History of North Beer

Fields belonging to North Beer

Census returns for North Beer

Documents relating to North Beer in the public archives

Beer or bere is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “wood” and North Beer is one of several places in Spreyton with Beer in their name – the others being South Beer, Begbeer, Bowbeer and Riders Beer. These farms all bear witness to the fact that Spreyton, which means “settlement in the brushwood”, was still heavily wooded in medieval times. There are no references to the farm in early documents, but like most farms in Spreyton, it probably dates back to the 13th century when the Men of Devon acquired the right to clear the royal hunting forest that covered so much of Devon and carved themselves out farms.

The farm of North Beer was part of the Manor of Spreyton. As a result no doubt of marriages and divisions between different heirs, ownership of the manor and the farms belonging to it had by the late 16th or early 17th century become divided between three different families (one family had a half share; the other two each had a quarter).This meant that the tenants of farms like North Beer had to deal with three landlords, the rents being apportioned according to their shares – although in practice the rents were no doubt collected by a single bailiff, acting on behalf of all the owners. 


  • 1644: the earliest reference to North Beer is in a list of manorial rents dated 1644. A tenant called Nethercott was paying rent of 1s 6d.
  • 1680s: There are mentions of North Beer in the records of the Overseers of the Poor – an office that rotated between the occupants of the various farms. The overseers were responsible for ensuring that all occupiers of landholdings, whether as owners or tenants, paid an annual rate to provide for the poor of the parish. In 1684, Lewis Dicker was the rate-payer for North Beer, paying 4s.6d.
  • 1690s: Thomas Hore seems to have taken the property over (the Hores were a rich South Tawton family, a branch of which moved to Spreyton in the 17th century; there are Hore gravestones in Spreyton church). He probably not only rented the property but purchased a quarter share of the freehold, as a quarter share was later in the possession of the Trist family, descendants of the Hores.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, the big landowners began to dispose of the freeholds of individual farms, usually to the sitting tenants or prosperous yeoman farmers looking to increase their landholdings.In some cases, instead of selling the freehold, they would sell a 1000-year or 2000-year lease – equivalent to a freehold – leaving the owner of the leasehold with an obligation to pay a small annual reserved rent to the previous owner.

  • 1751: One of the wealthy yeoman farmers who picked up a number of properties around this time in Spreyton and South Tawton was Mark Cann (who seems to have been no more than a distant relation of the Canns of Fuidge commemorated in Spreyton church). In 1751, he purchased a 2,000-year lease (at a yearly reserved rent of £5) of a quarter of the freehold of North Beer from the Rev. Richard Hole, a member of a rich clerical family in North Tawton which had inherited a fourth part of the Manor of Spreyton. Hole’s son subsequently sold the freehold interest in this quarter to Mark Cann’s descendants.

1766: It is not clear where Mark Cann actually lived, but it may well have been at North Beer, as in 1766 he is recorded as taking a young female apprentice for “housewifery” called Elizabeth Gidley at North Beer.

  • 1775:by the time Mark made his will in 1775, he was in possession not only of the 2000-year lease of the quarter share from Richard Hole, but also another half share of the freehold of North Beer apparently acquired from the Trend family of Chagford – goodness knows how they had acquired it. Mark was still renting the final quarter from Hore Browse Trist on a 99-year lease, again at £5 a year (Hore Browse Trist was a relation of Thomas Hore mentioned above).Mark’s descendants appear subsequently to have acquired the freehold of this quarter as well, probably in around 1800 when the Trist family sold their possessions in Spreyton. The Canns thus achieved full ownership. North Beer was to remain in the hands of the Canns and their relations until the early 20th century.
  • 1776: death of Mark Cann. He bequeathed his interest in North Beer to his son George Cann. He also bequeathed to George “all the corn and hay at North Beer and Bush at the time of my death, whether standing or growing in the ground or saved in barns or ricks; all my household goods at Bush and North Beer not otherwise bequeathed; the young horse that George usually rides and is called “George’s horse”; my best saddle and [illegible]; and all my implements and tools of husbandry”. George Cann lived at Bush and appears to have rented North Beer out first to a farmer called George Howard and then to a family called Dicker (possibly a descendant of the Dicker who was there in 1684). According to the Spreyton parish records, William Dicker of North Beer died in 1824 aged 77.
  • 1831: death of George Cann, who had no children. He left a long will distributing his various farms to his nephews. North Beer (as well as West Hillerton in Bow) went to his nephew William Croote Cann, who appears already to have been renting the farm from his uncle at the time of the latter’s death, and remained there with his family until his own death.
  • 1854: death of William Croote Cann. He bequeathed North Beer to trustees to hold in trust for his son George, who was a minor.
  • 1860s: by the time of the 1861 census, George had taken over the farm and was living at North Beer with his family. But within the next decade he seems to have disposed of it to John Heathman of Sampford Courtenay, who had married his sister Elizabeth. The Heathman family remained there until at least 1911, although by that time John Heathman had died and only his widow and two unmarried daughters were living at North Beer, with a young servant girl. There was a farm bailiff living on the estate, presumably running the farm.

In 1842, a survey was done of all the land in Spreyton to calculate a cash value of the tithes until then collected in kind (the tithe apportionment survey). North Beer consisted of 156 acres, a fairly large farm for the time. The Canns and the Heathmans seemed to have had other farms as well. According to the census in 1851, for instance, William Croote Cann was farming 340 acres and employing 10 people. So they were quite prosperous. There were domestic servants at North Beer to help the farmer’s wife, and even at one time a governess. Many of the farmworkers whom they employed were young apprentices who lived in the farmhouse with the family and the domestic servants – there were often 10 or 11 people living in.

The large farmhouse at North Beer probably dates back to the 15th or 16th century, but it has been significantly remodelled and extended over the years. In particular, there is an extension at one end which has clearly long been a separate dwelling as it has its own bread oven. The tithe apportionment also refers to “dwellings” in the plural and the census records two families at North Beer. So this part of the house was probably that occupied by the farm labourers or farm manager shown in the census. There are also still cob farm buildings that may well be several hundred years old. There were signs of an old garden and orchard by Beer Copse, so there may also long ago have been another cottage there.



As recorded in the tithe apportionment that took place in that year.

Tithe numberField nameAcres, Roods, Perches
257Steers Plat1.0.23
259Coombe Ball7.1.30
260Wood 26.1.16
261Landray 4.0.11
263Simons Field2.1.3
264Stockey Field 5.0.27


Copse 0.3.30
267 Finch Nest 1.3.26
268Lower Bale 3.3.38
269 Brake 4.3.31
270 North Ball 3.2.12
271Colts Close 0.3.25
272 Mowplot 0.0.37
273 Garden 0.2.26
275Houses and courts1.0.23
276 Orchard1.0.34
277Yearlings Close8.0.17
278Higher Park5.0.13
279Bramble Field4.0.18
280 Gidleys Breach 2.1.16
281Fords Breach 3.2.26
282  Beer Copse6.2.39
284 Great Meadow 4.2.16
285 Little Meadow 2.0.18
286Orchard 0.2.24
287 Gratton 3.3.13
288Lower Gratton 7.3.6
289 Copse 2.2.19
290 Openpark 5.2.21
291 Dickeys Close3.3.39
292Orchard 0.3.8
293Nursery 0.1.5
294 Little Openpark 3.2.33
295  Flat Field4.1.11
296Plantation 0.3.5
297 Rams Moor 4.0.24
Total 156.0.38


1841 Census

Elizabeth Cann, aged 45, farmer

Agnes Cann, aged 15

Mark Cann, aged 15

George Cann, aged 8

Elizabeth Cann, aged 6

Maria Turner, aged 20, farm servant

Bartholomew Marks, aged 21, agricultural labourer

John Fey, aged 19, apprentice

George Delve, aged 14, agricultural labourer

Robert Bowden, aged 10, agricultural labourer.

In a separate dwelling, probably the extension to the farmhouse

William Dicker, aged 50, agricultural labourer, with his wife Mary and children.

1851 census

William Croote Cann, aged 66, farmer of 340 acres employing 10 labourers

Elizabeth Cann, aged 57

George Cann, aged 17

Elizabeth Cann, aged 11

Agnes Cann Heathman (grand-daughter), ab ged 2

Mary Baker, aged 56, general servant

Elizabeth Dicker, aged 19, general servant

William Laing, aged 23, farm servant

George Laing, aged 19, farm servant

Henry Horwill, aged 18, farm servant

James Madders, farm servant

1861 census

George Cann, aged 27, farmer of 221 acres, employing 3 labourers and 3 boys

Mary Cann, aged 27

William Cann, aged 2

Catherine Cann, aged 10 months

Catherine Ellis (visitor), aged 55, farmer’s widow

John Ellis (visitor), aged 23, farmer

Eliza Emmens, aged 15, farm servant

Emma Emmens, aged 13, farm servant

John Watt, aged 14, farm servant

William White, aged 15, farm servant

Edward Crocker, aged 10, farm servant

In a separate dwelling

William Dicker, aged 71, agricultural labourer, and his wife Mary.

1871 census

John Heathman, aged 54, farmer of200acres employing 6 men

Elizabeth Heathman, aged 36

Blanche E. Heathman, aged 11

Ada S.C. Heathman, aged 6

Catherine M. L. Cann (niece), aged 10

Selina York, aged 33, governess

Elizabeth Cann, aged 16, housemaid

Mary Sanders, aged 12

George Westaway, aged 45, farm servant (indoor)

Elizabeth Huckey (visitor), aged 65.

In a separate dwelling

Henry Westaway, aged 70, agricultural labourer, and his wife Ann.

1881 census

John Heathman, aged 64, farmer of 70 acres

Elizabeth Heathman, aged 46

Blanch E. Heathman, aged 21

Ada S.C. Heathman, aged 16

Susan Ann Martyin, aged 21, domestic servant

George Westaway, aged 55, farm servant

1891 census

John Heathman, aged 74, retired farmer

Elizabeth Heathman, aged 55

Blanche E. Heathman, aged 31

Ada S. G. Heathman, aged 25

Mary Ann Yeo, aged 27, general domestic servant

In a separate dwelling

Emmanuel Wilson, aged 55, agricultural labourer, with wife Rosella, son Frederick 17 and grandson Frank 8.

1901 census

Elizabeth Heathman, aged, widow living on her own means, with her 2 daughters and one servant. Emmanuel Wilson is still in the other dwelling.

1911 census

Blanche Heathman (head of household), aged 51, private means

Elizabeth Heathman (mother), aged 76, private means

Ada Heathman, aged 46, private means

Wilmot Lang, aged 15, general servant (domestic)

In a separate dwelling

Sidney Towell, aged 36, farm bailiff and his wife and two children.



Declaration of 20.4.1745between (1) John Trend of Chagford, gent., and his wife Agnes; and (2) Henry Hooper, gent., and William Ellis, yeoman, both of Chagford. The parties agreed that the Trends would, in the Court of Common Pleas, levy and execute a fine unto Henry Hooper and William Ellis, upon a number of properties in Chagford and Spreyton, including:

  • Half of Bowbere in Spreyton, in the posession of John Trend or his tenants;
  • Half of Northbeer in Spreyton, also in the occupation of John Trend or tenants;
  • Half of Bush in Spreyton, in the same occupation;

The premises comprised in the fine to be for the use of John Trend and his heirs.

Devon Record Office: Lambert estate papers.

This document indicates that the Trends of Chagford had acquired, probably from the Kellys of Kelly, 16th century owners of the Manor of Spreyton, a half share in the freehold of various properties belonging to the Manor. It seems probable that Mark Cann then acquired their half-share of North Beer.

Final agreement of Easterin the 18th year of GeorgeII (c.1745). John Trend gentleman and his wife Agnes, agree that lands in Bowbeer, North Beer, Coffins, Deerparks and Bush are to go to to Henry Hooperand William Ellis who have paid £200.

DRO ref: DD34204

Note describing an indenture of 30.10.1751 between Richard Hole of North Tawton and Mark Cann of Spreyton conveying to Mark Risdons Tenement;a quarter of North Beer,previously occupied by John Trend and then by Mark Cann; and a quarter of Huddishill.

DRO ref: DD34207

This presumably refers to the 2000-year lease granted by Richard Hore to Mark Cann rather than the conveyance of the actual freehold, as a 1757 document (see below) indicates that Richard Hole still owned the freehold. Note, however, that the 1800 document below gives the date of the granting of the lease as 1758; presumably on one of these the date has been miscopied.

Lease and release of 16 and 17 October 1755 (2 items). The first document is a 1-year lease granted by Arthur Kelly to Agnes Hore for 5s and a peppercorn rent (for technical reasons, it was normal to grant a notional 1-year lease when conveying property). In the second indenture, Arthur Kelly of Kelly conveys to Agnes Hore of South Tawton for £99 his fourth share of that one messuage and tenement called Coffins and the Deer Parks, and a fourth share of North Beere, both late in the possession of Thomas Hore Esq., deceased. The conveyance is subject inter alia to:

  • a 99-yearlease of the fourth part of Coffins and Deerparks dated 29.9.1743 (17 Geo II) granted by Arthur Kelly to Thomas Hore Esq. of Spreyton, now determinable on the lives of Mark Cann, son of John Cann of Spreyton, gent., and Thomas Trist, son of Browse Trist of Totnes Esq.;
  • a 99-year lease of one fourth of North Beere of the same date granted by Arthur Kelly to Thomas Hore and now determinable on the deaths of Mark Cann, son of Mark Cann of Spreyton, and Browse Trist, son of Browse Trist aforementioned.

DRO: Lambert estate papers

The fact that Mark Cann junior was one of the “lives” on the lease of North Beer indicates that although the Hores had held the formal tenancy, they were effectively subletting North Beer to Mark Cann senior.

Indenture of 5.10.1757between (1) Richard Hore of North Tawton and his wife Julianna; (2) Thomas Hole of North Tawton; and (3) John Battishill of Drewsteignton. It affirms John Battishill’s right to a quarter of Horracombe, and lists other properties the freehold of whichof which Richard Hole still possesses, including in fee simple, including a quarter share of North Beer of which he is seized in fee simple (freehold).

Devon Record Office ref: 2914 A/PF 20.

Will of Mark Cann of Spreyton, dated 1775, proved 1776

Bequeaths inter alia:

  • to his wife an annuity of £9 for 40 years if she should live that long, to be paid by his son George; and £1.10s a year to be charged on his half of Cote, otherwise known as Risdon’s Tenement, in Spreyton. He also bequeaths to her one chest of drawers then in the parlour chamber at Fingle; one chest at North Beer; half of all his brass and pewter goods at North Beer and Bush; and the hackney horse on which he usually rides;
  • to his son George: his half share of the freehold of North Beer; the quarter share of North Beer that he holds on a 2,000-year lease granted to him by the Rev. Richard Hole at a yearly rent of £5 (he directs that George should not charge any part of the rent on the testator’s estate of Huddishill); and the remainder of a 99-year lease of the other quarter of North Beer granted by Hore Browse Trist at a rent of £5 a year;
  • to his son George: all the corn and hay at North Beer and Bush at the time of his death, whether standing or growing in the ground or saved in barns or ricks; all his household goods at Bush and North Beer not otherwise bequeathed; the young horse that George usually rides and is called “George’s horse”; his best saddle and [illegible]; and all his implements and tools of husbandry;

Devon Record Office.

Will of Rev Richard Hole dated 1793 bequeaths inter alia his interest in North Beer to his son Richard.

National Archives: PCC wills.

Lease and release of 14/15.10.1800 whereby John Lambert Gorwyn of Cheriton Bishop, gent., conveys to George Cann of Falkedon, gent., the following properties subject to a 2000 year lease granted on 30.10.1758 by Richard Hole of South Tawton, Clerk (now deceased) to Mark Cann of Spreyton, gent. (now deceased) at a total reserved yearly rent of £9 (to become payable to GC):

  • Risdon’s House in Spreyton Church Town and right to the stable, heretofore in the possession of Mary Risdon widow and afterwards in the possession of Thomas Stone as tenant;
  • one half of Coate or Risdon’s Tenement in Spreyton Church Town heretofore in the possession of Thomas Earlon and Robert Kellaway and their tenants;
  • one half of a house in Spreyton Church Town formerly in the possession of Henry Carthew as tenant;
  • one fourth of Northbeer and Huddishill, formerly in the possession of George Howard and his assignees;
  • one fourth of Martin’s House in Spreyton Church Town formerly in the possession of Simon Martin as tenant;
  • a house called Dayers in Spreyton Church Town formerly in the possession of Andrew Battishill as tenant.

DRO: Lambert estate papers

This indicates that the technical freehold of one fourth of North Beer was never acquired by the Canns. The heirs of George Cann of Falkedon (who was from the Fuidge Canns), namely George Lambert Gorwyn of Falkedon(1763-1837) and George Lambert Gorwyn of Coffins (1818-1885) were still collecting the £9 annual rent from John Heathman in the second part of the 19th century.

Will of George Cann of Bush in Spreyton, gentleman (died July 1832)

Bequeaths inter alia:

  • to William Croote Cann, son of his deceased nephew John Cann: his Manor or reputed Manor, capital messuage, Barton and farm of West Hillerdon in Nymet Tracy (Bow), together with Huddishilland its landtax and Rectorial tythe revenues; and North Beer. His inheritance of the latter is dependant on his paying £400 to the testator’s executor and £150 to Mark Cann, son of the testator’s brother Thomas. William and his heirs are also directed to pay certain quitrents or other yearly rents due out of North Beer, Bush,Cott, Huddishill and other lands in Spreyton, amounting to £9.2s.6d.The testator also releases William Croote Cann from any debts due to him, George Cann, at the time of his death, except for the rent due from North Beer which becomes payable to his executor [this indicates that William was already renting North Beer];
  • to his nephew Mark Cann his estates called Itton or Itton Law and Lower Taw, with rights of common on Itton Moor, Tawton Common and Taw Green in South Tawton. Mark Cann also receives £250 to be paid by his executor and the £150 due from William Croote Cann out of North Beer; an annuity of £5 payable out of the revenues from Davyland in Drewsteignton; and (by virtue of the power vested in the testator under the will of his brother Thomas Cann) West Spitler in South Tawton. Mark is also released from his debts to the testator;

Inland Revenue Wills, DRO.

Will of William Croote Cann of North Beer, yeoman (died February 1854)

Bequeaths inter alia:

  • to his sister Anne Like: an annnuity of £3 charged on North Beer, for her own use separate from that of her husband;
  • North Beer in trust to his friends William Harrington Battishill, gentleman, and William Packer of Bow, gentleman. Under the trust, they are to raise £600 on the security of the property and pay it to his son Mark Cann, to be deemed part of his personal estate. North Beer is then to be held in trust for his son George. However, if George dies without heirs before reaching the age of 21, the property goes to Mark, and the trustees are to pay Mark’s three sisters £150 apiece;
  • Mark Cann is appointed executor and William Battishill and William Packer are appointed trustees of his daughter Elizabeth and his son George if they are still in their minorities when he dies. If his son Mark is desirous of occupying and farming North Beer during the minority of George, the trustees are to allow him to do so for a rent of £40; Mark must also pay all the chief rents and taxes on the property.
  • Inland Revenue Wills, DRO.

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