The Robinsons of Park Hill
Amongst the pleasures of running a Local History Group are the enquiries and requests that you receive asking you to follow up a particular story or lead. Some of the requests that we receive originate from as far afield as the USA, Canada and Australia whilst others are much closer to home. A recent home-based request came from Ann Tabrah who contacted me regarding information about the inscriptions to Joseph and Emily Robinson which appear on the stained glass windows on either side of the altar in St. Andrew’s Church. I was able to inform her that the window on the south side was given by Emily Robinson in memory of her husband Joseph who died in 1903. The glass on the north side was given in memory of Emily herself who passed away in 1906. Ann is one of our village volunteers sewing for the St. Andrew’s 700 Wallhanging and she wanted to be absolutely sure of her facts before it was too late.
Following up this request led me to research the Robinson family a little further and try to establish why they occupy a prominent position in the church. As many of you probably know the Robinson family lived at Park Hill House at the end of the nineteenth century and in their later years became prominent benefactors and supporters of village life. Joseph Fletcher Robinson (1827-1903), the founder of a general merchant business in Liverpool, relocated to Park Hill House in 1882. Joseph ended his years as a churchwarden at St. Andrew’s but in his younger days he clearly had a taste for adventure. In 1846 he travelled to South America where he fought in the Guerra Grande alongside Giuseppe Garibaldi (later to feature prominently in the War of Italian Unification) and the Uruguayans against the Argentine dictator Juan Manuel de Rosas. Having made his money in business in Liverpool the family were able to ‘retire’ to Ipplepen.
Inheriting much of his father’s drive, energy and enterprise Joseph’s son Bertram Fletcher Robinson went on to achieve even greater prominence. Educated at Newton Abbot Proprietary College (1882-90) and later at Jesus College, Cambridge, Bertram was an excellent sportsman excelling at both Rugby and Rowing. After leaving university Bertram became a man of letters. Amongst other journals he edited the Daily Express and Vanity Fair as well as writing plays, poems and short stories. His friends and collaborators included most notably P.G. Wodehouse and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was Bertram who invited Conan Doyle to Park Hill House in 1901 and recounted the legend of ghostly hounds whilst on a trip to Dartmoor. The pair had previously agreed to co-author a Devon based story but it was Conan Doyle who went on to write the Hound of the Baskervilles and in doing so took the liberty of borrowing the name Baskerville from an actual coachman and servant to the Robinsons.
Bertram died aged just 36 in 1907. He was buried with his parents at St. Andrew’s Church in Ipplepen. In January 2009 Ipplepen Parish Council gave permission for a commemorative bench and plaque to be situated outside Caunter’s Close.
Evidently Bertram was a talented and charismatic individual. Perhaps there was something in the water at the time because his contemporary at Newton Abbot Proprietary College (always referred to as Old Newtonians) was the explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett, born in Torquay, and now the subject of the Hollywood film ‘The Lost City of Z`.
The Curiosity Bug
It is often the case that a simple request for information instigates lines of research which, in turn, open up new or maybe forgotten nuggets of information. If you attended the recent talk at the Village Hall about this year’s dig you will know that Professor Stephen Rippon wants to know more about Ipplepen itself at the time of the Roman occupation. To this end he requested volunteers to be prepared to have a small trench dug in their garden to find out more. So in particular if you live in that triangle of Ipplepen bounded by Fore Street, North Street and Paternoster Lane and you share Professor Rippon’s fascination sufficiently to have a hole dug in your garden you are one of those with the curiosity bug. Similarly the new owners of the Italian Gardens at Ambrook have the same bug and they are extremely keen to hear from anyone in the village with memories of the gardens. Keep the requests coming!
John Marsh 813094