A Newton Legend

Recently I visited a shop in Porthcawl to make a household purchase and much to my children's amusement was asked by the shopkeeper if I was from "over the border !" I imagine that generations of my ancestors in Margam, Mawdlam and Pyle cemeteries must have smiled as they turned in their graves.

However, I must admit that I spend more of my time living in the shadow of Lincoln Minster than I do in the parish of Newton.

Over 200 years ago another family made the journey from a small Lincolnshire village called Messingham and settled in our parish. Perhaps they came by sea because the eldest of the three brothers was called Captain Robert Turpin.

In 1742 he purchased Hall and Ballas farms for 1,760 and remained in the area until his death in 1762, age 73. Visitors to Pyle churchyard will find his tomb on the left-hand side of the path near the entrance gate. By his wife Mary he had two daughters. One Mary Shaftesbury Turpin married firstly David Williams of Cowbridge and secondly Richard Price of Newhouse. The other daughter Ann married Edward Sanders, a surgeon. Captain Turpin's brothers were called Bloom and William.

Bloom rented Kenfig Warren for 30 per annum which was a substantial sum in the 18th century. He died in 1764 and is buried at Newton. To show that he was a man of some substance the vicar records in the register the death of "Mr." Bloom Turpin. The third brother farmed Grove Farm until his death in 1774 when he is entered in the register as "William Turpin gent."

His children, who were born like their parents in Lincolnshire, lie in graves beneath the ancient yew tree in Newton churchyard. the gravestones with their inscriptions are now suffering the ravages of time. However, the inscriptions are still clear enough to indicate that the family came to Newton from Messingham in Lincolnshire.

Folklore and several local historians have not been content to accept these tombstone inscriptions in Newton and Pyle churchyards at their face value. Instead a web of fantasy has been woven around the family and we are led to believe that they were related to the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin who is said to have lived in Lincolnshire at one time.

In a "History of the ancient church of Newton Porthcawl" written by Charles Davies and published in 1938, we read- "Tradition makes William Turpin of Grove to be the brother of Dick Turpin the highwayman of 'Black Bess' fame. Dick was born in 1706 in Essex, but later went to Lincolnshire to avoid arrest for his misdeeds." What are the facts? They can be ascertained with the minimum of effort, if like me you live in Lincolnshire. A search in the registers of Messingham church clearly indicates a very respectable origin for our Turpin family. Their father was the Vicar!

The Rev. Francis Turpin, B.A., Clare College, Cambridge married a lady called Abigail sometime before 1688 when he was curate of Winterton, a village north of the steel town of Scunthorpe. Subsequently he held various livings in Lincolnshire, but his children were baptised in Winterton or Messingham.

When the old parson died in 1728 he left a Will proved at Lincoln in which he leaves each of his children one shilling. This was an established practice which indicated that a father had made suitable financial arrangements for his children during his lifetime and the token sum merely shows that he accepted them as his legitimate offspring. I do not know where the Rev. Francis was born, but the name Turpin was not uncommon in Lincolnshire at the time of his birth.

Grove Farm, as many of our parishioners know, remains in existence. It must have been quite isolated in the 18th century when William and Mary Turpin lived there with their sons Francis (later of Hall Farm), John (a mariner who died young) and their daughter Mary, who married in 1766 at Newton Church to John Lougher, the local clockmaker.

When my grandmother died prematurely following childbirth at the beginning of this century, two of her daughters were sent to stay with "Uncle Powell of Grove." I understand that as a treat my aunts would be walked to the beach and allowed to go into the water on a leading rein. One of them told me that you didn't see any housing at all on the walk. The scene, as we all know, is quite different today!

There are a number of descendants of the Turpin family around Porthcawl. Mary Turpin's descendants became the Lougher Morgans of Marlas.

Finally, mention should be made of the possible connection between a descendant of Captain Robert Turpin and the "'Maid of Sker." It is probably nonsense, like the story connecting the family with Dick Turpin, but perhaps some other amateur local historian will research further that problem.

For those who wish to know more about our parish and neighbourhood, the works of Leonard Higgins and A. Leslie Evans make interesting reading. R. D. Blackmore's novel "The Maid of Sker" is every bit as good as his other novel "Lorna Doone."


Porthcawl, July 1976.