John Swete

Arms of Swete: Gules, two chevronels between in chief as many mullets or and in base a rose argent seeded of the second

Rev. John Swete (born John Tripe) (baptised 13 August 1752 – 25 October 1821) of Oxton House, Kenton in Devon, was a clergyman, artist, antiquary, historian and topographer and author of the Picturesque Sketches of Devon consisting of twenty illustrated journals of Devonshire scenery.[1] He was a connoisseur of landscape gardening, and much of his Travel Journals consist of his commentary of the success or otherwise of the landscaping ventures of his gentry friends, neighbours and acquaintances in Devon. He himself undertook major landscaping works at Oxton.


John Tripe was born in 1752 in Ashburton, Devon, England, in his father's home, (which in 1997 was serving as the Golden Lion Hotel).[2] He was the son Nicholas Tripe, a surgeon, by his wife Rebecca Yard. He was educated at Ashburton Free School and with the assistance of Sir Robert Palk, 1st Baronet (1717–1798) of Haldon House in the parish of Kenn, near Exeter, went to Eton College in 1769 and then later to University College, Oxford. Tripe graduated with a B.A. in 1774 and obtained an M.A. in 1777. In 1775, he became a curate at Highweek, Newton Abbot and in 1776 he was appointed curate at Kenn. In 1781, he was made a prebendary of the Diocese of Exeter.[3]

In 1781 by a private Act of Parliament,[4] John Tripe adopted the surname and arms of Swete in lieu of his patronymic, in order to comply with the terms of a bequest[5] from Mrs. Esther Swete (1712-1781) formerly of 30 Great George Street,[6] Westminster, of Traine House in Modbury and of Preston in Ermington, Devon, and of Bath[7] in Somerset, a relative of the Yard family of Chudleigh, of which family was John Tripe's mother.[3][8] She was born Esther Prickman, daughter and sole heiress of Thomas Prickman (d.1728)[9] of Falmouth in Cornwall. She was a minor aged 16 at her father's death, and by his will he left her in the guardianship of Adrian Swete (1670-1733) of Traine, Modbury, Sheriff of Devon in 1725, and his sister Philippa Swete, who in 1728 married her off at the age of 16 to their 55-year-old youngest brother (as his 2nd wife) Captain Mayne Swete (1673-1735), whose first wife, Grace Walrond, had left him an estate in Falmouth, Antigua, inherited from her deceased first husband William Wainwright. Mayne Swete moved to Antigua and was a member of the Assembly in 1704 and 1715. Mayne Swete had by his wife Esther Prickman an only child, Adrian John Swete (1731-1755), who after having received his BA at Balliol College, Oxford in 1751, died unmarried in 1755. He was godfather to John Tripe (later Rev. John Swete). He was the last of the Swetes of Modbury and bequeathed his estates to his mother Esther, who treated her son's godson as the grandson she never had, and made him her heir.[10] Her mural monument survives in Ermington Church, where she was buried, erected by Rev. John Swete, inscribed as follows:

Here lie the Remains of Mrs Esther Swete of Train in Modbury who died Jan 1781 aged 68. In the amiable endowments and elegancies peculiar to her sex excelled perhaps by few, but by none in fortitude of mind and resignation to the will of God, with which she sustained the loss of her only son Adrian John Swete Esqr. who died at the early period of 24 years, especially if the greatness of that loss were to be estimated by the high attainments of worth, that marked him as the scholar and the Christian. Memor beneficiorum, et amore, et observantia, plusquam cognatione, devinctus posuit. Jn Swete de Oxton

From this bequest John Tripe came into possession of an estate on the Island of Antigua and the Swete family's estate of Train in the parish of Modbury in Devon. The Swete arms appear on a modern escutcheon with the date "1472" sculpted above an archway in a stone wall at Traine House.[11] He also owned Moreleigh Court in the parish of Moreleigh.[12]

Swete owned estates including Oxton, Kenton, his main residence which he inherited from his father; Poltimore, Farway;[13] and Whitley, Farway.[13]

Marriage and children

Arms of Swete (Gules, two chevronels between in chief as many mullets or and in base a rose argent seeded of the second)[14] impaling Beaumont of Darton, Yorkshire (Gules, a lion rampant or armed and langued azure an orle of crescents of the second);[15] detail from mural monument to Rev. John Swete in Kenton Church. A funeral hatchment showing the same arms also survives in Kenton Church[16]

On 1 January 1784 in St. Nicholas's Church, Nottingham,[17] Swete married Charlotte Beaumont (1765-1831), whom he had met in Matlock, Derbyshire, 2nd daughter of Rev. George Beaumont (1726-1773), Rector of Gedling, Nottinghamshire,[18] 2nd son of George Beaumont (1696-1735) of The Oaks, Darton,[19] Yorkshire and uncle of Col. Thomas Richard Beaumont (1758–1829) of Hexham Abbey, Northumberland and of Bretton Hall, Wakefield, Yorkshire, MP for Horthumberland 1818-1826, 1830-1837 and MP for Stafford 1827, one of the wealthiest men in England due to his lead-mines and his wife's other inheritances which yielded an annual income of £110,000.[20] Col. Beaumont's descendant was Wentworth Beaumont, 1st Baron Allendale (1829–1907), whose son was Wentworth Beaumont, 1st Viscount Allendale (1860–1923).[21] By his wife Swete had twelve children (of whom four died in infancy) including:

Death and burial

Mural monument to Rev. John Swete in Kenton Church

He died on 25 October 1821 at the age of 69 and was buried in Kenton Church, in the chapel at the east end of the north aisle, where survives his mural monument inscribed as follows:

Beneath lie the remains of the Rev'nd John Swete of Oxton House in this parish, Prebendary of Exeter Cathedral for more than 39 years, who died on the 25th day of October 1821 aged 69. Early distinguished by a purity of taste, a love of literature, and a thirst for knowledge, his cultivated mind retained thro' life a strong relish for liberal and elegant studies. Hospitable, courteous and humane, an upright magistrate and a sincere Christian, an earnest and persuasive preacher. He lived and died in the bosom of a numerous and affectionate family, firmly trusting thro' the merits of Jesus Christ that he should again meet them in the enjoyment of a blessed immortality. Here also again united by Death are deposited the remains of Charlotte his beloved wife who died 10th December 1831 aged 66 years. May the Lord Jesus Christ be with their Spirits. Amen.

Published works

1796 watercolour by John Swete of a prehistoric urn discovered in a barrow on Haldon Hill in 1780

Swete was a member of the Exeter Literary Society alongside his neighbour the historian Richard Polwhele who had been appointed curate of Kenton in 1782. In 1793 Swete gave a Presidential Address[3] based partially on the first journal, a Tour Across Dartmoor in to North Devon and this was published in three parts in Essays, by a Society of Gentlemen.[28] The first article On some of the more remarkable British Monuments in Devon combined a description of a visit to the Drewsteignton cromlech (Spinsters' Rock), along with an account of the discovery by Swete and his father Nicholas Tripe of prehistoric urns in barrows on Haldon Hill.[29] The same edition contained the articles Of Sepulture in general, and Sepulural Stones erect[30] and On the Valley of the Stones, and the country near Linton.[31]

Swete contributed material used by Polwhele in his Historical Views of Devonshire (1793) and History of Devonshire (1793–1806) and he also gave some literary assistance to editions of Prince's Worthies of Devon (1810) and Risdon's Survey of Devon (1811).[3] Swete contributed three poems to Polwhele's Traditions and Recollections (2 vols, 1826) and seven poetical pieces to Polwhele's Poems, Chiefly by Gentlemen of Devonshire and Cornwall (1792).[32] In addition to contributions to published works Swete wrote several unpublished journals and books including an autobiography and six volumes of poetry.[3] It is estimated that there are nearly 1000 watercolours by Swete in public ownership.[3] These works are held mostly by the Devon Record Office with some in the Exeter Royal Albert Memorial Museum.

Picturesque Sketches of Devon

His inherited wealth enabled him to resign his curacy at Kenn and embark on a series of tours. In April 1773 he set out on a tour of Wales, the Lake District and Scotland. It had been his intention to go on a tour of Europe but instead he met Charlotte Beaumont in Matlock, Derbyshire and they were married in January 1784. They had twelve children of whom four died in infancy. In 1789 Swete set out on the first of his tours of Devon across Dartmoor into North Devon. This was the start of the production of twenty volumes of journals produced up until 1802 which he called Picturesque Sketches of Devon. These were lavishly illustrated with 674 [33] watercolour sketches of the scenery and notable architecture that he encountered on his tours. Swete, usually accompanied by a servant, would travel by horseback and he would take notes and make quick preliminary drawings on the way. After each tour he would spend months at Oxton House producing the final water colour sketches. The journals documented the landscape of Devon and discussed diverse issues from techniques in landscape gardening, industry and mining, archaeology and any curiosities that Swete encountered.

The journals were not published in full during Swete's lifetime but remained in the possession of the family. The sections relating to Torquay were published in the Torquay Directory in 1871 and the Tour Across Dartmoor in to North Devon, the first tour, was finally published in full in 1901 in Devon Notes & Queries.[34] During the Second World War four of the journals were destroyed but the surviving handwritten Illustrated Journals of the Reverend John Swete were donated to the Devon Record Office in 1959. Five of the journals were published in 1984 as part of Peter Hunt's Devon's Age of Elegance.[35] Nearly 200 years after they were originally produced the journals were transcribed and published in full for the first time in 1997 in the four volume Travels in Georgian Devon: The Illustrated Journals of the Reverend John Swete, 1789–1800.[1]


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  1. 1 2 Published in four volumes as Travels in Georgian Devon: The Illustrated Journals of the Reverend John Swete, 1789–1800, edited by Todd Gray and Margery Rowe (Halsgrove, 1997).
  2. Gray, Vol.1, p.vii
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Gray 1997, Todd Gray's Introduction to Travels in Georgian Devon. Vol. 1 includes a detailed biography.
  4. "Private Act 21 Geo. III c.20", known as the "Tripe Name Act", received Royal Assent 11 April 1781
  5. Summary/transcript of will of Esther Swete, see: Oliver, Vere Langford, History of the Island of Antigua, One of the Leeward Caribbees in the West Indies, from the First Settlement in 1635 to the Present Time (1894), Volume III, London, 1899, p.106
  6. She held a lease of 30 Great George Street 1762-1774, now demolished
  7. National Archives, Kew: Will of Esther Swete, Widow of Bath, Somerset, probate 23 February 1781; PROB 11/1075/73
  8. Her will mentions her relatives "Mrs Esther Yard, Mr Nicholas Yard and Mrs Jane Yard of Chudleigh", Oliver, p.106
  9. Will of Thomas Prickman, Gentleman, Falmouth Wills, PROB 11/619/5
  10. quoting from Oliver, History of Antigua, 1899; & History of Modbury
  11. See image at . The lettering of 1472 is clearly modern
  12. Swete, John, Names of the Noblemen and Principal Gentlemen in the County of Devon, their Seats and Parishes at the Commencement of the Nineteenth Century, 1810, published in 1811 edition of Risdon, Tristram (d.1640), Survey of Devon, London, 1811, with 1810 Additions
  13. 1 2 Journal, 1795, Gray & Rowe, vol.2, p.107
  14. Report by R. P. Graham-Vivian, Windsor Herald, College of Arms, London, 1963: "A coat of arms was granted to Guy Swete of Trayne (in parish of Modbury, Devon) by Edward IV in 1473. Description: Gules, two chevrons between as many mullets in chief and a rose in base Argent seeded Or. Crest: a mullet Or pierced Azure between two gilly flowers proper. Apparently no motto was recorded with this coat of arms." However in the 1620 Heraldic Visitation of Devon Adrian Swete of Modbury was listed by the heralds together with 102 other men of Devon deemed to be ignoble omnes (all ignoble, not gentlemen). (see:)
  15. Montague-Smith, P.W. (ed.), Debrett's Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Companionage, Kelly's Directories Ltd, Kingston-upon-Thames, 1968, p.56, Viscount Allendale
  16. See image
  18. Burke's Peerage, 1999, Vol.I, pp.60-1, Viscount Allendale, quoted by
  19. Three generations of the Beaumont family are buried in Darton Church, under slabs covered by a wooden floor in the Beaumont Chapel, now known as the Lady Chapel
  20. History of Parliament biography
  21. Montague-Smith, P.W. (ed.), Debrett's Peerage, Baronetage, Knightage and Companionage, Kelly's Directories Ltd, Kingston-upon-Thames, 1968, p.57
  24. Lysons, Magna Britannia, Vol.6, Devon
  25. History of the Lodge & Oxton House
  26. 1 2 3 Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry, 15th Edition, ed. Pirie-Gordon, H., London, 1937, p.908
  27. "On some of the more remarkable British Monuments in Devon". Essays, by a Society of Gentlemen, at Exeter: 106–130. 1796. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
  28. See also Worth, R.N. (1879). "First Report of the Barrow Committee". Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 11: 151–4. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
  29. Essays, by a society of gentlemen, at Exeter (1796), pp. 297–314.
  30. Essays, by a society of gentlemen, at Exeter (1796), pp. 479–490.
  31. The Western Antiquary (1887).
  32. "The Western Antiquary Vol.6". The Western Antiquary. 6: 269–270. 1887. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
  33. "A Tour Across Dartmoor in to North Devon". Devon Notes & Queries. 1: 88–96,169–175,205–208. 1901. Retrieved 12 March 2012.
  34. Journals 1, 8, 10, 14 and 15 published in Hunt, Peter, ed. (1984). Devon's age of elegance: described by the diaries of the Reverend John Swete, Lady Paterson and Miss Mary Cornish. Devon Books. ISBN 0-86114-750-2.
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