Monthly Archives: March 2018

THE BIG RED BOOK 18: peppercorn rent

Nicholas, the second surviving son of William Tapson [of Launceston], married Mary Walter in 1784 at Stowford, where their thirteen Children, Elizabeth, Ann, Mary, John, Charlotte, Nicholas, Jenny, William, Robert, Catherine, Ebsworthy, Emlin and Christopher were all baptized. The baptismal entry for Nicholas’s wife also appears in the Stowford parish register (but is much more legible in the bishop’s transcripts):

3 Mar 1761 Mary dau of John & Elizabeth Walters

Mary was about six years younger than Nicholas.

On 1 October 1770 Nicholas’s father, William, in association with William Spry of
Thrushelton and John Hall of Stowford, had taken out a one-year lease on Parish Land at Over Spry (WDRO 891/615) for a rent described as One Pepper Corn. Over Spry was probably land on high ground overlooking Spry Town, a hamlet about one and a half miles south-west of Stowford village and immediately to the south of Barbaryball, William’s main holding; the hamlet was called Sprei in the Domesday Book of 1086. William and his associates did not retain the lease of the Parish Land for long, because in the earliest of the surviving land tax assessment returns, those of 1780 to 1783, the occupier was named as John Walter (perhaps Nicholas’s father-in-law). The land tax assessments for 1784 to 1786 are missing, but by 1787 Nicholas had acquired the lease (page 167). Extracts from the
Stowford land tax returns already given (pages 167, 168) show that he was still farming the Parish Land in 1811. Nicholas continued to farm the Parish Land until his death in 1813; in 1812 he also took a one-year lease on Spry Mills.




One event in William’s life has been recorded by Alfred F. Robbins on page 309 of his book Launceston Past and Present published in 1888. Discussing crime in Launceston during the early part of the century, the author cites the following case:


A still more striking instance of the ease with which those guilty of murder escaped the gallows, while a multitude of lesser offenders were hurried into eternity, was afforded in 1814.

An execution for rent had been “put in” at Higher Bamham, and the Sheriff’s officers went on a Saturday to levy distress. They found the door to be locked, and, having waited until the next day and still gained no admittance, they called upon the borough constables (then chosen annually from among the inhabitants) to assist them to break open the door. The constables (Samuel Jory, a Broad Street tradesman, Joshua Farthing, a sergeant of militia, and William Tapson, keeper of the Plymouth Dock, now the Devonport, Inn) went to Bamham on the Sunday accordingly, and were preparing to force an entrance, the farmer and his two sons being within, when Jory was shot dead through the doorway. Nothing daunted, the remaining constables made their way in and arrested the three, who were committed to the assizes at Bodmin charged with the murder.



The Will of John Tapson dated 13 June 1862


This is the last Will and Testament of me John Tapson of Cannon Barn in the parish of Thrushelton in the County of Devon Farmer and being now of sound mind I make the following disposition of all my property as below. I t To my Sister Mrs Ann Rice I bequeath All my leasehold Cottages situate in the Village of Lew Down in the parish of Lewtrenchard in the County of Devon. 2°ndly To my Sister Mrs Mary Hamley of Higher Mills I bequeath All my Cottages situate on Holster Yard in the parish of Marystowe in the County of Devon together with the sum of Fifteen pounds in money of the Realm. 3rdly To each of my Nephews (to wit) George Rice, John Rice and John Hamley I bequeath respectively the sum of Twenty five pounds and to each of my nieces (to wit) Catherine Hamley, Mary Hamley, Joanna Hamley, Ann Rice and Catherine Rice I bequeath respectively the sum of Twenty five pounds. 4thlyy To my neice Mary Rice I bequeath all my Goods and Chattels together with my real and personal Estate subject to the above conditions and I hereby appoint her whole and sole Executrix of this my last Will and Testament. In witness whereof I have hereunto set my name this thirteenth day of June One thousand eight hundred and sixty two. John Tapson


We learn from this will that each of John’s two sisters had children. George Rice, whose name appears in the 1841 census for Cannon Bam, was one of Ann’s sons, and two of her daughters, Mary and Catherine, are listed in the 1861 return for Cannon Bam. Ann and her husband, George, lived in Lewtrenchard, the parish immediately to the south of Thrushelton parish, in which were situated the cottages which John bequeathed to Ann; the hamlet of Lew Down, the address of the cottages, is on the old A30, less than a mile north-west of Lewtrenchard village. The cottages which John bequeathed to his other sister, Mary, were at Holster Yard in Marystow, the address in the 1851 census of John’s second cousin Elizabeth Doidge.


John died on 19 June 1862 at the age of 58, six days after making his will; his death certificate* records that he was a farmer and that he died at Lifton of heart disease. John’s body was taken back to Stowford where he was buried on 24 June 1862. Two months later, on 26 August 1862, his will was proved at Exeter by the oath of Mary Rice, Spinster, Niece of the deceased, and his effects were valued at under £600. John’s was only the fourth Tapson will to be proved in the civil probate court, which took over probate matters from the ecclesiastical courts on 11 January 1858. The opening formula of the earlier wills, committing the soul of the testator to God and his body to a decent burial, has now been abandoned, the language has become more concise and the layout considerably more logical. It is interesting that, like his father and baby brother and then his mother, John was buried at Stowford. His father, although born in Stowford, had moved to Thrushelton when he was 17 years old, or soon afterwards, and the others were all born in, and spent their lives in, Thrushelton; yet they still retained an attachment to Stowford. Also taken back to Stowford for burial were William and Ann of Launceston and John and Mary Ann of Tamerton Foliot.

Headstones survive for Robert Tapson of Cannon Bara (died 13 November 1808), his widow Catherine (died 18 July 1856), and their sons Robert (died 23 February 1810) and John (died 19 June 1862).


autumn_path THRUSHELTON




The parish of Stowford lies due west of Bridestowe parish, from which it is separated by Thrushelton parish. Immediately west of Stowford parish is the parish of Lifton, of which the western boundary is the river Tamar separating Devonshire from Cornwall. Just beyond the Tamar is the ancient Cornish market town of Launceston; this is the town towards which, as we shall see, many of the Tapsons of Stowford gravitated. The villages of Sourton, Bridestowe, Thrushelton, Stowford and Litton all lie close to the old A30 as it proceeds westwards from Okehampton, the nearest town for the Tapsons of Bridestowe, to Launceston.

The old name of Launceston, Dunheved, indicates that it was a fortified place in Celtic times; this is the purport of the Celtic word dun. Launceston has had a castle since Saxon times; there may still be some remnants of the Norman castle, but most of the present remains date from the time of Henry VIII. Launceston was formerly the county town of Cornwall, where the assizes were held; the assizes were later held at both Launceston and Bodmin until they were finally transferred to Bodmin in 1838.

Stowford has a fine church in the Perpendicular style. Its parish registers survive from 1707, but there are some fragmentary bishop’s transcripts from before that date; there is no mention of a Tapson in these fragments…because the Stowford Tapsons were, from an early date, moving out of and back into their parish much more.

The story of the Tapsons of Stowford actually begins in the parish of Marystow ten years before the earliest Tapson entry in the Stowford parish registers. Marystow is the parish immediately to the south of Stowford parish; its early registers are quite difficult to read, but the bishop’s transcripts which survive are highly legible.

By 1752 William and Elizabeth Tapson with their children, William, Elizabeth and Anne (Maty having already died), had moved to Stowford, where Robert, Nicholas and Ebsworthy were born and where their son William died at the age of 19. William seems quickly to have become involved in village affairs at Stowford: the bishop’s transcripts were signed William Tapson Churchwarden for the years beginning Ladyday 1753, Ladyday 1760 and Ladyday 1761. William died in 1785. He had married at the age of 39, had his last child when he was 57, and died at the age of 82.


THE BIG RED BOOK 14: what goes up…


In 1800 Nicholas was living in Okehampton with his parents (page 143), but he had moved to Launceston by 1801 and was in Shebbear, near Holsworthy, in 1804 (page 145). However, he was back in Bridestowe for his marriage on 20 February 1810 to Mary Coombe, and the subsequent baptisms of their ten children are recorded in the Bridestowe parish register, as are the burials of four of them as infants: William on 9 February 1817, John on 25 July 1818, Elizabeth on 15 August 1819, and Dionysia on 23 May 1834. Nicholas himself was buried at Bridestowe on 4 January 1833, shortly before the baptism of Dionysia, whose baptismal entry names her father as the late Nicholas Tapson. In his burial entry Nicholas’s age was given correctly as 53.

A census of England, Wales, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands has been held at ten-year intervals from 1801, except in 1941 during the Second World War. The first four censuses did not ask for the names of residents, so for the genealogist the first useful census is that of 1841. From 1841 the census returns list every person in each house on a given night (and night-workers who would return to the house in the morning)…

In the 1841 census exact ages are given only for children up to the age of 14; for adults ages are grouped into five-year bands: 15 is written for the band 15-19, 20 for the band 20-24, etc. In subsequent censuses exact ages were asked for, but not always forthcoming.


The 1841 census for Bridestowe (PRO HO107/231/6 Fo. 7) has the entry:


  • Mary Tapson 45-49 Labourer Born in Devonshire


  • Robert Tapson 11 Born in Devonshire


Mary must be Nicholas’s widow and Robert their youngest surviving child. The 1851 census provides much more detail, including marital status, occupation and place of birth (PRO HO107/1885 Fo. 262):


Bridestowe Village


  • Mary Tapson Head Widow 61 Pauper Devon, Bridestowe


  • John Tapson Son Un 24 Limequarry Lab Devon, Bridestowe


Mary had taken two years off her age in the earlier census in order to put herself into a lower age bracket; her age given here is consistent with her having been married at the age of 20, and dates her birth to about 1790. At 21 Robert had left home, but John was back with his mother. It is a sad observation that the widow of the eldest grandson of Ebsworthy who inherited all the Tapson lands is now classified as a pauper: a sorry tale of riches to rags in two generations.



The Will of Nicholas Tapson dated 18 September 1742


IN THE NAME OF GOD AMEN I Nicholas Tapson of Briddestow in the County of Devon Yeoman being in Health of Body and of a sound and perfect Mind and Memory…do hereby make publish and declare this my last Will and Testament . And Whereas in and by certain Indentures of Lease and Release bearing date the first and second days of July One thousand seven hundred and thirty seven upon the conclusion of a Marriage which is since solemnized between Ebsworthy Tapson my Son and Dionissa Burnaford I the said Nicholas Tapson Did thereby convey unto Peter Burnaford Clerk and John Herring Gentleman and their Heirs All that Messuage or Tenement called Easter Bidlake otherwise Little Bidlake otherwise Lower Bidlake To the Use of myself and my Assigns during my naturall Life Subject to the Annuity therein mentioned And after my Death To the Use of the said Ebsworthy Tapson and his Assigns during his Life Subject to the Annuity therein mentioned And after the Deaths of me the said Nicholas Tapson and the said Ebsworthy Tapson To the Use of the said Dionissa during her naturall Life Subject to the Annuity therein mentioned And after the Deaths of me the said Nicholas Tapson the said Ebsworthy Tapson & Dionissa his wife Then to the Use and behoofe of the Heirs and Assigns of me the said Nicholas Tapson for ever Now I hereby Give Devise and bequeath the reversion and Inheritance of All and singular the said Messuage and  Tenement called Easter Bidlake otherwise Little Bidlake otherwise Lower Bidlake with their and every of their Rights Members and Appurtenances unto the said Ebsworthy Tapson my Son his Heirs and Assigns forever…I also Give Devise and bequeath unto the said Ebsworthy Tapson my Son his Heirs and Assigns forever All that my Messuage and Tenement with the Appurtenances called or commonly known by the name of Blatchford situate lying and being in Sourton in the said County of Devon now In the possession of Peter Pellow . I also Give and bequeath unto each of my four Grand Children John Nicholas Robert and Anne Sons and Daughter of my Son Nicholas Tapson deceased the Sum of Five Pounds apiece to be paid them severally when and as they shall respectively attain the Age of Twenty one Years by the said Ebsworthy Tapson…I also Give Devise and bequeath unto the said Ebsworthy Tapson my Son his Heirs and Assigns forever All that my Messuage and Tenement with all its Rights Members and Appurtenances called or commonly known by the name of Ebsworthy situate lying and being in the said Parish of Briddestow But Subject to and chargeable with the Maintenance Apparell Clothing and Education of my Grand Son Henry Tapson Son of my said son Nicholas for and during the Term of his naturall Life I do hereby order direct and appoint That he find and provide to and for Henry Tapson good and sufficient Meat Drink Washing Lodging and Apparell of every sort fit and convenient for a Person of his Degree…I Also Give and bequeath unto John Newcombe of Briddestow aforesaid Yeoman the Sum of Ten Pounds to be paid unto him By my Executor within one Year after my decease In trust to and for the only sole and separate Use Benefit and Behoofe of my Daughter Anne the Wife of William Coombe of Sourton aforesaid Yeoman separate and apart from her said Husband And to be disposed of as she the said Anne shall think fitt without His Controul or Intermeddling therein…I Also Give and bequeath unto Catherine my Daughter the Sum of Sixty Pounds…I also Give and bequeath unto the said Catherine my Daughter the Bed performed in which she usually lyes I also give unto Anne my Wife the Use of my best Bed performed in the Parlour Chamber The Table Board Cubboard and four Chairs in the Parlour, one Brass Pott, one Brass Pan Six Pewter Dishes and Six Pewter Plates such as She shall think proper to choose for her naturall Life And after her Death I Give and bequeath the same unto the said Ebsworthy Tapson my Son . And I do hereby order direct and appoint that the said Ebsworthy Tapson His Heirs Executors and Administrators do and shall at his and their own Cost and Charges maintain educate and provide for my said four Grand Children John Nicholas Robert and Anne until] they shall respectively attain their several Ages of Twenty one Years All the rest and residue of my Lands Tenements Goods Chattles Household Goods ready Money Bills Bonds and Mortgages not herein before given and bequeathed I Give Devise and bequeath unto the said Ebsworthy Tapson my Son And I do hereby make constitute ordain and appoint him the said Ebsworthy Tapson to be the whole and sole Executor of this my last Will and Testament He paying my just Debts Legacys and Funeral Expenses In witness whereof I have hereunto sett my Hand and Seal & published and declared this to be my last Will and Testament the Eighteenth day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and forty two     Nicholas Tapson



If you are always looking out for an original take on the standard murder story, look no further than Clare O’ Beara’s fast-moving tale of mystery. Here the conventions of the police procedural have to give way; the police don’t seem able to proceed very far in finding the murderer of Laurel Cabot. Instead they accept the advice and deductions of the members of a Mensa convention hosted by the Dublin Mensa but featuring people of high IQ from all over the world.

It’s always good to have plenty of background interest in a crime tale, and I enjoyed learning more about Mensa, IQ testing, horse-racing, Dublin, and tree surgery along the way.

The tale has pace and interest all through, and Cara Cassidy, the heroine of the investigation, is an engaging character who goes on to feature in the sequels to this book.

It’s also very humorous, if the portrayal is accurate then members of Mensa deeply enjoy jokes and especially puns. Who could fail to enjoy a book that features an estate agents company called ‘Mycroft Homes’?

The book is well presented, I particularly like the large font which makes it accessible to more readers. Don’t miss this if you like murder and detection stories.

Clare O’Beara



The Harleian Society edition of the 1620 Visitation to Devonshire states that Rafe de Combe had purchased Bidlake in 1309. This would have been Wester Bidlake, the next estate to Easter Bidlake owned by the Ebsworthys. His grandson John moved to Bidlake, built a house there and called himself John de Biddelake, whilst Rafe’s son William, the father of John de Biddlake, remained at Combe. By early in the Seventeenth Century a feud had developed between the Bidlakes, who were armigerous, and the Ebsworthys, who had still not registered arms even though they were an equally ancient landowning family, having lived at Ebsworthy for at least as long as the Bidlakes had lived at Wester Bidlake. In 1613 another William Bidlake and his wife, Agnes, who had become involved in several quarrels with neighbours, drew up charges against the rector of Bridestowe, Gilbert Germyn, which also implicated two Ebsworthy brothers, Peter and Paul, and their wives.

The rector had married a daughter to one of the Ebsworthys, thereby becoming involved in the quarrel between the Bidlakes and the Ebsworthys. William’s father, John, wrote a letter to William and Agnes urging them to seek peace and ensue it, warning them that suits of law are as variable as the turnings of a woadercock. Nevertheless, John and his son William pursued a lawsuit against some members of the Ebsworthy family who were living at Stone and also against Shilston Calmady of Leawood: Paul Ebsworthy’s wife, Catherine, was a daughter of Vincent Calmady of Wembury, a relative of Shilston Calmady of Leawood. Peter’s wife was Susan, daughter and heir of John Alford, a former town clerk of Okehampton.

Having detailed the charges against the rector, William and Agnes then accused Peter Ebsworthy “for usurpinge of place in the Churche, being a man of no discent, or parentage, and claiminge a Seate unfittinge for a man of his ranke and position.” It is true that the Ebsworthys had not become as wealthy as the Bidlakes, but they were nevertheless of comfortable means and had made several marriages into armigerous families. Then came the further charge “Next for his wief abusing of my wief in goinge to the Communion, by blowes and afterwards with disgrace full words.”

Then William and Agnes charged Paule Ebsworthy “for layinge of violent handes upon my wief in the Church yard: and his wiefs scouldinge, Katheren Ebsworthy using these wordes before the Parson unto her sister, Peter’s wief, that her sister might be ashamed to suffer such to goe before her as my wief was.”

The case against Parson Germyn was heard by the Bishop of Exeter at Okehampton in May 1613. William died in 1625, leaving a substantial personal estate of around £700; In 1641 Agnes moved to South Devon, where she died in 1651.



Th[is] marriage is recorded in the Lydford parish register: 2 Jul 1737 Ebsworthy Tapson of Bridestowe and Dionisia Burnaford of Lid ford by licence

In Mann’s transcript of Exeter Marriage Licences Ebsworthy is described as a yeoman and Dionisia as a spinster. In 1701 Dionisia’s father, Thomas Burnaford, had been appointed rector of Lydford, one of the parishes adjoining Bridestowe and geographically the largest in England, extending over nearly 60,000 acres to cover the greater part of Dartmoor; however, the village of Lydford is only three miles south of Bridestowe village. [The term clerk at that time meant Clerk in Holy Orders.] That Thomas Burnaford could afford £100 as his part of the marriage settlement suggests that he was a man of considerable means. Peter Burnaford was either Thomas’s very much younger brother or, perhaps more likely, his son; the register of Lamerton (9 miles from Bridestowe) shows Thomas, son of Thomas Burnaford , to have been baptized on 1 January 1671/2 and Peter, son of Thomas Burnaford, on 6 October 1692. The records of the Alumni Oxonienses and of the Alumni Cantabrigienses provide the information that Thomas matriculated on 22 March 1688/9 at Exeter College, Oxford, aged 17, and obtained a B.A. at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1692, and that Peter matriculated on 31 March 1710, aged 17, at Exeter College, Oxford, whence he graduated in 1713. Peter was appointed vicar of Colyton, Devonshire, in 1729 and rector of Bridestowe in 1734, where he remained until his death in December 1778;* Thomas was rector of Lydford from 1701 to 1740. Since it was customary in a marriage settlement for one of the feoffees to be on the bride’s side and the other to be on the groom’s side, it is likely that John Herring was a friend or relative of Nicholas. As a result of the 1737 marriage settlement Peter Burnaford and John Herring effectively held Little Bidlake in trust until the death of Nicholas, who would however continue to benefit from it during his lifetime.

Six months after Ebsworthy’s wedding Nicholas’s eldest son and heir, Nicholas died; he was buried at Bridestowe on 31 January 1737/8 close to the south wall of the church and just to the right of the south porch, this prime position perhaps reflecting the importance within the village of the Tapsons of Ebsworthy Town, the address given in Nicholas’s burial entry. Nicholas would have been just 34; that this burial was his is confirmed by the inscription on the headstone of his grave:


Here lies the body of Nicholas ye son of Nicholas Tapson Sen r & Anne his wife of this parish who died ye 29th day of Jany 1737 Aged 34

Although my flesh is gone to dust

I hope to rise again

And with the number of the just

For ever to remain


The settlement made by Alexander Ebsworthy at the time of the marriage of his daughter Agnes to Nicholas Tapson of Buckland Monachorum imposed an entail on the properties being conveyed whereby, in the event of Nicholas’s death without issue of Agnes, these properties would have reverted to the Ebsworthy family. It was probably this entail which the later Nicholas Tapson now sought to break so that, his eldest son and heir dead, his second son Ebsworthy might inherit all his lands without any legal complications. The legal device for breaking an entail was known as docking a tail, and from 1536 could be achieved by means of a Fine …Abstracts are now given of the Deed to lead to the uses of a Fine and of a copy of the Final Concord (DRO 189M Add 2/F6, 7). These documents are of particular interest in that they reveal that, of all the properties which Alexander Ebsworthy settled on Nicholas Tapson and Agnes in January 1633/4, only Gnattor was no longer owned by the family over a century later; they also give details of the extent and nature of the Tapson properties.