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Small Talk at Wreyland. First Series

Small Talk at Wreyland. First Series
Author: Torr Cecil
Title: Small Talk at Wreyland. First Series
Release Date: 2019-01-19
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 61
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S M A L L   T A L K
A T   W R E Y L A N D

C. F. CLAY, Manager
LONDON: Fetter Lane, E.C. 4

All rights reserved

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First Edition, June, 1918
Reprinted, November, 1918



I WROTE this little book for private circulation; and it was actually intype, and ready for printing, before its publication was suggested. Ifeel some diffidence in inviting strangers to read what I intended onlyfor my personal friends. But it all seems to hang together, and I havenot omitted anything.

In addressing this to strangers, I should explain that Wreyland is landby the Wrey, a little stream in Devonshire. The Wrey flows into theBovey, and the Bovey into the Teign, and the Teign flows out into thesea at Teignmouth. The land is on the east side of the Wrey, justopposite the village of Lustleigh. It forms a manor, and gives its nameto a hamlet of six houses, of which this is one.


Yonder Wreyland,


Lustleigh Cleave from the Oval LawnFrontispiece
In the Inner ParlourTo face p. 16
The Wrey at Wreyland 32
The Pixey Garden 48
May Day 64
John Torr, the Author’s Grandfather, from the portrait by T. Bryant Brown 80
In the Lower Parlour 96
The Hall House 112

All the illustrations, except the portrait, are from photographs takenby the Author.



DOWN here, when any of the older natives die, I hear people lamentingthat so much local knowledge has died with them, and saying that theyshould have written things down. Fearing that this might soon be said ofme, I got a book last Christmas—1916—and began to write things down. Imeant to keep to local matters, but have gone much further than I meant.

My memory is perhaps a little above the average; but my brother had amemory that was quite abnormal, and sometimes rather inconvenient. Oneday, in talking to a lady of uncertain age, he reminded her of somethingshe had said at the Great Exhibition of 1851. She hastilyreplied:—“Yes, yes, you mean 1862.” But he missed the point of thereply, and went minutely into details showing that it must have been in1851.

I can remember the interior of a house that I have not seen since Iattained the age of three. I am quite clear about the drawing-room, itscarpet, chandeliers and mirrors, and a good deal of the furniture; lessclear about the dining-room; but very clear indeed about the outlookfrom the windows in the front—a drive, a lawn, and then a road withhouses on the other side. Of course, I can remember many other thingsthat I saw before I was three; but I cannot be quite certain that myrecollection of them dates from then, as I have seen them since. Here,however, I am certain. The family left that house at Michaelmas, 1860,and I was not three until October.

I remember being taken by my father to call upon a very old man, whogave me an account of the beheading of King Charles the First, as heheard it from somebody, who heard it from an eye-witness. Unluckily, Iam uncertain of the details, as I cannot{2} separate what he told me thenfrom what I may have heard or read about it since.

Some years afterwards my father took me to call upon an old Mr Woodin;and from him I had an account of the Fire of London, as he heard it froma great-aunt of his; and she heard it from an old lady, who was aboutten years old at the time of the fire. But it was only a child’saccount, dwelling on such things as the quantities of raisins that sheate, while they were being salved.

My father kept a diary from 1833 to 1878. When he was abroad or at anyplace of interest, he kept a diary upon a larger scale, and sent itround to aunts and other relatives, instead of writing to themseparately; and I have gone through these diaries, and made someextracts from them. He kept all letters that he thought worth keeping,and sorted them according to writer, date or subject; and I have madeextracts from the letters that his father wrote to him from here. Therest of my people seem to have destroyed their letters: at any rate,there are not many letters of theirs among my papers here.

My mother’s parents died before I was born; but I remember my father’sparents very well indeed. I used to come down here to stay with them;and I see that my first visit was in 1861. My grandmother lived from1781 till 1866, and my grandfather from 1789 till 1870. As a boy, heused to stay here with his mother’s parents; and he has told me of manythings he did here then, such as helping his grandfather to plant thegreat walnut-tree, when he was seven years old—which is now 120 yearsago.

His grandmother, Honor Gribble, died here in 1799; and his grandfather,Nelson Beveridge Gribble, left the place in 1800. The property passedfrom Nelson Beveridge Gribble to his eldest son, John Gribble. AfterJohn’s death in 1837, his widow let the house to my grandfather; and inthis quiet place he dreamed away the last thirty years of his life.

At times he looked as though he were a little weary of it all; and in abook of his I found this note:—“16 April 1869. My{3} birthday—now 80years old—and have no wish to see another. My good wishes to allbehind.” In the following March he would persist in sitting out upon theseat behind the sun-dial, to listen to the black-birds and the thrushes,although the winds were bleak and cold; and there he caught the chill ofwhich he died. He did not see another birthday.

In his last illness he was nursed by Mrs *****; and thirty years andmore afterwards she was very fond of discussing with me what hadhappened to him—whether he had gone to Heaven or elsewhere. She wouldweigh the two sides of the question very carefully, and finish up with“Well, I hope he be in Heaven.”

She had no doubts about her own destination, and very often told me thatshe needed no parsons to hoist her into Heaven. But she was not in anyhurry to get there. Looking out across her garden on a gorgeous summerafternoon, she turned to me, and said, “I were just a-wonderin’ ifHeaven be so very much better ’an this: ’cause, aless it were, I don’tknow as I’d care for the change.”

One thing, however, troubled her—the old belief that people who diebefore the prime of life, remain for all eternity at the age at whichthey die, whereas people who die in later years, go back to their prime.And she told me of the difficulties that she foresaw:—“If I went backto what I were like some forty year agone, how could they as only knowedme afterward come forth and say ‘Why, here be Mrs *****’, when I camesteppin’ up?”

As for my grandfather, his Works were undeniable; but she had her doubtsabout his Faith. He was interested and amused by the controversies thatraged around religion, and thought the kettle might be better than thepot, yet had no wish for being boiled in either. I doubt if he had anybeliefs beyond a shadowy sort of Theism that was not far removed fromPantheism. And that made him a very kindly personage, doing all mannerof good.

He writes to my father, 16 September 1861:—“I have attended the sickrooms of the poor in this neighbourhood on all occasions, typhus oranything else, and I often say the alwise{4} Governor of the Universe hasprotected me, and allowed me to arrive at the age allotted for man; andI find generally speaking, when people attend the sick from purephilanthropic motives, they are preserved from infection.” But he didnot concur in similar reasoning by the Rector’s wife. He writes, 30December 1860:—“Mrs ***** says Never anyone yet took cold in a church,and I cannot agree with her, for I believe many more colds are taken atchurch than elsewhere.”

My grandfather often enjoins my father not to let his letters be seen,as he writes offhand without consideration. And this is very evident inmany of them. He will begin with some assertion, then qualify it with‘not but what’ etc., ‘though no doubt’ etc., and so on, till at last hetalks himself quite round, and ends by saying just the opposite of whathe said at first. His sister-in-law, my great-aunt Anne Smale, had herlast illness here; and he writes to my father, 8 January 1865:—“It hasbeen a dreary week having a corpse in the house. It is seventy years agothat my grandmother died [really sixty-six years] and there has not beena death in the house since. Well, she was buried in a vault in thechancel of Manaton church.” And this leads him on to speak of othermembers of the family lying in that vault, and thus to reminiscences ofsome of them, ending quite jocosely.

He used to keep a record of the weather here; and in this he sometimesnoted things quite unconnected with the weather, such as, “Mr *****called: had no wish to see him.” But generally there was some connexion.Thus, on 25 January 1847, he notes “St Paul’s day, sun shining, andaccording to prediction we shall have a plentiful year: may God grantit.” On 1 September 1847, “Woodpecker called aloud for wet: wish he maybe true, the turnips want it.” On 12 May 1857, “Soft mild rain: what theold people call butter-and-barley weather.” On St Swithin’s day, 15 July1867, “Heavy rain: so 40 days of it.”

There are also many notes about the singing of the birds—26 January1847, “the home-screech singing merrily this morning”—1 May 1850, “thenut-hatch a cheerful singer”—22 April 1864, “how delightful andcheering is that old grey-bird”—and so on. I may note that thehome-screech is the mistle-thrush,{5} and the grey-bird is thesong-thrush, sometimes known here as the grey thrush, just as theblack-bird is known as the black thrush. In these parts the field-fareis the blue-bird.

Their singing was always a pleasure to him; and he writes to my sister,10 March 1852:—“I have often fancied that the thrushes know that I ampleased, when I am listening to them, from the cast of their littlesharp eye down on me.” But he liked birds better in the spring, whenthey were singing, than in the autumn, when they were eating up hisfruit. Even in the spring he writes to my father, 29 April 1849:—“Icertainly do like to hear them sing, but it is vexing to lose all thefruit.... I loaded my gun; but, when I came out, one of them struck upsuch a merry note that I could not do it—so I suppose the fruit must besacrificed to my cowardice, humanity, or what you may call it.” Thecrops were sacrificed as well. He writes, 21 June 1846:—“There are twonests of wood-pigeons here, and they daily visit me. I have taken thegun twice to shoot them, but my heart failed

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