Local History ~ Family History ~ Walking Notes

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Last Updated 20th October 2002
Articles (Publications List at End)
Harford1 The Sinking of HMS Barham
Harford2 St Petroc's Church
Harford3 Notes on Parish Registers
Harford4 Notes on Parochial Records
Harford5 Description of the Church in 1861 by William Cotton
Harford6 Breakdown of Church Expenditure 1700-1740 (Help Desk Web Page)
Harford7 The Medieval Farmstead of Piles (Help Desk Web Page)
Publications Harford CD-ROMs/Floppy Discs Available from Dartmoor Press
Dartmoor Press Homepage Booklets Catalogue CD-ROMs/Floppy Discs Catalogue
Guide to Dartmoor CD-ROM Forest Publishing Books Order Details How To Order
DGI Search Service Online Magazine Parish Index Help Desk/FAQs Section
Dartmoor Region War Memorials Lost Devon MIs Index Research Services Sections
Publications Reviews Dartmoor Picture Gallery Links to Other Websites
To leave Dartmoor Press website and go to the Devon GENUKI Website Harford Information Page(s) click here. Remember to put this page in your Bookmarks/Favourites before you go!

The Sinking of HMS Barham
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Of the more modern memorials in Harford church, one will need hardly any introduction to naval historians, and is also particularly relevant to local naval history. It commemorates the death of Surgeon-Lieutenant Arthur Erskine Sherwell on HMS Barham in 1941. HMS Barham was a Devonport-based battleship, and so its story is well-known locally. By 1941 she bore the scars from two world wars, spanning a quarter of a century of naval warfare - a Jutland veteran, seriously damaged in that great sea battle of 1916, she had also been torpedoed whilst on convoy duty in 1940. She finally met her fate off Alexandria in 1941. In the company of two other battleships and an escort of six destroyers, she had sailed into the Med to distract enemy attention away from a large convoy heading for Malta. It was during these manoeuvres that the crew of HMS Valiant, the nearest ship to HMS Barham, witnessed a scene reminscent of the sinking of HMS Ark Royal in the Med just a fortnight earlier, as four huge plumes of water suddenly shot up from HMS Barham’s midships - she had been struck at point-blank range by a full broadside of torpedoes fired from U-331, which had managed to evade the protecting screen of  destroyers. Within minutes all of the other crews were on full battle stations, as their ships closed in around the stricken vessel. But it was too late, as moments later the main magazines ignited in a huge explosion. Arthur E Sherwell, from the little land-locked Parish of Harford, so far removed from the sea, was one of 862 officers and men who lost their lives in the vast expanse of the open ocean.

St Petroc's Church
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

The little church at Harford, tucked away in a forgotten backwater in the Dartmoor borderlands, contains some interesting monuments, and is also unique amongst the true moorland churches in having a monumental brass. This is to Thomas Williams, d 1564, who was Speaker of the House of Commons the year before his death. For his services he had earlier been granted the Manor of Stowford - in effect, the Manor of Harford itself - which had formerly been a Crown property. At the foot of the monumental brass, which is atop a slim chest tomb in the chancel, is a small brass plaque with a ten-line obituary, and at the head is a brass bearing the Williams coat of arms. The coat is also seen, impaling Callis, on the stone ledger to Edmund Williams, d 1752, who had been a naval commander during the reign of Queen Anne. This now stands propped against the rear wall of the nave, and there are three C17th Williams’ ledgers hanging on the wall of the small belfry-room. All of these were once set into the floor of the nave, but were removed - and fortunately retained - during a late-Victorian restoration.

On the south wall of the nave, almost opposite the Williams tomb, is a small wooden board commemorating John & Agnes Prideaux of Stowford. Erected in 1639, the epitaph actually records more information about the person who commissioned it - John Prideaux, their son - than about the persons whom it supposedly commemorates! This records that he, John Prideaux jnr, was Doctor of Divinity, the King’s Professor, Rector of Exeter College, Oxford, and Chaplain to Prince Henry, King James (I), and King Charles (I), but neglects to say anything about his parents, aside from naming them, not even recording when they died! John Prideaux jnr, d 1650, is himself buried at Bredon (Worcestershire), his epitaph recording that he was born at Stowford which, it observes, “is an obscure in Devon”! Indeed, Stowford in Harford is such an “osbcure place” that the birthplace of John Prideaux has often been confused in published sources with the Parish of Stowford, siuated in West Devon, many miles from Harford.

The other principal memorial in the church is a very small and rather disappointing tablet in the chancel to James J MacAndrew, d 1915, and his wife Barbara, d 1929. Disappointing, because one would have expected to find a much larger tablet to a couple who did so much for the Parish during their ownership of Lukesland. James J MacAndrew almost single-handedly organised the fund-raising campaign for the restoration of the church in 1879, himself donating £275 of the total of £931 spent on the work. He was also responsible for the building of the first school in the Parish - the building, now a private residence, which stands adjacent to the churchyard (children had formerly been taught in a barn next to the rectory!) . Both of them also gave other substantial gifts to the church for other fixtures and fittings, such as new vestments, oak communion table, sanctuary rails, organ repairs, roof repairs, the restoration of the tower, &c.

Above the porch door hangs a large wooden board displaying the royal arms of King George II. The royal arms may be seen in a number of churches, and in this particular case the artist is also known. He was Henry Mudge of Dean Prior, who was paid £8 for the work in 1728; timber and carpenter’s work cost a further £4. These costs are recorded in the Churchwardens’ Accounts.

Outside, the headstones in the graveyard are a rather motley assortment, and none will particularly attract the attention of the casual graveyard explorer. Family history researchers, of course, will be visiting for different reasons - the main surnames on the headstones are Dixon, Rivers, Rowse, Sherwell, Smith. One particularly poignant epitaph is hardly legible nowadays, on a small headstone in the rear plot which is now in a fairly poor condition - “Twenty four years I liv’d a maid/Ten months I liv’d a wife/Two hours I a mother was/And then I lost my life”.

Harford Parish Registers
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

The surviving Harford Registers do not begin until 1724. The Bishops’ Transcripts begin in 1613, but very many early pages are missing. Harford is not on the IGI. Researchers who have been unable to locate a pre-1754 marriage which they believe should have taken place somewhere in the South Hams could do worse than checking the Harford Registers. For the church was used for clandestine marriages pre-1754, and the Registers in the decades immediately preceding this date are full of entries for non-Harford residents, and the Parishes to which these  persons belonged is often recorded - they came from a very wide area of the South Hams, and even much further afield in some cases. Of the 178 Pre-1754 marriage entries which are listed in the surviving Registers & BTs, at least 88 (49%) of them were of couples who were both non-parishioners. Of the males a total of at least 99 (56%) were non-parishioners, and of the females a total of 113 (63%) were non-parishioners.

I have now had a count up of the Harford Marriages, to see where the persons came from. Of the 212 non-inhabitants who were married in Harford during the period (ie. those for whom records survive), 37 of them were from South Brent, 22 from Cornwood, 21 from Ermington, 20 from Ugborough, 17 from Modbury, 9 from Plymouth St Andrews, 8 from Plympton St Mary, 5 from each of North Huish, Dean Prior and Holbeton, 4 from Yealmpton, 3 from each of Harberton, Plymouth Charles, Newton Ferrers and Plympton St Maurice, 2 from each of East Allington, Aveton Gifford, Bigbury, Buckland Monachorum, South Huish, Kingston, Loddiswell, North Tawton, Berry Pomeroy and Totnes, and 1 from each of Bickleigh, Brixton, Denbury, Broadhempston, Buckfastleigh, Diptford, Exeter St Johns, (Exeter?) St Stephens, Thurleston, Marlborough, Meavy, Paignton, Plymstock, Saltash, Shaugh Prior and Poole [?] (Southpool?). Two others also came from Plymouth (Parish not specified). Place of origin of the remaining half a dozen or so not legible.

Those who travelled the furthest were the couple who came all the way from North Tawton just to be married at Harford, which would have been an arduous journey in the early C18th, over some really rough tracks through the Parishes on the eastern fringes of High Dartmoor.

There are 1,241 Harford entries on the Dartmoor & West Devon Genealogy Index (DGI) a surname search service from which is available from Dartmoor Press.

Harford Parochial Records
data provided by
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

Only a few principal ledgers (and no early loose sheets or documents) have survived from the little Parish, but they are all very important and interesting ones, Churchwardens’ Accounts 1695-1746 & 1793-1878, Vestry Minutes 1855-1963, Waywardens’ Accounts 1790-1846. All are held at the Plymouth & West Devon RO, Plymouth.

Description of the Church in 1861 by William Cotton
transcribed by
Mike Brown, Dartmoor Press

We enter through a heavy granite portal, and find the interior very dreary. Four slender granite pillars, parting the south aisle from the nave, are half cased with deal, like broken limbs in splints. The south aisle has three-lighted windows, of which the mullions are all supplied with wooden substitutes, the tracery gone; so with the east window, sad to tell for the durability of Dartmoor Rock. One tablet of the Commandments blocks out a window, a small north transept is blocked out for a vestry, the royal arms blocks up the west arch. All this blocking leaves the nave dark, and the green mould struggling everywhere against sickly whitewash, and the high dingy deal pews and damp pavement combine to create a dismal effect. In the tower two large jackdaws, like imprisoned souls, were flapping about, trying to break through the west window. Probably the poor things would be starved there, like disobedient vestals, for the west door was walled up against their exit, and they had not the sense to come out into the church, where other birds had made a terrible dirt, even on the altar. The vestry, generally the comfortable part of the church, had a small table and a mirror falling to pieces with damp, a very rusty grate, and no seat.

Harford Publications
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