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Extracts

from

Devonshire Characters and Strange Events

by S. Baring-Gould (London, 1908) [Available from Archive CD]

Provided by

Rob Dewsall

Wife Sales

When I was a boy there lived a tall, thin man in the parish who was the village poet. Whenever an event of any consequence took place within the confines of the parish, such as the marriage of the squire's daughter, he came down to the manor-house with a copy of verses he had composed on the occasion, and was then given his dinner and a crown.

Now this man had actually bought his wife for half a crown. Her husband had led her into Okehampton and had sold her there in the market. The poet purchased her for half the sum he had received for one of his poems, and led her home with him a distance of twelve miles, by the halter, he holding it in his hand, she placidly, contentedly wearing the loop about her neck.

The report that Henry Frise was leading home his half-crown wife preceded the arrival of the couple, and when they entered the village all the inhabitants turned out to see the spectacle.

Now this arrangement was not very satisfactory to my grandfather, who was squire, or to my uncle, who was rector of the parish, and both intervened. Henry Frise maintained that Anne was his legitimate wife, for "he had not only bought her in the market, but had led her home, with the halter in his hand, and he'd take his Bible oath that he never took the halter off her till she had crossed his doorstep and he had shut the door." The parson took down the Bible, the squire opened Burns' Justice of the Peace, and strove to convince Harry that his conduct was warranted by neither Scripture nor the law of the land.

"I don't care," he said, "her's my wife, as sure as if we was spliced at the altar, for and because I paid half a crown, and I never took off the halter till her was in my house ; lor'bless yer honours, you may ask any one if that ain't marriage, good, sound, and Christian, and every one will tell you it is."

Mr.Henry Frise lived in a cottage that was on lives, so the squire was unable to bring compulsion to bear on him.

But when Anne died, then a difficulty arose : under what name was she to be entered in the register ? The parson insisted that he could not and he would not enter her as Anne Frise, for that was not her legal name. Then Henry was angry, and carried her off to be buried in another parish, where the parson was un-acquainted with the circumstances.

I must say that Anne proved an excellent "wife." She was thrifty, clean, and managed a rough-tempered and rough-tongued man with great tact, and was generally respected. She died in or about 1843.

Wife Sales (part two)

"... Much later than that, there lived a publican some miles off, whom I knew very well indeed, he was the namesake of and first cousin to a carpenter in my constant employ. He bought his wife for a stone two-gallon jar of Plymouth gin, if I was informed aright. She had belonged to a stonecutter, but as he was dissatisfied with her, he put up a written notice in several public places to this effect:

"NOTICE This here be to hinform the publick as how James Cole be dispozed to sell his wife by Auction. Her be a dacent, clanely woman, and be of age twenty-five years. The sale be to take place in the New Inn, Thursday next at seven o'clock.

"In this case I do not give the name of the purchaser, as the woman is, I believe, still alive. I believe - so I was told - that the foreman of the neighbouring granite-works remonstrated, and insisted that such a sale would be illegal. He was not, however, clear as to the points of law, and he believed that it would be illegal unless the husband held an auctioneer's licence, and if money passed.

"This was rather a damper. However, the husband was desirous to be freed from his wife, and he held the sale as had been advertised, making the woman stand on a table, and he armed himself with a little hammer. The biddings were to be in kind and not in money. One man offered a coat, but as he was a small man and the seller was stout, when he found that the coat would not fit him, he refused it. Another offered a "phisgie," i.e. a pick, but this also was declined, as the husband possessed a "phisgie" of his own.

"Finally, the landlord offered a two-gallon jar of gin, and down fell the hammer with "Gone."

"I knew the woman ; she was not bad-looking. The new husband drank, and treated her very roughly, and on one occasion she had a black eye when I was lunching at the inn. I asked her how she had hurt herself. She replied that she had knocked her face against the door, but I was told that this was a result of a domestic brawl.

Now the remarkable feature in these cases is that it is impossible to drive the idea out of the heads of those who thus deal in wives that such a transaction is not sanctioned by law and religion."

The Stoke Resurrectionists

"John Barnes was taverner at the "Black Horse" in and about the years 1670-5,during which he had three children christened in Trinity Church. He kept his tavern well. His wife was reputed to be a quiet, tidy, and respectable woman, and John Barnes professed to be a hot and strong Presbyterian, and he made of his house a rallying-place of the godly who were in a low way after the Restoration and the ejection from their benefices of the ministers who had been intruded into them during the days of the Commonwealth, when the Church pastors were ejected.

"It was turn and turn about. These latter had been thrown out of their nest by Independent and Presbyterian cuckoos, and now the cuckoos had to go and the original owners of the nests were reinstated. But the cuckoos did not like it, and the Puritans were very sore afflicted, and liked to meet and grumble and testify, over ale and cyder, in John Barnes'tavern. And when a private prayer meeting was held, mine host of the "Black Horse" was sure to be there, and to give evidence of his piety by sighs and groans. But he testified against prelacy more efficaciously than by upturned eyes and nasal whines, for he refused to have his children baptized by the Church clergy, and was accordingly prosecuted in the Exeter Consistory.

"About 1677 Barnes abandoned the "Black Horse" in Exeter, and took an inn at Collumpton, where he threw off the "religious mask" and ran into debt and evil courses. One of his creditors was a smith, "a stout fellow of good natural courage."

"Barnes could not or would not discharge the debt, and he suggested to the blacksmith that there was an opening for doing a fine stroke of business that would at once liquidate the little bill and make him a man for ever.

"The plan was to waylay and rob the Exeter carrier on his way up to London, charged with a considerable amount of money sent to town by the merchants for the purchase of sundry goods. The blacksmith agreed, but it was deemed prudent to have another confederate, so a woolcomber was prevailed on to join.

"The old Exeter road, after leaving Honiton, ascends a barrier of hill now pierced by the South Western Railway that there passes through a tunnel. This ridge stands between the stream bottoms of the Otter and the Corry, and is bleak, with habitations very wide apart along it. The distance from Collumpton to Honiton was so considerable and intercommunication so infrequent that the confederates hoped to escape recognition and detection by making their attempt far from home.

"We are not informed at what hour the carrier's van was waylaid, but there can be little doubt that it was early in the morning. One day out of Exeter was the stage to Honiton, and there the carriers had put up.

"The highwaymen heard the tinkle of the horse-bells, as the team of four drew the carrier's van up the long hill, and listened to the shout of the walking driver to the horses to put a good breast to it, as the top of the ascent was not far off. It would have been still dusk, when the three men leaped from behind some thorn bushes upon the carriers, and presented loaded pistols at their heads.

"Whilst two of the ruffians held the carriers and passengers quiet, with their pistols presented at full cock, Barnes ransacked the van, and secured six hundred pounds. Then the three men disappeared, mounted their horses, and galloped back to Collumpton.

"But Barnes had left out of count that he was well known by voice and face in Exeter, and that a change of domicile and the space of one year would not have eradicated from the memory of carriers and such as frequented taverns the canting publican of the "Black Horse."

"The carrier's men at once gave information, and before long both Barnes and his confederates were apprehended and conveyed to Exeter Gaol, but not before the blacksmith had managed to secrete a file about his erson. There they were fettered, but during the night by means of the file the blacksmith relieved himself and the other two of their chains, and all three broke out of prison.

"One of them escaped, but the other two, including the taverner, were retaken next morning, and both were sentenced to die. The narrative proceeds to state that "there were many Women of Quality in Exeter that made great intercession for the said innkeeper to get him a Reprieve, not so much for his sake, as out of charity to his poor innocent Wife and Children ;for she was generally reputed a very good, careful, industrious and pious Woman, and hath no less than nine very hopeful children ;but the nature of the Crime excluded him from mercy in this World, so that he and his Comrade were on Tuesday, the I3th of this instant August (1678), conveyed to the usual place of Execution, where there were two that presently suffered; but the Innkeeper, desiring two hours' time the better to prepare himself, had it granted, which he spent in prayer and godly conference with several Ministers; then, coming upon the ladder, he made a long Speech, wherein he confessed not only the Crime for which at present he suffered, but likewise divers other sins, and particularly lamented that his Hypocrisie, earnestly begging the Spectators' prayers, and exhorting them not to despair in any condition ...and so with all the outward marks of a sincere Penitent, submitted to his sentence, and was executed."

John Barnes, Taverner & Highwayman

"John Barnes was taverner at the "Black Horse" in and about the years 1670-5,during which he had three children christened in Trinity Church. He kept his tavern well. His wife was reputed to be a quiet, tidy, and respectable woman, and John Barnes professed to be a hot and strong Presbyterian, and he made of his house a rallying-place of the godly who were in a low way after the Restoration and the ejection from their benefices of the ministers who had been intruded into them during the days of the Commonwealth, when the Church pastors were ejected.

"It was turn and turn about. These latter had been thrown out of their nest by Independent and Presbyterian cuckoos, and now the cuckoos had to go and the original owners of the nests were reinstated. But the cuckoos did not like it, and the Puritans were very sore afflicted, and liked to meet and grumble and testify, over ale and cyder, in John Barnes'tavern. And when a private prayer meeting was held, mine host of the "Black Horse" was sure to be there, and to give evidence of his piety by sighs and groans. But he testified against prelacy more efficaciously than by upturned eyes and nasal whines, for he refused to have his children baptized by the Church clergy, and was accordingly prosecuted in the Exeter Consistory.

"About 1677 Barnes abandoned the "Black Horse" in Exeter, and took an inn at Collumpton, where he threw off the "religious mask" and ran into debt and evil courses. One of his creditors was a smith, "a stout fellow of good natural courage."

"Barnes could not or would not discharge the debt, and he suggested to the blacksmith that there was an opening for doing a fine stroke of business that would at once liquidate the little bill and make him a man for ever.

"The plan was to waylay and rob the Exeter carrier on his way up to London, charged with a considerable amount of money sent to town by the merchants for the purchase of sundry goods. The blacksmith agreed, but it was deemed prudent to have another confederate, so a woolcomber was prevailed on to join.

"The old Exeter road, after leaving Honiton, ascends a barrier of hill now pierced by the South Western Railway that there passes through a tunnel. This ridge stands between the stream bottoms of the Otter and the Corry, and is bleak, with habitations very wide apart along it. The distance from Collumpton to Honiton was so considerable and intercommunication so infrequent that the confederates hoped to escape recognition and detection by making their attempt far from home.

"We are not informed at what hour the carrier's van was waylaid, but there can be little doubt that it was early in the morning. One day out of Exeter was the stage to Honiton, and there the carriers had put up.

"The highwaymen heard the tinkle of the horse-bells, as the team of four drew the carrier's van up the long hill, and listened to the shout of the walking driver to the horses to put a good breast to it, as the top of the ascent was not far off. It would have been still dusk, when the three men leaped from behind some thorn bushes upon the carriers, and presented loaded pistols at their heads.

"Whilst two of the ruffians held the carriers and passengers quiet, with their pistols presented at full cock, Barnes ransacked the van, and secured six hundred pounds. Then the three men disappeared, mounted their horses, and galloped back to Collumpton.

"But Barnes had left out of count that he was well known by voice and face in Exeter, and that a change of domicile and the space of one year would not have eradicated from the memory of carriers and such as frequented taverns the canting publican of the "Black Horse."

"The carrier's men at once gave information, and before long both Barnes and his confederates were apprehended and conveyed to Exeter Gaol, but not before the blacksmith had managed to secrete a file about his erson. There they were fettered, but during the night by means of the file the blacksmith relieved himself and the other two of their chains, and all three broke out of prison.

"One of them escaped, but the other two, including the taverner, were retaken next morning, and both were sentenced to die. The narrative proceeds to state that "there were many Women of Quality in Exeter that made great intercession for the said innkeeper to get him a Reprieve, not so much for his sake, as out of charity to his poor innocent Wife and Children ;for she was generally reputed a very good, careful, industrious and pious Woman, and hath no less than nine very hopeful children ;but the nature of the Crime excluded him from mercy in this World, so that he and his Comrade were on Tuesday, the I3th of this instant August (1678), conveyed to the usual place of Execution, where there were two that presently suffered; but the Innkeeper, desiring two hours' time the better to prepare himself, had it granted, which he spent in prayer and godly conference with several Ministers; then, coming upon the ladder, he made a long Speech, wherein he confessed not only the Crime for which at present he suffered, but likewise divers other sins, and particularly lamented that his Hypocrisie, earnestly begging the Spectators' prayers, and exhorting them not to despair in any condition ...and so with all the outward marks of a sincere Penitent, submitted to his sentence, and was executed."

Wrestling

When I was a boy there lived a tall, thin man in the parish who was the village poet. Whenever an event of any consequence took place within the confines of the parish, such as the marriage of the squire's daughter, he came down to the manor-house with a copy of verses he had composed on the occasion, and was then given his dinner and a crown.

Now this man had actually bought his wife for half a crown. Her husband had led her into Okehampton and had sold her there in the market. The poet purchased her for half the sum he had received for one of his poems, and led her home with him a distance of twelve miles, by the halter, he holding it in his hand, she placidly, contentedly wearing the loop about her neck.

The report that Henry Frise was leading home his half-crown wife preceded the arrival of the couple, and when they entered the village all the inhabitants turned out to see the spectacle.

Now this arrangement was not very satisfactory to my grandfather, who was squire, or to my uncle, who was rector of the parish, and both intervened. Henry Frise maintained that Anne was his legitimate wife, for "he had not only bought her in the market, but had led her home, with the halter in his hand, and he'd take his Bible oath that he never took the halter off her till she had crossed his doorstep and he had shut the door." The parson took down the Bible, the squire opened Burns' Justice of the Peace, and strove to convince Harry that his conduct was warranted by neither Scripture nor the law of the land.

"I don't care," he said, "her's my wife, as sure as if we was spliced at the altar, for and because I paid half a crown, and I never took off the halter till her was in my house ; lor'bless yer honours, you may ask any one if that ain't marriage, good, sound, and Christian, and every one will tell you it is."

Mr.Henry Frise lived in a cottage that was on lives, so the squire was unable to bring compulsion to bear on him.

But when Anne died, then a difficulty arose : under what name was she to be entered in the register ? The parson insisted that he could not and he would not enter her as Anne Frise, for that was not her legal name. Then Henry was angry, and carried her off to be buried in another parish, where the parson was un-acquainted with the circumstances.

I must say that Anne proved an excellent "wife." She was thrifty, clean, and managed a rough-tempered and rough-tongued man with great tact, and was generally respected. She died in or about 1843.

The Alphington Ponies

DURING the forties of last century, every visitor to Torquay noticed two young ladies of very singular appearance. Their residence was in one of the two thatched cottages on the left of Tor Abbey Avenue, looking seaward, very near the Torgate of the avenue.

Their chief places of promenade were the Strand and Victoria Parade, but they were often seen in other parts of the town. Bad weather was the only thing that kept them from frequenting their usual beat. They were two Misses Durnford, and their costume was peculiar. The style varied only in tone and colour. Their shoes were generally green, but sometimes red.

They were by no means bad-looking girls when young, but they were so berouged as to present the appearance of painted dolls. Their brown hair worn in curls was fastened with blue ribbon, and they wore felt or straw hats, usually tall in the crown and curled up at the sides. About their throats they had very broad frilled or lace collars that fell down over their backs and breasts a long way. But in summer their necks were bare, and adorned with chains of coral or bead. Their gowns were short, so short indeed as to display about the ankles a good deal more than was necessary of certain heavily-frilled cotton investitures of their lower limbs.In winter over their gowns were worn check jackets of a "loud" pattern reaching to their knees, and of a different colour from their gowns, and with lace cuffs.

They were never seen, winter or summer, without their sunshades. The only variation to the jacket was a gay-coloured shawl crossed over the bosom and tied behind at the waist. The sisters dressed exactly alike, and were so much alike in face as to appear to be twins. They were re- markably good walkers, kept perfectly in step, were always arm in arm, and spoke to no one but each other.

They lived with their mother, and kept no servant. All the work of the house was done by the three, so that in the morning they made no appearance in the town; only in the afternoon had they assumed their war-paint, when, about 3 p.m.,they sallied forth ;but, however highly they rouged and powdered, and however strange was their dress, they carried back home no captured hearts.

Indeed, the visitors to Torquay looked upon them with some contempt as not being in society and not dressing in the fashion; only some of the residents felt for them in their solitude some compassion. They were the daughters of a Colonel Durnford, and had lived at Alphington. The mother was of an inferior social rank. They had a brother, a major in the Army,10th Regiment, who was much annoyed at their singularity of costume, and offered to increase their allowance if they would discontinue it; but this they refused to do.

When first they came to Torquay, they drove a pair of pretty ponies they had brought with them from Alphington; but their allowance being reduced, and being in straitened circumstances, they had to dispose of ponies and carriage. By an easy transfer the name of Alphington Ponies passed on from the beasts to their former owners.

Tom Austin

"TOM AUSTIN was a native of Collumpton, and was the son of a respectable yeoman, who, at his death, left him his little property, which was estimated at that time as worth å£80 per annum.

"As he bore a good character, he soon got a wife with a marriage portion of å£800.Unhappily this accession to his means completely turned his head. He became wild and extravagant, and in less than four years had dissipated all his wife's fortune and mortgaged his own farm.

"Being now somewhat pinched in circumstances, he was guilty of several frauds on his neighbours, but they did not prosecute him, out of respect for his family. Then, unable to satisfy his needs, he took to the highway, and stopped Sir Zachary Wilmot on the road between Wellington and Taunton Dean, and as the worthy knight resisted being robbed, Austin shot him dead.

"From Sir Zachary he got forty-six guineas and a silver-hilted sword. With this plunder he made haste home to Collumpton undiscovered. This did not last long, as he continued in the same course of riot.

"When it was spent he started to visit an uncle of his, living at a distance of a mile. On reaching the house he found nobody within but his aunt and five small children, who informed him that his uncle had gone away for the day on business, and they invited him to stay and keep them company till his return.

"He consented, but almost immediately snatched up an axe and split the skull of his aunt with it, then cut the throats of all the children, laid their bodies in a heap, and proceeded to plunder the house of the money it contained, which amounted to sixty guineas.

"Then he hastened home to his wife, who, perceiving some blood on his clothes, asked whence it came. In reply he rushed upon her with a razor, cut her throat, and then murdered his own two children, the eldest of whom was not three years of age.

"Hardly had he finished with these butcheries before his uncle arrived, calling on his way home. On entering the house this man saw what had been done, and though little suspecting what would meet his eyes when he returned home, with great resolution flung himself upon Tom Austin, mastered him, bound his hands, and brought him before a magistrate, who sent him to Exeter Gaol.

"In August,1694,this inhuman wretch was hanged. He seemed quite insensible as to the wickedness of his acts, as well as to the senselessness of them, and there can be little doubt that he was a victim to homicidal madness.

"When on the scaffold, when asked by the chaplain if he had anything to say before he died:

"Only this," was his reply, "I see yonder a woman with some curds and whey, and I wish I could have a pennyworth of them before I am hanged, as I don't know when I shall see any again. Tom Austin had many errors, many faults, many crimes to expiate, but he carried with him into the next world one merit - his undying love of Devonshire junket, the same, as curds and whey."


Last updated 13 Dec 2004 - Brian Randell.

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