(Today’s post is in response to an invitation to a Genealogy Blog Party initiated by Elizabeth O’Neal on her blog, Little Bytes of Life. She suggested bloggers write about visiting an ancestor accompanied by Time Lord Dr. Who in his time machine, TARDIS. The visit would be to one individual who was notable in the family, at least to the blogger. Links to all posts will be published on her blog at the end of April. I found the idea of a visit intriguing and decided I wanted to meet a person of some importance in my family in 18th century Devon, England. So I interrupt my normal blog posts with this brief flash from the past as I visit Nicholas Shepheard, born in 1716 in Cornwood Parish, Devon, England, who was my 5th great-grandfather.)
I wrote about Nicholas on 1 July 2014 when describing the Bells of St. Michael’s. As the Churchwarden at the time, he was instrumental in having the bells manufactured and installed in the parish church in 1770. I think that was likely a memorable event for the whole community, most especially for the Shepheard family as Nicholas’ name was cast into the bells. That really impressed me when I saw them first-hand in 2004. You can hear the bells being rung (with a little wind noise unfortunately) on my Cornwood Online Parish Clerk webpage. I am confident that each time the bells were rung before Nicholas died in 1786, he must have smiled. I also described his home in Cornwood, East Rooke, in a blog post of 25 February 2014.
Part of one of the bells showing the name of Nicholas Shepheard Churchwarden
Anyway, here we go on our journey to Ye Olde Devon…
With Dr. Who on the TARDIS, we touch down in the field next door to the East Rooke home where Nicholas, his wife, Mary (nee Barrett) and his family live. The time is late morning of an early summer Sunday in 1780. The sun is already high in the sky and the weather is warm and inviting. The view from the house, overlooking the Yealm River valley is spectacular!
View from East Rooke looking toward the Yealm River valley and the village of Cornwood, Devon (on the left)
Nicholas comes out to great us. He does not seem surprised that we have arrived for a visit, at least not any more than I am to be there. He marvels at the unique structure that is firmly settled in his front yard. The little box seems an unlikely thing for two men to suddenly emerge from.
The house is an imposing building, two floors with large windows facing south to catch the natural light. Behind the house are smaller buildings, constructed of stone that house some of the livestock and where goods and implements are stored. All the buildings go back some decades with many local workers having been employed to finish them, including other members of the Shepheard family who were experienced tradesmen.
Main house at East Rooke farm as it looks today
Nicholas is a dapper-looking man, already dressed in a wool suit with vest and leggings, befitting the Squire that he is. He looked much like pictures I had seen before in articles about late 18th century fashions. I can’t help but think there is a resemblance to Shepheards of later years. His handshake is firm and his look confident which give us the impression this is a man of strong character and determination. His welcome is cordial and friendly indicating he is kindly and a gentleman in every sense of the word.
A late 18th century gentlemen dressed in a wool suit meant for casual wear
As we stroll across the farmyard we happen to meet my 4th great-grandmother, 10-year old Jane Treby Shepheard. She is just bringing a basket of eggs to her mother, from the chicken coup in one of the out-buildings. She smiles and curtsies to us, in the manner of well-brought up children of the day. It is a bit strange knowing that, in just 11 years she will marry her first cousin, John Shepheard.
Although they have servants to help with the home and the fieldwork, Nicholas and Mary have insisted their children be responsible and participate in the running of the farmstead, including doing much of the work. They all later went on to become hard-working and responsible members of the community. The couple had eight children between 1761 and 1775. One daughter, Mary, had died as an infant however the others appear to be thriving. We saw several of them going about their chores while we walked and talked with Nicholas. All greeted us kindly and with respect. My great-grandfather showed obvious pride in them.
While alive, Nicholas never became a grandfather, so was denied that enormous personal pleasure. He did not know that would be case when we visited him, of course, which made me a bit sad. Four of his children would eventually marry, the first not until seven years after his death, though. Only two would have children of their own but they both have a long line of descendants, including me. (I realized in typing this that I have not traced all of them down to present day, so there is another project for me to tackle.)
I have not found a will for Nicholas. He is certainly a man who one would expect to have prepared such a document. Perhaps he died suddenly, before he had time to compose one. Or maybe it is still buried in the archives waiting to be discovered and indexed. In any event, all his property went automatically to his wife and sons.
We take a short tour of the farm to see how the crops were faring. Nicholas comments the prices for corn (wheat and other grains) have climbed over the years since he took over the farm in 1756, on the death of his father. The future looked bright in that respect. The winter had been quite cold, as it was across southern England but the spring and summer were warm, if a bit dry.
The fields are divided by stone walls and hedges, the partitioning having taken place likely centuries before, when the manor estates were created. The Rooke lands had been owned by the Shepheard family since the early 1600s although Nicholas could not say exactly when they had been acquired. Altogether the farm totalled just 62 acres, in two segments called Middle Rooke and East Rooke. Nicholas also owned another farm further south in the parish called Knotts or Woodburn which was 45 acres in size. Alongside the East Rooke lands, to the east lay a 20 acres group of parcels set aside as charity lands by Nicholas’ father and several other gentlemen of the parish in 1700, called Wakeham’s Rooke. It was managed by Nicholas and his brother, Richard (who was also my 5th great-grandfather and the father of John who I mentioned earlier – but that is another story).
Satellite view of the lands around Rooke farm; the main house is located on the southwest corner of the T-intersection on the lower-right side of the photo
Nicholas is actively involved in the community, not just as Churchwarden, but as a tax assessor and collector, and a trustee of the local charity that owns Wakeham’s Rooke. He has other business interests in the area as well. He met and married his wife, who is 20 years younger than he, in Ermington Parish where she lived. He was then 44, quite successful but still single. He was surely ready then to have a family to succeed him. I got the impression that, as a somewhat older man, he smitten by this sweet young thing he met one of his business trips to the area.
My 4th great-grandmother’s second name is Treby which may have been given to her as a sign of the respect Nicholas had for an important family in the area, possibly a business associate. Nicholas did not confirm this, but it is interesting to speculate about it anyway. We do not get a chance to meet any of his neighbours.
Let’s not forget about Mary. She is also a strong and capable person something that is in evidence when we meet her. She brought property in Ermington parish into the family, lands one of their sons eventually was to own and operate. She continued to manage the Cornwood parish lands after Nicholas’ death, with the assistance of her sons and daughters, until her death, of influenza, in 1803 at the age of 67. She did not leave a will, but there were specific instructions from her as to the disposition of property and payments to be made to her daughters indicating she cared a great deal for her children and their futures.
East Rooke far, on the left, looking from the steeple of St. Michael and All Angels Church in Cornwood; buildings on Wakeham’s Rooke are on the right; the hills of Dartmoor are in the distance
In the distance we hear those church bells at St. Michael’s ring out. Nicholas stops to listen and smiles. He says the family must get dressed and ready for services and begs his leave of us. We walk back to the TARDIS and say goodbye. It has been a memorable experience to meet him and see the farm up close. I hope to do it again as there is so much more to see, not just on the homestead but across the parish where my family lived for so many generations.
Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is the Editor of Relatively Speaking, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Genealogical Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.