"....the good people of Barnstaple were full of compassion, they took us into their houses and treated us with the greatest kindness. Thus God raised up for us fathers and mothers in a strange land......I was taken to the house of a most kind and charitable gentleman, a Mr. Downe...aged about 40...He had a sister aged 33 or 34. They were kindness itself, and I was as completely domesticated with them as if I had been a brother."
M. Fontaine, however, was quickly to become the target for Mr. Downe's sister - this resulted in an urgent parle du coeur with his fiancée, and their hastened marriage! Mr. Downe, incidentally, was delighted, and arranged their Wedding Breakfast! The couple were later to migrate to Ireland and then on to America, but, in the meantime, M. Fontaine had already earned himself a reputation as a businessman, as he was able to discern that the price of certain foodstuffs would earn a market in France.
Just down the lane and not more than 50 yards from St. Peters is the Chapel of St. Anne's. Dating, probably, from the early 14th c., this Chapel (now a Museum) remains one of the oldest buildings in the town, and its use has included that of containing a grammar school (where Gay, of Beggar's Opera fame, was educated). This Chapel was given over to the Huguenots, and they continued services there until 1762 - still in French. The refugees proved a benefit to the town, for in connection with the woollen trade, they introduced and perfected different branches of manufacture and dyeing processes for which the town became famous. One of the party (and her family, the St. Michels) moved to London where she married Samuel Pepys. In around 1900, an old lady of the Servante family died aged about 100. Mounier Roche (original founder of the Barnstaple Bank) lived to a great age, and said "If my grandfather had not been drowned at 111, he might have been alive now!" One of the actual refugees, M. Daney, lived to be 100. Many of the Barnstaple Huguenots lived to a great age, it is said.
It is important to note that the Huguenots were present mainly in the Plymouth area as far as Devon was concerned, but the major migration was to London and Norfolk. It is recorded that many escaped to England in vessels where they were hidden in bales of goods and heaps of coal and in empty casks, where they had only the bung-hole through which to breathe. Those caught were often sent to slave-galleys. A celebrated Huguenot 'cavalier' was Isaac Dumont, who was involved in skirmishes with the King's men on the way to the coast from Rouen, then saw his family off to Plymouth. He then made his way to join William Of Orange, by whom he was made a captain, and joined with William in his 'invasion' of England via Devon in 1688. Isaac Dumont died at Portarlington in 1709, where his tombstone states "......Isaac Dumont, escuyer, sieur de Bostaquet, capitaine ŕ la pension de sa Majesté Britannique.........". ('Bostaquet' was his family home near Rouen).
Memoires d'une Famille, Jacques Fontaine, printed 1900.
Huguenot Proceedings Vol.7 No. 2; pp. 286 et seq.
Guide to the Parish & Non-parochial Registers of Devon & Cornwall; Hugh Peskett, 1979; D. & C.R.S. Extra Series II.
BARNSTAPLE, Town on the Taw; Lois Lamplugh; Phillimore, 1983.
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