In 1976, Lapford hosted friends from its twin village of Langannerie. The twinning committee published a short guide for a walking tour which followed an exhibition of Lapford’s history. The text is reproduced below.
THE APPROACH TO LAPFORD – OLD AND NEW
The visitor approaching Lapford from the main A377 might easily be mislead into thinking the village a largely modern development. The heart of this old settlement, which figures in the Domesday Book, lie hidden on this side by the white-walled modern houses which surround it. Those coming from the Exeter direction, however, are even now passing its most ancient building. Up on the left hand side can be seen a small thatched construction resembling a barn It is in fact the private Chapel of BURY BARTON a farm built in the 14th and 15th centuries. It is typical of a Devon Mediaeval farmstead and one of the best available examples. The site on which it stands is much older still, however. Evidence points to the existence of a fortress there in Roman times.
The A377 itself is considerably more recent. Built as a Turnpike road in the early 19th century (the toll cottage can still be seen nearer Eggesford), it replaced the original Exeter-Barnstaple road which went over the hills the other side of Lapford.
The village may have benefited from being closer to the main highway but others suffered decidedly from the new road. Chulmleigh, now a small isolated ‘town’ of barely a thousand inhabitants had been a thriving centre of trade until the lack of traffic killed it. Morchard Bishop too, whose belltower can be seen from the middle of Lapford, also suffered and diminished.
Lapford itself was beginning to decline in population when in 1928 the AMBROSIA creamery began producing its well known creamed Rice. You will notice the factory buildings just past the garage. They have been sadly closed for two years now but for 45 years played a great part in the life and work of Lapford.
The turning into Lapford proper follows another old road. The hill it comes down on the other side of the crossroads bears the name KELLAND. The Kelland family was important in the village as far back as the 16th century. Later, in the Church, notice the plaque near the font setting out the details of the Kelland charity set up in 1887 and 1778. Today what remains of the trust income is shared between the schoolchildren at Christmas – 6d a piece!
We now approach the RAILWAY, passing first on the right the three ‘LABOUR IN VAIN‘ cottages (so called because a fire destroyed their predecessors immediately they were built). Threatened, like so many Branch lines with closure, the Railway too has played an important part in Lapford life since its proud opening around 1855. It is said that the workmen building the line used to bake themselves bread on their huge smelting furnaces using flour from the WATER MILL just over the bridge. There were a number of mills like this one which has recently been restored in the area pointing to rather more wheat cultivation than now.
Don’t miss the FORD beside the Mill which probably gave Lapford its name. It is called “EslappaFORDa” in Domesday and some say this derives from Holappa’s ford, he being some kind of local Saxon chieftan.
THE VILLAGE PROPER- SCHOOLS, CLERGY, PLACES OF WORK.
The large house on the sharp bend at the top of the hill has been for some forty years the Anglican Rectory, but the original PARSONAGE lies right the other end of the village. It is a much grander building in its own grounds and nearly a mile from the Church but was appropriate in the days of gentry parsons on horseback. One in particular, called JACK RADFORD, was notorious both in Lapford and in the country around. Unwilling cleric, forced into the ministry as a younger son of the gentry needing a suitable career, he preferred the hounds , so they say, to his parochial duties. Stories about him abound and some believe the ghost of a maidservant of his household drowned in the Parsonage pond in dubious circumstances still haunts the surrounding fields.
Opposite the modern Rectory, a lane leads to the OLD SCHOOL, now the Youth Club. It is a typical school building of the time of compulsory elementary education for all at the end of the last century. Plenty of tales could be told about this establishment too. One winter, apparently even the inkwells froze stiff.
Shortly before the “new’ Post Office (the old one was at the Mill) in the main street where a bungalow now stands was the site of the old VILLAGE POND. Notice on the other side of the P.O. a line of holes in the road. These mark the position of the outerwalls of the so-called WEAVERS’ COTTAGES where once serge was made. The adjoining cottage, which still stands, still has the niche through which payment was made for cloth in its front-room wall. These, like most cottages in this area of rich red clay soil, are COB constructions with very thick walls.
The FORGE only stopped working in the fifties. Rather like a modern garage it did not limit its services to the repair of means of transport. A dentist held a weekly surgery here before the war, notes requesting the Nurse to call could be deposited in a box on the door, and the Train Timetable was displayed on the wall. Horses were shed under a wooden building which stood where the cobbles are, and water to cool the iron came direct from the well into a stone trough.
Beside the forge probably stood the POORHOUSE or WORKHOUSE, as the harsh conditions prevailing there for the unfortunate inmates caused these institutions to be called. On the other side of the road was THE MANSE. The number of free church members increased markedly at the time of Jack Radford.
THE HEART OF LAPFORD- CHURCH, INN & VILLAGE GREEN
The three south facing cottages just before the shop were before the War part of a CLASSICAL MATHEMATICAL and COMMERCIAL ACADEMY for boys founded before 1870. The school, which took boarders, was quite well known it Devon and in 1870 advertised courses of Instruction in “Latin, French, Music, Drawing, Writing, Plain and Ornamental Penmanship, Book-keeping, Stenography, Arithmetic (mental and slate), Euclid, Algebra, Mesuration, Land Surveying, Agricultural Chemistry, History, Geometry Physical and Political, with the use of the Globe, and with the use and construction of Maps” – and all for 15-18 guineas per annum! At one time there was also a small girls’ class.
The farm opposite bears the name “COURT BARTON“, Barton in Devon indicates a farm of Mediaeval origin but this one was also in the 17th century used a local Court-house. One of the fields, known as Mattress Field was said to have been the burning place for Plague infested mattresses.
INSIDE it is the magnificent Rood Screen carved in Renaissance style which first strikes the eye. Though this is a typical feature of Devon Churches few have their Calvary intact (this one was restored in 1929). The nave has a Devon Cradle (Waggon) Roof. Particularly fine however are the carved Bench-ends which date from about 1540. Notice the scolding wife and her husband, happily shown in more harmonious mood on another pew.
The GREEN as in most villages has witnessed many a Lapford event or festivity from dancing on Queen Victoria’s Jubilee to the sale of fat to help the War Effort. Until recently there was a Revel on July 7th.
And so to Lapford’s beautiful old CHURCH with its unusual dedication to ST THOMAS OF CANTERBURY, Earl de Tracey who owned much of the surrounding area was one of the knights involved in the murder of Thomas a BECKETT in Canterbury cathedral. King Henry VIII, angry and mortified by the result of his angry outburst against his childhood friend, confiscated all de Tracey’s lands and ordered him to build expiatory churches. In Lapford the chapel, probably Saxon, which already existed, was enlarged and embellished by the addition of a Tower, Chancel and Porch and the Church was dedicated to St Thomas in 1170. Additions were made to the tower in the 15th century and a typical moulding can be seen about 5 foot from the ground which then passes over the doorway.
The VICTORY HALL was built thanks to the efforts of local farmers in 1918, hence its name. At the time it was the finest in the area and even Crediton did not boast one,
The MALT SCOOP can offer beside its atmosphere and beverages some charming 16th century fireplaces and beams. It now has a reputation as restaurant as well, but not for the first time. In 1830 the press reported a ball there most “numerously and fashionably attended” with “All the rank and beauty of the place” present and the “supper table laid out with the delicacies of the season”.
There was another INN where the Dairy is now found variously called the Railway Inn and the “Temperance Hotel”.
During the War the site on which the houses of MOORLAND VIEW now stand was use for military vehicles. These and the many Evacuees welcomed into her midst brought Lapford well into the War Effort.
The drapers shop further up the hill occupies the site of the Old Bakery, also at one time a branch of Plymouth die works. Opposite stands Ann’s Cottage, with its pretty pink walls and protruding, rounded, oven.
A LAST LOOK
Our visit is drawing to a close. We can leave Lapford either by continuing straight on to join the old highway to Chulmleigh, or, turning right, past the Congregational Chapel and the New School and down over Holy well Hill (which did have it holy well). Either way we come to more “Bartons” with farms going back to Mediaeval times for this has of course been an established Agricultural area for very many generations.
Many of the high Devon banks and HEDGES also go back many centuries.
But the views which greet us are even older. The mysterious Holappa and the Romans and who knows who before them must have enjoyed gazing at Dartmoor towering the distance or at the nearby forests and gentle hills among which Lapford nestles.