There has been a pub on the site of The Squirrel at Laymore since the 17th century
and it is possible that as well as being a drinking hole, it was a cut-
The Squirrel. before the 1950s fire Reproduced by kind permission.©
Held in a variety of venues, these marriages either took the form of ‘handfasting
or trothplights’, also known as ‘the country manner’ or were solemnised according
to the order of service laid down by the Common Prayer Book. Officiates were not
always ordained although some were defrocked priests. In the south-
Among the 89 parishioners who signed the 1723 Devon Loyalty Oath, 17 are among
Thorncombe’s missing marryers, fathers of children baptised in Thorncombe during
Twelfth night faggot © The Squirrel. Reproduced by kind permission.
Either way these events are not easily traceable. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, some of Thorncombe’s missing marryers might be among those who patronised these covert establishments. While there is no documentary evidence, a local tradition stopped during World War II, and revived in 1973, suggests a corrupt survival of what once might have been a broomstick wedding ceremony. On twelfth night, women hoping to become pregnant still jump over a burning faggot at the Squirrel Inn, Laymore on the Somerset border of Thorncombe’s parish boundary.
The wall of the Royal Oak next to the gate leading into Thorncombe parish churchyard may also mark another place where clandestine marriages took place. In an article in the TVT News dated winter 1999, Peter Bicknell drew attention to graffiti etched into the wall of next to the gateway. He suggested that the carvings could be connected to ‘hand fasting’ and this was the parish trysting spot. He identified the graffiti as being mostly of 18th century origin and pointed out that it was ‘not of the kind one associates with those more normally found outside pubs [being] … exclusively devoted to declarations of love – expressed in its chasest form.’ Spring, appropriately enough, is the best time to see the carvings when the early morning sun throws them into sharp relief.. They depict, ‘the outline of a hand – generally the left, and, being small probably that of the girl – and the more familiar depiction of a single heart or of hearts within hearts. Quite a few are dated, and most bear initials rather than full names.’ If as Peter Bicknell speculated, the churchyard carvings were made to mark a hand fasting, perhaps they were carved by some of Thorncombe’s missing maryrers?