Loosemore of Devon - Chapter 3


We have proposed in the last chapter that the family name Loosemore with its spelling variants has been adopted from the place-name Loosemoor in Oakford parish within Witheridge Hundred of Devon, and that the place-name derives from a habitation recognized as a local topographical feature since Saxon times.  Oakford is thus the cradle of Loosemore stock.

Before AD 1500

Recorded beginnings: AD 1232 – 1249

The first known occurrence of our family name appears in the Devon Eyre Roll for AD 1238, where reference is made to an event which had occurred 5½ years previously, on St. Hilary’s day 17 Hen III (i.e. 13 January 1232/3), here translated in full from the original Latin:

Robert de Sicca Villa appeals Walter Losmer, Ralph de Hapse, John the Welshman [Walensis], Roger de Hortone and Robert the huntsman that on the feast of St. Hilary in the seventeenth year they seized him at Lesmere, took him to Acford and imprisoned him there, and he offers to prove this by his body or in some other way, as the court shall decide, and he puts himself on the country.  Walter and the other appellees come, and as the appeal is null, let the country enquire.  The jurors testify that Walter and the others took and imprisoned him as aforesaid, so let them all be taken into custody.  Robert de Sicca Villa and his pledges are in mercy as he did not make suit as he appealed them in the County Court.  Later Robert the huntsman and John the Welshman came and made fine for 6s.8d, pledge John Lancelev.  Later Ralph de Lapse (sic) came and made fine for Robert de Sicca Villa’s amercement pledge Robert Mercator.  Later the same Ralph and Walter came and made fine for one mark, pledges Hugh le Poer and Robert de Sideham. [1]

A more specific record of both place and family name occurs in the Eyre Roll for the year 1249, also worth quoting in full.  In that Roll, the final court summary of Crown pleas under the heading ‘Witheridge Hundred’ states:

Richard le Waleys, William Whithorn and Margaret his wife and Beatrice the sister of the same Margaret, and Walter the son of Oregon of Hacford killed Robert le Gras at Acford and at once fled and are suspected.  Therefore let them be exacted.  And let Richard, William and Walter be outlawed and the women waived.  The chattels of the aforesaid Richard are worth 70s., for which the sheriff is to answer.  He was not in a tithing because he is free.  The chattels of the aforesaid William are worth 15s., for which the sheriff is to answer.  And he was in the tithing of Acford.  Therefore it is in mercy.  And the others had no chattels.  And Hugh de Nympton, Roger de Capella, Harding de Wik’, Prat de Wik’ and Roger de Horton were attached because they were present.  They come and are not suspected but they are in mercy because they did not capture the aforesaid evildoers.  Afterwards the aforesaid Hugh comes and makes fine for half a mark, by surety of William le Rus, clerk.  Afterwards the aforesaid Roger de Horton comes and makes fine for half a mark by surety of Walter de Losemore.  Afterwards Harding and the others come and make fine for half one mark, by surety of William Russ and Hugh de Nympton. [2]

In these translations the various spellings of Oakford (Acford, Hacford) have been retained, but several personal names have been standardised where they can be read reliably.

Before discussing the events described in the court records we must first outline the background to these Eyre visitations.  Medieval justice was a cumbersome instrument.  Under Henry III regular legal business, excluding that associated with the royal finances, was concentrated in two fixed royal courts: the senior Court of King’s Bench (Coram Rege) which remained at the king’s side, and the Court of Common Pleas (the ‘Bench’) sitting at Westminster.  In addition, the king periodically would commission a group of judges to travel through various counties, empowering them to hear all pleas, both civil and those brought by the Crown; they were also authorized to hold special inquests, conduct fiscal business, etc.  Members of this travelling group were known as ‘Justices in Eyre’ (Latin errare, to wander; French errer) and their journeyings took them to all parts of the kingdom.

The fourth major Eyre visitation under Henry III lasted through 1234–1236 and 1238.  Devon was visited in 1238, when four justices heard pleas at Exeter from 17 June to 17 July; William York, the chief justice, sat with Robert Beauchamp, William St. Edmund and Jordan Oliver.  The Devon plea roll for this last year is the sole survivor from the fourth Eyre.  The sixth Eyre occupied four years from 1246–1249.  In the first year four justices heard pleas in five northern counties, in 1247 they visited a further seven counties including Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, 1248 saw them travel through five counties including Berkshire and Wiltshire, and in the final year, 1249, they convened at Worcester (14 January–10 February), Cornwall (2–9 May), Devon, at Exeter (31 May–27 June), Somerset (1–15 July), and Dorset (15–? July).  Three justices only sat at Exeter, viz. Robert Thirkleby the senior judge, with his colleagues Gilbert Preston and John Cobham.  Once again, the only plea rolls to have survived for 1249 are those for Devon.

The last Eyre before 1238 in Devon had been held in 1228; prior to 1249 the last had been held in 1244.  One can say only that offences dealt with in 1249 had been committed some time during the previous five years; we have already seen that the alleged kidnap tried in 1238 had occurred early in 1233.  Evidently plaintiffs and defendants were required to exercise considerable patience, though Crown business would normally have had a preliminary hearing at the Hundred court and its findings would have formed the basis for a suit presented at the Eyre. [3]

Although some defendants were undoubtedly held in custody throughout the long interval between their alleged offence and the Eyre, this was very unlikely to have been the normal pattern since the costs of feeding and housing them would have been unacceptable.  In addition to dispensing a fairly rough justice a medieval court was a revenue-earning device.  For example, Henry III granted the profits of the Cornwall, Devon (portion only), Somerset and Dorset Eyres of 1249 to his brother Richard, earl of Cornwall.  Hence one often finds that instead of awarding physical punishment courts conveniently preferred to exercise mercy in return for a cash payment.  As defendants would almost certainly not have the ready cash to ‘make fine’ on the spot a surety would be required.  It was common practice for the accused to arrange this in advance so that the person proposed could present himself to the court who would then decide on his acceptability.  The translator of the 1238 Roll has used ‘pledge’ rather than ‘surety’ but the difference is simply a stylistic preference: the two words are synonymous in this present context.  The word ‘afterwards’ which appears several times in relation to the sureties makes clear that the rolls were written after all the negotiations had been completed, probably at the end of business in the Hundred, or perhaps at the end of each day.

In considering the two extracts from court records quoted above two main questions arise, viz. do Walter Losmer (1238 Roll) and Walter de Losemore (1249 Roll) refer to the same person, and are Lesmere (1238) and Losemore (1249) the same place?  As to the first, the common baptismal name, the close similarity of the two family names bearing in mind the customary variability in spelling at that time, the fact that both events occurred close to Oakford where Walter de Losemore lived, the presence in both rolls of Roger de Horton(e), a close neighbour of Losemore, taken with the remote, sparsely-populated nature of the country around Oakford, all make it rather likely that the two Walters were one and the same person.  The second question is less easy to answer with confidence.  Walter seems to have been the chief appellee in 1238, hence it would not be surprising if the prisoner was taken at his property, thus accounting for the similarity in spelling between Losemore and the unidentified Lesmere.  Yet there is little possibility of error or uncertainty in transcribing either word.  Both Rolls are in good condition and inspection shows that the 1238 court scribe distinguishes clearly between ‘e’ and ‘o’.  On the other hand, Lesmere appears in none of the standard place-name texts for Devon and, in the opinion of one authority whose views were invited, its etymology is obscure [4] whereas that of Losemore is well authenticated. [5]   A presumption of two place-names so similar in spelling within the same area may well be thought to stretch the arm of coincidence beyond reasonable limits.  One possible explanation is that the court scribe intended Losemore but committed a simple spelling error, though this can be no more than a guess.  No final conclusion can be drawn and we must leave the conclusion as only ‘probable’.

This 1238 case exemplifies the aggressive, violent behaviour typical of the ‘frontiersman’ society which was 13th century Devon.  Robert de Sicca Villa’s family were already well-established land owners, with property in Combe Regni (the modern Templeton parish) held for ½ knights fee in 1242, Scoceswyk for 1/8 knights fee in 1235 and Uppecotte for ¼ knights fee in 1235 and 1242. [6]   We may suspect that his kidnap was part of a power struggle between one of these older families and the ‘new men’ such as Walter Losmer, colonists who had recently staked their claims to wasteland, no doubt often disputed, and were now intent on bringing it into cultivation and defending it against all-comers.  Land enclosure was to remain for centuries a source of intense rivalry as entrenched positions were challenged by those other men who yearned for the social status and independence which were the rewards of land ownership.  Robert de Sicca Villa’s offer to prove his case ‘with his body or in some other way as the court shall decide’, i.e. by personal combat with weapons chosen by the court, illustrates at least one important difference between the rules of evidence then and now.

Walter Losmer’s efforts met with some success in the 16 years leading up to the 1249 homicide.  One authority has stated that in Crown pleas

… a single surety was acceptable for the common run of fines, from ½ mark [6s.8d] to a few pounds; such sureties were usually knights, prominent freeholders who may have held a seigniorial stewardship, or the sheriff himself. [7]

Thus we can be confident that Walter Losmore who stood surety for Roger de Horton was by now a prosperous freeholder of some local standing.  His land holding cannot now be determined with any accuracy but as East and West Loosemoor totalled 229 acres in 1839 it may have been around 50–100 acres in 1249. [8]

The five passive witnesses to the Oakford murder who incurred the court’s displeasure for their lack of initiative provide other clues to the social scene.  Hugh de Nympton was almost certainly from the modern Bishops Nympton, a village or tithing only 3½ miles in a direct line west of Oakford, which also gave its name to the parish; Wik’ is the modern Week, either in Chulmleigh or Bishops Nympton parish; Capella is probably a form of La Chapele, listed in the Book of Fees for 1242 and is the modern Whitechapel, also in Bishops Nympton parish. [9]   Horton, as we have already seen, is the modern Harton, a small farm still extant in Oakford parish whose boundaries are in part contiguous with Loosemoor; in 1642 it amounted to 52 acres, increasing to 105 acres plus a coppice by 1839.  This all suggests that the witnesses Hugh, Roger Capella, Harding and Prat de Wik’, all from Bishops Nympton, were visiting Roger de Horton when the murder was committed.  It would not be surprising if Roger’s neighbour Walter Losemore, freeholder of a larger property and well-known in the area, should have agreed to stand surety for him, but this is just another guess.  William le Rus, or William Russ as he is later called, was a jury member for Witheridge Hundred in the 1238 Eyre; the description ‘clerk’ suggests a possible rôle as vicar of Bishops Nympton.  Presumably his calling made him acceptable as a surety for he is unlikely to have been very prosperous.

As for the five convicted of murder and outlawed (‘waived’ was the term applied to women), their chances were slim.  ‘Exacting’ was the procedure of calling upon a person to submit himself or herself to the court but in most cases he or she took good care not to comply since the consequence would be hanging or some other terminal punishment.  With their chattels forfeit and no tithing willing to risk severe penalties for sheltering them, their only course would be to travel far enough to be unrecognised, perhaps north on to Exmoor where they might eke out a living, or to join with a band of other outlaws and exist by stealing.

We may draw a few speculative conclusions from these two episodes.  Assuming that Walter Losmer of Lesmere and Walter de Losemore were the same person we may suppose him to have acquired his freeholding, by whatever means, not too long before 1233.  He may well have taken advantage of the right to assart (enclose) land becoming available from the disafforestation agreement of 1204, though it is not clear when this agreement actually became effective.  His property, in the area north of Oakford village, had probably been cultivated intermittently from Saxon times, since when it had been known as Loosemoor, from which his family had taken its name.  By 1249 he was farming up to 100 acres or so and had become a relatively prosperous freeholder.  He may have been born about 1180–1210.  The effort required to bring into cultivation a fair-sized farm in rough, wet, moorland country and maintain it for a time sufficient to achieve prosperity must have occupied a substantial period and raises the possibility that he, or his father before him, had worked the land as a tenant of his local lord for some time before he gained his freehold.

Late thirteenth century

Chronologically the next mention of the Loosemore family occurs in a group of deeds listed in a note-book belonging to Charles Spurway, lord of the manors of Oakford and Spurway in the late nineteenth century. [10]   For convenience the deeds will be referred to by their numbers in this Spurway list.  Although the deeds are undated it is possible to establish an approximate chronology indirectly from other evidence, as we shall see.

The first is a settlement on Agnese, daughter of Richard de Spurwaye, who was marrying Robert Edwards.  The settlement concerned the transfer of lands in Beare, a hamlet in Broadclyst parish, north-east of Exeter.  It was probably those same lands which were referred to in the third deed, see below.  This Richard was the Richard de Estsprewy who in 1284–6 held

Estsprewey with members to wit Challewille and Falwarigge for ½ knights fee of John de Tracy; and the same John de Tracy of Thomas de Ralegh; and the same Thomas of Galfrid de Camvill; and Galfrid of the king. [11]

Falwarigge is the modern Valridge Farm in Oakford; Challewille has not been identified positively but it may be Castlelands, a property contiguous with Valridge.  Witnesses to the settlement were stated in the list to be Petrus de Losamore, Ricardo Q(?)atro vicario de Acford, Rogero de Midildon, Waltero de la Apse, Petrus de Wodeburne and Adam clerico qui presentam paginam perscripsit (clerk, who wrote this document).

The second deed, described by Charles Spurway as ‘The deed in a tin case with a copy of it’, concerned the grant of twelve pence a year by Robert de Fawlewrigge to Robert son of Richard de Spyrwaye Greda propter mec filiationis copaternitatem (on account of he is my godson).  The tin case is dated 2 November 1790 on the outside and the deed is an attested copy.  The original deed is lost but the 1790 copy, on parchment, survives with Mr R Spurway of Oakford manor together with a paper copy in poor condition.  I have seen this paper copy; a text, with English translation, is given in Appendix 2.  Witnesses are listed as Nicholas de Ancastre, Philippo de Sdeham, Rogero de Middledon, Petro de Wodeburne, Roberto de la Aspe, Petro de Losemore, Nicholas Hitterel, clerico, et aliis.

The third deed is described very briefly in the list as John de la Beare to Richard Greda de Spurwaye: grant of lands called Beare.  No other information of its contents is given, but the witnesses were said to be Petro de Wodeburne, Ricardo de la Forde, Nicholas de la Forde, Roberto de la Aspe, Walto de Uppecott, Petro de Losamore et multis aliis.

It is likely that deed No.3 pre-dates No.1 since it records a grant of lands to Richard Spurway which probably were the same as those transferred to John Edwards in the marriage settlement; the witnesses’ names confirm that all three deeds are roughly contemporary.  Concerning No.2, it is not known when Richard Spurway, heir of Robert Greda, the Richard referred to in the deed, died, but his eldest son Robert (filio Ricardi de Spyreweye Greda primogenito of the deed) had succeeded to East Spurway by 1303 when it is recorded that Spurway was held by Robert Grede for ½ knights fee. [12]   Hence No.2 must be dated before then, since it is reasonable to suppose that the gift to a godson would be made when the recipient was a child.  The date could be as early as c1285.

We may attempt to date the deeds a little more exactly by looking in more detail at the witnesses.  One pointer is provided by Robert, vicar of Oakford, in deed No.1.  In March 1260 the rectorship of Oakford was under sequestration and for the next several months it was placed by Bishop Bronescombe in the charge of Manasserus Fitz-Matthew. [13]   Since the lord of the manor at that time was Sir John Fitz-Matthew it is likely that Manasserus was his younger brother or some other close relative.  At some time between Michaelmas 1260 and April 1261 Manasserus must have been made Rector, for in that latter month he presented as vicar Robert de Plympton.  This appointment lasted only until July when a new vicar, Robert de la Sturte, was presented.  Robert vicarius of the deed was probably one of these two vicars.  A later limit for the deed can perhaps be fixed because in 1291 a tax-gathering operation known as the Taxation of Pope Nicholas IV was completed; Oakford was included but no vicarage was mentioned and the presumption is that by then another Rector had been instituted who, unlike Manasserus, had taken holy orders and thus required no vicar to carry out his duties.13  On this basis we may tentatively date deed No.1 between 1261 and 1291.

The inclusion of Roger de Mideldon supports this range of dates.  In 1242 and in 1285 we are told that Roger de Middelton holds Middelton for 1/8 fee. [14]   A Roger de Midelton served on a Hundred court jury at Witheridge in 1274.  Presumably these were either the same person or a father and son.  By 1303, however, a Reginaldo farmed Mildon [15] , so we may take it that the Roger in deeds Nos.1 & 2 was one of these two, consistent with dates in the range 1261-1291.

By 1285 Petrus de Wodeburne held Wodeburne for the 1/3 part of a knights fee, although in 1242 the Book of Fees states that Wodeburne was then held by Jordan Fitz Rogo. [16]   Taken together these facts are all consistent with a date for Nos.1-3 in the range 1261-1291.  No.3 may pre-date No.1 for the reasons given earlier, and as Roberto de la Apse is common to Nos. 2 and 3, while Waltero de la Apse witnessed No.1 we may presume that No.2 also pre-dates No.1.

The other witnesses also shed some light on the social standing of Peter de Losemore who was involved in all three deeds.  We have seen that in 1285 Petrus de Wodeburne held Wodeburne for 1/3 knights fee.  In the Close Roll for 1423 is a reference to 1/3 fee in Wodeburne sometime held by Thomas de West Wodburne at 33s.4d. [17]   Westwodeburne was probably the present West Wodeburne and Lower Wodeburne combined, totalling about 310 acres.  Roberto de la Apse held part of the Domesday manor of Ausa (444 acres), which had been split into Eastapps and Westapps some time before 1242.  The two holdings were roughly equal in size and hence we may assume that Roberto farmed approximately 220-240 acres. [18]   In 1242 and 1285 Roger de Middelton held Middelton for 1/8 fee; this has been estimated to be about 400 acres in 1086 and as it was probably not split into East and West Mildon in 1379 it is likely that this was the size of the holding in the 13th century.18  Upcott was a smaller farm of about 120 acres, while Ford totalled 164 acres in 1580, both in Oakford parish.18

It is virtually certain that Peter de Losemore was of similar status to these men and we may take it that Walter’s 100 acres or so had descended to him by 1260-1290.  Peter would have attained a mature age in order to qualify him as a man of appropriate standing to witness business of the lord of the manor; his birth may therefore have been in the range 1230-1260.  He could have been a son or grandson of Walter de Losemore.

Early fourteenth century

For our next snapshot of the early Loosemores of Oakford we must move forward several decades to the period 1327-1332.  Among the Lay Subsidy returns for Oakford tithing in these years occur the following bare references:

1327       Robertus de Losmore       8d
       Amflis de Losmore       6d       [19]

1332       Robertus de Losamor       18d       [20]

To put a little flesh on this record we must look more closely at the origins of the Lay Subsidy returns.

It was in the late 12th century that personal wealth which could be identified as movables, that is, to the exclusion of lands and buildings, began to be used as a standard of tax assessment.  This type of tax, commonly known as a subsidy, was levied on every individual owning personal property above a fixed minimum value, unless he was specifically exempted.  From 1290 onwards taxation upon movables was placed under the direct control of the Exchequer, which appointed chief taxers for each county.  They in turn selected local men of standing in each vill and township whose responsibility it was to estimate the value of each man’s property and calculate the tax due from him in accordance with the fraction (1/20, 1/15, etc.) laid down by Parliament.

Between 1290 and 1332 a total of 16 subsidies were levied but detailed assessment lists for Devon survive only for the two years 1327 and 1332.  These lists constitute the Returns referred to here.  In 1327 a standard tax rate of 1/20 (or 5%) applied to all rural and urban dwellers whereas in 1332 the more usual course was adopted of taxing rural townships and vills at a lower rate than boroughs and other urban dwellers (1/15 and 1/10 respectively).  The minimum value of property incurring liability for tax varied from time to time: for 1327 it was 10s. both in town and country, while for 1332 the limit of 10s. for rural areas was reduced to 6s. in towns, boroughs, etc.  Thus in rural areas such as the whole of Witheridge Hundred the minimum assessment was 6d and 8d in the two years of interest.

A further easement in the effects of the tax resulted from a limitation on the definition of movables by exempting certain classes of property.  For example, in rural areas exemptions included armour, riding horses, jewels or vessels of precious metals belonging to knights, gentlemen and their wives.  Rents and services due from a villein to his lord were to be deducted, together with tools of trade including farm implements, and many articles of daily use: clothing, pots and pans, etc.  Household goods, butter, cheese, food and drink in the larder, and poultry also were not assessed, so that in the countryside movable goods were taken to mean domestic animals and standing crops.  Even here the grain, peas, etc. subject to tax was not the total produced but rather the surplus available for sale, excluding what was required for feeding the family.  Seed corn needed to ensure next year’s harvest was exempt as was the tithe payable to the Church. [21]   This makes it difficult to interpret an individual assessment on any absolute scale.  It is more instructive, on the reasonable assumption that local assessors treated everyone more or less equitably, to compare the relative assessments within a tithing or Hundred.  First though, a word about the actual returns themselves.

That for 1332 is well preserved on 27 parchment membranes, with clear main divisions into Hundreds, boroughs, etc.; tithing and vill headings are inserted within each main section.  The complete return for Devon, containing some 10,600 names, has been published. [22]   The return for 1327 has not been published. [23]   Its 34 membranes are generally less well preserved and have been heavily restored in places, so that several hundred names are lost or doubtful.  Witheridge Hundred, including Oakford tithing, has suffered additionally because one membrane containing 174 names has been misplaced in the roll, presumably when it was re-assembled after repair in the 19th century.  The correct sequence for this Hundred starts on m.1d, continues on m.5d, and then reverts to m.2d, giving a total of about 340 names compared with 310 in the 1332 return.  Unfortunately all the tithing headings are missing and their order must be inferred by comparison of individual names with those in the 1332 return.  Overall the 1327 roll contains some 11,400 names.

Loosemore or close spelling variants occurs in the 1332 Devon return only in Oakford tithing, providing additional support for the original proposition that it was uniquely derived from a location in Oakford.  In 1327 it definitely occurs nowhere else in Witheridge Hundred, but the labour of checking the entire county roll has proved too daunting a task for a firm assertion to be made of the name’s uniqueness in Oakford tithing.

In 1332 Robert Losamor was one of 15 men in Oakford tithing assessed for tax, from a population which totalled about 300-400.  His assessment of 18d. was exceeded only by Otho Crewes at 2s. who, we are told, was the tenant or owner of Bickham manor, one of the seven in Oakford tithing.  Other highly assessed individuals in the tithing included John de Swundon at 15d (Swineham in the manor of Espreweia or West Spurway), John Spiraweia 15d (then lord of the manor of East Spurway), and Henry de Wodeburne 8d, with his relatives Geoffrey 12d, and Nicholas 8d (all of the manor of Woodburn).  Evidently Robert de Losamor was a successful local farmer.

As has been mentioned, the 1327 return presents difficulties because of its condition.  Apart from the two Losamor entries only five others from about nineteen in Oakford tithing can be read with confidence, among whom are William Wade 12d, William de Westlak 8d, John de Spiraweye 6d, (blank) de Wodeburne 6d, and Thomas Marchante 6d.  Amflis (the English Amphyllis) Losmor must have been a widow since otherwise her husband would have been regarded as owning any property in which she had an interest.  She might perhaps have been Robert’s mother and therefore just possibly the widow of Petrus.  If we regard Robert and Amflis in 1327 as belonging to the same family the total value of their surplus movable property, based on their joint assessments, becomes 23s.4d; on the same basis Robert’s property in 1332 was 22s.6d.  These two valuations are well within the likely assessment errors and allow us to conclude that Amflis had died in the intervening five years and that Robert inherited her property.

More light is cast on the family by two further deeds from the Spurway List referred to in the previous section.10  Deed no.5, dated 5 Edw III (1331), records Roberto de Losemore as a witness but no details of the deed survive.  No.7, dated the Sunday before St. George’s Day 7 Edw. III (3rd Sunday after Easter, or April 25, 1333), is a grant of lands to John Spurway Greda from Richard atte Furson and Margery his wife.  The witnesses are listed as

Henrico de Sicca Villa, Reginaldo de Mildon, Johne de Losemore, John Edwards, William de Westcombe, Othelo de Cruwes, Robert de Losemore.

Inclusion of Johne de Losemore is tantalisingly inconclusive.  Perhaps the most likely possibility is that he was a son of Robert, but in the absence of any definite information we cannot be sure.  However, the other witnesses certainly confirm Robert’s position in the community.  We have seen that Robert de Sicca Villa was a well-to-do landowner and it is reasonable to assume that Henry of this deed was of the same family.  Othelo/Otho/Otto Cruwes was the most highly assessed individual in Oakford tithing in 1332, probably occupying Bickham manor; the Cruwes family is one of the oldest in Devon.  Reginald de Mildon had held Mildon manor for 1/8 knights fee since 1303.15  John Edwards was probably a son of the Robert Edwards who married Agnese, daughter of Richard Spurway the father of John Spurway of the deed.  Robert Losemore must have been regarded as the social equal of these thriving families.  Against a background of increasing population and an expanding society of freeholders, successive members of the Loosemore family had established themselves locally as successful and respected farmers.  The scene was set for their gradual assimilation into the ranks of the local minor gentry.

Care is necessary to avoid painting too rosy a picture of life on the cold, wet, high moors of 14th century north Devon.  The county as a whole was thinly populated, and in the moorland fringes of Exmoor it is doubtful whether the population density exceeded 6-7 people per thousand acres.  Life was hard, lacking most of the meagre contemporary comforts.  Moreover, Devon had been colonized later than much of the country and at the beginning of the 14th century it was agriculturally one of the most backward counties of England.  An analysis of the geographical distribution of wealth in England has shown that at any time up to 500 years after Domesday, Devon was ranked one of the poorest counties, measured by the wealth produced per acre. [24]   Risdon, writing in the 17th century, could still comment

…in the north and west the land is lean and barren…so churlish and unthankful to the husbandman’s labour, that it hardly affords rye or oats, for moors and hills are untractable for tillage…the roads in the hilly lands very laborious and fatiguing, rough and unpleasant to strangers unaccustomed to travel in such ways; being cumbersome and uneven, in some parts deep and miry, in others rocky and stony, painful for man and horse… [25]

But on a relative scale, by comparison with other people in the neighbourhood, this judgement of the potential future of the Loosemores of Oakford is thought to be broadly correct.

This was the position in Oakford just 15 years before the country was visited by one of medieval England’s greatest scourges: the Black Death, which first made its appearance in August 1348.  The record is then silent in Oakford for 175 years—no reference to Loosemore in Oakford has been discovered after 1333 until the beginning of the 16th century—during which time the whole country suffered and slowly recovered from the devastatingly repeated effects of a virulent pestilence.  Some time after 1333 the Loosemores began their migration to nearby towns and villages as the bonds holding them to Oakford weakened with the final collapse of feudal society.  We shall see in later chapters that they had arrived in Tiverton before 1480 and by the first few decades of the 16th century they are mentioned in Bishops Nympton and Creacombe parishes, but here we shall see how the family fared in the parish where its recorded history began.

Population and Pestilence

The terrible pestilence known popularly as the Black Death is generally believed to have been caused by a particularly virulent form of pneumonic and/or bubonic plague, which first appeared in the seaport towns of Dorset early in August 1348 and travelled rapidly northwards and westwards through Devon and Somerset.  Major attacks recurred in 1361, 1368-9, 1375, 1390, 1405 and at intervals throughout the 15th century, so the general picture is of a sustained series of epidemic peaks which weakened seriously any tendency to recover from the initial disaster. [26]

Recently it has been suggested that other diseases, possibly typhus, may have been partly or wholly responsible, but we are concerned only with the effects on population and need not be detained by medical disagreements of this kind.  Some attempt has also been made to diminish the rôle of plague in devastating rural communities by correlating the size of harvests and grain prices with the known dates of severe epidemics. [27]   Yet the overwhelming consensus is summarised in an extended analysis by Hatcher, covering the period 1348-1530, who concludes that

…the prime determinant of the course of population in pre-industrial England was mortality rather than fertility…the progress of the Malthusian cycle was frequently gravely distorted by epidemic disease… [28]

According to Hatcher the population of mid-15th century England was scarcely, if at all, higher than it had been at the time of the Domesday Survey of 1086.  Further, it is unlikely that the population level of 1377 was exceeded until the second quarter of the 16th century.  His estimate of the likely population range (in millions) in England in 1086 is 1.75–2.25, rising to 2.9–4.3 in 1200, 4–6.2 at 1300 and 4.5–5.7 in 1348 just before the Black Death.  The Poll Tax returns for 1377 show that by then numbers had fallen by around 40% to 2.5–3; they continued downwards to 2–2.5 over the fifty years from 1400 to 1450, rising only slightly to 2.25–2.75, by 1525.  One need not attach great significance to the exact figures but the broad trend is well-established.  Harrison has discussed some of the social consequences of the catastrophic decline in population which led, inter alia, to the Statute of Labourers of 1351 and the Peasants Revolt of 1381.  Hoskins has shown that population changes in Devon were no less severe than in the rest of the country: the net increase between 1086 and 1377, if indeed there was any increase at all, was the lowest for any English county. [29]   Neither is there any reason to suppose that it recovered during the 15th century any more quickly in Devon than elsewhere.

It is therefore particularly unfortunate that we have no idea at all how the Loosemores of Oakford fared during this most difficult timespan, when whole families quite commonly died out completely or were reduced to a surviving member, and when the resulting shortage of labour led to major social changes, especially with the conditions of land tenure.  A rural family in the 14-15th centuries whose social position was no higher than yeoman (a 16th century term, but it will serve) would have possessed very limited, if any, literary skills.  Its members would have been so pre-occupied with the day-to-day business of living that private record-keeping would have seemed an irrelevance.  About the only source of domestic information concerning such a family would be manorial court rolls, and even these would take note only of those aspects which affected the lord of the manor, i.e. the observance of manorial customs, payment of dues in money and/or service, and punishment for minor offences leading to a breach of the peace.  In any event, none is known to have survived for Oakford manor.

Sixteenth Century

The Courtenay connection

The first known mention of the place Losemore/Loosemoor in Oakford  parish after 1333 occurs in an annual estate account for the year ended Michaelmas 1508, compiled by William Fortescue. [30]   He was the local receiver (in the sense of receiving rents collected, not a modern court official appointed after a declaration of bankruptcy) to the estates of Edward Courtenay, 8th earl of Devon, employed to minister the family’s so-called Boconnoc estate in Devon.  No tenant is listed, but in another similar account for the year ended Michaelmas 1512 the short entry, in Latin but here translated, states:

Losemore: and of 3s.4d. received of William Losemore, tenant there for the year, of the issue of the same tenancy, as above in various previous accounts.

It is clear from the standard format of the accounts that the heading Losemore refers to the place.  Nowhere is there any explicit reference to Oakford, but it is the only parish in the county in which the place is known to occur; the next entry, Westhorne (modern Western) is also found only in Oakford parish.  Taken with the presence of William Losemore it is strong circumstantial evidence for identifying Losemore with the known region in this parish.  Similar references occur in a total of 20 surviving annual accounts over the period 1508–1553. [31]

The small size of the Courtenay holding is revealed in an Inquisition held in March 1539 after the execution of Henry Courtenay, late marquis of Exeter and heir to the Courtenay lands.  Among his large estates is listed one messuage and 13 acres in Losemore: worth 3s., one of a group of small holdings including, for example, one cottage and 40 acres in Westhorne: worth 5s. etc.  Rents from the two properties have been rounded from those in the receiver’s account, from 3s.4d in Losemore, 5s.1d in Westhorne, but there can be little doubt that they refer to the same parcels of land. [32]   Although the origin of the Courtenay involvement remains unclear the following attempt to unravel it provides an excuse to examine the activities of one of the greatest families in western England through a notoriously turbulent period in English history which culminated in the Wars of the Roses.

The Courtenays crossed from France to England in 1152 with Eleanor of Acquitaine, new wife of Henry II who so bounteously brought Bordeaux to her royal husband.  By 1173 they had established themselves as one of the most powerful Devon families by the marriage of Reginald de Courtenay with Hawisse, heiress of the barony and honour of Okehampton.  This honour was the largest in Devon and with it Reginald de Courtenay became baron of Okehampton and hereditary sheriff of the county.  Interestingly, the barony included two of Oakford’s Domesday manors, Ausa (later East and West Apps) and Odeburna (the modern Woodburn); East Apps shared a common boundary in 1839 with the region known as Loosemoor.  The honour of Plympton, second only to Okehampton, also came to the Courtenays by marriage and when in 1345 Hugh de Courtenay married Margaret de Bohun, grand-daughter of Edward I, the family became the most influential in the west country.  Hugh had succeeded as 2nd earl in 1335, a royal affirmation of their pre-eminence. [33]

The link thus forged between the Courtenays and the House of Lancaster, allied to the aggressive arrogance of the family’s senior members, was to prove fatal in the civil wars of 1450-1480.  In 1431, Thomas Courtenay the 5th earl had married the Lancastrian Margaret Beaufort, grand-daughter of John of Gaunt, a link which further intensified his hatred of a wealthy rival, the Yorkist Bonville family.  These two local magnates had long quarrelled over who should be granted the rich prize of Steward of the Duchy of Cornwall and in 1499 the earl of Devon besieged Lord Bonville in his castle at Taunton.  In April 1455, when Bonville and the sheriffs of Devon and Cornwall met in Exeter, earl Thomas with Sir Hugh Courtenay of Boconnoc entered the city with their armed retainers, disrupting the meeting and terrorising the citizens.  In October that year further acts of terrorism were committed and Courtenay murdered the well-respected Nicholas Radford, Recorder of Exeter, apparently out of spite.  He then attacked the city, forcing his way into the Cathedral to steal Radford’s plate and other valuables, most of which were stored there.  Then, with 1000-1500 armed men the Courtenays besieged their kinsman Sir Philip Courtenay of Powderham in his castle just outside the city, political and dynastic loyalties proving stronger than blood ties.  When Sir William Bonville moved to help his friend the two private armies fought a pitched battle at Clyst Field on 15 December. [34]  The affair illustrates all too clearly the breakdown of law and order in the face of a weak central government headed by the pious but incapable Henry VI, and the social stresses resulting from an obsessive fear of failure in the succession to the monarchy.

Earl Thomas died at Abingdon Abbey early in 1458 but his son and heir, Thomas the 6th earl, continued his father’s violent ways and his ill-fated Lancastrian support.  When in 1461 the Yorkist army under Edward IV beat the forces of Henry VI and Queen Margaret convincingly at Towton in Yorkshire, earl Thomas was beheaded for his mistake for choosing the wrong side.  His younger brother Henry was executed in 1467 and the senior branch of the family became extinct when the third and last brother, Sir John, was killed in May 1471 at Tewkesbury, a battle which marked the almost complete eclipse of the House of Lancaster.  Ironically, though, they were to achieve a final pyrrhic victory over York through Owen Tudor, an obscure esquire to Queen Catherine, the wife of Henry V.  After the death of Henry in 1422, Catherine and Tudor had secretly been married and their eldest son Edmund married 12 years old Margaret Beaufort of Lancaster.  Edmund’s son Henry Tudor, crowned in 1485 as Henry VII, then fulfilled a promise made in exile to salvage something of Yorkist ambitions and end the dynastic conflict which had all but torn the country apart, by making Elizabeth of York his wife.  But we digress again…

With the extinction of the Courtenays’ senior line attention focuses on a cadet branch of the family headed by Sir Hugh, younger brother of Sir Edward the 3rd earl of Devon.  About 1386 Sir Edward gave his brother several manors in Devon, Somerset and Dorset, a gift which became the nucleus of the Boconnoc estate. [35]   This Sir Hugh was three times married.  His second wife Philippa, daughter of Sir Warin Archdekne of Haccombe, brought as her dower several manors, chiefly in south Devon, of which the largest was Haccombe itself.  Although these manors passed out of Courtenay ownership at the minority of their children Sir Hugh was always known as ‘of Haccombe’.  His third wife Maud, daughter of Sir John Beaumont of Shirwell, north-east of Barnstaple, bore him two sons Edward and Hugh who were aged about 8 and 6 years at his death in 1425.  Trustees were appointed to administer the estate during the heir Edward’s minority but he died young and his brother Hugh inherited.  In 1442 this Hugh married Margaret, daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Carminowe, a Cornish gentleman, who brought with her six manors in Cornwall and other lands in Devon.  The most important property was the Cornish manor of Boconnoc and after the death of Sir Hugh Courtenay of Haccombe his son was known as Sir Hugh Courtenay of Boconnoc. [36]   Subsequently Boconnoc gave its name to the entire Courtenay private estate comprising all property, excluding the traditional estates of the earldom of Devon, inherited from Sir Hugh of Haccombe and Maud his wife, together the Carminowe lands and all other properties purchased or acquired directly.

Sir Hugh of Boconnoc was no less violent than his cousins of the senior branch.  He not only joined them in their attack on Exeter and their fight at Clyst Field but engaged in lawless activities of his own.  In 1460 he was cited in cases concerning piracy, as the owner and victualler of a ship, brazenly named ‘le Peter Courtenay’, which attacked other British ships at Scilly off the coast of Cornwall.  Two years later he was again involved when two ships, the ‘Edward’ of Polruan and the ‘Macrell’ of Fowey plundered a Spanish galley, the ‘St. Anthony and St. Thomas’, laden with merchandise valued at £12000. [37]   A stout Lancastrian, he lost his life during or shortly after the battle of Tewkesbury, leaving two sons and four daughters.  Edward Courtenay, his eldest son and heir, also tended towards the Lancastrian cause but was apparently more supple in his allegiance for he received a general pardon from Edward IV in 1472 and was granted title to the Boconnoc lands which had been forfeit at the death of his father.  The Courtenay troubles continued when in October 1483, after the death of Edward IV, Sir Edward Courtenay supported an unsuccessful rebellion led by the duke of Buckingham against Richard III.  Richard had just deposed and killed the young king Edward V with his brother the duke of York.  Buckingham was executed while Courtenay lost all his lands and fled the country.

Less than two years later Courtenay returned to fight alongside Henry Tudor at Bosworth on 22 October 1485, when Richard was decisively beaten after a hard-fought battle.  Courtenay was knighted before the battle by Henry and on 26 October he was created earl of Devon by the newly-proclaimed Henry VII. [38]   He received a grant of all traditional lands associated with the earldom, comprising over 60 manors, 8 boroughs and 9 Hundreds, plus the Boconnoc estate of his father, though these private properties are not mentioned in the Letters Patent.  De facto ownership of all the Boconnoc lands could not be achieved immediately since some properties had been granted away by Richard III to his own supporters as rewards for services rendered in connection with the events of 1483.  For example, Boconnoc lands valued at £38.6s.0d. annually were granted by Richard to Halnath Malyverer, husband of Edward Courtenay’s sister-in-law Johan née Carminowe.  This grant evidently included the Devon manor of Beaworthy, for it was to be returned to Edward the 8th earl on the death of Malyverer.  In fact it was restored to the Courtenays some time between 1516 and 1522. [39]

Before 1485 Sir Edward Courtenay of Boconnoc had married a distant cousin Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Philip Courtenay of Molland, great-grandson of Sir Philip of Powderham who was besieged by Thomas the 5th earl in 1455. [40]   Their son, Sir William, was knighted in 1487 and in 1495 he married Katherine Plantaganet, a daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.  As was the way with powerful men closely associated with the throne he fell out of royal favour, was attainted of treason and committed to the Tower in 1503.  Sir Edward the 8th earl had placed certain of his properties in trust before this and hence the Boconnoc lands were not forfeit to the Crown at his death in April 1509, though Sir William was prohibited from inheriting in view of his attainder.  Edward Courtenay’s will provided for the Boconnoc lands to go to William if he obtain the king’s grace, i.e. if the attainder was removed, with remainder to William’s son Henry, born about 1496, then to Sir William’s other heirs and finally to earl Edward’s own sisters, the four daughters of Sir Hugh of Boconnoc and their heirs.  The descendants of these four sisters did inherit the Boconnoc estates in the reign of Elizabeth, after some legal wrangling.

William’s attainder was reversed by Henry VIII in 1511 and he was created earl of Devon with all his lands, but he died in June of that year before he could be installed formally.  Henry, his heir, was then a minor but seems to have inherited the Boconnoc at his majority, some time close to 1515; he also received the reversal of his father’s attainder.  Henry remained a favourite of the king, who granted him additional lands in Devon and elsewhere; he acquired other properties by direct purchase, adding in this way to the Boconnoc estate.  In 1525 he was created marquis of Exeter and at the suppression of the monasteries became steward of many west country abbeys.  His power in the west country was now supreme, but he committed a tactical error by quarrelling with Thomas Cromwell, chief minister of Henry VIII, in consequence of which late in 1538 he too was attainted of treason.  Courtenay, his wife, with their young son Edward, who was then only 12 years old, were committed to the Tower; Henry Courtenay was executed as a traitor on 9 December of that year, all his lands being forfeit.

The Courtenay story, in some ways a tragic one, was nearing its end.  On Mary’s accession to the throne following the death of Henry VIII the attainder was removed from Edward and his mother Gertrude and he finally succeeded to his father’s lands and earldom in 1533.  He spent a brief time in the Tower with the exposure of an unlikely plot for him to marry the young Princess Elizabeth, and then was forced into exile.  Edward died at Padua in September 1556, his demise extinguishing the direct Courtenay line.

The complex series of marriages, inheritances, forfeitures and re-instatements outlined above creates great difficulties when attempting to determine exactly how any particular property fared during this troubled period.  Examination of Inquisitions taken after the death of several Courtenays does not reveal how the 13 acres in Losemore became attached to the Boconnoc estate.  It is not listed among lands owned by Sir Hugh Courtenay of Haccombe, Maud his third wife, Thomas Carminowe, Sir Philip Courtenay of Molland or Elizabeth his wife. [41]   We have already noted that no Ipm was taken after the death of Sir Hugh Courtenay of Boconnoc as his lands automatically escheated to the Crown.  So what may be inferred regarding the region known as Losemore or Loosemoor?

If, as we may assume, the Ipms referred to above record correctly and completely the lands of which their owners were seised at their deaths, it is hard to see how the 13 acres in Losemore could have been in Courtenay hands prior to the death of Sir Philip of Molland in 1488, unless it had been acquired by Sir Hugh of Boconnoc between about 1436 and his death in 1471.  It is unfortunate that forfeiture of his lands in the wake of Buckingham’s abortive rebellion removed all evidence of his estate from public record.  A further possibility is that it was purchased by Sir Edward the 8th earl some time between his creation in 1485 and 1508.  But all that can be said with certainty is that it was included with other small parcels of land in the earliest surviving Boconnoc account, for the year ended Michaelmas 1508, indicating without doubt that some division of Losemore/Loosemoor had occurred prior to that date.

After the year ended Michaelmas 1512, in which William Losemore first appears as a tenant, his name recurs in each annual account up to 1517 when there is a gap in the record.  The next account, for the year ended Michaelmas 1523, lists the tenant as Richard Losemore, but by 1526 a William Losemore re-appears.  We have no particular reason to doubt William Fortescue, receiver for the Devon lands until 1523, or Thomas Spurway the receiver-general who assumed direct responsibility for the Devon estates after that date or, for that matter, the accuracy of their professional scribes.  Presumably, therefore, Richard was a son or other near relative of William the elder, while the later William was perhaps similarly related to Richard.  This later William Losemore appears as the tenant in each of the 11 surviving accounts up to the last one, for the year ended 1553.  It is a safe assumption that the parcel of land remained at 13 acres, for its annual rent was constant over the whole period covered by the series of accounts.

No further mention of either William or Richard Losemore has come to light in other records, nor is anything else known about them.  Their names do not appear in any of the Lay Subsidy returns for the parish, though this is not conclusive for tax evasion was widespread.  If their total holding was limited to a messuage and 13 acres the family must have been of very modest means, one of many small husbandmen who could have scraped no more than a bare living from the unfertile soil.

West Loosemoor and Morebath

A variety of sources and a few plausible assumptions allow us to assemble a slightly clearer picture of the Loosemore family in Oakford from 1542 onwards.  We shall also refer to the major division of Loosemoor into East and West parts.

The Lay subsidy returns for 1542-3 and 1545-6 provide our first definite information.  Two separate entries of interest in the return for the earlier year, Nos. 25 and 29 out of 39 names listed in the parish, are readable only in part as …owsemore, the rest having been obliterated by damage to the vellum, but in 1545-6 John Losemore and John Losemore jnr were both assessed for tax on goods, i.e. they owned no land, but were tenants, among a total of 32 names in the parish. [42]   These are the only two occasions in which the family name occurs in Oakford returns although the parish is included in all surviving returns for Witheridge Hundred for subsidies granted by Parliament from 1524-1626.  We shall review below strong evidence for the continuing presence of John Loosemore and his family in the parish at this time, and it would be surprising if he owned goods to a value less than 20s., the minimum incurring liability for tax.  A more likely explanation, already mentioned, for his absence from the returns is that tax evasion was widespread and regular in these high, remote Devon parishes.

John Loosemore the elder must have been a respectable and respected parishioner for when William Sowthcombe, gentleman, leased property in East Apps and Oakhayes within Oakford parish to Gregory Radford and his wife on 25 June 1543, he authorized John Lowsemore my well beloved in Christ to act for him in effecting the physical transfer.  Title to property was so important a matter at that time that extreme precautions were taken to ensure that all procedures were correctly observed.  Hence John Lowsemore was to be trusted not only as a friend but as someone who understood property and its place in the scheme of things. [43]

The parish register starts in 1586 and from it we learn that on 15 January 1569/70 Wilmott Lowsmoor married Rycharde Eastmounte.  This, together with the following three burial entries, enables us to establish the family relationship with reasonable confidence [44] :

         Johane [Joan] the wife of John Lowsmoore         26 March  1573

         Marye the wife of John Lowsmoore               28 November         1584

         John Loosmore                                          16 January         1587/8

John the elder died before the register started since in 1542 his son John must have been at least 16, and probably 21, years old in order to have been assessed for tax.  Even if this son was his first-born, and assuming his father was married at age 25, his (the father’s) birth could hardly have been later than 1495-1500.  An age at burial of 88-93 is not impossible but it is very unlikely when another alternative presents itself.  Accordingly, we presume that it was John jnr. who was buried in 1578/8.  Joan the first wife of young John was the mother of Wilmott, who was probably an only child: she was certainly the only child still alive in 1581, as will become clear later.  Wilmott may have been born about 1548 assuming she was married when about 21 years of age, so John jnr. could have married his second wife Mary a little more than 3 years before his own death in January 1587/8.  The Loosemore line in Oakford died out after more than 360 years in May 1611, with the death of Wilmott Eastment née Lowsemore.

John Lowsemore’s name does not appear in the Muster Roll of 1569, somewhat surprisingly in view of the family’s undoubted presence in the parish. [45] .  A general muster had been ordered by Queen Elizabeth and her Privy Council on 26 March in response to the threat posed by the presence of a strong Spanish army in the Netherlands.  It probably took place in June, when Oakford registered a total of 33 ablemen in addition to four sworn presenters and providers of armour.  An estimate of the parish population from this return produces a reasonable result if it is assumed that the ratio of able to unable men (those unfit to bear arms) was 1:1, a value equal to the average for the whole country. [46]   John Lowsemore’s disability may have been no more than a temporary sickness or absence, whether accidental or deliberate, but it is unfortunate since the record would have provided one opportunity to gauge his standing in the community.

Some of the activities of John Lowsemore, father and son, may be inferred from the Morebath parish churchwardens’ accounts; Morebath church is just over four easy miles from Loosemoor in Oakford.  Detailed accounts have come down to us for the entire period 1520-1573 during which stubborn and conservative west countrymen saw their old religious practices swept away in the Reformation. [47]   Indeed, so incensed were they that in 1549 a full-scale rebellion developed in the county.  It was put down, amid scenes of unusual barbarity, only after several thousand men had died offering bitter resistance to the forces commanded by John, 1st baron Russell, the west country military supremo. [48]

Oakford parish church accounts are lost, but the Loosemores may well have been employed there regularly, as they evidently were at Morebath.  In 1537 Lowsemore is paid 7d. …for hys wagis for ye squaryng of ye stoke yn ye Court wode, then 4d. for their meat and drink (quotations from these accounts have been rendered in modern English after the first example), and 9d. to Lowsemore again for his wages for making the stair of the church house and for planking of the church house.  The following year the churchwardens paid 12d. to Lousemore and a man to help him in making a coffer (cupboard).  In 1551, after the terror of the rebellion and in response to requirements of the new religion, John Lowsmore is referred to for the first time when he was paid 3s. for taking away the side altars and the rood loft; in 1552 he received 12d. for mending the pulpit.

As a result of the relief offered to devout Catholics by Mary’s accession the altar was re-erected at a cost of 18d. including meat, drink and wages, plus a further 13d. for a man to help.  John Lowsemore is not mentioned but we may suppose that he was involved.  He showed his versatility in 1557 when he was named as receiving 8d. for mending the church bell, and finally in 1571 it is recorded that ye carpenter Lossemore was paid 20d. for mending and making of the timber work for the tower, and for a board to make the door.  One vicar, Christopher Trychay, remained the incumbent at Morebath throughout those terrible and cataclysmic times when the old church tried desperately to maintain a sense of continuity among its flock.  It seems reasonable, therefore, to assume that as John Lowsemore the younger was definitely employed during the later years it was his father who is referred to back in 1537 and 1538 rather than William Loosemore whom we met in the previous section.

The relationship between the two Williams and Richard on the one hand, and the two Johns on the other, is not clear, though we may safely take it that they were all related.  Perhaps the elder William, tenant of the Courtenays’ 13 acres from 1511-1523, was the father of Richard and John the elder.  We cannot say with any certainty.

E & W Loosemoor: Later History

This section summarises what is known of the two properties from the beginning of the seventeenth century up to the present time.  Both farms are marked on the 1st edition of the one inch Ordnance Survey of England. [49]   East Loosemoor still appears on sheet 181 of the 1994 edition.

We have seen that some division of the old Loosemoor had already taken place by 1508, though the date of the major split into East and West portions is not known.  It must have been before 1581, perhaps long before then.  Presumably West Loosemoor was hived off from Oakford manor at that time, but East Loosemoor remained attached until, as we shall see below, the manor was partitioned in 1697.  For this reason we shall first follow the fortunes of West Loosemoor.

West Loosemoor

We have seen that Wilmott Loosemore, probably the only child of John Loosemore and his first wife Joan, who farmed the property, married Richard Eastment in 1569/70.  Five of their children grew to maturity. [50]

John:    bap. 30 Dec 1570 and 3 June 1572.
        [two separate entries.  At least one John alive in 1648].
Richard:    bap. 15 Mar 1574/5; marr. 7 Jan 1604/5 Margaret daughter of Christopher         Mogford
        [five of their children bap. between Nov 1605 and May 1615].
Agnes:    bap. 8 May 1578; marr. 11 Feb 1604/5 Christopher Vicary.
Francis:    bap. 19 Feb 1580/1.
        [alive 1648].
William:    bap. 23 Nov 1584; marr. 16 Nov 1607 Mary Govier.
        [one child, John, bap. 30 Nov 1612, alive 1642].

At least one other child, Humphrey, was born to Wilmott and Richard Eastment in 1588, but nothing is known about him.  Richard died in 1604 when, Wilmott’s parents having died some time before, she inherited her father’s farm.  The following year she transferred her interest in West Loosemoor to certain of her children.  The deed [51] is difficult to interpret for it seems to give the entire property to her son Francis, but when Francis sold his interest to John Radford of East Apps in 1647 the deed of sale makes it quite clear that only ¼ of West Loosemoor was involved, at a price of £110. [52]   Prior to that, on 11 August 1645, Francis had mortgaged ¼ of ‘West Losemore’ to John Parish of Brushford for £55.3s.6d, with the condition that he could reclaim it on payment of £62.1s.1d on 10 February 1646/7. [53]   The picture is further complicated by another deed by which the brothers Francis and John Eastment sold part of ‘West Losemore or West Loosemoore’ to John Radford of Oakford for £186. [54]

Another ¼ of the estate was evidently transferred to the son Richard and his wife Mary.  It fell into the hands of a moneylender, Stephen Chubb of Roborough, probably soon after Richard’s death in 1616.  When Chubb sold this portion to Sir Henry Rolle of Stevenstone in 1619 the deed recited that it was ‘now or late in the tenure or occupation of one Mary Eastment widow’.  The transaction contained complex provision for lending or advancing money and required four deeds spread over three years from 16 July 1618 to 10 April 1621. [55]   John Radford subsequently acquired this ¼ from Sir John Rolle of Bicton in July 1661 together with two other messuages, for a total sum of £300. [56]   It seems reasonable to suppose that other deeds now lost would show that in 1605 four of Wilmott’s children (probably the four sons) each received a ¼ share in the estate.  At any rate John Radford must have acquired the remainder either before or shortly after 1661 as all subsequent references to the farm obviously apply to the complete holding.

From now on the history of West Loosemoor follows exactly that of East Apps and Harton farms, both of which were owned in the mid-seventeenth century by John Radford.  Rather confusingly, several generations of Radford heirs were named John, but some time between 1712 and 1732 the current John Radford’s daughter-in-law, Mary Mogford, disposed of all three properties purchased in 1661 to the lord of the manor of Worth, in Washfield parish, near Tiverton.  It remained in the Worth family until about 1838 when it was sold to Thomas Daniel of Stoodleigh Court and became part of the Stuckeridge estate.  By this time that estate comprised, in addition to West Loosemoor, Stuckeridge Farm and woods, Upcott, Ford, Harton, Hutswell, East Apps, Oakford Mill and other properties at Oakfordbridge, and Lower Oakford.  Daniel’s grandson Thomas Carew Daniel, born c1848, inherited the estate from his widowed mother some time after 1872.  He must have been something of a character: he never married and was known to all Oakford residents as ‘Squire Daniel’.

Two years after his death in 1924 the estate was broken up, and West Loosemoor with Hutswell was purchased by Thomas Stone with the intention of running the two farms as a single holding of about 215 acres.  From this time West Loosemoor gradually loses its identity and today it no longer exists.  The farmhouse was last inhabited in about 1931 and the land on which it stood and certain fields have been merged with East Loosemoor; the remaining fields have been added to Eastapps and Hutswell. [57]

So much for the freehold of West Loosemoor.  During most of the last half of the 17th and the whole of the 18th centuries the farm was leased out.  In 1698 a John Radford leased the property to his sister Christian, who bequeathed her interest to a daughter, Joan.  Joan married Richard Beadon and by a deed dated 16 March 1727/30 Joan, now widowed, together with three of her sons sold the lease to Robert, a fourth son, for £160.  By 1732 the freehold had passed to the Worth family, for on 14 December that year Henry Worth and Susanna Cutcliffe leased ‘West Loosemore’ to Edward Squire the Rector of Oakford. [58]

The actual occupiers throughout the 18th century were sub-tenants, as can be confirmed from the Oakford Tithe Book. [59]   From 1743 until 1751 or later John Prideaux was in occupation.  From 1768, and perhaps before that, the farm was worked by John Chatworthy and then for three years by Robert Catford.  He was succeeded by another John Chatworthy and then in 1780 by Thomas Marley, a relative of Chatworthy.  Marley was followed by his son George in 1809, and then by William Mogford jnr., who was in occupation from 1812 to 1840 or later.  By 1851 the tenancy had passed to William’s son John, who was still in occupation in 1861.  From 1871 the farm was being worked in conjunction with another farm, perhaps Hutswell, for the farmhouse was inhabited only by a labourer and his family.  This state of affairs continued for another 60 years or so, until the farmhouse was demolished and West Loosemoor ceased to exist.

East Loosemoor

The early history of Oakford manor, which for centuries included East Loosemoor, has been treated in some detail elsewhere. 57   We may pick it up in August 1507 when Sir Lewis Pollard of Bishops Nympton purchased it for £203 from Sir Charles Brandon, later duke of Suffolk, and Dame Margaret his wife.  The Pollard family, who held Oakford for about 100 years through four generations, were absentee landlords and in 1513 Sir Lewis set up a trust to administer the estate.  He was a Devon lawyer who became a judge in the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster, dying in 1526.  His grand-son, also Sir Lewis and a lawyer, who by then occupied the family seat at nearby Kings Nympton, inherited in 1544 and the property later passed to his son Sir Hugh Pollard some time before 1573.

East Loosemoor remained attached to the manor throughout almost the entire 17th century.  The first recorded reference to it as a separate property occurs in a deed dated 30 April 1601 when Sir Hugh Pollard received the surrender of the lease of the farm from John Hill als Dattiscombe, his tenant, re-granting it to him on new terms. [60]   In 1604 Sir Hugh sold Oakford manor with East Loosemoor to Richard Hill als Spurway, a clothier of Tiverton, who also owned other property in the parish.  Difficulties evidently arose over the sale for as late as April 1608 Hill laid a formal complaint before the court of Chancery that he had tried unsuccessfully since signing the contract of sale to obtain from the Pollards proper evidences of his title to the manor. [61]   He was eventually granted a charter establishing his claim, but only at a huge extra charge of £600.

The next mention of East Loosemoor occurs in a church terrier drawn up by John Sowden, Rector of Oakford since 1599, and exhibited in 1613, wherein he acknowledges ‘a rent belonging to the spiritual parsonage from a certain tenement called East Loosemoor in Oakford yearly paid three shillings’.  This and a later terrier dated 25 March 1681, signed by the then Rector Thomas Brooke, are certified copies made in 1722 for Mrs Mary Radford; they are now part of the Oakford Tithe Book.59  The later terrier makes it clear that 3s. yearly rent was still being received from East Loosemoor at that time.  This odd income may just possibly be linked with the annual rent of 3s.4d paid by the tenant of 13 acres in Loosemoor already discussed above in the section on the Courtenay connection..  No other suggestion has so far been proposed.

Henry, grandson of Richard Hill als Spurway, now known simply as Henry Spurway, inherited Oakford as a minor and just before his death he set up a trust to administer the estate on behalf of his widow Mary and his four surviving children, all daughters.  After Mary’s death in 1696 the trust was dissolved and the following year the estate was partitioned between the four daughters, three of whom were by then married.  The surviving deed of partition, an attested copy dated 18 August 1704, shows that East Loosemoor farm plus 14 acres of woodland went to Henry Spurway’s eldest daughter Mary, then married to John Radford of Tiverton, together with Oakford Barton, Higher Oakford, Ringstone, Hutswell and other property. [62]   East Loosemoor was then in the tenancy of Richard and Thomas Radford, yeomen, by a lease determinable on the deaths of Richard’s son, also named Richard, and his brother Thomas.  An earlier Richard Radford had farmed East Loosemoor from 1660 though it is not certain whether he followed directly after John Hill als Dattiscombe, for Dattiscombe had at least three sons, any one of whom might have succeeded his father.

The John Radford who inherited in 1697 also held East and West Apps and Harton, plus West Loosemoor as we saw in the previous section, so after a long separation the two parts of Loosemoor came together again under common ownership.  This state of affairs was not to continue for long, as in July 1704 John Radford sold East Loosemoor farm with the 14 acres of woodland to Sir John Rolle of Stevenstone for £320.62  Presumably this was the occasion for making an attested copy of the 1697 partition deed.  This John Radford may have been the ‘John Radford of East Losemore’ who died at Oakford in 1705.

There is a gap in the history of the farm during the early part of the 18th century but apparently Thomas Worth, married to Mary Mogford’s daughter Mary, held a mortgage on East Loosemoor along with the rest of John and Mary Radford’s portion of the partitioned estate.  It was transferred to John Richards of Tiverton in 1722 and to Robert Lucas in 1723, being further increased in 1726.  This is puzzling in view of the sale to Sir John Rolle by John Radford in 1704 but there is no doubt that in 1768 East Loosemoor was held by John Walter of Stevenstone, the seat of the Rolle family, or that in 1841 it belonged to Lord Rolle himself.  It then remained in the Rolle family until it was sold in 1923 as part of the Highleigh estate.

Returning to the tenants of East Loosemoor we find that in 1743 the tithes of £4.10s.0d per year were being paid by Mrs Dorothy Oxenham, a Radford though not from Oakford.  She was followed some time before 1768 by another Richard Radford and he, or his son, farmed the property for over 40 years until 1811, in which year he died.  After several other tenants James Webber took over for ten years in 1851, followed by another James Webber in 1910.57  He was still farming it when the Highleigh sale took place in 1923.  In 1926 Kelly’s Directory lists East Loosemoor as then occupied by Richard Cann.

And with that rapid survey, incomplete though it is, we may leave Oakford to follow the Loosemore trail elsewhere.


[1] H Summerson, ed. Crown Pleas of the Devon Eyre of 1238, DCRS, New Series, xxviii, 1985, No.371, 63-4, transcribed and translated from PRO JUST 1/174.  One mark was worth 13s.4d.

[2] PRO JUST 1/176, m 44d.

[3] M T Clanchy, The Roll and Writ File of the Berkshire Eyre of 1249, Selden Society. xc, 1973;  D Crook, Records of the General Eyre, PRO Handbook 20, 1982;  The Later Eyres, EHR, xcvii, 1982, 241–268.

[4] Private communications from Prof. K Cameron, Hon. Director, EPNS, 1 February, 25 April, 22 August 1985.

[5] JEB Gover, A Mawer and FM Stenton, ed., The Place-Names of Devon, EPNS, viii & ix, 1931-2, 387-9.

[6] Fees, i, 400, 435 and ii, 758, 779, 797 for Robert de Sicca Villa.

[7] C A F Meekings, ed., Crown Pleas of the Wiltshire Eyre, WANHS Records Branch, xvi, 1961.

[8] Oakford Tithe Survey and map, held in Oakford parish church (1983).

[9] Fees, ii, 759 for La Chapele.

[10] Spurway List, c1900.  A list made by Charles Spurway of certain family deeds which were last seen c1952 and are now lost.  The list is owned by R R Spurway, Esq., of Oakford, see Bentley, 16.

[11] Feudal Aids, i, 343.

[12] Feudal Aids, i, 363.

[13] Hingeston-R, ii, Reg. Bronescombe, 1889, 160 for Manasserus’s presentments; ibid, 400 for Taxation of Pope Nicholas IV; Olgenaforde is Oakford.

[14] Fees, ii, 759 and Feudal Aids, i, 344.

[15] Feudal Aids, i, 363 and O J Reichel, TDA, xxx, 1898, 395.

[16] Feudal Aids, i, 334, and Fees, ii, 759.

[17] C.Cl.R. 1422-1423, 16 under February 27, 1422/3.

[18] Bentley, 18 for East and West Apps; ibid, 16 for Mildon; ibid, 202 and Tithe Survey for Upcott, ibid, 160 for Ford.

[19] PRO E 179/95/6, mm. 1d, 5d, 2d.

[20] A M Erskine, ed. The Devonshire Lay Subsidy of 1332, DCRS, New Series, i, 1969; PRO E 179/95/7, m. 6.

[21] J F Willard, Parliamentary Taxes on Personal Property 1290-1334, Cambridge, Mass., 1934; M W Beresford, Lay Subsidies and Poll Taxes, Phillimore, 1963.

[22] A M Erskine, ed., The Devonshire Lay Subsidy of 1332, DCRS, New Series, i, 1969; PRO E 179/95/7, m.6.

[23] PRO E 179/95/6, mm. 1d, 5d, 2d.

[24] E J Buckatzsch, EcHR, 2nd series, iii, 1950, 180-202.

[25] T Risdon, Chorographical Description, or Survey, of the County of Devon, 1714, 2-4 (Risdon died in 1640; the work occupied him from 1605-1630).  See also W Chapple, A Review of Part of Risdon’s Survey of Devon, Exeter, 1785.

[26] J A F Thomson, The Transformation of Medieval England 1370-1529, 1983, 7-10.

[27] J M W Bean, EcHR, 2nd series, xv, 1963; J F D Shrewsbury, A History of Bubonic Plague in the British Isles, 1970; see also A R Bridbury, EcHR, 2nd series, xxvi, 1973, 577-592.

[28] J Hatcher, Plague, Population and the English Economy, 1348-1550, prepared for the Economic Hist. Society, 1977, 7.

[29] Harrison, see Chapter 2, ref. 10, 76-86; Hoskins, 168-171.

[30] In this section I have drawn heavily on: M R Westcott, The Estates of the Earls of Devon 1485-1538, Exeter, 1958, unpub. M.A. thesis; E Cleaveland, Genealogical History of the Noble and Illustrious Family of Courtenay, Exeter, 1735;
 J L Vivian, ed. Visitations of Cornwall 1530, 1573, 1620, 1887; Thomson, op. cit. 200-229.  See also M Westcott, “Katherine Courtenay, Countess of Devon, 1479–1527”, in T Gray, M Rowe, A Erskine, eds, Tudor and Stuart Devon, Essays presented to Joyce Youings, University. of Exeter Press, 1992, 13-38; DNB under Courtenay.

[31] PRO, Ministers and Receivers Accounts, SC 6/Hen VII/1099 (1508); SC 6/Hen VIII/6159 (1512-1516, 1523, 1526, 1532); –/6190 (1517); –/6191 (1533); –/6192 (1535); –/6164 (1539); –/6197 (1541); –/6203 (1542); SC 6/Edw VI/121-2 (1548-49); –/124-6 (1551-3).

[32] Ipm of Henry Courtenay, marquis of Exeter, typescript summary in WCSL, Exeter.

[33] Bentley, 17-18.

[34] G H Radford, TDA, xxxv, 1903, 251-278 and xliv, 1912, 252-265.

[35] C.Cl.R 1422-29, 179, 215; 1429-35, 85.

[36] Vivian, op. cit., 72-5; CIPM, iv, 1828, 213 for Ipm of Thomas Carminowe, 21 Hen IV, no.46.

[37] CPR, 1452-61, 358, 612, 649; DCNQ, xii, January 1923, 230.

[38] ‘Created’ because the title had remained dormant since the demise of the senior branch of the family at Tewkesbury.

[39] CPR 1485-94, 28 for grant to earl of Devon; CPR 1476-85, 502 and PRO Ancient Deeds, E 326/420 for H Malyverer.

[40] Sir Philip Courtenay of Powderham acquired the manor of Molland Botreaux by marriage with Elizabeth daughter of Walter, 1st Lord Hungerford, K.G.  The Molland estates were given to his 2nd son Philip, afterwards known as Sir Philip of Molland (d. 1488) who marr. a daughter of Robert Hingeston of Wonewell.  His eldest son and heir John Courtenay (d. 27 Mar 1510) marr. Joan daughter of Robert Brett of Pillond in Pilton parish and had issue Philip (b. c1494) who continued this branch of the family until it became extinct by the death of John Courtenay in 1732, see Cleaveland, op.cit.

[41] CIPM, 3 Hen VI, No.3; 7 Edw IV, No.41; 21 Hen VI, No.46; $ Hen VII, No.87; 22 Edw IV, No.33.

[42] PRO E 179/98/254: 1542-3; -/99/309: 1545-6.  See also letter from PRO dated 29 Nov 1984 for some uncertainty about exact dates of these two returns.  Other returns in class E 179 including Oakford, for the years stated, are 96/138: 1524, pub. T L Stoate, 1979; 97/214: 1540-1; 99/292: 1544-5; 100/341: 1549-50; 100/332: 1551; 100/333: 1552; 100/372: 1571; 100/382: 1577; 100/385: 1582; 101/451: 1610-11; 102/459: 1620-22; 102/463: 1624-5 and see C E Banks, ts, transcr., 2 vols. for DCRS, in WCSL, Exeter.

[43] DRO 49/9/1/91.

[44] Oakford parish register, on deposit at DRO, Exeter.

[45] A J Howard and T L Stoate, The Devon Muster Roll for 1569, 1977, transcr. from PRO SP 12/57.

[46] E E Rich, EcHR, 2nd series, ii, 1950, 247-265.

[47] J E Binney, ed., The Accounts of the Wardens of the Parish of Morebath, Devon, 1520-1573, originally published in 8 parts as Appendices to DCNQ, ii, Pt V, January 1903 to iii, Pt V, January 1905, also available separately bound as one volume, 1904.

[48] Hoskins, 232-240.

[49] Sheet 21, Tiverton, first published in October 1809.  See also the David and Charles facsimile (sheet 83) of an edition published ca.1890.

[50] Oakford parish register, deposited with DRO, Exeter.

[51] DRO ref. 49/9/1/108a, dated 8 September 1605.

[52] DRO ref. 49/9/1/110.

[53] DRO ref. 49/9/1/109.

[54] DRO ref. 49/9/1/111, dated 13 Mar 1647/8.

[55] DRO ref. 96M/86/15 (3 deeds) and Enrolled Deed No.1666.

[56] DRO ref. 49/9/1/112.

[57] See Bentley, Chap.VI/5 for the manor of Oakford; 156 and 206 for the later history of West Loosemoor.

[58] DRO refs. 49/9/1/113, 115, 36, 124, 208 for this paragraph.

[59] The Oakford Tithe Book is DRO ref. 805A/P19.

[60] DRO ref. 1186M/M4.

[61] PRO C2/Jas I/H21/56.

[62] DRO ref. 96M/26/2E which also includes the 1704 sale (3 MSS).