Just in Jacobstowe

At Jacobstowe church

Women Writing on the Devon Land

A-Zof Devon Women Writers' Places 

Just in Jacobstowe

Well, for anyone who may previously have stumbled upon this blog and given up bothering to look again, thinking I'd forgotten to update it, here I am - and it is - again. Yes, admittedly I have been preoccupied with other writing projects, but the impasse here, in this A-Z was the letter. 'J' - and the complex deliberations involved as I tried to identify the identity of a certain Saxon lady.

      If any of you out there knows of a woman writer back through the centuries (before about 1960) who has lived in or has an important connection with a parish in Devon beginning with J, please let me know! 

     But then, at the outset I am restricted, given that there is only one 'J' parish. Jacobstowe! I love the parish; before the large family decamped down to Brixham it was the childhood home of my maternal grandmother, who recounted many nostalgic memories about her family. For several years their father Robert Abbott was Farm Bailiff of the Broomford estate (which, incidentally, in a future life was to be the sometime home of Noel Edmonds). 

Entrance gate of Broomford Manor, near Jacobstowe
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © David Smith - geograph.org.uk/p/3498311

(Anyone reading this who's keen on family history might like to skip over to my other 
familyhistory site). I write up this piece in memory of Annie and her siblings. 

     I will pop in an old photo, where Grandma appears as pupil teacher in Jacobstowe; it must have been around the late 1890's as she was about 16/17, having been born in 1884.

Annie Abbott a pupil teacher at Jacobstowe with her class.
Annie is at the back 4th from right. Several of her younger siblings are also in the photo.

       But, no Annie Abbott was not a writer, though scribblings in her sister's autograph book suggest she enjoyed writing lyric verse. 

    Perhaps, in another life, or if she were living now, when, in one way or another anyone who wants to be can be writer, Annie may have pursued her literary interests. But during those days, late C19, life in rural Devon was hard; Grandma had, instead, to earn her keep, learn to cook and care for her younger siblings. That was the story of a great many women's lives for at least one more generation. 

      Before I go on, I will include a short extract from Annie's daughter's memoirs; here she describes the family's life in Jacobstowe. You will see at the end of this extract how, with regard to education and literary endeavour Annie's life journey, as girl, meant a totally different destiny from that of her brother:

My mother seemed to enjoy those teenage years in Jacobstowe when the Rector and Schoolmaster were the most important people in the village. The years she spent there must have been good for her, as, with her affinity with the Schoolmaster, the Rector, his wife and the Lady of the Manor, Lady-White-Thomson, many of her talents were encouraged and given their expression. Much of her cooking she learnt from her mother, Elizabeth, and from the cooks in the Main Kitchen where she spent many hours of her time. She learnt to appreciate music from her piano lessons with Mrs Kruger, the Rector's wife. Some of this knowledge she passed on to her younger sisters, Fran and Ida. They all three became very enthusiastic members of the Church Choir. A group of them met in the Schoolmaster's house where they held Gilbert and Sullivan evenings, where they performed on various instruments. Annie played the Mandolin, Will Stone the Violin. Suzy, his sister had a good voice. My mother also had Wood-Carving lessons. To the ensuing role of Farmer's wife she brought experiences which were to benefit her children, in later years.
    At the age of 16 Annie became a pupil-teacher in the school at Jacobstowe and would have liked to have gone on to College to train but her father couldn't afford the fees; in those days there were no grants. Her brother, Fleetwood, fared better because he went on to St. Luke's College in Exeter paid for by Mr. Stone, the headmaster. 
(written by Clarice Sampson).

       Anyway, to return to the main theme in this post, the more I considered it the more I realised that Jacobstowe is an excellent choice to include in this A - Z, but not because the parish can be identified as the home of one or more famous, respected, or even a single amateur female author. Anything but, apparently. But instead, because of the dearth of specific names associated with the parish, I see the place as a kind of case study, a blank-page, which exemplifies how (in general) until the mid C20 women as writers have tended to face the same fate: eventual absence from the literary canon. Just because there are no names rising above the parapet about a particular place doesn't mean they were not there. Once you begin to delve into the records in any way - i.e., google, or old books, or record offices etc, there are tiny little snippets of data staring up at you. From spaces in the ether. From the depths of history. In the archives they are just names, often passed over, as if irrelevant. 

       Jacobstowe, just as so many of its surrounding Devon parishes is an enigma; its history is fascinating. The Old English meaning of 'Stowe' is Place, often with the added implication of 'Holy', or 'Meeting' Place. Inevitably, as with any rural place in this part of the country, you need to start with the church; if there is anything of historical interest to be found, you can bet it will be there. And Jacobstowe really does come up with the treasured goods, because only a couple of years ago whilst the church's pew platforms were being repaired an unexpected discovery turned up a find, which in context of Devon church history was described 'as rare as hens’ teeth’. The archaeologists found  'the building’s original Eastern wall and a semi-circular wall – or apse'. A piece in Tavistock Times about the excavations notes that 

An apse is a semicircular or polygonal termination to the choir, chancel or aisle of a church building. First used in pre-Christian Roman architecture, the apse often functioned as an enlarged niche to hold the statue of a deity in a temple.

       The findings suggest there may have been a building here during Celtic i.e., pre-Anglo-Saxon times and are so important that they may mean complete re-evaluation of the history of church construction in the south-west. (See Antiquarian's Attic). Jacobstowe may have been a very early holy-site. As Antiquarian's Attic notes,

We know that Irish monks were coming to the West Country in the 5th-7th centuries so perhaps they came here too and formed a Christian community.

(You may like here to wander off and take a look at Boniface's Other Women a previous post in  my other blog, for an alternative or supplementary view about the beginnings of Christianity in the south-west. This piece is part of a much longer and now revised chapter included in Writing Women on the Devon Lands).

       Apropos Jacobstowe's early church, in the eastern wall of the porch there are two stone motifs - a daisy wheel, or rosette and a Greek cross, which experts believe may be of the C12. 

motifs in stone at Jacobstowe church
Photo Julie Sampson

artist's impression of how Jacobstowe church may
have looked in the Anglo-Saxon and Norman period
(See The Parish Church of St James
Jacobstowe; A History and Guide to this Ancient Church

my copy obtained in the church)

      The first female name surfacing in any archive with a (possible) connection with Jacobstowe coincides with the late Saxon, early Norman period, the days of the original church. 

       I say possible with good reason, because recent commentators argue that Ælfgifu, Aleuea, Aleuesdef, Allef, Alueua, Alueue, Aluiua, Alveva, Alwewe, Aueue, Elfgiuæ, Elueua, Æleueua, Ælueua, Ælueue (all forms of the same name used in the Domesday Book) was not associated with Jacobstowe. 

       Many sources about the Domesday Book tell us the following: 

Alueuia habet I mansionem queae nocatur Iacobescherca quam ipsa tenuit ea die qua rex Eduuardus fuit uiuus et mortuus et reddidit gildum pro i uirga et dimidia. Hanc potest arare i carruca. In ea habet Alueuia i carrucam et ii cotarios et i suruum xiiii oues et ualet per annum xl denarius.- Exon D. (487) 450

Alueuia has a manor called Jacobeschurca, which she herself held on the day on which King Edward lived and died, and it rendered geld for one virgate and a half. This can be ploughed by one plough. In this Alvevia has one plough and two cottars and one serf, (and) fourteen sheep; and it is worth by the year forty pence.
      And in the volume Devonshire written in the early C19, it is noted that it was probable that Alveva, a Saxon lady, held Jacobstowe at the time of Domesday:

        Risdon confirms this link between Alveva and Jacobstowe in
A chorographical description or survey of the county of Devon, which I think was published in 1811

And yet another C19 source relates how Alveva and Jacobstow/e are connected: 

       However, one hundred years later, at the beginning of the C20, local historians began to change their minds and in one issue of Devon & Cornwall Notes and Queries (see below) the writer was adamant that Jacobscherche, Alveva's holding as stated in Domesday was not Jacobstowe, but rather, St James' Priory in Exeter. 

        Who am I to argue with the specialist historians? I can't. And yet, in some ways, why not? It is far more romantic to imagine Alveva, whoever she may have been, as connected as landholder of the lands circling the then new Celtic church of the little Devon parish. If nothing else, the recent unexpected discoveries at Jacobstowe church tell us that our assumptions about the history of this area are still to be challenged. And the so-called 'expert' historians do not always get their facts (or spellings) correct, because, or for example (as in the passage above) a frequent confusion seems to be to conflate, or swop, Jacobstowe in Devon with Jacobstow, in Cornwall. Although I understand the reasoning in the extract above, what puzzles me is that if Jacobscherche in the DB is the church or priory in Exeter, rather than Jacobstowe, why is the latter not mentioned in said DB? Fair enough, C11 Jacobstowe might indeed have been part and parcel of Hatherleigh, as suggested, but now the remains of the original church have been discovered, does that not suggest otherwise? Was Domesday Jacobstowe, a distinct estate with its own special little holy site - where the 'river Ock streameth by Stow'? (Risdon) I wonder.

        Perhaps we ought to change tack and consider the identity of  Alveva, Alvenu, or Aelfgifu. Who, in any case, was she? Well as far as I can tell, the sources do not seem to make much effort to explain or examine her specific identity. And where they do there is not necessarily agreement. Re Aelfgifu and its alternative names/forms, the domesday pase website notes that 
'A provisional attempt has been made to identify the people recorded in Domesday Book who bore this name; however, the material remains to be checked and edited, and profiles of these people remain to be written.'

This is not surprising perhaps, given the complex variations in spellings of this name. It is hard to be sure and I am not Janina Ramirez. But I have some ideas.  Firstly, the chances are Aelfgifu was from the heart of the then Saxon/Norman royal network, many of whom held lands recorded in Domesday Book. During the time of the late Saxons and early Normans many of these were closely and intricately connected with what is now Devon. And Jacobstowe is situated on the edge of what was then a large royal estate or demesne, whose centre was the upper reaches of the river Taw. In 1066 North Tawton was still royal and South Tawton was held by Gytha, mother of Harold. (See, for example, below taken from W.G. Hoskins, Provincial England; essays in social and economic history). 

from Hoskins' Provincial England
      Some of the women from the royal clan were born in Devon, or/and lived there, or/and held lands there. Famously, Gytha, Harold's mother, was in and made her escape from Exeter in 1067, at the height of the Norman Invasion. 

from Pauline Stafford
Women in Domesday

        I have written about some of these Saxon and early Norman royal women in the manuscript of Writing Women on the Devon Land (See From the Devon Ridge)In particular, I have tried to emphasise these women's probable literary expertise. For example, Elfrida or Aefthryth, a Devon daughter who became Queen of England, whose own words when in the throes of a land dispute apropos lands near Taunton, can still be read, when she sends her humble greetings to an Archbishop:

I bear witness that Archbishop Dunstan assigned Taunton to Bishop Aethelwold, in conformity with the Bishop's charters ... And the king said that he had no land to grant out, when he durst not, for fear of God, retain the headship himself; and moroever he then put Ruishton under the Bishop's control. And then [Wulfgyth] rode to me at Combe and sought me 

     This rare example of a text attributed solely to an Anglo-Saxon queen' is a 'writ, composed sometime between 999 and 1001, which stands out as the only extant document in Ælfthryth's own voice ... Ælfthryth not only acts primarily on behalf of female litigants, but the surviving record explicitly highlights gender as the principal reason behind her intervention [but] as an authority specially qualified to represent female concerns to male authority. (See Old English Newsletter). I quote here from Ælfthryth's writ directly because I wanted to give the sense of these historical women's vivid presence, as well as their commitment to literacy and intellectual pursuits. 

        Surely, we can take as given that Countess Alveva/Aelfgifu of the disputed Domesday 'Jacobscherche' came from the inner circle of the then Wessex royals; or if not, was jostling amongst them. But even that narrowing of the field leaves a tangle of possible candidates. Aelfgifu was a very popular Old English female name and if you begin to look it up in a google search (for the appropriate time period) you may, like me, soon become bemused by the results. Taking into account my own peace of mind and the focus of this blog-post I am trying to narrow my selection of possible women to two; one of them was Queen Aelfthryth's daughter-in-law, AElfgifu or Emma of Normandy wife of  Etheldred the Unready, then of Cnut; the other, through Emma, Aelfthryth's granddaughter-in-law Aelfgifu, or Edith (I have seen her named Edith of Wessex); she was wife of Elfrida's grandson, Edward the Confessor) who happened also to be one of Gytha's daughters - but I must stress that other women of the time could equally have been the elusive Alveva of Domesday Devon. For example, another daughter of Gytha, also Aelfgifu, who died before her arranged marriage to a Norman nobleman, is said to be named in the DB - see The Godwins. Then, there is Aelfgifu of Northampton, Cnut's first wife/mistress.

        Both Emma and Edith had intricate connections with Devon lands, as well as networks of kin from the region. As well, both Emma and Edith, typical of royal women of their day, were highly educated and both commissioned literary works celebrating the lives of their husbands. As far as dates are concerned we may take Emma of Normandy out of the equation in our search for Aelfgifu, for Emma died in 1052, before the Domesday Book was compiled. But, my understanding of the complex issues that swirl round any analysis of the DB is that some of the DB records are of people who had previously held stated land; so, in my mind, Emma of Normandy (who had the title Lady of Exeter) is not yet quite ruled out. There are many links between her and Devon and recently it was discovered that a copy of the literary text she commissioned, the story of her own life The Courtenay Compendium had been stored for many years at Powderham. 

       Emma's daughter in law Edith of Wessex was known to be the wealthiest women of her time, her intellectual accomplishments were also celebrated:

You teach the stars, measuring, arithmetic, the art of the lyre,
The ways of learning and grammar.
An understanding of rhetoric allowed you to pour out speeches,
And moral rectitude informs your tongue

(Godfrey of Cambrai)

Said to be mentor of the spiritually inclined Margaret of Scotland, Edith studied the lives of English saints and her hagigographic account of her husband's life, the Vita Ædwardi Regis was one of the distinctive manuscripts of the period. Edith's name is usually given as Ealdgyth rather than spelled in the form of Aelfgifu, but I have noticed that other Ediths of the Saxon period were alternatively Aelfgifu

       So, either of these women; if she were (or is) identified as the Countess Alveva/Aelfgifu of the Devon Domesday Book' and if Jacobscherche might indeed be Jacobstowe, as pre-C20 scholarship reappraisal, C19 historians assumed; and if she did have any real connection with the place, rather than being just a name inscribed on parchment marking her position as distant landowner, then, as looking back we read the name of a woman from that distant past, we can begin to flesh out a sense of a real person: a noblewoman of the time, who may have visited and tramped across the lands that she held and even, dare I suggest, composed narratives about her life-journeys.

       Well, my intention in this piece was to thread up along the centuries through the historical chain and muse upon the possible literary links of several other named women whose names pop up quite often with a google search including Jacobstowe. But time, space and Aelfgifu of The Domesday Book mean that instead I must let them go back into the archival ether from where I first retrieved them and wait for another chance (another researcher?) to re-invent their lives. But before I do I will just jot down a couple of their names together with a little snippet, found somewhere or other on the Internet.  

1.   There is C14 Juliana de Bromford
She was previously married as the second wife of John de Bromford of Bromford and Jacobstowe. She could not have been married to him for very long if he had a son by a previous wife born after 1362 and his own death occurring in early 1363.Julianne married as her third husband Matthew de Hordelegh by 15 December 1387 when they presented at Rackenford. He was again named as ‘Matthew Hordelegh who has married the widow Julianna Cruwys’ when Robert Cruwys confirmed the ‘dower from her late husband Alexander Cruwys’ in 1388 (Wiki Tree)

       2. There is C15 Sybil de Durneford.
         National archives hold a document concerning the Will of Sybil de Durneford at Discovery -
1435: 12d to Rector of Church of Stowe St James (Jacobstowe) to pray for her soul. 12d to the furniture of St. Cross in the said church. 20s for Masses to be celebrated immediately after her death. Residue to her executor, Thomas Prous, to distribute for her soul and the souls of those to whom she is bound, and for the execution of her will. (Who was Sybil?)


        I realise I must now let this 'homage' to Jacobstowe find its own way in the nether regions of virtuality, and therefore decide on a place to draw this post to a conclusion. My talented grandmother, who featured at the beginning and frames this whole piece returns to haunt the white screen, whilst synchronistically, a rather unexpected finding surfaces via the web. I find that during the time that Annie Abbott's family lived at at Home Farm, on the Broomford estate, in Jacobstowe, late C19, a portrait of Anna Seward, so-called 'Swan of Lichfield', who was once one of the country's foremost C18 female poets was displayed in the main house. I hesitate to display an image of that portrait for obvious copyright reasons, but you can see it here at wikipedia commons. It is a striking picture of the acclaimed poet, who, in the active act of turning the page of a book (of Milton's poetry), (or perhaps marking it), returns her gazes reflectively, intently back, at the viewer. If my grandmother was lucky enough to have been invited into the inner sitting-rooms of her family's employer, though probably unaware of the identity of its subject, she may have had the pleasure of viewing this painting of the renowned poet. And the literary nature of its content can not have escaped her.

      It seems that Anna Seward was related to the White-Thomsons. Robert White-Thomson inherited the portrait along with the miniature (see above). Somewhere, I have come across information re the rather intricate details of their familial connection, but can not at present locate it. Another source, the National Portrait Gallery, tells us that the painting was passed to Anna Seward's nephew 'Thomas White of Lichfield, thence by descent to his grandson Leonard Jauncey White-Thomson Bishop of Ely of Broomford Manor, Exmouth' - but there may be errors in this explanation. I think Leonard was probably Robert White-Thomson's son, but shall leave it to other detectives out there to chase up the detailed genealogy of the families. A good place to start is at Liverpool University archives with White-Thomson's Letters. 
       I do not think that Anna Seward had any personal links with Devon - though as I have not had a chance to study her life, I may be wrong. However, the poet did apparently make forays toward the county when, travelling south-westwards, she visited Bath-Easton. See, for example, Revolutionary Players
       But I like to conjure an image of this once famous female C18 poet gazing down from the wall of the Devon drawing room through the corridors and hallway, out of the gabled porch of the splendid new Neo-Jacobean mansion, to the rural vistas of the mid-Devon village where my own maternal grandmother spent her formative years. Symbolically, she, the poet-on-the-wall, represents the occult nature of hidden potential, as well as the lost literary accomplishments of a variety of women from the endless past stretching way back before her, at least to a distant point of time when a little wooden church was built on the special site next to the special holy well of the 'stowe'. 

Inside Jacobstowe Church

See also From the Devon Ridge Where a Book Began


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