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The Poor House and Cottages at Dunstone

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The following has been pointed out to us by a reader:

In Stephen H Woods book Widecombe in the Moor. A Pictorial History of a Dartmoor Village, page 45, top, there is a photo showing Higher Dunstone, noting 'the Poor House in the foreground. (now Blossom Farm plus adjoining cottage.) The text also states (page 44) that 'The original parish Cottage was used as support to the Church House as the churchwardens accounts report, on September, 1822: "John Rendle to have a bed in the Poor House at Dunstone and Ann Potter to come back to Widecombe Poor House to go around from Farm to Farm for daily labour and a shilling a week for Sunday's diet". In October 1825 this building was then extended providing more room for the poor. (No referencing in this publication).

Roger's book fails to mention this additional poor house facility completely. He does make comment about the shortage of space at the Church House as areas were let out for other uses. Maybe that was possible because the in-house poor were placed in the Dunstone Poor House.

The author has the following comments to make about this:

Stephen Wood’s references as described in his book and in the above quote are in the Select Vestry Minutes which are located at SW Heritage Trust, not in the Churchwardens' Accounts. Expanding on what Stephen says, in the minutes for October 1825 it states "The present meeting have come to a unanimous opinion to build two cottages at Dunstone adjoining the east end of the present parish house" and, later, in January and February 1826 there are payments made to a number of people ‘toward the building of Dunstone Houses’. As is often the case it does not state the reason for the building of additional cottages. Also, the Select Vestry minutes are not accounts as such, so one would expect to see the payments for the building work reflected in the Churchwardens' Accounts, but no evidence of this has been found, so there must be another set of accounts somewhere, or another fund out of which this money has been paid.

In the undated letter extracted from the Select Vestry minutes discussed on pages 60-62 of the ‘Welfare in Widecombe’ book, there is a reference to ‘the Houses occupied by our poor’, which suggests that there were more than one, although of course some poor were 'out-poor' and resided either with family or in some other way elsewhere in the parish. It also states that the poor pay rent for their rooms. It is not clear about locations, and also later refers only to ‘this our Church property’ by which is meant the Church House itself. If the poor pay rent then it becomes difficult to separate out those that are poor from those that are normal tenants. Perhaps the rental income described in the Accounts for the Lady House etc. is in fact from the poor, some of whom paid rent to be there. An interesting thought and one that warrants further investigation.

There is also a reference in the Churchwardens’ Accounts of 1824 to a payment of 5s for ‘Reed and Sparsticks for the poor house at Dunstone’ (A023.p045.jpg) and no doubt there are other such references. This is a very clear reference to a poor house at Dunstone.

Also, the Overseers’ Accounts for 1821/22 (A007.012.004.jpg) has an entry ‘for removing Mary Mules’s Bed for Widecombe Town to Dunstone 6d’. This is likely to be to the poor house.

As noted above, there is also a reference to rent received for the house at Dunstone in 1823 of £2 10s. (A023.p046.jpg). This same property was called Lady House shortly afterwards (A023.p049.jpg). It is possible that what is going on here is similar to what was going on at the Church House, that is, Lady House was let out at times and used as a poor house at other times (or even a combination of the two). Perhaps thereafter demand became such that a decision was made to build on the east side of the Lady House.

Taken all together it looks as if there was at least one house at Dunstone that was being used as a supplementary poor house in the 1820s, so we are extremely grateful to our reader for pointing this out.

Today's cottages at Dunstone (shown in Stephen Wood's aerial photo) may have been built (or rebuilt) a bit later, probably after the Tithe Apportionment of 1843, which shows the Church House as a "Poor House andC" but the Lady House plot described as a "House and Garden" both of which belong to the parishioners and part of the Parish Lands Estate . The Lady House was lost at the time of the building of the present cottages, so these cottages were probably not the poor house even if they are on the same site, although they were built by the parish for the benefit of the parish. A bit more investigation is needed here.

Of some relevance is the Widecombe Church House and Lands Charity. This charity took over the running of church lands, including Lady House, during the nineteenth century as noted below in Anthony Beard’s comments recorded in the July 2001 History Group Minutes:

History Group Minutes July 2001

From Anthony Beard:
“In the 1800s The Church House, Buttes Parke (the present Village Green), land at Dunstone (Lady Meadow) and a house named Lady House were recorded as the assets of The Widecombe Church House and Lands Charity. Ultimately the present four cottages were built on the site of Lady House, the remainder of Lady Meadow was sold to the then Newton Abbot Rural District Council for the building of the six Council Houses, the Village Green was passed to the Parish Council to manage and the Church House was, after being sold to the Education Board in the 1880s, bought back in the 1930s and then given to The National Trust”.

All in all, there is an opportunity here to further investigate the history of the Church House and Lands Charity in general and of the houses at Dunstone in particular.

Stephen Woods also mentions that the Lady House was once a chapel. Again, if anyone has any more details about this, including the source of the information, I would be very pleased to hear it.

The more the various accounts are studied, the more details and questions come to light. For instance, in 1823 Ladymeadow was rented out for 6 shillings and in 1824 for 3 shillings, but on September 9th 1825 (A023.p049.jpg) there is an agreement to let it out for seven years at £5 5 shillings (reducing to £4 5 shillings if a gate needs to be replaced). This seems out of proportion, but may be explained by the fact that for a few years afterwards there is no rent collected for Lady House, i.e. it was all incorporated in the Ladymeadow rent. On the other hand, if the Lady House was being used as a poor house then that in itself might explain the lack of rent. More to ponder!