The History of Bulkworthy

Bulkworthy is a small parish, both in terms of both area and population. Estimates of its size vary from 6050 acres, in a directory of 1850, to, a more accurate, 1115 acres. The parish lies between the towns of Torrington and Bideford, with its south-western boundary formed by the River Torridge and that to the south-east by the main Holsworthy to Bideford road, now the A388. Bulkworthy is exclusively rural, consisting of several scattered, outlying farms. The only semblance of a village is the group of cottages surrounding Town Farm, known collectively as ‘Church Town’ and a slightly larger hamlet, of never more than nineteen dwellings, at Haytown. The homes in Bulkworthy ranged from the small labourers’ cottages of Haytown, to sizable farms of up to 450 acres. The farm houses are built in the Devon cross-passage house style and most date from the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries.

In Victorian times, the farms in Bulkworthy consisted of four large and four small land holdings and there appears to have been plenty of employment for agricultural labourers within the parish. There was a steady stream of young farm workers coming into the parish throughout the nineteenth century. Some of these lived within the larger farm houses, others occupied cottages of their own in Church Town or Haytown. The soil in Bulkworthy is loam overlying clay, which holds moisture and is suitable for grain. It is less appropriate for root crops, such as mangolds and swedes, as these are harvested in the late autumn or early winter and thus suffer in the damp sub-soil. The Tithe Schedule suggests that the farmland in Bulkworthy was primarily arable.

Bulkworthy’s total population changed significantly during the Victorian era. The population was 110 in 1801, a similar 103 in 1904 and eighty three in 2001. What this disguises is the wide fluctuations of the nineteenth century. In line with the national population, that of Bulkworthy doubled between 1801 and 1851. This was followed by a sharp decline, most notably in the 1850s, when Bulkworthy lost nearly 30% of its inhabitants. It was the hamlet of Haytown that saw the most dramatic losses, with a population decrease of over 40% in this decade alone. This may suggest that those who were leaving the parish were the labourers, rather than the farmers who either owned their farms or had security of tenure. Thus the population of Bulkworthy was very fluid, with many comings and goings. In 1841, less than half of Bulkworthy residents were born in the parish. It was rare for incomers to have travelled far and there was a regular interchange of agricultural labourers and young adult females between Bulkworthy and its neighbours.

Bulkworthy, although considered to be an historic parish in its own right, was formerly a chapelry of Buckland Brewer. The church itself seems to have been under-used, with many baptisms and marriages of parishioners taking place in neighbouring Abbotts Bickington or in Buckland Brewer. The 1851 Ecclesiastical Census records just eight attendees at the Anglican service on 30th March 1851. This may not be an accurate reflection of support for the Church of England within Bulkworthy as Anglicans may have attended the parent church at Buckland Brewer. Of the 196 inhabitants of Bulkworthy, in 1851, 102 attended the afternoon service at the Bible Christian Chapel. A further 80 had attended the morning service; however it is likely that many people were present at both services, so this does not constitute a Bible Christian following of 182. Nonetheless, these figures suggest that more than half the inhabitants of the parish were adherents of Bible Christianity. According to the Ecclesiastical Census, the chapel that was standing in 1851 had been built eight years previously, with 140 seats and standing room for a further fifty. There are however earlier references to baptisms of Bulkworthy residents taking place in the Bethel Bible Christian Chapel at Haytown, as well as in private homes. The obituary of William Newcombe, in The Bible Christian Magazine of March 1854, suggests that the original chapel was constructed in 1826, with a rebuild, not in 1843 but in 1839. The religious allegiance of the inhabitants of Bulkworthy was to have a significant effect on the population, particularly in the 1850s and prompted many of their emigrations.

I am responsible for the One Place Study of Bulkworthy. There is a discussion forum about the history of Bulkworthy on Genealogywise. See also 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

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One comment on “The History of Bulkworthy

  1. […] 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 […]

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