What is a One Place Study? #SticklepathOne – What progress has been made on the 10 Steps?

The year end is a time for reflection, after the main festivities and whilst we are still so full we can hardly move!

So what is a One Place Study? 

Family history + Local history + House histories?  Yes 

People, places, institutions and events in a historical context. Yes

“Researching the people of a community within the context of the place they live”. (OPS website).         Yes

Bringing photos, maps, statistics, stories, primary and secondary sources and analyses together with a view to making them accessible to others?   Yes

Bringing different types of information together in an exciting new way? Yes

“investigating a small geographical area in minute detail” (Dr Janet Few) Yes

Potentially serious, careful, accurate and detailed high quality research?  Yes

Individual project or group collaboration?      Yes

“An intensely personal brand of history” (Dr Janet Few) Yes

A brilliant resource for anyone studying ancestors in that place? Yes

True, but it is so much more.  Drawing all this information together, one place studies (OPS) combine different aspects to bring new perspectives.  Themes emerge like:

Migration -Why did people move to the place?  Where did they go when they left. Why?

War – impact on individuals and the community.

Effects of geography / geology / transport/ access / faith / political or economic state on the population.

The population structure and how groups in society behaved or were treated: the rich, poor, women, children.

What was life really like in this place at different points in time? And so on and on. 

For me a huge attraction is the range of possibilities, AND that I can choose what I want to do within it, at a level the suits me, gradually building up.    Currently I am at the stage of pulling information together, and working out how on earth to organise it all! With lock down primary sources are fairly limited – just those available via the web. 

One HUGE advantage of calling your research a One Place Study and even registering it, is the enthusiastic community of One Placers who encourage and support you.  

https://www.one-place-studies.org (Check out the blog summarising great genealogical sites each month, and the numerous videos under ‘resources’)

http://www.oneplacestudy.org – Directory with links to the fantastic websites of many One Placers.

Dr Janet Few, our amazing Devon genealogist, has written a couple of books about this form of research, most recently ‘Ten Steps to a One-Place Study’ https://thehistoryinterpreter.wordpress.com/publications/. (Full reference below, within the UK contact the author direct for a copy)

The 10 steps, slightly adapted, (apologies Janet), form a useful framework to review my progress. 

Step 1 Choose your place and its boundaries:

There are One Placers studying a village, a town, a street, a house, a crescent, a war memorial, a cemetery, a school.  No rules here, you can chose any ‘place’ that appeals to you across the world, even a moving target such as a boat!  It is worth checking the directory (link above) to check if there is already a study. For me my ‘home village’, my families home for 200 years and where I grew up, the village of Sticklepath was the obvious choice.  I have done a little work previously (publications referenced below) mainly since my parents died in 2015, but the flexible format of OPS appeals as a framework.  I took a Pharos course on the topic tutored by Janet Few in September 2020 and started from there.

Setting physical boundaries is still a challenge.  Sticklepath villagers were included in 3 different Parishes and therefore 3 different census enumerator districts. I am not sure that the current Sticklepath Parish boundaries really reflect the agricultural community of our ancestors. My boundaries remain ‘fluid’ at present. 

One key piece of advice was to chose a starting point such as a records source, a date span or a theme.  Themes include occupations and local industries, population structure and changes, and those listed above.  

Janet warns that it is easy to be enthused by the endless possibilities and not quite get organised.  That summarises my 3 months neatly!  Covid has of course largely prevented archive visits, even for those close at hand.  Living in North Yorkshire, and moving house, with much family and village history still disorganised in multiple boxes, has not helped.  However, I have also made some progress and can see some ways forward.  

I am working through the Sticklepath section of the Sampford Courtenay Census for 1851 and creating family trees for all the residents on Ancestry,  with a physical card index.  As a rule of thumb any resident is in the database (this will eventually include those buried in Sticklepath Quaker burying ground). The family trees extend, where I can, to first degree relatives of those residents – parents, siblings, spouse(s) and children.  (1851 is the first census with both names and relationships, which helps when creating a pedigree chart!).  The aim will be, eventually, to add all the individuals from censuses 1841-1911 and the 1939 register plus many other sources such as directories, Parish registers etc. etc. to create one large database.  

My main timeframe is 1770 – 1970.  Should time allow I am also attracted to a focus on the decade from 1910 to 1920, leading up to the 1921 census which should be released in January 2022.  Not started this yet, but I have booked a Pharos course on researching the 20th century to get me started! (Yes you guessed tutored by none other than JF).

Step 2 Reconstruct

This involves finding past research and books on your place, maps and images.  Trying to get an overview of changes over time. Some of this is well outside my comfort zone, but I can chip away at it…

My plan is to use the OPS ‘shared endeavour’ blogs topics planned for next year to help build the picture. These include maps, landmarks, pubs, places of worship, and women in your place.  

To be honest I find the idea of using maps both exciting and terrifying.  I can get lost going to the next street! However, I have posted a colourful topographical map which I found really interesting and have signed up to learn something more about maps, so watch this space. Pubs – could be challenging, if I tell you my ancestors built a house they called Temperance Cottage…. but I am starting somewhere relatively ‘safe’, Sticklepath Bridge.

Step 3 Populate

Work on a database of residents has already given me a new sense of how inter-related the local villages and villagers were.  Once the 1851 census database is completed (perhaps by April?) I will be able to look at overall population statistics and profiles.  I am also keen to bring in softer evidence, the stories that have been captured in various places which bring character to the people and families.  Such things I am sharing on my (free) WordPress blog and Facebook page. 

Step 4 Collect a list of sources and bring the data together.  A huge range of potential sources: biographical data from the Parish registers and gravestones; information about dwellings, buildings and institutions such as the school; Organisations such as the temperance movement in the village, scouts, political meetings; Details of events including who was present;  Seeking out oral testimony, diaries, letters etc.; newspaper reports, directories; road changes; deeds, wills and probate. (Bearing in mind that many Devon Wills were lost in the bombing of Exeter).

Whilst I have made a start on this I need to both find a way to organise the information and to ensure that I include all possible sources.  Once this is progressing I can start Step 5, to Connect, not just people in family groups, but people with places, and people with events. Connect them with a view to analysis (Step 6) and synthesising (Step 7) such as focusing on a time period or theme to draw new conclusions. I hope to use ‘NameandPlace’ software to facilitate this.  Step 8 is to Contextualise, look at Sticklepath within historical contexts, comparing the locality to regional and national patterns, perhaps comparing and contrasting with other Devon Villages for example.  

As you can see there is a huge amount of potential work here. It should come with a warning about how addictive it quickly becomes!  

Step 9 is to  disseminate or share findings.  For me an early step, with a very steep learning curve, had to be creating a website and ‘blog’.  This indeed is my 21st blog post – I feel I have come of age!  Still lots to learn about making better blogs (and shorter!) with links. High quality research I feel is for the future. Many people wait until they have more material but for me sharing the information is key, and I am hoping it will enable more people to collaborate or contribute.  I have made contact with Sticklepath Heritage Group and did a display and talk a couple of years back.  I hope this link can be developed further as there are so many aspects to explore and I have a sense that this is a key moment to capture the early photos and documents and local knowledge of the 19th and 20th centuries before it is lost. We have the technology!

I have also published some thoughts on Blacksmiths in ‘Our Place’ using Sticklepath as my main example, my ‘Christmas Present’ arriving on 24th December, in the form of Destinations the Society newsletter. (Available to members).

I have found others conducting one-place studies have been very encouraging and supportive, willing to share ideas, methodology and good practice.  Zoom and Twitter have rather taken over in 2020 from socialising at choir and orchestra during lockdown! So many opportunities online now, many free, to improve your knowledge and skills in family history. Many village history groups on social media willing to offer advice. Others like Devon Family History Society have opened their meetings using Zoom to those of us who could not attend in person – just £12 for the whole year – with many records accessible by members online!

Step 10 is about sharing the enthusiasm, encouraging more people to consider one-place studies.  I suppose this is a small step in that direction.  

Happy New Year


Few, Janet Ten Steps to a One-Place Study Blue Poppy Publishing (2020) 210mm x 148mm paperback 52 pages £5.00 ISBN: 978 1 911438 18 2 

Pharos https://www.pharostutors.com/coursesmainsd.php

Shields, Helen. Walking Sticklepath through the Centuries: Part 1, Devon Family Historian, vol. 170, (2019) pp.20-25.

Shields, Helen. Walking Sticklepath through the Centuries: Part 2, Devon Family Historian, vol. 171, (2019) pp.19-23.

Shields, Helen. Walking Sticklepath through the Centuries: Part 3, Devon Family Historian, vol. 172, (2019) pp.19-23.

https://www.one-place-studies.org (Check out the blog summarising great genealogical sites each month, and the numerous videos under ‘resources’, Destinations newsletter for members which includes those considering starting a One Place Study at some time in the future).

http://www.oneplacestudy.org – Directory with links to the fantastic websites of many One Placers.

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!