Riviera Heritage – Bishopsteignton – Home to Nelson’s Admirals

Posted by: on Apr 1, 2020 | No Comments

Riviera Heritage – Bishopsteignton – Home to Nelson’s Admirals

Torbay has a fascinating naval history and many families of naval men lived in the area.  Bishopsteignton, with its stunning estuary views and close proximity to the Bay, became home to some rather discerning Nelsonian admirals.   Historian, Writer and Speaker Jenny Ridd tells us more.

“Dear Richard, I am now going to tell thee a piece of news as will astonish your bowels”. This is how Henry Smith, crewman, began a letter to his brother, telling him that Napoleon was on board his ship, HMS Bellerophon, in Torbay in late July 1815 (Napoleon having lost the Battle of Waterloo). Thousands turned out in small boats to see the Frenchman and for a brief moment Torbay was at the centre of national interest.

Torbay’s legacy is naval. Ships based at Plymouth guarded the southwest approaches during the Napoleonic Wars, and during rough weather the Navy used Tor Bay for shelter. The naval men knew the area well and naval wives rented, bought or built houses in Torquay, Teignmouth, Dawlish and Exmouth to be near their spouses. The quiet fishing village of Teignmouth became a lively seaside resort for the wealthy, but the more discerning chose rural Bishopsteignton, with its stunning estuarine views, curative air, and convenient proximity to Torbay.

In Bishopsteignton’s churchyard are three railed tombs of Georgian admirals. At first glance the names are unknown, but research reveals their exciting connections with Nelson. The village became a hub for retired admirals, thanks partly to Admiral Sir Edward Pellew of Teignmouth spreading the word. The admirals built grand Georgian houses along the length of Forder Lane to the west, most of which survive today. A village builder, Thomas Boone, became a property developer extraordinaire, and together they changed the village forever.

Admiral Sir Edward Thornbrough is the most famous. Born in 1754, he had a 60-year career. He and Nelson were contemporaries, but fought in different battle zones. He was asked to “show the ropes” to Prince William Henry (later William IV) on board HMS Hebe. Thornbrough gained a patron for life. In 1798 he became a national hero by successfully protecting Ireland from invasion by French soldiers off Ulster. He later became Vice Admiral of the United Kingdom, the second most powerful position in the Navy.

In 1813 Thornbrough built a ten-bedroomed, neoclassical Georgian mansion named Bishopsteignton Lodge, of 77 acres, with adjoining farm, later demolished in 1985. He was a village benefactor, attended society functions in Teignmouth, befriended maritime artist Thomas Luny, and in 1825 commissioned Teignmouth’s lithographer and publisher, Ernest Croydon, to produce a print of his house. Thornbrough’s son erected a monument to his father in Exeter Cathedral and a small plaque commemorates both in Bishopsteignton church.

Admiral Samuel Granston Goodall retired to Teignmouth in 1801 and quickly chose his burial plot in Bishopsteignton churchyard. He had served in the West Indies, the Mediterranean and Turkey. He was on the panel of the court martial of Captain William Bligh for his part in the mutiny on the Bounty, and acquitted him. In 1795 he colluded with Nelson to persuade Admiral Hotham to attack the French in the Mediterranean. Frustrated by Holtham’s diffidence, Goodall took off his own hat and kicked it around the deck of his ship! He retired shortly afterwards and died four months later, being buried in the magnificent railed tomb that survives today.

Admiral Cornelius Quinton was a 24-year old Lieutenant on board HMS Leviathan in 1794, in the Glorious First of June campaign that included Nelson. Leviathan’s commander was Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour, whose heroic deeds during that battle caused Quinton to idolise him forever. Quinton made good prize money and in 1811 bought an old property in Bishopsteignton, which Thomas Boone renovated in the cottage orné style popularised by John Nash. Nash had worked at Luscombe Castle, Dawlish, and Boone possibly met him and gained inspiration. Quinton asked Ernest Croydon to produce a lithograph, which appeared in Croydon’s 1817 guidebook and was admired by thousands. Quinton had named it Seymour Cottage after his hero. It is now Friston House.

Admiral James Noble was not buried in Bishopsteignton, but lived there for 23 years. Born in 1774, he joined the Navy at 13. He was serving on board HMS Agamemnon in the French Revolutionary Wars in 1795 under Nelson when he was hit in the throat by a musket ball. He survived and minimised the incident in his later autobiography. However, two years later he was seriously injured while serving with Nelson and Hardy on board HMS Minerve. Nelson loved and respected Noble for his fighting spirit and was mortified.

After a brief spell in the Sea Fencibles in Folkestone, Noble retired from active service in his mid-20s. He married Sarah Lamb of Rye and they moved to Bishopsteignton to be with his aunt, Jane Wheelock, renting Clanage, at the centre of the village. They had two children in Rye: Horatio Nelson Noble, to whom Nelson was godfather, and Jeffrey Wheelock Noble. They had another eight children in Bishopsteignton, but Sarah died after the birth of their tenth child. James Noble left Bishopsteignton in 1823. He married twice more, and died in 1851, aged 77. He is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.

Other Nelsonian admirals connected with Bishopsteignton are Ekins, Gardner and Parker, plus other Captains and Lieutenants. Ekins fought with Nelson against the French and distinguished himself at the Battle of Algiers with Admiral Pellew in 1816, where he killed or wounded 92 men. He rented the old vicarage, now St John’s House, in 1833. Admiral Alan Gardner served with Thornbrough and although he did not live in the village, his family did, and they put up a small brass plaque to him in the church. Admiral William Parker of Delamore, Cornwood, Ivybridge, served on board Victory with Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. His son, Admiral George Parker, built Delamore, Bishopsteignton, again with Thomas Boone, a beautiful Georgian villa, which still exists.

These were all admirals who played centre stage in their day and, with renewed interest in their story by the village, it is hoped that their saga will be preserved for posterity. St John’s Church, Bishopsteignton is open daily and welcomes visitors.