Shepherd’s Lane, Coxside, Plymouth

A recent meeting at the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office happened me to wander past Shepherd’s Lane (off Sutton Road) at Coxside. The Lane is wonderful; a fine remnant of old Plymouth characterised by its worn cobbles where countless carts have fashioned grooves in them. I stopped for a moment to appreciate this lane and it was then that my ‘local history’ brain kicked in; why, I pondered was Shepherd’s Lane so called? What follows here are the results of my research. Little did I realise how interesting and fascinating this would prove!

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Shepherd’s Lane, Coxside [February 2018]

In a nutshell, Shepherd’s Lane is named after the Shepherd family who lived in a ‘Mansion House’ on an estate called Coxside, or more correctly, Cockside during the 18th to early 19th centuries. The ‘Mansion House’ as we shall see, once vacated by the Shepherd family, became a home for a Convent of Poor Clares on exile from France.

So to begin, who were the Shepherds?


It is to C. W. Bracken (once Headmaster of the Corporation Grammar School, Plymouth) and his ‘A history of Plymouth and her neighbours’, (1931) that we are first able to meet the Shepherds.

Bracken says:

Mr William Burt, the first secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, writing in 1814, states that the chief Plymouth industry in importance, then nearly, if not quite extinct, was the woollen manufactory conducted “thirty or forty years ago by the late William Shepherd, Esq., near the Nunnery, where he resided, and at a place above the Town Mills now occupied as a canvas factory by Peter Welsford. The house for washing wool stood and yet stands over the Town Leat, near the Pound.”

            The Nunnery referred to was the House of Poor Clares, a small community of Poor Clare nuns from France, which settled in Plymouth in 1813 and removed in 1834. A linseed oil mill is said to have existed there formerly. Shepherd’s other mill was in “Old Town Without”; the Pound (whence Pound Street) and the adjoining mill building will be recalled by older residents. Mr Shepherd seems to have been an able business man, a model employer, and a philanthropist. He had branches at Ashburton, Totnes, Tavistock and Buckfastleigh; employed 4000 men, women and children and paid out weekly in wages from £1200 to £1500.

            A tenth of his profits he divided among the poor; he accommodated small tradesmen with loans, and gave lectures to his workmen, “who, seeing his practice accord, in every respect, with his doctrine, looked up to him with affection and grateful reverence.” One is tempted to draw a moral applicable to our own troubled times from these ancient relationships between an enlightened employer and his contented workmen.

            On the outbreak of the first American War the business began to decline, and though Mr Shepherd’s sons strove hard to maintain its prosperity, by 1814 it had dwindled away except a solitary remnant – a small white-serge factory in Old Town.

The Shepherd family appear to originate with one Thomas Shepherd “of Plymouth” (c1700-c1751) who upon his death is recorded as a Clothier. His Last Will and Testament proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury reveals the names his relatives:

  • Mary, his wife
  • Mary, his daughter
  • Sarah, his daughter
  • William, his son
  • John, his “poor” son.

Each of the above received an equal distribution and share of his estate; with his two sons also receiving a messuage or tenement situated in the parish of Braintree, Essex by the name of ‘Pound End’.

John, the “poor” son appears to have suffered from some affliction. Thomas’ Will contains a legacy to him stating:  “And to my son John Shepherd, if he should live to be a scholar all my books”

William, the son mentioned in Thomas’ Will is man credited with the woollen manufactory at Coxside.

William was born at Plymouth in 1731 and married Ann Savile at St Alphage on the Wall, London in 1764. He died at his ‘Cockside’ home in 1784. His Will, proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury records he was Merchant.

William and Ann’s first born son was Savile William Shepherd, born within the Parish of Charles, Plymouth (probably at Cockside) on 26 May 1768. He was baptised at the Old Tabernacle – a forerunner for the later Norley Street Congregational Chapel on 15 August 1768. Like his parents, he was married in London – this time at St Alphage’s Church, Greenwich to Elizabeth Smalley Browning. He continued his father’s business at Coxside until his death in 1808.

The Shepherd’s ‘Mansion House and Estate’ was sold at public auction held at the London Tavern in Foxhole Street, [now known as Vauxhall Street] on 29 June 1809.

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Auction Advertisment from the Exeter Flying Post of 25 May 1809


The story of Shepherds Lane and Coxside doesn’t finish however with the passing of the Shepherd family.

It is of great interest to discover that a community of Poor Clares arrived to live in the former Shepherd family home in 1813.

The Rev. George Oliver (of St Nicholas Priory, Exeter and Canon of the Diocese of Plymouth) penned one of my favourite books on local religious history in 1857: Collections, illustrating the history of the Catholic Religion in the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Somerset, Wilts and Gloucester.

Oliver’s work provides the fascinating background and history of the Poor Clares at Coxside. What follows is taken verbatim from his work:

Clare House, Plymouth [NB hence Clare Place, Coxside]

The English Convent of Poor Clares, at Gravelines, was the mother house to the religious establishments of the order, first, at Aire, in 1629; secondly, at Rouen, in 1644, and at Dunkirk, in 1655.

Some of the ladies who commenced the house at Gravelines had made their profession in the Franciscan Convent, called Nazareth, near Veere, in Walcheren. The community had flourished there for nearly a century, when the rapid successes of the Huguenots compelled the inmates to quit on 24th April, 1572, and to take refuge from the advancing enemy in Veere itself. On 11th of the following month they had to endure the indescribable affliction of beholding, from the town walls, the conflagration of their beloved monastery. Leaving Veere on 17th July, they wandered during the next four days in great misery, and perpetual fear of falling into the hands of the Huguenots; but by God’s blessing safely reached the city of Antwerp. After nine years’ residence with the Poor Clares there, the growing ascendancy of the Calvinists in the town compelled them to abandon these happy cloisters; and on 20th July, 1581, they took shipping for St. Omer’s. In this city they experienced every charitable attention from the English Jesuits, who procured for them quarters in the “Archers’ House,” then belonging to the Government; and at the expiration of thirteen years, the use of all those premises. But as these were found inconvenient, their friends, Count de Gournerall and Edward Gage, of Bentley, Esq., especially, aided Mrs. Mary Ward to obtain an eligible site in Gravelines for a new convent in 1607. With the approbation of the bishop of St. Omer’s, sister Mary Stephana Goudge, with four religious, left St. Omer’s for Gravelines on 7th November, 1608, to commence this new house of Nazareth; and on 3rd of May following, all the community was installed in it, and Mary Stephana Goudge was declared its first abbess. During the five years of her superiority, she is thus described, “Non tam imperio praefuit, quam exemplo profuit.” Ob. 23rd November, 1613, set. thirty-six.

But to confine our attention to the house at Aire, in Artois, which was founded in 1629, their first abbess was,

  1. Margaret Radcliffe, a lady of great experience in spiritual life. She held her rank for seven years. She died 26th July, 1654, aet. seventy-two, rel. forty-four.
  2. Catharine Clare Keynes governed the house for eight years. Ob. 20th November, 1646, aet. twenty-seven, rel. thirty-four.
  3. Frances Golding served for one triennium. She survived until 17th October, 1658, aet. thirty-nine, rel. nineteen.
  4. Elizabeth Eveling for upwards of twenty years was superioress. Ob. 23rd September, 1669, aet. seventy-two, rel. fifty.
  5. Mary Giffard held the office but eight months, dying 6th September, 1670, aet. forty-eight, rel. thirty-three.
  6. Martha Wilford presided for eight years. Obiit 14th August, 1678, aet. sixty-two, rel. thirty-nine.
  7. Etheldred Audry Randolph was abbess for the next twenty years. Ob. 24th February, 1698, aet. sixty-seven, rel. thirty.
  8. Winefred Orrell succeeded; but died 8th December, 1702.
  9. Margaret Dodd was permitted to resign her dignity 27th April, 1719, from old age and deaf She died 3rd May, 1726, aet. eighty-five, rel. fifty-nine.
  10. Jane Metcalfe for the next twenty years continued in office. Ob. 26th February, 1743, aet. seventy-one, rel. fifty-one.
  11. Magdalen Clare Hales held superiority eight years, and died 7th September, 1748, aet. seventy-seven, rel. fifty-one.
  12. Elizabeth Theresa Sykes was abbess for thirteen months only, when she was hurried to the tomb.
  13. Jane Pye governed the house for six years. Ob. 21st April, 1756, aet. sixty-six, rel. forty-two.
  14. Agnes Warner died two years after her election, viz. 4th July, 1759, aet. forty-five, rel. nineteen.
  15. Bridget Clare Blundell supplied the next triennium, and died 2nd February, 1763, aet. seventy-five, rel. forty-two.
  16. Mary Frances Dickinson — This venerable mother, after presiding for twenty-one years, died on 6th January, 1780, aged eighty-two, rel. sixty-two, jubilarian twelve.
  17. Mary Catherine Hodgson, elected in 1780, and hers was truly a painful pre-eminence. After her community had lived in peace and comfort, she had to experience the desolating hurricane of the French Revolution. They were confined and guarded as prisoners in their own convent; their confessor, F. Pacificus Kingston, was torn from them, and thrown into a dungeon preparatory to his execution, as expected the next morning; this would have taken place, if the news had not reached Aire the night before that Robespierre had been executed on 28th July, 1794. But these ladies were doomed to strict confinement for a lengthened period, and were denied permission to proceed to England until the autumn of 1799. In the late Thomas Weld, of Lulworth, they met a soothing comforter and generous protector. His only sister, Mary Euphrasia [note 1] who had long been a religious of this monastery, was, with her community, complimented with the free use of his seat at Britwell, in Oxfordshire; and here they remained until 1813, when they were transferred to their abode at Coxside, near Plymouth, which they denominated Clare House. On 4th September, 1812, obtaining permission to resign her office, the venerable ex-abbess quitted Britwell House with her sisters, for Plymouth, and died at Clare House on 19th November, 1813, at the age of seventy-three, and fifty-sixth of her religious profession.
  18. Susannah Mills was elected abbess on the resignation of the Reverend Mother Hodgson. She also obtained permission to resign her dignity on 2nd July, 1818. She died on 8th March, 1823.
  19. Clare Conyers, who had been professed at Aire, on 13th September, 1770, aet. twenty-one, was elected abbess on the resignation of the Reverend Mother Mills.
  20. Mary Lucy Crump, elected abbess 5th June, 1830, and served the office for three years. Her death occurred on 11th June, 1835, aet. forty-six.
  21. Josephine Simmons was elected 6th May, 1833. To the regret of numerous friends, and whilst in the enjoyment of many comforts, and several advantages, this abbess determined to quit Clare House for Gravelines. Accordingly, with her community, she bade adieu to Plymouth on 28th May, 1834; and after an unusually tedious passage, reached Gravelines on 6th June. There she died four months later, on 24th October, 1834, aet. fifty-three, rel. twenty-four.

The community, naturally enough, grew very dissatisfied with their new quarters, and made arrangements with the nuns at Scorton, in Yorkshire, to admit them into their convent. These Poor Clarists, a filiation also from Gravelines monastery, had resided at Dunkirk from 1655, respected and honoured, for nearly a century and a half, when they were driven away by the terrors of the French Revolution. In May, 1794, they fortunately found a refuge at Churchill Wood, near Worcester, where they tarried until 1807, when they removed to Scorton aforesaid.

In conclusion I may add, that during the residence of the worthy community at Clare House, Plymouth, eleven of their members died; also two Franciscan Friars, FF. William Casemore [note 2] and Richard Sumner, were buried in their conventual cemetery. It may also be proper to notice, that a few children of their gardener, Mr. Collins, were interred there by permission.

Note 1: Mary Euphrasia Weld is described by Oliver as a “venerable lady”. She died at Clare House, Plymouth on 12th March 1823 aged sixty-nine.

Note 2: Rev. William Ignatius Casemore, O.S.F., was born at Reading on 13th September 1751. After making his first studied amongst the Jesuits, he embraced the Holy Rule of St Francis. He had been employed in several parts of the English vineyard, before he tendered his services to Bishop Sharrock, V.A. of the Western District, who sent him, in January 1805 to Falmouth as its first incumbent. Here he continued for thirteen years and a half, when declining health occasioned his retirement to the Convent of Poor Clares at Coxside, Plymouth, where he died on 29th November 1824, and was buried in their cemetery.

Note 3: Rev Richard Sumner, O.S.F., was a twin brother to the Rev. James Sumner. They were born at Chipping, near Preston, Lancashire. James was for several years employed in the Western District by Bishop Collingridge at Clare House, at Cannington, and occasionally at Plymouth, and even at Bristol. He died at Taunton on 10th July 1822 and was interred in the conventual ground. Richard Sumner succeeded the Rev. William Roberts at Claire House, Plymouth in August 1821 and died there, a week after his brother, on 16th July 1822. He was interred in the nuns’ burial ground at Coxside.

After the removal of the Poor Clares from Coxside the area began to change rapidly. New factories and other industrial premises were erected in what was once open countryside; the character of the area was changed forever. Clare House was subsequently demolished and its lands were built upon. The new industrial premises built included a soap and starch works as well as a candle factory.

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Shepherd’s Lane on the 1892 Plymouth Town Plan by the Ordnance Survey [ref CXXIII.12.4]

Today Coxside is still an industrial area; mainly comprised of vehicle repair garages, and other related industries. It’s a far cry from the days of the Shepherd’s. Nevertheless it is very pleasing to think that 200 years after the Shepherd family departed their name lives on in Shepherd’s Lane!

© Graham Naylor