There are several places named Brendon in the UK and at least one other, larger and more famous, village in Devon which is situated near Exmoor. The origin of the name of this village of Brendon is that it contains two Old English place-name elements, the first – from brom – referring to the plant broom and the second – from dun – which tends to signify a fairly extensive and flat hill or upland expanse. It therefore seems likely that our Brendon is similarly named as it in the 1839 Tithe apportionment map it is clearly located near to an area marked as Brendon Moor.

In a book by Sonia Roberts about life in Brendon in the early 1950s she reports that all of the ancient farmhouses in Brendon were close together with the land radiating from this centre, each having a proportion of marsh, which she described as ‘truly all mud and rushes’. These marshes were burned every February and were home to snipe and woodcock. At this time of year she says you could believe you had been transported to the Everglades of Florida with the streams of lichen hanging off the alder, ash and bog oak.

She tells the story of the threshing machine that toured the district in the winter to thresh the sheaves of oats that famers had grown as fodder and of the joint cider pressing at The Barton in Thornbury when there was a bumper crop of apples in 1952. However she also describes the very poor state of repair of many of the cottages, with leaking roofs, crumbling walls and certainly no electricity or running water even in the 50s. Life was very hard.

On both the 1839 map, and indeed the latest maps, Brendon is a closely clustered community with the cottages, gardens and land all jumbled together around the back lanes and tracks leading off the main Woodacott to Holsworthy Beacon road. Geographically, it is much closer to this latter settlement than to the rest of Thornbury Hamlets and yet for over 175 years, and probably longer, it has been part of Thornbury (parish?). From what I have been told it seems that for many years the children of the hamlet went to school in Holsworthy, walking all the way and apparently stopping for a drink of water at Blagdon Wharf in the summer.

brendon ge brendon 1839

Brendon from Google Earth                                                                                                               Brendon in 1839

Landowners In 1839 the main land owners and occupiers were Emanuel Cole (Lower Brendon Farm), David Penwarden (Higher Brendon Farm), Richard Rowland (Hoopers Farm) and Joanna Routley (Jewels Brendon). Joanna is given as the occupier as her husband Matthew had died in June of that year. Attempting to follow these families through the censuses shows that several families seem to have died out, at least in the Brendon area, as there were no children, with the men marrying late in life or not at all.  See more about the Cole family in this article about Emanuel Cole (1840-1926).

The one family that did remain in the area were the Routleys.

routleyThe Routleys. They originated from Clawton but Matthew and Joanna Routley came to Brendon soon after their marriage in 1802 as all of their children were born in Thornbury. The family remained in Brendon / Thornbury and married into other local families including the Sluggetts, Coles and the Skinners. John Routley (1810 – 1875) bought Jewells Brendon Farm in the lower part of Brendon and he seems to have had just 2 children who survived to adulthood. Eventually William Routley, John’s son (1856 – 1937) married Elizabeth Teneer in 1898 when he was 42 and they had 6 children, two of whom died in infancy and one who died aged 7, possibly of diphtheria.

William Routley in around 1905.

William sold Jewells Brendon in 1912 and moved to Coles Brendon. About this time the Osborne family bought their house from the Routleys, reportedly for £50.


Edwin, William’s youngest son took over the farm and he had 3 children, two of whom still live in Brendon. They were both born in the family farmhouse and remember ploughing with horses and concerts in an old barn in Brendon where there grandfather played the violin. He had also played to lead the hymns and singing at the opening of the Beacon Chapel in 1882.

In 1911 the families living in Brendon included the Jollows (Carpenters) Daveys (Farm Labourers) Daniels (Farmers) and Priests (Farmers). All names that have been associated with the village for many years. It is very difficult to work out exactly where people lived in the past censuses as like today almost all of the cottages seem to be called Brendon Cottage.  How the poor delivery folk ever find the right house is beyond me!

brendon map

Many questions have arisen in my quest. For example there exists a large map of Brendon, (shown here) hand drawn in Indian ink on linen and then hand coloured on the back. I suspect that it relates to the sale of land as all the coloured plots are numbered and the remaining uncoloured ones have names against them such as George Harris and Mr Penwarden. The limited research I have done indicates that this George Harris may be the one from Vaglefield in the neighbouring parish. Do you know the date of the map, as the owners don’t? What do you think it was for as the numbers are different from the Tithe Apportionment map of 1839? Does it relate to a sale that we know took place in 1912?








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