12. John Fishleigh (1764-1827)

Of course when I literally stumbled upon Jane and Bartholomew’s plaque on the wall of Holy Trinity a few years ago I was quite sure I had found a very significant piece of my own family history. This proved to be true. Like all family historians are supposed to do I had carefully worked my way back from myself to my Canadian parents and my paternal grandfather to my North Devon roots one step at a time. At every stage I required of myself that I track down the original record if possible whether it be held at Barnstaple, Exeter, Kew or Salt Lake City. I did, in one instance, find more detail in a transcription than was contained in the original. I will share that story with you when we get to it later. It was found in the Westcountry Studies Library in Exeter. If I forget, ask me.

Having followed the narrow ancestral path back in time to that cul de sac of confusion some like to call a brick wall I am now, as you will have noted on page 7 and 7a, moving forward in time and tracing the descendants of Jane and Bartholomew. This blog is my record of that journey. With the power of the search engines of the twenty-first century, which might bring fellow researchers to this site, I hope to connect  with other descendants of Jane and Bartholomew or others on a similar path who would like to share their experience.

Milton Damerel Land Tax 1795

This is the first direct evidence specific to John Fishleigh which I have found following his debut, in the  parish register, when his baptism was recorded thirty-one years earlier.  Here we see John Fishleigh as the occupant of Groley, being assessed 17s 3d for the first of twelve successive years at that location. The proprietor is Sir William Moulsworth but that will soon change.

In 2009 one reads the following about Grawley on the internet:

We moved to Higher Grawley in March 1999. The cottage sits on the edge of its 16 acres, along a bumpy track a mile from the nearest road. The only noises are the lowing of cattle and the bleating of sheep.

If Higher Grawley is a mile from the nearest road today, imagine the isolation of more than 200 years earlier.  Perhaps. in some way it was less isolated then, because people were used to walking the network of footpaths.

Before there were roads permitting the relatively easy transport of building materials such as bricks and quarried stone, the dwellings were frequently constructed of local clay, small stones and a little straw. These ingredients were, according to George Harris, puddled to the right consistency, then placed with forks layer by layer on the wall being constructed and shaped, with frequent time outs to allow the successive layers to dry. Once these cob walls, which were thicker at the bottom that at the top, were completed, a roof was constructed of thatch with enough overhang to keep the walls from getting wet and returning to the earth whence they came. These cob buildings, so prevalent in John Fishleigh’s day, left no trace of themselves once abandoned since they came out of the ground and returned to it.  There are local traces of a motte and bailey castle from a much earlier time just  a mile up the Torridge from Grawley but the cob dwellings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries  have apparently gone to earth without a trace.

As I mentioned, John Fishleigh, first occupied Groley as a taxpayer in 1795. The previous year it was all held by Samuel Sanders: Groley, Lower Groley and a place designated as Dorothy Fishleighs. All three of these properties were owned by Moulsworth. Properties were sometimes known by the names of pervious occupants and that appears to be the case here. We know that there were Fishleighs at Grawley prior to John Fishleigh’s arrival there no later than 1795. So one a man acquired a place to live and earn a living it was time to get hitched and that is exactly what John did next.


Banns of marriage between John Fishleigh of Milton Damerel and Elizabeth Fulford also of the parish were published by the curate, the Rev. Richard Walter on three successive Sundays beginning 3 January 1796.  The marriage itself was celebrated on the 26th day of March with the same clergyman officiating in the presence of the two churchwardens John Rattenbury and William Thorne. The bride, rather unusually for the time, signed the register while the groom made his mark.

John’s bride, Elizabeth, as the marriage register indicates, had been baptized at Milton Damerel.  She was the daughter of  Richard and Elizabeth Fulford and was apparently thirteen years younger than her husband. Elizabeth was nineteen when she married thirty-one year old John.

Who was Elizabeth Fulford?  We know very little of her life before she married John Fishleigh. She was the third of six children of Richard and Elizabeth Fulford, who were all baptized at Milton Damerel. There may have been other siblings christened in other parishes.  Her parents’ first born, also named Elizabeth, died when she was four, in 1775. The second child was William who was baptized in late 1774. Three years older than Elizabeth, William  was married at Milton Damerel, to Elizabeth Littlejohns, sojourner, of Cookbury, two days after his younger sister Elizabeth tied the knot!  There is a story here. Three years younger than Elizabeth there was Martha who, like Elizabeth, married a Fishleigh whose first name was Samuel. These Fishleigh brothers-in-law were not closely related although they were both Milton Damerel Fishleighs. Elizabeth’s other known younger sisters were Grace and Joan baptized in 1782 and 1783.

Elizabeth and John Fishleigh’s first child, Samuel, was born, according to his memorial across the Torridge, on Monday the 6th of February the year following their marriage. They gave him the name Samuel. His baptism at Milton Damerel took place almost three weeks after his birth, on Sunday the 26th, more than enough time for the required full week’s notice. I can picture in my mind Elizabeth in her late teens carrying this infant all the way from Grawley to Holy Trinity. Uphill and quite a hike, especially if there was snow on the ground. Elizabeth and this first child must have bonded. They remained close throughout their lives. I’m getting ahead of the story.


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