Chapple, William (1718-1781) (DNB00)


CHAPPLE, WILLIAM (1718–1781), topographer, was born at Witheridge in Devonshire in January 1717–18. His father, originally a farmer, had fallen through the pressure of misfortune into poverty, and the boy's education was consequently limited to the plainest rudiments of knowledge. He had the good fortune to be engaged, by the clergyman of his native parish as an amanuensis, and this furnished him with some opportunities for increasing his scanty store of learning. When eighteen years old he was sent to Exeter on some business, and when he returned he was laden with a Latin grammar and dictionary on which he had spent his small stock of money. Chapple, like many other studious youths in the country, contributed enigmas and charades to the 'Lady's Diary,' and his communications attracted the notice of the Rev. Mr. Bligh of Silverton, who was engaged in the same pursuit. Through the recommendation of his new friend the youth became acquainted with a well-known surveyor of Exeter called Richards, the uncle of Mrs. Bligh, and he was engaged as his clerk in 1738, and ultimately married his master's niece. It was proposed in 1741 to erect at Exeter a new Devon and Exeter hospital, and to Chapple was entrusted the task of superintending the works. On the completion of the institution he was appointed its secretary, an office which he continued to hold for nearly forty years. For twenty years he acted as steward to the Devonshire estates of the Courtenay family, and when he was obliged through ill-health to resign this position an annuity was settled on him with remainder to his wife and daughter. During the latter years of his life Chapple devoted great attention to his studies in the Hebrew, Latin, and other languages, and prosecuted with keen interest the antiquarian researches which he had always loved. Sickness often interrupted his labours, and after a long and painful illness he died on 1 Sept. 1781.

From 1759 to 1762 Chapple was involved in a dispute about the sale of an estate by a Mr. William Pitfield to Dr. Andrew, and he was drawn into the controversy in consequence of a valuation of the property in which he had relied upon the accuracy of the doctor's statement as to its annual rental. A volume of pamphlets about this petty quarrel is in the British Museum Library, and their titles are given in the 'Bibl. Cornubiensis,' iii. 1029, and in the 'Bibl. Devoniensis,' pp. 185–6. Chapple himself wrote, in 1761, one of these productions, with the title of 'Calumny refuted,' and in the following year contributed 'Some Further Observations' on the subject as an appendix to one of Pitfield's pamphlets. In 1772 Chapple issued proposals for publishing by subscription 'A Correct Edition of Risdon's Survey of Devon,' but he quickly realised that such a work would be inadequate, and he determined on undertaking 'A Review of Risdon's Survey freed from the Defects and Dislocations of Curll's Edition, with additions and notes.' The press was stopped when some sheets of the first work had been struck off, and the second undertaking was suspended for a time as Chapple turned aside to compose a description of the remarkable cromlech at Drew's Teignton. In consequence of his illness the account of the cromlech was never published, but the sheets as far as they were printed are in the Palk Library at Haldon House, near Torquay. At the time of his death 112 pages of 'A Review of part of Risdon's Survey of Devon' had been printed, and these were published with some slight additional matter at Exeter in 1786 as 'by the late William Chapple.' He contributed to the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' and among his communications was a valuable vocabulary of Exmoor dialect, which appeared in 1746 under the signature of 'Devoniensis.' It has been suggested that the edition of the 'Exmoor Scolding, published at Exeter in 1771, was supervised by Chapple. His manuscripts, which were purchased by Sir Robert Palk and subsequently arranged by Samuel Badcock, are preserved at Haldon House. Several letters about them, mainly from Badcock, are in R. Polwhele’s ‘Reminiscences,' i. 44-62.

[Polwhele's Cornwall, v. 97; Life prefixed to Review of Risdon; Gomme's Gent. Mag. Lib. (Dialect), p. 330; Davidson’s Bibl. Devon. pp. 5, 20, 186; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. i. 67, iii. 1029.]

W. P. C.