13. The 1808 Sundial

Looking much younger than its 200 years, this sundial hangs on the south porch at Holy Trinity

When I first laid eyes on this sundial I had an epiphany. Look at the date! This sundial was installed not long after Jane and Bartholomew’s plaque. Or were the plaque and the sundial placed at the same time? Hmm. That might explain the mixup on Jane’s date of death which happened the previous year. Look at who the churchwardens were. Was this Francis Fishleigh the son of Jane and Bartholomew who was baptized in 1749 and would have been fifty-nine years of age in 1808?  While the IGI indicates that there were other Francis Fishleighs in other parishes in this period of time, it is only the son of Jane and Bartholomew who was baptized at Milton Damerel and therefore a very likely candidate to be churchwarden at this stage in his life.

So there is an important possible lead into the history of the time and possibly into the lives of Jane and Bartholomew and family. They are called Churchwarden’s Accounts. They give particulars of rates, receipts, and payments for church purposes and are often highly interesting. I have found one for this period in the neighbouring parish of Newton St Petrock, the other side of the Torridge, which I will share with you at some point. Please remind me if I forget.  In the meantime I must see what exists by way of surviving churchwarden’s accounts for Milton Damerel.  I have just emailed the archivists In Barnstaple to see what they have to say. There are 247 Milton Damerel fonds in various archives according to an a2a (access to archives) search but I can see no reference to churchwardens accounts.

I have just had a reply from the Devon Record Office 1 December 2009, ” I have checked our lists and I am afraid that sadly, there are no surviving churchwardens accounts or vestry minutes for Milton Damerel.  They are not likely to be held elsewhere.”  When I receive information like this it makes me grateful for those records which we do have and to look all the more carefully at them for clues to life at the time.

The Land Tax record for Milton Damerel for 1808 is the clearest year of the fifty-two for which records have come down to us.  Unlike the record for 1780 we now have a column which lists each of the seventy-nine tenements in the parish beginning, as was the custom, with the Parsonage which was owned and occupied by the Reverend Thomas Clack who had arrived in the community in 1798. Clack was an outstanding farmer and a scientific naturalist.

Mr. Clack provided Charles Vancouver, at the inspector’s request, with valuable information on mildew or rust, as it was known locally, in a letter of 17 January 1807 which was published in the General View of the Agriculture of the County of Devon in 1808. The letter provides many glimpses into the way it was in Milton in 1807 and perhaps, in Mr. Clack’s words from time immemorial so I am here transcribing the letter verbatim.  It is most curious that throughout his survey Vancouver ignores the insights and sound advice provided by Clack and district by district on the subject of wheat he repeats the unenlightened superstitions of previous generations.  On page 147 for example, one reads, “The smut generally is, and always may be, prevented by a due attention to liming of seed in the manner before noticed.” To what extent was wheat rust a factor in the years of famine following harvest failures of the late 1790s throughout the land? Milton clearly had a very knowledgeable resident farmer in Rector Clack who would have had a positive impact on the welfare of this agricultural community.

Observations on the Blight on the Husbandman’s Hope, the Staff of Life

In pursuance of the request you have been pleased to honour me with, I have sent you some of my observations on the blight on wheat &c.

That this blight is a fungus, has been discovered by the aid of the magnifying glass; and that its consequences are very pernicious to wheat, is acknowledged by all agriculturists, as it impeded the nutritive fluid in its progress from the root to the grain. This fungus, I observe, is generated in many other vegetable substances besides wheat, such as trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, &c. varying in colour and size. These receiving the infection at different seasons of the year, form, as it were, conductors from one to the other, in which fungi germinate, effloresce, disseminate, and die, during the evolutions of the seasons.  In spring and autumn the fungus thrives similar to all other vegetable substances in a more luxuriant degree than in winter, exhibiting itself most powerfully on the leaves of the alnus nigra baccifera, or black alder, pear tree, willow, box, barberry, raspberry, rose, gooseberry, blackberry, trefoil, strawberry, dock, coltsfoot, grasses, the yellow corn, or melancholy thistle, and wheat. Its colour is first pale yellow, then orange, turning off to a brown or black. On some leaves it destroys the part affected, and entirely kills others. On the leaves of pears, barberries, the black alder, and gooseberry trees, it exhibits itself at first in small yellow pustules, increasing in size until they effloresce in clusters of various shapes, occupying both sides the leaf, turning off to a vermillion, and then a dark rusty brown colour. Sometimes the fungus affects also the blossom; as for instance, that of the black alder. Sometimes young shoots, as those of the afore-mentioned tree, of which I have seen every shoot just as it sprouts forth, infected all round, curled up, the fungus as large as a goose-quill, and the shoot finally destroyed. Sometimes it infects the fruit, as for instance, that of gooseberry trees, which as soon as the fungus has arrived at maturity, withers and falls to the ground. On the black alder the fungus is larger than on any other shrub, and on the box the most minute.

On bramble, roses, and raspberry leaves, its first appearance is generally of a pale yellow powder, turning off to an orange colour, and lastly jet black mildew. So likewise in the coltsfoot, wheat and grasses. Its effects on barley and oats are so trifling as not to deserve notice. When you perceive the upper part of leaves turned red or brown, and in spots, it is a sure indication of their having been infected by the fungus, which you will generally find on turning up the leaf, growing beneath it, and in its last stage, unless it has been washed off by heavy rains.

In 1805 I remarked that half a large field of wheat adjoining to the coppice, was very much smitten with the blight, or rust, as it is generally called in this neighbourhood, but as the contagion occurred before the ear had shot, little or no damage was sustained by the grain. The other half of the field was then tilled, and last year an infection took place similar to the year before, but after the ear shot, unfortunately two successive infections took place; the grain was consequently much injured, as not only the leaf but the stock and glumes were attacked, from their being exposed, and had not the field been cut before it was ripe, it would have been destroyed. The seeds of fungi are so minute, and exceedingly light, that they are liable to be wafted by every breeze, when accompanied by moisture or fogs: thence the false idea that the mildew is caused by the fog alone. The fungus having arrived at maturity in the spring on a few shrubs, bushes, or plants, is taken up by the next humid atmosphere, wafted into the adjoining fields, and the nearest wheat is sure to suffer most. The wheat near the western hedge, where any plants congenial to the growth of fungi remain, is sure to suffer more than any other part of the field. In damp weather also its seed is more immediately received into the leaves of trees and shrubs, together with their barks and fruits, through the medium of those valves or mouths which nature has supplied them with for the admission of moisture. These valves possess a contractile force, which is operated on by the power of a dry or cold atmosphere, whereby the regress of the moisture is prevented, and of course it is taken up by the tree. These valves are scarce perceptible to the naked eye, but are easily descried by the use of a highly magnifying glass. The farina of the fungus is as in the case of other vegetable substances, carried from flower to flower, by means of insects, but these insects generally assimilate their colour to the colour of the fungus, except in one instance: the fungus on the black alder, barberry, and gooseberry tree, is attended by an insect about the size of a cheese mite; it is of a shining jet black, and somewhat the shape of a beetle. It is the exact size of the aperture in the fungus blossom, and when the fungus is decaying, inhabits it, and feeds on its interior. These curious little insects are sometimes found also in the interior of dead oak apples, where, as in other fungi, they probably remain during winter.

Having troubled you with some history of the fungus, its progress and consequences, I will proceed next to give you my reasons to prove how its extent may be materially lessened; for though we may as well say that weeds shall not infest our gardens, as expect to give a total check to the growth of fungus in wheat, nevertheless, by cutting out or eradicating whatever we find on our farms whatever is congenial to the growth of fungus, I doubt not but we may render a most beneficial service to wheat by preventing that excess of injury which sometimes threatens the whole nation with famine, and is often the cause of lamentable scarcities.

Though the progress of fungus is much checked by the falling of leaves in autumn and winter, with which it most probably perishes, yet it is most remarkable to onserve, that some evergreens, particularly the box and bramble bush retain the fungi in all their various stages , even during the severest frosts of winter; and which, on the return of a little mild and humid weather in spring, contribute to infect with an astonishing rapidity the earliest leaves and shoots of spring in those vegetables congenial to its propagation. These fungi then flourish with an extraordinary luxuriance, and in the course of a week or two, arriving at maturity, disseminate their baneful effects throughout thousands of acres of those golden sheaves which are the husbandman’s hope and the staff of life.

There are also some trees which retain old fungus during winter on their barks, such as the common willow, hazel, birch, and sometimes oak coppice, but principally the former, and from their smutty appearance, even at some distance being distinguished, should either be cut down, or at least lose their limbs, which will in the ensuing spring send forth abundance of clean young wood. The barberry will also retain old fungi in any fissure or cleft in the bark, occasioned by injury, exhibiting numerous black pustules: these should be cut out. Winter is also the best period for getting rid of the black alder, at such time particularly distinguished by the blackness of her bark, though at this time free from infection. The bramble abounds in all countries, and is therefore more injurious than the box, being similar to her in bearing the fungus, as I said before, at all seasons, even in the severest frosts of winter; she ought, therefore, to be cut as close as possible in our hedges and coppices, at least once or twice a year.

Boxes are seldom much affected by the fungus when situated in an elevated and open situation, but in shady and damp ones their growth must be attended with very deleterious consequences; even in winter, the coarse grasses that grow near them, if in a hedge, will be strongly infected, of which I have at present a specimen in my garden.

The common practice of new making the hedges round the wheat, is certainly attended with many benefits, particularly in lessening the quantum of fungi that would otherwise injure the corn.

The glebe of my living had been notorious from time immemorial for being given to rusty wheat, when I was presented to it. Its glebe is eighty acres, and on my residence, not liking to entangle myself at once with the whole, I lett two thirds of it to two of my parishioners for the term of seven years. No rector having resided for upwards of twenty years, the fences were extremely dilapidated. During the first two years I made nearly three-fourths of the hedges, and such was the immediate effect of cutting, steeping, and plashing them, that the nature of the glebe seemed altered, and the corn was very near as clean as that of the rest of my neighbours. Wherever where I have heard of a field or farm reputed for bad corn, I have invariably found those trees congenial to the fungus abundant in the hedges, or adjoining woodlands. Nor do I conceive, that any field in which the coltsfoot or yellow corn thistle grows, can possibly be free from rust, in consequence of the multiplicity of fungi that grow under the leaves; and every exertion ought to be made use of to get rid of them. I hope you will pardon my presumption in begging to differ from that able naturalist, Sir Joseph Banks, who (in his Treatise on the Cause of the Disease of the Blight in Corn) says,” It cannot however be an expensive precaution to search diligently in the spring for young plants of wheat infected with the disease, and carefully to extirpate them.” By due examination it will be found, that when one blade of wheat exhibits fungus, the whole field is infected in every blade, though to various extents. The opinion too of Fontaine is erroneous, who supposes, “that the yellow and dark-coloured fungus is not the same species”; and is easily exploded by everyone who will observe its progress minutely.

I think I must now have tired you with the length of my letter, which I have confined chiefly to the principal heads of the subject, that I may not be too tedious in detail. In the course of this year new light will arise, and it is my intention to make appropriate drawings of the progress of the rust during each season of the year. It will give me great pleasure, should any of my observations turn out of any service to yourself in the work you have undertaken.

Requesting, that whenever you again visit Devon, that you will give me an opportunity of paying my respects to you at Milton Damarell,

“Believe me, with great respect,

Dear Sir,

Your very obedient humble servant,

Thomas Clack.

Thomas Clack was, as he mentions in his letter, the first resident rector at Milton in a long time.  He continued as rector, owner of the living, but he moved before long to a drier part of the county. According to the Land Tax records he replaced himself with a curate, William Tucker, in 1812 and 1813, then returned for a couple of years until 1816 when he hired William Ward. Clack did not return to live again at Milton after 1815. While he lived until 1851, he sold the living  to Richard Holland by 1824.



2 Responses to “13. The 1808 Sundial”

  1. Jeff Clack Says:

    I have read with great interest your website and all of the information detailed.

    I am a direct descendant of the Rev. Thomas Clack to whom you have referred. I have collected over time a great deal of information about him and he lead a colourful and interesting life. He inherited a large estate from his father, reputedly worth £20000 in 1820, and yet died in 1852 virtually penniless and the executor and main beneficiary of his will was an Elizabeth Fishleigh who was his housekeeper. The living of Milton Damerel was sequestrated in 1823 for about 22 years whilst he apparently went abroad and then acted as a curate in Cambridgeshire for about 18 years until he returned to Milton Damerel in 1845 on the death of his wife from whom he appears to have been separated. There is more…..mapmaking……archaeology……Chancery case…..etc

    Obviously not all of this relates to the Milton Damerel area. Some of your information on him is new to me which is helpful and I would be happy to share with you my information if you are interested.
    Regards, Jeff Clack

    • holleyrichardson Says:

      Dear Mr Clack,

      I am a student in my 3rd year at Southampton Solent University, studying BA (Hons) Interior Design Decoration. For my current final project I have chosen to redesign the interior scheme for a residential property with historic value and as such I chose ‘Milton House’ in Milton Damerel, which is noted to be the former rectory of the parish. I am therefore contacting you in the hope you may be able to please help me as I am trying to build a current profile on the lifestyle of a rector. I understand from your previous entry that you are a descendant of Rev. Thomas Clack and was wondering if you may be able to please give me a general overview or any information on what his daily routine and domestic life within the home would have been like. I am also trying to confirm that Milton House was infact the rectory for the listed rectors, mentioned by Don Davis in ‘Fishleigh’s blog’, as the it is often referred to as ‘the parsonage’. If you could take the time to contact me back I would be ever so grateful. Many Thanks, Holley Richardson

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