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Hemyock Castle
Ancient Heart of the Blackdowns

People Power – The March to Democracy

These webpages are about Britain's long, slow, continuing progress towards democracy; particularly the contribution of people associated with Hemyock Castle.

Other webpages in this series.

Lord Chief Justice Sir John Popham (1531 to 1607)

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir John Popham (Lord Chief Justice) bought the whole hundred of Hemyock. He held a succession of important state roles and is credited with maintaining the stability of the British State.

In 1588, he was perhaps the first to receive details of the Spanish Armada, by letter from a friend in Spain, brought via nearby Bridgwater port by a ship's master. The master also gave further eyewitness details about the Armada ships he had passed and seen. Sir John wrote reporting this to Lord Burghley, Lord High Treasurer of England. Sir Francis Drake was sent to prepare his fleet and defeat the Armada. Sir Francis even had enough time to play bowls!

As Attorney-General and then from 1592 as Lord Chief Justice, Sir John was involved in sentencing to death:

Good Works – Tiverton's Free Grammar School

His friend Peter Blundell, one of the wealthiest merchants of Elizabethan England, died in 1601. He asked Sir John to found a free grammar school in Tiverton (near Hemyock). In 1604, this opened as Tiverton Grammar School. From the 19th century, this became known as Blundell's School.

Sir John's other local works included establishing and endowing almshouses.

In 1606, he helped set up & fund Sir Fernando Gorges' venture to found a colony in America, populated partly with sentenced "rogues and vagabonds," at the mouth of the Kennebec River, Maine; Popham Colony (1607–1608).

Sir John Popham's Grisly Fate

There are many stories about Sir John, some doubtless invented by his enemies. Sir John Popham died on 10th June 1607. According to local legend, Sir John is reputed to have been rewarded for his controversial life by being thrown from his horse into Popham's Pit, a deep steep-sided boggy dell on the Blackdown Hills, dying horribly and descending straight to Hell.

He is named on his wife's grave stone in the nearby Wellington Church. However, according to legend, his body does not lie there: Every New Year's Eve his ghost is supposed to emerge from Popham's Pit and take one cock's step nearer to the grave. Until he has reached it, legend says that his soul will not Rest in Peace.

Other webpages in this series:

These webpages were created as part of a special exhibition at Hemyock Castle's 2019 Heritage Open Day

Heritage Open Days are part of European Heritage Days, a Council of Europe initiative. They are co-ordinated by The National Trust with funding by players of People's Postcode Lottery

Hemyock Castle receives no funding, and makes no charge for entry on Heritage Open Days. We welcome donations to The Blackdown Support Group & Musgrove Leukaemic Group Somerset

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Hemyock Castle, Hemyock, CULLOMPTON, Devon, EX15 3RJ, UK.
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