Parson Jack Russell

Historian Charles Noon discusses his biography of Swimbridge and South Molton vicar Rev Jack Russell

Photograph of a group of people

(from left) Crediton Area History & Museum Society chairman George Palin, vice chairman Sandra Cooper and Crediton historians John Heal and Robin Langhorne with guest speaker Charles Noon at the Boniface Centre in Crediton

When: to January  2013
Where:The Boniface Centre, Church Lane, Crediton, EX17 2AH
Who:Charles Noon

Almost 50 people attended this fascinating talk.

Charles Noon has published a biography of Swimbridge and South Molton vicar, Rev. Jack Russell, after discovering his diaries some years ago. These covered the period 1819 to 1833. As a former teacher at Blundells, Mr Noon knew of Russell as an old boy, and of his
connection with hunting and terrier dogs. However, the diaries presented an entirely new aspect of Rev. Russell and the social world in which he moved in the early 19th century.

Dealing with Rev. Russell’s connection with the dog world, Mr Noon explained that, whilst Rev. Russell was an enthusiastic breeder of hunting terriers, he had no time for what we now regard as ‘Jack Russells’. The present-day short legged terrier was no use in hunting, whereas the long legged type Rev. Russell specialised in was perfect. 

Jack Russell’s grandfather had been rector at Meeth and his father curate at Thorverton and later rector at Swimbridge where Jack was born in 1793. The diaries provide great detail of his social life and mention many names of prominent and wealthy families with whom he mixed, including royalty. His father had married into a wealthy family and he, in turn, married Penelope Bury, whose mother was a member of the wealthy Chichester family. They married in 1825, despite much friction between the families due to political differences. Jack Russell was a Whig and Penelope’s family were Tories! Mr Noon found entries in the diaries describing Penelope
being removed to Bath to escape his overtures, and a ‘tempestuous’ evening when he arrived at Bath to court her!

Contemporary literature shows what an accomplished and highly regarded huntsman Rev. Russell was and, although he was a  dedicated and committed local vicar, he also spent an enormous amount of time hunting, which was the acknowledged ‘sport’ of the day.

Mr Noon quoted many references to the high esteem in which Rev. Russell was held by people of all classes and ages. He was clearly a warm and caring man and greatly loved. His two children died childless and he himself died in 1883 after moving to Black Torrington. However, he remained a man of great vitality throughout his life, partying well into the night and riding considerable distances early the next morning right into his eighties!

David Nation