Letter from Eda LeMessurier to Jean Lang re Tourtel family history

This post is a letter from Eda LeMessurier to Jean Lang (her granddaughter) describing the family history of some of their mutual ancestors, the Tourtels. In particular, Robert Tourtel (pictured), who was Eda LeMessurier’s uncle.

Robert Tourtel

The letters are transcribed below.


Now we come to the country people, engaged mostly in agriculture, & later building greenhouses for tomatoes and grapes & cultivating daffodils;  but even then rearing Guernsey cattle for American buyers.  Many men working in the town in offices were already residing in St Martin’s Parish – only 2 ¼ miles away & the prettiest parish in the island.

The Tourtels are a St Martin’s family, there are or were one or two in the Forest Parish, offshoots of these ancestors. Mother’s father [John Tourtel] was a market gardener, & a man of some substance (country people kept a well filled stocking).  I know nothing of his predecessors except that there was a Tourtel who was rector of St Martin’s in the time of Elizabeth I , and perhaps was an early ancestor.  The Tourtels were just the Tourtels of St Martin’s.  He lived in a cottage facing the main road, & behind it two very large fields which he cultivated – apple trees, raspberries, Gooseberries, (no strawberries), potatoes, vegetables;  two big greenhouses, one with vines, the other had white camellias & the loveliest pale pink ones, the latter much in demand for wedding bouquets.  He had cut a gap, about the size of an ordinary gate , in the  thorn hedge which separated the two fields, & I loved to run in and out of this opening when a baby.  At the side of the cottage were some stables which could have housed two horses& a carriage – were they used by the Elizabethan Rector?!  The hedge at the side of the stables was covered with primroses in the spring; probably all this land has now been built on.

John Tourtel owned three smaller fields on the main road, about the length of The Mede, [where Eda  lived in Exeter], from his cottage. He built Mother’s house (not a cottage), as his wedding gift to her, on the middle one.  On the third he put up two cottages, one for his wife & himself in their old age, the other adjoining it for renting, making a hedge to separate the gardens of the cottages.  He cut a gap between his hedge and Mother’s for easy access.  There were no bathrooms, outside lavatories only, even in the town very few houses possessed such luxuries.  The first of the three fields was rented to various people at different times, pasture for donkeys, cows, and later to another man for growing potatoes.

Grandpy & Grandmy (“py” as “pi”  in pity), I couldn’t manage père & mère as a baby & the baby name always remained, had 3 children – little John who died at the age of 2 years from measles, Robert and Mother.  Robert went to Trinity College, Dublin, & took his B.D. there.  He was curate for some time in England, then became curate of the Town Church of Guernsey, & was finally inducted as Rector of Tourteval Church.  He was a gentle, kindly soul, much loved by his parishioners because he spoke Guernsey French as they did, & visited them regularly.  Really he was a scholar, never happier than when learning a new language, that was his hobby.  But he didn’t neglect his parochial duties& he could preach an excellent sermon.  Besides Latin, Greek, Hebrew & French (good French), the services were held in French, he spoke German fluently, knew enough Spanish & Italian to carry on a conversation, & dabbled in Aramaic and Arabic, & probably  a few more!  I think he had a comforting feeling – although he never swanked, that he was more highly qualified than any other island clergyman, they only possessed B.D. degrees.  I loved the rectory.  The breakfast room faced the garden, a large one, with a greenhouse  – grapes at one corner.  Opposite the breakfast room was a low mossy wall, (little ferns growing in the crevices), with 3 steps leading up to the garden.  All along the bottom of the wall flowed a tiny stream where watercress grew.  He often used to bring us a bunch of cress, & it was so fresh and good.  The other island Rector had a stream!  As a Rector he sat in the States,  the Island Parliament, with the other island Rectors, & being the Senior Rector sat at the Bailiff’s left hand.

Now we returned to Exeter in Nov 1948 (from Harwarden), & about 2 years later I was lent a book, just recently published, by Dr. Joan Evans:  “English Art1307 – 1461.” It was a most interesting book & well written. On p 203 was a paragraph which was thrilling to me.  “The finer sorts of weaving were nearly all in foreign hands, witness the Flemish weavers in London officially recognized in 1364, & the French clothiers of Bristol – Walter, Gerard Everard le Francais, & a family of Tourtels.  The seal of one of the Tourtels on a deed of 1317 is the earliest known merchant’s mark in England.”
The first time I had seen my Mother’s name in print!  I borrowed a book on merchants’ marks from the Exeter Public Library.  But the information given was slight , & not one mark was labelled as belonging to any Tourtel.

I sent the copy of the paragraph to Mabel Tourtel, descendant of a brother of John Tourtel.  She had no information to give me, her eyesight was deteriorating & she could not carry out any research.
But she sent my letter to Mr. Priaulx (?), a Guernseyman who had done some research in the Guernsey wool trade.  Guernsey women did a tremendous amount of knitting ; the Guernsey country men and boys wore no smocks but thick woollen sweaters& socks knitted by the women, & a large amount of wool was bought by the island every year, there was an import license.

He wrote me a very long letter.  He had failed to obtain much information, he had read letters in the possession of General de Saumarez referring to the trade, but the earliest was dated somewhere about 1750.  In spite of diligent enquiries he had heard of no others. He felt convinced there should be some letters hidden away in trunks in old Guernsey farmhouses, but he had had no luck in the matter.  He was getting old & had had to give up any idea of further research, besides postage and paper became costly.  He suggested that I might write to the Bristol Society of Research – there would certainly be one in Bristol as in Guernsey.  There was a firm who undertook research for people, but their terms were expensive.

I had too much to do to undertake any writing of letters, no time to give to it, & postage and paper would be costly for me too.  But how I wished I lived in Bristol.

I thought of many things –  ”a family”, would a young son have acted as a commercial agent, & visited Guernsey traders supplying wool to the island women?  Did he like the island very much? Did he visit St Martin’s & see how lovely it was? Did he meet an island girl?  fall in love , & marry her, & settle in the Parish. The fact that a Tourtel was a Rector showed that the early Tourtels were intelligent men, & certainly possessed of some wealth, & of good social standing. I am sure that the answers to these questions could be found in Bristol, but any chance of knowing them seems unlikely.

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