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Devon County

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St. Michael's Church, Doddiscombsleigh

St. Michael's Church, Doddiscombsleigh

© Richard J. Brine


The opening years of the 19th Century were anxious times in the United Kingdom. Across the channel in France, Napoleon was making no secret of the fact that he was assembling a formidable naval force with the intention of using it to invade Britain.


The Government hastily constructed a National Defence strategy which involved every man, woman and child in the country.  It seemed obvious that the danger would be coming from the sea so everyone living within 15 miles of the coast was to be evacuated at the first sign of invasion. Farmers were key figures in this plan. They were ordered to release their male workers to fight a rear guard action alongside the Volunteers as a kind of "Home Guard". The farmers were to place their carts and draught animals at the disposal of the local parish priest who would use them to evacuate the women and children. Sheep and cattle were to be evacuated too so that they could  not be used to supplement the rations of the invaders.


The parish priests were ordered to identify some inland place which might be deemed to be safe and to make arrangements to travel to that place by drover's tracks and back lanes so as to leave the main routes clear for military use. Bell ringers were to practise ringing a special peal so that they could give warning to the neighbourhood to put the plans into action when invasion occurred and a chain of fire beacons, another early-warning system, was set up to run the length and breadth of the country. 


In theory, the Government's plans seem to have been well carried out in the County of Devon - in practice they were never used but there is no doubt that villages like Doddiscombsleigh could have mustered a well-organised response if they had been called upon.


Some twenty years after the invasion scare, the Reverend George Hole came across the original documents compiled by his uncle and predecessor, the Reverend Thomas Hole and made a copy which has survived to today.


Transcribed from a notebook belonging to George Hole, Rector of Doddiscombsleigh :


Note in the Rector's hand:

"At the time when French invasion was talked of, I found the following note made in the handwriting of my uncle, Mr. Thomas Hole, which I take the trouble of copying on account of the mention made of "waste ground called Bowling green or Sporting Place, belonging to ye Parishioners."


We, the underwritten proprietors of stock of the parish of Doddiscombsleigh, do fix upon for the proper place of assembly for the cattle, carts and horses of our parish, the waste ground in our parish known by the name of the Bowling Green or the Sporting Place.

(Then follows the signatures of the following):

Thomas Hole

Edward Smallridge

George Cornish

Thomas Coldridge

Samuel Archer

Simon Cox

James Cornish

Thomas Archer

Stephen Diggines

This was extracted from a book of the population of the parish made in 1811 where are the original signatures.

G. Hole, May 1823"

(The population in 1821 was 356 (all ages) being 191 Males and 165 females.)



"We the undersigned inhabitants of the parish of Doddiscombsleigh in the County of Devon, do readily and cheerfully resolve that we will form ourselves into voluntary apprisations (sic) of pioneers or labourers according to the fourth resolution in Paper No. One.

Richard Arscott Thomas Baker X John Ballion X
William Band Samuel Bowden William Cornish X
Stephen Diggines John Gale William Gibson
John Hill X William Holloway X Edward Hore
John Hore snr John Hore jnr Simon Kelly
William Lee X John Lethbridge X John Lucas
Christopher Lucas X Edward Lucas X George May
William Milford X George Milton George Mugford
John Mugford X Robert Padon X William Smale X
John Spratt Stephen Stapeling William Stokes X
David Symes Abraham West X John West snr X
John West jnr Jason Westcott X William Westcott
Roger Whiddon Thomas Whiddon John Wright snr X
John Wright jnr X - -

X after a name indicates men who could not read and whose name was written in with their agreement by another person."


We the undersigned are willing to act as servants

with teams of pack horses:

Richard Brook

Jeremy Connett

Angel Endacott

Robert Hore

William Macey

William Maddon

James Mugford

George Sercombe

John Sercombe

We the undersigned are willing to act as Drivers of Cattle

Samuel Archer

Thomas Archer

John Bolly

George Cornish

Thomas Cove

Edward Hore

William Medl(and?)

William Mugford

John (Newkitt?)

John Widlake

George West

Drivers of Carts

Richard Dinnes

John West


Edward Smallridge

John Venn




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