Charlotte image

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 DOWNEHAY. Witheridge is an ancient town 12 miles east of Tiverton, in the hill country between Dartmoor and Exmoor. At this time there was extensive moorland around Witheridge too. Witheridge means “wether’s ridge”. This is sheep country. Devon’s prosperity was largely based on its woollen industry.

Prehistoric barrow on Witheridge Moor [1]


Writing of 16th century Devon, John Hooker describes the woollen industry which was the lifeblood of this area, especially the making of the ribbed woollen cloth known as kersey, or ‘Devon Dozen’.

There is no market nor village nor scarse any privat mannes house where in theise clothes be not made, or that there is not spynninge and cardinge for the same … wheresoever any man doth travell you shall fynde at the … foredore of the house … the wyffe their children and their servantes at the turne spynninge or at their cardes cardenge and by which comoditie the comon people do lyve.

Hooker’s Synopsis Chorographical of Devonshire. W.J. Blake (ed.)


The Witheridge registers begin in 1585 and the Downehays appear almost immediately. From the date of his children’s baptisms, William would have been born well before this date, probably early in the reign of Elizabeth I, who came to the throne in 1558, or in that of her older sister Mary I.

The most likely parents for him are Walter Downehey, who died in 1588, and Johan Downehaye, who died in 1593. As well as Downeys, with their variant spellings, there were also Downes in the parish. This may be a separate surname, but it is more likely that the final e was sounded. This means that other possible parents are Thomas Downe, who died in 1587, and Margrett Downe, who died in 1588. Also, we cannot be certain that there was only one William. It is possible that both couples had a son of this name.

If he was Walter’s son, then he does not seem to have come from a well-off family. In the 1581 Subsidy Roll, there are no Downeys. Thomas Downe is assessed for land at the lowest rate of £1. Other parishioners with less than £3 income from goods were not listed, so there may have been Downeys among these. Or perhaps Walter Downehey was Thomas Downe’s son, and living on his parents’ farm. In that case, William may well have been born there.

The first William Downey we meet married Charitie. We do not know her surname nor the date of their marriage. It could have taken place in Witheridge before 1585, or in another parish. Nor do we know if there were children baptised before the Witheridge registers begin.

Our first record of this William is the baptism of his daughter in 1588.

Baptism. Witheridge. (DCRS transcript)
1588  Katherine, daughter of William Downhey  17 September

This is followed by a son.
1590  Richard, son of Willm Downehay  26 Nov

Charitie died seven years later.

Burial. Witheridge. (DCRS transcript)
1597  Downehaye, Charitie wife of Willm  23 Oct

The long gap without children before Charitie’s death may mean that this is an older couple who had completed their family.

The baptisms for children of William start again in 1601. Probably Charitie’s husband remarried, or this could be a younger man. Either way, we do not know the name of his wife, nor where and when they married.

The names of the children which follow strengthen the view that William’s parents were Walter and Johan. There is a long gap between the first and second child. This could mean that their fathers were different Williams, but there is no other evidence that there were two men of this name.

Three of the four children died in infancy.

Baptisms. Witheridge. (DCRS transcript
1601 Waulter, son of Willm Downhay  17 Nov
Walter was buried on 20 Feb 1605(6), aged 3.
1612  Johan, daughter of William Downehay  26 April
Johan was buried 20 July 1614, aged 2.
1615(6)  Frances, daughter of Willm Downehay  16 Jan
Frances was buried 27 Feb 1618(9), aged 3.
1618(9)  Willm, son of Willm Downehay  5 March

The fact that three of them died as small children, rather than newborn babies, may be due to an unlucky succession of illnesses, but it does suggest a poorer family, who could not afford to keep their children well-nourished and healthy.

From 1590 onwards, almost all the entries in the register are for Downey or Downehay. The name Downne does not occur again until 1628.

Burial. Witheridge. (DCRS transcript)
1628  Downne, William  Buried 20 Nov

No burial with the spelling William Downey or Downehay has been found, so it seems very probable that this is his.

No burial has been found for his wife so we have no evidence of her name.


[1] Megalithic Portal. http://www.megalithic.co.uk/a558/a312/gallery/England/devon/Witheridge_Moor_Barrow1.jpg





Sampson Tree