The families that feature on this site are mainly from Devonshire in South West England. Most of them were in mid-Devon throughout the nineteenth century. But our Pitts family originated in the South Hams of Devon and connected to mid-Devon through marriages in the early 20th century. On this page some of the parishes where our families originated are explored.
In 1795 John Heard, of Hartland, N. Devon, a private in the Royal Cornwall Militia, married Susanna Crossman by licence in Sandford, and they raised a family there. Thus the beginnings of this branch of the Heards. Three of the webmaster's four ancestral lines spring from that Mid-Devon area. It is centred on the parishes of Sandford, Crediton, Colebrooke, Shobrooke, Upton Hellions, Stockleigh English, Cheriton Fitzpaine, Morchard Bishop, Down St. Mary, Zeal Monachorum, Cheriton Bishop, Newton St. Cyres, Tedburn St. Mary and some 20 parishes clustered around these. The Heard family became well established in this group of parishes through a network of marriages to Feys, Fursdons, Drews, Hattins, Frosts, Linscotts, Saffins, Turners, Wensleys and Wrights, amongst others. With the third and fourth generations, the coming of the railways, then the agriculture depression, the families begin to spread out from their Mid-Devon heartland. The fourth line of your host's family, originate in South Devon, from the parish of Stokenham and surrounding South Hams parishes. The further geography of our families is explored in more detail elsewhere.
On 5 April 1795 Sandford's Minister the Rev. George Bent was greatly concerned when he was shown a notice addressed to the Gentlemen of the Parish. It urged them "to have mercy on their poor distressed brethren who had been driven into poverty and extreme want, a great oppression and heavy burden that could no longer be born". It asked "how the poor man was to live and support his distressed family since over the last 30 years every provision including food, wheat, and wearing apparel had increased by half or even double whilst wages were as they had been 30 years previously." It announced a public meeting of those who were suffering to be held in a field outside the village, on 13 April, and then listed their demands, which included an increase in wages to one shilling and six per day, or an amount determined by the price of wheat. Gentlemen who were willing to settle should attend the meeting. Those who would not, "their reward would be given them which would soon unhappily come upon them".
The Rev. Bent was well aware of the implications of this notice. Thirty years of stagnant wages, a laissez-faire approach to the soaring cost of provisions, particularly wheat, by successive Governments, the shift from employing live-in farm labourers to hiring them by the day, the previous year's poor harvest, entrepreneurs sometimes inflating the cost of flour and the decline of the woollen trade all brought great hardship, real starvation and often violent unrest. Riots by the labouring class were frequent, and Devonshire was particularly at risk.
Bent sent to the only available Justice of the Peace, the Rev Foulkes, at Cheriton Bishop, asking his advice. Foulkes wrote to the Home Secretary the Duke of Portsmouth. He told the Duke, "I have likewise wrote to the Commanding Officer of the Cornwall Militia now at Crediton requesting him to have his men in readiness to act in case of need. " Foulkes later heard of identical notices being circulated at Colebrooke, Morchard Bishop, Bow, Down St. Mary, Shobrooke, and was keen that the 25th Regiment of Dragoons in Exeter also be warned.
Militias were part-time military units established at the county level for home defence. When volunteers proved insufficient, a parish selected men by ballot. These men then either served or found a substitute to take their place. In 1795 there was one regiment of Royal Cornwall Militia with 8 companies of about 80 men each. The stationing of the Cornwall Militia at Crediton explains how a Hartland man came to marry a Sandford girl. In fact John Heard had been "quarter'd at Sandford". It was ties like this to the local community that meant the Militia were not always trusted to put down local riots.
The unrest had been well orchestrated for 13th April. There were riots, public meetings and public dissent not only throughout Devon, but throughout England in places as far apart as Plymouth, Tewkesbury, Nottingham and Saffron Walden. In South Devon blacksmith Thomas Campion was arrested when the Ilsington riot was put down, and later executed as a ringleader.
The meeting advertised by the Sandford notice caused a riotous crowd to gather in Crediton's West Town. James Buller JP read the Riot Act to the crowd. Sir Stafford Northcote brought his Yeomanry from just outside Exeter and the 25th Dragoons galloped out from Exeter. But it seems that Buller was able to persuade the men to disperse without violence. When they departed the women remained as “words won’t feed our families.” But there is no record of the Cornwall Militia playing any part in the action. Perhaps this is as well, for in Seaford and Newhaven that day, the Militias joined the rioters.
"... or Stokingham, a village, a parish, and a sub-district, in Kingsbridge district, Devon. The village stands 5 miles ESE of Kingsbridge, and 15 SSE of Kingsbridge-Road r. station; was once a market-town; and has a post-office under Kingsbridge. The parish contains also four other villages, two hamlets, and a coastguard station; and comprises 5,671 acres of land, and 340 of foreshore. Rated property, £6,052. Pop., 1,566. Houses, 327.... The living is a vicarage, united with Chivelstone and Sherford, in the diocese of Exeter. Value, £695. Patron, the Crown. The church is later English. There are two dissenting chapels and a national school.
Thus was Stokenham described in Wilson's Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales in 1870-1872
The fourth branch of my family originated in Stokenham, in the South Hams of Devon, home to the Pitts family and the Prettyjohns, Loyes, Coles, Randalls . And there too connections with the Crockers and the Blacklers. The parish covers the whole of the southern half of Start Bay from Slapton Sands to Start Point and on to Lannacombe Beach. The other communities to which Wilson referred include Torcross, Beesands, Hallsands, Kellaton, Kernborough, Dunstone, Beeson, Chillington as well as the village of Stokenham itself. White tells us that "several of them are fishing villages, noted for fine crabs, which are in high repute in London."
In 1917 the small fishing village of Hallsands suffered a disaster when January storms overwhelmed the pebble defences of the seawall, and during two days of storms and high tides, all but one of the houses in the village were destroyed. From 1897 on, sand and gravel had been taken from the seabed further along the coast to enlarge the Naval Dockyard at Keyham, and during the next four years some 660,000 tonnes of material
were removed. What was not known was the disastrous effect this would have on the stability of coastal defences. The villagers were alarmed when the level of the beach began to drop. Eventually the danger was recognised and the dredging stopped. But the damage was done. In 1903 the sea undermines the London Inn which started to collapse. Over the next decade the sea continued to destabilise the shore, just waiting for the dangerous combination of high tide and easterly winds which occurred in January 1917. During that fateful two days, the whole village lost their homes and livelihood. According to Pathe Newsreel footage from 1960, the last inhabitant of the village was Miss Elizabeth Prettejohn.
The Pitts family, as with the Mid-Devon ancestors, are found in many of the nearby parishes - Modbury, South Pool, Chivelstone, Ugborough, Sherford, Aveton Gifford, Loddiswell, Kingsbridge and Thurlestone.
Fishing and farming form the economic foundation for this part of the South Hams. But unlike the Blacklers, with whom I share South Devon ancestors, and who spawned several generations of sailors, the Pitts turned their back on the sea, and were mostly farmers, though there is a family tradition they were involved in smuggling spirits during the Napoleonic wars.
In June 2013 Family Tree DNA advised me that they had found an exact match for my Y-DNA at 37 markers, which means that I was definitely related to this person through our direct male line. It was very exciting to learn about this stranger who was definitely related to me. Where would his Heard line link with mine?
Alas things are rarely that straightforward in Family History. The matched DNA was that of a gentleman in Canada, whose paternal ancestors were not Heards at all, but Lewises. How could that be? We discovered that we have Hartland in common in our male lines. He knew for sure that his g-g-grandfather John Lewi(e)s lived in Hartland , though he could not be certain who was his g-g-g-grandfather Lewis. I know for certain that my g-g-g-g-grandfather was from Hartland. I can only speculate as to which of the Heards there was my g-g-g-g-g-grandfather.
What the DNA suggests is that there were some extra-marital hi-jinks perhaps, between a Heard and a Lewis. Either an unmarried Heard gave birth to a son fathered by a Lewis, and our line descended from that bastard, or similarly an unmarried Lewis fathered a bastard son whose male descendants eventually went to Canada. Other explanations are that a child was adopted from another family and their name was changed. Research continues into Hartland births' and there were certainly base children born there who could fit the bill. But in the meantime one has to wonder if eventually the name of this web site will have to be changed to the Lewis Family History...
"SANDFORD, a straggling village, in three detached portions, called East and West Sandford and New Buildings, in the vale of the small river Creedy, from 2 to 4 miles north of Crediton; has in its parish 1998 souls, and 7770 acres of fertile land, including many scattered farmhouses...The parish was formerly a chapelry of Crediton, and derives considerable benefit from Crediton Church Corporation Trust"
[From White's Directory (1850)] Genuki Sandford Page
The Gothic parish church of St. Swithins is in the middle of the village. It was largely rebuilt in 1523-24, and restored and enlarged in the nineteenth century. Many, many of our family members were baptised in its font of Caen stone.
The straggling nature of Sandford was a common theme for visitors. Rev. Polwhele in the late 18th century described the parish as consisting "of several small villages, detached and distant from each other: Sandford, East Sandford; West Sandford, New Buildings and Preston Village." Today we would barely regard Preston as more than a clutch of houses, and the others hardly villages, but hamlets. East Sandford is more commonly called East Village. A census conducted by the Reverend George Bent in 1800 counted 351 dwellings in the parish. There were many more cottages throughout the parish than there were 150 years later, in courts in the village, and clustered around farms. The Heards in 1800 were living in Downey's, a court adjoining the Lamb Inn in Sandford Square. Susanna Heard nee Crossman had previously lived in another court in the Square - Cann's, adjoining the Star Inn. But members of our families have lived and worked in each of the outlying Sandford villages. But we have also been well represented in dwellings in the very centre of the village in Sandford Square.
The parish population had its peak in about 1845 at almost 2000, but it has dwindled since then, reaching its lowest after the Second World War at under 1000; it has recovered somewhat since, with a population in 2001 of 1256.
It has been called the most fertile village in Devon. It sits like its bigger neighbour and parent settlement Crediton on the rich and fertile red clay of mid-Devon. In times past the inhabitants of Sandford were engaged in the same trades as those of Crediton.
Unsurprisingly given this most fertile setting, agriculture was the principal employer when our families occupied Sandford in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. One might expect there to be a market at Sandford, given the importance of agriculture, and indeed there was one a year, and a second market was later added in Spring. But Crediton was really the market centre for the area, and there was no need for Sandford's. The markets died out before the Second World War. After farming, weaving and serge-making were the main occupations.
The de facto lords of the manor for three hundred years were the Davie family, descended from a successful Exeter Merchant John Davie. The family owned several properties in the parish, but their seat was outside the village at Creedy Park. As may be expected in a closed parish like Sandford, there are many examples of our family members' contacts with the Davies and their estate.
For a miscellany of Sandford's history, look out for Daphne Munday's A Parish Patchwork.
Great-grandfather William Heard married Crediton girl Ellen Fey, and moved the 2 miles from Sandford to Crediton (known locally as Kirton) probably after his marriage in 1872, to work in the shoe trade.
Kelly's Directory 1897 "Crediton is a market town on the west bank of the river Creedy on the high road from Exeter to Barnstaple. ...A place of considerable trade so early as the thirteenth century... once a leading town in the woollen manufacture, gaining great fame for the fineness of its work. [so renowned was the town for the quality of its woollens that it gave rise to the proverb 'as fine as Kyrton spinning. But by the nineteenth century the woollen industry had almost disappeared. ] The town has considerably increased since 1883 owing to the development of the boot and shoe industry. There are now over 800 persons so employed and a large colonial export trade is carried on." It is likely that Great-Grandfather abandoned his cottage craft of cordwainer to become part of Crediton's factory system, which made use of both factory workers and out workers in its boot and shoe industry.
The town is famous as the birthplace of St Boniface, a bishop and missionary to the Frankish empire, and the patron saint of Germany, who was martyred in 754.
The origins of the town lie at its eastern end, still called East Town. Later the West Town developed, which included the High Street; it was the wealthier part of the town, whilst East Town became the working class quarter. Heards and many of our connected families lived in the East Town though there were family members in the West Town too.
In 1743 a fire in the High Street destroyed much of the West Town and the High Street. Sixteen people at least were killed, and thousands made homeless. It was then the second largest fire that there had been in the England, second only to the Great Fire of London. At the time the fire was claimed by many to be an act of God as punishment for the wicked ways of the townspeople. There were more major fires in 1766, 1769 and 1772. Our Samuel Dunn almost certainly moved to London and found his fortune as a result of the 1743 fire's disruption of his life in Crediton.
The town was a major marketplace for the surrounding fertile farmlands. The cattle market was held monthly, and once a year the April Great Market "the largest fair for cattle in the West of England". The last April Great Market was in 1957; the market closed down in 1962. I recall being taken as a child to a great herding of cattle in the High Street to witness the cattle being auctioned as the image (left) shows.
The railway came to Crediton in 1851, its station built by our family to a design by Brunel.
In 1801 Crediton's population was about 5000. It has stayed around the 4500 - 5500 level until the 1980s when as a dormitory town for Exeter the population began to grow, and in 2011 it was approaching 8000.
For generations the manor was owned by the Buller family, who still live at Downes, on the road to Exeter.
Crediton's parish church is on the site of the original cathedral for Devon and Cornwall- a role it filled until the see was moved to Exeter in 1050. It was a collegiate church until the Reformation (a collegiate church is a church where the daily office of worship is maintained by a college of canons; a non-monastic, or community of clergy, organised as a self-governing corporate body. ) Its impressive red sandstone appearance in English perpendicular style was achieved by over 4 centuries of building, additions, restorations and renewal from 12th to 16th century. Plenty of baptisms, marriages and funerals for our family members have been performed in this church, and as at Sandford, many of the family lie in the graveyard here still, despite the loss of headstones.
See John Heal's The Book of Crediton for a useful history of the town.
Although the majority of our family originated in Devon, by way of contrast, if nothing more, we include Leigh here, the origin of one of the families that married into ours.
George Wright of Sandford went to Lancashire to work, and in 1911 married the boss's daughter, Lilian Boydell. She moved to Devon with him, and as a result of that marriage Leigh became much visited by family members. For example, with some trepidation my mother travelled there by an arduous train journey during the last war. It was very different from our Devon origins. Although Lilian spent her adult life in the South of England she never entirely lost her Lancashire accent.
The parish of Leigh was established in the 12th century, and comprised 6 townships - Bedford, Tyldesley-with-Shakerley, Pennington, Westleigh, Astley, and Atherton. According to Wilson's Gazetteer of England and Wales in 1870-1872, Leigh was "a town, a township, a parish, a sub-district, and a district, in Lancashire. The town stands on the Leigh and Wigan canal, on a loop-line of railway, from Tyldesley to Bradshaw-Leach, and near the Bolton and Kenyon branch of the Northwestern railway, 7¼ miles SW by S of Bolton; comprises portions of Westleigh, Pennington, Bedford, and Atherton townships; has undergone much improvement, under the Local Government act of 1858, and under the Public Works Manufacturing Districts act of 1863; is a seat of petty sessions and county courts, and a polling place; publishes a weekly newspaper; and has a post office under Manchester, two railway stations with telegraph, a banking office, a market-place, a town hall, gas-works, three churches, four dissenting chapels, a Roman Catholic chapel, a grammar school, two national schools, a British school, a public cemetery, and charities £339. There are large cotton factories, foundries, malting establishments, two breweries, and three corn mills. Pop. of the town in 1851, 5,206; in 1861, 10,621. Houses, 2,098."
Agriculture had been important to the parish, but by the end of the 16th century spinning and weaving became significant as cottage industries. The home-working was a useful addition to the income of local farmers and their families. The cloth that Leigh specialised in was fustian, a kind of corduroy. Agents from Manchester would meet locals at an inn to hand out work, and to collect finished cloth. By the end of the 18th century the trade was well established, with fustian masters managing the business as middle men. Improvements in the process that accompanied the industrial revolution at first meant that weavers were in great demand, but as power looms were introduced in factories in Manchester there was less work for the handloom weavers, leading to serious unemployment in the town. Then for a while silk weaving provided work for Leigh. But by
the 1870s there were many cotton mills in the town, and cotton largely replaced other cloth manufacture. The large scale multi-story spinning mills were soon introduced. In 1911 when Great Uncle George Wright married his Leigh fiancée there were over 6000 people employed in the textile industry there.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, deep mining for coal became possible, and several mines opened in Westleigh. In time this became the second biggest employer after textiles. Our family members over the generations worked in occupations that reflected Leigh's history - agriculture, then silk weaving and then cotton manufacture.
In many ways Leigh was a typical northern product of the Industrial Revolution, and mid- and south-Devon of the Agricultural Revolution. As will become apparent throughout this website, the families explored here are representative of most aspects of English social and economic history of the last 400 years.
Heard: derived from the Old English word herde, which in turn comes from the Old English heird, meaning herd. An occupational name indicating that an early ancestor tended domestic animals, a herdsman. Variations - Herd, Hurd, Hird, Hirde, Hearde; also Herdman and Heardman.
The map shows the 1881 Heard surname distribution in Great Britain. The few Heards in South Wales were most likely migrants from North Devon. The Essex, Nottinghamshire and Borders Heard clusters seem to represent quite different families. The spellings Herd and Hurd are differently distributed.
In 1880 the Heards in the USA were concentrated in Texas, Illinois, Missouri, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. Today ranked 1,140th most common surname in the USA. Most of the US Heards seem to have traced their origins back to Ireland.
Hartland, North Devon: "Its original name was Hertiland-- The land or home of one called Hert. This name later became Heard. That is why the Heard family is known as the oldest family within Hartland." Rev. Fred Pennington, Hartland Society 1997. The prevalence of Heards in Hartland is reflected in this street name there.
The Heards and their relatives were predominantly humble folk. Most of them worked on the land. Many were, in the language of the family historian, "Ag Labs". And many were farmers. And herdsmen, shepherds, cowmen, carters, ploughmen, dairymen and dairywomen...In the database of our families the number of farmers and farm workers were five times the number of the next most common occupation - domestic servants. And with origins in Devon,many more worked at occupations that relied on the farming community - slaughtermen, butchers, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, saddlers, agricultural implement makers, millers...
A few generations were cordwainers - boot and shoemakers who jealously guarded this designation, that implied working with new leather, unlike cobblers, who worked with old. The Feys were carpenters. The Turners and Wrights were blacksmiths and ironworkers. The Berrys were thatchers and builders. The Picketts were tailors and shopkeepers, the Greenslades millers.
Of course, not all the families appearing on these pages were from a rural background. Several of our in-laws worked in the industrial centres of the North and Scotland, and Donalds, Boydells and Wilkinsons all worked in cotton mills. For some of the families the occupations began as skilled cottage craftsmanship, and as the industrial revolution and its factories took over, subsequent generations would often be working in the same trade, but with the craft skills gone, replaced by machines, with opportunities for men women and children to supply the unskilled factory labour that meant lives so radically different from those their parents had lead. This happened even in Crediton where several of the family worked in the towns boot and shoe factories. And in both town and country there were family members who were clerks, and teachers.
Across all classes it was unusual for women to work after marriage. Some of course did. But before marriage the women of our families were often employed as dressmakers, seamstresses, milliners, domestic servants, weavers, school teachers, shop assistants, dairy maids.There was little breaking of the stereotypes for our women.
There were a good number of ancestors both male and female who were recorded as paupers. But as can be seen throughout this web site, there were an extraordinary range of occupations, and many classes are represented here too.
The 1870s and 80s were particularly tough for families working on the land. The import of cheap food from the New World and Europe was followed by several seasons of disastrous weather. Thousands of farmers were wiped out. By 1885 corn-growing land in England had declined by a million acres and in 1886 the corn price fell to 31 shillings a quarter. Britain's dependence on imported grain in the 1830s was 2%; in the 1860s it was 24%; in the 1880s it was 45%; for corn it was 65%. The 1881 census showed a decline of 92,250 in agricultural labourers since 1871, with a 53,496 increase of urban labourers. Many of these were previously farm workers who migrated to the cities to find employment.Between 1870 and the turn of the century, 700,000 farmers and farm-workers emigrated. During this period some of the Heards migrated to London, and at least two branches to the Midlands. But they mostly remained in England. In the main it was the Feys, the Drews and other in-laws that journeyed to new worlds. On this site you can read some of their stories and follow their migrations.
Dairy schools like the one represented above sprang up in the first quarter of the twentieth century, generally held for a number of days or evenings in parish halls, and mostly intended for farmers daughters to learn the skills of butter making, and the handling of milk and cream. This was part of a drive to share best practice on the farm.
Although Peter is describing his experiences as a young lad working on farms in the war years, even by then it would have not been vastly familiar to farm labourers of the last years of the 19th century. The horse was had not disappeared from farm work, and mechanisation was still in its early days, with steam power widely used.
Farming changed once and for all after the War. My mother and her brother had been more or less the last of her family to grow up on a farm. She moved into the town in her teens. I can think of no closely related family member who is working on the land today.