This is not a legend as such but it is one of those quirky things that are a ‘must see’ if you are in Lydford. Tucked neatly to the right of the church porch is a small rectangular grave. It’s obviously much visited as there is a small track worn into the grass. You will see a little sign indicating that you are looking at the ‘Watchmakers Tomb. Which on inspection does not reveal much. However, another little sign tells you that the lidstone of the grave has been removed inside the church to protect it from the elements. This basically means that it is inside the church to protect it from being stolen as are many of the moorland stone artefacts. Enter the church and straight ahead on the far wall you will see a small spotlight directed onto a large slab. This is the lidstone of the tomb and it is this that makes it one of ‘Dartmoor’s Treasures’. Inscribed on the slab is the know famous epitaph which reads:
Here lies in horizontal position
The Outsize case of
GEORGE ROUTLEIGH, Watchmaker
Whose abilities in that line were an honour
To his profession
Integrity was the mainspring,
And prudence the regulator
Of all the actions of his life.
Human, generous and liberal
His hand never stopped
Till he had relieved distress.
So much regulated were his motions
That he never went wrong
Except when set agoing
Who did not know his key.
Even then he was easily
Set right again.
He had the art of disposing his time
That his hours glided away
In one continual round
Of pleasure and delight
Till and unlucky minute put a period to
He departed this life
Nov 14 1802
In hopes of being taken in hand
By his Maker
And of being thoroughly cleaned, repaired
In the world to come.
George Routleigh was a watchmaker living just over the Devon border in nearby Launceston. It is unknown why he came to be buried in Lydford but there is the suggestion that his health started to decline and so he moved in with his brother Edward who was a local churchwarden and living in the parsonage house. Other possibilities were that again due to ill health he moved onto Dartmoor for the healthy air or that he was brought to Lydford for burial. There is at least one known working clock made by Routleigh that survives to this day – over 200 years old, Weeks, 204, pp 97-99.
This transcript of the epitaph is taken from the St. Petroc’s Church guidebook which references that “the words of this epitaph were first published in an almanac for the year 1797 produced by an American scholar named Benjamin Banneker”. Banneker was a black astronomer from Maryland who published almanacs from 1792 until his death in 1806, he was also a clockmaker. An identical epitaph was printed in the ‘Derby Mercury’ in 1786 but in this one the deceased’s name was ‘Peter Pendulum’. So both of these versions pre-date the assumed Lydford original by at least sixteen years. Another shortened version appeared on the tombstone of Thomas Hinde from Bolsover, Derbyshire, in 1836, he too was a clock and watchmaker.
Bateman, M, 1991, Lydford Lives, Alan Tyler Print, Tavistock
Weeks, B. 2004, The Book of Lydford, Halsgrove, Tiverton.