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James Templer I of Stover

      James Templer            Mary Templer nee Parlby

James Templer (1722-1782) and Thomas Parlby (c.1730 – 1802) were men of humble origin who, together, were to become the most significant dockland contractors in Georgian England in the second half of the 18th Century and the early years of the 19th Century.  Without their contribution, the Navy Board’s expansion of the Royal Dockyards during successive maritime campaigns would have been frustrated and Britain’s supremacy at sea, arguably, could have been hindered.  

Boat builders need wharfs, slipways, wet docks, dry docks and supporting facilities.  Seamen and their vessels require victualling.  On land Georgian dockyards comprised storehouses, roperies, sail lofts, rigging stores, hemp laying, spinning, yarn and tarring houses and so on.  Officers’ needed housing, Marines their barracks.  Naval Hospitals and Victualling Yards, too, were vital support buildings. All these, and more, were constructed by Templer and Parlby for the Navy Board in the Royal Dockyards along the south coast of England over a 50 year period.  James Templer was the driving force in the business, Thomas Parlby ‘his leading man’.

To understand their contribution to the of Templer and Parlby it is necessary to understand the process of evolution which took place in the Royal Dockyards from the run-up to the Seven Years War (1756 – 1763) to the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815).  As naval warfare became more sophisticated, the need for more and larger vessels brought about a need for dockyard expansion.  This expansion could not be brought about by the internal labour force of the dockyards themselves.  Some projects were therefore awarded to external contractors.  

Templer, a house carpenter, and Parlby, a mason, emerged from the ranks of dockyard workers to answer the call.  Together they created a large and effective firm of dockland contractors, capable of working in any of the Royal Dockyards of the day, drawing labour from far afield.  Their business interests were passed down to later generations of both families and seem to vanish only after the dockyard expansion years faded in 1815 with the bringing of peace.  Even then, the Templer family interests in granite and clay workings extended in one form or another until the 1840s.

The family history of the Templers and Parlbys are as interesting as their commercial activities, which brought them wealth.  James Templer, born in Exeter, married Mary Parlby at Greenwich in 1747 and settled in Rotherhithe, where most of his 11 children were born.  By 1755 he was ‘under contract for repairing the stern of the double dock at Deptford Yard’, transporting Portland stone in vessels from Weymouth. It is not clear when James went into partnership with his brother-in-law Thomas Parlby.  The first mention in Admiralty records appears in 1763.  In any event their partnership brought wealth to both families, more so to that of James Templer.


JAMES TEMPLER, born in St. Mary Major, Exeter the 17 April 1722, was christened the 30 April 1722, died in Stover, Devon the 4 March 1782, son of THOMAS TEMPLER and GRACE HINDS), married MARY PARLBY, the 4 September 1745 in GREENWICH (born the 17 August 1728 in Chatham, Kent and died the 21 June 1764 in Globe Inn, Newton Abbot).

In 1728 Thomas Templer, a poor tradesman in Exeter, died leaving his family destitute. His sixth son, James, then only six, was sent to an orphanage known as the Blue Coat School. At 14, James was apprenticed to John Bickley, an Exeter architect, but after three years he decided he had had enough of what in those days a form of servitude, little better than slavery. Risking severe punishment if caught, he absconded and ran away to sea.

 He became a shipwright on a vessel sailing between Plymouth and Rotherhyde. There he obtained employment as a builder, and put his knowledge of building to such good account that by the time he was 25 he was in partnership with Henry Line and Thomas Parlby. They were engaged in completing Government works in Plymouth. James Templer married his partner's sister Mary Parlby and together with Henry (John?) Line returned in 1752 to Devon having become, at aged 30, a very rich man.

 Thirteen years later, at Teigh Bruer, now known as Teigngrace, but mentioned in the Doomsday Book as belonging to Ralph de Bruer, James bought a large estate which belonged at the time to the Courtenay family. The estate included most of the land known as Bovey Heath. It was mostly bog but contained granite, china clay, iron ore and lignite, but no coal. There was a derelict Mansion House known, and marked on Don's Map of Devon 1765, as Stoford Lodge. His partner Henry (John?) Line bought an estate at Lindridge, near Bishopsteignton.

 At that time great developments were taking place industrially, not only as a result of needs of the China Clay industry but with machinery of all kinds. Transport was a great problem and there were few roads. Everything had to be moved over bridle paths by pack horses. Steam engines, railways and canals were being developed and it was James Templer who had in mind the making of what came to be known as the Stover Canal.

 Stoford Lodge was well placed for communications as there were coach routes from London to Plymouth and from Bristol and Bath. He pulled down Stoford Lodge and on the hill overlooking the Bovey Basin near Weolfred Mound built a new mansion, calling it Stover House. This mound is according to legend, where the Danish Captain Weolfred and his men were buried after being defeated by King Alfred. The house was built with granite from the Haytor Quarries. The granite had to be carried to the site by horse and cart over the boggy land. It is not known who the architect was, maybe himself as he was apprenticed to one, but the interior decorations are clearly in the style of Robert Adam. Templer drained the Bovey Basin, which was normally water filled for six months, and created the Stover Lake, now part of the Stover Country Park, and a drive leading to the granite Lodge (its impressive gates commonly known to many as "Marble Arch") on the main Exeter to Plymouth road. He is also said to have planted 20,000 trees and to have begun the construction of the garden and stables. He left his mark on the side of the house facing Haytor- "Built by James Templer Esq., 1777 and also on the stables, now commonly referred to as "The Grottoes" on which is inscribed J.T. built 1779. His son James Templer II built the terraces and constructed the Stover Canal which his father had planned. This was completed in 1790 and made a vast difference  to the transportation of clay from Heathfield to Teignmouth.

 In his time there were regular threats of invasion by Napoleon and, as in many country mansions, provision had to be made for securing escape routes. Behind the stables he constructed stalls for stabling horses secretly. At least two well built underground passages still exist between Stover House and the Stables, though these are now sealed up. When danger had passed, James erected the portico in front of the house to celebrate the victory of Trafalgar.

  4 March 1782 after drinking "mineral" water at Bellamarsh, Devon, he developed a fever and died aged nearly 60, He is buried in Teigngrace Church, which in 1787 was rebuilt by members of the Templer family. The new church includes a vault where many Templers were subsequently buried.


1722 - Born in Exeter 17 April.  Youngest child of Thomas and Grace.  Thomas was a craftsman known as a "brazier", ie he worked in brass, James baptized in St Mary Major, Exeter on 30 April.

1728 - Father died and was buried in St Mary Major on 01 September. Left business to eldest son and former apprentice, Thomas.

Date Unknown - Thomas junior transfers business to Totnes.

Date Unknown -  James admitted as a "Blue Coat" boy into St James' Hospital, Exeter, to be given a basic education.  This was a school for orphans, and family tradition says that his elder brother, Thomas, could not afford to keep him.

1736 - In August, James apprenticed to John Bickley, Carpenter of Exeter, (sometimes described as an Architect).  John Bickley is paid a £10 premium, £4 from elder brother, and £6 from the Governors of the Hospital.

Date Unknown - James learns of a ship sailing from Plymouth to Madras, and runs away breaking his indentures. Joins the ship as a shipwright.  Family tradition states that he arrives in Madras and meets future partners, Thomas Parlby and John Line. They constructed some docks in Madras. Also some suggestion that they handled the silver bullion that the East India Company was using to pay for goods purchased in Madras.

This is almost certainly folklore as the Madras docks were built after this period and the reference to silver makes a reference to Mr Templer and not specifically to James. We have found no truth in this story. It is more likely that James makes his way to London and meets up with John Parlby and starts to work for him, marries this John’s daughter and forms a partnership with Thomas, Mary’s brother.

1745 - James in conjunction with partners contracts for dockyard construction in Chatham, Kent - his partner Thomas' home town. Marries at Greenwich on 04 September, Thomas' sister Mary, daughter of John Parlby of Chatham.  His wife was 6 years his junior, having been born on 17 August 1728 in Chatham.

One Grace Templer (James' mother?) marries a Richard Galsworthy on 15 April 1745 at Morchard Bishop, north of Exeter.

1748 - James' eldest son, James II, born and baptized (15 days old - bapt 29th December 1748) in Rotherhithe, Kent.

1750 - James' second son, John, born and baptized (18 days old - bapt 13th January 1750) in Rotherhithe, Kent.

1752 - James' third son, William, born and baptized (29 days old - bapt 8th October 1752) in Rotherhithe, Kent.

1755 - James' fourth son, George (of Jungpore), born and baptized (20 days -bapt 2nd November 1755) in Rotherhithe, Kent.

1758 - James' only daughter, Anne, born and baptized (29 days old - bapt 16th January 1758) in Rotherhithe, Kent.

Date Unknown - With partners, Thomas and John, contracts to build Plymouth dockyard. Moves to Devon and either buys or rents Stofford Lodge, near Newton Abbot.  "Buys off" his old master, John Bickley, for the breaking of his indentures for a settlement of £500, a vast fortune in those days. The breaking of indentures was subject to serious punishment.

1763 - Whilst resident at Stofford Lodge, applies for and is granted on 03 May by the Heralds of the College of Arms, a Coat of Arms.

It is at this time that James declares that he is descendant of a Colonel of Horse who came over with William of Orange. Again this is a white lie to hide his humble beginnings but this story is perpetuated for nearly 200 years and leads the family to believe that the Salmon Pool and Stover families are separate. In a burial record for a church in Exeter there were two records, one for Thomas Templer, d. 1st January 1719 and the second for a Captain (sic) in ye service of William of Orange (no name given). Someone in the past has read this and the myth has started.

1765? - Completes the purchase of Stofford Lodge and Manor of Teigngrace. Must have been living at intervals at Rotherhithe as 6th child, Henry Line, was born and baptized there in 1765.  By now gaining many building contracts and opens the granite quarries at Hey Tor on Dartmoor to obtain a supply of stone.  Starts to pull down the damp old Lodge in the valley and build a mansion on higher ground which he call Stover House.  (Completed approx. 1780).  John Line buys Lyndridge house at Ideford, and Thomas Parlby buys Stonehouse, near Plymouth.

1768 - Either James or his eldest son James II (by now 20), buys part of the Demesne of Somerhill Park at Tunbridge in Kent.  This James is recorded as being resident in Westminster.

1770 - 7th child, a son, Charles Bickford is born and baptized at Rotherhithe.

1776 - Eldest son James, marries Mary Buller.

1778 - 3rd son, William dies in Portsmouth of a "decline". Buried 08 January at Teigngrace.  2nd son John, marries John Line's widow Jane, and moves into Lyndridge. First grandchild, Mary, daughter of son James is born.

1780 - Stover House completed.  James I and family now presumably living there almost permanently.

1781 - 4th son George, marries Jane Paul in India.  First grandson, George, (child of James II) is born. Daughter Anne marries Sir John de la Pole, Bart.

1782 - James I contracts a fever after drinking "mineral" water at nearby Bellamarsh (Devon), and dies on 4 March aged nearly 60.  Is buried in Teigngrace church.  Another grandson, George Henry, the child of 4th son George, is born in India.

1784 - 21 June, widow, Mary, is frightened by jibbing carriage horses on returning from a visit to Bradley Hall, faints, is carried into the Globe Inn in Newton Abbot, and dies within an hour.  She was also buried in Teigngrace Church.

1787 - James' sons, the brothers James II, George, and John, pull down and rebuild the old church at Teigngrace as a memorial to their parents.  New  church includes a vault where many Templers are subsequently buried.

Further reading:

Templer & Parlby (and others) - Summary of Admiralty Based References collated by Stuart Drabble.

The Will of James Templer I of Stover

1783 James Templer Sale of one third of Lord Archer's estate in Hants Wilts and Dorset

1788 James Templer Purchase of Christowe Estate and Teigngrace marshes

1790 John Templer sale of Tunbridge estate and purchase of Moore and Perry1792 James Templer charging part of settled estate in Devon for Canal purposes

1792 James Templer charging part of settled estate in Devon for Canal purposes

Templer & Parlby: eighteenth century contractors (Proceedings of the Institute of Civil Engineers) August 2010 written by Stuart Drabble

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