Remembering Theophilus Jones
Updated: Jan 19, 2019
By Alex Mettler
On Friday 26th July, following a suggestion by Jane Miller of Westbridge Cottages, a group comprising seven residents of Westbridge Cottages, Rod Martin (Secretary of Tavistock Museum) and Alex Mettler (THT trustee) met at the graveside, in Dolvin Road Cemetery, of Theophilus Jones, architect and surveyor of the Devon and East Cornwall Bedford Estate, to commemorate Jones’s death 160 years previously to the day.
In 1836 Andrew Wilson, the Duke’s then estate steward died in Tavistock and was replaced by John Benson, a very much milder character than the ascerbic Wilson. By 1842, however, Benson was unhappy about the performance of the estate’s then so-called surveyor, which is, perhaps, understandable because Fenning appears to have been more of a carpenter rather than an estate surveyor. By the end of February 1843 the new surveyor, Theophilus Jones, was in place in Tavistock, having moved from a post on the Bedford estate at Woburn in Bedfordshire.
The post of surveyor and architect for the Devon estates of the Dukes of Bedford was an extremely important appointment for this large, economically important and diverse estate which was really several estates under one administration, covering West Devon in and around Tavistock, North Cornwall around Launceston and North Devon near Barnstaple. In 1829 the area of the Tavistock section alone was around 12,500 acres. Principal responsibilities for the surveyor/architect were in the rural areas, farms, and in towns, mainly Tavistock, many buildings and town infrastructure.
Westbridge Cottages from the air. Barry Gamble © Cornwall Council
Theophilus Jones was born in Almwch, the very important copper mining town on the northern coast of Anglesey. He was quickly to fill a most important functional position for the Duke’s estate which, in the mid-nineteenth century was undertaking much, very expensive, land and estate improvement. However, whilst Jones proved to be well up to the job his many disagreements with Benson, and the Duke, and other professionals working within, or for, the Bedford estate became a source of more than minor irritation to the mild-mannered Benson; Jones also frequently complained about being underpaid. In June 1846 Benson wrote of Jones:
“You know that I have always approved of what he has done and if he had not quite so high a notion of his own superior abilities I think there would be no fault to find with him.”
In 1851 Theophilus Jones became seriously unwell and much of his then work was undertaken by the up and coming Edward Rundle jnr, who took on the building of the Wheal Maria Cottages and the new farm buildings at Crowndale. Despite their differences Benson showed great kindness to Jones at this period, even offering him extra assistance on his return to work, but from correspondence there is evidence to show that perhaps Jones was not appreciative of this kindness.
From his appointment in Tavistock in 1843 Theophilus Jones was housed in one of the cottages at Abbey Bridge end of Dolvin Road, cottages which formed part of the Bedford estate contracts yard. On becoming ill Jones felt that living so close to the river was a cause of his deterioration in health and that he should have a new, specially built, by the Duke of course, home for himself. This the Duke agreed to and Jones moved into Deer Park Lodge, a very fine house, in 1852.
Theophilus Jones was the man mainly responsible for the building and infrastructure works in Tavistock and elsewhere, for Endsleigh House and farm, and for updating the many Bedford owned farms, not only structurally but also in work practices. He was responsible for urging Benson and the Duke to proceed faster with the provision of improved living conditions in Tavistock and oversaw the building of some 200 Bedford Cottages, a total which was to reach 274 by the end of the century. Completion of the Tavistock Guildhall in 1848 was also under the watchful eye of this extremely busy and able man.
In 1982 Mark Brayshay, in his study on the Tavistock Bedford Cottages, wrote
“Jones emerges as a meticulous professional no more prepared than the Duke himself to compromise on building standards, but perhaps more genuinely concerned to improve the living conditions of the Tavistock folk than almost anyone else who was involved. But his was no easy task. The designs he produced had not only to meet his own high standards, as well as those of his Grace, but must also possess the virtue of cheapness.”
The workaday pressures on Jones, however, took their toll on the man himself and Theophilus Jones died of heart disease in Tavistock on 26th July 1858 aged just 53 – Tavistock owes this man a great debt.