The Birthday Invitation
It was soon to be Georgina Hall’s birthday: her coming of age. On Friday 25 February 1848, her father, Samuel, saddled up his horse and left home to deliver personal invitations to her birthday celebration. He never returned.
For three days, his disappearance remained a mystery with searches centred on Lapford where he was last seen.
Samuel was a respected yeoman, farming Elston Barton near Copplestone. He also owned the Copplestone Inn and Post House on the turnpike road. It was a well-known stopover for those travelling to North Devon via Exeter.
The inn offered ample guest accommodation, stabling, a large coach house and a “rest and keep” where farmers could house their livestock en route to market. There was also a large malthouse for the regular brewing of beer.
FROM EXETER & CREDITON
TO THE NORTH OF DEVON
Samuel Hall …
confidently hopes that by keeping a well supplied larder; liquors of the best description; good beds well aired; good horses and carriages, with careful drivers; by unremitting attention to the comforts of his guests; and by very moderate charges, he shall succeed in obtaining a considerable share of the patronage of persons travelling on the above line of road.
On the day of his disappearance, Samuel’s last call was to Mr Bodley at Lees Cottage (now Barris House) at the top of Mill Hill, Lapford. He left around 8pm.
Although it was dark, Samuel had only to travel down the hill, over the mill bridge, and onto the well maintained turnpike road home. But the mill bridge was notoriously dangerous with sides less than a yard tall, and the steep, curved approach may have nerved his blind horse. Samuel and his horse fell into the cold water of the Lapford Yeo below.
At around 10pm, a passing youth heard splashing and summoned help. Villagers found the horse but there was no sign of it’s owner.
Various C19 descriptions of the Lapford Yeo suggest a more voluminous river than today. It took three days for Samuel’s body to be found, lodged in a deep river hole just 150 yards from the bridge. Samuel left eight children and a wife, Johanna.
Johanna took over the running of the farm and the inn with the assistance of daughters Georgina and Jane. Initially, the inn continued to do a good trade and the family were particularly proud to host a grand “cutting of the turf” event marking the start of construction of the North Devon railway line. They arranged dinner for a large number of distinguished guests who were then entertained with speeches eulogising the benefits that the railway would bring. But, the event proved to be sadly ironic for the Copplestone Inn; after the railway opened in 1854 it rapidly lost custom and was eventually forced to close.
Sisters, Georgina and Jane, married brothers Francis and James Lee. Jane and James moved to Lapford and farmed Middle and Lower Eastington. In later life mother Johanna moved there too.
Georgina moved away from the area, but in 1879, she crossed the Lapford Yeo, where her father had died, to stay with her ill sister, Jane. Jane, soon died, aged 48, and Georgina stayed on to comfort her mother, but then fell ill herself. She died the following month, aged 52. Like her father, Georgina had travelled to Lapford never suspecting there would be no return journey. Johanna died in the village three years later.