Sunday, 30 July 2017

Smith of Leicester: Susanna Smith

Who was Susanna Smith? I know that she was my 6th great grandmother, but her name, the date of her marriage and her death are all I know. By looking at the village in which she lived and the era that she lived in I think I found an answer.

It is in the small village of Barkby, that lies just south of Syston and four miles south-east of Leicester, that we first meet Susanna Smith. Susanna is the last of my Smith ancestors, where she came from, who her parents were and where they lived, is at present, a mystery.

 If you take a stroll through Barkby today and take away the cars, the telegraph poles and satellite dishes you will find it much as it was centuries ago, you will still see the village's babbling brook, brick footbridge, framework knitters cottages, and it local public house (parts of which date back to 1245.) Susanna first appears here (in records at least) in the early part of the 18th century, as a single woman alone in the village with no family.

The story of my last Smith ancestor continues on my website

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Smith of Leicester - A Family History

Are you named Smith, do you come from Leicester? If so you may be interested in my latest blog on my website, the introduction to this family - the enclosure and the Industrial Revolution would affect my ancestors.

The County of Leicestershire covers an area of eight hundred and thirty two miles and is divided into eight districts, including the City of Leicester, which sits at its centre. Leicestershire has long been associated with farming, engineering and textiles. It was agriculturist Robert Bakewell who farmed just outside Loughborough, who was cited by Darwin in his Origin of the Species for his work in selective breeding. In John Taylor's Loughborough Bell Foundry, Great Paul, Britain's largest cast bell, that now resides in St Paul's Cathedral, was made. The stocking frame invented by William Lee in 1589 would appear in Leicestershire homes at the very beginning of the 17th century. This stocking frame would create employment in the county right up to the present day - interestingly, at the time of writing the textile company Wolsey, established in Leicester in 1755 and one of the oldest existing textile companies in the world, closed it factory.  

The district of Charnwood is an area that lies to the north of Leicester, it takes its name from the Charnwood Forest. It is the home of coal mines and the aforementioned stocking frame industry, and it is in this one district that a quarter of my paternal ancestors originated. The villages in which my ancestors lived surround the forest. Lying on the forest’s north-west side are the mining communities of Thringstone, Whitwick, Colorton and Swannington, to the north-east are the towns that are associated with the framework knitting industry that of Loughborough, Syston and Wymeswold. Just over thirteen miles to the south-west lies Hinckley (a separate district that is combined with Bosworth) that too is associated with textiles.

My story continues on my website

Friday, 14 July 2017

The Manor of Meavy, Devon.

Beginnings of a New Era

Compared to the size of the manor houses of the Tudor period, the 13th century manor house of William and Gilda Meavy was quite small, a farm house really, but a good example of what money could buy within the social group the Meavy’s belonged.  Meavy house had its new great parlour, the next step up from their Anglo-Saxon great hall, that was still the focus of the family's daily life. It was in this period great that halls began to develop in every kind of residence, from the likes of the Meavy’s home, to the merchant houses and the castles of their lords. Interestingly, the great hall has continued to be an important part of the English home,  today we often refer to an old manor house as a hall, even the area that joins our entrance to the rest of the rooms within our own homes is called a hall. The Meavy’s home would grow and increase in size as the years passed, but still a smaller version of the manor houses of the those who were wealthier and who had been rewarded for deeds done on behalf the the crown. The size of the house would reflect this, a way of impressing your importance on other members of the nobility; the grander the manor the more self-important a lord would feel. The growth of the manor house can be seen up and down the country, Charnney Manor house in Oxfordshire, Stokesay Castle in Shropshire and Ingtham Mote in Kent are all  fine examples of the progression the the manor house, and as each successive generation took up residence the bigger the house became. As a family, the Meavy’s would reach their peak in the reign of Richard II, the family home however would continue to be improved until the reign of Elizabeth I.

The story of my Meavy ancestors continues on my website

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Family History of Meavy: Walter, Wido and William

Of Land and Sheep and Primogeniture.
In the latest installment of the story of my Devon ancestors, we find them living under the rule of King John and his son Henry III.

It has been estimated that in the 11th century there were only 27 persons to the square mile in Devon, and it stood thirteenth in the country in order of density of population. Devon was underpopulated, underdeveloped and poor. However, the 12th and 13th centuries were periods of immense change. Free movement of peasants who had land granted to them by their lord increased the number of new settlements. During the reign of both Richard I and King John we see these freehold estates turning into what we know now as parishes. The hamlets of Hoo Meavy, Good-a-Meavy, High Meavy, Maker Meavy and Meavy itself would all be regarded as a parish, and by the beginning of the 13th century they would have a new lord over them. Who he was is a bit of a mystery.

This mystery man's wife was my ancestor Gilda, a lone daughter with a reasonable inheritance, she was born into a time of tension and favouritism within the royal family, this favouritism threatened to be exploited by a foreign power, that left unchecked, could plunge the country into chaos, however the sons of Henry II managed to achieve this all by themselves, without any outside help. The death of Henry in 1189 left the country in the hands of his third son Richard, a continuous thorn in his side and who, along with two of his brothers, had taken up arms against their father whom they sought to dethrone. Richard’s death, ten years later, in the arms of his wailing mother, left John to pick up the pieces and run the country on an empty treasury.

Walter, Wido, William/Gilda's story continues on my website

Friday, 5 May 2017

Family History of Meavy in Devon

12th to the 14th Century

The second chapter of my research into my 12th century Devon ancestors is complete. On national level it deals with the early reign of William Rufus, William the Conquerors son, and the transference of baronial lands. On a local level it deals with royal charters and grants of land from my ancestors to the family's local priory. 

"By the beginning of the 12th century the Normans began to introduce a system of reclamation with the aim of clearing and cultivating waste land. They achieved this by granting small estates on the edges of moorland to those who would make good the land by farming and the raising of stock. These new ‘landowners’ would become free-tenants. Once again, the remoteness of the Meavy settlement was an advantage, it enabled the family to prosper. In return for their ‘good fortune’ they would make gifts of food, money and eventually land to their local church, it is in this, the gifting of land to the Priory of Plympton, that we get our first mention of this ancient family going under the surname of Mewi.

In a Charter dated 904, Edward the Elder granted land at Plympton to Asser, Bishop of Sherbourne in exchange for a monastery to be built at Plympton, this Anglo-Saxon collage housed a community of secular canons. According to the Domesday Book the college consisted of a Dean and four prebendaries. By 1121, the college's days were numbered, William Warelwast, Bishop of Exeter dissolved the collage in order to establish a house for Augustinian monks. This new build was Plympton Priory. Dedicated to St Peter and St Paul the priory is situated just seven miles south of Meavy."

The image below is an example of a 13th century Charter dealing with land in Bere Ferrers in Devon that lies on the Rivers Tavy and Tamar, north of Plymouth, around the same time and in the same area as my Meavy family.

You can read the whole chapter on my website at

Monday, 24 April 2017

1066 and Onwards

Life for my Meavy ancestors in the centuries between their beginnings as an isolated Dumnonii tribe, and the invasion of the Normans would not have changed at all, it was still a hard and meager existence. They would still have hunted and farmed and defended what was theirs, the only difference during those years was who they defended their property from. The Meavy’s may not have heard of the kings who sat on the throne of England, but by the time the Domesday commissioners came knocking at their doors, they might not have known who William the Conqueror was, but they would certainly know exactly what he wanted. 

Many villages that had been ravaged by marauding Norman soldier in the days and weeks after Hastings saw the taxable value of their land fall to half its value in 1086, a direct result of the devastation of twenty years previous.

These great changes can be viewed in the Conqueror’s great Domesday Book of 1086, where the effect of the invasion on England’s population can be calculated, as can the change of ownership of land. Written in Latin and Roman numerals - the language of the church, the Domesday Book was an evaluation of land for the purpose of tax, it stated who held it and what was on it. When this book was compiled it had no name, but was soon referred to as the Book of Winchester because it was kept in the royal treasury there. By 1170 this great work was popularly called the Domesday Book. Not only did it gather information about the land it was also an attempt to sort out disagreements over what land belonged to whom, and it is here for the first time that we see exactly what land the family of Meavy owned and it is the first time we see Meavy, as a village, written down.
The latest chapter, dealing with my Devon ancestors at the time of the Norman Conquest is now complete. You can read more of their story on my blog at:

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Its 1086 The Time of the Domesday Book

It's 1086 and Judheal of Totnes, a Breton knight, lords it over four of the five manors of my ancestors.  

Life for my Meavy ancestors in the centuries between their  beginnings as an isolated Dumnonii tribe and the invasion of the Normans would not have changed at all, it was still a hard and meager existence. They would still have hunted and farmed and defended what was theirs, the only difference during those years was who they defended their property from. The Meavy’s may not have heard of the kings who sat on the throne of England, but by the time the Domesday commissioners arrived at the doors they might not have known who William the Conqueror was but they would certainly know exactly what he wanted. 

Soon after Hastings the new Norman king was quick to realise the importance of securing the West Country, the first step in achieving this was to take Exeter, the fourth largest city in the country.  This town was still controlled by the Godwin family. Harold’s son had fled to Ireland but his mother, Gytha, who still lived within the city walls held out against the Norman forces during William’s return to Normandy, however on his return to England he made Exeter his first port of call. Exeter’s city walls withstood an eighteen month winter siege, many of the Norman soldiers succumbed to the cold, eventually though Exeter fell and Gytha escaped with her granddaughters to island of Flatholme in the Bristol Channel. There is no mention of Harold's son’s at the Siege of Exeter and it may well be that they were already in Ireland. Gytha’s stand at Exeter in 1068 wasn’t the last effort by the Godwins to take back some control of their father's country. Inevitably though, Devon would submit to Norman control, but before that Harold’s sons would give the invaders a run for their money. 

The story of my Devon ancestors, the Meavys continues on my website