William and Beatrice Hellier

Outline map sticklepath and surrounding villages, black line old A30

Sticklepath is a very special place on the edge of Dartmoor. My family lived here for more than 200 years. Join me to travel back in time, leaving the comfort of our automobiles as we drive from Exeter towards Cornwall along the old A30 to Sticklepath. Travellers along the ancient ‘ridgeway’ may have had a horse and cart but would mainly be on the ever trusty “Shanks’s pony”, in other words on foot, as they passed through South Zeal to rejoin our route just before Sticklepath Bridge. We follow the less steep road, built in 1830, down the hill past Ramsley Mine with its spoil heap. Many of the workers here came from Sticklepath.

We continue to Ford Cross. In my youth there was a useful garage at Ford Cross, the first place I bought petrol, now houses. Turning left here would take you to Ford Farm (colloquially ‘vord varm’) where mangolds (mangel-worzels) were grown to feed livestock and potatoes for the people.

Approaching Sticklepath, Bridge Cottage on the right.

Entering the village the first dwelling we see is Bridge Cottage on the right. There are more houses now but in 1898 this was the first. Much earlier it was known as ‘Scaw Mill’ and had a separate leat running from the moor to its small water wheel. Now Bridge Cottage and Bridge House are on opposite sides of the road. Before 1830 the main road did not exist and Bridge House holdings came out across to the road at the far side of Bridge Cottage. There were apparently 4 separate households in Bridge House and the adjacent Jane’s Cottage before 1830. Now just one.

Bridge Cottage on left between the two roads, Bridge House far side of road, Sticklepath bridge also seen.

Bridge Cottage is isolated on a tongue of land between the two roads. One hundred years ago this was the house of Will and Beat Hellier.

Born in 1876, we find young Willie taking part in Sticklepath entertainments eg in a ‘waxworks’, I presume a tableau, of “Pear’s Soap” (Western Times – Friday 06 April 1888) as part of the evening’s entertainment alongside others providing musical items and shadow theatre. Perhaps his prize winning vegetables in the Sticklepath flower show (eg Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Friday 15 August 1902) caught Beatrice Mary Bowden’s eye? William Hellier married Beatrice, daughter of Emanuel Bowden, an agricultural labourer who lived from 1843 to 1920, in 1903. Unfortunately no newspaper reports or photographs have yet been found of this event.

Beatrice was the eldest of at least 11 siblings, rather under-estimating her aged on the wedding day (civil birth registration suggests her birthday was 26th December 1880). Charles her youngest brother said they often just had a pan of fried potatoes, perhaps with some onion thrown in, to share for their dinner, and were often left feeling hungry. Beatrice was a live in servant and cook for a gentleman in Sticklepath village prior to her marriage. I suspect she will have supported her wider family and helped make ends meet as a wife, by taking lodgers (suggested by the censuses), and as her mother before her by taking in laundry (especially with a ready water supply in her garden).

William Hellier and his wife Beatrice Mary Bowden.

William was already working as a stone cutter at the age of 14. By 1911 he calls himself a miner and in 1939 he is a pneumatic driller and quarry heavy worker. He lived his whole life in Sticklepath (1876 – 1947). He was said to be “of a kindly and retiring disposition”.

Will Hellier outside Bridge Cottage

His obituary also tells us he had been in poor health for a long time. Like many miners and quarrymen he suffered with his chest. Pulmonary conditions like chronic bronchitis were common among them, and smoking may have also contributed to that. His death, from heart failure and chronic bronchitis at the age of 71 years, was certified by Dr C Sharp who lived just across the road in Bridge House.

Living East of Sticklepath Bridge they were in the South Tawton Parish. Those just over the Bridge and the majority of the village were in Sampford Courtenay Parish. This is relevant when looking for birth marriage and death certificates. The funeral took place at St Mary’s Sticklepath (which suggests he was ‘church’ rather than ‘chapel’, and perhaps means he is most likely to be found in Sticklepath burying ground). The newspaper report helpfully names the mourners which includes several sister’s married names.

Although the bridge has been widened they maintained its triangular refuges where pedestrians could avoid the passing dusty carts and carriages and later the muddier speedier cars.

Sticklepath Bridge showing the cutwater, triangular projection from the bridge helping direct the flow of water through the archways. Chapman photo-postcard, estimate about 1900.

The triangular shape continues below as cutwaters. Walking across the bridge now you hardly hear the Taw River rushing beneath the road for traffic noise. I wonder what it will be like in 20 years time -electric cars self-piloted to reduce speed, noise and accidents perhaps?

Farley and Effra 1983

Beatrice Mary Bowden outlived her husband by 25 years. In her later years she moved across the bridge into the main part of Sticklepath living in Effra Cottage (now re-named) opposite the Methodist chapel, next to Farley Cottage. She lived with her widowed sister Emily, where their mother Mary Ann had lived. My great Aunts, (Auntie Em and Auntie Beat) still boiled their kettle on a grate over their open fire in the 1960s.

Mary Ann Bowden (nee Bennett), Beatrice’s mother in Effra. Note the hooks on the picture rail with long loops suspending the frames.

This post is partly based on an assignment done for a #Pharos online course with Dr Janet Few which resulted in a publication (Shields, Helen. Walking Sticklepath through the Centuries: Part 1, Devon Family Historian, vol. 170, (2019) pp.20-25). I hope as my One Place Study progresses to be able to build portfolios for each person or family, not just a list of dates from the census.

Comments and information encouraged – please feel free to comment especially if I have got anything wrong!

How family trees grow to forests! Following Francis Hellier through the census and beyond…

One of the first things I am doing for my ‘One Place Study’ is following people through the censuses and trying to understand the relationships.  I particularly like it when I knew the more recent family members or can find something to bring the family to life.  The focus here is on Francis Hellier. It is very much a work in progress…

Francis Hellier was born in 1873 in Sticklepath.  In 1881 we find he is a ‘scholar’ aged 8, living with sister Elizabeth aged 3, brother William aged 5, sister Mary aged 11, brother Joseph an 18 year old working at the Edge Tool factory.  His father Joseph aged 53, is an agricultural labourer and mother Ellen Smith, originally from the New Inn, Drewsteignton, aged 46.

Following the census through we find 9 children of Joseph and Ellen. However the 1911 census tells us that Ellen had 15 children of whom 5 had already died. Further investigation is needed!

Hellier family tree so far from census information

By 1891 both Francis and his father Joseph are copper miners, and brother William, at 14, is a stone cutter.   Brother Joseph, still a blacksmith, has married Alma Grace Curtis of Northlew and lives 3 doors down the street. The census suggests the two households are living either side of Sticklepath Methodist Chapel. Joseph and Alma go on to have two children, Joseph and John who both emigrate to America.  Joseph (junior) returns to marry Mary Ann Hamlyn Counter of South Zeal and whisks her away to America, but sadly dies in 1926.  Mary Ann has returned by 1939 when we find her living with Elizabeth Blanche Counter – later Blanche Wonnacott.

Joseph Hellier blacksmith is one of these Finch foundry workers.

1897 brings major life events for Francis with marriage to Ellen Louisa Coaker and the birth of their first son Frank. On census night 1901 their 2 room house in Sticklepath has 6 occupants.  One of Ellen’s 11 siblings, Alberta aged 12 is staying and two more children, Ernest and Ellen Louisa have been born.  Francis’s work is still copper mining ‘below ground’.

After a gap of 7-8 years another son George is born, bringing their total to 4 children.  It is helpful that the 1911 census tells us that they had not had any other children or infant deaths. The family by then are living at Skaigh Cottage in Belstone, Francis is working as an agricultural labourer again, and the 13 year old Frank is a jobbing gardener. We await the 1921 census for more information about Francis prior to his death in 1936. 

Sons Frank and Ernest both went to war. Frank returned but Ernest, a Private in the 3rd battalion, Norfolk regiment, died aged 19. He was drowned when his transport ship HMS Aragon was torpedoed in Alexandria Harbour on 30 Dec 1917.  I think Frank married Nora Helen Cooper of Willey ( a hamlet close to Sticklepath) and by 1939 they had moved elsewhere in Devon. Their younger brother George Hellier, a farm labourer married Dorothy Wilkes in 1933 and they are living in Skaigh Cottage in the 1939 census with their son Francis G Hellier a 5 year old already at school. 

Turning finally to Francis and Ellen’s daughter, Ellen Louisa Hellier.  She married a young man who was originally from London – Albert Thomas Stead, later Sticklepath’s postman, known as Tom.  I wonder how they came to meet?  In 1939 Ellen is living opposite the Methodist chapel in Farley Cottage, I presume Tom had already gone to war and their son Bert’s entry (presumed) is not yet visible. They lived at White Rock Cottage on Back Lane Sticklepath opposite the Finch Coal yard in the 1960s when I knew them.  

Bert 1986 (at my wedding).

Census documents give us so much information but a little personal knowledge brings their story to life, and reminds us how much we miss with only a 10 yearly snapshot. In 1935 Bert was living in Skaigh Cottage Belstone with his Grandfather Francis.  It was the year he started school in Sticklepath.  I would like to quote his words from “The Book of Belstone”  p162 he says about Francis and Skaigh Cottage:

“He worked at Vitifer and Golden Dagger tin mines, then at Ramsley copper mine before coming here from Cleave Mill Cottages.  If he forgot to dig vegetables for Sunday he wasn’t allowed to get them on the day.  When we had a joint, the meat was always for the men, veggies and gravy for the children, then maybe a piece of suet pudding with treacle. There was a copper at the side of the house, a cauldron with a wood fire underneath where the washing was done.  That water came from the old Greenhill Mine leat which ran through the garden; Uncle George fitted a wire mesh over the pipe to stop the sticklebacks getting through.  I collected drinking water from Lion’s Mouth.” The Book of Belstone Chris and Marion Walpole 2002

Starting with one individual, Francis Hellier, in the 1881 census, we have rapidly linked the Hellier family with the Smith, Curtis, Counter, Wonnacott, Coaker, Cooper, Wilkes and Stead families. With Francis one of nine siblings it is easy to see how one family is quickly related by marriage to many others – we have only looked at a few of them. What is also striking is the connection to so many surrounding villages and hamlets – Willey, Belstone, South Tawton, South Zeal, Drewsteignton etc. Next time – a Hellier-Bowden marriage.

The Lion’s Mouth

If you spot any errors or have any further information, especially documents or knowledge of sources that can help me further or photographs, please do get in touch!