Who in Thorncombe did not sign the 1723 Devon Loyalty Oaths and Why?

By Eve Higgs


Fragmented evidence in various local nonconformist marriage registers, supports the theory that others among Thorncombe's missing marrier fathers in the 1674-1723 cohort, were wed in nonconformist ceremonies.15 These men may have chosen to baptise their children in church for settlement purposes, or if their religious beliefs did not preclude Anglican baptism (See Appendix 4). The 1676 Compton Census return lists 162 nonconformists compared with 723 conformists in Thorncombe. In the 1670s there were 34 prosecutions for non-attendance at church. Parishioners were dispersed across 4,896 acres. Apart from clusters of habitation in the village and the hamlets of Hewood and Holditch, many lived in isolated farms. As well as dairying and sheep-keeping, the parish supported weavers and others employed in the manufacture and trading of woollen cloth. Its geographical and social characteristics are typical of those associated with dissenter communities.16

During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries nonconformity was well established in south-west England, embracing not only Presbyterians, but Congregationalists/Independents, Baptists and Quakers. Estimates put the proportion of nonconformists as high as 1 in 10 of the population of the southwest. John Evans' 1715 survey of nonconformist meetings identified 100 hearers in Thorncombe. Based on the parish's estimated population, this is close to the county average. However attending a meeting to hear a sermon did not necessarily indicate formal membership of a particular sect from one particular parish, but Evans's list and the other evidence points to a significant nonconformist presence in Thorncombe between 1674 and 1723.17

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  1. Somerset Records Office, t\PH\ro/68h Somerset Non-Conformist Records... South Petherton Old Meeting (Presbyterian 1688)... Baptisms 1694-1837; http://www.bmdregisters.co.uk/ (accessed 15.10.2009). [back]
  2. Schurer, K. and Arkell, T., The interpretation and use of documents sources for the study of population in the late seventeenth century, (Oxford, 1992), 129; http://www.opcdorset.com/ThorncombeFiles/ThorncombeWills.htm (accessed 15.10.2009). [back]
  3. Spufford, M. (Editor), The world of rural dissenters 1520-1725, (Cambridge, 1995), 40-45; Brockett, A., 'Nonconformists in Devon in the eighteenth century', Transactions of the Devon Association, xc (1958), 31-59; Worth, R., 'Puritanism in Devon and the Exeter Assembly', Transactions of the Devon Association, ix (1877), 274, 276-278; Kain, R. and Ravenhill, W. (Editors), Historical Atlas of South-West England, (Exeter, 1999), 226. [back]