When does fate decide which way to tip the scales? How many times have you heard of amazing, death-defying escapes but equally how many tragic accidents? Some would say that when a catastrophe happens it is divine retribution for some committed sins but when a miraculous escape occurs it is divine intervention for some godly act. In 1639 an incident occurred at Ilsington which definitely falls into the divine intervention category and at the time was hailed as a, ‘most wonderful deliverance‘.
There are two lych gates, on the east and west side of the churchyard. Over the latter is a chamber, intended for, and still used as a parish school, to which a singular and interesting tale is attached. The account is entered in the parish register, and appears in the hand writing of Dr. Thomas Clifford, one of the Ugbrooke family, who was rector of Ilsington at the time the occurrence took place.
“To the everlastynge prayse of God in the memory of a most wonderful deliverance – September 17th 1639.
Over the west gate of the churchyard here in Ilsington there was a room antiently built about ten feet from the ground, sixteen feet in length, and twelve feet in breadth; the east and west walls are about ten feet in height. The covering was of slatt or shingle stone, layd uppon fayre timber raftere, about twelve feet in length. This room was lately converted to a school house, whither there usually came neere to the number of 30 scholler boyes. But September 17, being Tuesday, 1639 the morning was wett which, with other avocations, kept some at home, others to the number of seventeene, were together at school with their schoolmaster, neere upon eleven of the clocke, at which time the schollers ready to depart for dinner. A woman passed underneath, and lett the gate, being heavy, fall too, as formerly it had done. Before she was gone to a house about six yards from the place, part of the south stone wall which bare upp the timber worke of the roofe slidd away, so that the whole roofe spread abroad, drove out both side walls, east and west, and fell downe uppon the flower of the roome, not one stick, stone, or pinn, of the whole structure remaining where it was formerly placed. The schoole door which opened to the inside was shutt when the house begun to fall. Flower of the scholler boyes fell downe into the churchyard with the east side wall, and escaped with little hurt. One ran into the chymney, where he continued safe. Some were stricken down with timber and stones which fell from over their hedde. The timber lockd one boy fast in the middle of the room, and when it was lifted up, he rose up and run away. And which was yet more wonderful, another sweet child called Humprey Deyon, fell out with the east side wall into the street, where he was close covered and buried under the rubbish, soe that noe part of his body or clothes appeared: there he lay for a quarter of an hoer’s space or more. At length perceiving that the child be wanting, a sticter search was made among the lomber which fell into the roome; then searching amongst the rubbish which fell into the street, he was there happily found, and taken up for dead, in the judgment of all that beheld him. But he was not utterly gone, the child recovered life, is healthy and well, and free from any griefe. In this ancient and special demonstration of God’s providence and goodness, in delivering from imminent danger, twelve had their heads cut and broken, so that they bledd, for it to mind them all of the danger they were in; but God with a guard of angels surround them, so that not a bone was broken, nor a joynt displaced; their wounds are all healed, and there is not any member of them any way infected from doing its proper office as in former time. At the writing hereof they are all in health, and so living to praise God for his deliverance. I will always give thanks to the Lord, His praise shall always be in my mouth.’ ‘O praise the Lord with me, and let us magnify His Name together. He hath preserved all our bones, so that not one of them is broken. The delivereth the souls of His servants, and they that put their trust in Him shall not be forsaken.’ ” ‘.
Present in the school when the house fell; Hannibal Corbin, Schoolmaster – David Leere, Thomas Leere, John Leere, Jonas Smeardon, Thomas Corbin, John Crewse, John Deyon, Humphrey Deyon, Steven Tyler, Bartholomew Potter, Thomas Potter, John Michelmore, John Foord, John Stancombe, Hannibal Satterley, John Leate – Scollers.
As can be seen above, the one-time schoolroom, obviously now reconstructed, still stands over the western lych gate which I might add is one of the architecturally outstanding examples of a lych gate on Dartmoor. Today there is not the slightest hint of such a remarkable event taking place but once the story is known people tend to look and stare in amazement.