John Prideaux 1796 – 1871

The fire at Chudleigh started at midday on 22nd May 1807 and whipped through the town remarkably quickly. By four that afternoon, much of the town had been burnt or pulled down in order to stop the flames spreading. There are very descriptive and interesting accounts written about the event and its aftermath by Anthony Crockett and also in Mary Jones History of Chudleigh.


John Prideaux was at school when the fire started and went through the mix of terror and excitement that only children can experience. The fire started and spread in the area of Chudleigh between the school and his home. John  had to get through the flames in order to see his parents and in the end watch his home burn down.

The home of the Prideaux’s was burned badly because  it sat directly in the path of the fire and nothing in that area survived. I hope they managed to remove some of their belongings and animals. There is no record of any of them being injured in the flames. However, they would have been lucky to keep any part of their possessions.

By the end of the day, many had lost everything, but equally, assistance and provision arrived from far and wide. It is to be hoped that the Prideaux family were not one of those who had lost so much that they were forced to wait for the repair of the Workhouse. I prefer to think of Thomas Prideaux and his family being able to attend the General Meeting of the Parish at the vicarage the following day.

Money came in from all over the country and there were many tales of generosity towards the town. Insurance money was also paid out. The fire itself caused an Act of Parliament to be passed. Fame indeed.

The Relief Committee which was created in order to hand out monies and arrange rebuilding to take place was chaired by Lord Charles Clifford, the largest landowner and landlord of many. He was also an eminently sensible and generous man. Some other notable members were Montague Edmund Parker, husband of the daughter of the JP who heard Thomas’s case against his landlord, soon after their arrival in Chudleigh, and William Bond who was possibly John’s schoolmaster.

Money was handed to various families and a good deal of it appeared to go to some who were more affluent than others. But rarely was enough paid out to any individual to recompense, so one assumes that the townspeople helped each other out.

Thomas Prideaux was one of the eleven carpenters in the town at the time and after the event he worked steadily to rebuild houses and shops. This must have stood him in good stead for the future. Many moved into the buildings at the rear of the burnt out houses until the new houses and shops were built. Cloud and silver lining come to mind. Thomas Prideaux did well out of the disaster.

John Prideaux  saw the complete destruction of his small cob, thatched cottage with mullioned windows. But he also saw his father involved in rebuilding the town in a modern way and watched the face of the town  change forever. I hope he was excited and not freaked. It could well have inspired his decisions later on in his life.

John completed his education  and he learnt the carpentry trade  from his father.

Chudleigh and small town life eventually became boring to him however and he and his brother Peter talked about seeking their fortune in London. They had heard from the many travellers who came through their town to Exeter and Plymouth about the excitement and the many jobs which were available to a man of ideas and education in the busy London streets. Could they possibly be paved with gold? Perhaps they could restore some riches to the family.

Charity Prideaux was upset about the idea of  the boys leaving  her, because she knew that she would never see them again. The thought of them travelling to a place which might as well be on the moon as far as she was concerned, was impossible to contemplate. John reminded her that he was almost thirty years old and it was about time he had an adventure.

She could not persuade them to change their minds and in January 1824, Peter Prideaux  and John Prideaux left their home town of Chudleigh riding on the back of a cart. They carried  their belongings and hid money about their person. Charity and Thomas and the other children stood out in the road waving until the cart had finished climbing the hill out of town and vanished from sight.

Charity was never happy again.

John  and Peter Prideaux soon arrived in Exeter and met a man called John Lock at  an inn there. He was from near Bideford and told them that he could find them work. Bideford was a smuggling centre and John Lock  had the  Prideaux men  staying with him for several months helping him with the business of avoiding duty. These Prideaux men were strangers in Bideford and would not be known to the Revenue men.

One of the biggest imports here was tobacco and duty was loyally paid as the ships unloaded their cargo. However, when the tobacco was then exported again, the custom duty could be reclaimed.

John Lock was part of the organization which brought this same tobacco back into the country via other means and sold it duty free at that point. There was a lot of money in this. The Prideauxs stayed at Landkey where John Loc lived and slept in beds made up in the stables outside the cottage.

I am sure that John Prideaux did not know that the residants of the Acland manor sitting against the side of a hill nearby, were the descendants of Baldwin Acland and Joan Prideaux, the sister of William Prideaux of Adeston born four hundred years previously.

John Prideaux and Elizabeth Lock, the daughter of the host and employer John Lock were attracted to each other. John had no real intention of getting married, but the pregnancy announcement to her father ensured that he was trotting up the aisle of the local church before he knew what had hit him.

So much for the planned adventure.  Not yet out of the county and married and about to be a father. He didnt return home to Chudleigh to announce his shame and proceeded with the initial plan.

The couple  were married on Monday 18th October 1824. John was still determined to see London and soon the three of them left another tearful family in Landkey, never to return.

When John, Elizabeth and Peter Prideaux arrived in London, it was not all that they had expected. Work was hard to find and the place was horrible. London was filthy, smelly and full of violence and crime. John and Peter Prideaux  lost their possessions as soon as they arrived and turned to crime themselves in order to survive. The baby was born dead, much to the disappointment of John and Elizabeth. It took another four years before their daughter Charity was born, on 28th February 1829.

Elizabeth Prideaux was adamant once her daughter Charity was born, that she would not bring her up in this filthy hellhole. John agreed with his wife and the three of them travelled  to Nottingham where they heard there was some work.

As a journeyman carpenter, John  soon found work.  They were never going to be rich, but they could eat and sleep safely. Soon Edwin John  joined their family, arriving on 4th October 1833, a healthy boy.

Another child in the already overcrowded terraced house they were living in did not reduce the anxiety of the family in any way. Money and food were in short supply and jobs even more difficult to keep. Almost immediately, work dried up in Nottingham and the family found themselves walking towards Cheshire.

On arriving at StaleyBridge, bone tired and underfed, the family took some lodgings with the little money they had and John went out to try and find work. Some work was given to him, but not the kind of master carpentry he was capable of doing. He must take what he could get. It was a nightmare for the family traveling from one place to another through filthy lanes in the rain and cold,  and arriving in a new place trying to look presentable enough to obtain lodgings and work.

The life the family was leading began to take its toll and soon Elizabeth and the children fell sick with fever after catching it from another poor family in the next cottage. The damp and poor water supply encouraged disease and the poor hygiene, lack of food and anxiety combined to  rapdily wprsen their conditions.   John Prideaux only just managed managed to get the family to the Ebenezer Chapel on 24th June 1837 to have them baptised. Shortly after the ceremony  Charity and Elizabeth were dead, leaving John in charge of three year old Edwin.

By the next year John was married to Mary who had been born in Wakefield, but had lately lived in Scarborough. The couple settled in Staleybridge and in 1838 they became parents to a  son they named Matthew. It would have been imperative for John  Prideaux to marry as soon as possible if he had any chance at all of keeping his son Edwin with him. Had this happened in his home town, or even his home county, his mother would have immediately taken in the boy. But this new life he had chosen for himself, away from the safety and comfort of connections meant that he was alone. John was the first Prideaux in my line to become an adventurer and break away from any security whatsoever. So far it had done him little good.

By 1838 the Chartist movement was underway and Stalybridge played its part in its history. The Peoples Charter of 1838 gave the movement its name. Stalybridge was like other towns in the country where the Industrial Revolution had encouraged thousands of people previously living in villages to come to the towns and find work. Now they lived in overcrowded houses and streets in filthy and unhygienic conditions. The working man wanted the vote and better conditions. It was getting near the time when the workers did not want to accept the poor wages on offer.

I have no way of knowing where John worked, all I know is that he called himself a carpenter or a joiner all of his life. There were cotton mills in Stalybridge and in Leeds, where in 1841; the whole family lived in Saville Street.

The railway was being completed in Leeds that same year and coal mines still producing coal. The family were caught in a Dickensian trap of living in absolute squalor but needing to be there in order to make ends meet. Why did they keep moving around? John may have got himself into debt like Mr. Macawber and had to up sticks to yet another town.

John Prideaux  had little training in managing a family and its accompanying finances having lived with his parents in a town where everyone knew him. I can’t imagine how scary it must have been for them all. Moving from town to town and living in the smelly, dirty hovels which the addresses suggest. Workhouses beckoned if money was not earned.

The family must have been constantly hungry, dirty and anxious. I think of Tiny Tim in the snow, with the crutch. No! It does not bear thinking about.

I would have tried to find them work.

This is how researching ones own history affects us all. One knows what happened to people in certain times and in certain situations. But, as soon as we learn their children’s names and know something of their history, one feels for their troubles. They become ours. Is this what religious teachings mean when they tell us that everyone’s suffering is also ours?

Saville Street was right in the centre of Leeds, just off Wellington Road.The following photo shows City Square with Wellington Street running past the top centre. Saville Street is one of the streets off there. John and his family were now well placed for all the mills and factories. Most others on the same streets worked in the mills or shops.There was a railway station on Wellington Road which was opened in 1846; it was known as the Leeds and Bradford Railway station.  There would have been plenty of joinery work there. Perhaps he worked in the mills, or took work wherever he could. I hope he did not drink too.

Soon, though, John Prideaux took his family straight down south again, back to London. His brother Peter Prideaux was still there, so I expect he was hoping that his brother could find him work and lodgings. Did they walk? Did they take the train? Did they find Peter and his family? I can’t find that out.

Sometimes, it will seem as though I am writing with far more detail in these later chapters. That is because I am adding family stories to the facts I discover and so am able to link the records with a story.

If these are incorrect, you will have to blame my dead family and not me.

In 1851 the family was living in 52 Boston Place, Christchurch, St Marylebone. This street is just off Baker Street. I don’t expect that they ever consulted Sherlock Holmes though.

Mainly because he was not real.

Edwin and Matthew were also working as carpenters. Boston Place  was right by the railway, as was his brother Peters house, four miles away in Whitechapel. The workhouse not far away also helped to keep their eye on the ball.

A scary truth is that the two brothers may have had no idea where the other one was living, unless both were in contact with their parents by some means and they in turn told the other brother their address. The cities and towns were so crowded then and the two families could have passed within inches and not known each other. Mary Prideaux and the children were not known to Peter and his new wife and family equally so.

Each house in Boston Place seems to house several families with jobs as diverse as stableman, Coldstream Guards soldier, artificial flower maker and men who worked on the river.  52 Boston Place was opposite Marylebone  railway station.

Edwin John and Matthew were working  here as carpenters, perhaps on further construction at the railway station.  Now life changed drastically for the family. All I know about this man and his family are the facts from the records.

John Prideaux  lived as a lodger at the Marquis of Granby Cottages in St. Pauls with a fellow carpenter George Oliver. He told the census taker that he had been widowed. He appears to stay at this address until his death.

We discover from the next story about their son Matthew Prideaux , that Mary and Matthew both moved away from London, although Mary went to Scarborough and Matthew went back to Leeds. Mary always said after this point that she too was a widow. What possibilities this opens up for my  enquiring mind.

Did John get into debt again and Mary could take no more? She certainly would not have had to now that the boys were grown up. Was John a drunk and a wife beater? Did he come across some criminal element he had dealings with on his early excursion there in the later twenties with his first wife and the couple decided that it would be safer to split up? Did they both believe the other to be dead?

I do know that during the spring of 1871 John Prideaux was leaning against a balcony in central London, which he was supposed to be fixing. He pushed against it to test how damaged it was and he fell to the ground as the rail gave way with an almighty crack.

He was seriously injured and taken to Middlesex Hospital with a fractured skull and died soon afterwards. It was 6th May 1871.

Edwin John Prideaux,  who had dropped the first name Edwin, married Jane.  He had also started saying he was born in London, wanting to either hide his origins or fit in a little better.

Their first son was called Edwin, but he died aged two on the 8th May 1854 at home in 5 St Marks Road Kennington. His death certificate said that he had been malformed, this being certified at 14 weeks old.

His father, who was still working as a carpenter, was present at his death.

Their second son John died aged 8 on the 26th October 1863 of a fever. This time his mother Jane was present at his death. They were still living at St Marks Road,

Their other children were Jane who was born in 1851 and Henry born in 1853. Because of the ages I think that Jane and Edwin were twins, with Edwin dying young.  There is also a record of an Edwin John Prideaux , carpenter, son of John Prideaux carpenter marrying Mary Ann Bryant, a 35 year old widow and dressmaker. She was the daughter of James Walker a bookbinder. They lived at 26 Holywell Lane, in Shoreditch on 16th March 1856.  This does not seem to fit in with the story as every other detail matches, so perhaps it is just coincidence that Edwin John, son of John married in London at the same time.

Henry and Jane never married and even after their mother Jane died in the 1880s they still lived with their father in 1891, although they had moved to Dunstan’s Road, Camberwell. Both John and Henry were still working as carpenters, although John was now 76. John still did not refer to himself as Edwin, but had started saying that he was born in Chudleigh, Devon, which of course was where his father and not he was born. Remember he was born in Nottingham. Confusing isn’t it?

A Rosina Bernard was living with them as a lodger, she did not work but lived on a small means. In 1901 Rosina had left or died, John had died and Henry and Jane still lived together, although they had now moved to Tudor Court, East Ham. Henry still worked as a carpenter. My research on them ends here.


Thomas Peter Prideaux 1768 – 1842

Thomas Peter Prideaux was born on 26th December 1768, although his parents Peter and Mary were not married. If you have been reading my previous articles and blogs about the Prideauxs , you will see that Christmas dates play a big part in family events.

Ringmore Altar

Thomas Peter Prideaux  was baptized on 10th May 1769 at Ringmore Church on the day his parents decided to put things right. When it came to his turn to start a family, Thomas did not wait until his first child was born before he married, but his wife was certainly heavily pregnant. Charity Strong of Bishopsteignton married him on 13th November 1792. She was born on 2nd January 1770 at Bishopsteignton. Charity lived there when the last man was hanged in the parish in 1783. His name was Greenslade and he had been the gardener to Reverend Yarde in Bishopsteignton. Greenslade murdered his employer after he gave him a bad reference which he had written in Latin. The gardener did not discover the real meaning of it until informed later. He was only caught because he showed off the gold watch he had stolen. He was hanged at Haldon near Exeter. It is a pity the Reverend is not around now as I have some 500 year old documents written in Latin and I am having difficulty getting them translated…
Back to the story. The trio soon moved to Chudleigh, a village through which many travellers passed either by horse, foot or coach in order to reach Exeter or Plymouth. There was work to be found there.

I have discovered legal documentation concerning Thomas Peter Prideaux when he was examined with regard to the lease of a property in Chudleigh. This case took place in 1794, shortly after the family had arrived and apparently been cheated at a property they were renting from a local man. Perhaps Mr. Burnell underestimated the education and self confidence of the young Thomas Prideaux.

It is as follows.

The examination of Thomas Prideaux touching his legal place of settlement. Who saith that he was born in the parish of Ermington in the said county. Never served any apprenticeship but lived with his parents in the said parish of Ermington until he was about twenty years of age and afterwards worked at several different places in the carpenters employ and when he was about twenty one years of age he went into the parish of Chudleigh in the said county and worked therein the carpenters business about twelve years. After that he rented a house in the said parish of Chudleigh of one William Burnell at sixteen guineas per year part of the said house. This examinant never had any possession of the said William Burnell promised he would have it But never performed his promise. This examinant lived in that****** possession of about five months and offered to pay him for the time. But the said William Burnell refused to take it without he would pay him the whole years rent.This examinant further saith that what he occupied of the said house was about fourteen guineas per year and that he occupied it about five months and then gave up the possession as the said house was never put in repair.

The statement Thomas Prideaux signed is below. Where he wrote and the words were then crossed out, is underlined. Thomas signed this statement in a very neat and educated hand.

The examination of Thomas Prideaux residing in the parish of Chudley in the County of Devon touching his legal place of settlement taken before us two of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace in and for the said County this 21 day of November 1794 who on his oath saith.

That he is an illegitimate child and was born in the parish of Ermington as he hath been informed and believes but he has heard and believes that his fathers legal place of settlement is in the parish of Modbury in which said last mentioned parish his said father now resides. That he this deponent is a married man is a carpenter and about the age of twenty six years. That he lived with his father until he attained the age of about twenty one years but he never  was never apprenticed or lived as a servant for a year Nor hath the he this deponent done any act to his knowledge and belief other man as aforesaid whereby to gain a settlement.

Sworn before us                                    Thomas Prideaux

The Day and year


Rt Lydeton Newcombe Esq.

John Barry

William Burnell lived in Fore Street, Chudleigh and he was a builder.

Robert Lydeton Newcombe Esq. had lands at Starcross, Exmouth and is mentioned in `The History of Chudleigh’  by Mary Jones, where she informed us that Montague Edmund Parker, a well to do gentleman living at Whiteway, Chudleigh, married the daughter of Robert Newcombe. Mr. Newcombe was a JP and 75 years of age when he listened to Thomas pleading his case. He died in 1808 at his home in Starcross. The Newcombes were gentry and well respected in the area.
Thomas and Charity Prideaux won the case and Thomas now set up his soon to be successful business in the town. Most craftsmen lived where they worked, and Thomas was no exception. The cottage had a yard and small field at the back, housing chickens, ducks, a cow and a horse. There was a good deal of work to be had in the constantly busy and bustling town where travellers and coaches, sailors and horses made their steady way up the street, all day and every day.
The main street was narrow with houses almost touching each other at the first floor level. At times coaches had difficulty in passing and the main thoroughfare was a dangerous place to be. The houses were irregular in shape and size and some houses with farms at the back were extended from time to time towards the front.
However, just off the street and into the countryside, the views were and are still magnificent. Ugbrooke, home of the Cliffords, is stunning and the rocks and caves famous for pixies are worth visiting. The woods here were as good, if not better than anywhere in Devon. The climate was excellent and at one time it was said that the refreshing and healing breezes travelling straight across from Dartmoor could mend the sickest person within a month.
“Six views of Chudleigh, Devonshire, engraved by George Hollis, from drawings by Henry Le Cort. Made previously to the Fire, 1807”

These drawings show exactly what the town was like at the time Thomas lived there.

A great part of the town was destroyed by the fire which occurred on 22 May 1807. It started in a baker’s house in Culver Street, where Thomas Peter Prideaux lived. The fire spread from thatch to thatch and at one time three streets were on fire at once. At 2pm a forgotten barrel of gunpowder blew up and soon the only fire engine was burnt. Much of Culver Street and Fore Street burned down. 180 houses in total were destroyed at a cost of £60,000.
By the end of the day, the coaches which usually took travellers through the centre of the town had to be diverted around its perimeter. These travellers told everyone they met and by the end of the day, well wishers and help was arriving from miles around.
Much kindness and relief was given by surrounding gentry and parishes. A subscription list was started and a committee headed by Lord Clifford distributed monies.
The town was soon rebuilt and there is little doubt that my ancestors began to make some money using their talents during the rebuilding of the town. Many Prideauxs remained and traded as builders and carpenters during the 19th century.
Thomas Prideaux and his family were living there at the time of the fire and the children all state on future documents that that is where they were born.
Anyone who lived in Culver Street and Fore Street suffered quite considerable losses initially. But their job skills should have ensured that they were able to build their own properties and the properties of their neighbours.  Most of the fire damage occurred in Culver and Fore Street where their ancestors eventually  settled.
Thomas and Charity Prideaux had seven children, six of whom were born at Chudleigh.
Thomas Prideaux who was born on 11th May 1793 at Bishopsteignton and married Elizabeth Stranger Tapper on  8th  November 1814 at West Teignmouth and died in March  1862 at Kingsbridge . He worked as a joiner.
John was born on the 23rd March 1796 in Chudleigh. His story is in detail in the following section, as he is my direct relative. Seeing the life he had here in Chudleigh, with such a tight knit community, it must have been a hard decision for him to leave.
Ann Prideaux  the first daughter of Thomas and Charity was born on 4th November 1798 and she married Jonas Adams on 5th January 1820 at Chudleigh. Jonas was the sexton at the church.

William Prideaux , the next son was born on 8th June 1801 and he worked as a builder. He married Lucy Warren on 9th June 1824 at Shaldon St Nicholas. They lived on Back Street.

Peter Prideaux , another son for Thomas and Charity was born on 30th January 1805. He married Elizabeth Hogg and moved to Chamber Street; St Mary’s Whitechapel London and worked as a carpenter. They had a daughter called Mary Ann and also lived with Mary Hogg, Elizabeth’s mother.
Fenchurch Street railway line runs straight through Chamber Street, so I wonder whether Peter went to work on the railways as our John may have done. Peter Prideaux died in 1884 at Bethnall Green aged 81, but was listed as Prieudi. That is the only time I have seen the surname in that spelling, I am not entirely sure how one would pronounce it. Like John, he did not return home to Chudleigh once he left, or there is no record of it. He could write, so for his mother’s sake, I hope he wrote to her.

Mary Prideaux the final daughter of Thomas was born on 24 Dec 1809 at Chudleigh married Thomas Luscombe Ball 18 Jul 1830. Another Christmas connection.

James Prideaux , the final baby was born in June but sadly died in Aug 1811.

Charity Prideaux the mother of all these children died after a very busy and prolific 62 years and was eventually buried in Chudleigh on 10th January 1832.

Grace Swales became housekeeper to Thomas Prideaux after his wife’s death. She was present at his death on the 22nd February 1842 when he suffered an affliction of the chest. Grace made her mark on the death certificate, and it is interesting to note that none of his family was present at his death and willing to sign. Perhaps they did not approve of his relationship with Grace Swales.

Now, the usual snippets of information which provide you with a background to the times I am speaking about.
The practice of wrecking still took place around the coastline. Cornwall has always been a well known graveyard of ships and many were forced to wreck in order that their cargoes could be stolen.

Smuggling was also rife. By 1770, 470,000 gallons of brandy and 350,000 pounds of tea were being smuggled into Cornwall at a cost of £150,000 to the Exchequer. Smugglers were lauded as generally honest men and it was very difficult to get a jury to convict them and magistrates turned a blind eye.
It was at this time of lawlessness that John Wesley advanced with his religious beliefs. He traveled all over the country converting ‘sinners’ wherever he went. This was the time when he stayed at Methrose near to Prideaux Castle.
Although by the end of the eighteenth century the area was much more civilized , working conditions and wages were still terrible. When in 1793 England began yet another war with France, the poor were hit again as markets were lost and the fishing industry affected. Men went to fight in the Navy although many  were encouraged by the  press gang. By the time John Prideaux was born in Chudleigh, The government was demanding that hundreds of men should be press ganged into joining the navy. These men were taken from the unemployed miners and so the incentive was always to work.
The early 19th century was the time of the railway engine. Victoria ascended the throne and railways were springing up everywhere. It was a bad time for farming with wages below poverty level. People began leaving for the New World in larger numbers than ever. It was a time of high food prices and few job prospects when John left Chudleigh and went to work on the railways in the grimy north.
George IV was a greedy and unpopular King who reigned until 1830. His brother William IV succeeded him and reigned until 1837. He died of pneumonia and cirrhosis of the liver. Victoria came to the throne in 1837 and reigned until 1901. She was the daughter of Edward Duke of Kent, the brother of George and William.
I have just gone out of my writing room into the hall. I had noted from the large clock in front of me on the wall that it is gone midnight again. This is the clock next to the antique mirror which has deer scenes on it. I have no idea what is going on with that. It reminded me of Bambi and my grandfather reading the book to me when I was a girl and so I let the man in the antique shop sell it to me. I had only gone in because it was raining and I had no coat with me.
I still have the first edition of Bambi from which granddad Clifford Prideaux  taught me to read. He also used some cigarette cards which had horrible war scenes on them from what I can remember.  What was I talking about?
I have just gone out into the hallway and my current husband has turned off all the lights again. He does that all the time. He likes to go to bed really early and that means the house should be shut up I suppose. So he decides to go to bed and turns off the telly, turns off all the lights and goes into his room. Then I am supposed to stagger about, feel my way along the wall until I find the light switch. It is guaranteed to make me feel cross and all I wanted was a cup of coffee. I got a cup, let the dogs out for a wee and have come back in here, under the pool of light from the lamp over my desk, and am listening to the torrential rain against the windows.
Another lovely July evening, I don’t know about climate change, I thought it was supposed to be hot.
It’s my birthday on Saturday, but I am going to my sister’s in Lincolnshire. The week after is another trip to Devon and Cornwall and I have some exciting appointments with the current owners of Flete and Orcheton and Prideaux House and Place. So I shall write about that visit in earlier chapters. If you are confused, try and imagine what is going on in my head.
Original article written by APx in 2009

Footnote.   She got a divorce in 2010…

More Prideaux Ghost Stories A A Prideaux
More Prideaux Ghost Stories A A Prideaux