The History of Buckland Brewer

The gathering of the history of Buckland Brewer, where I live, is underway, with the help of other members of Buckland Brewer History Group. A collection of old photographs has been started – contributions to this are welcome. Amongst other projects we have completed the ‘Buried in Buckland’, survey, which has involved photographing and fully transcribing  all the gravestones in the parish. The resulting database has been cross referenced with the burial register, which we have also indexed. We are currently working on researching the biographies of all those from the parish who served during the First World War. Other records are being indexed and genealogies of the past inhabitants are being compiled, in order to create a One Place Study. I maintain a list of emigrants who left Buckland Brewer during or before the nineteenth century and am trying to piece together a picture of their lives both before and after emigration.

There is a discussion forum about the history of Buckland Brewer on Genealogywise.

The parish of Buckland Brewer is a rural one, encircled by fields, woods and moorland. The six miles between Buckland Brewer and the sea make it a year-round, living community, rather than a holiday village. Historically, the economy of the parish was rooted in agriculture. The nineteenth century village, located in the north eastern corner of the parish, was largely self-sufficient, with a range of shops and craftsmen. A map of the village in 1851, showing who is believed to have lived where, has been researched and drawn by villagers and is sold in aid of local projects. There were small settlements towards the south of the parish at Tythecott and Bilsford. The remainder of the inhabitants lived in farms or cottages scattered throughout the parish. Equidistant between the towns of Great Torrington and Bideford, the Buckland Brewer of the past probably had stronger links with Torrington. The current route that most villagers take into Bideford did not exist until 1835.

People have lived in Buckland for over 1000 years. Hembury is thought to have been one of the earliest places of habitation in the parish, with evidence of Saxon settlement. Prior to the Norman Conquest, Buckland was owned by Edmer Ater. The manor of Buckland, containing 42 villains, 5 craftsmen, 3 swineherds and 7 labourers, was given to Robert, Earl of Mortain, by his half-brother, William I. Mortain then owned vast tracts of the country so Ansger Brito held it on his behalf. The value was £7 10/-. In 1086, Galsworthy was a separate, 120 acre, manor worth 10/-, held by Edwi. The ‘Brewer’ part of the name is taken from the Brewer family who acquired part of the manor of Buckland in 1202. By 1544 it was owned by the Rolle family of Stevenstone who remained as the principal landowners for the next three centuries.

Although not mentioned in the Domesday Book, a local manor house was Orleigh Court. This was granted to the Dennis family by Tavistock Abbey in 1198. When the male line died out, in 1684, the manor was sold to John Davie, of Bideford. The Davie family became significant land owners in the area, acquiring property from Lord Rolle. In the nineteenth century, the manor was let to the Spekes; the eldest son, John Hanning Speke, being famous for discovering the source of the Nile. In 1869, the Rogers family came to Orleigh. William Rogers wrote a history of Buckland Brewer in 1938. This has now been reprinted and is sold by the History Group.

In the mid seventeenth century, it is likely that less than 300 people lived in Buckland Brewer. Along with the rest of the country, the number of inhabitants rose steadily during the early decades of the nineteenth century, reaching a peak in the 1840s. This was followed by a steady decline. The 1108 people recorded in the census of 1841 had fallen to less than half that number (526) by 1931. Initially this was due, in part, to waves of emigration from rural North Devon in the mid-nineteenth century. In the first half of the twentieth century, lack of employment opportunities saw people leave Buckland Brewer for lives in the towns. More recently, car ownership, enabling villagers to commute and an influx of retired people has led to another upward trend.

For over a hundred years, there were six places of worship in Buckland Brewer. The Anglican Church of St. Mary and St. Benedict, stands on one of the highest points of the parish. The top of the tower is more than 600 feet above sea level and can been seen from several miles away. The church is believed to have been Norman in origin. After several disasters and renovations, only the south door remains from this period. The church was struck by lightning in 1399 and reputedly reduced to ashes. It was struck again in 1769, causing considerable damage. Lack of funds meant that the eighteenth century rebuild was of poor quality. Most of the current church dates from the extensive renovations of 1877, which were commissioned after yet another storm rendered the tower unsafe. The church bells were cast by local bell founder, John Taylor. The neighbouring parishes of Bulkworthy and East Putford were once chapelries of Buckland Brewer. The first known vicar was Sir Walter de Denetone, who was inducted in 1279. Today, the church is part of the Hartland Coast Mission Community.

Methodism arrived in Buckland Brewer in 1808, when Mr Sleep preached in the Club Room of the Bell Inn, owned by Mr Daniels. Initially, Wesleyan Methodist services were held in the home of Robert and Alice Curtis. In 1827, a Mr and Mrs Curtis gave a cottage on their farm for use as a Methodist Chapel and Sunday School. Robert died in 1818 so this may have been one of his sons. By 1842, it was necessary to extend this chapel. The building later became the Village Shop (now closed).

In 1815, William O’Bryan and James Thorne, founders of the Bible Christian Church, a Methodist offshoot, preached at Tythecott and dined at Holwell Farm, the Buckland Brewer home of the Reed family. James Thorne later married Catherine Reed. Four years later, William Reed and Samuel Thorne were arrested for preaching on the Village Green during the Village Revels. The Bible Christians also began meeting in private homes.

The Bible Christian ‘Salem’ Chapel opened at Thornhillhead in 1830, complete with Sunday School and graveyard. The gravestones have been recorded and photographed. The building is still open as a Methodist Church. This served the south of the parish but although Anglicans and Wesleyans were catered for, there was still no Bible Christian place of worship in the centre of the village. In 1832, a licence was granted for Bible Christians to preach in the home of John Hancock, a labourer. This house is likely to have been in a row of cottages known as New Buildings or Smale’s Cottages.

The Baptists too could worship in Buckland Brewer. In 1840, Robert Heal granted land at Eckworthy for use as a Baptist Chapel, in return for a peppercorn rent of 4d a year. The first pastor was John Richards, formerly a town missionary in Barnstaple but later a grocer at Tythecott. Records state that Zion Baptist Chapel was erected in 1847, so it seems that either it took seven years to build, or the original chapel was quickly rebuilt. This chapel is now closed, although the graveyard remains. The gravestones have been recorded and photographed.

In 1842, another Bible Christian Chapel was opened, at Cannapark, Twitchen. This building closed in 1966 and is now derelict. Finally, the village got its own Bible Christian Chapel when a local stable, next to the Wesleyan Chapel, was converted in 1854. Three years later the Bible Christians purchased Ash House, which adjoined their existing former stable, from Ann Clarke and John Eddy. This became the Providence Bible Christian Chapel. The building fell into disrepair in 1900 and was rebuilt on the same site. Reverend Thomas Braund preached at the opening ceremony in 1903. The Bible Christians became part of the United Methodists in 1907.

During the First World War, instead of worshipping separately in their adjoining chapels, the United and Wesleyan Methodists shared services. This predated similar unions elsewhere and Buckland Brewer was held up as an example. This is reflected in the close association between the Anglicans and the Methodists who share services in the village today.

The formal union between the United Methodists (which now included the Bible Christians) and their Primitive and Wesleyan counterparts took place in 1932, creating the Methodist Church body of today. Between 1932 and 1939 all services were held in what is the current Methodist Church. The former Wesleyan Chapel was used for Sunday School and evening activities until it was sold in 1939 and converted into a shop. It is now a private dwelling.

The war memorial on the village green commemorates the villagers who fell in the First and Second World Wars. A presentation about their lives has been compiled and the biographies of all those from Buckland Brewer who served in the First World War are being researched.

© Janet Few

Further information about the history of Buckland Brewer can be found here.

Books about the history of Buckland Brewer

Thornhillhead Methodist Church 1830-1980 by Diane Barron and Gillian Badcock

Buckland Brewer in the 1920s by Leonard Blight

When I was a Lad by Roy Blight M.B.E.

Buckland Brewer by W H Rogers

Buckland Brewer Methodist Chapel 1903-2003 by Marjorie Snetzler

CD containing pdfs of village scrapbooks from 1965 and 2015

The above booklets and CD are privately produced by local organisations and are available for sale within the village.

Lucy’s Dairy: the journal of an American girl’s visit to England in 1870 by Lucy Rodd includes an account of her visit to Buckland Brewer

The above booklets are privately produced by local organisations and are available for sale

Transcript of the parish registers are available Devon Family History Society as follows:-

Baptisms 1813-1840; Marriages 1754-1812 & 1813-1837 and Burials 1813-1837

These registers, together with others for Hartland Deanery, are also available on CD from Devon Family History Society.

Devon Family History have also transcribed the Buckland Brewer School Admissions’ registers in two volumes 1877-1889 and 1890-1911.

It is believed that the following, privately published, booklet is no longer available:-

A History of Buckland Brewer Village School 1877-1977 by Mrs Simpson


44 comments on “The History of Buckland Brewer

  1. […] » Buckland Brewer (Janet Few / Buckland Brewer History Group) – see main article above and also England » Devon » Bucks Mills (Janet […]

  2. Cheryl says:

    I descend from William Hooper-father of Ann Hooper and Richard Lee (husband of Ann Hooper) who were born in Buckland Brewer.
    Am curious to find photos and documents of the family!!

  3. Gillian cripps says:

    Cole family 1600s

  4. Carol Batsford says:

    Has anyone got any information about the Buckland Brewer Laudable Society? My ancestor James Champlin was the Honoury Secretary 1830- 1844. He was also the Butler to William Speke at Orleigh Court.

  5. Julia Wilson-sharpe says:

    Hi, my mum was evacuated to Buckland Brewer during the second World War. She is still alive and remembers Buckland Brewer. But when I took her there she did not recognize any of it. If anyone has any old photos or prints I could show her that would be great. Or if you know where I can view and download even better.

    Thank you

    • Hello, There are a number of pictures on our website also a list of pictures that we hold. I am happy to email you copies of some that have no copyright restrictions – just let me know which would be of most interest. If you let me know which cottage or farm she was evacuated to I will see if we have anything of that area. There is plenty of new building round the edges but the centre of the village is pretty much the same.

  6. My 4th great-grandfather, John Piper is listed as being born in Buckland Brewer in 1821. I believe his father may have been from Bideford. John’s children were born in various locations: Withycombe, Dartmore, Chapford, Wiveliscombe (Somerset), Roadwater (Somerset). He was a manager/slate miner who came to the slate mines near Bangor, Pennsylvania with the entire family in 1871. I was in England for the first time this Summer, but only to London. I hope to one day visit Devonshire and Somerset to explore my roots. Do you have any records of PIPERs from Buckland Brewer?

  7. Diane Grace (Glidden) Cirelli says:

    I understand one of my ancestors, Charles Glidden lived in Buckland Brewer before emigrating to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA in I believe 1660. Do you have any information about him?

    • I have emailed you with the little that we have on Charles Gliddon

    • Jim Bertram says:

      Diane – I also descend from Charles Glidden and there is a book on all his descendants published about 100 years ago. My mother Mary Glidden Bertram and her brother Robert Glidden are included in the book ( both born in the 20’s, no deceased). Did you ever get any material on Charles?
      Jim Bertram (

      • Barbara Glidden Sbrogna says:

        Hello All! I am a direct descendant of Charles Glidden and planning my first trip to England in June. I will visit Buckland-Brewster June 18 & 19, 2023 and would so love to meet other descendants and especially any Glidden’s who may still be in that area. I can’t wait to walk in the places where Charles walked and worked and married, just before coming to America.

        So many of the Glidden males in my family look alike so it will be interesting to see male descendants from today. I hope someone checks these pages soon. I’ll continue posting and hoping!!!

  8. Helen says:

    Roses from the Heart is a project to bring home the girls who were sent over to Tasmania, as convicts. People embroider bonnets for each of the ladies. I have no anscestory among the ladies, as far as I am aware, so the lady running the project gave me a name to embroider, Ann Marsh, who was from Buckland Brewer (sent away 1789). Please are there any old landmarks/buildings that she might have known, that I could embroider onto the bonnet? Website quoted below isn’t mine, it’s the project, run by Christina Henri, but it may be of interest. Thanks for your help.

  9. Dawn Marshall Smith says:


    I’m new to the genealogy game – have discovered an ancestor “William Winslade of Winslade in Buckland Brewer, Devon Esquire c1455-1531”

    I was born in New Zealand, part Maori (indigenous) with a whole lot of Anglo in my family tree. Have tracked back 18 generations to William.

  10. John says:

    Hi Janet, is there a snail mail addy to send article donations?

  11. Una Atkins says:

    Helen – I did do some typing just before but where it went, I do not know. ??? I wanted to do the cross check last weekend but I had a severe migraine which washed me out. I have to do this manually as my computer crashed. Have done a bit today but I had Thomas born 1777 m to a Grace ?
    I only had 7 children for this Thomas so I will add them to my list. So frustrating not having a computer that actually works. My hard drive will be put onto an external hard drive for future references. Who is the Thomas Fry b 1703 at Cullompton? I will go back and have a look at Humphrey now. 🙂 The Ashton’s must have married into my Glass family as there is a John Ashton Glass. From that m there is a John Glass in the North Island who I have met. With all the marriages in such a small area, I am over whelmed. Oh to get to Devon one day. If you want the info on John Sanders and Anna Maria Glass, please ask. Take care – Una

    • Helen says:

      Hi Una I have just had the same problem, typed stuff and have lost it. Computers are like cars ok when they work. I am now too tired to type it again so sending my email address as asked and we will take it from there. I am hoping to go to the library to check those dodgy dates on Monday, Bye for now. Don’t think the Cuulompton Thomas Fry is one of ours.

    • Carole Howells says:

      Hello Una, I have ancestor’s re: Ashton family from Devon going back to 1700s, if you want to reply please do. Regard’s from Carole. 😀

      • Una Atkins says:

        Thanks Carole – it is nearly bed time here in NZ so will re look at this tomorrow. I have been real slack with family history lately and my brain is not in zinc.

      • Una Atkins says:

        Here I go. I only have a few Ashton’s on my gene list but saying that, my data processing is not up to date !
        I have Grace Ashton – John Fry’s Aunt
        John, John Fry’s Uncle
        Samuel, John Fry’s Uncle
        Samuel, John Fry’s Grandfather
        Samuel, John Fry’s Uncle
        Thomas, John Fry’s Uncle.
        Not much help to you if you back to the 1700’s. Well done. I really do need to get back into this family stuff but with Summer, I do it mostly in the Winter. My email address is Thanks so much.

  12. Helen says:

    I have my gggrandfathers diary, Thomas Fry, that he started in 1830 and finally stopped in 1864. On the second page, on February 28th he says, “this day our Chapple was opened and I attended, forenoon afternoon and evening meetings”. He always referred to it as Salem after. Perhaps he wasn’t sure of the spelling of chapel!
    He was involved with the Sunday school too I think, he used to buy the books that were I guess given as rewards at the ‘anniversary’. I went to Woolsery chapel, I know about anniversaries. I believe I did find Salem some years ago but people were there converting it, I walked around the graveyard, have not been able to find it since.
    I would love to know more about him, he seems to have been a way warden and a constable at one time and another. He lived with his wife Mary Ann and their 3 daughters at Thornhillhead. I believe that it belonged to the Rolle family. He was born at Ley farm at East Putford, I think his father owned it but he may have been a tenant too.
    I started thinking about family history when I read about the Heal family reunion in the Gazette, Mary Ann Heal nee Fry was Thomas’ middle daughter, my great grandmother was his youngest Elizabeth Jane, she married Edward George from Cabbacott in Parkham. His eldest Ann married a Stapledon and lived at Venn Farm, Newton St Patrick.
    I look forward to following your blog and am considering joining the BBHG. Helen

    • Hello Helen I will email you with some details

    • Una Atkins says:

      Helen – I too have a family member Thomas Fry b 25 May 1777 at Putford. I believe his parents were Thomas and Grace. I am unsure of the authenticity of my research as I live in NZ and records are so hard to obtain unless you pay for everything. I visit FindMyPast often and also the local LDS Church records. I was wondering whether this is your family. My Great Grandparents were John and Anna Maria Glass. Thank you Regards Una Atkins, Christchurch

      • Helen says:

        Yes, it is the same family, ‘cousin’. John Fry was my gggrandfather’s younger brother. I have just got Anna Maria as Mary Ann Glass, but do not doubt they are one and the same. Have not done any research on her but from somewhere I have the information that she was a teacher from Fremington and that after they were married she kept a little day school at Ley Farm, East Putford where they lived. This may not be true, I think the coming from Fremington is.
        To keep it orderly, the Thomas Fry born 1777, was the father of your great grandfather, he married Margaret Ashton from Sheepwash in 1797 and they had 10 children, the first was Samuel, 1797 ( don’t count the months!) who died aged 4 in 1801. Then my THOMAS 1799, Margaret 1801, Dorcas 1802, Samuel 1805, Mary Ann 1807, Grace 1810, your JOHN bp 24th December 1811, Elizabeth 1814 and Philip 1815. Poor Elizabeth, no wonder she died in 1815.
        You have ‘cousins’ nearer to you than I am, two of Margaret’s sons emigrated to Australia in the 1850’s, one at least buried in Adelaide. Some of Grace,s are also in the Melbourne area and Philip the youngest went to Adelaide in 1849, I have met his great grandson also a Philip though not Fry, who lives in Adelaide too.
        Thomas 1777 was the son of Thomas born in 1740, lived also at Ley Farm, he first married Joanna and they had a daughter Grace but Joanna died and he married Grace Norman, the mother of our Thomas. He had an older sister Elizabeth and 6 younger siblings Samuel, Humphrey, John, Nancy, Mary and William. Most of these I have mentioned all lived and married and had children! Must be enough to populate a small country by now.
        For a change Thomas’s father was called Humphrey, he was born at East Putford in 1694, he married Grace Brown in 1734, and was buried at EP in 1758. He was described as a yeoman and chapel warden. They had three children Thomas, Margaret and Grace.
        I think his father was Humphrey born 1674 married Mary ?
        I think his father was Humphrey Ffray ( I believe the double f was to denote a capital letter, I expect Janet would know) who married Margery Hogge at Newton St Petrock in 1654. He was buried at EP on 17th April 1695 and she was buried 6 days later on the 23rd.
        He may have been the son of William and Mary Fry who were in EP in 1606. I think I got that from the Bishops transcripts. I am fairly confident this information is correct, I did it many years ago from the parish registers on microfiche at the west country studies centre in Barnstaple. I do not trust Ancestry implicitly although very good.
        This winter I intend to go back to West Country studies and check
        I would love to hear from you and know what happened to John,s family.

      • Yes, you are right – what looks like a double f is a way of writing a single capital F. Similarly, what looks like a y is actually a thorn pronounced th. No one ever actually said Ye Olde Tea Shoppe! So glad you two have made contact.

      • Una Atkins says:

        Thank you Helen. I filed away all my printouts the other day so will look at yours and my names later today. I think I stopped at Humphrey as I thought it was not a “family” name but I am wrong. John Sanders and Anna Maria Glass came to NZ on the ship “Arawa” in 1886 and I will type out all I know of them. I am “from” their union. My email address is on here so if you could send your email address to me, via that, it would make it easier for me to cut and paste. It is early in the morning here and such a beautiful day I have to do housework before I can add to this otherwise, “gene” takes over and I don’t do anything else. Am learning to do ‘the stuff” first. 🙂 Thank you again – Regards Una

  13. ben says:

    I used to live in Glentor for over 20 years which is situated between the pub and the school on the opposite side of the road. It was a pleasure growing up in such a tranquil environment without having to worry much about crime as a lad.

  14. tracey says:

    hi it was so interesting to read this, i have just moved near to the eckworthy chapel,and am facinated by the history around here,,i look forward to hearing lots more

  15. Una Atkins says:

    Can’t move found here – re the history

  16. Una Atkins says:

    Hi Janet – been researching today and look what I came up with 🙂 I was looking for some info on Holwill Farm as to whether William and Thirza Sanders owned this or they were just tenanats. Nice page and good work to all – Una, Christchurch NZ

  17. Gary Austin says:

    Excellent job. Keep up the great job. – Gary Austin, Michigan, USA

  18. john says:

    The link at the bottom of this page does not seem to work.


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