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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)



WILLIAM DOWNEY is probably the son of William Downehay, born in Witheridge early in 1619 and baptised on 5 Mar.

William would have been a teenager in 1634, when the vicar, who had been inducted in 1620,  was involved in a scandal over his treatment of his wife and imprisoned.

1620: 19 February. William Tyler (or Taylor). Patron – James Dinham, gentleman, this turn by grant of Lewis Melhuish of Chawleigh, gentleman. Tyler quarrelled with his wife, to whom he would not pay alimony, and who brought an action against him in the Court of High Commission. He was committed to the Gatehouse until the alimony was paid (April 24th – June 26th 1634). The case was finally settled 27th November 1634:

Defendant about thirteen years ago intermarried with his wife who brought him a portion of £1450. He held the vicarages of Witheridge and Bishop’s Nympton worth 200 marks a year, and possessed besides lands and tenements worth £90 a year. Proof was given of great violence and cruelty of conduct on the part of the defendant towards his wife with scandalous speeches; and on the other side there was evidence of great provocation and of very wicked and outrageous speeches on the part of the wife. The Court condemned them both, but laid the greater blame upon Tyler in respect of his holy function, and therefore for the present allowed his wife £40 per annum towards her necessary alimony, but declared if she continued to live with her sister Elizabeth Gator, who kept a common alehouse, the alimony would not be continued.[1]

St John the Baptist, Witheridge [2]

The 1641 Protestation Return for Witheridge lists William Downey. All men over 18 had to affirm their loyalty to the Protestant tradition. William would have been 22. He is the only man of this surname to appear on the list.

The following year, the Civil War broke out. North Devon, like most wool-producing areas, was mostly for Parliament, since the King’s wars had damaged trading overseas.

‘There was a taste of North Devon’s Parliamentarian sympathies before the Civil War began. In the summer of 1640, 600 North Devon men had been unwillingly conscripted to join a Royal Army being formed to march north against the Scots. On 11th July a company passed through Tiverton on its way to Wellington, where it spent the night. The following day was a Sunday and some of the men noticed that one of their officers, a Lieutenant Evers, had not attended church. They at once suspected him of being a Catholic and angrily broke into his house, dragged him out and murdered him in the street. The men deserted and made their way back to their homes in North Devon, boasting of what they had done. Eventually a number of them were questioned or sought in connection with this crime. It has been established that nine came from Bishops Nympton and South Molton, while the remaining 12 came from the nearby parishes of Landkey, Chawleigh, West Anstey, Chittlehampton, Bishops Tawton, Oakford, Rackenford, Swimbridge and Witheridge.
‘In the light of this it is not surprising that, when two years later the Earl of Bath came to South Molton and attempted to publish the Royal Commission of Array (another form of conscription) he met opposition. A threatening crowd of 1,000 people quickly gathered and sent him and his supporters packing. South Molton’s hostility continued into 1644 and 1645. Much of the rural areas felt the same. Mark Stoyle has written:

…what evidence that does survive suggests that the countrymen were every bit as Parliamentarian as their urban neighbours. There is evidence that in 1643 the inhabitants of many local parishes failed to attend the Royalist posse. The five communities that produced the largest number of defaulters included Bishops Nympton and Witheridge. In January 1646 the Constables of Cheldon, Kings Nympton, Worlington and Thelbridge were all noted as being “ill-affected to His majesty’s sevice”. It is likely that Witheridge was not far behind.

‘As the war and its effects swung through North Devon and back again, villages found themselves at the mercy of uncontrolled bands of horsemen on both sides. Cattle, sheep, poultry and crops were seized and the communities were left terrified. It is not surprising that a Witheridge inhabitant tried to hide his money until the troubles were over. What happened next is described by William Chapple in his response for Witheridge to the Milles Inquiry of the 1750s, a questionnaire sent to all Devon parishes:

There was a remarkable instance of the effects of a Damp in a well here in 1646. It seems the then troubles which rendered property precarious had induced one Walter Moore to hide a Bag of Money in this Well, which he fastened to a Pump-tree therein; after his death some Persons, having information of hid treasure, opened the pit and one of them went down in search thereof, but, staying longer than expected, was followed by another, and he for the same reason by a third; none returning, a fourth person (one Thomas Molland) was let down by a rope, who, falling off the ladder, was drawn up half dead and with difficulty recovered. And after having left the well sometime open for the air, they got up the dead bodies of the other three, as well as ye money that they went in quest of, which, they privately divided amongst themselves.
    The Parish Register (which I have seen) mentions the burial of these three persons in one day (viz. John Greenslade, Robert Greenslade, and John Whitfield) and it was from thence that I knew the year when it happened, which however is not material, as the whole can only serve to caution people against endangering their lives in such circumstances.

By 1645 there was growing discontent against roving undisciplined groups, from either side, whose only purposes seemed to be theft and destruction. This led to the creation of bands of Clubmen, dedicated to defending their local parishes from marauders, whether Royalist or Parliamentarian. Clubmen were active in the Barnstaple and South Molton areas, particularly against Royalist thugs, nominally commanded by Lord Goring. So badly did these marauders behave that in Molland Squire Courtney, a one-time supporter of the Crown became leader of the Molland Clubmen. Events so near at hand may well have had an effect on Witheridge.’[3]


His marriage to EMLINE seems to have taken place in another parish. The couple made their home in Witheridge and had at least some of their children baptised at the parish church. One daughter died young.

They may have had a son William, whose baptism has not been found in Witheridge. In 1677 there is a marriage of William Downey to Mary Phylyp, and this William is referred to the following year as “William Downey junior of Chapmore”. He was a weaver, and this may well have been his father’s occupation too. The modern OS shows Chapner Farm half a mile SW of the town.

More certainly we have:

Baptism. Witheridge.
1649(50) Roger, son of William and Emline Downey  27 Jan

Then follows:

Burial.  Witheridge.
1653  Emlin, daughter of William Downehay  8 Sept

Emlin may have been baptised outside Witheridge. It has, however, been suggested that the Emlin who was buried may have been mistakenly entered as William’s daughter when she was in fact his wife. In that case, it could be the same William Downey who married again to Hasle Ellson on 23 Jan 1653(4), making Hasle the mother of his next child, Elizabeth.

Baptism. Witheridge.
1657 (8)  Elizabeth, daughter of William Downey  24 Feb

But since Elizabeth named her second daughter Emeling, it seems reasonable to assume that this was her mother’s name and that the burial was genuinely of William’s daughter. It also points to Elizabeth being the child of William and Emline, not of William and Hasle. The name Emline is handed on for several more generations; the name Hasle does not appear in this family line.

The small number of known children, and the fact that their daughter Emlin’s baptism is not recorded in Witheridge, may mean that William and Emline spent part of their married life elsewhere, or used a neighbouring church.

In 1682 a rate was levied for the reparation of the parish church. No Downeys appear among the contributors, but there is an entry for ‘Richard Elsworthy for Downey’.[4] Downey may have been the family farm in earlier times. It is probably the same as Downe Farm, which stands high above the Stourcombe River on Downe Hill, two miles NE of the village,

There are two possible burials for William. One has the alternative surname Thomas.

Burial. Witheridge.
1662 May 6   William Downy als Thomas
1700 Sep 8  William Downey


[1] Peter and Freda Tout and John Usmar, The Book of Witheridge: A Parish Through the Centuries, (Halsgrove, 2003), p.14.
[2] Mapio
[3] Tout and Usmar, pp.27-28.
[4] Tout, Tout and Usmar, p.29.




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