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Discover the stories and scandals contained within A la Ronde's 16 walls

In collaboration with the National Trust, we’ve used the 1921 Census to bring A la Ronde’s never-before-seen stories to life. Delve into the scandalous story of Reverend Oswald Reichel, who lived in this unique property a century ago, as well as the female owners of the house. 

What were your ancestors doing in 1921? Use our collection, including historical newspapers and exclusive census records, to trace back your family through the generations. When you build your family tree with Findmypast, you never know what you might discover.  

A truly unique house

Built by cousins Jane and Mary Parminter in the 18th century, this eccentric 16-sided property – which is surrounded by an orchard and hay meadow - is one of a kind. It is eclectically decorated with curios from Jane and Mary's European travels.

A La Ronde is situated near Lympstone in Exmouth, Devon. The Parminter family had roots in Devon stretching back all the way to the 1600s, meaning that its first owners Jane and Mary were true Devonians, despite having spent much of their early lives in London.

1921 census

What was the story of A la Ronde in 1921?

The 1921 Census tells us that Oswald Joseph Reichel and his wife Julia (who was 23 years his junior) lived at A la Ronde in 1921. Oswald listed his occupation as a Clerk in Holy Orders, but stated that he was 'out of work, but receiving neither Old Age nor Unemployment pension'.

How, then, did this out-of-work reverend and his wife come to inhabit A la Ronde? Let's take a look back at this house's fascinating history.

Mary Parminter

The Parminters: 19th century feminists

Jane Parminter (b. 1750) died in 1811, leaving her cousin Mary (b. 1767) as the home’s sole owner. When Mary herself died in December 1849, her will stipulated that the house be passed to the nearest unmarried woman in her family.

At this time, the women in her family were Jane Hurlock, Ann Sophia Hurlock, Stella Reichel, Mary Melhuish, and Ann and Louisa Black. Given the difficulties faced by women deemed 'spinsters' in the 19th century, Mary's wishes seem to be an act of feminist solidarity.

Family tree

Who lived in A la Ronde next?

A la Ronde was occupied by various members of the extended family over the following decades. First, it was passed to Jane Hurlock. When Jane died in 1870, her sister Ann Sophia was next in line. Upon her death nine years later, it fell to Stella Reichel – but Stella was due to marry John Tudor, meaning she no longer fit Mary Parminter’s ‘spinster’ criteria.

How did Reverend Oswald Reichel manage to buy A la Ronde?

Louisa Black - the family’s last eligible unmarried woman - stated that she didn’t want the house. Consequently, Stella sold A la Ronde to her brother, Reverend Oswald Reichel, who had executed the wills of both Jane Parminter and his aunt, Ann Hurlock. Oswald had no doubt had his eye on the property since his aunt’s death; he diverted the wishes of its original owners that it be inhabited by an unmarried woman.

Reverend Oswald Reichel: intrigue and scandal

Despite his religious standing, Oswald was no saint. He had found himself at the centre of a scandal in 1885, when he stayed at a Bristol lodging house with his housemaid Caroline King, posing as a married couple. When the lodging house’s owner, a Mrs Niblett, reportedly tried to extort Oswald upon discovering the truth, he took her to court for libel and blackmail.

This backfired when she was found not guilty. The full extent of Oswald’s two-year affair with Miss King was revealed – during this time, he allegedly fathered two children with her.

A disgraced clergyman

In the wake of this scandal, Reverend Reichel resigned, upon the instruction of the Bishop of Oxford. But he didn’t go quietly – he attempted to sue the Bishop for misinformation, and even appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury for vindication. He maintained his innocence, but his cases were eventually dismissed due to the weakness of his arguments.

Though he bought A la Ronde in 1881, it seems he remained in his Oxford parish of Sparsholt for a few years after this.

An opinionated character...

Reverend Reichel sent many letters to local and national newspapers over the course of his lifetime, weighing in on everything from old age pensions to the Boer War. With such strong opinions and a history of scandal, we can imagine that Oswald was a divisive character in the community.

Interestingly, he was the only one of A la Ronde's residents to make changes to the property - like the fact that he, as a man, lived there, this flew in the face of the late Parminters' wishes.

Family in high places

Oswald was descended from ministers and religious scholars. His father Samuel (b. 1788) was a Moravian minister from Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Samuel’s father was Carl Gotthold Reichel, who was born to a Lutheran clergyman in Saxony in 1751. In the 1770s, he was sent to Nazareth to oversee the southern province of the Moravian church.

The Parminters (the other side of Oswald’s family) were also involved with the Moravian church when it spread across South West England in the 1750s.

Image credit: Moravian Archives, Southern Province.

What is Moravianism?

The Moravian church is one of the oldest denominations of Protestantism; it emphasises piety and evangelism, embodied by the missionary work carried out by the congregation. Its modern form, which has just over a million followers worldwide, originated in Saxony in the early 1700s – Oswald's Reichel’s ancestors played an important part in its history.

Point in view chapel

The chapel in the meadow

When wandering the area around A la Ronde, you may come across the small white chapel that was built by Mary and Jane Parminter in 1811 on the field adjacent to their home. In 1921, the Point-in-View Chapel was occupied by congregational minister James Ellis and his wife Emma. Emma died in April - meaning she does not appear in the 1921 Census - while her husband James lived there until his death in 1926.
Image credit: Nigel Cox / Exmouth: Point-in-View Chapel / CC BY-SA 2.0.

What's the story behind the Point-in-View cottages?

The Parminters also built almshouses attached to the chapel. In her will, Mary made charitable provisions for four women to live in them.

These women were to be 'of approved good character for religion and morality' and 'in the ordinary habit of being industriously engaged in plain work - knitting, spinning or some such female employment of equal neatness'.

Mary Parminter evidently had a clear idea of the kind of women that would live on her property.

The Almshouses in 1921

In 1921, four women lived in the cottages. They were:

True to Mary Parminter's wishes, over a hundred years after they were built, the Point-in-View cottages provided some much-needed security to the lives of single women.

A place like no other

For over a century, A la Ronde carried forward the religious tradition and charitable spirit of its first owners. As our records reveal, the almshouses gave older unmarried women a roof over their heads, while the main house was passed between female family members until Reverend Reichel came onto the scene with scandal in his wake.
Image credit: Geograph Britain and Ireland, Chris Allen.

A la Ronde

Want to find out more, or maybe plan your next visit? Head to the National Trust site to explore A la Ronde in even more detail.

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