This site is a work-in-progress. There is a massive amount to cover. I have included both male and female lines, and some go back 30 generations. Keep coming back for more.

I have numbered the generations working backwards from my own as (1)






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ROBERT GAY first appears in the parish of Sandford at his marriage to Elizabeth Gallen in 1741. In the fifty years before that, there are only two isolated records for the Gay surname.

Baptism. St Swithun’s, Sandford. (DCRS transcript)

1713 Mary d. Rob t Gay & Mary his w. Dec 25.

The father’s name suggests the possibility that this couple are Robert’s parents too. As yet we do not know what parish his family came from. There is a possible baptism in Modbury, in South Devon, in 1713, but that seems rather far away.

There is also a burial in 1739 for Grace Gay.

By the time of his marriage, Robert was resident in Sandford.


ELIZABETH GALLEN was born in Sandford. She was the youngest child baptised there of Gilbert Gallingand Wilmot Hill.

Baptism. Sandford. (DCRS transcript)

1716 Elizabeth d. Gilbert Galling & Wilmot his w. Apr. 22.

In the 18th century this spelling of the surname was becoming the more common form.


Robert Gay and Elizabeth Gallen married in Sandford on 8 Nov 1741. They had three sons baptised there.

Baptisms. St Swithun’s. Sandford. (DCRS transcript)

1742 Robert s. Robert Gay and Elizabeth his w. Apr. 4.

1746 W m s. Robert & Elizabeth Gay. July 1.

1750 Richard s. Rob t & Elizabeth Gay. Oct 24.


These entries in the register are in plain English, but when William Banter, chaplain of Sandford, records the baptisms of his own children there, he inscribes them in Latin.


Sandford’s market town was Crediton, only two miles away. The year after Robert junior was born, fire swept through it, destroying 460 houses. John Wesley passed through the town the following year on his missionary rides around England. He recorded his reaction in his Journal.


"April 1744 Wed. 18 – Before eight we reached Crediton (or Kirton), or rather the ruins of it, for the houses on both sides were all in ashes for several hundred yards. Lighting on a serious woman, I asked, ‘Are the people of this place now warned to seek God?’ She answered, ‘Although some of them perished in the flames, the rest are just as they were before, cursing, swearing, drinking, playing, and making merry, without God in their thoughts.’ She added, ‘No longer ago than Thursday last the men who were rebuilding one of the houses were bitterly cursing and swearing one at another, and two of them above the rest, when an arch they were under fell, and crushed those two, with all their bones, in pieces.’ Will ye not at length hear the rod, and Him that hath appointed it?"


Four years later, Wesley and his companions again passed through Crediton, which they reached late in the evening, after sunset. What followed next shows the hazards of riding through deep Devon lanes after dark.


"September 1748 Wed 28 – We could willingly have stopped here, but John Slocombe had appointed to meet us at Cullompton. Soon after we set out it was exceeding dark, there being neither moon nor stars. The rain also made it darker still, particularly in the deep narrow lanes. In one of these we heard the sound of horses coming towards us, and presently a hoarse voice cried, ‘What have you got?’ Richard Moss understood him better than me, and replied, ‘We have no panniers.’ Upon which he answered, ‘Sir, I ask your pardon,’ and went by very quietly.

There were abundance of turnings in the road, so that we could not easily have found our way at noonday. But we always turned right; nor do I know that we were out of the way once. Before eight the moon rose. We then rode cheerfully on, and before ten reached Cullompton."


They must have feared they had fallen victim to a highwayman. But, on the contrary, these Methodist missionaries seem to have been mistaken by the Revenue men for smugglers, running contraband under cover of darkness.


Sandford had long had a reputation as a fertile and prosperous part of Devon, on rich red soil. Nevertheless, the Gays did not stay there. Sometime in the next five years, they moved to St Thomas, across the river from Exeter, some ten miles away. It was not uncommon for people to move from one parish to a neighbouring one, but the lure of the city drew people from farther afield. Though Elizabeth’s parents were both from Sandford, they were married at St Petrock’s in Exeter. Her mother had probably worked there.

The suburbs of Exeter were particularly attractive to newcomers because trade and the practice of a craft inside the city walls was usually restricted to freemen of the city guilds. Young men in Exeter were often made freemen at 21 when they finished their apprenticeship.

But Sandford remained the Gays’ legal parish of settlement. In 1755, the St Thomas Overseers of the Poor issued a removal order for Robert Gay , Elizabeth his wife, Robert, William and Richard their children to Sandford. They were presumably then so poor, either through unemployment or illness, that they required parish relief, and the ratepayers of St Thomas were not prepared to take responsibility for a Sandford family.

Despite this removal order, they appear to have returned very soon to the Exeter suburbs. This time they made their home in St avid’s, outside the North Gate of the city, on the left bank of the Exe. There are no further baptisms in Sandford, nor any burials for them there. The fact that Robert was so keen to leave rural Sandford for the town suggests that he was not an agricultural worker, or was forced off the land by the growing population and the decrease in demand for farm labour. In 1803 his son Richard was a fish dealer.

Tragedy struck the family soon after they arrived.

Baptism. St David’s, Exeter.

1757 John; son of Robert and Elizabeth Gay. December 2


Burials. St David’s, Exeter.

1757 John; son of Robert Gay. December 9 1757 Elizabeth; wife of Robert Gay. December 31


Robert may have remarried, though this Robert could be his eldest son and there were other Robert Gays in the parish.

Marriage. St David’s, Exeter 1761 Gay, Robert & Mary May. Witnesses Lawrence Bicknell, Edward Keen. 12 July

This couple had three children in St David’s: John was baptised on October 11th, 1762, and Thomas on June 13th, 1764. This first homas was buried on September 31st of the same year. Another Thomas was baptised on 25 October, 1765.

In 1771, William Gay, who is probably Robert and Elizabeth’s second child, married Mary Tricks at St David’s. And in 1773, their third son, Richard , married Jane Beard there.


Some of the following burials may be relevant.

Burials. St David’s, Exeter.

1765 Robert Gay. October 11th 1768 Robert Gay. January 8th

1782 Apr. 9. Robert Gay 1785 Jan 23rd. Elizabeth Gay

1788 Nov 26. Elizabeth Gay  

The Gallen family Elizabeth left behind in Sandford seem to have fallen on hard times, particularly her brother Robert. They were frequent recipients of charity. The John Gallen mentioned is probably her uncle, but could be her grandfather.

1737 rent for the ffield belonging to Poor at Peinton Hill with in the Parish of Crediton … was Disposed of by Some of the arishioners and Churchwardens of the Parish of Sandford as follows: John Gallon 2s 6d.

(There were 25 recipients, receiving sums from 1s to 10s)

1737 John Read gave to John Gallon 1s 0d. (4 recipients, 1s to 2s)


1743 Edwd Skinner gave Rich d Gallon £1 0s 6d

John Brutton gave Rob t Gallon £1 0s 6d

1749 Robert Galling 10s 7½d  

1754 Rich d Gallon 2s 6d 1754 John Norrish gave to Rob t Gallon 12s 6d

1757 Robert Gallon 1s 0d

1760 M r Manly gave Rob t Gallen £1 4s 10½d


A census conducted by the minister of Sandford in 1790 shows no Gays remaining in the parish. There were seven Gallings, from the families of Elizabeth’s brothers.




Next Generation: 6. GAY-BEARD

Previous Generations: 8. GALLEN-HILL



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