Tuesday 18 February 2014

Old Homes and Homesteads – Part 1 – Corntown, Cornwood Parish, Devon, England

Most of us who seek information about our ancestors are also interested in the places in which they lived. It is a real treat to actually be able to visit old family homes; the older the domiciles, the more interesting they are. In the next few blogs I will describe some of the homes my family inhabited in England, Canada and the United States in past centuries.

In 2004, I had an opportunity to see the ancestral homes of several of my direct ancestors in Cornwood parish, Devon, England. Buildings hundreds of years old are still standing in the area, many of which are protected against destruction or renewal after having been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. Under the regulations, no work can be done inside or out with architectural advice and local council permission.

This did not stop a gentleman who presently lives in the house my 3rd great-grandparents, William and Mary Carpenter, occupied for at least forty years. Fortunately for the current owner, the house is not listed; so he was free to renew the property subject only to normal planning rules.

The house is a traditional, duplex-style building. A privy and barns were present adjacent to the structure. It was constructed primarily of stone, probably in the 18th century and might originally have had a thatched roof. Two families could share the building. The large, mainly open-spaced living quarters were on the main floor. A sleeping loft occupied the second level. The main floor fireplace served for both heating the house and cooking meals.

William Carpenter, of Ermington parish, and Mary Crispin of Cornwood parish, were married in the Cornwood parish church on December 31, 1819. They took up residence first in Cornwood, possibly in the village itself. Cornwood is shown as the Carpenters’ abode on the baptism entries of their first two children in 1820 and 1821. They had moved to the village of Lutton by 1823. Four more children were born there through 1828. Their residence was given as Old Park Mill (at Almshouse Bridge near Lutton) in 1830 when my 2nd great-grandmother, Mary Crispin Carpenter, was born. By 1833 they were in Corntown, presumably in the home they would occupy until their deaths. Two more children were born in this house.

William was a farm labourer, tending nine acres of rented property for many years just south of Yondertown, about three-quarters of a mile from Corntown and half a mile from Lutton. In his old age he became a coal dealer, possibly working with his son-in-law, John Shepheard, my 2nd great-grandfather.

Map of portion of Cornwood Parish in Southwest Devon showing Cornwood Village, Lutton Village, Almshouse Bridge and Corntown – all former localities where William and Mary Carpenter resided; also marked are  locations where William Carpenter rented parcels of farm land (copied from 2004 edition of Ordnance Survey map OL28)
William and Mary Carpenter occupied one side of the duplex for most of their lives, raising their family of nine children in the unit. Their neighbours in the other side, for over twenty years, were Robert and Jenny Lang. On the 1861 and 1871 censuses, the Carpenter’s oldest son, James, is shown occupying the Lang side with his young family. William died in 1877. In 1881, James Carpenter was still in the house but the other side was empty. At that time, Mary was staying with her daughter and son-in-law, John and Mary Shepheard, in Torquay. She died in 1884, in Cornwood. In 1891, James Carpenter and his son, William Henry, occupied the house with their two families. Both were also there in 1901 and 1911 however William’s wife had died in 1896.

The photos below show the house in 1962, just after renovations had started. Parts of the very thick, stone walls had to be removed in order to install new window and door units.
Front view on one side of the duplex in 1962 with one new widow installed

Rear view of one side of the duplex  in 1962 before windows were replaced
The interior was completely gutted and rebuilt. A full second floor was developed with two bedrooms and a bathroom on each side. Downstairs, new kitchens, living rooms and dining rooms were built, along with additions on the rear of the building.

View of interior in 1962 showing the cut- and uncut-stone walls
We cannot be sure at this time when the building lost its last Carpenter tenant. Both James and William Henry likely lived in the house until their deaths, James died in 1913 and his wife, in 1914. William Henry died in 1933, almost 100 years after his grandparents had moved into the home.

Today, the house is a modern-looking duplex with all of the conveniences one would want and expect. The old building is barely distinguishable.

Front view of duplex in 2004 – a modern home!

Rear view of duplex in 2004 with new rooms and porches added
Photos of the 1962 renovation work were taken by the current owner, George Colton, who still lives in the home. More recent photos were taken by Wayne Shpheard on a visit to the parish in 2004.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He serves as the Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.