Old Manse


Frances Billinge January 2019


There is a private house half way up Mary Street which is called The Old Manse (Fig.1).

Figure 1. The Old Manse Mary Street (Frances Billinge 2019).

The current owners asked if I could check the derivation of its name. Traditionally the term manse has been used for the residence of a minister of a Nonconformist church (Oxford English Dictionary).


We know that as early as 1786 there was a house for pious uses which was held by feoffees. This was listed on the Land Tax Assessment but its location was not given (Devon Heritage Centre Land Tax Assessment 1786). John Soper was the occupier and the tax was 12 shillings. This suggests a premise of some size. This was at a time when nonconformity was developing in Bovey Tracey so this house could have been linked to any of the various congregations.

The next information we have is from a Charity Commission report of 1907 regarding the provision of Sunday and other schools which stated that in 1809 Wesleyans were in Bovey Tracey and had their own land (Parliamentary Papers Endowed Charities, Devon, 1908. pp.1-16). This congregation was obviously flourishing well enough for it to have Baptism records from 1813 (Devon Heritage Centre 1517D/0/4 Baptism Register: Wesleyan Bovey Tracey Chapel 1813- 1942).

By 1822 there was a meeting house for the Particular Baptists and another for the Methodist Wesleyans (Charity Commission report 1908). The Baptist chapel was on Hind Street (Fig.2).

Figure 2. Baptist Chapel Hind Street. Frances Billinge 2018.

The 1841 Tithe Map showed a chapel at the lower end of Mary Street, plot number 1503. The chapel comprised eight perches of land surrounded on three sides by garden. It was shown as an uninhabited building in grey with a cross marked on its roof (Fig. 3).

Figure 3. Tithe Map Chapel on Mary Street plot number 1503. By kind permission of Devon Heritage Centre.

There was no indication given as to which denomination met at this chapel.  On the 1841 Census no-one was listed as living there. Later photographs of the Wesleyan Chapel on Mary Street tie in with the land description of the Mary Street chapel on the Tithe Map (Figs 4 and 5). It is most likely that this was the land referred to in 1809 above.

Figure 4. Wesleyan Chapel on the South side of Mary Street at the turn of the 19/20th Century. David Lewis Collection

Figure 5. The Same Bovey Tracey Wesleyan Church at a Jubilee in 1930. David Lewis Collection.

The Wesleyan congregation continued to thrive with references in various tax records and gazetteers (Devon Heritage Centre 2160A/PD/1,1844 Land Tax Assessment; William White, 1850. History Gazetteer and Directory of Devonshire ,Sheffield, Robert Leader, p.470; 1856 Post Office Directory of Devonshire, London, Kelly and Company, p. 40; 1857 Billing’s Directory and Gazetteer of Devonshire ,Birmingham, Martin Billinge. p. 312)

First Reference to a Church at Hillhead [The Old Manse]

1857 was a year of considerable religious disquiet in Bovey Tracey as some residents were expressing their anger with the ‘High Church’, also known as Tractarian, views of the local vicar The Hon, and Rev Charles Leslie Courtenay. Courtenay had built a new church in Brimley which followed ‘High Church’ liturgy, and he was now trying to re-order the parish church in a way which some residents considered to be ‘popish’. At a meeting of the parish vestry it was reported that there was a movement to build a free church in the town (The Western Times 5 April 1857, p.7.) This movement worked with speed and on 21 September the new Free Church was opened as a place of worship.(The Western Times 26 September 1857, p.7.) Mr Lock architect was the builder and it would hold 200. A local family by the name of Puddicombe and others helped build it. Architecture extant in The Old Manse confirms that this was the site of the Free Church. It was built behind and attached to a much older house one time called Hillhead at the top of Hind Street (Fig.6; copy of deeds of Hillhead 1725 in possession of current owners).

Figure 6. Tithe Map 1841 showing the house later The Old Manse where the Free Church was built, to the right of field 1552 and The Baptist Church opposite field 1440. By kind permission of Devon Heritage Centre.

Newspapers in 1858 and 1860 reported on this new Free Church. By 1866 it was also referred to as a Congregational Church with Rev. William Ritchie being the Independent Minister at Hillhead (1866 Post Office Directory of Devonshire, London, Kelly and Company, p .734). Ritchie was also closely involved with the British School in Mary Street which had been established to counteract the Tractarian teaching in the Church of England National School.

By 1870 Christian Brethren were also meeting in Bovey Tracey (1870 Morris’ Directory for Devonshire, Nottingham, Morris and Co., p.460). We do not know where this was in the early years but by 1912 they had taken over the disused British School’s premises on Mary Street (Fig. 7; Veronica Kennedy, 2004, Cottage Publishing, p. 67).

Figure 7. Brethren Meeting House from1912. Frances Billinge 2018.

Residents of Hillhead [The Old Manse] from 1871

The 1871 Census enumeration showed that Mary Street then became Hill Street as it rose past the Hind Street turning. Hill Street had Church House where James Young, a minister of the congregational church, was living with his wife and child. The gazetteer of 1873 listed his dwelling as Hillhead (Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire, London, Kelly and Company, p.57-8). From 1877- 1879 the Independent/Congregational minister was Rev. W. Cotton of Hillhead (The Western Times 18 December1878, p .8;1878 J. G. Harrod and Co’s Directory Royal County Directory of Devonshire ,London, Harrod J.G., pp. 72-3; 1878-9 William White, History Gazetteer and Directory of Devonshire  Sheffield, Robert Leader, p.167-8).

On the 1881 Census Henry King the congregational minister with his wife and two children were listed as living at the premises which can be pinpointed as Hillhead [The Old Manse].

The 1887 O.S. Map marked Hillhead [The Old Manse] as a Congregational chapel (Fig.8)

Figure 8. 1887 O.S. Map showing the Congregational Chapel.

In 1889 Rev. John King was the congregational minister (Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire ,London, Kelly and Company, p.68). By the time of the 1891 Census Melanethon L. Gooby was the congregational minister living on Mary Street with his wife and child.


1892 is the first reference so far found to a house being called ‘The Manse’. This was in connection with the Gooby residence when Rev. Gooby’s daughter, Miss Gooby, received a prize (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 16 April). By 1893 Rev. Gooby was described as living at The Manse (Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire and Cornwall and Devon ,London, Kelly and Co., p.70).

In 1928 a new site on Fore Street was found for the Congregational Chapel and School (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette June 28, p.7; Veronica Kennedy, 2004. The Bovey Book, Bovey Tracey, Cottage Publishing, p. 88).


There was a Manse in Mary Street which was connected with the Congregational church. In 1857 this church was built and opened as a place of worship. At that time it was called an Independent Church. Architecture of the current house confirms that this was the site of the new church built as an extension to the existing house which was previously called Hillhead. The latter is thought to have been built in the early 1700s, but could have been earlier than that. (Private collection of transcription of deeds from 1725 of the dwelling named as Hillhead.) The Congregational minister generally lived there from 1866. It is first recorded as being called a Manse from 1892.


Grateful thanks to the owners of The Old Manse for their assistance with this research.