top of page

Giddy at Gidleigh

Updated: Sep 10

This past June my wife and I took a month-long vacation through parts of France, Spain, Iceland and England. It seems crazy that two months have passed since then but we knew we had to hit the ground running when we got back, so two music festivals with 5500 kilometers driven to attend them, 3 house concerts hosted, and multiple other irons in the fire, here we are!

There were a number of highlights during our trip, many of which were visits with relatives both well-known and newly-found. Some of those visits were with Prowse cousins.

Returning to England after nearly a week in Iceland, we spent our first night at a charming inn/pub called the Bugle Inn in Twyford, Hampshire. Twyford is very near Winchester, where my wife's paternal Edmonds-side originally hails from. We found one Edmunds grave marker in the local church yard and also drove by Shawford Park Manor, where her great-great grandfather was head gardener.

More Prowse importantly, we met up with Claire Betts (n. Prowse) and her husband Graham for dinner at the Wykeham Arms, in the shadow of Winchester Cathedral. Claire and I are 2nd cousins. We've communicated by email, messenger, and Zoom but have never met in person, so to do so was a real treat. Claire's father was Alfred William 'Alf' Prowse (1930-2003) and her grandparents were Samuel John 'Jack' Prowse (1887-1931) and Mildred Clara Prowse (1895-1978). Samuel and Mildred were 1st cousins. The story goes that Mildred was previously engaged but lost her fiancée to WWI. Mildred's family were from the London area, while Samuel was from Barnstaple, Devon. We know that Samuel went to London but are not sure when. Perhaps it was after the death of Mildred's father Edwin John Prowse (1856-1911), in order to help support Edwin's widow Clara (n. Barns 1868-1935) and her seven daughters or perhaps it was before - a mystery yet to be solved. My grandmother was Anne Margaret 'Annie' Prowse (1894-1975), the second eldest of Mildred's six sisters.

We had a very lovely chat over a fine meal of Wykeham pies all-round. Claire shared stories about her father, uncles, and cousins and was curious about my mother's side of things, especially how it was that I was largely unaware of my Prowse connections until a year or so ago. The truth is that my mother never shared much about her family - on either side of things. In general, my mother's family seems to have been somewhat dysfunctional. The big regret of our get-together with Claire was that no one thought to take a photo - so one of the Cathedral will have to do instead.

From Twyford we drove the 3-1/2 hours to visit Malcolm Prowse and his wife Kate in their country home near Barnstaple. Malcolm's great-great grandfather was John Thorne Prowse (1854-1912), Edwin John's brother. Like their father, Samuel Prowse (1820-1886), both brothers were Masons.

As the reader can understand, all these Prowse relationships are quite connected and somewhat circular. But that is only of passing interest, the real crux of this blog are the historical Prowse sites that we visited with Malcolm and his lovely wife Kate.

Our first stop, after a long drive to the rolling hills of Dartmoor, was Gidleigh Castle and Gidleigh Church next door. According to Sir William Pole's 1791 book Collections Towards a Description of the County Devon (p.245), the castle was held by the Prouz family from the time of the reign of Henry II (1154-1189), when it was held by Walter Prouz, until the reign of King Edward (1307-1327), when it was held by Sir William Prouz, who died in 1316. William died leaving a sole heiress, Alice Prouz (1286-1335), who married Sir Roger de Moels (d.1323). Alice and Roger had three daughters who divided Alice's inheritance, with Gidleigh passing to daughter Alice de Moels, who was married to John Daumarle (Damerell).

The ruins of Gidleigh Castle lay on the grounds of a private house barely visible through the trees behind an impressive locked iron gate. Malcolm provided some details about the castle but it seemed we were to be denied an up close and personal visit, so we headed next door to the church. Inside Holy Trinity Church is a wooden plaque listing the Rectors of Gidleigh and their patrons, which is where the names listed above all appear.

After exiting the church, it was our good fortune to strike up a conversation with a woman walking down the lane, who happened to be the groundskeeper of the private house. She was happy to grant us access to the grounds and the ruins themselves, so we had a good exploration of the ruins. Later on the groundskeeper came by and walked us through the gardens and grounds showing us foundations and other remnants of what was likely the manor house at one time and even a secret escape tunnel from the castle which comes out in a small ditch. Malcolm was happy as a lark at the opportunity and even did a video chat with his daughter from inside the castle ruins.

After our giddy experience at Gidleigh we made the short drive to Chagford for a very delicious lunch at the Three Crowns Inn. Following that we headed across the street for a wander through St. Michael the Archangel Church, another Prowse site. Among the interesting artifacts in the church are a plaque in memoriam to Johannes (John) Prouz, underneath which is the Prouse Coat of Arms and a medieval helmet that was traditionally placed on Prowse coffins.

According to Sue Tako's Prowse Family History book, 3rd edition, p.84, the plaque on the wall reads: "In memory of that most illustrious man John Prouz, Armiger. Descended from the very ancient Family of Prouz. Trusting in the Lord, he was loyal to the King, a dear husband and a faithful friend. With him the race of Prouz (in the male line) became extinct, (but) heir(esses?) were born of the name. His ethereal spirit has been uplifted to the region whither first ascended Christ, to the Star of Day. Judith, his mourning relict, daughter of George Southcot, a Knight of golden (spurs), erects (this tablet). He died 19 May, 1664."

We had dinner that evening at the New Inn in Goodleigh, where we were joined by Malcolm's brother Richard and his dog for yet another splendid meal and conversation. Malcolm sure seems to know his way around the parts (and eateries), as well he should as long-time Councillor for the Bratton-Fleming Ward of the North Devon Council.

The next morning we were off to Barnstaple proper for a meet-up and tour of the Guild Hall with the Mayor, Louisa York and a few staff of the Hall. The Guild Hall was full of amazing historical artifacts and the courtroom almost breathed a sense of drama. On one wall we found a listing of Mayors of Barnstaple, including Robert Prowse (3rd row) from 1588 under the reign of Elizabeth I. On another, a listing of Members of Parliament, including under the reign of Richard II (3rd row) Thomas Prowse 1381 and Johannes Prouse 1384 and under the reign of Elizabeth I (5th row) Robert Prowse 1584.

Following our time in the Guild Hall we wandered down Butchers Row, past the Barnstaple Pannier Market, saw what Malcolm said was the last Whimpy's left in England, down the High Street to St. Peter and Mary Magdalene church, into an area of old Alms houses, and then down to the river where we saw the famous Barnstaple Long Bridge over the river Taw. Across the river we could see a few of the old Trades houses, under renovation. It was in Trades houses like this that Malcolm's mason ancestors would have worked and learned their trade. Eventually the four of us ended up at Queen Anne's Café on the Strand for - you guessed it - another fine meal. We were met there by Malcolm's sister Liz Spear and her rather dapper husband Derrick. We finally had a chance to try the fish chowder, a delicious local favourite consisting of cod, haddock and salmon in a creamy white wine broth.

After lunch we returned to our car and left lovely Barnstaple for the two-hour drive south to Cornwall to visit with a Mattey cousin near Truro.

My wife and I are so grateful to Malcolm and Kate for their amazing hospitality and willingness to show us their part of the world and a few morsels of Prowse-dom. Truly I feel like I've only seen the tip of an iceberg - there is so much more I'd like to see - when I'm ready.

64 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All

Preface: Gordon Sanson was an avid amateur genealogist with much research done on the Prowse line. One of his sources was Irwin Prowse's book published 1992 listing over 1800 Prowse descendants in Au

bottom of page