With a few exceptions, all village children attended the local council school, and received the same educational opportunities designed to help and prepare them for their future working life. However, the transition from scholar to that of wage earner was not without some mental adjustment.
In my own case, I moved from the conditions of a country smithy to that of a town engineering works employing 200 or more men and boys, and also to living in lodgings with strangers, instead of living with my own family at home in Lapford. Work hours were long, 62½ per week, and wages were small, 5/- per week the 1st. year, 6/- the and., 8/- the 3rd., and 10/- the final year. My board and lodgings cost 9/6 per week and with my wage of 5/- plus a 5/- postal order from my father, after paying for my lodgings I had 6 pence a week pocket money. When the National Insurance Act was passed, my pocket money was reduced to only two pence a week on account of the compulsory insurance levy of 4d. out of my wages.
The onset of the 1914-18 Great War gave me the opportunity to try and escape from an existence of long hours, poor pay and living conditions and no great prospects for the future. I attempted to join the King’s Royal Rifles at an army recruiting drive, at Chard, Somerset, soon after the outbreak of the war in August 1914. Being an indentured apprentice caused me to be rejected, but later in November, with my employers consent, I joined the Devon (Fortress) Royal Engineers at Plymouth. After my initial training as a soldier, I was employed in engineering and operational duties. The Devon Royal Engineers operated the searchlights from the coastal forts and station around Plymouth Sound in defence of the city of Plymouth and port and also of the naval base at Devonport. As promotion prospects did not depend on the engineering tests and exams I had taken, but on “dead mans shoes” vacancies, I applied for and was accepted by the Royal Flying Corps for commissioned Flying Office training. After training with Officer Cadet Squadrons at Hastings, Oxford (Corpus Christis College) Uxbridge, Old Sarum near Salisbury and Winchester, I graduated just as the armistice was declared. I left what was now the Royal Air Force as a and. -Lieut. (now known as Pilot Officer). I returned to civil life and engineering, first as an operative and later in supervisory and managerial positions.
Whilst I did not return to Lapford after the war, my family and I have very deep roots in the village, and indeed, research has shown that the first Challice mentioned in the Parish Church Register, is one, Roger on his marriage to Elizabeth Towton in 1576 and there is also an earlier entry of the burial of a Challice – Widow in 1547. Families connected by marriage of whom much is known are the Wrefords of Clannaborough – 1440; of Morchard Bishop 1768; and the Cornwalls of Filliegh, Downes and West Farms. The Cornwall family is recorded in the North Devon area in 1539, and if the findings of a professional researcher are valid, as early as 1332 A.D. It is interesting to note that one, Richard Cornwall of Lapford was an archer, and John Cornwall a presenter in 1569 during Elizabeth the First’s Spanish Wars. Other Cornwalls were billmen, pikemen, and one was a harquebusier. Note:- “A presenter was a man of some standing and substance, who was responsible for the mustering of the men of the parish for the army”. The earliest muster affecting the Cornwalls was in 1524.
I have noticed a number of changes at Lapford since the family left Lapford early in 1918. Stone quarrying at one time employed quite a number of men at the quarry at Easton Barton where the London and South Western “ripped” material for use on the Railway Permanent Way, and also the larger quarry at Bugford Mill where the Devon County Council obtained the stone for road repair. Both these quarries are now abandoned and overgrown. The weir at Bury Bridge “let down”, and Bugford Mill not in use, Railway Cottages at Bugford demolished, Labour-in-Vain built up, Lapford Mill though not in use has been preserved and is a fine monument to the past. Housing on Barris field, Stonegate cottages made into one dwelling. The old school looks so forlorn, and an ugly shed in the old playground, and the general look of abandoment is not a pleasant sight. The old “pond” walls have been demolished, as have the three weavers cottages nearby, in one of which I was born. The weavers stretch (Iinhay) that stood behind the cottages has been demolished – Thus is history destroyed. My family forge now silent and converted to a residence, the penthouse where hundreds of horses had been shod is now only a memory. The village pump is abandoned and hidden by brambles, the poor house, later the Vestry House and also the Club Room, is now Vine Cottage, a private residence. This property, once owned by the parish, was used by the Parish Council for meetings and also by the old Village Sick Benefit Club. This club is long extinct. The old mounting block that for 100 years marked the position of the Blacksmith’s Shop operated by John Clark and also my Great grandfather – George Challice, has been removed and destroyed. At the property known as “Saxons”, a fine example of a Devon cob wall has been largely replaced by a wooden fence. The Old Malt Scoop forecourt and building is much altered.
The farmyard and roughly built sheds of Lower Place farm are not a pretty sight. Lower Place was at one time farmed by my ancestor, Richard Challice from 1840 to his death in 1871, and on a visit with Richard’s Canadian great grandson in 1982, 1 was saddened and ashamed at the state of what had been a flourishing family farm. The site of the farmhouse and part of the orchard is now covered by the village car park, and some of the land now supports the Council Prospect Estate houses. Cottages at Westgate have been demolished and replaced by better modern dwellings. At Rattle Street there has been considerable tidying up, and the ancient street name discarded. The Bakery in Rattle Street has long gone, and the shop converted into residential use.
Change over the years necessarily takes place, some good, some not so good, but Lapford, to me, is still the old familiar home village, long may it remain so.