from Somerset, Devon and Dorset


© Andrew Templer 2024

Contact Us Families Home Remembrance Photos Books Research Places & Events Coat of Arms Site Map Contact us

James Templer II of Stover


James Templer II                Mary Templer nee Buller

James Templer II of Stover (1748 - 1813) was Master of the Crown Office in London for 30 Years. He inherited his father's estate in 1782, along with granite mining rights on nearby Dartmoor. In due course a granite-railed tramway was built (the first of its kind in England) linking the quarries on Dartmoor with a canal dug from Teigngrace to join the River Teign at Newton Abbot (called Stover Canal). This venture ensured the continued success of the family. James Templer, Jr., died in 1813, and his eldest son George Templer inherited his estates.

[Research by Stephen Coombes of Chudleigh, Devon, 2002] Swete Family Tree

The eldest son James was baptised at Rotherhithe on 29 December 1748 aged 15 days, three years after his parent’s marriage. For thirty years he was in the Crown Office Court of King’s Bench in London, and at the time of his death described as Master of the Crown Office. This was one of the highest judicial offices at the time. He was in fact the King’s Attorney and Coroner, acting as the King’s Prosecutor. His education, training and experience, however, did not prepare him adequately for the responsibility and management of a large estate, numerous commercial enterprises, the work in progress for the development of Teigngrace and a large invested fortune.

In 1768 James Templer of Westminster bought a large piece of land of the demesne of Somerhill Park at Tonbridge. He still owned it in 1782

Our first sign of his activity in Devonshire is seen in 1775 when he bought the Manors of Hennock and Knighton, though some doubt exists from certain sources as to whether or not these purchases were made by his father.

In 1776 he married Mary Buller (1740 - 1829), the third daughter of James Buller of Morval Downes and Shillingham, Cornwall and his second wife, Lady Jane Bathurst. Lady Jane was the second daughter of Allen, 1st Lord Bathurst and sister of the Lord Chancellor, i.e. Mary Buller was niece to the Lord Chancellor. There were seven boys and four girls of the marriage.

By his father’s death in 1782 James inherited the Stover estates and the following year became Patron of Teigngrace. His inheritance of Teigngrace Manor, acquired by his father, brought with it the usual manorial customs. It is not clear, however, whether the old custom of the Lord of the Manor having the right of capital punishment still existed under the Templers. Other manors owned by the Templers in the neighbourhood e.g. Ilsington, Goodrington and Westerlanid at one time possessed similar rights. It would appear to be this James Templer who, on 21 September 1785, was granted the Freedom of Totnes.

In 1787, continuing his father’s policy of developing Teigngrace village, in conjunction with his brothers George and Reverend John, he endowed it with a new church. It was built like the House in granite. The memorial plaque reads-: ‘On this Holy Ground Consecrated for ages to the worship of God and the illustration of his laws now endeared to them as the last repository of their parents and family The Present Edifice Dedicated to the same Sacred Service Is with Humiliation and Veneration Dedicated In the Year of our Lord 1787. By James Templer Esq., George Templer Esq. and the Reverend John Templer Rector of Teigngrace.’ - a family monopoly which filled the rectorship for the next generation as well.

James was not averse to seeking Private Acts of Parliament in connection with his estates. In 1788 (28 George III cap 27) a Private Act for vesting part of the settled estates of James Templer Esq. in the County of Devon in him and his heirs in exchange for another estate of greater value in the same county to be settled in lieu thereof’ was initiated. Four years later, another (32 George III c 41) was promoted ‘to charge part of James Templer’s settled estates in Devon with a sum to be applied as therein mentioned.’ The consequences of these two Acts are at present shrouded in mystery!

Clay mining was rapidly expanding and James realised the local opportunities that were waiting to be taken if a line of transport could be engineered into the heart of the valley. The transport of clay from Heathfleld and that from the north-east of the estate was very difficult. The greater amount of clay from these places had to he transported by pack-horse along very narrow tracks, and where wagons could he used, these had to he hauled over toll roads and turnpikes, which increased the cost of the clay and caused delays. There were no docks or quays at Teignmouth. The clay therefore transferred from horse or wagon to barge which was then poled out to midstream for trans-shipment to the vessel. This costly transport tended to price the Devon clays out of the market.

So around 1789 James Templer decided to build a canal at his own expense and cutting began in January 1790. It was intended to construct the canal to Jewsbridge near Heathfield and thence to Bovey Tracey with a branch to Chudleigh. After two years work with more than £1000 of his own money spent, James had yet another Private Act passed in 1792 to enable him to raise £5000 by mortgage of the Stover estates for its completion. The canal had already been carried to Ventiford before this Act was passed, and since he never extended the canal further, he did not need to use its powers.

The canal left the Teign by means of a deepened tidal leat, the Whit Lake (later Whitelake) whose original function had been to drain Jetty Marsh; it was not bridged, as there was then no direct road from Kingsteignton to Newton Abbot. It then turned sharply northwards through a pair of staircase locks to avoid the marsh. These locks were originally constructed without conventional side walls, but were left with sloping earthern sides, like some which still remain on the Rivers Kennet and Wey. The top lock later received wooden sidewalls, the bottom brick. The lower lock is a wide structure, being 215ft long and 45ft wide, but since its west wall is inscribed ‘Duke of Somerset 1841’, it is likely that it was enlarged from normal lock size to this width later, so that barges could wait in it like a basin for the tide to rise. Its gates, as throughout the canal, were 15ft wide. The depth on the cills of the locks was 5ft 9ins for these two locks, 4ft 3ins for locks 3 and 4, and 5ft 6ins for lock 5. All the locks except lock 4 could take two barges at once, end to end. Above lock 2, 118ft long, an excess water weir was provided, leading down to the tidal channel. After rising 6ft 6ins through these two locks, the canal then made in a direct straight line for Teignbridge, where it approached most nearly to the clay works at Fishwick, and then passed under the then main road from Newton to Exeter. Rising a further 6ins through the last of the originally unwalled locks (lock 3, 110 ft long), it realigned itself and headed for Teigngrace. The canal never had a horse-towing path, however.

A contemporary, M. Dunsford, waxed eloquent about the immediate economic and social benefits:

‘This little canal, the first in Devonshire, and at the sole expense of Mr Templer..... is the means of great benefit to the inland country by the return of coal and other necessary and useful commodities and the land around appears in consequence like a new creation from the wide chaos around it and, with the produce of the canal, afford(s) many increasing advantages to the inhabitants of the adjacent district as well as to the public spirited projector and cultivator.’

William White, in his History, Gazetteer arid Directory of Devonshire published in 1850, remarks on other benefits, perhaps unforeseen:-

‘Since the opening of the Stover Canal. . . the leeches and morasses of the Heathfield have disappeared and with them have gone the ignis fatuus and the ague.

In all James had spent £8000 on the canal, clay cellars and barges. In spite of the lack of a formal towing path, the barges from Ventiford to Teignbridge were hauled by horses and this part of the canal was intended for the transport of granite. The barges operating from Teignbridge were the most unusual on any canal. They were about 50ft long with the square ?Viking? sail to a 40ft mast. They sailed directly to the ships anchored in midstream at Teignmouth. These barges also carried farm produce and, on the return journey, brought in timber, coal and other commodities. Once each week a barge carried the local people of Teigngrace and their produce to Newton Market and brought them back in the evening.

Canals had always handsomely paid those who used them, but experience proved that the builders of canals made little or no profit at all. The Stover Canal was a poor investment for James, however, the land drained by this canal inceased rapidly in value, and this to some extent compensated James for his outlay.

James Templer had more original plans for improving transport to and from his estates than the Stover Canal or an improved river navigation. He was particularly attracted by two inventions of Captain Schank, ex-merchant seaman and later admiral, who conducted experiments with sliding keels and separate bulkheads. Some of Captain Schank’s ideas were incorporated in the small naval cutter Trial, which was launched in 1791, and James was invited on board from Woolwich to Plymouth. Afterwards he wrote to Captain Schank expressing admiration for both inventions. Separate bulkheads, he thought, would prevent cargo from shifting and would also mean that mixed and separate commodities could be carried in the same vessel; sliding keels, which could easily be raised or lowered, would improve sailing qualities and would be of particular value to Teignmouth.

‘Whenever my work is done, I will immediately adopt it (the invention of the sliding keel) in the coasters from this harbour, as they will not only he able to get up quite to Newton, or even up the canal, with a cargo, but can get in and out of the harbour at any time in spite of the bar’ which in season will prove very advantageous to me, especially if I can carry stone from Barbicomb (Babbacombe) Bay up the canal, and Bovey coal in wartime’

Whether because James was occupied with other matters, whether, as he said, ‘people are so unfortunately grounded in favour of old fashions’, or whether - as seems most likely - the technical problems were not completely solved before the attention of marine architects were concentrated on steam propulsion, Captain Schank’s invention of sliding keels failed to fulfil local expectations. It was used on the Tamar, but never on the Teign.

In 1795, James owned 10 of the 17 barges trading on the Teign including the Largest with a capacity of 35 tons.

He continued the work started by his father by building the terrace at Stover House, forming the great Stover Lake and landscaping the gardens. He built Teigngrace Church, several workers’ houses at Ventiford, Manaton and Haytor. He also completed the pleasure garden but at this time the country was threatened by invasion by Napoleon. As in other places similar to Stover, preparations were being made to resist, or hide, or escape with life and belongings. James made similar preparations. At the northern end of the pleasure garden buildings there is an annex. This was for stabling horses secretly and from the house basement at least two underground passages were excavated to the south and to the west. The basement passages have been sealed and the connection to the stables filled in. When the danger had passed James erected the portico to Stover House to celebrate the victory of Trafalgar.

At the beginning of the 19th century, James owned and at times lived at Compton Castle in the neighbouring parish of Hennock. The castle was a castellated manor house, but he sold it about 1808.

James’ interest in boats reflected itself in another small way beside that of the canal and Captain Schank’s activity. In September 1808, he gave two silver cups for a boat race, which was to have tragic consequences. A Mr Buller of Saltash and a Mr Baker of Plymouth were competitors. Unfortunately Mr Buller’s boat foundered off Bolt Head and a. Mr Josias Thompson, Mr John Foster of Saltash and his apprentice were drowned. They had started in their pleasure boats on the Monday morning and were caught in a tremendous squall. Mr Buller, nearly exhausted, was picked up by Mr Baker’s boat. Mr Thompson left a widow and five children.

James died on 21 June 1813 at Lesnes, Kent, the seat of a Mr Wheatley. His wife Mary survived him for a further 16 years. He was highly respected, a very generous man and loved by all.


Purchase of Christowe Estate and Teigngrace marshes Settled estate in Devon for Canal 1792

To close any picture press Alt + Left Arrow