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George Templer of Stover

Born in 1781 and educated at Westminster, in 1813 at the age of 32 he inherited the Stover estates from his father.  With little of his father's business acumen, he left much of the running of the estate to his lawyer whilst he led an extravagant life. He was very keen on fox hunting and was a friend of the famous huntsman, Jack Russell.  He even kept his own pack of tame foxes in the underground kennels at Stover. He also enjoyed amateur dramatics, and invited many celebrities to Stover, including Mrs Siddons.  He was a fair poet and his talents were much appreciated in his day. Extrovert in character, and cavalier to the point of folly, he was probably typical of his class and society at the time.

  There is a story which illustrates his attitude. Riding the highway one day, he came to a toll gate and requested that it be opened for him to pass.  The gate keeper, not unreasonably, requested payment first, but this did not please George Templer who may have felt that someone of his standing should not have to pay tolls.  Turning his horse away he rode a short distance back down the road, and then turned and galloped back towards the gate, jumping it, and riding off into the distance to the consternation of the gate keeper.  The gate was high, and the risk he took in jumping it was considerable, but that was typical of the man.

  His mistress, Ann Wreyford, who was the daughter of a local farmer, bore him 6 children, the first of which was born in 1815, when George was 34, and the last probably about 1826. He married Ann in 1826 at time when he needed to sell Stover.  These he treated as legitimate and ensured that they were properly educated, and in due course were directed into good careers or marriages.

  George completed the Teigngrace canal which had been started by his father in about 1770, and he also built a 7 mile long railway with granite 'rails' or half grooves cut into granite slabs which steered the wheels of horse drawn wagons.  This ran from Haytor on Dartmoor, where there was a granite quarry, to the head of the canal. The railway was completed on 6 August 1820, and in September there was a large party on the Moor to celebrate.  To complete the transportation route for the quarried granite he also built a quay at Teignmouth so that it could be loaded on to ships.  

"To the Moor belongs the proud position of possessing the first railway constructed in Devon, and to the enterprising and accomplished Mr George Templer, of Stover, is due the honour of projecting and completing it. A granite quarry having been opened close to the rock-piles of Hey Tor, Mr Templer designed a railway from the Stover Canal (made by his father) at Teigngrace to the hill named, for the purpose of conveying the stone to the barges.  It was opened in September 1820, the day being celebrated with great rejoicing. Considerable skill was displayed in the planning of the line, the terminus at the quarries being 1,200 feet higher than the starting point at the canal.

[AST - This was one of the earliest rail road and was the forerunner to the modern railway]

In place of ordinary rails blocks of granite, having a half groove cut in them, were laid down, and on these the wagons ran, the wheels being without flanges. Horse-power, of course, was used for drawing them, except where the gradients rendered such unecessary.  From Teigngrace the granite was sent down the canal to Teignmouth where it was shipped.  many important structures were built of the Hey Tor granite, among others being the arches of London Bridge.  But the undertaking was not long lived.  Cornish granite, it was found, could be shipped at less expense, and after a time the Hey Tor quarries were only worked for the supply of stone locally. Later they were deserted, and the railway disused. But a portion of it may still be seen, and remains as a monument to the enterprise of the man who thus boldly assailed the frontier heights of the Moor."  

A much more detailed and better account of the Stover Canal and the Granite Tramway was published in 1964 by David & Charles of Dawlish entitled ' The Haytor Granite Tramway and Stover Canal' by M C Ewans, but as this is a complete book on the subject it is too voluminous to reproduce in a family history. There have been other books which touch on the subject, and amongst these are 'The Canals of South West England' and 'The Industrial Archeology of Dartmoor' both published by David & Charles.

  In 1820 George was a Lt. Colonel in the South Devon Yoemanry. He founded the South Devon Hunt and, in 1823, the Teignbridge Cricket Club.

  The lack of success of the quarrying business (the competitive Cornish granite was being mined closer to the sea and was therefore cheaper) and his extravagance and life style led him into debt. He was forced to sell Stover House to the Duke of Somerset in 1829, and blamed his lawyer for his problems. He subsequently wrote a poem in which he railed against 'the Scurvy Lawyer'.

[AST - This view is now being reconsidered as it is now proved that his money troubles were as a result of taking out a loan from a friend to complete the rail road, which was recalled before time leaving him with a cash flow problem, although he had more than sufficient capital in terms of land and buildings]

After some years absence in France, he bought/built Sandford Orleigh, a house close to Stover, but nearer to Newton Abbot.  Ann died in France and he then married he married on 12 January 1835 Charlotte Elizabeth Kennaway the daughter of Sir John Kennaway, Bart., of Escott.  She bore him a further two children, and after George's death, when her daughters were aged 5 and 2, she sold Sandford Orleigh and moved to 16 Dix's Field, Exeter.  She died there on 8 October 1875, and was buried in Teigngrace Church on 12 October 1875.

  The executors of George's will, made in February 1835, just after his marriage to Charlotte, were his wife, (Charlotte), and his brother-in law Reverend Richard Buller of Laureath, Cornwall (husband of his sister Anne Sophia ).  His estate was divided equally between his wife Charlotte and his children who were named as Amelia Anne, Anna, George, Frederick, Henry, and Caroline Mary. These were the children of Anne Wreyford. He presumably took the view that any children of his wife Charlotte (not yet born) would be catered for in her will.

  The controversy over George's relationship with Anne Wreyford is slowly being unravelled as more records are found.  George did marry Ann following the birth of the six children, and certainly two of her children were described in the relevant baptisimal registers as 'base born', meaning that their father and mother were not married. Originally no traces of the baptisms of the other children have ever been found, but records have now been found. George went to considerable trouble to have his 'illegitimate' children properly educated and brought up as his own, and in his will he refers to them as 'Amelia Anne TEMPLER', 'Anna TEMPLER', etc., an unusual method of identification as most wills usually give the details of children in the form 'my children Amelia Anne, Anna, etc.'  He was probably afraid that if he did not add the name 'Templer' after their christian names, then they would have to take their mother's surname as was the custom for illegitimate children at the time.

  Family tradition also supports the view that the children were illegitimate.  Frances Templer (the eldest daughter of James George John Templer of Lindridge) apparently used to describe the children of Charlotte Kennaway and George as 'cousins Gussy and Georgie', but George's other children in a derogatory manner as 'those' Templers.

  The reality was probably simply this. George would have liked to marry Anne Wreyford, but she was a farmer's daughter and he was the local squire.  At that period in history, social class was extremely important, especially to a family like the Templers who had themselves risen from humble origins only two generations previously, and were still trying to become accepted members of the 'Landed Gentry'.  George probably felt that he could not therefore marry Anne, so he took her into his home as his mistress.  For all practical purposes he treated her as his wife, hence his subsequent marriage to her.  Equally, he viewed her children as his own, and treated them accordingly.   

  "Occupying a high niche in the valhalla of Dartmoor worthies, the accomplished George Templer, of Stover, commands our admiration. None associated with the district were ever more beloved than was he, and none have left behind them a greater or purer fame. Not only for his enterprise in carrying the railway to the rock-piles of Hey Tor, in the early years of the century, and thus earning for himself the distinction of constructing the first line in Devonshire; nor for his skill as a Master of hounds and daring as a rider on the Moor, will he be remembered, but also for the higher qualities of sincerity of friendship, and kindliness of heart.

  His amiability and benevolence of disposition, enlivened by a sparkling wit, made him the charm of society, while his thought for those in a humble station caused him to be regarded as the poor man's friend. George Templer might justly have aspired to the highest of positions, he was a poet of no mean order.  His lines on 'The Grave of the Skylark,' a favourite huntress, and his stanzas in memory of his friends Taylor and (Jack) Russell alone entitle him to rank high among the sons of song in Devon.

  The beautiful lady of Stover was not less beloved than her husband. The love story of George Templer is not wanting in the romantic. Passing through Highweek, when returning from hunting, leading his horse by the reign, he heard, when nearing Greenhill Farmhouse, a maiden singing a love song from the opera of 'The Duenna'.  It was one he knew well, having sung it himself not long before in the part of Don Carlos, at some amateur theatricals at Stover, and he listened, charmed at the sweetness of the voice.  When he reached the gate of the farm it was a case of love at first sight, and in a few weeks it was known that the young squire of Stover was engaged to the beautiful Miss Wreyford.

  As his wife she adorned the stately to which he brought her, and the union was a most happy one.  Private theatricals were frequently indulged in at Stover, in which members of the family and some of the more intelligent of the servants took part. Mrs Siddons and Mr Kemble, while on a visit there, witnessed the performance of 'Richard III' and 'King Lear', and highly praised the representations.

  The venture of George Templer on Dartmoor did not prove remunerative. It might have done so perhaps (for the stone quarried at Hey Tor was of excellent quality) had the management of the undertaking not been left too much to others.  The price he had to pay for the shortcomings of those in whom he trusted was a high one. The beautiful domain of Stover that he loved so well he had to dispose of, the purchaser being the Duke of Somerset."

 The earliest Master of Hounds of note, hunting this district during the present century, was one who has been spoken of as the favoured and favourite sportsman, anywhere and everywhere, Mr George Templer, of Stover. In conjunction with his friends, Mr Harry Taylor and Mr Jack Russell, it is said that he brought hunting to a state of perfection such as had scarcely ever been attained.  So perfect was his mode of tuition that each hound comprehended every inflection of his voice, every note of his horn and wave of his hand. He exhibited such scientific control over them that sterner discipline was unnecessary to ensure their obedience.  Mr Templer also kept a pack of well-bred little beagles, known as the 'Let-'em-alones', immortalised by their master in a poem called 'The Chase', written by him in 1822.

  He had a pet fox which he would let out. The hunt would follow until the fox was caught. George would then call of the hounds and the fox would jump up on to his horse and they would ride back to Stover together.

  Genial and kind, George Templer was beloved by all with whom he came in contact, but to his sporting friends, to whom he was best known, he especially endeared himself.  On Mr Templer giving up keeping of hounds his country was hunted by Sir Walter Carew, to whom he gracefully alludes in some verses addressed to his 'Old Horn', and which were recited by him at a gathering of sportsmen, at Chulmleigh, the Hon. Newton Fellowes being in the chair.  His treasured horn, his galant hounds, his steed lying beneath the mountain heather, and his departed friends in their 'deep and dreamless sleeping', were all remembered in those farewell verses, and when his voiced ceased there was not one in that company of gallant followers of hounds in whose eye the tear drop did not stand."  

  Post Script

We have now found that George did indeed marry Ann Wreyford, but after her children were born. It seems that he tried to legitimise them by having them baptized soon after they married. It seems that having had to sell Stover to the Edward Adolphus Seymour, the eleventh Duke of Somerset (in 1829), George and Ann moved to France where Ann died in 1829. He could not keep away from his beloved Stover; in a year or two he built Sandford Orleigh near Newton Abbot where he died.

At one time it was thought that George was great spendthrift and wasted the fortune of his grandfather (clogs to clogs in three generation) but further research is now coming to light that shows he still owned a vast fortune in land and buildings. It seems that at the time he had to sell Stover, it was because he need to repay a debt of £6000 which had been recalled early and this caused cash flow problems. His will still indicated that he was still a very rich man at the time of his death.  It is no doubt he was both a charismatic and complex character.


GEORGE TEMPLER Born 1781 the son of JAMES TEMPLER (II) he inherited the Stover estates from his father in 1813, he secured a contract to supply granite to London, and it was used in the rebuilding of London Bridge (now situated in the Arizona Desert, U.S.A.) the British Museum, the National Gallery and the old General Post Office.  (PD) pages 67/8 In order to bring the granite down from Haytor, 1491 feet above sea level, to the new Stover Canal 300 feet a.s.l. he built the Granite Railway, a lot of the 10 miles can still be seen. Considered to be one of the most remarkable enterprises to be attempted in Devon in the 19th. century. George built houses for quarrymen on the sheltered side of Haytor, establishing a "Granite settlement" The granite is a fine grained porphyritic rock, and was found to be very durable. It was used for the columns of the British Museum library, and for the columns at either end of London Bridge. In 1821 George Templer of Stover built the New Quay (Teignmouth) for the shipment of granite from his Hay Tor quarries.

 George was a very popular local figure. He was a dashing rider to hounds, and Dartmoor has always had a special regard for the horseman. He was the first Master of the South Devon foxhounds, which hunted around Widecombe. "It is said that he brought hunting to a state of perfection such as had scarcely ever been attained. So perfect was his mode of tuition that each hound comprehended every inflection of his voice, every note of his horn and wave of his hand. He exhibited such a scientific control over them that sterner discipline was unnecessary to ensure their obedience". He was also a friend of Jack Russel. In this way he endeared himself to men. Among their wives he became a romantic figure because of his poems to favourite horses and because of the way he met his wife. It seems that he was riding his horse through the Highweek village which is now part of Newton Abbot. Near Greenhill farmhouse he heard a "maiden singing a love song from the opera "La Duenna". He listened, charmed by the sweetness of her singing, and when he reached the gate of the farmhouse, it was love at first sight. In a few weeks "the young squire of Stover was engaged to the beautiful Miss (ANNE) Wreyford"  As no record of any marriage or Christenings of their children was found in Devon it was thought until 1999 that they never married, but a lucky find at the Library and Guildhall Art Gallery, Corporation of London, found that they were married by licence at St. Botolph, Bishopsgate, London, 12 October 1826 witnessed by James Parlby (possibly his cousin) and Richard Turner. Earlier family histories have inferred that their 6 children were illegitimate, but it was also discovered that the children were baptised in London in November 1826. No doubt this was whilst he was in London securing contracts for use of the granite.  Anne's death has not been found, but it was before 1835 when George married Charlotte Eliza, the daughter of Sir John Kennaway on 13 January 1835 at Talaton, Devon

 The prosperity at Haytor was short lived, some say due to the cost of cutting the granite, and cost of shipping, and at a time when architects could get cheaper granite from elsewhere. Others say that his high social life at Stover ran away with the money, and he blamed his lawyer who was in charge whilst he was away. He was forced to sell Stover to the Duke of Somerset. However he had enough money to build a house at Sandford Orleigh, Highweek, where he died  on 12 December 1843, of apoplexy and effusion of the lungs.

George Templer - Fox hunting

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