Rackenford Oath-Takers, 1723

By Sarah Child

Social status

While the great majority of the Rackenford oath takers would have been farmers, only 14 of these were farming large to medium holdings, and only four farms were habitually occupied by freeholders. Of those it is possible to identify, Thomas Ayre of Worthy may have had the highest social status as a fourth generation freeholder of some 200 acres (the house was registered as reduced from four to three hearths some 40 years earlier).6 He was the constable of the Witheridge Hundred in 1739, on the jury list and at least twice overseer. William Cockram was another large farmer, by Rackenford standards, who had managed to buy Tidderson, also 200 acres, by 1738, and was also on the jury list, an overseer and churchwarden.7 There were two other large farms, Sydeham and Little Rackenford, but it has not been possible to identify their occupants. Humphrey Parkhouse, who was another constable of the Hundred (1700-1703), seems a possible candidate for one of them. In total ten of the men swearing are described in other documents as yeomen, and five of the women are yeomen's wives, widows or daughter. A total of seven appear on the jury list, six as overseer and six as churchwarden (the records of these last two offices are by no means complete). Only one juror - Malachi Heard - can be defined with any certainty as no more than a husbandman, and even he owned a small freehold on the outskirts of the village.

It is interesting that no less than nine of those on the list were married by licence, a sign of some disposable income. That most are likely to have been heads of household is reinforced by their ages; where these can be determined they are invariably over 40 except for the two children of other oath takers, William Handford junior and Frances Parkhouse.

The group must have included some other occupations, but with the exception of the miller/tanner William Handford and the butcher William Courtenay they are not evident. All the Courtenay brothers may have been butchers; their father is so described in the church register. The term can cover a relatively substantial livestock dealer owning or leasing land (William's occupation appears on a lease of land in the next parish) and they probably occupied one or more of the farms. John Matthews may well have been one of the innkeepers since his father, who died in 1718, held an alehouse licence from 1700.8 However two generations later the Matthews were a family of blacksmiths, and a blacksmith there must have been. The village is also likely to have included a wheelwright and carpenter, and possibly other crafts connected to the cloth trade in Tiverton.

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  1. DHC, QS1/12 Epiphany 1680. [back]
  2. The National Archives, E112/1104/175. [back]
  3. DHC, QS63/1/10/6. [back]