Who was Lady Modiford?
She was born Elizabeth Slanning, the daughter of Sir Nicolas Slanning. Her father was a greatly-respected man, a soldier and Member of Parliament, an important King’s man during the reign of Charles I. At the outbreak of the Civil War he was appointed Governor of Pendennis Castle and played a major role in the battles in the Westcountry, at Stratton and Lansdowne. He seemed to be indestructible but he was mortally wounded during the siege of Bristol and died in 1643.
He was so active a soldier and so sound a counsellor as to be considered one of the four commanders “who formed the four wheels of Charles’s wain;” and who, to the great injury of the sovereign’s success, were severally killed about the same period at the battles of Stratton and Lansdowne and the siege of Bristol; in all of which Sir Nicholas Slanning bore a very conspicuous part, “advancing” at Lansdowne, 5th July 1643, “from hedge to hedge at the head of his men, in the mouths of muskets and cannons, insomuch they thought him immortal, as indeed he was that day;” while at the siege of Bristol……………………” his courage and resolution carrying him on a little too far…………………he was unfortunately slain, to the great grief of all the army.”
Lord Clarendon visited him after he was wounded and Slanning told him that, “he had always despised bullets, having been so used to them, and almost thought they could not hit him”(CLARENDON, Rebellion, vi 121 n. Ed. Macray)
Elizabeth was only 13 when her father was killed and was to find life more difficult after Parliament’s final victory at the end of the Civil War as the Slanning Estates, which consisted of properties in Buckland Monachorum, Walkhampton, Tamerton Foliot, Modbury and Penryn, Cornwall were sequestered. She married Sir James Modyford and had three children Thomas, Grace and Mary. Thomas was to die before his father and so the title became extinct after Sir James’ death in 1675 in St. Andrews, Jamaica where he was buried.
After the Restoration the Slanning Estates were returned and Lady Modiford inherited them in 1700. It was the rents from her properties which would fund the charity schools she founded in Buckland Monachorum and Walkhampton.
She gave a cottage in Walkhampton to be used as the school-house, a cottage which probably stood on the site of the present school building. The school was originally designed to educate 20 poor boys living in Walkhampton parish, pupils who would be chosen by Lady Modiford and taught by a school-master licensed by the Bishop of Exeter; pupils could be eligible from Sheepstor and Buckland Monachorum parishes if numbers allowed. Money was provided for them to have Bibles and prayer books, and to make clothes for them to wear to church.
In 1785, the number of boys was increased to 30 and a schoolmistress was appointed for the first time, to teach 10 girls. In 1834 the schoolhouse was repaired and enlarged, and by 1837, there were 40 boys and 20 girls attending. The current bell-tower and school building date from 1895.
Lady Modiford died 30th March 1724 at the age of 94 and is buried in Bickleigh Parish Church.