History

The material on this page is the result of a Ludwell Life supporter doing hours of research into the history of the Ludwell Valley Park area – thanks Laurie!  We would love to gather in any more snippets of information, or stories that you have about life in this area – please get in touch if you have something to share.

Pre-history

(From the Royal Albert Museum history collection)

Ludwell valley is a place people have been drawn to since the Neolithic period and shows a 6,000 – 7,000 year continuity of use and occupation not found elsewhere in Devon.  People used the flint and other stones to make tools such as blades and scrapers; then later, from the Iron Age onwards, the clay for pottery; the land for agriculture.  A number of finds, some of which are described below, have been found in the valley.  These are stored in RAMM’s off-site store in Marsh Barton, viewable by appointment.  Good examples from other sites in the area are on display in the Museum in the “Making History” gallery.

   Neolithic and Bronze Age finds:

  • Pointed blade and core, which is matching, or has had a very similar blade knapped (split off by careful chipping) from it.
  • Yellow chert core.  This is a lower quality stone from which a number of blades have been knapped.  One side is the original outer surface of the stone, identified by its darker colour.
  • A selection of blades.
  • Nosed scraper. This would have been held between fingers and thumb and used for various tasks such as preparing vegetables.
  • Knapped wedge, another hand held tool, showing eclair retouched edge.  This is where the edge has been finished and serrated, using very careful pressure with an antler tyne.

 All members of the community would have known how to make these tools, which could be easily carried with you and easily replaced when they broke or became too blunt.

A collection of over 100 prehistoric worked flints were found in March/April 2000 by R. Thompson in the Ludwell Valley. It includes numerous worked flakes, six scrapers, four cores, eleven blades + some burnt .

Archaeological Evaluation and Excavation at the Tesco Stores Site on Rydon Lane.

Excavations in 1993, in advance of supermarket construction, revealed evidence of prehistoric, Roman and medieval activity. This included an Iron Age camp.  It is now under the Tesco car park, near the store entrance.

Small single ditched rectangular enclosure about 45m x 40m.Prehistoric. It is in a deliberately selected, sheltered position.The enclosure had a series of internal, probable settlement-type archaeological features, including pits and postholes. It is likely that the enclosure had an internal bank, but this had been largely removed by later ploughing. Finds recovered, including a quantity of prehistoric pottery, indicate an Early to Middle Bronze Age date for the initial construction of the enclosure, with occupation potentially continuing into the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age periods. A single possible cremation pit was identified. The enclosure is comparable with sites previously investigated both locally and elsewhere within the county.

 This area has been classified by the Devon Historical Landscape Characterisation as Barton Fields and describes relatively large, regular enclosures laid out between the 15thand 18th centuries with some curving boundaries which may follow earlier land-divisions.

 Barrow.  The cropmark of a small oval enclosure is visible on aerial photographs. This is likely to be the remains of ploughed-down Bronze Age burial mound.  The site lies in level area on the West of England school playing field, and is visible as low mound about 15m diameter and 0.2m high.

 Artefact Scatter.  Flint flakes from Countess Wear on face of a gravel section recently exposed. Found nearly 1m below surface, in subsoil above but near gravel layer. Also fragment of iron-age pottery.Iron Age.  (This is in the front garden of 329 Topsham Road.)

 Single ring-ditch adjacent to linear ditch, surrounded by natural markings. Diameter of ditch 50m. The site lies on level ridge top, close to or in garden of end house in Wendover Way.  Prehistoric.

 Another aspect of the valley that has been identified by recent archaeological work is the fact that a lot of early pottery that is found on sites in Devon (such as Iron Age pottery) has been shown to have been made from clay from the Ludwell Valley. No pottery kilns have yet been found though. Alluvial clays formed from Heavitree stone to the east and stone to the west deposited in the bottom of the valley 280 million years ago were used to make pottery in the Iron Age and Roman times.  Some Roman tiles were almost certainly made from this clay, as was pottery found on the two major Iron Age settlements, one of which was where the new Exeter law courts now are, the other on the Rydon Lane site now occupied by Tesco etc (interestingly, where Ludwell Lane used to leave the old A38).

Name Origins

According to the Dictionary of English Place Names, the derivation of Ludwell is from two Old English words, “hlude”, meaning loud, with “hlaw”, a hill; and hence “the loud (or rapid) river by the hill”.  However, the Online Etymological Dictionary suggests “hlaw” translates not only as hill but also mound, especially a barrow.

 Why is it called Ludwell valley?  There is a spring, now under the kitchen floor of Ludwell House.  It may be that there was an old watercourse, fed by the spring, which Ludwell Lane now follows, flowing down to join the Northbrook.   Local historian W. G. Hoskins suggested the name means “loud spring”, which would be consistent with this theory.

Wonford is a very ancient name.  The old name for the Northbrook, recorded in a Saxon charter of 937 AD, was Wynford. This probably derives from the Celtic “gwyn ffrwd”, meaning the white, fair or holy stream. “Wynford” in turn changed over time to “Wonford”.

Saxon period

The stream gave its name to the manor of Wonford, which belonged to the Saxon kings, and this was the name that became accepted for the ancient Hundred. It was a royal manor in the 12th century.

A ‘Hundred’ was an Anglo-Saxon administrative area, pre-dating counties, districts or parishes.  It remained the intermediate area between parish and county right up until 1894.  It was called a Hundred because it was made up of one hundred hides: a hide being the amount of land a family needed to support themselves – so a hide would be a much smaller piece of land in a fertile area like Ludwell valley that in it would somewhere like Dartmoor.

However, the village of Heavitree, built on the main Exeter to London road, gradually became more important than Wonford,  and so Heavitree is the name the parish was known by. Nearly all of Ludwell Valley Park is therefore in the ancient parish of Heavitree, but the part of the playing fields nearest the Topsham Road and the last stretch of Northbrook before it runs under the Topsham Road are in Topsham parish.

It is thought that one parish boundary is the dyke mentioned in the Topsham charter, dated to AD937 or AD938. This is the hedgerow running along the north east side of the field owned by Anthony Martin, and which has been the subject of repeated applications for  housing development.

Medieval period

St Loyes

St Loyes Chapel lies a little to the north east of the Valley Park, just off Hurst Avenue.  It was built in the thirteenth century.  No-one knows why it was dedicated to St Loye.  He was a seventh century French goldsmith who became bishop of Noyau and was adopted as the patron saint of all metalworkers.   It was no longer in use as a chapel by 1607, when part of it was let as a dwelling house and by 1785 it was a stable!  In the 1890s, the vicar, Rev. Berkeley, tried to raise funds to restore it, but the scheme foundered and so now only the ring remains.  There were also almshouses dedicated to St Loyes, on Salters Road itself, but they are no longer there.  Modern houses now stand on that site.

16th Century

A large number of bones were unearthed in a field below Pynes Hill in the 1960s. It has been suggested they may be remains of those who died in the Prayer Book Rebellion battle of Clyst Heath – a two-day battle at the crossings of the River Clyst, from 4th to 5th August 1549.

 19th century

Records from Devon Heritage Centre

 Footpath replacement 1808

This was in a field just the other side of the Topsham Road, opposite what is now Wonford Playing Fields and the Burnthouse Lane estate.  There was a beaten footpath running through Northbrook grounds, then a little way south-west along a track leading from Topsham Road to the back way into Northbrook Lodge, and thence along the north-western edge of a field belonging to Captain John Lowe towards the old abbey (which was opposite Salmonpool weir, further in towards the city centre)

 Captain Lowe, who lived at Fairfield Lodge, next to the field, applied to the magistrates to replace the path with a wider one, gravel surfaced, nearer the hedge and with a very slight bend straightened out.  His argument was that “by taking away the present curved form it is evident that the path will be considerably shortened and made in every respect of more comfort and utility to the passengers’.  All this he offered to do at his own expense.  But less you think what a public spirited man, there was also an ulterior motive.  He also admitted that “the intention is to fence the field from trespass with as little loss of ground as possible”.  That is, by moving the path nearer to the hedge he could fence the path in and reclaim more of the field.  The magistrates granted his request.

 The field was 565 feet long and about 200 feet wide; bounded to the south-east by the track from Topsham Road, to the south-west by Mr Rooke’s meadows and to the north-west by Captain Potbury’s field and garden.

 There is an interesting parallel here.  This same footpath still exists but has been re-routed two more times, both much bigger diversions.  It still runs from School Lane across Northbrook golf course but then used to go straight through what is now Millbrook and Millfield, then across what is now Isca Academy and straight to the site of the old abbey.  With the building first of the school and more recently of Millbrook Village and the Glade, the footpath has again been diverted, now running much nearer the backwater of the river Exe.

Parish Tithe Maps

In the early 1840s a map, called a Tithe Map, was drawn up for each parish. The purpose was to assess who owed tax and how much.  Most of the tax was due to the vicar or parson, replacing the old system whereby farmers and smallholders had to give one tenth (a tithe) of their produce to the vicar every year. The maps record the name of every field, its size, whether it was arable or pasture, who owned it and who farmed it. 

Ludwell Valley fell within Heavitree parish.  The vicar, it was calculated, was owed £450 a year; other lessees another £580.  To put it in perspective, it would take a craftsman about 8 years to earn £450 in the 1840s!

Fields were fairly small, typically 4 or 5 acres.  Most landowners were men holding a fairly small number of fields, although a few owned larger holdings, up to 50 fields and over 200 acres. 

The table below lists the fields between Ludwell Lane and the Burnthouse estate.  The first eight have since been built on.  You will see as well there are a few fields we haven’t been able to read the names of on the old map.

 

 

Name of Field

Type

Owner

Occupier

1

Wood Park

Arable

Francis William Spicer

Himself

2

?

?

?

?

3

Montague

Arable

Francis William Spicer

Himself

4

Buds

Arable

Rev. William Harris Arundell

Samuel Melhuish

5

Little Boo Wood

Arable

Francis William Spicer

Himself

6

Dolly 7 Acres

Arable

W Reeve

Himself

7

Middle Dryways

Arable

W Reeve

Himself

8

Yonder Dryways

Arable

W Reeve

Himself

9

Crabb Close

Arable

P Jones

Himself

10

Beam Wood

Arable

W Reeve

Himself

11

Little 3 Acres

Arable

W Reeve

Himself

12

Burridge Hill

Arable

J Stogdon

S Vicary

13

Whitley

Arable

Rev. Jonas Dennis

James Capron

14

Great Ridgeway

Arable

Rev. Jonas Dennis

James Capron

15

Wood Meadow

Meadow

Rev. William Harris Arundell

Samuel Melhuish

16

Northern Ridgeway

Arable

Henry Manning, Esquire

Thomas Petherbridge James Smale

17

Little Ridgeway

Arable

Rev. Jonas Dennis

James Capron

18

Great Ridgeway

Arable

Rev. Jonas Dennis

James Capron

19

Ridgeway

Arable

Rev. William Harris Arundell

Samuel Melhuish

 

This next table lists the fields on the south side of Ludwell Lane.

 

 

Name of Field

Type

Owner

Occupier

1

Little Longcombe

Arable

Rev. William Harris Arundell

Samuel Melhuish

2

Butchers Field

Meadow/Arable

George Francis Travers

Richard Maxey Hellings

 

Great Meadow

Meadow

George Francis Travers

Richard Maxey Hellings

 

Round Hill

Arable

George Francis Travers

Richard Maxey Hellings

 

Tea Field

Arable

George Francis Travers

Richard Maxey Hellings

 

5 Acres

Arable

George Francis Travers

Richard Maxey Hellings

 

Shoulder & Mutton

Arable

George Francis Travers

Richard Maxey Hellings

 

4 Acre Meadow

?

?

?

 

?Oak Close

?

?

?

 

?

?

?

?

 

Barn and Court

?

Rev. William Harris Arundell

Samuel Melhuish

 

3 Acres*

Arable

Rev. William Harris Arundell

Samuel Melhuish

 

6 Acres

Arable

Rev. William Harris Arundell

Samuel Melhuish

 

Shipping Field

Arable

Francis William Spicer

Robert Davey

*   Now the old Cherry Orchard

Henry Manning was just about the biggest landowner in the parish with 48 fields, although only one was within Ludwell Valley.  George Travers was another big landowner, with a total of 27 fields in the parish, including the 6 within the valley.  The Rev. Arundell owned another 16 fields elsewhere in the parish, plus farmhouses, as well as his seven in the valley; Samuel Melhuish farmed all but six of the 16.  The Rev. Dennis owned another 5, all farmed by James Capron.  Pitman Jones, Esquire, had four others as well as Crabb Close.  Francis Spicer had another six fields within the parish.

Here is more information about these landowners mentioned in the tithe map:

 1.     The Reverend William Harris Arundell was born in 1798 in Pinhoe.  By the time of the 1861 census, if not before, he was the rector of Cheriton Fitzpaine, which is about 5 miles north of Crediton.  He was 63, his wife, Sarah, only 37.  Sarah in fact was his second wife, whom he married in 1847.  They had at least two children, sons aged 11 and 12, although they were not living at home (maybe away at boarding school?)  The family were pretty well off, having no less than seven live-in servants: a footman, a groom, garden boy, cook, kitchen maid and two housemaids. 

 By 1871, times must have become a little harder and they had only four servants. The two boys had both gone up to Oxford University. Two years later, William died, aged 75, leaving nearly £12,000 (the equivalent of over £600,000 today).

  2.     Samuel Melhuish, the Rev Arundell’s tenant farmer, lived in the Abbots  and Pyne area of South Wonford. He was born in 1781 in Cheriton (thus the connection to his landlord?), so was over 60 at the time the tithe maps were drawn up.  His wife was called Ann, and at the time of the 1841 census, there were three teenagers living with them, a girl of 18 and two boys, aged 14 and 17, both agricultural labourers.  By 1851, aged 70, he was farming and employing two labourers, William Clement and Arthur Barnicoot, both of whom lived with the family.  His 9 year old grandson Robert was also living with them as was a female house servant called Ruth Eveleigh. 

 By 1861, things had changed again.  Samuel was widowed, but still head of the household, farming at the age of 79, employing three men and a boy.  Living with him was his 47 year old son Robert, also a farmer, Robert’s wife Martha, Samuel’s grandson and three grand-daughters, the younger two of whom, aged 10 and 14, were at school.

 This arrangement continued until 1871, although by then the family included Samuel’s one year old great grandson, William, and a 16 year old agricultural labourer called William Philips.  Samuel died later that year at the very good age of 89.  The family lived at Pyne’s Farm.

 3.     J Stogden: I haven’t managed to trace this man, but there have been Stogden families in Woodbury and Lympstone – maybe there still are?

 4.     Reverend Jonas Dennis: There was a man of this name who came from Sowton, where he was baptised in 1804.

20th  Century

Sale of Land 1909

George Havill (any relation to the current owners of Havill’s shops?) owned a fine house, orchard, farm buildings and five cottages in Heavitree, plus a small field in what is now Wonford Playing Fields.  After his death, it was all sold at auction.  The auction was held on 25th May 1909 at the Half Moon Hotel in Heavitree; the auctioneer was Herbert Fulford of 5 Bedford Circus in Exeter, who was selling it on behalf of the Union of London and Smiths Bank.  Was the bank his executor, or were there debts to be paid off?

 Mr Havill had only owned the field for 17 years, having bought it from a Frederick William Arundell Sanders in 1892.  The field was small, about one and two thirds acres (1 acre and 12 perches), with a right of way from Ludwell Lane.  You can see it on this map, which also shows the Carpenters Arms, which only closed in 1998, and, on Ludwell Lane, Sydney Cottage.                                

 

The old Cherry Orchard trees are over 100 years old – maybe as old as 115 years, which is a very good age for fruit trees.  There was also an apple orchard on the land on the east bank of the Northbrook where Woodwater Lane playground is now.

Pynes Hill Farm was on the opposite side of Ludwell Lane to the Fernleigh Nurseries.  It had been there since at least the 1890s, and probably a lot longer, but was gone by the 1960s, if not before.

Lease of part of Pynes Hill Farm 1932

Francis Hurford of Fernleigh Wonford in Topsham, a farmer, leased a large part of Pynes Hill Farm to Mark White of Hallhayes Farm in Wellington, Somerset.  This included the fields known as Northern Ridgeway, Pine Close, Six Acres, Three Acres, Four Acres, Long Longcombe, Oak Close, part of Southern Ridgeway, Wood Meadow and the house and farm buildings.  All the fields apart from Wood Meadow were laid to pasture.  The rent was to be £190 a year. 

The lease included a number of strict conditions.  Mr White was not to break up any permanent pasture; if he did there would be a fine of £100 per acre.  He was to preserve all the trees in the Cherry Orchard, replacing them as necessary. (Some of these trees still stand today.)  He was to keep at least 40 apple trees and currant bushes in the garden.  He had to manage the farm “according to the best rules of husbandry practiced in the neighbourhood”.  He was to prevent, as far as possible, any trespass onto the land.  Finally, he had to purchase the farm’s milk round after one year. 

All the hedges were to be maintained in good condition, apart from two which were “not to be kept up”.  These were the one running along the top of Longcombe and the adjoining field against Ludwell Lane, and the hedge between Northern Ridgeway and Wood Meadow.  So was it agreed that these hedges could be ripped out?  They are both still there today.

Burnthouse Lane estate

The family of a Mrs Richardson owned much of the valley. They ran  a commercial flower growing business – daffodils and other flowers for the London markets.  They also owned the old Country House Inn. They sold the land  to the City Council in the 1930s.  The Council bought it as part of a larger area for housing, to rehouse people from the old parts of St Thomas and the city centre. Not all of the families were happy to be moved and dubbed their new home ‘Siberia’. However, the layout of the estate followed the principles of the then new ‘garden city movement’ and the spacious roads and lack of rat run roads are a result of this design approach.

Many of the men who were moved worked at the old Willeys factory on Haven Road near the Quay. The Trews Weir bridge over the Exe that many of us use today, was actually built by Willeys to help their workforce get to work from their Burnthouse Lane homes.

Most of the land bought by the council is now Rifford Road and the Burnthouse Lane estate plus the current valley park area. Ludwell valley was spared being built on, presumably because the land was too steep and Wonford Playing Fields because the land was used as a tip, and later for dumping some of the rubble from the wartime bombing; (Wonford playing fields is still officially designated as contaminated land and you must never dig there!).  Ludwell Life has a collection of 19th and early 20th old bottles that have been picked up from where old tip edges are exposed

Tenancy of Hillyridge field 1947

On 25th August 1947, the City Council granted the tenancy  of Hillyridge field (you can see all the original field names here) to Clifford Northcott of 58 South Street.  Mr Northcott was a butcher.  The rent was set at £30 a year; this for a field of “about 7.667 acres or thereabouts”. The field was to be used only for grazing – cattle presumably. You can see the land, coloured pink, on this map, with the footpath from Ludwell Lane towards Heavitree church crossing it.

 
   

 

 

A little further down Ludwell Lane is Allery’s House.  The tenants farmed Great Ridgeway and possibly two other fields – Little Three Acres and Bean Wood.  They kept pigs.  They left in about 1996, after which the Council sold the house.  It is now in private ownership.

 Once the Council took over ownership of the park, they installed a tenant farmer.  The last tenant was Bernard “Tiger” Hooper.  He was a strong willed man.  He grazed his cattle on the park all year round, which made it a muddy and smelly experience for walkers, although some field edges were fenced off for them.  He had a piggery where the new cherry orchard has been planted; full of old railway carriages, gates and vicious dogs!  When Tiger died in 1998, the Council decided to take back the management of the park in order to have better control.

 Fernleigh Nurseries are owned by David Ellis. He bought them in about 2000 but rents them out.  The previous owner kept chickens and guinea fowl and as protector of his birds, shot foxes!  These buildings are relatively modern – they do not show on nineteenth century maps.

 Opposite the new cherry orchard, where now there are new houses, was a garage, which closed in about 2005.

Hedges

 The hedge running parallel to and south of Ludwell Lane and Fernleigh Nurseries is probably the oldest in the valley, with a meandering line, a range of species including old spindle and old coppiced ash.

 The old hedge lines are thought to have been created by the first farmers cutting back into the woodland to make a clearance, with the farmers cutting back in from the other side, so that the hedge is the furthest extent of that clearance and represents the remnant of the primeval woodland.  Indicators of the age of a hedge are the number and type of species in it; wood anemone and bluebells; and dormice, which don’t readily expand their range.  Fields were typically 4 to 5 acres (as are most of the Ludwell fields).  More modern hedges tend to be straight and are often predominantly elm.)

 Recent history

In 1983, the City Council took the far-sighted decision to create a series of valley parks in Exeter, one of which was Ludwell Valley.  The land is managed to benefit wildlife, with no use of herbicides, pesticides or artificial fertilisers. The valley is still used to graze cattle as part of the management system, but is open to us all to enjoy nature and the views over the city one way and right down the estuary to Exmouth the other.  It is there for us, to walk, to exercise our dogs or just to play. 

And this year is the start of the next chapter in Ludwell Valley’s history as Devon Wildlife Trust are poised take over its management on a 30 year lease from Exeter City Council.