The freeholders books transcribed here contain the names of the elite of eighteenth century Devon society. Used in conjunction with the full run of documents in the Devon Heritage Centre they provide a comprehensive directory of the local gentry, substantial yeomen and prosperous tradesmen. Those named range from men with the minimum £10 freehold or £20 leasehold qualification to major landholders such as the Courtenays of Powderham, the Bampfyldes of Poltimore, and the Poles of Shute. The great strength of the books as a research resource is their survival as a near-complete run of documents for two thirds of the years from 1711 until 1816. This compares favourably to other English counties, many of which have only a handful of equivalent extant volumes.59 The principle purpose of the lists was to identify individuals eligible for jury service, and so they are extremely valuable for the study of the eighteenth century legal system. They also provide information concerning social status and landholding that will be of use to a wide range of local historians and genealogists. The high turnover of names appearing in the volumes from one year to the next provides evidence of the mobility of the middling sort in eighteenth century Devon that will be of interest to social historians. Finally, the tendency of some parish constables to name exempt or ineligible individuals makes the documents a valuable source for researching the history of medicine, the legal profession and the county's Quaker population.

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  1. Searches on Access to Archives suggest that only Kent has a more complete set of freeholders books for the eighteenth century. The volumes survive in an unbroken run from 1701 to 1824: Centre for Kentish Studies, Q/RJf/2/1-125, Kent Quarter Sessions, Freeholders books, 1701-1824. [, accessed 11 April 2007]. Freeholders lists in county record offices are included in J.S.W. Gibson, Quarter Sessions Records for Family Historians: A Select List (Federation of Family History Societies, 4th ed., 1995), although are often described as 'jurors' lists'. [back]