ALMOST 50 people attended a fascinating talk organised by Crediton Area History & Museum Society.

Historian Charles Noon discussed his biography of Swimbridge and South Molton vicar Rev Jack Russell at Crediton's Boniface Centre on January 14, after discovering his diaries some years ago. These covered the period 1819 to 1833. As a former teacher at Blundell’s School in Tiverton, Mr Noon knew of Rev Russell as an old boy and of his connection with hunting and terrier dogs.

However, the diaries presented an entirely new aspect of the vicar and the social world in which he moved in the early 19th Century.

Mr Noon explained that, whilst Rev Russell was an enthusiastic breeder of hunting terriers, he had no time for the Jack Russell breed, as the short legged terrier was no use in hunting.

Jack Russell’s grandfather had been rector at Meeth and his father curate at Thorverton and later rector at Swimbridge where Rev Russell 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.

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.

His two children died childless and he himself died in 1883 after moving to Black Torrington.