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In years immediately following the Second World War, the people who attended Whimple Congregational Church, and in particular its Sunday School pupils, were busy fundraising. They were raising money for the London Missionary Society (LMS), to enable it to purchase a new ship to send missionaries to the islands of the South Pacific.

The LMS had had a series of missionary ships dating back to 1844, all named John Williams in honour of one of their earliest missionaries who was killed and eaten by cannibals in 1839. The ship John Williams V was commandeered as a cargo boat during World War Two, and so after the war funds were raised to buy a new ship by Congregational Churches not only in England but across the world.

In 1948 a naming ceremony for the new ship was held in London, and children from the British Isles, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Northern Rhodesia, the Samoan Islands, the Cook Islands, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, Niue, New Guinea and Jamaica presented purses of money to Princess Margaret, who then named the ship. The purses were token gifts of the money collected towards the cost of the ship. A Sunday School pupil from Whimple was chosen to represent Devon at this ceremony.

Memorabilia from the day can be seen on display at the Whimple Heritage Centre. It is also possible to see original footage of the ceremony by following the link

It is hard to believe that the people of a small cider making village in Devon were having an impact on the lives of people living on the other side of the world. And what did the people of the South Pacific think about all this? Not only were they persuaded to change their religion, but the missionaries also created written versions of their languages for the first time, and taught them skills such as metal-working. Were they pleased by the changes that the missionaries brought to their lives, or would they prefer that their ancestors had been left alone? That is a question that only they can answer.

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Finding a Section of the Roman Road


A couple of years ago, we were intrigued by an aerial photograph by Frances Griffith taken in 1983 showing a crop mark in fields near Straightway Head and believed to be caused by the remains of an old Roman Road called the Fosse way.  The Romans built the Fosse Way shortly after they arrived in AD43.  The road extended from Exeter to Lincoln, a distance of 230 miles, and marked the Western boundary of Roman rule in Iron Age Britain.  



Near Whimple, the road follows the conventional straight line preferred by the Romans along the Rockbeare Straight until diverging from the old A30 as it bends right just after Hand and Pen.  The Fosse way continues on to Straightway Head and from there goes toward the new A30 and on to Honiton.  This route can be clearly explored on the Devon Environment Viewer.


We were keen to see if there was any visible evidence of the Fosse Way without actually going to the expense of hiring a plane so headed up to the area of Straightway Head on foot.   Eventually, we realised we might have more luck if we looked along the line of the crop mark on the photograph.  In an old shed on that line, the top soil had been removed and we found a variety of large pebbles, small pebbles, stone and shaped stones.  The Romans would typically use local materials of this type. We showed what we had found to Devon Heritage archeologists who felt that there was a good chance this was an exposed section of the road and might bear some form of investigation of some form at a later date.


After the Romans left Britain in 410AD the roads were no longer maintained but were so well built, they continued in use for many centuries.   The next major road building programme in Britain didn’t happen until the !8th century when the turnpikes were built, often following the routes of the Roman roads.  When the Saxons arrived in Devon around 800AD, they almost certainly travelled along the Fosse Way.  Their Old English prefixstrait or streat meaning ‘paved road’ was given to place names near a Roman road e.g. Straightway Head and Strete Ralegh.

Whimple Tithe Map:  Centre of the Village

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Recently identified in the Heritage Centre:  The Tithe Map and Apportionments 1841 for Whimple


Tithes were an annual local tax established in England by the Anglo

Saxons which decreed that one tenth of all produce on a piece of land

had to be paid to support the priest and parish church.   Tithes were

typically paid in kind – for example, every tenth stock of corn or

equivalent of eggs, wool etc. would go to the church and tithe barns

were built to hold the produce.

However, receiving this tax in kind was seen as something of an

inconvenience until the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 when it was

decided that the tithe would instead be converted into an agreed

monetary payment.  In order to decide how much tithe was owed on

each piece of tithe-able land, every parish in England and Wales was

surveyed.  A detailed map was produced of each parish and each plot

numbered so that it could be identified in the accompanying reference

book called an Apportionment.   This listed who owned the land, who

presently occupied it, the name of the land or field, what it was used for

and what it was judged to owe.  Needless to say, these make fascinating

reading for anyone interested in local or family history.   They are usually the earliest reliable source of what the parish looked like at the time.  Anyone now living in a house built before 1841 should be able to find their house, discover who lived there at the time and if there was no house, what the land was used for.

Three copies of the maps and Apportionments were made.   The original was kept by the Commissioners and these are now in the National Archives.   One copy went to the local diocesan registry and those are now held in the Devon Records Office and one was sent to the parish church – which is presumably the one now held in the Heritage Centre.


The tithe map in the Heritage Centre is rather fragile so really can’t be studied until it is copied.  However, lovely Devon Historic Environment has put the tithe maps and apportionments from the Records Office online and individual parishes can be searched for here

Hopefully, studying the tithe map will enable us to bring you more information about the history of Whimple.

Similarly, if you spot something you think we should know about please get in touch.

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