Spreyton Farm Histories

For more specific Farm Histories please click on the links below;

Barton Begbeer Bush Coffins (Spreyton House) Combe Cramphay Croft Falkedon Fuidge Heath Hollycombe Huddishill North Beer Rugroad Stockhay Week

The first mention of Spreyton is in the Domesday Book of 1086. At that time, the country was divided into manors. All land belonged to the King, but he “granted” manors to his followers in exchange for feudal dues. At the time of the Norman conquest in 1066, the Manor of Spreyton (which probably covered roughly the same area as the present parish) was held by a Saxon called Osferth. By 1086, the Saxon landholder had been expropriated and Spreyton became one of the many manors in Devon that William the Conqueror granted to his close follower Baldwin de Brionne, whom he appointed Sheriff of Devon.

At that time, a large part of the manor of Spreyton was covered by forest (the name means “settlement in the brushwood”). The Domesday Book refers to woodland one league long and two furlongs wide (about 1.5 miles by 0.25 miles). But there was enough agricultural land for eight teams of ox-drawn plough teams, and there were 14 “villagers”, small farmers who held land from the lord of the manor in exchange for feudal dues such as so many days’ labour on the lord’s estate. Some of the farms in Spreyton probably date back to that time and were the same ones that were held by those villagers mentioned in the Domesday Book. Unfortunately, there is no documentary evidence of the names of the villagers’ farms, so we can never know which exactly which farms date back to then – and indeed to earlier Saxon times.

The forests in Devon were royal hunting forests owned by the King. In the 13th century, the Plantagenet monarchs raised money by selling to local people the right to clear and cultivate the forest land. This was when almost all the farms not already existing in 1086 were created. So probably all Spreyton farms are at least 700 years old and many older. Some of the forest land was probably cleared by Lord of the Manor for his own use; the rest he would have let to farmers, who would have cleared a path into the forest (which explains why so many farms have long drives to them), built themselves a dwelling and then systematically cleared the land around their dwelling.

By the late 1100s, the lordship of Spreyton had passed to a family called Talbot, who probably lived at either Barton or Week. They remained the landlords until they ran out of heirs in the late 15th or early 16th century. They retained ownership of most of the farms in Spreyton, letting them out and living on the rents. But some land probably was sold and became effectively freehold, including probably Rugroad and Croft (although the lord of the manor continued to collect a feudal due of one pair of gloves every year for these two properties).

The Kelly family of Kelly in West Devon probably acquired the manor of the manor of Spreyton (or part of it) in the 1500s by marrying a Talbot heiress. A junior branch of the family appears to have taken up residence in Spreyton, at Barton, which became their home farm or “capital messuage”. But by the 1600s, ownership of Spreyton (and the right to the all-important rental income from the farms) had become split between several people, no doubt as a result of complicated inheritances and marriage deals. Half of the manor seems to have passed to the Gilbert family of Compton, who sold it to John Battishill (from South Tawton) in 1639. The Battishills, like the Kellys, made Barton their home in Spreyton. Another quarter came into the hands of the Wise family of Sydenham, who sold it to Nathaniel Risdon of Spreyton in 1657. From him this quarter descended to the Hole family of South Tawton, who sold it to the Cann and Lambert Gorwyn families in the early 1800s. A final quarter of the manor was sold by Arthur Kelly of Kelly to John Cann of Fuidge in 1758.

Not all the farms remained in the same ownership as the manor itself. The various owners of the manor gradually sold off of their shares in the freeholds of many of the individual farms. Sometimes the purchasers were the tenants. But the big landowning families also sold bits of farms to each other, in order to consolidate the ownership of each of the farms into the hands of one person (until then each farm had three landlords, which cannot have been much fun for the tenants, and must also have been bureaucratically awkward for the landlords).

By the 19th century, most farms in Spreyton were in the hands of three families: the Battishills of Barton (Barton, Week, Woodhouse, Stockhay, Bowbeer, part of Falkedon, Cramphay and Spreytonwood); the Canns of Fuidge (Fuidge, part of Falkedon, North Beer, South Beer, Bush, Downhayes, Heath, Riders Beer) and the Lambert Gorwyns or Lamberts as they became known (Coffins, Rugroad, Croft and the largest part of Falkedon). The Cann estate was the first to be broken up, in the 1830s after the Canns lost their money in an unsuccessful attempt to run a bank in Exeter. The Battishill estate was put up for auction in 1913 after the death of the last of the Spreyton Battishills. And the Lambert estate (with Spreytonwood, which they had acquired after the Battishill sale) was sold in 1972 after the death of the heir.

When farms were sold in the 1600s and 1700s, the previous owner often retained a right to a small “reserved rent” (usually a few shillings) payable to him or his heirs in perpetuity by the current owner of the farm. The right to these rents (sometimes referred to as high or chief rents), along with the right to ancient feudal dues like the pair of gloves for Croft and Rugroad, could be bought and sold and, in the case of Spreyton, usually went with the Lordship of the manor, which remained divided between the Cann, Battishill and Lambert families. These rents continued to be collected well into the 1800s.

In the 1600s and 1700s, the normal form of tenure was the 99-year lease “determinable” on up to three lives. The tenant nominated up to three people (usually his wife and young children) and the lease lasted for 99-years or until all three of the nominated “lives” had died if that were sooner – as it invariably was. The tenant usually paid an upfront sum for the lease and then an annual rent. In addition, he had to pay the landlord a “heriot”, a sum equivalent to the value of his “best beast”, every time one of the nominated “lives” died. In practice, after the first or second of the nominated people had died, it was quite common for the tenant to negotiate a new lease based on newly nominated “lives”, so tenanted farms could remain in the same family for several generations. By the end of the 1700s, this type of tenure was being replaced by leases for fixed periods, usually ten, fourteen or twenty-one years, with detailed prescriptions on how the tenant was to cultivate the land.

All the farmhouses would originally have been of cob and thatch, with some stone in the construction of many. Quite a few succumbed to fire and have been rebuilt. The old cob buildings that survive are not easy to date, but most were probably built originally in the 1400s or 1500s, a time of prosperity for Devon farmers. Most have been altered since then but they almost invariably began life as traditional Devon long houses, with living quarters and a dairy/scullery at one end; then a “cross-passage” going from front to back of the house; and on the other side a linhay and accommodation for the animals.

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