JOHN TAPSON OF ST GERMANS, SCHOOLMASTER
PIGOT & Co’s LONDON & PROVINCIAL COMMERCIAL DIRECTORY for 1823-4 describes the Cornish town of St. Germains, across the Tamar from Plymouth, as:
“An inconsiderable borough town, having no claims to our notice but its antiquity, the interesting grounds of Port Elliott, the seat of the Earl of St Germains, and the venerable appearance of the church. The proprietors of what are called burgage tenements, not more than ten, and an unlimited number of censors, have the privilege of sending two members to parliament. The town is governed by a portreeve, chosen annually at the court leet of the lord of the manor; this officer is also bailiff of the borough. There is no market day.
Fairs, May 28th and August first. The population of the borough and parish is 2,404.
POST OFFICE Nicholas Stripp, Post Master. The mail to London, and the east, every afternoon at three. To Truro, and the west, every morning at eight. COACHES The Royal Mail passes the road to and from London every morning and evening, about a mile & half from the town. “
St. Germans remained a rotten borough until the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832. The 1830 edition of Pigot’s directory gives the additional information about St. Germans that:
“St Germains (sometimes improperly written as ‘St Germans’) is a parliamentary borough and parish, in the south division of East hundred; 226 miles from London, about nine from Devonport, and eight from Liskeard. The houses are nearly all built upon an irregular rock, in the form of an amphitheatre, washed by the river Tidy, which empties itself into Plymouth sound The portreeve can make any house in the place the prison of the person he arrests In the town is a methodists’ chapel, and a free-school supported by the Elliot family. The parish, which is the largest in the county, being full 20 miles in circumference, has within its limits a greater number of gentlemen’s seats and lordships than any other in Cornwall. “
The earliest recorded appearance of a member of the Tapson family in St. Germans (or St. Germains!) is that of Christopher Tapson of Calstock, who signed the Protestation Oath atSt. Germans in 1642 (page 77); however, his name does not appear in the registers of that parish, which survive from 1590. The first mention of a Tapson in the St. Germans registers seems to be of John Tapson, who made his home in that parish. This John Tapson was married at Rame, the Cornish parish at the mouth of the Tamar estuary, about six miles south-east of St. Germans:
31 Oct 1782 John Tapson of the Parish of Stoke Climsland & Grace Martin of the Parish of Rame by Licence in the presence of John Tapson Sen r & John Hawton. The Cornish parish of Stoke Climsland is about 12 miles north of St. Germans and nearly 15 miles south-west of Bridestowe; it was in this parish that the first child of John and Grace was baptized:
7 Aug 1783 James Martin son of John & Grace Tapson
The circumstances of John’s move to St Germans have been recorded in the Vestry
Minute Book for that parish (CRO DDP68/8/1):
“At a Vestry held in the Schoolhouse this 16 th day of January 1784. Proposals for agreeing with M r Tapson as Schoolmaster for St Germans. First the Parishioners on their part in Vestry Assembled do agree to make up to him the sum of Twenty Pounds pr Annum. And in the following manner (that is to say) by the rents of the Estate or Fields called Whites crofts in the parish of Menheniot, which suppose may set for Clear £7 10s 0d. Tho if at any time hereafter . the sum Subscribed and the Estate falls short of Twenty Pounds the Parishioners on their part Jointly agree to make good that sum provided that he Mr Tapson shall Teach or cause to be Taught to Reading Twelve Poor Children of this Parish to be named by the Majority of the Parishioners and it is likewise agreed with Mr Tapson that he shall out of the Number of Twelve Poor Children, Cause six of them to be Taught Reading Writing and the four Rules of Arithmetick Addition Subtraction Multiplication and Division but no more than six shall be ever Ordered by the Vestry at any one time to Writing and Arithmetick. Mr Tapson on his part to use his utmost Exertion and Ability to Instruct the Children so committed to his charge and care in Reading Writing and Arithmetick and carefully to watch over their Morals by preventing and punishing all obscene talk Swearing lying and taking the sacred name of God in vain and by every means in his power to Inculcate Virtue and discourage Vice.”
The minutes go on to describe the method of choosing six children to be taught writing and arithmetic, and the conditions of employment. The agreement was very neatly signed by John Tapson.
The accounts of the Overseers of the Poor for the parish (CRO DDP68/12/3 & 4)
include among the disbursements for the first half of 1784 (dated 1785):
“To Mr Tapson Bill for Books for Poor Children 8/8”
and for the second half of that year: “Paid Mr John Tapson on Acct of the School 7/10/0
Pd Mr Tapson for Books for School house 8/8”
Disbursements for 1785 (dated 1786) include, for each half-year:
“To Mr Tapson for Books & firing for ye Poor Children 15/1”
Those for 1786 (dated 1787), for each half-year:
“To Mr Tapson for books & firing for Poor Children 14/7”
For the first half of 1787 (dated 1788):
“To Mr Tapson towards his rent £5 & for Firing etc £1/13”
and for the second half:
“To Mr Tapson in Consideration of his House Rent 5/0/0”
“To Mr Tapson for the Deficiency in his Salary of £20 per Annum Occasioned by the Death of Lady Copley 1/10/0”
“To Mr Tapson for Books 4 s & firing for the Poor Children 8s”
For each half of the years 1788, 1789, 1790 and 1791 the disbursements to Mr Tapson are:
“To Mr Tapson in Consideration of his House Rent 5/0/0”
A copy of part of an extraordinary letter written to him by John Tapson was entered into one of his journals by James Chubb, an Excise Officer and Methodist Lay Preacher. These journals were given to the Methodist Church and some of them are now in the small Methodist museum at Trewint, near Altarnun, in Cornwall. Mrs Evelyn Pickess (nee Chubb) of Bristol has a copy of the journals, from which she has kindly extracted the following:
From John Tapson Schoolmaster, St. Germans, Cornwall, 3 July 1785.
“My Dear Friend, I wish to be more thankful to God for your good advice. I pray it may not be lost. Oh, wretch that I am how can I be delivered from this huge Body of Sin. Oh my Brother offer up a prayer to your God to give me Faith that I may lay hold on the Atoning Sacrafice. I am glad you are walking in the good old way, through a World of Cares and Sorrows, having respect to the recompence of reward. ”
I believe my Visits in St. Germans was useful to many especially to the above, and not in vain.
He left a Testimony of a good Conscience and went to his Heavenly Fathers house on …”
This is the end of James Chubb’s entry: there is no date. One wonders what could have been John’s huge Body of Sin: it was probably no more than would be considered a minor misdemeanour in these final years of the Twentieth Century; but in the religious fervour of the early decades of Methodism any backsliding, however trivial, might have aroused great feelings of guilt among the pious.
John nevertheless went on to become a pillar of society in St. Germans, for he was one of those who signed the Vestry Minutes on 27 February 1789, 1 October 1789, 26 November 1791 and 2 March 1792, and his signature also appears in the accounts for the Overseers of the Poor for February 1789, September 1789, November 1789 and February 1792.
During this period of his life four more sons were born to John and Grace; all were baptized in the parish church of St. Germans:
3 Apr 1786 John son of John & Grace Tapson
10 Feb 1788 William son of John & Grace Tapson
4 Oct 1789 Joseph son of John & Grace Tapson
28 Sep 1791 Thomas son of John & Grace Tapson but Thomas’s funeral soon followed:
11 Oct 1791 Thomas Tapson Age 2 weeks
The next entry in the parish register was that of the funeral of John himself:
13 Jul 1792 John Tapson Age 34
A month after John’s death the following entry was made in the Vestry Minute Book:
At a Vestry held this 10th day of August 1792 of which proper Notice was given on Sunday last in the Church for the purpose of electing and Choosing a proper Person for the office of Schoolmaster for this Parish in the room of Mr Tapson deceased It is hereby resolved and agreed on Unanimously by us who have hereunto subscribed our Names that
M r Robert Brickwood of the Parish of Maker is a Person well Qualified for that office. But
his Pay and Salary to commence from Michaelmas next to which Time the Profits of the said
School shall belong to Mrs Tapson the Widdow….And Mrs Tapson is to deliver a List of the several things that belong to the Parish to one of the Churchwardens And in future on the Schoolmaster keeping an Assistant We the Parishioners do hereby agree to pay the said Master towards such additional expense the Sum of Five guineas
Robert Brickwood held the post of Schoolmaster at St. Germans for nearly 46 years.
John Tapson’s brother Robert moved to St. Germans with his wife sometime after 1793; he is shown in a plan of St. Germans dated 1831 as joint tenant with Robert Brickwood Junior (son of John’s successor as schoolmaster) of a slaughter house
When John died in 1792 his widow, Grace, was left with four sons aged 8, 6, 4 and 2 to provide for. She is listed in the UNIVERSAL BRITISH DIRECTORY 1793-1798 under Traders:
Tapsom (sic) Mrs, shopkeeper; and her name appears again in the only land tax assessment to have survived for St Germains, thought to date to about 1800:
TENEMENT PROPRIETOR OCCUPIER SUM EXONERATED
Bunsels Meadow Lord Elliot Grace Tapson 0 4 1
Barnstable Inn HonbIe Lord Elliot Grace Tapson 0 2 FA
Grace was buried at the parish church of St. Germans:
30 Mar 1833 Grace Tapson Age 77
According to the age recorded here Grace would have been bom about 1755 and so would have been about three years older than her husband.