Morchard Bishop in the Eighteenth Century

By Bob Pope

Social Structure

The social structure was clearly defined although there was considerable mobility between the various levels of the social scale. At the top of the tree in Morchard Bishop were the gentry, those who did no physical work but paid others to do it for them and were granted the title of 'Mr'. The Rector, or Vicar who deputised for him, and men of substance, such as John Branscombe (d. 1728), John Chillcott (d.1736), John Comyns (d.1742), Philip Pope (d.1742) and John Tucker (d.1731).

Next came the yeoman farmers, they employed workers on the farm and servants in the house but they worked in the fields with their men when necessary. They farmed the larger farms and counted among their number the Wrefords of Middlecott, the Popes of Knathorne. Those who farmed the smaller farms or holdings were known as 'Husbandmen'. Husbandmen or smallholders tilled a small amount of land, kept pigs and possibly a cow. They would employ nobody other than their family and would supplement their income as a weaver or day labourer.

Then came the tradesmen, and finally the farm workers, both skilled and semi skilled, some hired annually and others by the day. Tradesmen, the carpenter, cooper, wheelwright and the blacksmith would be self employed; their wives and daughters probably weaving as a source of extra income.

Mobility between the various social levels, both upwards and downwards, was quite common. An example of downward movement is that of Robert Pope (1735 to1793), the eldest son of Yeoman Simon Pope (1710 to1773). Robert inherited little from his parents that was not carefully tied up. Two of his younger brothers achieved yeoman status, one at his father's farm, Knathorne and the other at Woodparks nearby on the Sandford Parish border. Robert's children and grandchildren however grew up to be farm labourers and weavers.

A list of the personalities who lived in Morchard Bishop during the eighteenth century is at Annex A. The list is far from complete but shows some of the appointments they held and the properties they rented together with an indication of their social status. In some cases the division between "Gentleman" and "Yeoman" appears to be blurred and the title "Mr" may have been given to some who were not entitled to it.

Oath of Loyalty - 1723

In 1723 all adults were required to take an oath of loyalty, in front of a magistrate, to George I. The names of those from Morchard Bishop who took the oath are included in the list of personalities quoted in the previous paragraph. Of the 152 oath-takers 117 were men and 35 were women, three times more men than women.

The list of the oath-takers shows that 52 of the men could sign their names, just under half; whereas only three of the women could, less than one in ten.

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