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Duke Yonge


A Country Vicar- The Reverend Duke Yonge


 Duke Yonge died nearly fifteen years before the accession to the throne of Queen Victoria in 1837 but his attitude to his vocation was very much like that of an earnest Victorian than the rather laid back Church Of England clergyman of the 17th and early 19th centuries, when being a clergyman was more of an occupation for a leisured country gentleman than a vocation. The leisured country gentleman was often a younger son of a gentry family. With the eldest son inheriting the family estate, other sons had to find a career for themselves. This could be the law, medicine, the army or as in Dukes case, the church.

 Duke was however a deeply religious and serious man of the high church persuasion, with a belief in the importance of scriptural knowledge. He was a popular preacher and to cope with the numbers he had two galleries, long since taken down, erected in the church.

 Family Background

 He was born in 1750 and died in 1823. He was the third surviving son of John Yonge and Elizabeth Duke and the first Yonge to have "Duke" as a Christian name. His mother was from Otterton in Devon He first went to school at the Plympton free school.

 John Yonge, Duke`s father, died aged forty six, when Duke was aged seventeen. The plan had been that of the three sons, son John as well as inheriting the family seat of Puslinch. Son John would become a priest and take the family living at nearby Newton Ferrers, that James would train to be a doctor and take over from his uncle Charles Yonge and that Duke, who was always very close to James, would follow the same profession. James and Duke both studied medicine and surgery together under the roof of their Uncle Charles and at one of the London hospitals. The eldest son John however was not strong and died when age only twenty three, in 1772, when he fell off his horse whilst hunting. As this was not in the fox hunting season it would be intriguing to know what he could have been hunting in the middle of summer!

 John's death meant that James was to inherit Puslinch and would take the living of Newton Ferrers. At the same time, Duke also decided to become a clergyman.

 Duke and James both went to Oxford, Duke matriculated from University College on the 22nd November 1771 aged nineteen.. He obtained his B.A. at Oxford in June 1775.Admitted as a pensioner (he paid for his own tuition and board) to Sydney Sussex College Cambridge in June 1782 where he obtained he was granted his MA in the same year, when he was in his early 30's. Presumably he took tis step as part of becoming vicar of Otterton in that year.

 The Cambridge alumni records state that he was "incorp from Oxford". Incorporation is the placing of members of other universities into the body of the University in the same rank, status or degree as they had held in their own university. So Duke's Oxford Degree would be counted at Cambridge as if it had been taken at Cambridge.

 They both courted women from the same family. James courted a widow, Mrs Bastard of Kitley (the Bastard's were large landowners, whose estate bordered Puslinch. There was at one time a long standing enmity between the two families) and Duke her younger unmarried sister.

In the event however Duke married a Catherine Crawley on the 12th of March 1777. She came from a noted Gloucestershire family, with Huguenot antecedents and was the daughter of Thomas Crawley Boevey of Flaxley Abbey Gloucs. This was to be the first of several marriages between the two families. How he met Catherine is not known. Possibly he met a family member at University. There was a Richard and a Charles Crawley at Oxford at about his time. Charles could just have overlapped and he was at the same College as Duke and his father was later to be Duke's father in law.

 There are portraits of both Duke and Catherine or Catherine still owned by the Family. Duke appears as bright eyed and eager looking while Catherine appears as a bright complexioned, dark eyed young girl, with arched eyebrows, dressed in a gold spotted muslin and a then fashionable turban.

 Charlotte Yonge, the Victorian writer, wrote of his appearance, though she never met him. "Duke was I have always heard, an exceedingly handsome youth, tall and with such a figure he was accused of wearing stays, with regular features and fine dark eyes and hair .... brimful of wit fun and cleverness."

 They had nine children all of whom survived to adulthood and eight of whom, four sons and four daughters, survived him. A quite remarkable achievement for those times.

 Early Church Career

He started his church career in 1774 he was a deacon then curate at Charles Church Plymouth, 1776-1782 curate at Yealmpton and in 1782 shortly after he was ordained, Duke took the living of Otterton Devon, south west of Exeter, where the Duke family lived and where they controlled the living. Nepotism was rife in the Church of England at that time and accepted as normal. 

 Later in 1793, so as to be nearer to his brother, he took the living at Cornwood, just a few miles from Plymouth on the edge of Dartmoor. When he left Otterton, he sold up all his possessions. The account of the sale in the Exeter Flying Post reads:

To be sold by public survey by B Carter on Tuesday 17th Sept inst and following days, the household goods and outdoor stock and other articles presently of Rev Duke Yonge on premises at Otterton parsonage house comprising bedspreads with sundry flannels aforesaid, further beds, mattresses blankets, quilts, counterpanes, some bed and table linen, mahogany tables. Chairs ...... Draws etc, a handsome table and a dessert set of real Wedgwood ware with green edges., Set of plain ditto china, glasses, useful kitchen furniture, washing and baking utensils, a quantity of, a variety of green house plants, some ricks of hay, corn, a rick of straw, some Guernseys, two other cows and two hogs, farming utensils, etc etc. catalogue to be had off the auctioneers before sale. Sale before Wed by 11. A.M.

 Cornwood and its Vicarage

 Cornwood was the second largest parish in the county and like most villages the basis of the economy of Cornwood at the time was farming. Beginning in 1793, the church registers compiled by Duke Yonge record the occupations of the fathers of baptised children. In 1793 by far the most common occupation was husbandman (small tenant farmer) followed by farmers (yeoman) , and two each of carpenters, blacksmiths, masons and millers and a militiaman a marine and a cooper and a thatcher. Interestingly labourers are very rare so it must have been a community largely of small (maybe only an acre or two farmers. Apart from the squire, Duke would probably have been the only properly educated person in the village so the immediate social circle would have been small.

 Charlotte Yonge described Cornwood thus "Cornwood is a very beautiful place on the borders of Dartmoor. The vicarage stood on the side of a steep hill with a precipitous bank, covered with brushwood and ferns, descending to the Yealm. Higher up the stream is a lovely ravine, full of wood and rock, the river dashing through, and beyond lies the wild moor. It was a place of out of door freedom, and of power of sport most delightful, and bound the hearts of the lads who grew up there with the charm of mountaineers."

 The church of St Michael's and All Angels lies at the top of the slope at 400 feet above sea level. The slope leading down to the Yealm is now the site of a development of bungalows and across the river the moor has been encroached upon by fields. The church was extensively modernised in Victorian tines, after Duke's time there. However the Jacobean pulpit from which he would have preached is still there.

 The vicarage or glebe house was originally a farmhouse, about a mile from the church and overlooking the Yealm River, to which later a Georgian front had been added. In essentials the house is as Duke left it, including the great stone fireplace, made of two kinds of granite in the kitchen at the back of the house. The kitchen, which has a rounded roof, incorporates part of the old dairy and part of the butlers pantry. In what was Duke's study, there are a number of impressions of the initials D.Y, burnt into the wood. They look as though made by a small branding iron, possibly for hooves of sheep, which perhaps Duke was trying out or it may be as a result of the custom which used to exist of beating or marking the parish boundaries for when the boundary went right through a house, sometime the mantle piece was marked. There is also a paneled cupboard there. The paint has been removed from the doors which are now back to the natural wood of Duke's day. Unusually for houses of the area it has a cellar.

 Outside is a barn which predates the house, stable, with very old beams, and a coach house. In the garden, fed by a small stream, is a small pool. known as the "Vicars bath." As Duke appears to have been somewhat of an ascetic character it could well be that he did indeed bathe in it. Next to the road on the way to the village there is a swimming pool. Formerly it was a tennis court and possibly in Duke's time it was a walled garden.

 Plymouth Dispensary

 In 1807 his Uncle Dr Charles Yonge died and left in his will the sum of £1000 to help build Plymouth's first public hospital, The Plymouth Dispensary. Duke was the executor of the will and personally paid the death duty tax so that the Hospital Trustees would receive the full legacy. Also he bequeathed a sum of money to the Plymouth Public Dispensary on condition that each year an adequate number of tickets of admission should be at the disposal of the Vicar of Cornwood.

For very many years he was a member of the permanent committee and chaired it. Also he often gave the sermon at the Dispensary's annual service.

 The Dispensary to him must have been a fulfilling duty combining as it did his religious activities with his interest in medicine.

 The Yonge Charity

 This was followed in 1811 when he formally established "the Yonge charity". He left certain lands at the nearby village of Lutton and a sum of money to trustees for the benefit of the poor of the parish of Cornwood. He directed that one part of the endowment should be used towards the education of such poor children of the parish as were selected by the vicar and to teach them the Catechism and the principles of the Church of England. The rest of the endowment was to be used to purchase and distribute throughout the parish, of Bibles. Testaments and religious tracts published by the Society for the Promotion Knowledge. A board in the bell tower of the church records the gift.

 The church board listing the vicars, reads "Duke Yonge 1793-1811 The Yonge charity was founded by the vicar the Rev Duke Yonge".

 Under the aegis of the Charity there was also established a Dame School. The school was closed in 1923.

  1813 Charity Commission Report reads “The rent [from the parish lands] is regularly paid to the Reverend Duke Yonge, one of the trustees who lays it out by providing blankets and clothing which are provided by a small shop established in the parish. He gives tickets for such articles to the poor persons of Cornwood who do not receive parochial relief.”

 An extract from another report reads:

 Mr Yonge purchased the reversion of and in an estate for the benefit of the Parish which his ………. dropped in and is now let for £311 per annum. A moiety of this is appropriated to the exclusive purpose of affording medical assistance to the poor as are not the object of parochial relief… after deducting 10d for school to be laid out in the purchase of bibles, school books, religious tracts to be distributed by year.

 In 1822 the charity funds were held/allocated :

 £100 in the hands of Duke

 £43.13.00 Annuity for Wyatt Williams aged 69

 £50 Legacy to Plymouth Public Dispensary to cover death duty

 £58.11.04 Arrears of tithe

 £1.7.00 Residue of Funds

 The Charity still exists and its constitution provides that the owner of Puslinch for the time being shall be a trustee.

 Other Professional Activities

 He was a justice of the peace. Clergymen were part of the establishment at a time when there was little or no policing and so were expected to help maintain the social status quo. So it was quite common at that time for a clergyman to be a J.P. though it is easy to see conflicts of interest arising. As one of the few educated people in the village, he was also in the habit of giving legal advice to those who had fallen foul of the law, as long presumably this did not conflict with his duties as a justice.

 Charlotte Yonge, she was baptised in the year he died, in her autobiography says Old Mr Yonge, up Cornwood, he was a real gentleman, and cared no more for the rich than the poor" was the saying of one of the small farmers who had often been brought before him for ill usage of apprentice lads.

 He also concerned himself with the welfare of prisoners. Exeter had two sets of prisons in or near the City. The Southgate or Bridewell in Queen Street were run by the County and City of Exeter, while the Castle, and later the County Gaol run by the County of Devon.

 Duke Yonge at the request of the magistrates wrote the work

 "a Manual of Instruction and Devotion for the Use of Prisoners in the High Gaol at Exeter at the request of the County Magistrates" It was published by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge in 1803 and though not issued publicly magistrates were encouraged to apply to Duke Yonge for a copy

 National Archives HO 44/37

 The following is an extract from a letter by a M. Shute, a former prisoner to the Secretary of State for the Home Department complaining about conditions at Exeter Prison in 1840. Conditions were probably no better in Dukes time.

 ………….and to make known to you that the cells in which a man is confined from night till morning, there are no other means than an open bucket to receive the functions of nature and men frequently taking medicine which when operating on the body proves injurious to the health of others and the greater part of a Sunday with the exception of prayer time and fetching the dinner, we are in the same unwholesome state. There are no rules or regulations affixed for the perusal of prisoners in any conspicuous place or places of the prison so the prisoner is apt at times to commit a trifling fault and punished at the governors discretion without any order to be read that and are issued from magistrates by prisoners [named]. With regard to working on the treadmill many times the men are so numerous the wheel that is very troublesome.

 It was felt Christian literature would reveal truths to the ignorant and highlight spiritual sinfulness of their actions. The evils of drink and irregular church attendance were also focused on.

Christian teaching to read seen as important. supporting the establishment through emphasise on law and order help conformity and acceptance of social status quo. Christian teaching of docility obedience reverence and reformation chimed in well with support of established order. Duke in his beliefs was very clearly a supporter of order and the establishment, he was a member of various societies established for this purpose, not that one would expect anything less. How it went down with the inmates it is not recorded but one can guess!

 By first half of 19th century chaplains became a formidable force in prisons. There is no evidence that Duke was a prison chaplain. Travel from Cornwood on a regular basis would have meant that was impractical.

 Also, and this would have reflected his early intent to train as a doctor, he was active in providing at no cost, basic medical help and acting as an apothecary for his parishioners at all hours of the day or night. The endowment fund he set up was also used to provide for a fund for medical cover for when he was dead.

His entries in the parish registers are interesting. As well as showing the occupations of fathers at baptisms and reflecting his interest in medical matters, he also recorded causes of death. The most common were old age, phthisis [T.B.], consumption, smallpox, palsy, fever, paralysis [strokes], whooping cough, angina [heart disease] and scarlet fever.

He was also concerned with the economic welfare of his parishioners. There is a newspaper report in the Exeter Flying Express of 1821 which reads "the Rev Duke Yonge with that liberality for which his character is most distinguished has reduced his tithes in the parish of Cornwood by 10% in consequence of the present distressed state of the agricultural interest."

t was not all work and no play. Like most of his class at that time, he enjoyed country sports. The Exeter Flying Post has an entry for 20th September 1787 which reads "game certificate issued by the clerk for the county of Devon between 1/7/1787 and 1/9/1787 to James Yonge of Puslinch clerk, William Young [not related] and Duke Yonge of Otterton, clerk."

 This however was the time of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and the outside world could intrude on village life. Charlotte Yonge also recounts that Cornwood was near enough to Plymouth to be affected by the Napoleonic war and at times of invasion scares everything, including a supply of guineas, was kept at the ready for the women of the house to flee at once to the Moor. In a letter then still existing written by Duke to his brother in law, Col Samuel Archer in Northamptonshire, he spoke of the desirability of sending his wife and certain valuables to him for safety and suggested his home would be especially safe as it was near the arsenal at Weedon, which is near Daventry.

Sabbath Observance

 Unsurprisingly perhaps for a 19th century clergyman the observance of the Sabbath was of importance to him. This point is brought out when in correspondence in 1803 with Lord Simone, who was commander of the Western District of England where, while recognising the importance of the military and indeed glorying in their success, Duke expressed concern that the volunteer forces in the country were neglecting to observe the sabbath. Simcoe replied diplomatically that he agreed on the desirability of Sabbath observance, makes some minor concessions but points out that there was a real threat of French invasion and national defence had to take priority. The correspondence with Lord Simcoe was originally intended to be a private exchange between the two men but was published in August 1805 by Duke as part of larger work of some 99 pages,entitled "On the observance of the sabbath "A Short Essay, on the Authority and Duties of the Sabbath: With Observations on the Sunday exercise of Volunteers."

Church Career

For all his many duties, he was above all a clergyman and at that time it was common to hold more than one living, although there was growing criticism of the practice

 The Clerical Guide for 1822 states for Duke:

 Vicar of Willoughton, Lincs, pop 817 Value £7.4.2 Gift of Kings Cambridgeshire

 Vicar of Sheviok, Cornwall, pop 31 value £4.5.0 G Gift of Carew Family

 Vicar of Newton Ferrers, Devon, pop 601 Value £45.12.1 Gift of Yonge Family

 Vicar of Cornwood, Devon, pop 807. Value £38.4.7 Gift of Bishop of Exeter

 He held the parish of Newton Ferrers for his nephew James 1792-1828, from 1798 to 1808 (it was quite common to "keep a seat warm" for a relative until that relative was qualified to take over).

Sheviok is just south west of Antony which in turn is south west of Plymouth. Sheviok was in the gift of his lifelong friend R. P. Carew of the then fairly new Antony house , Antony, Cornwall. Dukes "Memorial" written after his death has the following reference:

 "In 1808 he was presented to the rectory of Sheviok in the county of Cornwall by the Right Hon R.P. Carew who had been his school friend at Plympton and a college mate at university and with whom to the day of his death he maintained an intimate and unbroken friendship."

The archives of the Carew family at Antony has an extensive collection of correspondence from Duke to Carew.

 He never actually resided at Willoughton so it is presumed that he appointed a curate to look after the parish. Howhe got this parish is unclear. It was in the gift of Kings College Cambridge but that was not the Cambridge College that Duke went to.

 Also he was domestic chaplain to Charles Cocks, 1st Baron Summers, 1784 to 1798. How this connection was made is unknown.


 He would also have a need to appoint a curate in the parishes he actually served to help out with the work. One got him into some trouble. One Laurence Halloran left Exeter in September 1796 for Ivybridge and Cornwood in South Devon. Whilst there he was employed by Duke. However Halloran was probably a Catholic and was certainly a fraudster and con man. Duke was instructed by the Bishop of Exeter, to discharge Halloran as being unsuitable and unqualified. Duke refused to comply as Halloran had produced to him letters of holy orders under the apparent seal and signature of the Bishop of Ossory in Ireland and he felt he should at least be give the benefit of the doubt. Subsequently the Bishop wrote back to Duke that that he had been in communication with the Bishop of Ossory who had advised that he had never ordained anyone with the name Halloran. It is likely Duke received a telling off from the Bishop.


 He was a learned man. The work "The Medieval Cartularies of Great Britain" (Cartularies were catalogues of title documents and charters of religious houses) refers to Otterton and Ottery St Mary and Lord Coleridge. The register of evidence compiled in 1260 by Prior Legat contains calendars, customary rents and extracts from the Domesday Book followed by royal, episcopal and lay grants. The work states “Rev Duke Yonge vicar of Cornwood, died 1823” was part responsible for compiling.

 He wrote several devotional and inspirational books. A report in the Exeter Flying Post for 5.8.1819, reads "this day is published in demy 12m price 1s 3d or 13s per dozen Christian holiness or the fruits of faith a manual of instruction for his flock by the Rev Duke Yonge A.M. Vicar of Cornwood and of Sheviok. Printed by Trewman and co of Exeter and may be had of other booksellers.”

 Brothers Family

 His bother died in 1797 and left, by his second marriage, six children aged between seven years and one year. Duke became guardian and manager of James family and apparently treated his brothers children as if they were his own so that the two groups of children throughout their lives were more like brothers and sisters than cousins. The boys were known as "Puss Yonge's" and "Cat Yonge`s". The "Puss" stood for Puslinch and the "Cat" was short for Catherine.

 The End

 Charlotte Yonge states in her autobiography that her christening was a hurried affair as her father had to hurry back to Devon because Duke was ill. Duke first became ill in November 1822 when he complained of a shortage of breath, his heart was failing. He died just over a year later on his birthday, the 3rd of December 1823, he was aged 73.

 His obituary on Trewman's Exeter Flying Post reads:

 On Wednesday last at Cornwood, Devon, in the 73rd year of his age, the Rev Duke Yonge, vicar of that parish and of Sheviok in Cornwall, many years an acting magistrate of the former county, for which he was eminently qualified by the capaciousness of his abilities and the soundness of his judgment, which were only equaled by the rectitude of his principles and the strictness of his integrity. His charities were extensive and his knowledge in medicine enabled him to make them doubly valuable to his parishioners. Though a pluralist, he was only ostensibly so, for he appropriated the whole income of Sheviok to religious purposes."

 He wrote before his death "It is my desire that I be buried with as much decency as possible in the Church-Yard at Cornwood, if I die there; without the pomp of coach or hearse, lest the bystanders be diverted from the solemn business, to vanity and ostentation, which appears to me to be unsuitable. The bearers to be .............. . They should have One Pound and a good pair of gloves each."

His gravestone reads "Duke Yonge born Dec 3rd 1760 died Dec 3rd 1823. Vicar of this parish thirty years. The world passeth away and the lust thereof but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. Also Catherina his wife born April 25th 1753 died December 9th 1842."

 The writer viewed the grave in the early 1990's but on a subsequent visit, it was no longer there. enquiries were made in the village and by 1998, it was replaced by persons unknown. It was scuffed and scoured as though it had been dragged along the ground. A mystery!

 Alongside is the grave of his son John George (Q13) who died in 1806 aged 16. The inscription is now (1998) difficult to read, but appears to say "John Yonge born October 1st 1786 Died April 25th 1806 Verity [merit?] you there is reward for the righteous and unspotted life of old age."

In his will he names some eleven separate properties or estates, mainly in Devon but some in Islington and Middlesex, he gave some £10,000 in legacies, leaving a residuary estate of over £20,000. So he was very comfortably off. This wealth was almost certainly largely inherited. The family wealth largely dated back to Dukes, great grandfather who was a successful surgeon of a hundred years before and grandfather who made an opportunistic marriage into the Upton family from whom a large number of properties were inherited.

 After his death his children had published a "Memorial" which was part biography and part autobiography. From this and other accounts it appears that he was a simple man without ostentation, he removed all lace from the vicarage at Cornwood and always walked the good mile to church whatever the weather. He was however a sociable person despite his own austere lifestyle. He encouraged his children’s education. Heh he gave away most of his income from all his various livings for the last 25 years of his life he was careful that his actions did not bind any successor.

 A biography of him, with a selection of his papers was published by his nephew Sir John Taylor Coleridge, speaks of the reverence in which he was held and the big influence he had on his children and nephews and nieces.

 On his death his widow Catherine and her daughters went to live in Plymouth, where her son James was practicing as a doctor. She later moved to Mount Pleasant Plymouth with their daughter Anne Duke. Catherine died in 1842, having outlived four of their children.

 Place in History

 On his death he had been vicar for thirty seven years and there is an important aspect to this. Many Devon parishes in the 18th and 19th centuries were poor which meant that the livings were poor. being thus under endowed, many were poorly served by underpaid chaplains or by pluralist vicars. The problems of pluralist living was not solved, Duke after all had three livings, but in the late 18th early 19th century there was a change in the calibre of many of the clergy. They were often middle class gentry, well connected with private means, who did not need to advance in the World. This enabled them to serve the poorest parishes and many stayed at their posts until they died, which could mean upwards of fifty years in a parish.

 Duke did not serve quite that long but with 37 years service, he would have baptised a good number of people in the village of Cornwood, married them, baptised their children and baptised their children's children and buried a good many and helped them with their medical and legal problems. He would have watched them being born, grow up, multiply and pass on.

 All the indications are that Duke was respected if not loved, such long serving vicars, together with the squire, were part of the fabric of village life. In an age of general belief and widespread church going, the authority of a vicar was immeasurably stronger than today, especially where that authority was enhanced by decades of presence in one village.

 With the decline in religious belief, a less hierarchical society and universal education, the average vicar has lost that authority which would have seemed so natural in Duke's time. This is aggravated by the fact there is a far more frequent movement of clergy nowadays for without private means, they can not stay in one place long but must seek advancement elsewhere. The Duke's of this World are a long vanished breed.

 R.I. Yonge 2020


 Charlotte Mary Yonge by Christabel Coleridge

 The Book of Cornwood and Lutton

 Mrs Barbara Thomas

 "Memorial" by Duke Yonge family

 Correspondence between Carew family and Duke Yonge-Cornwall Record Office

 Ipswich Record Office

 Plymouth and West Devon Record Office

 National Archives

 British Library

 From “Cornwood notes” collected by JDP and CAP

 British Library Newspaper Archive

 Alumni Oxonienses

 Alumni Cantasbrigienses






Latest comments

27.10 | 10:41

Hi Ian....Has taken me a while but finally found your website. Brilliant. Will be in touch. Julian Hastings

20.06 | 13:06


Thanks. Praise always appreciated! I presume you are a descendant of Peter Herbert. You can email me on for fuller reply


19.06 | 23:35

I am the Great-Great Grandson of Walter Francis Duke Young. This is such a great website and so interesting to read about the Yonge family history!!

27.05 | 17:13

Thank you for this account of Charlotte M Yonge. I wouldn't say she was a recluse, however, judging by her letters.