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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)

Sampson  Tree



RICHARD SNELL. We only know of Richard’s existence from a floor slab in Chawleigh church, which was fortunately transcribed before it disappeared under Victorian tiles and modern carpeting. The inscription begins:

Ricardus Snell hic templo benefactor mortuus est vo die Febr anno 1540

Richard does not appear in the 1524 Lay Subsidy Roll, which lists only Edmund Snell for Chawleigh. He was presumably not born then or a young man living with his father without significant property of his own. It seems fair to assume that he is Edmond’s son. His father was the most well-to-do parishioner in Chawleigh.

We learn from the inscription that Richard was a benefactor of the church of St James. He must have been affluent enough to make a significant contribution. The church is 15th century, and has a fine early 16th-century rood screen. This was probably made in the time of Richard’s father, who may have contributed towards it.

Rood screen, St James, Chawleigh [1]

We do not know what form Richard’s generosity took. He may have given money to support the ongoing expenses of the church, or to beautify the building in some way. He was still living when Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534 and set up the Church of England, with himself at its head. In the years of Reformation that followed, many churches saw their painted walls whitewashed, and statues and stained glass windows removed. We do not know if Chawleigh suffered in this way, and how this may have affected Richard’s contributions.

We have no direct information about Richard’s occupation, but in this rural North Devon parish on mostly high ground between Crediton and Barnstaple, he was almost certainly a yeoman farmer breeding sheep. Devon was famous for its wool industry. This tallies with the bequest from his son to his sister of a considerable quantity of wool.

We know from the inscription that Richard died on 5th Feb1540/1, towards the end of the reign of Henry VIII. Two years before this, King Henry had decreed that an English Bible should be kept and read in every church.


JOAN. Richard died before the 1544 Roll Lay Subsidy Roll. This lists instead Joan Snell, widow. She may be Richard’s mother, but it is seems more likely that she is Richard’s recently-widowed wife, now in charge of the household and therefore a taxpayer.

Inscribed on the same grave slab as Richard is a memorial to his son Henry, “Henricus Snell ejusdem filius”.  He died in 1591.

Henry also appears on the 1544 Lay Subsidy Roll. Both Joan and Henry are rated at £20. They, with one other, are the highest rated parishioners for goods. There are, in addition, two residents of “Challegh” assessed at £2 for land. This confirms the position of the Snells as the most affluent family in the parish.

We know from Henry’s will that he had a sister. “To my sister Joan a half-hundred of the best wool of my sheep upon my tenement of Hegworthie.”

This was 50 sacks of wool.

A file of the Snell family in the DCRS collection for Chawleigh gives a family tree beginning with Richard. It names Henry and Joan as his only known children.

This Snell file gives the additional information that Joan junior married John Smith of Barnstaple, Merchant. He was Mayor of Barnstaple in 1553 and was buried there on 21 Nov 1563. This gives further indication of the social standing of the Snells.

Joan junior was buried 14 March 1595 in Barnstaple. Her will, transcribed by Olive Moger, states that she is a widow and that she leaves all her goods to her daughter Margaret Yeo. Witnesses include William Snell the Elder of Chaleygh and Anthony Snell makes his mark. These are probably her nephews.

The fact that Richard was too young for the 1525-7 Rolls, but had a son old enough for the 1544 Roll suggests that he died in early middle age.


[1] Picuki.com. Chawleigh Instagram Posts.



Sampson Tree