Bucks Mills is known as the village of a single surname and its history is inextricably linked with that of the Braund family. Very little of the settlement existed before the year 1800 and a full community reconstruction has been carried out, creating a One Place Study. The historical novel Barefoot on the Cobbles, is based on a true storey and parts of it are set in Bucks Mills.
Until 1862, when it became an ecclesiastical parish in its own right, Bucks Mills was a hamlet that straddled the boundary between the parishes of Parkham and West Woolfardisworthy, on the coast of North Devon. The Parkham side of the village marked the western extremity of the Goldsworthy estate, owned by the Pine Coffin family. The western side of Bucks Mills, in Woolfardisworthy parish, was owned by the Elwes family and formed part of the Walland Cary estate. Further west still is the, much larger, fishing village of Clovelly, with whom Bucks Mills’ residents entertained a healthy rivalry. The nearest market town, of Bideford, lies some eight miles to the east and was a busy port until the 1920s.
Throughout the nineteenth century, Bucks Mills contained no more than thirty dwellings, the majority of which were on the Parkham side of the stream. This runs alongside the central street in the hamlet and formed the boundary between the two parent parishes. Only the mill and a block of cottages, now named John’s and William’s, can be shown to have existed before 1800. Originally known as ‘Buckish’, the settlement is still referred to by this name in some mid-nineteenth century documents. The mill, from which the hamlet first took its current name in the early 1800s, appears in the Woolfardisworthy Land Tax Returns for 1780, at which time it seems there was no accompanying village. Benjamin Donn’s map of North Devon, drawn in 1765, shows buildings at West Bucks and East Bucks but no settlement on the coast at Bucks Mills, merely a track from the inland hamlets to the sea. This suggests that the mill was less than fifteen years old in 1780. The mill’s siting can be explained by the position of the stream, from which it derived its power and its accessibility from the sea. Corn from the Walland Carey estate, to which the mill belonged and from nearby Lundy Island, would have been brought in by boat and ground at Bucks’ mill. The four other dwellings on the Woolfardisworthy side of Bucks Mills are all included in the tithe schedule of 1838 but not in the Land Tax Return of 1831. This appears to be an accurate reflection of when they were built.
Although the Land Tax Return of 1830 suggests that there were no dwellings on the Parkham side of Bucks Mills at that time, this can be shown to be incorrect. It may be that the properties were too small to attract tax, or that the Goldsworthy estate had paid a lump sum in order to redeem the Land Tax on their property and thus individual occupiers for Bucks Mills are not shown in the returns. A Survey of the Manor of Goldsworthy, dated 1796, includes only a single block of cottages in Bucks Mills, Parkham, described as being ‘near Bucks’. These are believed to be a row of three cottages sited near the sea, opposite the mill. No evidence has been found to suggest that there were any other dwellings on the Parkham side of the stream at this time. Leases confirm that at least six of the remaining cottages on this side were ‘newly erected’ or ‘lately erected’ in 1815 and this coincides with the arrival in the village of two masons, John Metherell and Robert Davey. With the exception of King’s Cottage, which was built in 1845, the Parkham portion of the village had reached its full extent by the time of the 1840 tithe schedule.
Cottages in Bucks Mills were, with few exceptions, stone built with thatched roofs. The walls, constructed from rubble, are nearly two feet thick and would have been lime-washed using lime from the village kilns. Cob, a mixture of hardened clay, dung and straw, was also used in the construction of many of the smaller cottages. Using the censuses of 1891, 1901 and 1911, descriptions in the Valuation Office Field Books of 1910 and sale details of various dates, together with field archaeology, it has been possible to discover the size of all but five of the dwellings in Victorian Bucks Mills. The geography of the village means that it is virtually impossible to extend the cottages and it is likely that the early twentieth century sizes are an accurate reflection of their original dimensions. The majority of cottages consisted of a living room and ‘back kitchen’ downstairs and two rooms on the upper floor, one of which would have been open to the stairs and whilst being used as the children’s bedroom, also served as the landing. Two thirds of the dwellings had less than five rooms, two having only two. The four households that had more than five rooms were all on the Woolfardisworthy side of the village. Services were primitive throughout the nineteenth century. There was no piped water supply or sewage disposal system, electricity did not reach the majority of the village until the mid-twentieth century and there is still no gas. In 1841, more than half of the cottages contained at least five people and in some, overcrowding was intense. For example, Thomas and Mary Harris reared six children in the two rooms that constituted number twelve.
Apart from the erection of King’s Cottage and a block of three cottages, which appear to have been lost to the sea in the 1860s, the fluctuation in the number of dwellings during the Victorian period is accounted for by amalgamation and sub-division and not by new building or demolition. The geography of the village, which is set in a steep-sided valley, means that it was difficult for Bucks Mills to expand beyond its nineteenth century limits. As children left the family home they were often forced to move out of the hamlet, due to lack of available accommodation. The high degree of residential persistence found in the village may well have been higher still, had there been the opportunity to create more housing within the village.
The fact that, with very few exceptions, the cottages in Bucks Mills were constructed between 1812 and 1835 has implications when studying the population of the later nineteenth century. It means, for example, that many adults appearing in the 1841 census returns are migrants, albeit often only very short distance ones. It seems likely that the creation of the hamlet at this time was related to the need to increase agricultural yields; a result of population increase and the effects of the Napoleonic Wars. The cottages in Bucks Mills provided accommodation for additional estate workers. Bringing land of a more marginal nature under cultivation required the use of lime as a fertilizer and lime burning was undertaken at Bucks Mills. Lime kilns are common along the North Devon coast from Hartland to Bideford and there is some debate about the date of the kilns at Bucks Mills. The suggestion that one kiln is Elizabethan seems unlikely as ‘until the middle of the eighteenth century limekilns were often temporary structures built solely to meet immediate demand and then allowed to collapse.’ (Richard Williams, Limekilns and Limeburning Shire Publications Ltd, Aylesbury (1989) p. 7.) A more realistic theory is that the eastern kiln was erected around 1780, in which case it would have used labour from nearby settlements. The Manor Court Roll for Goldsworthy Manor, dated 23 April 1807, includes a complaint concerning the damage caused by the erection of lime kilns and an associated road, which might suggest that at least one of the three kilns was later still.
Apart from lime burning, the predominant occupations in Bucks Mills were that of fishing and agriculture. Most inhabitants adopted a self-sufficient lifestyle, fishing in season and cultivating the slopes behind the village when time allowed. Agricultural labourers tilled their own plots and worked for one of the two large estates that owned most of the village. Villagers kept goats, chickens and the occasional pig on the terraces that ran behind the cottages. In keeping with the size of their dwellings, the Woolfardisworthy residents tended to have more space for cultivation than those on the Parkham side. Occasionally, residents found employment in the nearby quarry, or landing sand for building work. Throughout the nineteenth century, the village provided many of its own services and shopkeepers, shoemakers, beer house keepers, masons, school mistresses and dressmakers can all be found. A particular feature of the village is that many of its residents held dual occupations; frequently agricultural labourers were also fishermen or mariners. Written records, such as census returns and baptismal registers, indicate that many individuals assumed different occupations during their lifetime. Records of baptisms that occurred close to census dates, often give the father’s occupation as something other than that enumerated in the census. Oral evidence substantiates that this did not reflect rapid changes of occupation but that, for many, these jobs were held concurrently.
Migration into and out of, Bucks Mills was largely short distance in nature; with many in-migrants and most out-migrants coming from, or going to, neighbouring parishes. Links with parishes to the west of Bucks Mills have been found to be much stronger than those to the east. Of those who did leave the area, a high proportion went abroad. These emigrations were almost all conducted as extended family groups and prompted by affiliation to the Bible Christian Church.
Although Bible Christianity was established in Bucks Mills from its earliest years, there is no indication that there was ever a designated chapel in the village. Adherents may have met in homes within Bucks Mills or attended a nearby chapel, perhaps the one at Dyke, in Upper Clovelly. The 1851 religious census records 141 Wesleyan Methodist attendances at ‘Bucks Chapel’ yet, in 1852, the inhabitants were described as possessing ‘very little mental culture, and no moral instruction.’ (Martha Few (transcribed), A Fishing Hamlet or A Memorial of Hannah The Braund Society, The Isle of Wight (2006) p. 6.). The 1850s and 1860s saw a Wesleyan Methodist revival in the village but Bible Christianity had all but gone from Bucks Mills by the mid-nineteenth century. Nonetheless, in the years when the movement held sway, it had a considerable impact on the inhabitants. The resurgence of non-conformity in the 1850s was encouraged by the fact that the two Anglican churches of the parent parishes were several miles from Bucks Mills; the journey would have been difficult for the very young or infirm, particularly in bad weather. It was the plans for building a new Methodist Chapel, in the early 1860s, that prompted the local landowner, Mrs Elwes, to donate land for an Anglican Church in Bucks Mills itself, with the aim of weaning her tenants away from non-conformity by providing easy access to an established church.
Its geographical isolation and perhaps the personality of its inhabitants, made Bucks Mills a very self-contained and enclosed settlement; oral history suggesting that the residents were intolerant of incomers. As a result, increasing intermarriage during the nineteenth century, culminated in Bucks Mills being referred to as ‘the village of a single surname’ (The Evening Standard 1 March 1928). This claim does have a basis in truth, as the twenty three different surnames found in the village in 1841, reduced to thirteen in the space of two generations.
There is a discussion forum about the history of Bucks Mills on Genealogywise. See also ‘Who Lived in Cottages Like These?: the inhabitants of Bucks Mills’ by Rebecca and Janet Few, available from the Braund Society stand on Parish Chest and Faith, Fish, Farm or Family? The Impact of Kinship Links and Communities on Migration Choices and Residential Persistence in North Devon 1841-1901.
© Janet Few
‘Those who do not know their origin will not know where they are going’ Dr Jose Rizal