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The Victorian Omnium-Gatherum

89. TRISTRAM RISDON, the Antiquary and Topographer.

The Risdons of Bableigh, in Parkham and Winscot, came originally from Risdon in Gloucestershire, and settled at Bableigh in the reign of Edward I. Of this family, Thomas Risdon, a barrister in the reign of Elizabeth, was a person of some distinction in his time. He studied at the Inner Temple, and became Treasurer of that Society in 1580. Having obtained considerable celebrity at the Bar, and acquired a handsome independence, he purchased Sandwell, an estate in the parish of Harberton, where he afterwards resided. He died in 1641, and was interred in Harberton church, where was the following inscription on a plain stone in the south aisle.

"Thomas Risdon Armiger obiit nono Die Oct. Anno Dom. 1641.
Fuit et vixit
Immo est et vivit
Profectio est quam
Tu putas Mortem"

Tristram Risdon, the author of the "Survey of Devonshire," was born about the year 1580, at Winscot, in the parish of St. Giles, adjoining the town of Torrington, and was the eldest son of William, who was the third son of Giiles Risdon, Esq., of Bableigh, by Johan, the daughter of George Pallard, of Langley, in this county; which Johan was the relict of Michael Barry, the last male heir of the Barrys of Winscot, who died in 1570, leaving a daughter, Thomazin, married to John Tripconey, of Gulvall in Cornwall, who died without issue, and devised the estate and manor of Winscot to Tristram Risdon, who was her brother by the same mother. Having received a preparatory education at Great Torrington, Tristram studied at Pembroke College (then called Bradgate Hall), Oxford, He left the University without taking any degree, which Prince supposes to have been occasioned by the death of his sister, when he became possessed of the estate at Winscot, which required his personal attention. Retiring to this spot for the rest of his days, he devoted his time to the study of antiquities, especially those of his native county; and the fruit of his labours was the "Survey." He died at Winscot in 1640, and was interred in St.Giles's church, having no monument but his work, to perpetuate his name, although in this church there were inscriptions to his mother and his daughter.

The original title of Risdon's work was the following: - " The Chorographical Description, or Survey of the County of Devon, with the City and County of Exeter; containing Matter of History, Antiquity, Chronology, the Nature of the Country, Commodities and Government thereof; with sundry other Things worthy of observation. Collected by the Travel of T. Risdon, of Winscot, Gent., for the Love of his Country and Countrymen in that Province." For a great part of this work, Risdon was indebted to Sir William Pole's manuscript, as he himself, indeed, acknowledges, though he made also considerable additions and improvements of his own; it is brought down to about the year 1630.

Many copies of the manuscript were dispersed among the gentlemen of the county, none of them, however, exactly agreeing with the others, each having something redundant or deficient. Westcot speaks with enthusiasm of Risdon's reputation as an antiquary, and it is evident the value of the "Survey" was duly appreciated whilst in manuscript. It was not published, however, till the year 1714. A copy of the manuscript fell into the hands of Curl, the noted bookseller in London, who extracted from it such parts as he conceived would best suit his purpose, and printed them. But when the book was on the eve of publication, it appears to have been shown to Prince, author of the "Worthies of Devon," who, having a thorough acquaintance with the original, remonstrated with Curl on the impropriety of sending into the world a book so very incomplete, and persuaded him to publish the remainder also, as a continuation of the parts already printed. The "Continuation," as it is called, contains nearly two thirds of the whole work, and by much the most valuable part of it; but arranged and printed in a manner the most careless and incorrect, with many important passages still omitted.

In 1772, Mr. William Chapple, of Exeter, announced his intention of publishing "A correct Edition of Risdon's 'Survey,' with explanatory Notes, and some requisite Additions." He was induced, however, to alter his original plan, and to commence a new "Survey of Devon," in which the greater part of Risdon was to be incorporated. It is to be regretted, that he died when he had made but little progress in the undertaking; and the part which was finished, containing only the general description of the county, was published in 1785. At length, however, a complete edition of Risdon's genuine work appeared in 1811, with numerous and valuable additions, and an able Introduction. This publication was printed from a copy of Risdon's manuscript, in the possession of John Coles, Esq., of Stonehouse, which, after having been compared with others, appeared to be the most correct.

There is still room, however, for an improved edition, which we hear has been in contemplation.*

* Prince, 702. Preface to Risdon, ed. 1811. Lysons, part i. p. ccxii. part ii. p. 246. Athen. Oxon. vol. ii. col. 609.

Extracted from Moore: History of Devonshire, Volume 2, 1829

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