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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)



We do not have a baptism for Ambrose Brewer, who married in the North Devon village of Knowstone in 1574. Ambrose is a distinctive name. The only earlier example we have found of it is the burial in 1573 of Ambrose Bruer of Brushford, just over the border in Somerset. It is highly likely that the younger Ambrose is a descendant, or near relative, of the older one.

Brushford is a village just south of the Somerset market town of Dulverton. It should not be confused with Brushford in mid-Devon. The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) says “It is on the confines of Devonshire, in a pleasant, hilly, and wooded district, on the banks of the river Barle, a branch of the Exe.” [1]

The Brewer family in Brushford goes back to before the introduction of parish registers by Henry VIII in 1538, following his break with the Church of Rome four years earlier.


ALEXANDER BRUER and KATHERINE. The earliest known Bruer in the parish is Alexander Bruer.  His will was proved on 30 June 1535. [2]  Fortunately, it was one of a small number of wills transcribed before the Somerset wills were destroyed in a bombing raid in the second World War.

If he died in 1535, Alexander was probably born around the reign of Henry VII, 1485-1509.

Despite having an inventory of less than £4, Alexander followed the custom of making bequests to the church. He gave 4 sheep to “the lights” of St Michael, of Mary, and of St Katherine and to the light for the dead, and also 4d to Wells Cathedral.

Before the Reformation it was the custom for parish churches to keep lights burning before the images of Mary and the saints. These were funded by ‘stores’, whose income was derived from small flocks of sheep, from ales, and from individual gifts and bequests.

Alexander gave two sheep to his two sons, but sadly we do not have their names.

He also left his wife Katherine a pot, to be used after her death and those of her daughters-in-law to fund an anniversary for him, when prayers would be said for his soul.

Katherine was the residual legatee.

These bequests imply that Alexander Bruer kept a flock of sheep.


The early Brushford registers are hard to read. Only some of the entries have been transcribed.

The earliest transcribed entries for the Brewers are the following:

Burial. 1558/9  Jan 3  Katherine Brewer
Baptism. 1571 Jun 22  Christian daughter of John Bruer
Burial. 1573 Apr 30  Ambrose Bruer
Marriage. 1574  William Nycle and Christian Brewer
Baptism. 1577/8 Feb 23  Johane daughter of John Brewer
Marriage. 1581   Robert Nosse and Marie Brewer
Marriage. 1598  Nicholas Nicholl and Christian Brewer 

If, as seems likely, Katherine Brewer who was buried in 1559 is the widow of Alexander, then she survived him by 23 years. Either she was considerably younger, or Alexander died in middle age. She died just after Elizabeth I ascended the throne.


AMBROSE BRUER. We do not know how old Ambrose was when he died in 1573. We should expect a birth date in the first half of the century. If it was in the first decade, or soon after, he could be one of the unnamed sons to whom Alexander Bruer left sheep in his will of 1535. These sons appear to be adults.

A later birth date could make him Alexander’s grandson.


JOHN BREWER. He was raising a family in Brushford from at least 1571, making him a contemporary of Ambrose Bruer of Knowstone. He could be a brother or cousin.

We should expect him to have been born in the 1540s. He could be the son or grandson of Ambrose Bruer who was buried in Brushford.


We may learn more should further transcripts become available. It would help to know if Ambrose Bruer was having children baptised after the start of the registers in 1538. This would give us some indication of his birth date. An absence of baptisms would increase the likelihood of his being Alexander’s son, born early in the century.

These undeciphered registers are also likely to contain John Brewer’s baptism, and perhaps his marriage.


The church of St Nicholas in Brushford is remarkable for two things.

Inside is the 12th-century parish chest, which may be the oldest in England. It was hollowed out of a single oak tree trunk. This is the chest where the registers recording the lives of our Brushford ancestors were stored.


In the churchyard outside there is a huge oak tree, said to be one of the oldest trees in the Exmoor region. It was already called “the old oak” in the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603).  All our 16th-century  Brewers would have known it.

Its spread has been reduced in recent times.



[1] Transcribed by Colin Hinson © 2003
[2] Weaver, Frederic William, Wells Wills, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co,1890.
[3] Britain Express. https://www.britainexpress.com/images/attractions/editor2/Brushford-4351.jpg
[4] Pope’s Trees – Oak Gallery. Brushford Oak.




Sampson Tree