Analysis of North Tawton Oath-takers, 1723

By Jean Shields

Place of signing

There were various locations where it was possible to take the oath and a choice of dates, ranging from 9 September to 12 December. Those from North Tawton used seven different locations (although two were in the parish of Hatherleigh). Most of those who signed from North Tawton (63) did so at The Bell, Chulmleigh (ten miles distant as the crow flies), all on 22 October. A few (six) at The George in Hatherleigh, five of these on the same day. The George is seven miles distant from North Tawton, and is a popular inn which still stands today. Another seven went to "the home of Richard Ball" (the magistrate), also in Hatherleigh, all on the same day. Nine (all women except one) signed at The Castle, in Exeter on five different days, so they obviously did not all travel together. Some (five, all men) journeyed to Witheridge to the Parish Church, (13 miles) all signing on 5 October, while one signed at The Blue Anchor in Crediton (11 miles), and one man at Crockernwell (10 miles).

Was there any significance in the place of signing? Those who went to Chulmleigh may have chosen this small town because the route would have been familiar. This was the headquarters of the Rural Deanery, so would have been well known to the Churchwardens; 10 of those who travelled there currently held, or had previously held, that office. Hatherleigh, too, was an obvious choice as being the nearest to home (seven miles). Those who went to the Magistrate's home in Hatherleigh (seven) included five women, three of whom signed by name. All had means as shown by other evidence, so perhaps there was some cachet in signing at the Magistrate's home rather than an inn. Exeter was of course the County Town and much commerce was carried on there, nine people journeyed to Exeter. Of these, seven were ladies, three of whom went on the same day, three on another day and one apparently on her own. Surprisingly, four of these were listed as the wives of male oath-takers, yet did not attend with their husbands, which perhaps implies they had their own reasons for signing at Exeter; perhaps an opportunity to buy items unobtainable at home, such as provisions, dress materials, household items and the like, or possibly to visit relatives. The man who went to Crockernwell, William Eastabrook, was a well to do yeoman. This village became a staging post on the main road from Okehampton to Exeter (the old A30), so he too may have had other reasons to go there. The man who went to Crediton was a wealthy sergemaker, Christopher Kelland, and as Crediton, like North Tawton, was a woollen manufacturing town, he may also have had business there. Why the five men who went to Witheridge did so, is more conjectural. They all went on the same day, and comprised a Churchwarden who was also a Freeholder, two yeomen farmers, a weaver, and one man of indeterminate status. It has not been possible to ascertain which day was market day in Witheridge, as this might have been an additional reason to go there.

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