Setting the scene – Kenton in Devonshire

Writing in 1799 the Reverend John Swete described “the town of Kenton stretching itself a mile in a most picturesque manner.” This was later published as Travels in Georgian Devon. The Reverend Richard Polwhele had been rather less kind and in his History of Devonshire had written just a few years earlier complaining that the whitewashed houses were unpleasant to the eye. Polwhele, one time curate of Kenton and Swete of nearby Oxton House were both writers on Devon’s history and topography.

From White’s Directory of 1850

Kenton is a pleasant village in the picturesque valley of the small river Kenn, opposite the woody grounds of Powderham Castle and about a mile W. of the estuary of the Exe and 7 miles S.S.E. of Exeter. Its parish extends westwards to the lofty range of the Haldon Hills, and comprises 5400 acres of land, including the hamlets of South Town, Cofford, Fenbridge, Staplake, Lyston, Cheverstone, Wilsworthy and East Town and the large village of Starcross

Kelly’s Directory of Devonshire for 1914 offers the following description

Kenton is a large parish and village, on the road from Dawlish to Exeter, 1½ miles north-west from Starcross station on the South Devon section of the Great Western railway, 5 north from Dawlish and 7 south-by-east from Exeter, in the north eastern division of the county, Exminster hundred, Wonford petty sessional division, St Thomas union, county court district of Exeter, rural deanery of Kenn, and archdeaconry and diocese of Exeter.

The church of All Saints … is a fine building of red sandstone in the Early Perpendicular style… The Wesleyan chapel is a building of stone erected erected in 1870 and has sittings for 100 persons.

There are four almshouses, erected by William Reginald, 12th Earl of Devon (d.1888), and occupied by aged widows, who live rent free. In the centre of the village is an enclosed green containing a stone cross erected by the above Earl of Devon.

The soil is light; subsoil, new red sandstone. The chief crops are wheat, barley, oats and turnips. The area is 5182 acres of land, 11 of water, 1 of tidal water and 288 of foreshore… The population of the ecclesiastical parish in 1911 was 753.

Polwhele and Swete would find many changes now, mainly as a result of Victorian re-building following a major fire in 1857; and the village of Starcross now forms its own parish. The compilers of Kelly’s Directory though would find the village visibly recognisable. Of course there have been many changes since 1914. There is new housing around the outer edges of the old village but little in the part of the village described above. The most noticeable change in that part of the village is of course the war memorial. East Town has had more significant changes with the old East Town Manor and many of the thatched cottages now long gone and replaced by more recent housing.

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