Charlotte and Caroline, an Atcherley author and her sister

 It was a true Devonshire Lane in which they found themselves; in those days there were many such, they are fewer now; farmers wage war with singing birds and flower-clad hedges. A wall of verdure rose on either side abounding with flowers and frequented by songsters, for had not the merry month of May just quitted the scene, and the newly-awakened buds were peeping out shyly from their leafy dwelling, and filling the air with fragrance. The birds were love-making, warbling and nest-building, while a soft, delicious breeze whispered through the trees that Summer had come. The tall elms which grew at intervals in the hedges cast dancing shadows below from their waving branches.  – Charlotte Atcherley (1880), Cords and Discords. Volume I.

A modern-day country lane in Devon.

This keenly observed description of the countryside of Devon was written by a lady who was a native of the county. Charlotte Atcherley [], the youngest child of Rowland Atcherley (see An Officer and a Gentleman: Roger (or Rowland) Atcherley) and his wife Eliza, née Oliver [], was baptised at the parish church of Wolborough St Mary on 6 March 1818. She was the second daughter of that name to be baptised there, after her namesake died in infancy in 1816.

Charlotte’s surviving older siblings were Elizabeth (see An Atcherley in Germany), Rowland (see Rowland Atcherley, M.D.) and Caroline [], the sister whose life I will also follow in this story. Like Charlotte, these Atcherley children were also born at Newton Abbot and baptised at Wolborough; the ceremony for Caroline took place on 10 October 1814.

In June 1841 Caroline was enumerated on that year’s census at Wolborough Street, Newton Abbot, with her 85-year-old maternal grandmother Elizabeth Oliver née Bradford []. (The Olivers, incidentally, had quite an influence on this Atcherley family – a story for another time.) But where was Charlotte, and for that matter where was Eliza Atcherley, the girls’ mother? I suspect the two absent Atcherleys were together, probably abroad and perhaps in Germany as a guest of Charlotte’s sister Elizabeth.

The 1851 census shows mother and daughters reunited, and living at Mile End Cottage in Highweek, adjacent to Newton Abbot. A notice of the sale of Mile End Cottage by its owner in 1853 give us an idea of the sort of property Caroline was renting. It contained “three sitting-rooms, five Bed-rooms, a Dressing-room, Kitchens, and requisite Offices,” and had “a Flower Garden and Walled Garden, and also a small Stable and Coach-house attached.” In addition, the view from the house was said to be “of the most varied and beautiful description”.

There was another Atcherley at Mile End Cottage too: Eliza’s 3-year-old grandson Rowland, whose father had only recently died. It appears that Caroline – possibly in conjunction with Charlotte – took responsibility for the upbringing of Rowland and his brother Henry (or Harry) Atcherley, as both nephews were with Caroline (at 2 Lower Mount Road Terrace in Exeter) when the census of 1861 was taken (see also Henry Atcherley’s school days). The boys’ mother (by that time remarried) and their sister were missing from that year’s census, and from that of 1871 too, and were most likely living in France (see Camille Casimir Breton and Ann Compton Atcherley: The French connection).

Charlotte Atcherley also evaded the census enumerators of 1861 and ’71. She may again have been abroad at census time in those years, especially as she obtained a passport, number 41177, on 3 September 1856 (although a passport was not compulsory for overseas travel at that time). In 1861 she may have been with her mother Eliza (who died at Dresden in Germany on 2 June 1866). This is not to say that Charlotte was abroad for all of that time – care must be taken not to read too much into the evidence (or lack of it) from census records. Along with the family solicitor Granville Diggle Hill, Charlotte proved the will of her uncle Henry Oliver on 3 December 1857, and that of her mother on 27 August 1866 (when Charlotte’s place of abode was given as 8 Sloane Terrace, Sloane Street, Chelsea). She may have taken her nephews for holidays to ‘the continent’.

Wolborough St Mary: A place of worship for the Atcherleys of Newton Abbot

Had Charlotte returned to Newton Abbot and taken up residence there by 1871, notwithstanding her ‘no show’ on the census? She was there in 1881 and remained a resident of the town until her death. I suspect she was the “Miss Atcherly” who attended an Art and Industrial Exhibition in the town in 1870, and who (along with a Miss Ley) “displayed some rare old China ware.” If so, then it would appear that she was indeed back in the town of her birth by that time.

Caroline meanwhile was lodging in Exeter in 1871, at 3 Wilton Place. She seems to have been fond of that city, having subscribed to three copies of The History of the City of Exeter by George Oliver when she was living there in 1861. She had not lived at Exeter continuously since 1861 however, as Bank Returns published in newspapers in February 1869 and February 1870 showed that Caroline (who was with the West of England and South Wales District Bank) was then resident at Lympstone, on the east side of the River Exe between Exeter and Exmouth. I wonder where her home was in 1881, when the census recorded her as a visitor in a household at Edgmond, Shropshire!

So, with Charlotte possibly back at Newton Abbot in 1870 and definitely living there from 1881 onwards, and Caroline seemingly here, there and everywhere around that time, who was the Miss Atcherley who featured in this somewhat shocking news from Newton Abbot in February 1876?

An inquest was held the Town Hall Monday, before Dr. Gaye, deputy-coroner, on the body of child found Saturday afternoon in the summerhouse at Heathfield Cottage. Evidence as to the finding of the body, wrapped in brown paper parcel, was given Alice Maud Tuplin, a little girl, daughter Mr. Tuplin, who resides in the house. The girl took the parcel to Mrs. Atcherley, a lady, lodging in Heathfield Cottage, and on its contents being discovered, the police were communicated with, and the body taken charge of by Sergeant Nicholls.—Dr. Scott, assistant to Dr. Gaye, stated that he had made a post mortem examination of the body, and found it be that of full-grown, fully-developed male child. Decomposition had set in, but in his opinion the child had never had a separate existence. The jury, of whom Mr. John Pascoe was foreman, returned a verdict of “Found dead.”

Heathfield Cottage was probably situated at Combeinteignhead, between Newton Abbot and Shaldon on the south side of the River Teign; the Tuplins were living there (at “Heath Cottage” according to the enumerator) in 1881. My feeling is it was probably Caroline who was lodging at that address, and who was handed the rather macabre parcel by Alice Tuplin, in 1876.

It is also my feeling that Charlotte was the “Miss C. Atcherley” who was recorded as donating five shillings to the London Anti-Vivisection Society in 1879. The support for this cause which I have tentatively attributed to Charlotte might have been an extension of her appreciation for the creatures of the countryside, which is evident from her novel of 1880:

 She paused, for at this moment a robin poured forth his lay regardless of the intruders, even allowing Leila to approach near enough to watch the rise and fall of his throat as he sang, and to admire the beauty of his bright eye; and then a call-note was heard, and the little red-breast flitted past and rejoined his love in one of the tall elms. 

The countryside and its wildlife were not the main subject of Charlotte’s book however. Cords and Discords was a story about people and their relationships. Unfortunately, the critics of the day were not overwhelmed by her literary efforts. The following short (and not-so-sweet) review appeared in The Spectator of 12 February 1881:

This story tells us what, unhappily, we have too many proofs of already, that a couple who seem to have nothing but happiness before them may become very miserable. The character of Leila, the wife, has some strength and dignity about it, and might have been made more of than has been done in this ill-conceived, though sometimes well-written tale.

A longer critique in The Graphic of 8 January 1881 began:

It is curious that so weak a novel as “Cords and Discords,” by Charlotte Atcherley (2 vols., Remington and Co.), should open with so much promise of better things. It begins with a really delightful picture, in firm lines and lively colours, which, after a chapter or two, resolves itself into a faint blur. Reminiscences of scraps of sentimental verse have apparently unnerved the hand of the authoress of “Cords and Discords,” who, by the manner of her outset, proves herself capable of doing a hundred times better than she has probably tried to do.

And as I have mentioned elsewhere (see An Atcherley Bibliography), a reviewer in The Academy of 1 January 1881 judged Charlotte’s work to be “a very odd book”, and after a description of some of the events in the story stated that: “Oddities of this kind give Cords and discords a certain interest for a short time; but its incoherence of story and the unreality of its personages get the better in the long run of the reader’s patience and his appetite for curiosities of diction.”

I have to confess that having made an attempt to read the first volume of Cords and discords I struggled to get past the opening dialogue, which is laden with those ‘Curiosities of diction’ (sorry Charlotte!). I wonder how our Atcherley author took the reviews, and how many copies of her book were sold. I hope that despite the criticism, she enjoyed writing and was proud to have completed her novel and get it published.

Back now to the curiosities, or puzzles, of Charlotte and Caroline’s real lives. Given that census returns show Charlotte was a resident of Newton Abbot in 1881 and 1891, it seems certain that she was the Miss Atcherley reported as kindly giving tables for an open air tea which, with a fete and fancy fair, held in August 1885 to raise funds for a new vestry at Newton Abbot St Paul’s. And also the Miss Atcherley who, in the same month, attended a meeting of the Primrose League (a political organisation which rallied support for the Tory party). It seems certain, but let’s not be too hasty. Remember what I said about not reading too much into census records?

Although Charlotte’s sister Caroline was enumerated as a visitor in Shropshire in 1881, and then as a visitor in the home of Susannah Hooper at Withycombe Raleigh in Devon in 1891, she was included in lists of Newton Abbot residents and visitors which were published in The East and South Devon Advertiser from May 1883 through to at least January 1887. Those lists, which show Charlotte Atcherley at 29 Devon Square as expected, also show “Catherine Atcherley” – in reality Caroline – living nearby at 7 Alma Terrace. She maintained her residence there until the summer of 1891, when Rendell & Symons announced that they had “been instructed by Miss Atcherly, leaving the town, to SELL by AUCTION, at the above residence [7 Alma Terrace], on Thursday, June 16, 1891, commencing at 2 p.m., the whole of her very neat and well-made HOUSEHOLD FURNITURE, a lot of rare old CHINA, and other ORNAMENTALS.”

The Tower in Newton Abbot, pictured between 1890 and 1900.

Later in 1891, on 4 November, 73-year-old Charlotte Atcherley passed away at 29 Devon Square, her home for the last 10 – and possibly 20 or more – years. She left a personal estate valued at £3,749 6s. Her death was reported as being sudden, with one newspaper noting that: “About two years ago she had a severe illness but had apparently quite recovered from this.” Other papers reported that heart disease was the suspected cause of death. Charlotte was buried on 9 November at the church where she had been baptised.

By 1893 the surviving sister Caroline was living at 22 Hill’s view in Barnstaple on the north coast of Devon. She died at 16 Hill’s View on 12 January 1898, officially aged 80 (whereas she was actually 83). She left effects valued at £478 17s. 5d, which presumably included the “Superior household furniture, silver plate, and other effects” of hers which were sold at auction on 28 March that year. With Caroline’s passing, the complex story of the Atcherley author, her sister and their travels was over.

 ‘Oh thank you, thank you, I love birds and will take such care of him; but I must go, I’m late, and aunt will wonder where I am. Good-bye […]’ 

Picture credits. Country lane in Devon: Adapted from a photograph © Copyright Lewis Clarke, taken from Geograph and used, and made available for re-use, under a Creative Commons licence. Wolborough St Mary: Adapted from a photograph © Copyright Derek Harper, taken from Geograph and used, and made available for re-use, under a Creative Commons licenceRobin: Photo by the author. The Tower, Newton Abbot, between 1890 and 1900: Public domain image from Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, reproduction number LC-DIG-ppmsc-08747.


[1] Charlotte Atcherley (1880), Cords and Discords. A Family Record of Long Ago. Volume I.
[2] Wolborough, Devon baptism register covering 1818. Entry dated 6 March for Charlotte Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Devon Baptisms.
[3] Wolborough, Devon baptism register covering 1816. Entry dated 28 October for Charlotte Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Devon Baptisms.
[4] Wolborough, Devon baptism register covering 1816. Entry dated 11 November for Charlotte Atcherley, age 1 month. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Devon Burials.
[5] Wolborough, Devon baptism register covering 1814. Entry dated 10 October for Caroline Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Devon Baptisms.
[6] 1841 census of England and Wales. Piece 229, book 16, folio 16, page 27. Wolborough Street, Wolborough, Devon.
[7] 1851 census of England and Wales. Piece 1871, folio 627, page 21. Mile End Cottage, Highweek, Devon.
[8] Western Times, 6 Aug 1853, page 4. “HIGHWEEK, DEVON. To be SOLD by Private Contract […]”. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[9] 1861 census of England and Wales. Piece 1388, folio 14, page 21. 2 Lower Mount Road Terrace, Exeter, Devon.
[10] The National Archives, Kew. FO 611/6. Index to names of Passport holders, 1856, sheet As – Au. Copy viewed at Find My Past – Register of Passport Applications.
[11] Passports. At: The National Archives website, accessed 28 Jun 2018.
[12] London Gazette, issue 23724, 7 Apr 1871, page 1822. “HENRY OLIVER, Deceased.”
[13] National Probate Calendar (1866) shows: ATCHERLEY Eliza. 27 August. The Will of Eliza Atcherley late of Bath in the County of Somerset deceased who died 2 June 1866 in the City of Dresden was proved at the Principal Registry by the oaths of Charlotte Atcherley of 8 Sloane-terrace Sloane-street Chelsea in the County of Middlesex Spinster the Daughter and Granville Diggle Hill of 3 Laura-place Bath aforesaid Gentleman the Executors. Effects under £2,000. Copy viewed at Ancestry.
[14] London Gazette, issue 23174, 19 Oct 1866, page 5548. “Mrs. ELIZA ATCHERLEY, Deceased.”
[15] 1881 census of England and Wales. Piece 2166, folio 17, page 27. Newton Abbot, Wolborough, Devon.
[16] 1891 census of England and Wales. Piece 1701, folio 46, page 43. 29 Devon Square, Newton Abbot, Wolborough, Devon.
[17] National Probate Calendar (1891) shows: ATCHERLEY Charlotte. 17 November. The Will of Charlotte Atcherley late of 29 Devon-square Newton Abbot in the County of Devon Spinster who died 4 November 1891 at 29 Devon-square was proved at Exeter by Ada Elizabeth Atcherley of 6 Cambrian Road Richmond in the County of Surrey Widow and Sidney Hacker of Newton Abbot Solicitor the Executors. Personal Estate £3,749 6s. Copy viewed at Ancestry.
[18] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 3 Jun 1870, page 7. “NEWTON ABBOT. […] ART AND INDUSTRIAL EXHIBITION.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[19] Western Times, 3 Jun 1870, page not noted. “ART AND INDUSTRIAL EXHIBITION AT NEWTON.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[20] 1871 census of England and Wales. Piece 2052, folio 57, page 54. 3 Wilton Place, Exeter, Devon.
[21] George Oliver (1861), The History of the City of Exeter. Page 329. Copy viewed at the Hathi Trust website.
[22] The Welshman, 19 Feb 1869, page 2. “BANK RETURNS.” Copy viewed at Welsh Newspapers Online.
[23] Bristol Mercury, 26 Feb 1870, page 3. “Bank Returns.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[24] 1881 census of England and Wales. Piece 2683, folio 102, page 7. Edgmond, Shropshire.
[25] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, Friday 25 Feb 1876, page 7. “INQUEST.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[26] 1881 census of England and Wales. Piece 2163, folio 17, page 1. Heath Cottage, Penn Inn, Combeinteignhead, Devon.
[27] The Spectator, 12 Apr 1879, page 478. “LONDON ANTI-VIVISECTION SOCIETY”. Copy viewed at The Spectator Archive.
[28] The Academy, number 452, 1 Jan 1881, page 6. Copy viewed at Google Books.
[29] The Graphic, 8 Jan 1881, page 8. Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[30] The Spectator, 12 Feb 1881, page 226. Copy viewed at The Spectator Archive.
[31] Western Times, 28 Aug 1885, page 8. “NEWTON. […] A New Vestry for St. Paul’s.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[32] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 28 Aug 1885, page 6. “NEWTON ABBOT. […] The Primrose League.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[33] Primrose League. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 28 Jun 2018).
[34] The East and South Devon Advertiser, 19 May 1883, page 7. “Newton Directory.” Copy viewed at Findmypast. Note: Listings, which run up to 8 Jan 1887 at Findmypast / British Newspaper Archive, include Miss Charlotte Atcherley at 29 Devon Square and Miss Catherine Atcherley at 7 Alma Terrace throughout.
[35] Death of Charlotte Atcherley registered at Newton Abbot, December quarter 1891; volume 5b, page 102; age given as 73.
[36] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 5 Jun 1891, page 1. “7, ALMA-TERRACE, NEWTON ABBOT.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[37] East & South Devon Advertiser, 7 Nov 1891, page 8. “SUDDEN DEATHS.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[38] Western Times, 5 Nov 1891, page 2. “Miss Charlotte Hatcherley, […]”. Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.
[39] The Times, issue 33476, 7 Nov 1891, page 1. “DEATHS.” Copy viewed at The Times Digital Archive.
[40] London Gazette, issue 26249, 22 Jan 1892, page 389. “CHARLOTTE ATCHERLEY, Deceased.”
[41] Wolborough, Devon, burial register covering 1891. Entry dated 9 November for Charlotte Atcherley. Copy viewed at Findmypast – Devon Burials.
[42] Kelly’s Directory of Devon & Cornwall (1893), page not noted (Barnstaple) shows: Private residents […] Atcherley Miss, 22 Hill’s view.
[43] Death of Caroline Atcherley registered at Barnstaple, March quarter 1898; volume 5b, page 367; age given as 80.
[44] North Devon Journal, 20 Jan 1898, page 8. “DEATHS.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.
[45] National Probate Calendar (1898) shows: ATCHERLEY Caroline of 16 Hills View Barnstaple Devonshire spinster died 12 January 1898 Probate London 2 April [1898] to Henry D’Arcy Champney gentleman Effects £478 17s. 5d. Copy viewed at Ancestry.
[46] North Devon Journal, 10 Mar 1898, page 1. “Sales by Auction.” Copy viewed at Findmypast.