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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)




STEPHEN AYSHFORD. Ayshford in Burlescombe parish, between Tiverton and Wellington, derives its name from a ford near a group of ash trees. When the Saxon King Edwy of Wessex gave the estate to Eadheah in 958 it consisted of the hamlets of Ayshford, Boehill in Sampford Peverell, Westleigh and Rocknell. ‘Together they were reckoned at 2½ hides, i.e. some 300 acres of arable with pasture, wood and waste.’[1]

At the Conquest, William of Normandy gave Ayshford to one of his followers, Walter de Clavile. He, in turn, granted it to his steward, another Walter, while de Clavile lived nearby at Uplowman. Walter the Steward kept half as a home farm, and the rest was worked by peasants and labourers.

The Domesday Book of 1086 records: “Here Walter de Clavile has a manor called Aiseforde which was held by Wulfward in 1066, it paid tax for 1 hide. Land for 3 ploughs. Walter the Steward holds it of Walter. He has 1/2 hide in demesne and 1 plough. The villeins have 1/2 hide and 2 ploughs. There are 4 villeins, 7 bordars (smallholders) and 3 serfs. Meadow 12 acres, pasture 60 acres, woodland 12 acres, 1 rouncey (riding horse), 14 cattle, 2 pigs, 33 goats and 2 wild forest mares. Value 20/-, 10/- in 1066.”

Stephen seems to have been born around 1110, within 50 years of the Norman Conquest. Heather Ayshford writes: “We know nothing of Stephen’s immediate ancestry but a descent from Walter the steward must be assumed but perhaps not in the male line. Our reason for suspecting this is that he is referred to as Stephen de Baunton de Esseford in the earliest documents; that is, Stephen once of Bampton now of Ayshford. Possibly Stephen was the grandson of a Steward of Bampton and the Ayshford heiress and lived at Raddon whilst awaiting his mother’s inheritance?”[2]

Charles Worthy speaks of “The Ayshfords, descended from Stephen de Eisforde, a follower of the Conqueror”.[3] This is stretching it a bit, but if Stephen is descended from Walter the Steward, then his grandfather might well have followed Walter de Clavile at the Battle of Hastings. Walter and Stephen are Norman names.

Some ten years before his birth, in 1100, the unpopular William (Rufus) II fell victim to a “hunting accident” in the New Forest. It is widely believe that he was murdered to put his brother, Henry I, on the throne. Henry was a member of that hunting party and left his brother’s body lying where it fell. He became another royal despot.


AGNES OR MAGDALAINE LE BEL. Sir William Pole gives the name of Stephen’s wife as Agnes le Bel. The Herald’s Visitations have her as Magdalaine le Bel.[4]


The newly established Ayshford family would have been among those imposing Norman rule on the Devon countryside. Stephen and Alice would have spoken Norman French.

The couple had at least six sons: Walter, William, Robert, Richard, Simon and Nicholas, and a daughter Agnes.[5]

Ayshford was a small holding, and we should expect the Ayshford family in the Middle Ages to be yeomen farmers. Later generations married into armigerous families and bore a coat of arms themselves.

In the twelfth century Cistercian monks brought sheep farming to England. This laid the grounds for Devon’s future prosperity.

When Henry I died in 1135 he should have been succeeded by his daughter Matilda. But when her marriage to Geoffrey of Anjou, Normandy’s enemy, caused the barons to break their vows to uphold her succession. Instead, Stephen, Henry’s nephew by Adela, daughter of William of Conqueror, claimed the throne. There was civil war between 1135 and 1154, with Stephen crowned king, but unable to control the whole country. He was held prisoner for a time, after being captured at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141, but the people of London refused to let Matilda enter as queen. The war was resolved when Stephen agreed to acknowledge Matilda’s son Henry as his heir. Henry II became king in 1154.


Heather Ayshford writes: “Between 1161 and 1173, Walter Clavile, grandson of the first Walter, founded a priory for Austin canons on his property at Legh in Burlescombe. Witnessing this deed was a certain Stephen of Ayshford and his five adult sons. Stephen must have been at least 50 and had already given his name to the Raddon property mentioned in Domesday. From this time on it is referred to as Stevenston Barton in Upton Pyne parish.

The introduction to the Cartulary of Canonsleigh Abbey adds: “The Ayshford family were tenants of the Claviles… Stephen de Ayshford was contemporary with Walter de Clavile II and witnessed the foundation charter in company with five of his sons.”[6] These witnesses are named in the Cartulary itself as “Stephen de Aysforde and Walter, William, Richard and Robert and Simon his sons”.[7]

About 1160 Stephen of Ashford gave land at Ayshford and Pugham to this newly-founded house.[8]


In 1170 the country was rocked by the murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket in his cathedral at Canterbury, reputedly at the king’s instigation. One of the four knights who assassinated him was William de Tracey of Devon.


Walter, the couple’s eldest son, died young.

Stephen died about 1180, probably around 70 years old.

His second son William inherited Ayshford and Stevenston. The third son, Robert, married Bertha, who predeceased him. The daughter Agnes was also widowed. Heather Ayshford adds: “We only know of this and some later generations because of the detailed records kept at the Priory. The canons kept a close eye on their property, most of which had been donated by their neighbours, including the Ayshfords…

“As a farewell to Stephen, perhaps this is a good moment to mention the Stevenston Great Oak which stands or rather leans at the entrance to that estate. Once huge, this old tree is mentioned by name on the earliest maps and can hardly be less than 600 years old.”[9]


[1] G.W. Copeland.

[2] F. & H. Ayshford, Notes Towards a History of the Ayshford Family of Devon. Typescript booklet.

[3] Worthy, Charles,. Devon Wills, London: Bemrose (1896)

[4] Debbie Kennett

[5] Ayshford

[6] The Cartulary of Canonsleigh Abbey. DCRS New Series Vol.8 (Harleian MS no.3660), ed.Vera C. M. London.1965, p.xxi.

[7] ibid. p.3.

[8] G.W. Copeland

[9] Ayshford




Sampson Tree