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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)


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JAMES TAVERNER was born in Moretonhampstead in 1759.

Baptism. Moreton Hampstead, St Andrews
1759 June 22d was Baptized James Son of William Taverner.

His mother was probably Mary Langamead.

His father, William Taverner, appears to have been a yeoman farmer.[1]


Treleavean’s Diary for 1799 gives James’s surname as ‘Avery alias Tavernor’, but in the registers he appears only as Taverner. ‘Avery alias Taverner’, or vice versa, occurs as a surname in a number of parishes around the eastern side of Dartmoor. James’s family appear under only one of these surnames in the registers of the parishes through which they migrated, but the surname used is not always the same one, even for the same individual. In 16th century Bovey Tracey they were Averye, switching to Tavernor around 1600. In 17th century Lustleigh, they went back to Avery, switching to Tavernor around 1700. The Avery surname appears only once in the Moreton Hampstead registers, early in the 18th century. From then on, they are recorded as Taverner. But Treleaven’s Diary shows that the full alias was still known and in common use at the end of this century.


James was a husbandman at the time of his death, in his 70s, and probably throughout his life, although at times he took on the post of turnpike gate-keeper. Wheeled traffic did not reach Moreton until the opening of the Exeter turnpike road in 1772. The new road from Moreton to Princetown across Dartmoor was built in 1780-92.[2]

His brother Daniel became a carpenter. Besides farming, other Tavernors took up crafts such as saddlery.


MARY WITHYCOMBE born in North Bovey, a village just to the south of Moreton, on the edge of Dartmoor. She was the youngest of the seven children of John Withycombe and Joan Frost and born in the same year as James.

Baptism. North Bovey
1759  Withycombe, Mary  d. of John & Joan  Dec 4


By the time she was married at 24, she was living, and presumably working, in Moreton.

No other Withycombes are recorded in Moreton at this time.


In 1796 William Marshall came from Norfolk to study farming methods in Devon. He wrote[3]:

The natives of Devonshire are mostly of good person; tall, straight, and well featured. Many of the women are of elegant figure.


Treleaven’s Diary records for 10 December 1783,

James Taverner, aged 24, married Mary Withycombe, sojourner.

In the banns James was described as ‘Batchelor of this Parish’ and Mary as ‘Spinster of the same.’ But the entry in the parish register puts it slightly differently.


Marriage: Moretonhampstead, St Andrews.
James Taverner of this Parish and Mary Withycombe Inhabitant

Married in this Church by Banns this 10th Day of Decr in the Year One Thousand seven Hundred and eighty three by me Saml Cabre [Curate]

This Marriage was          )   The Mark of (X) James Taverner
Solemnized between Us )    The Mark of (X) Mary Withycombe

In the           )  Gilbert Taverner
Presence of )   Loyalty Taverner


Treleaven’s Diary describes Mary as a ‘sojourner’ and the marriage register as an ‘inhabitant’, while James is ‘of this parish’. This shows that she was still regarded as a temporary resident and had not yet qualified, or had not applied, for Moretonhampstead to be deemed her parish of settlement for the purposes of the Poor Law.

Neither James nor Mary could sign their own names.

The witnesses cannot be the first Taverner couple to appear in the Moretonhampstead registers, with the baptism of a child in 1713, since that Loyalty died in 1751. Gilbert, however, might still have been alive in his eighties. It seems more probable that this was their son Gilbert (57) and his daughter Loyalty (21). Both were literate. No relative of Mary witnessed the wedding.


The couple had four children.

Baptisms. Moretonhampstead St Andrews.
1785  March 29th was Baptized James Son of James Taverner
1787  April 6th was Baptized John son of James Taverner
1789  July 12th was Baptized Mary Daughter of James Taverner
1791  June 17th was Baptized Betty Daughter of James Taverner

Betty always appears in the registers under this diminutive form of her name. But in Treleaven’s Diary and in her father’s will, she is Elizabeth.


Mary died when the children were small.

Burial. Moretonhampstead, St Andrews.
1792  June 14th Mary the Wife of James Taverner.


The following spring, James remarried. Banns were read for ‘James Taverner Widdower of this Parish and Mary Berry Spinster of the same.


The marriage entry is interesting.

Marriage: Moretonhampstead, St Andrews.
James Taverner of this Parish and Mary Berry of the same

Married in this Church by Banns this twemty second Day of April in the Year One Thousand seven Hundred and ninety three by me John Tothill [Curate]

This Marriage was          )   James Taverner
Solemnized between Us )    ł  the Mark of Mary Berry

In the           )  Betty Berry      Joanna Taverner
Presence of ) Gilbt Taverner

If this is the same James, as seems highly probable, he had learned to write a competent hand between his first marriage and his second. He was now nearly 35. The signature is almost identical with Joanna Taverner’s. Perhaps they had the same teacher. There is no clear identification for Joanna, but she may be the younger Gilbert’s wife, formerly Joan Cook. This Gilbert was either James’s uncle or older cousin.

Treleaven’s Diary tells us more about James Taverner:

1799  Tue. Dec. 3rd.  The Trustees of the Turnpike met at the School House and let the Turnpike Gates for one year, as follows, Folly-Lane-Gate, kept by John Easton, who returned the last year £48.0.0  the Gate was taken by James Avery alias Tavernor at £58.0.0.  This Tavernor kept the same Gate some years since, when ’tis thought there was more travelling then at present and returned but £28.0.0 in the year.  Here, I shall leave the Reader to make his Remarks.  Bughead-Cross-Gate, kept, and taken by Joe Berry, at (about) 40s. more then he returned the last year.  New-Bridge-Gate, kept, and taken by William Howe, at 20s more than he returned last year.

The suggestion seems to be that James had been pocketing some of his tolls.

This was the East Gate, or Folley Lane Gate. Folley Lane is a continuation of Cross Street, beyond the Cross Tree. It is now the road to Exeter, but was formerly the road to Newton Abbot.

The following year, James again took the Folly Lane Gate. This time, he seemed able to return an increased sum. It was clearly the busiest of the town’s tollgates. Folley Cottage, built in 1893, now stands on the site of the old keeper’s cottage.

Site of the Folley Lane Gate and tollkeeper’s cottage

1800  Tue. Dec. 2nd.  A Meeting at the School House of the Trustees of the Turnpike Road to let the three Gates, and were taken for one year by the following Persons  James Tavernor  Folly-Lane Gate £60.  Bugshead Cross Gate  John Easton (vice) Joe Berry £27.15s.0   Dunsford Bridge Gate  Wm . Howe £13.15.0.



James’s second wife Mary may have died when the children were in their teens.

Burial. Moretonhampstead, St Andrews.
1803  Feby 3rd Mary Taverner.


In 1803 the name of William Withecombe, Taylor, was drawn at Exeter Castle as one of Moreton’s contribution to the militia. He was later rejected for not being tall enough. He may have been Mary Withycombe’s older brother, but the date of his subsequent marriage suggests he was a younger man.[4]


Unusually for the period, all James and Mary’s children seem to have survived childhood. In 1811 their daughter Mary married William Diment and three years later her sister Betty married the fishmonger’s son.

Treleaven’s Diary, 1814: Sunday, March 13. Married Walter, the son of Thomas Hutchings, Fishmonger, to Elizabeth, daughter of James Taverner, at the Turnpike Gate.

James had evidently continued to keep this gate, and the family were living in the cottage beside it.

Treleaven’s Diary records that Moreton’s roads to the outside world were still developing.

1815 Wed. Mar. 1st.  The new line of road from Moretonhampstead to Dunsford is now open to the public, and it is indeed, a delightful alteration, the high hills are completely avoided and scenes at once new and romantic present themselves for the contemplation of the admiring traveller.


James’s second son, John, became a husbandman in the neighbouring parish of Lustleigh.[5]


Another James Taverner died in 1821.
1821  James Taverner  Town  17 May  62

We know from the details of his will that this was not our James, who died in 1832, at the age of 73.

Three months before his death, the 1832 Reform Act completed its stormy passage through both Houses of Parliament. It enfranchised every male householder rated at £10 or above. We do not whether James already had the vote, but if not, he did not live long enough to benefit from the Act.

We can assume that he died as the result of illness, not a sudden accident, since he made his will before an attorney on 4 Aug and referred to the bed ‘on which I now lie’. Though he was described as a husbandman at the time of his death, James was then living in the town.

He chose as his executor Thomas Battershill, pensioner and yeoman. James’s daughter had married the grandson of John Battershill, so there was probably a friendship between these two families.

James died three weeks after making his will, on 26 Aug.

He was buried two days later.

Burial Moretonhampstead, St Andrews
1832  James Taverner  Town 28th Augst  75


His estate amounted to less than £100. He had money in a savings bank in Exeter. Besides his household goods, furniture and clothes, he also possessed books, prints, pictures, the bed ‘on which I now lie’, two iron pots and earthenware. His daughter Elizabeth, wife of Thomas Hutchings, Stonecutter, was to have any of these she wanted. The rest, and his remaining property, was to be converted into money. There was a legacy of ten shillings for his son John in Lustleigh. After paying funeral and legal expenses, the rest was to be held in trust and invested at interest by Thomas Battershill, for the sole use of Elizabeth (who is always known in the parish registers as Betty). She is to receive the interest from this and can request other payments in writing. The will is quite specific that the money is for her ‘sole and separate use’  and that her husband ‘shall have nothing whatever to do therewith’.

At first sight, this might seem to indicate that Thomas Hutchings had been keeping his wife short of money, or that he was likely to dissipate it in drink or gambling. In fact, it was normal to make such specifications in bequests to women. Common law assumed that a husband had a right to his wife’s property and that his creditors could seize it to reclaim his debts. It was therefore desirable to make it quite clear that the money was legally hers alone.u

What is surprising is that there was such a small legacy for John, and no bequests to James’s eldest son James or to his elder daughter Mary, both of whom were still alive. It may be that James had made generous provision for them during his lifetime, though James junior does not appear to have taken over his father’s farm, since nine years later he is recorded as a mason. It may be that Betty was in greater financial need than the others, or that she had been caring for him in his old age.


The 1841 census lists James and Mary’s eldest son, James Taverner, age 55, still living at East Turnpike and working as a mason. With agriculture in decline, he had left his father’s occupation on the land, and become a craftsman.


[1] Moretonhampstead Apprentice Indentures, 1740.
[2] R. O. Heath, Sparrowhawk: The Story of Moretonhampstead, 1977, [WSL].
[3] William Marshall, The Rural Economy of the West of England, (Nicol, 1796), Vol. I.
[4] Treleaven’s Diary, www.Moretonhampstead.org.uk
[5] Will of James Taverner, 1832.







Lee Tree