milk the cows every morning before giving lessons to her large brood of pupils. Oxen were also used for ploughing until the early 19th century (the George Lambert Gorwyn who died in 1837 still had a dozen oxen on his large estate at the time of his death); horses were used mainly as pack animals.


   In Cheriton Bishop and Spreyton, the farmhouses were normally built of cob (a mixture of clay and straw) with thatched roofs; in Drewsteignton nearer Dartmoor, granite was also sometimes used. Most of the family farmhouses were typical Devon “longhouses” with accommodation for the people at one end and for the animals at the other. Originally, the main room was a medieval “hall” with the fire in the middle, the smoke going up through the roof. But in the 1500s and later, with continuing prosperity, farmers’ wives began demanding better kitchens and living accommodation and the old farmhouses were improved and extended. Big “modern” inglenook fireplaces in stone with spits and bread-ovens were built onto the end walls of the houses, replacing the open fires. The cattle were moved to a separate building, their previous accommodation being converted into a new parlour for the family. The big hall was divided vertically into so that a bedroom could be installed above (as can still clearly be seen at Gorwyn farmhouse). The bedrooms on the upper floor tended to open out of each other with no corridor. The different generations of the family lived together, and most farmhouses had two staircases, the smaller one for the old couple to ascend directly to their bedroom without being bothered by the rest of the family.


   Devon is cider country, and pretty well every farm would have an orchard and make its own rough cider, both for its own use and for sale. Cider was part of the wages of a farm labourer (along with milk and potatoes grown on his employer’s land); and until the mid-20th century every farm-worker received a bottle of cider a day and as much as he wanted to drink at harvest time when everybody was expected to work until dusk fell or rain started. Farms would also have an apple chamber (in which apples for eating could be stored for several months); a cider-press and a brewhouse; a bacon chamber; a buttery in which butter and cheese was made; and perhaps a chamber for storing the cheese. In Coffins in Spreyton, the home of George Lambert M.P., there was still a dairy, apple room and cider store in the 1940s and 1950s, as well as a honey-room where the honey from the hives in the garden was spun from the combs; and a lamp room where the oil lamps were trimmed and refilled (in earlier times farms made their own tallow for candles). The kitchen was particularly important with its huge hearth and bread oven, and was sometimes in a separate building. In the early 18th century, when George Gorwyn rented the farm of Lambert to his sister-in-law, he reserved the right to bake, brew and wash in the kitchen as often as he wished.



Village and farm life

The church of St Mary, Cheriton Bishop


   In most parishes the village consisted principally of a cluster of houses around the church, known as ‘Churchtown’. Beyond the Churchtown was a deep country of hamlets, isolated farmsteads and cottages. The hamlets could be quite substantial. In Cheriton Bishop, for instance, there was a big hamlet at Crockernwell. But many of the farmsteads in which our ancestors lived were in the middle of the fields and could be very lonely indeed. Unsurprisingly, some farming families were pretty eccentric, living an isolated existence and seeing little of their neighbours. There were often cottages attached to the bigger farms to house the farm-workers, although many younger unmarried workers lived with the family in the big house.


   Almost everything in the villages revolved around agriculture, and that continued to be true pretty much until the mid-20th century. Of the 105 heads of households in Cheriton Bishop in 1851, a third were farmers with farms ranging from 350 acres down to smallholdings of less than 10 acres, but mostly between 50 and 150 acres. These farms were by far the largest source of employment: 66 of the 105 households in Cheriton Bishop were headed by agricultural labourers, and a further 76 agricultural labourers were living on the farms where they worked.  A big farm could easily employ half a dozen or more people, especially if there were no adult sons in the family. Thus, for instance, in 1851 the 22-year-old John Lambert Gorwyn as a new young farmer of 270 acres at Coxland employed 3 labourers and by 1861 his workforce had risen to 7 men and two boys. George Gorwyn, farming 280 acres at Medland, had 4 labourers in 1851 as well as his two grown up sons who probably also played their part.  And at Bradleigh in Crediton, William Gorwyn had 6 labourers for his 384 acres.


   After agricultural labour, the next biggest type of occupation shown in 19th century census returns was domestic servant, and most of the farms had at least one domestic servant, normally living in the house. There were often resident apprentices too. Except in the grandest households, the entire household, servants and apprentices would eat together, the same food at the same table, as any other arrangement was too difficult to organise for a busy farming household. Many of the apprentices were very young (John and Joseph Gorwyn at Hole Farm in 1821 had an apprentice who was only 8)7.  The apprentices were often orphans or youngsters for some other reason cast on the charity of the parish; apprenticeship was seen by the parish authorities as a way of providing for their current upkeep and future livelihood. Often the arrangement seems to have worked out well and there was a good relationship between employers and apprentices; for instance, in 1804 George Cann of Falkedon (the uncle of the George Lambert who subsequently inherited Falkedon and thus took that branch of the family to Spreyton) left 5 guineas to his apprentice Samuel Powlesland when he reached the age of 21, a significant sum in those days. But it was not always a happy life. The Spreyton parish register records the burial of two Falkedon apprentices who hanged themselves: Elizabeth Howard age 12 in 1809 while ‘bound apprentice to Mr George Lambert there’; another aged 12 in 1831. The inquests found respectively insanity and ‘temporary derangement’.  There may not have been ill-treatment; it is very likely that the girls came from a disturbed family background and the whole experience of apprenticeship in a strange household was just too much for them to bear.


   This agricultural society was very self-contained, obtaining most of its needs that could not be satisfied on the farm from the local village.  Travel was difficult as the roads were atrocious (even in the 19th century, there was a horse-drawn carriage from Cheriton Bishop to Exeter twice a week that was so slow that many villagers with business there preferred to walk the 10 miles there). The villages were as a result largely self-sufficient, with church, chapel, school, mill and regular fairs and markets (there was still a regular livestock market in Spreyton until the 1950s, to which farmers from all around would drive their stock on foot along the roads). Life was not all hard work: there were also annual revels (these had been suppressed under the Puritans but came back quickly after the Restoration). Michael Lambert, who was born in 1912, remembered the Spreyton revel which took place on midsummer’s day during his childhood (after turnip planting in the morning).


    Villages had a full range of tradesmen. In 1851, according to the census Cheriton Bishop had 6 carpenters; 6 stone masons; 2 thatchers; 2 land drainers; 3 blacksmiths; 2 saddlers and harness-makers; a wheelwright; 4 tailors; 7 dressmakers (although some of these were probably busy housewives who did a little dressmaking on the side); 3 cordwainers (shoemakers); 3 weavers; a milliner; 2 butchers, a shopkeeper; an inn-keeper; a turnpike gate keeper; a vet; a schoolmaster and mistress; and the Rector to look after the village’s spiritual needs. There was at that time no miller, but the place-names Mill and Frogmill indicate that there had been mills in the parish earlier; and a little later a Lambert Gorwyn was the miller at nearby Fingle Mill (the latter was a corn-mill; but quite a few of the ancient mills were fulling mills where weavers cleansed the greasy wool that was their raw material). Several of the above tradespeople had apprentices or sons joining the business, and it was thus that skills and businesses were passed on. Even the smaller village of Spreyton had 5 carpenters; 3 masons; 3 blacksmiths; a thatcher; a tailor; 2 dressmakers; a shoemaker; a butcher; a shopkeeper; a carrier; a schoolmaster and mistress; and a doctor for its 304 people in 1851.


   Drewsteignton had lime quarries which were an important source of wealth for their owners. Lime was used to make mortar, and from the 17th century on it was – along with animal dung – the main fertilizer used by farmers8. Leasehold agreements often imposed precise requirements on the tenant as to the amount of lime to be used on the arable land to keep it in good heart. In the 18th century the Drewsteignton quarries were owned by the Cann family of Spreyton, who derived considerable wealth from them. Two generations of Lambert Gorwyns married into the Cann family, and in 1804 George Lambert Gorwyn inherited a third share of the quarries. After the railways were built, lime from cheaper quarries started coming into the area by rail. The Drewsteignton quarries became less viable and extraction ceased at the beginning of the 20th century.



Social arrangements


   Every village had by the end of the Middle Ages well-developed social arrangements, many administered through the church. Henry VIII made the parish the basic unit of what we would now call local government taking over from the manor. Each parish had a parish council of local worthies, which in rural parishes would include yeoman farmers like the Gorwyns. Two churchwardens were appointed each year, again from among the local worthies. They were responsible for looking after the church and keeping its accounts, but also for a number of good works or ‘social’ duties and payments to those in need. Another office created in the 16th century was that of Overseer of the Poor. Again two were appointed each year; usually the local landholders arranged a rota among themselves so that the duty came round to the occupant (whether owner or tenant) of each estate every four years or so. The duties of the Overseers overlapped at times with those of the churchwardens, and could be fairly onerous. They were responsible for maintaining and finding work for the able-bodied poor; looking after orphans and finding apprenticeships for pauper children; arranging care for the sick; and aged who had nobody to look after them; and running the local poor-house. 


   To finance these various activities, various charges were imposed on landowners, including tithes to support the church and vicar; a poor rate to finance the work of the Overseers; and charges for keeping up the local roads. The collection of these charges was also entrusted to specified worthies in each parish; and usually one or more prominent members of the parish were also made responsible for collecting the various national taxes that the central government imposed from time to time, like the periodic medieval lay subsidies (taxes on moveable assets or wages); hearth and window taxes; the poll-taxes in 1660 and 1697; and the land tax payable annually on every estate from 1693.


   All this made for a pretty static society, and people did not travel far. Devon roads were notoriously atrocious in the Middle Ages. Until King Stephen (1135-54) made local lords of the manor responsible for keeping up the roads, there was no systematic system for maintaining highways. A statute of 1555 then put the responsibility on the parishes and their inhabitants, through an elected ‘Surveyor’, and in the 1660s local Turnpike Acts began to be passed, providing for specific improvements. The 1670 Okehampton Turnpike Act noted that


‘the roads leading from Crockerton Well in the parish of Cheriton Bishop, through the parishes of Cheriton bishop, Drewsteignton, Hittisleigh, South Tawton, Sampford Courtenay, Belstone and Okehampton..... are very perilous and cannot be amended by the Ordinary Course of Law’.


   It provided for the appointment of trustees to carry out the necessary works, to erect milestones, and to install tollgates (one of which appears to have been at Crockernwell). This seems to have had some effect, as Polwhele, writing in his 1793 History of Devon, said that the roads had been ‘execrably bad’ but were much improved in his time. But there were still complaints and further Acts were passed, including an 1829 Act appointing ‘all His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace acting for the County of Devon’ as trustees of the Turnpike Roads, together with certain named individuals, who included George Lambert Gorwyn (of Spreyton) and William Lambert Gorwyn (of Drewsteignton) for the Okehampton area. The trustees of the Okehampton roads appear to have done a good job, as the Okehampton Turnpike trust was one of the few that paid off all its debts. The Act laid down what tolls could be charged: 6d. for a horse-drawn conveyance; a half-penny for a cow and a farthing for a sheep or a pig. The roads were particularly important at that time for carrying lime from the quarries in Drewsteignton, and also for transporting animal manure9.


   Cheriton Bishop and Drewsteignton were on the main Exeter-Okehampton road, now the A30. This road grew in importance with the spread of stagecoaches in the 18th century, and the hamlet of Crockernwell (which belongs half to Drewsteignton and half to Cheriton Bishop) grew up to service these coaches, as it was conveniently half way between Exeter and Okehampton. The centre of gravity of Cheriton Bishop also changed, and the main village is no longer around the church, but at “Cheriton Cross”, on the main road.


   From the 1830s onwards times were hard for farmers and there was a steady depopulation of rural areas in mid-Devon, mostly to the towns (and indeed several members of the Lambert Gorwyn family did move around that time to Exeter and Crediton). In the last 100 years, and above all in the last fifty years, there have been more changes to the landscape and economy than in the previous six or seven centuries. Fortunately, in Devon there has not been such widespread removal of hedges as in other parts of the country. But more of the fields are now used for pasture rather than arable crops and the patchwork is increasingly one in shades of green, with increasing areas of woodland (which attracts generous subsidies), rather than green interspersed with the dull yellow of hay (replaced today by silage), gold of corn or the red of plough. And the cattle in the green fields, which in the past were almost all red (Devons) or red and white (shorthorns) are now as often or not black and white high milk yielding Friesians and Holsteins. Farms are run with a tiny labour force and often by one man relying entirely on contractors, and agriculture accounts for probably less than 5% of the local economy. As farms are consolidated, the old farmhouses have either fallen into ruin (some, like Spirelake in Cheriton Bishop, long a Lambert-Gorwyn property, have disappeared completely), or been purchased and done up by well-off professionals and business people working in the towns. If the old barns are still used, it is as guest annexes or as stables for riding horses. (The history of the main Lambert-Gorwyn and Gorwyn properties is described in greater detail in Chapter 13.)





1 King Æthelheard of Wessex gave this large tract of farmland to the Church in the eighth century to pay for the construction of a monastery in Crediton, which is why it became historically part of the parish of Crediton. For most farms in this area, however, Cheriton Bishop is much nearer than Crediton, and the church in Cheriton Bishop was often treated as their parish church.


2 Hundred Rolls No 44 p. 86.


3 Deed from the Lambert estate papers in the Devon Record Office (DRO).


4 Stone v. Gorwyn, legal proceedings in the National Archives ref: C12/1529/14


5 See for instance George Lambert Gorwyn’s 1789 marriage settlement summarised in the Wills and settlements chapter.


6 According to John Hooker’s Chorographical Synopsis of Devonshire (the earliest topographical account of Devon, published in 1599), “there is no market nor scarse any privat mannes house where theise clothes be not made, or that there is not spinnynge and cordynge”


7 1821 census of Cheriton Bishop.


8 Tristram Risdon, in his Survey of Devon in about 1630 describes how “of late, a new invention hath sprung up, and been practised among us, by burning of lime, and incorporating it for a season with earth, and then spread upon the arrable land, hath produced a plentiful increase of all sorts of grain where formerly such never grew in any man’s memory”.


9 Devon Turnpikes by E. P. Burd, paper in Transactions of the Devonshire Association, Vol. 68, 1936.


GO TO NEXT CHAPTER                                                BACK TO LIST OF CONTENTS