Analysis of North Tawton Oath-takers, 1723

By Jean Shields


How did they all get to their destinations, considering the state of the roads at the time, which predated the turnpikes? Most, presumably, on horseback or on foot, as wheeled vehicles were very rare on the lesser roads of Devon until about 1800. Marshall writing in 1796 in The Rural Economy of the West of England tells us "The roads of West Devon are at the present time, remarkable for their steepness. Less than half a century ago, they were mere gullies." He continues "Speaking with little if any latitude, there was not then a wheeled carriage in the district......" However even in 1669 it was possible to go by coach between Okehampton and Exeter. (Travels of Cosmos III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, England. I.Magalotti, 1669, Chope, 1918). Magolotti accompanied Cosmos from Italy to London. "...on the 6th (of April ) we departed from Okehampton after dinner, and arrived in the evening in Exeter, going by the direct road till we passed Crediton." This route would have taken them through North Tawton Parish, so it is possible but unlikely, that those signing at the Castle, Exeter (20 miles each way) did so by wheeled vehicle. Of the nine who went to Exeter, (excluding the Quakers) all were well off. Perhaps they stayed the night, particularly the ladies, because of the distance from home.

Many of the oath-takers were tradesmen and yeoman farmers or married to such, and would have had access to a horse or horses for their trade, or in some cases had the money to hire one. Many women rode on horseback in times gone by. Presumably they rode side saddle but whether solo or pillion, perhaps behind a groom, there is no information. Many years later a farmer's wife in the district left in her will dated 1814 ".....also to my daughter Joanna I do give my side saddle and pillion" (DHC, Inland Revenue will of Elizabeth May). So it would appear that some may have had one horse between two which would of course have slowed up the journey. It might have been expected that the poorer people would have gone to Hatherleigh, as it was well within walking distance, but this was not so. All those who went either to The George or to the Magistrate's house, except one, were well off and would almost certainly have ridden.

Of those classified as poor (see below) all but one signed at Chulmleigh, a 20 mile round trip, calling into question whether they have been correctly identified. Perhaps, as two thirds went to Chulmleigh on the same day, it was a kind of communal "day out" and some walked in spite of the distance.

Continue to next section Return to previous