Fay Sampson’s Family History
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)
ROBERT SOUTHCOMBE and ELIZABETH (11)
ROBERT SOUTHCOMBE was the son of Humfrye Southcombe, gentleman, and Jane Beare.
He was born in 1599, in the closing years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign. His baptism took place at the church of St Mary in Bishops Nympton, though the family were living in the neighbouring parish of Mariansleigh.
Baptisms. Bishops Nympton.
1599 Southcombe, Roberte s. of Humfrye & Jane 24 Aug
Robert had at least an elder sister and two brothers, one older, one younger. There may have been more siblings baptised in Mariansleigh, where the registers begin much later.
The Bishops Nympton baptism, and that of three siblings in the same church, make it very likely that the Southcombe family home was Yeo Barton, which Robert’s parents certainly owned towards the end of their lives. It had probably been in the family since the first Southcombe came to Mariansleigh before the middle of the 16th century. It was a high status medieval farmhouse of cob and thatch. When Robert was born, it still had a hall extending the full height of the building. Around this hall ran a bench with a carved back, including the initials WS, probably those of Robert’s great-great-grandfather William Southcombe, or W&S, for William and his wife..
Early in the 17th century, Robert’s parents had the house divided into two floors. The succession of bedchambers opening into one another would have allowed them a little more privacy.
Robert’s father was the highest status parishioner in Mariansleigh. In the 1524 Lay Subsidy Rolls he is the only taxpayer listed as a gentleman.
ELIZABETH. We know Elizabeth’s name only from Robert’s will.
The couple probably married in the 1630s, in the troubled years when Charles I was at odds with his Parliament.
Sometime in this decade, Robert’s father died. Robert was not the eldest son, but may have inherited part of his father’s estates, including Yeo Barton. Or John may have died, leaving Robert as the eldest. The Protestation Return of 1642 shows no other Southcombe in Mariansleigh parish.
Robert, like his father, was styled as a gentleman when he died and probably carried that title for most of his adult life. North Devon had a particularly high proportion of gentry. This need not imply that he was rich. Mark Stoyle comments that, in relatively poor areas like this, impoverished gentlemen sometimes clung fiercely to their ancient status.
The family were, however, affluent enough to extend Yeo Barton. Sometime in the 17th century, a single-storey east wing was added. The purpose of this room is unclear. It does not have a fireplace, but the carpentry is of fine quality. It is not known whether this wing was built by Robert’s father Humfrye, who died in the 1530s, or later by Robert, who probably inherited the house, or by his son.
Robert and Elizabeth probably had their children shortly before, or during, the Civil War. Robert’s will names four: John, Anthony, Robert and Elizabeth. By then, John and Anthony had at least one child each, while none is mentioned for Robert junior, and Elizabeth appears to be as yet unmarried. So perhaps the order in which they were named is their birth order. There may have been others who died in infancy. They were all probably baptised in Mariansleigh.
None of the boys was old enough to sign the Protestation Return in 1642, pledging loyalty to the Protestant religion. All males of 18 and over were obliged to sign, or were labelled as ‘recusants’ if they refused. Robert not only took the oath, but was one of five signatories presenting the return, in his capacity as Overseer of the Poor. The others were the Curate, the Constable, the Churchwarden and another Overseer.
Later that year, the Civil War broke out. The area around South Molton was a hotbed of Parliamentary support. Robert himself may have sided with the King. Certainly his Southcomb cousins in neighbouring Rose Ash were Royalist. Lewis Southcomb of Rose Ash had a ring bearing the head of Charles I and inscribed on the inside: Prepare to follow me Jan.10 1645.
There was another family of Southcombes at the mid-Devon village of Dunsford in the Teign valley. Burke’s Landed Gentry says they were related to the North Devon Southcombes. The use of the name Humfry by both families tends to support this.
Dunsford, under its squire Francis Fulford, was strongly pro-Royalist. In the first year of the war, several mid-Devon parishes sent their militia-arms to a muster at Dunsford. They hoped to assist Sir Ralph Hopton’s army as it marched from Cornwall to besiege Exeter. The Parliamentarian garrison in the city sent out a troop of horse to seize the weapons. Their commander, Captain Vaughan, was killed by musket shot fired from a window. The sniper was Humfry Southcombe. The troopers fled, leaving Vaughan’s body in the road. Two parish constables and a sergeant stripped the corpse. This was not an undisciplined mob, but the work of men of local importance. Humfry Southcombe got his gloves and his spurs.
Next day, the vicar of Tedburn St Mary and a husbandman of that parish returned from Dunsford with one of the troopers’ horses. They said in court that Humfry Southcombe had sold it to them at the pub.
We cannot assume that, because Robert Southcombe’s relatives were Royalists, he and Elizabeth were. His grandmother Elinor Cruwys’s family, lords of the manor of Cruwys Morchard, supported Parliament. One of his Cruwys cousins was chaplain to Oliver Cromwell.
Some families were bitterly divided. But the fact that one of the sureties for the administration of Robert’s will was the Rev Lewis Southcomb of Rose Ash, who was fiercely pro-Stuart, shows that there was no serious rift between the Mariansleigh and Rose Ash families.
There were certainly those in Mariansleigh who supported the Puritan changes which followed the execution of Charles I and the institution of the Commonwealth. Mariansleigh’s clergyman was first abused in his pulpit and then evicted from the living. John Walker, in The Sufferings of the Clergy, writes:
Marianleigh, Devon: Edmond Reed, Rector.
The tithes of this Living are impropriate, although the Minister of it writes Rector, and it is generally assumed a place for life. [This parish is now accounted a Perpetual Curacy, i.e. of course, a titular Vicarage under the recent Act.] Mr Reed particularly is called called Rector, and probably had taken Institution upon the nomination.
He was once interrupted and abused in the pulpit, and at length sequestred, when he had been near forty years Minister of this place. The chief accusation against him, as far as I can learn, was his practising as well as approving The Book of Sports. His first successor was one Reeve; after whom came one Bullhead. Mr Reed lived to be restored but died soon after.
In 1662 no one from the parish signed the Declaration of Conformity, but at the Visitation of that year Edward (sic) Reed was entered as “Curat”.
The Reverend Lewis Southcombe of neighbouring Rose Ash uncovered a more colourful story when he questioned his older parishioners in 1726 about their memories of those times.
About seventy years since, one John Pincomb of Broad-Heal in Bishop’s-Nymet, who was a great Cromwellian & a Constable of the Hundred, in the time of that Usurpation, was in This Green, when some Persons were Playing at Bowls in it.
This Jo: Pincomb stopt ye Bowl of Mr Edmond Reed, A Reverend, orthodox, & Loyall Clergy-man, who was Minister of ye Neighbouring Parish o f Mariansleigh, And took upon him to throw Mr Reed’s Bowl over the Hedge, upon which a great contest arose; but how Twas Accomodated, Reconciled and Pacify’d, I cannot Learn:
We next hear of the family in 1663, three years after the Restoration of the monarchy. There is a wedding in neighbouring Bishops Nympton between John Southcombe, son of Robert Southcombe of Marley (Mariansleigh), and Julian Blackmoore. John was the eldest son of Robert and Elizabeth.
The evidence of family wills shows that John remained in Mariansleigh, Anthony moved further west to East Buckland and Robert junior set up home in Bishops Nympton.
Robert died nine years later. We do not have a record of his burial, which presumably took place in Mariansleigh, but we know that he made his will in June 1671. It was proved in Barnstaple on 31 Oct 1672. He was then 73. He was styled as ‘Robert Southcombe the elder of Mariansleigh, gent’.
We do not have the full provisions of his will. He mentions the three sons: John, Anthony and Robert, and his daughter Elizabeth. In another will of 1785 we are told Elizabeth’s married name, so she was probably still single at this date. Also mentioned are two grandchildren: John’s daughter, who was another Elizabeth, and Anthony’s son, who was another Robert. We may presume the third brother, Robert junior, died childless.
The inventory of Robert’s goods was presented by George Conybear, John Southcomb and Anthony Southcomb. Two are obviously his sons, probably the two eldest. George Conybear’s connection with the family is unknown. He may have been a friend of Robert, or possibly related to him, perhaps one of his wife’s family. The value of the goods was £503..4..4, a respectable sum.
Elizabeth survived him. She was the Residuary Legatee and the Sole Executor of his will. We do not know when she died.
Their son Robert junior was probably already living in Bishops Nympton. He was churchwarden there in 1675. When he died ten years later, he was styled as ‘Robert Southcomb of Bishop’s Nympton, yeoman’. He appears to have been married twice, since he mentions Johan ‘my now wife’, who was his residuary legatee and sole executor. There is no evidence of any children, from either marriage. His first wife may have died in childbirth.
As with his father’s will, he mentions his brother Anthony and Anthony’s son Robert, but there is no direct reference to his brother John, only to John’s daughter Elizabeth. This may mean that John had died, but Robert may simply not have felt it necessary to leave anything to his elder brother, who was probably the best-provided for of the three.
We also learn from the will that Robert and Elizabeth’s only adult daughter, Elizabeth junior, had married John Tossell of Kings Nympton and had three children, Elizabeth, John and Robert. (The family were confusingly conservative in their choice of names!)
Robert junior’s inventory came to £282..13..0, little more than half that of his father. He must have died in middle age, and if he was a younger son, he may have inherited less of his father’s wealth.
Though Anthony moved to East Buckland, his son Robert later returned to Mariansleigh.
 A2A.org.uk: Shelley of Shobrooke Z1/30/23
 Major W.H. Wilkin, Southcomb of Rose Ash. [WSL]
 Mark Stoyle, Loyalty and Locality: Popular Allegiance in Devon during the English Civil War, (Univ. of Exeter, 1994)
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