Ernest Pym

It is always pleasing to find a free site for genealogy and when you can search by place and there is an entry for your #OnePlaceStudy, even more so. The site in question is and this is the sad article I found, 24th December 1898, regarding a young headmaster of Sticklepath board school.

To understand the article’s title, it may help to know more about the symbolism of acacia in freemasonry. Essentially the Jews have long considered acacia to be a most holy tree as God chose it with which to build the ark of the covenant to house the stones of the ten Commandments. As a sweet smelling evergreen which grows in the most inhospitable environments it is a symbol of the immortality of the soul, and used during ceremonies of the Freemasons.

(V.B.D.R. is not a familiar abbreviation but may be Volunteer Battalion of the Devon Regiment.)

“A Sprig of Acacia”

On Monday the funeral took place of Bro. E Pym, who was only 27 years of age, and commenced his career as pupil teacher under St. Thomas School Board, Exeter. In 1892 he proceeded to Exeter Diocesan Training College, and after being assistant master at Cullompton National School returned to his former school in the same capacity.

He was a few years since appointed to the head mastership of the Sticklepath Board School, and endeared himself both to the parents and children, and took an active interest in local matters.

He was a member of the cyclist section of the 4th V.B.D.R., who were represented at the funeral by Sergeant-Instructor Perry.

Deceased was also a member of Lodge Obedience, 1753, Okehampton, and filled the office of assistant organist.

In 1897 his health gave way, and he took a 6 months rest. At the expiration of the term he resumed duties at Challacombe as head master, but was shortly obliged to relinquish the post, and returned to his native village, where, on 14th inst., he peacefully passed away.

From my family collection. Mr Pym, Schoolmaster. Dating clues- Taken by G Denney&Co Exeter and Teignmouth. Denney, G & Co – Exeter, Devon -1893-1902 George Denney was born in London around 1835 and in 1891 was living in Teignmouth, Devon, with his wife and two daughters. His occupation is given as artist & photographer. Dark green mount: Stronger shades such as bottle green, black, chocolate brown and maroon mounts were fashionable 1884-1905. Perhaps taken to celebrate his appointment as head c.1894?

According to “A Village School Chronicle 1879-1979” by Victor W. Hutchison, the headmaster of Sticklepath school from 1894-1897 was Ernest William Pym. A summary and timeline of the school can be found here .

Ernest William was baptised 5 Feb 1871 in Drewsteignton, Devon, and the baptism record helpfully names his father William Grimsher Pym and his mother Lucy Holman Pym. He appears in the 2 April 1871 census aged 3 months, living with his father, his mother and his grandmother Jane Bevens. All three were or are school teachers at that time. His mother’s imputed maiden name is compatible with the birth index:

FindMyPast have Drewsteignton school admission registers in which he appears as a pupil. By 1871 his parents have employed a 14 year old servant and Ernest is a ‘scholar’. By 1891, as we may expect from the obituary, he is lodging at 113 Regent Street, St Thomas, Exeter along with a fellow elementary school teacher Thomas P Langley with a family named Lacon.

The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette announce “Mr. Pym, of St. Thomas, has been elected Headmaster at Sticklepath Board School” on 15th and 16th February 1894 and by that August he is already on the committee helping to organise the village flower show.

The Gazette again mentions him in April 1895 as he plays the death march from Saul on the organ for the funeral of Rev Chichester in Drewsteignton. The latter gentleman was very involved with schools both in Drewsteignton and Whiddon Down.

Following Mr Pym’s own demise, probate was awarded 10 January 1899 in Exeter. This confirms the date of death, mentions he was a school master, and intriguingly names Miss Kate Bowden, Spinster as executor. He left £366 13s 6d. Another name to investigate….

I do not (yet) know where he was living when working as headmaster of Sticklepath School.


Sampford Courtenay was the Parish Church of most Sticklepath villagers

Michael Garlick / Sampford Courtenay: St. Andrew’s Church (Original Page)

Auntie Kate has often told of the rebellious nature of them folk at Sampford Courtenay. Twas not only the Prayerbook rebellion… but Musical Mutineers too! One can not imagine the genteel choir of today breaking down the door!!! But in August 99 years ago…

Extract from PATRIOT Wednesday 23 October 1833 a accessed via Britishnewspaperarchive

“The Church of Sampford Courtenay was the scene of a curious occurrence on Sunday, the 29th ult. :—

The Rev. clergyman entered his desk and commenced the service as usual, when shortly afterwards some members of the choir came into the church, bringing their musical instruments with them. The Rev. Gent., as if suddenly paralyzed, made a dead stop, and the pause continued for nearly three quarters of an hour.

This dread and solemn silence was broken at times by a few whispers, and an occasional titter from the thoughtless; at length the serious people fancying they had had enough of nothing, arose from their seats, and a general disposition for a clearance was manifested.

The parson, to arrest this defection, now stepped into the vestry-room, and sending for the leader of the choir, informed him that the service would not be proceeded with till the musical instruments were removed. The leader expostulated, but the parson was inexorable, and so returning into the church, the leader in a loud voice, proclaimed the mandate of the Rev. Gent.

The choir determined to take themselves and their instruments out together, and proceeded to the school-room, in order that they should not be deprived of the customary exercise of music, in which they indulged themselves on the Sabbath. Their friends followed them, and the church was nearly empty; but here they were frustrated, for the parson anticipating their movement, had deprived them of the key; they became desperate, and broke open the door.

We leave the reader to draw his own picture of the state of excitement into which such strange conduct must have thrown such an excellent parish as that of Sampford Courtenay.”


Methodist Marriages and Sticklepath

With grateful thanks to Anthony Marr (@ChalfontR) and Rebecca Probert (@ProfProbert), gurus on marriage registration and law, from whom I have learnt most of this. I strongly recommend attending their lectures and reading Prof Probert’s books given a chance. Pharos also run helpful courses eg regards non-conformity

(The photo above is the wedding of Fred Taylor and Nell Bowden 1913, note it includes the minister, and next to him the only photo I have of Emanuel Bowden my great grandfather. )

1920 Ralph Finch married “Lynette” (Violet Maude Lucy Shaw)

Many of us are aware of changes in the marriage laws which have taken place in our own lifetime – it is only since 1994 that a wide variety of wedding venues could be licensed. In 2005 Civil Partnerships became legal, followed in 2014 by Same Sex Marriages.  Most recently, in 2021 there were changes to the information on the marriage certificate, including the mothers’ names for example and changes to the system of recording.  Additionally certificates are now printed, unlike the handwritten copies our parents and ancestors received.

Look at all the details on this certificate.

Understanding some of the history can help us make the most of marriage records, understand and take note of all the details, and help us understand our ancestors marriage experience.  Historically in England the Church governed marriage through ‘Canon law’ from 1700 until parliament stepped in with Hardwicke’s Marriage Act 1753.  This stated that, with the exception of Jews and Quakers, marriages had to be within the Church of England, in the parish of residence.  (The Clandestine Marriages Act 1753 etc etc are beyond this brief summary). 

All family historians are aware that civil registration became a legal requirement for marriages from 1 July 1837. The 1836 Act also stated who could marry a couple, and that marriages could be outside the Anglican Church, but had to be in ‘a registered place of worship’.  To apply to be registered, dissenting churches had to worship in ‘a separate building’, and needed 20 householders to state this was their regular place of worship.

Ideally a couple would be married in their usual place of worship.  If that was not registered they could get married in a different church in the same district (from 1840 it could be a different district but was then required to be the usual place of worship of the couple). Alternatively a registered church of a different denomination could be used. So you could, for example, find baptists being married in a Methodist chapel or vice versa. 

Marriages were only allowed between 8am and 12 noon, which is why some registers state the time. A minister was not legally required, but the presence of a Registrar was.  

The marriage register, held by the local Registration Office, had to be completed in special non-fading Registrar’s blue/black ink, and a copy sent to the General Register Office. A copy of the entry was given to the couple and that is what we think of as the marriage certificate. 

Tom Hill and Elsie May Bowden 1923

For a marriage to be valid the couple had to both be of age, or have parents consent and be above the minimum age. They each had to freely consent to the marriage.  They should not already be married to each other or anyone else, and should not be too closely related (e.g. siblings).  Notice was to be given, banns read or a licence purchased.

The initial declaratory vow the bride and groom make during the wedding ceremony states that they fulfil these criteria “I know of no lawful impediment why I (name) may not be joined in matrimony to (name)”. 

The second vow is the contract – “I take thee to be my lawful wedded husband or wife”, which must be formally witnessed by at least 2 people.  These witnesses may have been members of the church, perhaps strangers at times, but often were relatives of those getting married, so genealogists ignore the witness names at their peril.  The Minister or even the registrar may also have been well known to our ancestors, as many people’s social life centred around their church or chapel. 

So, after lengthy discussion and numerous re-wordings of the Act, when parliament did finally agreed to legalise non-conformist marriages, we might expect to find the Methodists rushing to register their chapels so they could perform their own marriage ceremonies.  But this did not happen. By 1851 only about 1 in 20 was registered. Why? Methodism’s founders including John Wesley (1703-1791), did not see themselves as a dissenting group, they were within the Anglican Church.  By 1837 Methodism had broken away, but perhaps still did not really consider themselves to be true dissenters. They did not have any specific theological differences regards marriage, so had not actively campaigned for the law to be changed, unlike other dissenting groups. Whatever the reason, the Methodist Conference (the hierarchy) was happy for marriages to continue to take place in the Anglican Church.  

Couples also had the option of a Registry Office wedding, and for the first two decades religious statements were allowed in those ceremonies, unlike today. 

The “First Annual Report of the Registrar-General on Births, Deaths, and Marriages in England, in 1837-8″ published in the Journal of the Statistical Society of London tells us that 11,481 marriages were registered in that first year (1st July 1837 – 30th June 1838) and gives an idea of the proportions of marriages in different places.

(Jul., 1839, Vol. 2, No. 4, pp. 269-274, published online by Wiley for the Royal Statistical Society Stable URL:

107,201 Anglican marriages

    4,280 Other marriages, of which:

    2,976 in a Registered Place of Worship

    1,093 in the Office of a Superintendent Registrar

        76 were Quaker ceremonies

      135 were Jewish ceremonies.


The Anglican marriages are further subdivided:

9 by Special License

13,677 by License

68,410 by Banns

493 by Certificate from a Superintendent Registrar

(24,612 not stated)


The initial annual report (accessed ) only included 82 Methodist registered places of worship out of 1,257 registered buildings, although Methodists were about 50% of dissenters by that time.  

However, it was clear Methodist ministers did not have the same status or authority as Anglicans, and perhaps it was this that meant Methodists did become involved in subsequent campaigns to change the law. From 1898 non-conformist churches could apply to have their own “Authorised Person” to carry out marriage registration, so a registrar no longer needed to attend.  Unfortunately the law’s division into registration districts that meant each Methodist Minister, to be an authorised person in the churches across their area, would have had to become an “Authorised Person” with each registration district their circuit covered.

Sticklepath Wesleyan Methodist Chapel

Sticklepath Wesleyan Methodist Chapel registered in 1839, not among those first 82, but ahead of most.   When a place of worship was registered this was gazetted, published in The London Gazette, which can be freely searched online.

The London Gazette 26 February 1839. Issue:19710 Page:398

Notice is hereby given, that a separate building, named the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, situated at Sticklepath, in the parish of Sampford Courtenay, in the county of Devon, in the district of Okehampton, being a building certified according to law as a place of religious worship, was, on the 18th day of February 1839, duly registered for solemnizing marriages therein, pursuant to the act of 6th and 7th William 4, Chap 85. Witness my hand this 20th day of February 1839, Henry Hawkes, Superintendent Registrar.

The Chapel’s Register was duly started by the same Henry Hawkes 

(yes there are those who think this was the Harry Hawkes who went to Widecombe Fair… along with Tom Pearse who we will find on the next page…)

Scan of original document held by South West Heritage Trust Devon Archive in Exeter Ref 1812D/2/1 (extract) scanned 2021

The first marriage is documented on 9th July 1839, between Richard Jessop, ironmonger, and Elizabeth Malins, a spinster, both of Okehampton.  The service was led by Rev. James Stote and the Registrar in attendance was Henry Newton.  

Marriage Register of Sticklepath Wesleyan Chapel original held at South West Heritage Trust, Exeter Archive Ref 1812D/2/1 (extract) scanned 2021

 The Marriage was announced with no fuss in the Western Times on Saturday 13th July, just mentioning it was “in the presence of Mr Newton the Registrar and other respectable persons of the neighbourhood”.   

I note the first witness was Thomas Pearse, a woolen mill and serge factory owner in Sticklepath who by 1848 was himself a Registrar.  He perhaps wanted to relieve the burden on Henry Newton, and would have enjoyed an excuse to visit chapels around the circuit.

Look carefully at any marriage certificate and related register entries to understand exactly when (in relation to marriage laws) and where the couple were married and question why there.  This couple came from Okehampton, presumably because no Methodist Chapel was registered there at the time. This Chapel register does not include father’s names or occupations, but some have extra information or notes in the margin. For non-conformist weddings always check the wording on the certificate of the type of ceremony, where it took place and the name of the registrar or authorised person who made the ceremony legal.  Make a note of the witnesses and consider how they may have been chosen.  Glancing through the Chapel register you may see the names repeated if they were church members that were chosen, or repeated names may suggest links between family members.

Henry Newton attended all 26 weddings in Sticklepath from July 1839 – July 1848, and more after that too. An average of 3 weddings per year in the chapel.

Look again at all the details on this certificate.

13th May 1898 would be before there was an ‘Authorised person’ who could conduct marriages. So we can see Seth Harry Registrar was present. Thomas Trethewey conducted the service but was not a legally necessary person. He lived in Sticklepath with his daughters who ran a dame school and would have been very well known to Albany and Georgina who both attended Sticklepath Chapel regularly (when Albany, a local preacher was not preaching elsewhere).

Did you spot that they were married in Sticklepath Wesleyan chapel according to the rites and ceremonies of the Wesleyan Methodists, by certificate. Sticklepath, Sampford Courtenay (parish) and registration district Okehampton. The witnesses are siblings of the bride. This document is actually a later copy, written out 8th October 1898, by Deputy Superintendent Registrar S Hawkin, certified to be a true copy of the entry in the Register Book of Marriages. I wonder why they wanted a copy then?

There is much more history to learn, for example, there was also a time when divorced Anglicans got re-married in non-conformist chapels, but perhaps we’ll leave that for another day.

Helen Bowden (soon to be Shields!) and Roger Bowden

How did your bride get to church? This one walked through Sticklepath in July 1986, while a policeman parted the heavy tourist traffic on its way to Cornwall to allow her across the road!

Signing the Register in Sticklepath Wesleyan Chapel 1986, this is the entrance between chapel and the Sunday school room.

Questions arising – When did taking a photograph of signing the register become a thing?

Sticklepath Chapel is now closed. Who were the last couple to get married there? and when?

2 ministers seems a little greedy! Rev Ian Young was the circuit minster, friend of the bride’s parents. The younger Rev Paul Martin a friend of the bride and groom.

Any questions, comments, notes of inaccuracies, or answers will be welcomed!