Volunteer blog: Dartington’s ancestral stones

Volunteer blog: Dartington’s ancestral stones

Sonja HughesSonja is Volunteer Manager at The Dartington Hall Trust. She previously managed community and healthcare volunteer projects in South Africa and Mozambique. More about volunteering at Dartington

More blogs from Sonja


Martin Broadbent, a Dartington volunteer, is collaborating with Mary Bartlett to survey, map and list the gravestones in St Mary’s Old Churchyard.

I spoke to Martin about the project to find out why it’s so important.

Martin tells me: “Mary and I found we had a mutual interest in this site and met to discuss it. She felt that the identity of those buried there was, to a significant degree, unknown and warranted further investigation and research as part of the Dartington story.

“We often think of stone simply as a material resource with which to construct our world, giving no thought to its own story through time.

“As someone interested in geology this is a recurring theme and was in my mind on this occasion as I looked at a memorial inscription that had been cut into a large block of blue grey shale, which lay on the ground behind the old church tower at Dartington Hall.

“It was dated 1595 and, for a casual encounter, it seemed unusual and made me want to acknowledge it in some way.

“This site represents for me a starting point for a project connected to my art practice, which would be a more visual and psycho-geological exploration, looking at the connections of persons to place, religious practice, faith and the landscape.”

The project is still in its early stages and we will keep you updated with Martin’s research.

If you are interested in volunteering at Dartington, please contact volunteering@dartington.org.



Mapping the gravestones in St Mary's Old Church Yard
Mapping the gravestones in St Mary’s Old Church Yard
Martin's Fieldwork - observations and grave rubbings
Martin’s journal- observations and grave rubbings
Gravestone 1595
Gravestone 1595




Posted on

August 18, 2016


  1. Martijn Rijpstra

    Dear Sarah,
    I,m Martijn Rijpstra from the Netherlands and i,m putting my heritage together, and my ancastor George Caunter was born, lived and died in Dartington Devon (1540-1611)
    His hole family lived there or around there.
    But my search stopped in Dartington because older records then him i can,t find anything more about the Caunters, Did you by any chance find any Caunter graves at the graveyard.
    Hope you can help me a little bit further.

    With Dear Reagards
    Martijn Rijpstra.

    • Martin Broadbent

      Hi Martijn

      Having looked at the grave stone inscriptions in my record, I can’t see a Caunter for those dates or any other dates. That doesn’t surprise me as there are very few stones in the Churchyard that survive from that period.

      However, I thought there may well be Caunters buried in there for whom there are no headstones so I went to the Devon Heritage Centre (DHC), in Exeter, which holds the Parish Registers for South Devon. The originals are in storage but are available in the reading room on michro-fische. They have not been digitised by DHC so are not available on line. However, I spoke to one of the archivists, Rachel Ponting, who thought that they were available on line at FindmyPast and said she would check and email me her finding. The following is an extract from her email;

      ‘Further to our phone conversation earlier today, I have checked the digitised records on FindmyPast – they do include Dartington, and the baptisms are digitised from 1542 (the date of the earliest surviving baptism records for that parish). http://www.FindmyPast.co.uk is a subscription website, however we do have free access to it in our searchrooms in Exeter and Barnstaple. They do, I think, also offer free trial periods so if you have not used it before, this may be a way of accessing it initially.’

      Parish Registers contain records of births, marriages and deaths. And Rachel refers to 1542 as the start date for babtisms in the records on FindmyPast. As I recall from my searches in Exeter, the start date was 1538 on the micro-fische records, which I remember marvelling at the time was within a year after the Reformation! So I am assuming that FindmyPast also has records of deaths in the Parish from that date.

      Hope this info is of help to your inquirer but if There is anything else I can do, let me know.

  2. Sarah Strong

    Very interesting. Would love to hear more about what has been discoverd regarding those who have been buried here and about the stones and designs and what that tells us about the local community. Is this information available?

  3. Fiona Green

    I have been visiting this graveyard since I was at the school in 1958 & I have always been fascinated to know who were interred there,as it is so ancient.
    Great that this is finally being explored! I look forward to your findings

    • Sarah Strong

      Would love to hear more about what has been discoverd about those buried here and about the stones and designs.


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