The Village hall was built 1883-4 through the interest and organisation of Mr W.W. Symington Esq. of Rockside, Belstone. The site was given by Ellen, Thomas Pearse’s daughter. Villagers raised some money. The hall was opened by Sir John Phear. In 1897 Ellen paid the remaining mortgage and handed the building, free of debt, to the village. A billiard room was added by public subscription in 1928.
We will explore the people mentioned and the building in some detail before considering the social function of the village hall though images.
William Weldon Symington JP was a fortunate young man from a fascinating family. The family became wealthy through ‘W. Symington & Co’ founded in 1827 by his father. A grocer, ‘Coffee Roaster’, and inventor in Market Harborough, his father became famous for dehydrated soups based on developing a pea flour in 1852, which could make a soup just by adding boiling water. It was much used by the military during the Crimean War (1853-5) as well as Scott’s Antarctic expedition later. The family also owned a corset factory, one of the first factories to use Singer sewing machines. It became famous for the ‘Liberty Bodice’, invented by Fred Cox, Marketing Director at R & W H Symington & Co Ltd in 1908. This was a fleecy knitted vest which helped modernise the way children dressed in the early C20th, with rubber buttons, re-enforcing cotton tapes and buttons to attach drawers and stockings. For more information:
William Weldon Symington (1845 -1904) was the fifth child of William Symington (1809 – 1898), the pea flour inventor, and his wife Mary Weldon (1815-). On 2 April 1871 census we find him in Halstead, Essex, working at the Colne Valley Iron works. In the census he is described as Civil Engineer, Senior Partner in Iron Foundry employing 35 men and 20 boys. In 1871 he married Susan Mary Dening (1843-) and they had two children, Lyndsay Dening Symington (1872-1942) and Beatrice Gertrude Susie Symington (1875-1954). He was made a member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in 1872.
( He is also listed on Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History, Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Members lists: 1872, at Colne Valley Iron Works, Halstead, and 1875 at Bowden Steam Mills, Market Harborough. Perhaps he might have bought shares in the Suez Canal Company when it opened in 1869? Probate March 1905 shows he died in Trinidad, though his address is given as Pixies Holt, Dartmeet, Princetown, Dartmoor.)
Our interest is in the family in the 1880s, when they can be seen together on the 1881 census with 2 servants and a niece in Belstone. However, there is room for confusion since Willian Weldon Symington appears in two different places on census night 1881! I wonder if he was in fact with his parents on that night in Little Bowden Northamptonshire, but added in Devon as he was head of the household? Retired engineer of the same age in both census returns. I have not found any other William Weldon Symington entries in other census years, so it seems likely he was documented twice. I do wonder how he managed to retire at such a young age!
WW Symington had the tudor style mansion Rockside built in Belstone Cleave. This spectacular setting on the site of the ‘old castle’ or ‘old house’ was said to be haunted. He purchased 38 acres of land along Skaigh Lane and 88 acres south of the Taw in South Tawton Parish. (Rockside OS Map Grid Reference: SX63039384. Latitude 50.72856° Longitude -3.94201°. For more information: https://belstonevillage.net/skaigh-wood/ or. https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=MDV18863&resourceID=104)
The Book of Belstone (p161) also tells us:
“The house grounds were laid out in style with terraces, walkways and summerhouses. Between the tennis court and combined croquet lawn and bowling green was a maze, covered rosery, pine copse, two peach and tomato houses, heated glass houses and three vineries. The main house included 13 bed and dressing rooms, with a billiard room lighted by Gasoline produced in the garden and a conservatory.” Many outbuildings, subsequently turned into houses are described.
The Symington family took part in many musical entertainments in Sticklepath village hall, often raising funds to pay for the building, with flowers from their conservatory sometimes mentioned as providing decoration.
The Village Hall was opened on 9th July 1884. Here is the full transcript of the report from the Express and Echo – Thursday 10 July 1884 (accessed from BritishNewspaperArchive.co.uk January 2021):
OPENING OF A VILLAGE HALL. – The village of Sticklepath, about four miles from Okehampton, was yesterday the scene of a very pleasant ceremony, the occasion being the opening of a village hall by Sir John Phear. The hall, which is 40ft. by 20ft. and about 18ft. in height, is situate near the head of the village, and is a very substantial building of Dartmoor granite. Mr. W. W. Symington, J.P., of Rockside, Bestone, has, since his coming into the neighbourhood, taken a great interest in the welfare of the inhabitants, and has been mainly instrumental in procuring the necessary funds for the structure. The work has been done by local builders, Mr. Symington maintaining a personal supervision. The hall has cost about £200, of which £72 11s. has been subscribed. The site of the building was given by Mrs. Thompson, of Bideford. and formerly of Sticklepath. A tea was held at the grounds of Rockside in the afternoon, when various amusements were provided. including exercises in the magic arts by Mr. Morris; several large balloons were sent up. A large number of people arrived on the ground from Okehampton, and a very pleasant day was spent. The Rockside brass band was in attendance.
The village hall was opened by Sir John Budd Phear, whose mother was the only child of Dr Samuel Budd, of nearby North Tawton. Sir John was a judge who worked in the UK and then in India. He had returned to England in 1879 and settled in Exmouth, Devon. Perhaps Symington JP met him through his work as a magistrate or through social or political interests and invited him to open the village hall.
The opening ceremony was an important occasion for the village and perhaps some were allowed a day off for the celebrations. We can imagine Sticklepath folk in their Sunday best walking up the Skaigh valley to Rockside where, no doubt, many dignitaries from Okehampton and the surrounding area joined in the festivities.
The person who gave the land and paid off much of the cost of building the hall was in fact Ellen Pearse, daughter of Thomas Pearse who had also done much for Sticklepath. Ellen married Dr John Thompson GP and coroner of Bideford. Ellen later moved back to Sticklepath, building Tawburn on the land adjacent to the village hall for herself.
Ellen’s generosity is remembered in her portrait which (as far as I know) is hanging in the hall still.
There have been quite a few changes to the building over the years:
On Monday 02 August 1926 The Western Morning News announced a new extension –
NEW VILLAGE HALL FOR STICKLEPATH. The foundation-stone of the village hall extension at Sticklepath was laid on Thursday by Mrs. Rashleigh, of Rashleighs, who enumerated the advantages of an up-to-date village hall. Mr. A. G. Finch, chairman of the trustees was the master of ceremonies, and opened the proceedings by explaining the objects of the scheme. Miss Kathleen Cook presented a bouquet to Mrs. Rashleigh immediately after the stone had been laid, after which Mrs. Rashleigh invited all those present to lay foundation bricks, and to hand their donations to Mr. Elderton, the treasurer, in envelopes which had been previously distributed. A whist tournament which was subsequently held was well attended, as was the public tea preceding the ceremony. It is understood that over £40 was realized during the afternoon and evening, over £30 of which was actually raised at the foundation-stone ceremony.
We are lucky to have many many name rich clippings from the newspapers and can see how the main players changed over time. (A project in itself!)
There have been various extensions behind the hall, toilets were required, then altered as legal requirements increased. The kitchen too has changed, and was commandeered during WWII for the NAAFI. I understand at one time there was a laundry behind the hall, a reading room, billiards, the ‘committee room’ of the 1960s now opened up into the kitchen area, and coffee mornings are held in the re-named ‘Bert Stead’ room. (Again a project in itself to look at the Hall committee minutes and plans and document the changes.)
At this time of lockdown many are remembering happier days. Western Times – Friday 14 December 1888
In addition to this being an example of the entertainments provided more than 130 years ago, I have included the cutting above to show the typos. Transcription errors, such as ‘Miss Trixie Symnigton’ are well recognised by genealogists and historians. Here, however, the first letter of each of the first 4 lines is showing a line too high. Such an error would not happen today and reflects the type setting methods of the time (though of course columns can get misaligned on spreadsheets today). The pale r in performers likely represents a mis-alignment of that letter too.
“There was always a large and appreciative audience in the Village Hall when Messrs. Rogers and Welch, a company of strolling players, gave thrilling representations of ‘East Lynne’ and ‘Maria Marten, or the Murder in the Red Barn’. Upon other occasions the Walford family, a travelling concert party, gave musical selections on the ‘Bells’ or initiated us into the mysteries of the Hydro-daktulo-Psychic-Harmonica, or showed the first moving pictures that were seen in the village.” (Jessie Barron writing 1950)
Bicky Blower on left seated, Girlie Eveley stood behind her. On the right end seated Margaret Bowden. Can you name more? Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
I am always looking for additional documents, postcards and photographs of Sticklepath, places people or events. If you have any you are willing to share (not necessarily for publication on the web) or can confirm or add names to photos, or have memories you can add please do contact me email@example.com or get in touch with Sticklepath Heritage Group.