“God’s Botanist” – Revd. William Keble Martin

There is the charming little church of St Blaise at Haccombe near Newton Abbot:

St Blaise, Haccombe – A Church Near You

It’s most famous ‘Archpriest’ was also the author of perhaps the most famous book of wild flowers:

It was among the wild flowers in the countryside around Haccombe that William Keble Martin first settled down to the monumental task of illustrating The Concise British Flora in Colour. He would complete over 1,400 paintings in colour and many black and white drawings before his book was finally published. The plates of wild flowers in the Flora are outstanding, not only because of their intricacy of detail and extraordinary accuracy (which alone would have established the book as a classic work), but also for the marvellous sense of design and their arrangement in form and colour. 

God’s Botanist – Reverend William Keble Martin – St Blaise, Haccombe – A Church Near You

image courtesy of Marianne Rixson

W. Keble Martin was the incumbent at the church of St Blaise from 1921 to 1934:

He also made long journeys, by train, just to collect and paint plants that couldn’t be found locally. Each day he had to walk over the hill between Coffinswell and St Blaise to conduct services, which probably inspired the title of his autobiography, “Over the Hills”. In it he described how at Coffinswell, it was often the case that the only members of his congregation were birds, such as robins and wrens, that sang from the edge of the pulpit whilst he was reading psalms aloud. At St Blaise wrens built a nest in a cavity below the pulpit, which can still be seen today.

Keble Martin and the parish of Haccombe and Coffinswell, S Devon

He is most associated with the parish of Woodbury – and is buried in the lovely churchyard of St Swithun’s.

William Keble Martin was possibly one of Woodbury’s most famous residents, who died in the parish 50 years ago in 1969 at the age of 91.  Born in 1877, he was a descendent of the famous Champernowne family of Dartington Hall in S Devon, and during his lifetime was known as a highly conscientious priest in several parishes throughout the county.  

He was also very well-regarded as a botanist, was extremely active in the Devonshire Association Botany Section, and was the principal editor of the Flora of Devon – a massive 750-page publication of the Devonshire Association, 80 years ago in 1939.  This carefully researched book was the first full Flora for the county to be published in over a hundred years, and drew together all that had been discovered regarding plants growing wild in Devon.  In recent times, the early records for that book became a valuable source for the 2016 New Flora of Devon also published by the Devonshire Association.

Woodbury Wide Awake

And at St Swithun’s Woodbury, there is a regular festival celebrating his work:

Woodbury Wide Awake Festival | Keble Martin | Wildflower events

And as part of the Keble Martin legacy, there is a lot going on with wild flowers in the churchyard:

St Swithun’s Churchyard Work Diary

St Swithun’s Churchyard plant species survey May 2020