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The Blagden Family

The Rev. Richard Thomas Blagden (1825-1898) (“RTB”), who was responsible for the construction of The Old Vicarage, Broadwoodwidger, was Vicar of St Nicholas Church, Broadwoodwidger, from 1873 to 1893. He was born in Sackville Street, Piccadilly on 21st December 1825 and was the seventh child of Dr Richard Blagden (1789-1861), a Surgeon, and his first wife Harriet Palmer (1796-1831). His father had been born in Petworth, Sussex, and his parents married there in 1817. RTB was baptised at St George’s, Hanover Square on 11th May 1826. His parents, who moved at some juncture to 26 Albemarle Street, went on to have twelve children, before Harriet died, probably for reasons connected with the birth of the twelfth child in 1931, aged just 34. RTB would have been just 5 at the time. As several of his elder siblings died young, RTB’s eldest sister at the time of his mother’s death, was Harriett, who had been born in February 1821, and so she was only 9. Accordingly, governesses are likely to have been employed for the children, as his father did not remarry until 1841. His second wife was Emma Ayling (1798-1883).

RTB attended St John’s College, Cambridge (BA 1848, MA 1852) and was made a priest by the Bishop of Winchester on 5th January 1850. In the 1851 Census, he was listed as a curate living in Dogmersfield, Hampshire.

In June 1857, he was made a curate of St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol and, in January 1860, he married Marianne Eliza Shapland, aged 24, of Clifton, Bristol, the daughter of George and Eliza Shapland. She had been born on 8th March 1835 in Kingsdown, Gloucestershire. At the time of the 1861 Census, he is recorded as living with his in-laws, but was described as a curate of Chunley, Berkshire. Then, in March 1862, he is recorded as having been appointed a curate of Claydon, Oxfordshire; in October 1863, he was made curate of King Sterndale, near Buxton, before in November 1865 being appointed assistant chaplain of Horfield Barracks. Richard and Marianne’s first child, Margaret Lilian Blagden, was born in 1867 in Clifton, whilst their second child, Constance Verena Blagden, was born in Slapton, Devon in 1870. Whilst the 1871 Census records him at Slapton Priory, he is stated to be curate in sole charge of St James’ London. However, in November 1871, he officiated at a marriage at Street, Blackawton, Devon.

In April 1872, he was appointed curate of Dittisham, Devon, before eventually being made Vicar of Broadwoodwidger in June 1873 on a salary of £90 p.a.. As the church had had major restoration work completed in 1871, when the interior was completely refurbished and redecorated, RTB will have had no concerns in this regard. However, as ‘Parsonage House’ (sited where the Church room now stands) was in a state of complete disrepair, he had to live in Lifton initially, where he paid rent of £25. His third child, Arthur Herbert, was born in Lifton on 21st October 1873. The inconvenience of living in Lifton led him to try to raise funds for the construction of a Vicarage. He collected £505.9.0 from personal friends and managed to persuade the Queen Anne’s Bounty Board and other charities to fund the balance. The property was erected on land provided back in 1347 by the Executors of Bishop Stapleton (1261-1326) when desirous of establishing a perpetual curacy. The site chosen provides fine views of Dartmoor, but is isolated, being some half a mile from the church. Its total cost was £1256.10.0. Work started on The Old Vicarage in February 1878 and the Blagdens were able to move in that autumn.

The Blagdens appear to have been very popular and Marianne Blagden did many good works in the parish. Accordingly, her death on 4th August 1888 was deeply mourned. Her gravestone is on the left, just before reaching the entrance to the church, and RTB arranged in 1889 for a window in her memory to be inserted in the West Window in the tower. RTB remained as vicar until 1893.

In 1895, RTB’s second daughter, Constance, married Harold Bellas Blackburn (1859-1942), son of Edward Blackburn of Haine, Stowford, at St John’s, Bath, and it was in Bath, on 22nd November 1898, that RTB died. He was buried with his wife in the churchyard at Broadwoodwidger. In 1901, the wooden pulpit, carved by John Northcott of Ashwater, was given to the church in memory of RTB’s twenty year ministry, as was a matching lectern. At that time, RTB’s eldest daughter, Margaret, and his son, Arthur, an electrical engineer, were living together in Chelsea.

Margaret Blagden married Robert McNeil Ker (1878-1953), an Army Lieutenant, in 1903 in Tisbury, Wiltshire. This was where her sister, Constance, and her husband were living at the time. However, Margaret died in 1905 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

RTB’s son, Arthur, who moved to Shanghai in 1907, married Mabel Mary Aldridge (b.1878) of Woburn in July 1914 in Maidenhead, Berkshire. At that time, he was still said to be of Shanghai, and their son, Richard (1915-1993), was born there. However, when Arthur died in May 1929, he was living at Tor View, Totnes, and left an estate of £9771. In a testament to the Blagden family’s enduring fond memories of Broadwoodwidger, Richard, “who loved life”, and his wife, Joan (1920-2005) decided that they would like their ashes to be interred by the grave of the vicar’s wife, Marianne, in the churchyard.

Constance and her husband remained living in Donhead St Mary, Wiltshire, for many years, but after her husband’s death in 1942, she moved to Somerset, to be near her eldest daughter, where she died in 1956. She had two daughters, Marianne (1897-1981), who married Brigadier John Cecil Currie (1898-1944), who was killed in Normandy in the Second World War, and Penelope (1900-2002), who remained unmarried and died aged 102. Accordingly, a grandchild of RTB was alive this century.