The surname SPEAR is of West Country origin and most commonly found in Devon where, in fact, our family came from. In all probability our Spear ancestors were in Devon back to the Middle Ages when surnames first appeared.


The first ancestor that I have definitely been able to trace is JOHN SPEAR (1701?‑1782) who had 5 children christened in the village of Sandford near Crediton  between 1737 and 1748. His eldest son JOHN SPEAR (1737‑1817) married there in 1756 and had 4 children christened between 1758 and 1764. His eldest son JOHN SPEAR (1758‑1804) was apprenticed in Sandford but moved with his Master to Ide near Exeter around 1777 and subsequently gained settlement in Alphington nearby. He was very poor, probably an agricultural labourer, married a lady called Elizabeth Satterley in Trusham a few miles away in 1781 and moved to Ide. They had at least 5 children, three of whom themselves had children.


We are descended from his son WILLIAM SPEAR (1788‑1846) who was christened in Ide but was moved to Alphington in 1790 with the rest of his family under the laws of settlement. At this period there was considerable unemployment and poverty in the area due to rural overpopulation and the effects of the Napoleonic wars which went on till 1815. Many of the poor were intermittently on parish relief for much of the time and our family seems to have been in this category. William was apprenticed to agriculture by the parish in 1798 aged 10 and was apparently an agricultural labourer/ordinary labourer for the rest of his life. He married Alice White in Alphington in 1811 but within a few years seems to have moved a couple of miles to Exeter itself, the parish of St. Edmund, though many of their seven children were baptised in Alphington where his mother was buried in 1826.

 I am certain that we are descended from their oldest son JOHN SPEAR (1813?‑1894) who, from the later census data, was born in Alphington/Exeter. Unfortunately his christening has not been located but the evidence is very strong that he was their child.

The family was still very poor, three of the children died in infancy, but John managed to get trained as a miller, which was a step up in life. He married Charlotte Berry in Exeter in 1836. Her mother was a Gannicliff by birth; this family was in the area back to 1527 and are covered separately. John and his family moved to the village of Bradninch about 8 miles NE of Exeter around 1845 after the death of his mother and father and here their fifth child JAMES SPEAR (1846‑1912) was born. In the 1850's they moved a few miles to the small town of Cullompton where John continued as a miller and James was an apprentice miller. James left home in the early 1860's (aged 16 after a row with his father according to family legend) and got a job on the railways, ending up in London where he stayed for the rest of his life‑this is covered in a later chapter. His father remarried in 1877 after his wife died  and ended his days in Exeter. Contact with the Devon relations seems to have ceased at some point in the late Victorian period.



 1. According to all the reference books that I have consulted, the name Spear derives from the Old English Spere‑a spearman, one who carries a spear. See, for example, the Dictionary of British Surnames by P.H.Reaney. However,  I have my doubts about this as there must have been numerous people who carried a spear while the name Spear is relatively uncommon  and localised. The spelling varies quite a lot, e.g. Spare, Spear, Speare, Speares, Speer, Speir, but spellings were not standardised till the mid 19th century and, given the widespread illiteracy and semi‑literacy prevalent before then, this is hardly surprising. Surnames were not common for most people in England before the middle Ages but there are a few references to the name before then:

 e.g.      Walter Speare AD 1185 Pipe Rolls

            Henry Spere   AD 1246 Assize Rolls

 I have not inspected these documents and thus do not know what part of the country they come from. There is no evidence that they were related to our family but the name Walter looks interesting‑see 3 below.


 2. Fairbairn's book of Crests gives one Spear crest with a Dolphin on and an Irish one. The former one has been used by members of the family on signet rings etc since at least 1907 but there is no evidence that any of our family were entitled to use it. In fact the family had only emerged from the working class a few years previously. There is some doubt about the accuracy of Fairbairn's book anyway.


3. Although some Spear's were found all over the country they were most commonly found in Devon and adjacent areas, eg the non‑celtic parts of Cornwall. H.P. Guppy published a book in 1890 entitled "Homes of Family Names" (copy in Holborn library) which states that Spear is a common name in both Devon and Cornwall with 8 per 10,000 of population in the former and 17 per 10,000 in the latter.


There is a book called The Place Names of Devon Part 2 by J.E.B. Gover, A. Maurer and F.M. Stenton (914.235 in the Society of Genealogists), which refers to a place called Spearhay on p 648.  It says it is in Axminster hundred, Thorncombe, and is "Sperehegh 1356BM‑hey FF 1439 IpmR and is to be associated with the family of Richard Spere (c. 1300 Add Ch)".

BM is the index to the Charters and Rolls in the British Museum 2 vols 1900‑1912.

FF are the feet of fines for Devon (1216‑1272) Devon and Cornwall Record Society 1912.

IpmR are the Inquisition’s post mortem (Record Commission) 4 vols 1806‑28

AddCh are Additional Charters in the British Museum.

The Devonshire lay Subsidy of 1332 Published by the Devon and Cornwall Record Society New Series Vol 14 1969 (copy in the Soc. of Gen.) showed the following Spear references:


23 Tavistock John Speare 10d

28        South Molton   Roger Speare 12d

42(2)    Broad Clyst      John Speare 17d

            Whimple           Richard Speare 8d

59(2)    Hawton            John Speare 18d

                                    Robert Speare 8d

125(2) East Budleigh    William Sparre 3S

                                     Robert Sparre 12d


This is clearly some kind of tax assessment so presumably only covers some of the more affluent. It is the earliest list of Spear names that I have found though.


Also noted were the _Receivers Accounts of the City of Exeter 1304‑1353. P 62 said _ received from the town John Speare 2d_.


 The Devon Feet of Fines (1196‑1369, 2 Vols. in the Society of Genealogists) has only one reference to Spear: a land deal on 7 April 1364 between Walter Speare querent and William Pruvet, of Sowden in Broadwood Kelly, and Isabella his wife deforciants. It concerns 1 messuage 3 ferlings of land in Brixiston (Brixton in Broadwood Kelly and Ekysborne (Exbourne)) for which Walter gave 10 marks of silver. Broadwood Kelly and Exbourne are in the same area as the main Spear concentration in Devon in the 1500's (see below where there was also a Walter) so I suspect a connection. The second major outbreak of the Black Death had swept the country around 1361 and a lot of properties changed hands around that time.


The attached analysis of the official birth and death records for 1837‑1901, when the move from poorly paid agricultural jobs to the towns was well under way, shows a very heavy concentration in Devon, Cornwall (which includes Plymouth) and Somerset (including Bristol). As the century continued more were found in nearby Glamorgan (with its booming coal, steel and railways) and London (once the rail links were built and affordable).

 For earlier periods the IGI shows the Devon connection very strongly (see the Annex). Indeed in the IGI before 1600 (and other Devon records) the Spear's seem to be mainly concentrated in central Devon in an area around the villages of Winkleigh and Monk Okehampton (see map) about 20 miles North West of Exeter, though there were small pockets elsewhere. We can trace our ancestors back to the mid‑Devon village of Sandford in the 1730's but I believe they originated from this earlier concentration a few miles away.



4. Devon was a mainly agricultural county before the 1850's though there was some industry in nearby Plymouth, especially the dockyards during the Napoleonic Wars, and seafaring along the coast. Up to about 1750 the population of England had been fairly static. As a very crude generalisation, most people in rural areas tended to delay marriage until their mid 20's, i.e. until they could support a family which was often on the way by the time of the wedding. On average they might produce five children of whom a large number died young (1/6th in the first year) and only about half reached marriageable age . Given that some people never married and some married couples never produced children, the rural areas only produced a small surplus of population. The towns destroyed this surplus, especially London, which was very unhealthy. For example, about half the children born in London in 1750 died before they were 5 and people migrating from the countryside only kept up the overall population. Regular epidemics before 1750, eg sweating sickness in the late 1500's, plague that didn't disappear till the late 1600's, and smallpox‑particularly virulent in the 1700's, also kept the population down.


5. For reasons that are not very clear the population after about 1750 began to grow, slowly at first then faster. There were certainly fewer epidemics, increased prosperity meant marriage ages tended to drop so more children were born (especially in the industrial areas where better paid jobs let people marry younger) and nutrition may have improved somewhat. In industrial regions the surplus population went to the towns, which, although appalling by today's standards, were becoming healthier. In essentially rural counties like Devon there was a severe problem because, although the population was increasing, there was not much industry. In practice this meant that there was a large and growing number of landless agricultural labourers in the villages who were probably only fully employed during the harvests and who spent much of the rest of the time in intermittent work supplemented by parish relief.


6. Why didn't the surplus population leave the land? Emigration to North America was possible but expensive and dangerous. It doesn't seem to have happened a lot before the 1830's and 40's after which Australia and other places became available. For a poor labourer it was not really a practical option. Going to the towns was also not that easy before the coming of the railways as they would have had to walk to, say, Yorkshire with their families and their skills would not have been easily usable.  Many people were also reluctant to go to distant places away from their family support networks. Probably the main reason for their staying in the villages was the social security system of the period, the so-called Laws of Settlement.


This went back to 1598 and said, in effect, that your Parish of Settlement was responsible for paying money to the poor, aged and unemployed. One acquired Settlement in a parish by being born there (most commonly), working there for a period ( eg a year and a day), apprenticeship, or by other means which varied from parish to parish. The parish got the money from the poor rate on the more prosperous citizens such as farmers who also formed the administration, the Overseers of the Poor. Naturally enough the Overseers wanted to keep the rates bill as low as possible and they did this by the following methods:


(a)        Denying settlement to any outsider who looked as if they might become a charge on the rates at some future date, eg labourers might be restricted to 1 year hires.

(b)        Sending poor people back to their own parish of Settlement, frequently using the courts for this purpose.

(c)        Bribing the able bodied to leave eg to join the Army.

(d)        Stinting on the relief in the hope that the poor would go elsewhere in desperation.

(e)        Chasing up the mothers of illegitimate children in the hope that the father could be forced to pay maintenance. In some cases men were paid to marry them.

(f)         Putting out unsupported children as parish apprentices to anyone who would have them; this was slave labour in some cases.

 Obviously the practice varied from parish to parish depending on the number of poor, the available resources and the character of the Overseers. However, the best option for many poor labourers like our family was to stay in or near their Parish of Settlement (and relations) secure in the knowledge that, if the worst came to the worst, they could get some help there. During the Napoleonic Wars (1793‑1815) farmers generally did well as imports were interrupted and every spare acre of land was cultivated. However, poor agricultural labourers often suffered very badly since, although work was more regular, the price of staples like bread went up far higher than their wages. Dire poverty was widespread, aggravated by parish relief methods like the Speenhamland system.


B                                                   SANDFORD



1. Sandford is a small village about 1.5 miles north of Crediton and had a population of 1700‑ 1800 in the late 18th century. Apart from agriculture on the very fertile red soil there was a lot of weaving and serge making, much of which was exported through Exeter 10 miles to the South. It was originally part of Crediton  (a far larger place) and became a separate parish at an uncertain date. It stretched some miles North to include various small hamlets and nowadays includes Upton Hellions as well (see map). The population peaked at about 2000 in 1851 and is now about 1150. When our family lived there it was clearly a more lively place than it is now, not a rural backwater. The Davie family, who owned Creedy Park between Sandford and Crediton, have extensive memorials in the Sandford Parish Church whose photos are attached. They were the main wealthy family though there were other families of squires and wealthy farmers who ran the place over many generations. Our family was not among them, being mainly poor like most of the population. The parish registers 1603‑1837 together with other parish records are in the Exeter record office and the results are detailed below, together with IGI records, parish census etc.


2. I believe we are descended from the first Spear noted in the parish, John Spear who married Elizabeth Shapland on 25th October 1736. The parish register entry gives no other details. We assume they were both from Sandford as other entries specified when someone was from another parish. There was a Shapland family living in Sandford and from their registers: a daughter Elizabeth was christened  to Hugh and Elizabeth Shapland on 30/11/1703; they had previous children Hugh Cr. 20/12/1698 and John Cr. 21/07/1701. Hugh Shapland married Anne Collings on 2/10/1705 and Mary was christened there to Hugh and Anne Shapland on 4/08/1706. John Shapland m Elizabeth Wellacote on 27/03/1733 and they had Eliz. Cr. 4/01/1735; John Cr. 12/02/1737 and William 6/01/1744.


3. No children of John and Elizabeth Spear were noted or an appropriate death of Elizabeth Spear. We have concluded that Elizabeth Shapland was also known as Mary, which accounts for the following christenings to John and Mary Spear at Sandford  (the entries give no other details):

(a) John cr. Sep. 18 1737 (presumably my ancestor who married in 1756 below and died in 1817 aged 82 (below)).

(b) Mary cr. Nov. 15 1739. She was apparently known as Mary Ann and was presumably the Ann Spear who married John Reed at Sandford on 20 Sept. 1762.

(c) William cr. Aug. 15 1743. He married Elizabeth Moyse in Crediton in 1773, had 4 children, and died in 1788 (see chart).

(d) Mary cr. Aug. 6 1746. She married William Glifton at Sandford on 23 April 1769.

(e) Elizabeth 26 June 1748. An Elizabeth Spear was buried at Sandford on 2 July 1770 aged 22 that was almost certainly her.


Mary w of John Spear Snr was buried at Sandford on 19/11/1762 and John Spear Senior was buried there on 27 June 1782 aged 81. If his age was correct, this dates his birth around 1700/1701, but ages were often exaggerated.


4. John Spear of 3(a) above firstly married Elizabeth Pawfoot at Sandford on 4 July 1756. He was described as John Spear Jnr. and both signed with an X mark. She was 75 at her presumed death in 1797 (below) so she was 31/32 to his 19!  Samuel Pauford was bapt. to William on 25/02/1701 at nearby Lapford. Samuel m. Grace Goslan there on 27/10/1729 and this couple had Samuel cr. 21/02/1730 at Sandford. Also there Grace m. John Elson 6/05/1745 and m. William Gregory 7/10/1753.


Ann Parfect was cr. to Elizabeth 14/07/1755 (was this an illegitimate child of Elizabeth who married John Spear in 1756? ). John/Elizabeth Spear had the following children christened there:

(a)        John Cr. 21 May 1758‑ my presumed ancestor

(b)        William Cr. 6 April 1760 s of John Jnr and Eliz.

(c)        Richard Cr. 8 August 1762. He married Susanna Voisey there in 1783, they had 10 children and numerous descendents (see chart). One of his grand‑daughters Maria married her second cousin William Spear in 1845, William being on our line.

(d)        Hugh Cr. 25 November 1764. He married Ann Kenwell/Kerswill there in 1796 and had 2 children. A Hugh was buried there on 18 Oct. 1818 aged 48, which is probably him, even though the ages don't quite tally.


 His wife Elizabeth dying on June 30 1797 aged 75, he married again on 10 June 1798 at Sandford to Mary Mare/Mear aged 29, he being then aged 61. He signed this time, she put an X mark. Around that time he was  the  miller at the town mill. They then had 4 more children (the last when he was 72, so the age spread of his children was 51 years!) and further descendents (see chart). He was buried there on 13 Feb. 1817 aged 82.  John Spear seems to have been in regular receipt of parish relief starting at 2 guineas in  April 1804 to _7 8 shillings in 1817.


 There were numerous descendents of all these Spears, many in Sandford or Crediton to the 20th century as outlined on the chart.


There were village censuses in Sandford as follows and these are the Spears. Most of the dwellings can be identified from the Parish Patchwork book (see maps):



Dwelling                       Head            Wife      Children   Inmates    Servants           Apprentices

Rose and Crown          John Spear   Elizabeth


(10 families)

  Abraham   Elizabeth   William                  Hugh Spear     Rob't Hockway

Philips         Stone       (Cheriton)   John                   John Woodleigh James Cockeram

(4 families)                                  Abraham                                    Sarah Stephens

                                                                                                  Sarah Mortimer

Jellets          Richard   Susanna       William

(7 families)   Spear      (Voisey)       James





(21 families) William    Mary        Elizabeth

                  Gliddon    (Spear)      Ann

                      m 23 Apr. 1769     George





Sandford      John        Elizabeth                  Mary

Town          Spear      (Parfit)                      Mare

Mills                                                        Margaret

(7 families)                                               Cousins



Jellets      Richard      Susanna      Richard

              Spear         (Voisey)     William




Wolsgrove  John         Ann         Mary

(5 families) Reed        (Spear)        Ann

                  M 20 Sep 1762        Elizabeth

Overgate    William     Mary        Elizabeth

                 Gliddon    (Spear)     Sarah



Prowse      Robert       Ann                        Mary            John                   Thos. Lock

                Salter        (Peck)                     Saunders      Gosland         Richard Bradford

                                (Reeve)                   Her child      John               Mary Ridge

                                                         Richard Fisher   Crook             John Madge

                                                                                                      John Spear



Sandford John             Mary      George        Ann

Town     Spear           (Mare)     Samuel       Gliddon

Mills         m 10 Jun. 1798

Aller    Thomas           Betty     Thos. Betty                     William      John Crispin

           Hookway        (Gregory) Mary W'm                     Jones        James Skinner

                                               Robert                                          Richard Spear

                                                                                                   Mary Cham

Mead   Ann                             Ann

 End    Reed (widow)                 Elizabeth


Overgate William         Mary     Frances

              Gliddon        (Spear)   Sarah


Prowse John               Eliza      Eliza                            Robert         John Spear

           Salter                                                             Woolway      John Madge

                                                                                Mary        Richard Saunders

                                                                                Marks       Samuel Read

                                                                                               Mary Kensole

Dira    William                         Hannah      Hannah       Martha    Sarah Cross

          Norrish                                          Hill             Pope       William Philips

                                                                                              John Gater

                                                                                              John Davie

                                                                                              William Spear


Parish Patchwork (p129) mentions a school at New Buildings opened in 1797. One of the first pupils was a Mary Spear. P 177 says that the miller at Sandford Town Mills was John Spear in 1793, Richard Drake in 1796 and Jane Drake in 1801.


NB From Sandford PX2 1603‑1813 Shapland/Shopland



20/12/1698      Hugh s of Hugh /Elizabeth

30/6/1701        John s of      "        "

30/11/1703      Elizabeth d of "    "

4/8/1706          Mary d of Hugh/Ann

31/3/1734        Hugh s of John/Elizabeth (Shopland)

4/1/1735/6       Elizabeth d of "   "

12/2/1737/8     John s of "      "

2/1/1744/5       William s of  "      "

25/3/1767        Hugh s of Hugh/Betty (Shopland)

26/12/1768      William s of "   "

27/2/1771        Elizabeth d of "   " (on IGI to Hugh/Elizabeth)

13/4/1773        John s of William/Grace (Shopland)

2/2/1774          John s of Hugh/Elizabeth (Shopland) (possibly Betty and Elizabeth are same as no sign of Betty death or remarriage to Elizabeth).

3/5/1775          Grace d of William/Grace

12/9/1775        James s of Hugh/Elizabeth

21/4/1778        Fanny d of William/Grace

5/9/1780          William s of "        "

20/5/1783        James s of     "     "

20/7/1785        Betty d of   "       "

11/3/1788        Charles s of "      "

8/6/1790          Robert s of "         "



23/7/1705        Elizabeth

8/4/1706          Hugh

8/3/1727/8       Hugh

19/1/1755/6     Wid (Shopland)

1/6/1763          Joan d of John/Elizabeth (Shopland)

30/1/1766/7     Elizabeth (Shopland)

13/4/1772        John Shopland (Senior) aged 73

20/3/1777        Elizabeth Shopland w of John aged 74

7/6/1777          Hugh Shopland aged 43

5/12/1793        Elizabeth Shopland w of John aged 51

23/2/1794        Betty d of William/Grace aged 8.

16/5/1794        Charles s of   "      " aged 6

12/11/1799      William s of William?Mary aged 1

14/10/1800      William (Senior) aged 56

25/12/1810      John aged 72



14/12/1697      Hugh Shapland andElizth Mackrell

2/10/1705          "       " and Ann Collings

27/3/1733/4     John Shapland and Elizabeth Wellacote of Crediton

22/4/1712        Joan       "        and John Milden

7/4/1724          Grace       " Sp. and Roger Greenway Bach.

12/7/1732        Margret "     and William Bennett

28/101736       Elizabeth "    and John Spear

5/7/1763          John Shopland (steward at Creedy) and Mary Lake (housekeeper at Creedy)

29/12/1754      Sarah Shopland sp. and Wm Ellis widower (Acwell)

14/2/1765        Elizth. Shopland sp. and John Harris bach. of Zeal Monachorum

16/9/1793        Joan "       sp. and Richard Parfery bach.

19/6/1797        Grace " sp. and John Berry bach. of Dunsford.





12/2/1737/8     William s of Samuel and Grace Paufet

(Note he died in Essex)

6/9/1741          Richard s of           "              "

21/2/1730        Samuel s of          "              "

14/7/1755        Ann d of Elizabeth

24/4/1768        Elizabeth d of Richard/Amy Parfitt

18/3/1770        Grace      "           "             "

26/12/1770      William s of Ann Parfitt (base)

22/12/1776      Sam         "         "          "

7/6/1801          (Samuel) (William)     s of Samuel/Mary Parfit

17/3/1805        Mary d of                             "       "



22/8/1731        Samuel an infant of Samuel/Grace

11/5/1781        Richard Parfitt aged 39

2/5/1802          Sanuel s of Samuel/Mary aged 1

8/9/1805          Ann d of       "         "     Aged 2



6/5/1745          Grace Pawfet widow of Gosland m John Elson widower of Bourley

7/10/1753        Grace Pawfet sp m Wm. Gregory b.

4/7/1756          Elizabeth Pawfet sp. m John Spear Junr. b.

12/7/1767        Richard Parfitt b. of Crediton m Amy Tucker sp.

4/5/1789          Ann Parfit sp. m John Way widower of Pasmure and Stonzman

26/10/1800      Samuel Parfit b m Mary Reed sp.




We are looking for a John Spear born around 1700/1701 if his reported age at death 81 was correct in 1782. We do not know where he was born but most likely in the central Devon area.


I have noted every Spear entry I can find before 1730 and have concluded that we were probably descended from a Spear concentration which existed in the triangle Monk Okehampton, Winkleigh, Broadwood Kelly around 1527 and probably long before that (see A3 above). After 1600 the largest concentration was in nearby Hatherleigh.  I also suspect that most other Devon Spears (including those in Exeter) came from here originally. Proving the link to our line in 1730 is the problem.


 Search of the IGI and other Devon birth records revealed the following Spear's from nearby parishes:



No sign has been found of any Spear settlement certificates in Sandford in the early 1700's.

We inspected the transcripts of the Sandford Burial Registers at the West Country Record Office in Exeter. Volumes 1 and 2 are handwritten, fairly legible but not indexed. I searched from the beginning of 1720 to the end of 1762 but noted no Spear's till 1762. There were a few "Steer"s from 1691 onwards in the village but none seem to be our line. This tends to confirm my feeling that the Spear's arrived there after 1730.


Vol. 3 of Sandford registers 1813‑37 was typed, indexed and more detailed.

Apart from the 2 mentioned earlier I noted:


Emma Spear                 0          14 Sep. 1828

Mary Speare                31        8 April 1834

Frances Speare            1          27 April   "

George Speare             0          28 Aug 1836

Maria Speare               2          6 Nov 1836


Note the Christian names Maria and Frances. A Maria Spear had an illegitimate son Francis Cr. at Crediton on 23 Jan 1737. She later moved to Exeter and married a William Spear on my line (see later).


NB The Devon MI's for Sandford at the S of G record a William Spear d 09 03 1924 aged 46.




According to the IGI a John and Mary Spear had a daughter Joan Cr. at Spreyton in 1730. This might be our John and Mary if they were not the John and Elizabeth who married at Sandford a few years later. The IGI shows William and Elizabeth Spear having children cr. there as follows: Elizabeth 1739, John 1742, William 1744, Mary 1750 and Anne 1754. The village is very close to Hittisleigh and not far from Sandford. The parish registers revealed no other Spear bapt.  or marriages 1700‑1750.




According to the IGI  John Spear was born to John Spear/Ann at  Hittisleigh (5 miles SW of Sandford) on 25 March 1706. The ages are not quite right but he could be the John who married Mary and had 5 children in Sandford, dying in 1782 aged 81 (old men often exaggerated their ages though) . They also had a daughter. Mary Cr. there on 04 May 1708 and, in the same parish, Elizabeth Speare M William Daymond 14 Oct 1712 . We believe this is most likely to be our John; no other likely candidates have been found despite wide searches.

I looked at the parish register transcripts in the West Country Studies Library; they are typed but not indexed. It was clearly a very small parish; many of the people came from elsewhere e.g. Drewsteignton. I scanned all burials 1676‑1750 in detail and found no Spear's. There were Steere's e.g. 13 Mar. 1678 Ann of Crediton, 25 May 1684 Mary w of John, Apr 26 1699 John, 1702 Sarah d of Richard and Alice, Oct 3 1705 Richard, 1709 Alice widow. Also noted Richard Daymond of Drewsteignton 1714, 1743??  (I didn't record it clearly) Jun. 29 William Dyment Aug 15 Elizabeth Dayment wife of the above William. I also scanned the bapt. and marriages which should be on the IGI but noted nothing else.



The adjacent parish north of Sandford. The 1641 Protestation returns show a Richard and William Speare in the village and the IGI for Morchard Bishop has 12 Spear's appearing regularly from 1662 to 1718.  A John Spear married Elizabeth Down on 28 Mar 1703 and there are no more Spear's noted there after the marriage of Joan Speer to John Webber on 4 Nov 1718.


 I inspected the typed Morchard Bishop l registers in the West Country Studies Library from 1660 to 1750 and also the typed copies at the S of G. It was a smaller parish than Sandford, I noted burials:

20 Nov 1669   Michaell Speare.

2 Jan 1675/76  Israell Speare. (an odd name‑one cr at Hatherleigh in 1732)

14 Nov 1677   Richaurd Speare (spelt thus) wid (possibly this is the wid. of Richard)

28 Nov 1682   Robert Speer

9 May 1682     Mary Speer

26 Aug 1688    Dorothy Speer

28 Jun 1689     Speer Wm s of Richard

2 Feb 1697      Speer Rich'd


After that there were no Spear burials noted. There were a few Steer's though: 9/2/1715 John s of Charles, 10/10/1724 Thomas so f Charles, 31/10/1739 Charles the elder and 6/3/1739 Nathaniel s of Charles the elder. No evidence that these are related though.

The baptism. Registers 1660‑71 showed:


May 18 1662 Speare Marie d. of Michaell Note that 1661 Nov 17 Spare Elizabeth d of Michaell was christened at Hatherleigh and 2 separate Michaells married there in 1655 and 1656.


April 25 1665              Spear Elizabeth  d. of Michaell

Nov 14 1669               Speare William son of Johan illegitimate

Jan 14 1676/77            Speare Philip s of Richard

Oct 28 1679                Speare Mary d of Richard

Jul 5 1685                    Spear William s of Richard

Jan 30 1688/9              Spear Joan d of Richard


Marriages 1660‑1711

Feb 12 1677/78           Robert Tucker Mary Speare

May 26 1679               Speare Johan Roger Way

Nov 17 1689               John Philips Elizabeth Spear

Mar 28 1703                John Spear Elizabeth Down


All births and marriages are on the IGI.

When sketched on the attached chart a family pattern emerges though there are clearly gaps. Clearly most family members had moved out by the early 1700's. Any connection between Joan M here in1718 and Joan cr to John and Mary in Spreyton in 1730?



Now part of Sandford but formerly a separate parish. The burial registers were in the West Country Studies Library and typed up. I found no Spear's from 1611‑1800. Bapt. and marriages checked 1700‑1750.


In Parish Patchwork by Daphne Munday:

I note on page 62 of  they refer to an Elizabeth Spear d of William Spear fuller who had a property in Upton Hellions next to Sandford. I have chart for them as they were in St. Edmunds Exeter and Ide where my line was later but I had assumed they were not related ‑now I am beginning to wonder.



Adjacent Morchard Bishop.  No Spear's there on the IGI . Marriages, bapt. and burials registers 1567‑1837 inspected at the S of G but no Spear's visible.



The biggest Spear concentration seems to be at Hatherleigh back to the start of parish registers which are in the Society of Genealogists typed and indexed.

The IGI has many, some indexed under Spare. I listed all B/M/D's (71B, 25M and 67D) (no ages given, a few clues like Senior/Junior/widow etc and a handfull of occupations ‑all poor). The introduction says that record keeping was variable but, when I put them on a chart, a definite family pattern emerges.


John was Cr. to  Father Henry on 14/8/1710 (on IGI)  but one was buried to him on 24/7/1713, just before a John was cr. to Henry on 26/10/1713 (on IGI). No sign of this John death but a John was producing children there in 1732,1733 while John the eldest died in 1741. All this lot seem accounted for‑if our line came from here why no Henry's?

There was an earlier John cr to Robert on 11/12/1699 which John was apparently buried on 19/12/1699. Again no Robert's in our line. All in all nothing obvious in that village but 5 male Spears producing children in the village in the right period.



1. At the 1545 subsidy a Walter Spear was at Monk Okehampton worth _4.  The Hatherleigh Spears seem to start with a Walter/Water (wife June/Joan) who had 3 children cr.  and one buried there from 1558 to 1562 . The 1569 Muster roll showed him there and having an income of _10‑20 so he must have been a man of relative affluence. A Walter Spear married Joan Shorte at Monkleigh some miles north from there on 10/10/1569 (probably the same man having a second marriage) and he was there on the 1581 subsidy. Possibly his daughters married in the area too: Alis Spear married at Pethericke Huddell on 01/09/1584 (an Alse was cr. to Water at Hatherleigh on 2/4/1561) and Jone Spear married at Westleigh by Bideford on 4/10/1585  (Joan was cr. to Water at Hatherleigh on 20/12/1562 ).  He doesn't seem to have had a surviving son in that name (one was buried at Hatherleigh on 20/6/1558 son of June Walter) but a Roger Spear who married on 24/9/1581 at St. Kerrian Exeter and had 6 children cr.  There including Walter on 24/3/1583. After this the name is not found. See also the reference to Walter Spere, feet of fines 1364 A3 above, by virtue of land at Broadwood Kelly. I think all these are related and show how unusual Christian names can be used to track people round.


2. After Walter there seem to have been no Spears in Hatherleigh till Michael cr. a son Richard there on 4/2/1602 which was followed by the burial of a Michael on 23/8/1605. On 25/1/1624 a William married there and had a son Michael cr. 22/5/1625 while a John had at least 6 children there in the 1620's and 30's including Michael Cr. 13/7/1630.  Michael the elder married there in Mar 1655 ( he seems to have repeated the marriage at Roborough nr Torrington some miles north on 6/5/1656). Michael son of John married Ursula Bidwell there on 18/6/1656 and seems to have moved to Morchard Bishop some miles away where there were Spears in 1641. An Ursula was buried at Hatherleigh 20/6/1694 and a Michael son of William was cr. there on 30/11/1686. Finally a Michael was buried on 10/5/1713 after which I haven’t found reference to the name.


3. An Edmund Spear was cr. to John on 28/2/1635 and a succession of others appeared till the burial of Edmund on 13/6/1716. An Edmond married at Winkleigh on 03/7/1574 and there were admins to Edmond in 1678 and 1680 (also Dorothy in 1678) at Cheriton Bishop a few miles south where there was also an Edmund in the 1641 protestations.


Unfortunately a lot of children had the same common name e.g. John, William Richard, Thomas, Henry, Joan, Mary etc so it is very difficult to disentangle the various families after the mid 1650's when there always seem to have been several male Spears producing children in the parish. In 1641 John Spear was constable of the parish, which suggests a man of substance, but occupations mentioned at the end of the century were day labourers (i.e. poor). The Hatherleigh registers may not be complete and many family members may have moved between parishes (eg on one year hires), which probably accounts for some of the missing entries.




The handwritten transcripts of the death registers are at the West Country Studies Library but scanning them all from say 1700‑50 would be a long job.




 Bapt. and marriages checked 1700‑1750

John Spear married Joan Gibbs 1713

John Spear married Mary Chudley 1715 The precise dates for these 2 were illegible.

Elizb. Spear married Wm Jordan 21/5/1707



Bapt. and marriages checked 1700‑1750

Ann Spear m. John Lake 11/9/1731. There were earlier Spear's there (see Hatherleigh).



The attached Colebrook examination in 1759 of a John Spear was found. He moved around a lot and may have been a relation. Note he came from Hatherleigh, possibly born in the 1720's and married there 1755. No Spear found in Bapt. 1700‑1730 and marriages 1700‑1735.



DREWSTEIGNTON Mary Spear married Rob. Browning 1729

INWARDLEIGH ‑no Spears on the registers till 1774.

N and S TAWTON, ZEAL, SAMPLEFORD COURTENEY, JACOBSTOWE, IDDESLEIGH, GREAT TORRINGTON.  No Spear found in Bapt. 1700‑1730 and marriages 1700‑1735.



I feel sure that our line  goes back to the concentration in Monk Okehampton and Winkleigh around 1527 via the large numbers in adjacent Hatherleigh in the 1600's. Mr D. Salisbury had a family legend that the family were at North Tawton a long way back which is in the same area.


   D                    THE MOVE TO IDE/ALPHINGTON  

1.  John Spear at 4(a) above subsequently moved to Alphington near Exeter and, as a consequence of his poverty the records of his settlement Examination in 1790 have come down to us.


He was living in Ide (pronounced "eed" (as in seed) adjacent Alphington) and presumably tried to claim parish relief there. The Ide authorities went to the Quarter Sessions to get him removed, there was a settlement examination, and he was formally moved to Alphington by a Settlement Order dated 24 the December 1790 (copy attached).

 The Settlement Examination is handwritten on an Official Form (copy attached)

And says:


Devon to wit                                                                   1790

The Examination of John Speare now residing in the parish of Ide in the County of Devon touching the last legal place of settlement taken this 10th day of December 1790 before us two of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace on and for the said County‑ Who on his oath says that he was born in the parish of Sandford and was bound apprentice to Peter Snow of the said parish of Sandford with whom he lived in the said parish about 9 years and then his said Master went into the parish of Ide and took him this Examinant with him and when his Master had lived in the said parish of Ide about three years his said Master failed and was arrested and put into the Sherriffs ward for debt and his wife and family removed into the parish of Alphington and so this Examinant went with them and lived with them in the said parish of Alphington about five or six weeks, and then his Master gave him leave to go and live where he would, but did not order him to live in any Particular place or with any Particular person, and that how this Apprentice went into the parish of Trusham and lived there 15 weeks, and then went to the parish of Ashton and lived there about fortythree weeks, and then married and went into the parish of Ide and lived there three quarters of a year, and then his apprenticeship expired. And has done no Act since whereby to gain a settlement.‑

Sworn and subscribed Before us,               The Mark of

the day and year aforesaid,

                                                                     John Speare


On the back it said 1767 Oct Jno Spear to Peter Snow Time expired 1782. The original apprenticeship document had been lost.


The original settlement records are in the Devon Record Office in Exter‑Alphington removals


2. He died in Alphington in 1804 aged 45 (see below) so the above tallies very well with his christening in 1758 and gives his movements as follows:

(a)        Apprenticed aged 9 in 1767. A very common age for the rural poor  in those days.

(b)        Moved to Ide 1776/7

(c)        His master failed around the beginning of 1780. His master Peter Snow of Sandford, late of Ide, husbandman, was discharged at Michaelmas 1781 (Quarter Sessions Debtors QS1/21). The Snow family were residents of Sandford from around 1600 to 1900 and most were farmers. There were up to 4 Peter Snow's living there in 1767.Presumably John Spear was apprenticed to agriculture ie he was an agricultural labourer.

(d)        He went to Alphington 5 or 6 weeks which was apparently enough to gain him settlement as an apprentice.

(e)        Then to Trusham (15 weeks) then to Ashton (43 weeks) which takes us to early 1781 when he married. Trusham parish registers record that John Spear of Ide married Elizabeth Satterley on 27th May 1781. She was clearly pregnant as their first child John was christened at Ashton on 9 September 1781.

(f)         He then moved to Ide  when his apprenticeship expired in 1782‑15 years, not unusual for those days apparently.








1. Family rumour had said that we were descended from a James Spear who came from Cullompton in Devon and, given this, it was very easy to work through the St. Catherine's House indexes and 1841‑1881 census returns (see below) which took us back to his father, John Spear who was apparently born in Exeter/Alphington in about 1813 and had a father called William Spear, an agricultural labourer.


2. Exeter at that period was a rather static town with a population of about 30,000 having no particular industries. Alphington was a village of about 600 people about 4 miles SW of the city centre and is now a suburb. Ide was an even smaller village next door.


3.  My guide to the IGI suggested that it covers Ide baptisms from 1590‑1811.

However, when I visited the West Country Studies library in Exeter I discovered that the Ide register comprised a handwritten book, ie transcribed from the original registers, covering 1590‑1736 with a few entries in the 1810‑1811 period. Thus I suspect that the IGI does not cover the period immediately before 1791.

I visited the West Devon Record Office in Plymouth and there they have the complete Ide registers to 1837 on microfiche.  Some of the earlier ones were very faded but I searched for Spear and related spellings over the period:

Baptisms                      1778‑1801 inclusive (1785 is missing)

                                    1811‑1815 inclusive

Burials                          1778‑1801 inclusive (1785 is missing)

Marriages/Banns           1778‑1790 inclusive.


I discovered:

April 13th 1788, baptism of William son of John and Elizabeth Speare.

[COMMENT I believe that this is the William Speare who married Alice White in Alphington in 1811 and from whom I am descended. The birth date tallies roughly with the 1841 census where the ages were rounded off. There were a lot of White's in the parish but no sign of Alice.]


August 14th 1786. Baptism of Elizabeth, d of John and Elizabeth Speare.

May 13th 1787. Burial of Elizabeth Speare (the S is rather unclear but I think it says Speare.)

[COMMENT This looks like one of their earlier children died young]


[COMMENT The parish was a small one with about 20 Baptisms per year, 15 deaths and a handful of marriages.  This is consistent with their arrival there in 1781 and removal in 1790 as detailed in the settlement examination.]


4.  The Alphington parish registers have been typed up and the volumes,with indexes, were inspected in the West Country Studies Library in Exeter. I went through the index and noted all references to Spear and related spellings. Those marked * are on the IGI too. The original registers are on microfiche at the West Devon record office in Plymouth but only a few of the original records have been inspected.


 There are no Spear entries before 1791 which tallies with the family removal there at the end of 1790

 From the microfilm *:

 * 19 June 1791 Bapt of Ann Speare parents John/Elizabeth Spear

(COMMENT presumably her mother was pregnant at the 1790 settlement but this was not brought out then‑possibly Alphington might have been even keener to keep them out had they known she was pregnant).

 * 11 June 1797 Bapt. of Mary Ann Spear parents John/Elizabeth Spear

   An infant of this name was buried on Oct. 14 1798


 From the microfilm  *:

 5 Sept. 1801 Marriage of John Spear the younger

 to Martha Rennells (R rather than P I think) of Dunsford in this county.  In church by licence by William Ellicombe Rector. Both bride and groom signed with an X mark.  Witnesses Richard Mortimer and Bart. Ashford.


 Pat Brookes looked up the license, which showed that John was under age not Martha and that his father John Speare the elder gave consent to the marriage. She had applied for the license and the form (for the man to apply) had been changed from her and she throughout. She says that one of the witnesses to the marriage was an Overseer of the Poor.

 [COMMENT. Presumably John Speare was only 19 or 20 from his christening in 1781; his bride was clearly very pregnant. As she came from Dunsford, the adjacent village, their marriage may have been "encouraged" by the parish officials eager to save on the support of an illegitimate child.]


 16 Nov 1801 Bapt. of George Speare Parents John/Martha


 15 Jan 1804    Bapt. of William Spear  "        "   "


 29 Oct. 1804 Burial of John Speare aged 45.


 4 Sept 1808 Bapt. of William Speare base child of Ann Spear.

(See bastardy allegation attached. She is probably the Anne christened in 1791. Presumably the alleged father, Thomas Pitts‑a labourer from Alphington, had escaped from the parish officials somehow otherwise they would have forced him to marry her). NB the 1891 census lists a James Pitts Spear in Newton St. Cyres, 23 years old and born in Upton Pyne. Any connection?


 From the microfilm:  *

31 Oct. 1811 Marriage of W'm Speare and Alice White both of the parish of Alphington.

In church by banns Richard Ellicombe curate.  Both bride and groom signed their mark. Witnesses John Roberts and Francis Turner.

[COMMENT. I believe that this is the marriage of the William Spear from whom I am descended.  Turner appears on a lot of entries, presumably a parish official.]

There is no obvious Alice White on the IGI around 1790. The nearest is :

Alice cr. 12/2/1797 at Aylesbeare Devon to Joseph White/Elizabeth. They also had the following children Cr. there: William 1/2/1789, John 29/5/1791, Anne 17/3/1793, Sarah 8/3/1795 and Nanny 28/7/1799.

 An Alice White married George Tar on 7/7/1795 at Knowlstone Devon.


From the microfilm *:

 26 May 1815 marriage of Anne Speare and John Bolt.  Both bride and groom signed X. Witnesses Elizabeth Kingston and Francis Turner.

(COMMENT. Possibly the Anne bapt. in 1791 who had the illegitimate child in 1808. However, the parish records below suggest that she was still single to at least 1817 so it may not be her.

25 Feb 1816 Bapt. of Mary Ann Spear parents W'm and Alice Spear, labourer.

11 July 1817 Burial of May (spelt thus) Ann Spear aged 18 months.

The parish paid 7 shillings  funeral expenses for "Spear's child"  on 15 July 1817.

*25 Oct 1816 Bapt of George Speare, parents W'm and Alice Speare , labourer, of St. Edmund ,Exeter.


6 Sept 1821     Bapt. of Ann Spear, parents W'm and Alice Speare, labourer.

Mar 7 1822      Burial of Ann Spear.

31 Aug. 1823   Bapt. of James Spear, parents W'm and Alice Spear, a labourer.

31 Mar. 1824   Burial of James Spear aged 7 months.

Sept. 3 1826    Elizabeth Spear burial aged 73.


 This was the last Spear entry found in the parish registers for Alphington. William and Alice had two more children bapt. in St. Edmunds Exeter viz William (3 July 1825) and Frederick (22 April 1832).


[COMMENT. Possibly they finally left the parish when his mother died.  The 1841 census for Alphington was inspected.  The records were very faded but no Spears were visible.]


 The Devon record office in Exeter has various records relating to Alphington, which I scanned through quickly.


 Apprentices 1760‑1800 includes one for William Spear, master William Wootonby (by consent) Gent., for husbandry in 1798.

 [COMMENT. I believe that this is the man bapt. In Ide in 1788 and married above. He would have only been 10 but many apprentices had younger ages given. Apparently the parishes often apprenticed the children of those on poor relief in this way in this period.]

 In the West Country Studies library there is a box file full of cuttings on the parish. I went through this quickly, there is hardly any genealogical data round 1800 it being mostly concerned with ecclesiastical history, lords of the manor etc. One item noted said, " The inhabitants have not been remarked for longlivity" and then discussed someone alleged to have lived to a great age. Presumably the area, being low lying and marshy, was correspondingly unhealthy.


 The Alphington poor law records have been scanned from 1804 to 1836 and there are masses of Spear entries (see Annex).


 In brief the parish paid 17 shillings funeral expenses for John Spear on 28 Oct. 1804 and thereafter his widow Elizabeth was regularly given money and clothes till her death in 1826. She seems to have done some paid nursing of other people (the Dew family get several mentions). After her daughter Ann had an illegitimate child (William) in 1808 both of them had frequent payments. William was clearly alive on 1/ July 1817 when "Ann Spear's boy " was bought a jacket and trousers (possibly for a parish apprenticeship).



5.  One snag is that the christening of our John Spear in about 1813 has not been located. His second marriage in 1877 (see below) stated that John Spear's father was William Spear, agricultural labourer.  In the 1851 census he said he was born in Alphington though in 1861 and 1871 he said Exeter. There is further circumstantial evidence linking our John Spear with the William Spear in Alphington, not least of which is that no other William Spear appears to have been producing children in the area in the same time period. As they were married in 1811 it would be remarkable if they had not produced any children till 1816, the first christening located. It is a fact that the winter of 1812/1813 was one of the coldest in living memory; it is not improbable that either they neglected to get John christened or, in the general confusion, the entry was never put in the registers. Around this time new registers were introduced which may have caused some entries to be lost. Another possibility is that Alice went home to her Mother to give birth to her first child and John was christened there (eg try Dunsford nearby). In any event it was almost certainly not far from Alphington. The Alphington poor law records show William Spear in need and given 2 shillings and sixpence on 20 Feb. 1814 (presumably this was our adult William, not his nephew son of Ann Spear). On 21 April 1814 there is an entry "John Spear son in need" three shillings. Could this be for John Spear presumed son of William or for William's elder brother John who may have been in the area?  I am 99% certain that our John Spear was the eldest son of William Spear/Alice White and thus grandson of John Spear (the elder). Finally a John Spear was apprenticed out at Alphington to Bernard Saunders gardener in 1827 (Ref PO 705 1481A/151). This might be our John then aged about 14.


6.  Another complication is that a branch of the Alphington Spears who later moved to Dorset left documents from around the 1880’s, which have been copied by Mrs. Brookes. As can be seen he says that there was only one Spear family in Alphington though Upton Pyne nearby also came into it. Much, though not all, of the data provided fits with what we have gleaned from the Alphington records but there are some discrepancies, which may be due to inaccurate, recall of data together with some missing records. On the whole I think it is valuable supporting evidence.

NB 1881 census index Bridport Dorset

George Spear   Head    Mar      72        Upholsterer     b. Exeter

Martha Spear               Wife    65                                 b. Bridport

Sarah Spear                 Dau     32                                 b. Chard

Jane Spear                   Dau     25                                 b. Bridport




F                    THE SPEARS IN EXETER UP TO 1847


1. However, by the 1820's at the latest, the Spear family seem to have been permanently resident in Exeter, probably in St. Edmunds parish where two children of theirs were christened according to the IGI though the registers have not been inspected. These were William on 03 July 1825 and Frederick on 22 April 1832.  St. Edmunds parish in is the South West of Exeter, near the bridge leading to Alphington, and seems to have been mainly inhabited by the poor. Although Exeter was a Cathedral City, and probably looked quite picturesque,  the courts and alleys where many of the poor lived were just as squalid and unhygienic as those in the industrial areas. According to a book called "Victorian Exeter 1837‑ 1914" by Robert Newton there were about 31,000 people crammed into the old walled area of the city; it is no surprise that there was a major outbreak of cholera in 1832 and smallpox in 1837. Wages for labourers were only about 7‑9 shillings a week with another 1/9 for a third child and hardship was severe at times of poor harvest like 1837 when there were famine prices.


2. Our John Spear married Charlotte Berry in St. Edmunds on 16 April 1836. This is in the IGI and Bursdons marriage indexes. The witnesses were John Bennett and? Ganiclefft who appear to have been frequent witnesses at weddings (i.e. probably church officials). The bride's father was a local and her mother was a Gannicliff whose family can be traced back to the Middle Ages in the area. They are covered in a separate chapter.

 The IGI records the baptism of James Spear, son of John Spear/Charlotte on 3 December 1837 at Exeter, St. Mary Steps, and an adjacent parish. A James Spear died in Exeter in the last quarter of 1837 (according to the St. Catherine's House indexes), which may have been him, as he does not appear subsequently.


On third October 1838 they had another child John Spear who (according to the birth certificate) had a father called John Spear, a miller, of Edwings Lane who registered the birth of 14/10/1838. The mother was Charlotte Spear, formerly Berry.

 Edwings Lane is almost certainly Ewings Lane, in the parish of St.Mary Steps, near the river Exe and the various corn mills. As a miller John Spear seems to have had a better job than his father. It is not clear whether he would have had to do a formal apprenticeship or not.


3. I searched most of the 1841 census records for Exeter (HO 107 267), giving especial scrutiny to St. Edmunds and Mary Steps. The records were often faded or illegible, and ages of adults over 14 were usually rounded up to the nearest 5 years but I found:

Parish of St. Mary Steps Ewings lane

John Spear                   Aged    25        miller

Charlotte Spear            "           25        ‑‑‑‑‑‑

John Spear                   "           2          ‑‑‑‑‑‑

Mary A Spear              "           8 months

 All were born in the same county i.e. Devon


 I also found:

Parish of St. Mary Arches p14 En. Sch. 11

William Spear   Aged    55        Labourer

?Alice? Spear  "           55        Laundress

William Spear  "           15        Labourer

Frederick Spear           "           9          ‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑

All born in the same county i.e. Devon.

[COMMENT. This is certainly our William/Alice Spear from Alphington with their two youngest children. They were within 5 minutes walk of their (presumed) eldest son John and his family.



4. An Alice Spear died on 12 August 1845 in King Street St. John. According to the death certificate she was aged 64 years, the wife of William Spear ‑a labourer, she died of consumption. The death was registered by the X mark of Francis Spear, present at the death, of Commercial Road on 14 August 1845.

 [COMMENT. This must be our Alice though the age given looks too high. If correct it would suggest that she had her last child Frederick aged 51! Francis Spear was a relation by marriage‑see below‑ but only 8 years old at the time so may well have got the age wrong.]

 I located the following registry office marriage which, given the address, is almost certainly that of the William Spear, son of William/Alice, born in 1825 (above).

28 Oct. 1845 William Spear 21 Bachelor Laborer of King St. George Exeter (Father William Spear Labourer) married

Maria Spear full age spinster Servant King St. St. George Exeter (father Richard Spear Labourer). Both signed with an X mark and the witnesses were Joseph Augustus Sparks and John Martyn Adams Tucker.


[COMMENT.  Maria Spear was a second cousin to William (see chart) which may explain the registry office marriage? The IGI shows only one Maria Spear bapt. to Richard Spear/Rachel on 17/12/1820 at Crediton. It also shows only one Francis Spear, apparently a boy born illegitimately to Maria Spear at Crediton on 23 Jan. 1837. The 1841 census shows Maria in Crediton workhouse with 2 sons Francis and Henry aged 1 yr (possibly the Henry who died in 1842). There was a man called George Francis in Crediton who was 7 years older than Maria, could he have been the Father with the child named after him to shame him. The


1851 census for 136 Ewing St. St. Mary Steps revealed:

Maria Spear widow 33 Laundress born in Crediton

Francis Spear son 14 Errand boy born in Crediton

Maria Spear, dau. 3 born in Exeter

Which, I think shows they are the same family, Francis being the informant at Alice Spear's death.  Maria remarried and the 1881 Exeter census index at St. David, Lower North St. showed:

William Baskerville Head Mar 75 Gardner (N D) born Cornwood

Maria         “ Wife   “ 65                        “ Crediton

Maris Spear, Dau   Unm. 33 Charwoman    “ Exeter

A Maria Spear died unmarried in Exeter aged 74 in 1921. Francis married around 1860 and so did his mother (St. Catherine's indexes but I forget the exact dates). The 1881 census index for Shute, Chapel Rd., revealed Francis Spear Lodger widower 40 Sawyer born Crediton. A Francis married in Exeter at the end of 1881.

 Maria's grandfather Richard, christened at Sandford in 1762, was the brother of William's grandfather John christened at Sandford on 21/5/1758. It shows that the various family branches were still in contact nearly 80 years after John left Sandford.


5. I tried to find the death of Alice's husband William; it is not clear from her death certificate whether he was alive or not at this point. The St. Catherine's indexes give a number of William Spears dying in the area over the 1841‑55 period. One in the 1st quarter of 1843 turned out to be a child of another family while one on 2 May 1847 is almost certainly William/Alice's son William christened in 1825 and married above. The certificate shows:

William Spear aged 22, labourer, at Ewings Lane, St. Mary Steps. Diseased stomach, (certified 2 years). Informant; the X mark of Susan Sydenham, present at the death, of Ewings lane.


[COMMENT. What is significant is the address of Ewings Lane. As our John Spear lived in this street, it is another support for my belief that our John Spear was the oldest son of William /Alice Spear. Possibly William moved near his brother after his mother died in 1845 and his subsequent marriage. Clearly his wife Maria was pregnant at his death and produced the daughter Maria shortly afterwards? The death of Alice's husband William was almost certainly on 12 August 1846 in St. Thomas nearby. The certificate says William Spear, 60 years, male, laborer,  "found drowned in a basin part of the Exeter Ship Canal".  The informant was Fred Leigh, coroner, Cullompton. No member of our family or address was present but the age and occupation tally well so I am convinced it is he. A coroner's report and/or newspaper cutting, if they exist, may give more detail but the index of the Exeter Flying Post revealed nothing. The issues for the 13th and 20th August said there was stormy weather.  Was it a suicide after the death of his wife (it was exactly a year after her death) or merely an accident‑fell in when drunk perhaps? His son John had already moved to Bradninch so that may be why no family member appears on the certificate. The only other possible death was in the 1st quarter of 1853 in Crediton.  I have not inspected the certificate but it was probably a relation from the Crediton branch of the family.





1. John Spear and his family appear to have left Exeter for the village of Bradninch , 8 miles NE of the city, around 1845ish. Bradninch had its own mill.

 On Sunday 22nd March 1846, at 3/4 past 4 pm, our ancestor James Spear was born in Bradninch in the Tiverton sub area. According to the certificate the father was John Spear, a miller, and the mother Charlotte Spear (formerly Berry) who registered with her X mark on 31/3/1846.


2. On 30th March 1851 the census for the village revealed at Millway:


 John Spear      Head    37        Miller                           Alphington

 Charlotte         Wife     36        Stay maker                   Exeter

 John                Son      12        Apprentice miller       "

 Mary               Dau.     10        ????????                      "

 Henry              Son      7          Scholar                         "

 James              Son      5   "                                          Bradninch

 George            Son      1   "                                          "

 Ann Berry       MothL 64         Nurse                           Exeter


 [COMMENT. This ties our John Spear down to Alphington and thus to William/Alice.  Another researcher, Mrs. West, noted a Frederick Spear aged 19 in the village staying with the Vinnicombe family. This can only be William/Alice's youngest son. As his parents were dead it seems likely that he moved with his eldest brother i.e. our John Spear. All this circumstantial evidence makes up, I believe, for the lack of John Spear's baptism in 1812/1813.

I also noted the death of a George Spear in the first quarter of 1849 in the Tiverton sub area. This may be another of our family. Millway is in the middle of the village, which I visited in 1975. Many of the houses probably go back to the 1850's. The churchyard revealed no Spear graves, there probably were none.]


3. At some point in the 1850's the family moved a few miles further away from Exeter to the small town of Cullompton, probably he moved to another mill. The  census on 7th April 1861 revealed at Cullompton District no 6 p13 Stonyford, a part of Churleys, near the Railway Hotel.

No. 58


John Spear       Head    47         Miller                                      Exeter

Charlotte          Wife    46          Staymaker                               "

John                 Son      22         Corp'l R.Marines (?Rec'l?)      "

Mary                Dau      20         Dress ?deep? maker               

Henry               Son      18         Brickmakers labourer              "

James               Son      15         Apprentice miller                     Bradninch

George             Son      11         Cordwainer                              "


4. Family rumour has it that our ancestor James Spear had a row with his father aged 16ish and ran away to London to join the railways. The railway reached Exeter in 1844 and ran through both Bradninch and Cullompton. Many rural youngsters joined the railways as navies or permanent employees to escape the boredom and poverty of rural life and James seems to have been one of them. His subsequent history is covered in a later chapter but he doesn't seem to have been in Devon much after the early 1860's.


5. On 2 April 1871 the census for Cullompton District No 1 (Sheet 23 Ref RG10/2167), 132 Lower Street, revealed a single family occupying a house:


John Spear       Head   Married            57        Journeyman Miller        born in Exeter

Charlotte          Wife    "                       56        Staymaker                    "   "   "

Henry                Son     Unmarried        27        Labourer                      "   "   "


On 26th February 1871 I noted the marriage at Cullompton of John Spear 33 Naval Pensioner (Father John Spear Labourer) and Mary Dimment 31 Spinster no occupation (Father Henry Dimment Labourer). Both gave their address as Cullompton, he signed and she signed X, and the witnesses were John Spear and M.A.Currie.

[COMMENT Of the other children James was up in London married, Mary Ann was probably away in London (she may have been a witness at James' wedding in 1868) and George was apparently away.]


6. On June 30th 1873 there was this marriage at Cullompton parish church:

 Henry Spear 30 Bachelor labourer (Father John Spear Miller)

Sarah Ann Stone 30 spinster no occupation no father given. They both gave their address as Cullompton. He signed, she signed X, and the witnesses were John Spear and William Voisey. [There is a Voisey married to Richard Spear in 1783 which is connected to our line‑could this be another link?]


7. In the last quarter of 1876 a Charlotte Spear died in the Tiverton sub area aged 64 which is almost certainly John's wife. The certificate was not inspected. John didn't remain single for very long as, on 12 July 1877, he remarried at the Tiverton register office.

 He was given as 63, a widower, a miller, of Low Street Cullompton, and his father was William Spear (deceased), an agricultural labourer.

 His bride was Emmaline Caroline Berry, 53, a widow, of Russell St. St. Sidwells Exeter, and her father was James Byrne (deceased), broker.

They both signed in the presence of Richard Ewings and Sarah Williams (X mark).

[COMMENT She may have been a relation of his first wife whose maiden name was Berry, hence the register office wedding. What is interesting is the identification of his father, which helps link John to William/Alice Spear in Alphington.]


8. The 1881 Devon census is on microfiche with a surname index and shows at Turnpike House:

John Spear       66        Toll Collector at Bickleigh married                    born Alphington

Emma Spear     56                                                                                “ Bristol

Bickleigh is a few miles West of Cullompton‑no trace of any other family members were noted on the microfiche. I did not look at the original census records.


9. John eventually died on 20th August 1894 at the village of Countess Wear, Topsham, (a southern suburb of Exeter, just across the river from Alphington). His age was given as 81, occupation‑corn miller (journeyman) , and cause of death‑heart disease and bronchitis certified by Arthur Roper FRCS. The informant was E. Spear, widow of deceased, present at death and of Countess Wear, Topsham on 21 August 1894.

[COMMENT. He lived longer than any 20th century Spear that I have found. He left no will or administration. His second wife didn't die till the first quarter of 1910 in Exeter. There was an admin but no details of our family.]


10. The 1881 census for Ashby de La Zouche Leicestershire, High St., ref RG 11 3141 En. Dist. 49 19 revealed:

 John Spear      Head    42        Toll Collector               born Exeter

Mary Spear      Wife    41                                             Beaford (probably Bideford see below)

John Spear       Son      8                                              (Dor) Charminster

Alice                Dau      6                                              Chard

Emma               "           3                                              (MNM)         ie Monmouth

Edda M            "           1                                              (Wal) Brecon

This must be the oldest son who married in 1873 (5. Above) following his Father's trade of toll collector, obviously moving around the country judging by the children's birthplaces.


There were other possibly related Spears nearby in the 1881 census:

Leics. Hallaton nr the church John Spear Head M 35 Police Signal+ b Sandford, his wife Thirza 34 b in Crediton and their children George Edwin 8 and William Hy 9 both b Exeter, Walter John 5 and Albert 3 (both b Leics Harbort) and Alice Mary 1 b (Nth) Milton.

Leicester St. M+ William Henry Spear Head M 38 Printer (Comp+) and his wife Caroline 39 both b Exeter.

11. The 1901 census for 42 River Road Littlehampton (RG 13 962 40 26) revealed:


John Spear       Head                61        Toll Collector Ferry      b Devon Exeter

Mary Spear      Wife                 60        ‑‑‑‑‑‑‑                          b Devon Bideford

Eda Spear        Daughter          21        ‑‑‑‑‑‑‑‑                        b Brecknock Breckmond

Mary Spear      Daughter          18        Dressmaker                  b Leics Woodville

William Spear Son                    17        Toll Collector Ferry      b Yorks Sheffield

Alice Conley     Daughter          26        ‑‑‑‑‑                             b Somers....

Gertrude Conley Daughter        2                                              b Notts Sutton in Ashfield

  The marriage of Alice might have been in the   last qr. 1894 in Exeter. His other elder children may have married and produced descendents:

eg  Emma Spear M 1st qr. 1897 in Poole Dorset.


On 24 August 1908 a John Spear, pensioned corporal in the Royal Marines, died aged 70 at Pier Road, Littlehampton, Sussex. Administration was at Chichester on 27 Jan 1909 to Alice Grey (wife of Ernest Albert William Grey).

(COMMENT. I presume Alice Grey was his widowed daughter Alice Conley who later remarried. The PRO at Kew has Royal Marine records (Adm 157), which should give his service history including pension. The 1861 census above had an illegible word after Royal Marines, which may suggest that he was pensioned then. If so he may have been invalided out. Littlehampton is in the East Preston registration area. In the third quarter of 1901 a Mary Spear aged 60 died in the same area without leaving a will/admin. I didn't look at the certificate but it is probably his wife, the age tallies.


12. Henry Spear seems to have moved to Bradford Yorkshire soon after his marriage in 1873 and then died there in the second quarter of 1875 aged 31 (certificate not inspected and no will or admin visible). The 1881 Yorkshire Census (RG 11 4439 133 5 Bowling Yorkshire 27 Ripley St) showed:

James Williams Head   30        Mason_s lab                            Born Lambeth

Sarah Williams Wife     37                                                        Devon Kentisbeer

Bessie Stone S             Dau      17        Unm worsted twister               Cullompton

Mary Jane Spear S       Dau      6          Scholar                                    Bradford

Clara Williams Dau      2                                                          _         _

John Rice         Boarder            28        mason’s lab.                             Devon   Cullompton

Sarah A Rice   Wife      25                                                        Tiverton

George A Rice Son                 1                                                          Bradford

Sarah seems to have had an unfortunate life: on her marriage certificate in 1873 no Father was given so she was probably illegitimate, she was given as a spinster so her daughter was probably illegitimate too. Just before she had her daughter Mary Spear (3rd qr 1875 ‑given as Mary Ann) her husband Henry died, not long after the move to the other end of the country. She then married again in the 3rd qtr of 1876. Thus by 1881 she had 3 children by 3 different men. Probably Henry was in the building trade so I suspect they all moved together from depressed Devon to relatively booming Bradford. Are the Rice family related in some way?

In the 3rd qr. of 1898 a Mary Ann Spear married in Bradford, which was probably her so there may be descendents.


13. A George Spear died aged 21 in Bedwellty in the second quarter of 1872 which is about the right age while another died aged 36 in Fulham in the last quarter of 1887 but (judging by the London 1881 census index) this does not seem to be our man. 1881 census indexes elsewhere revealed nothing. Again no wills or admins. Without the expense of looking at certificates it is impossible to say if they were our family. Of course he could have emigrated; with the agricultural depression of the late Victorian period many left for Canada or Australia.


14. Mary Ann Spear (possibly witness to her brother James' wedding in 1868 above) may have married herself, eg 3rd qr 1869 in Bethnal Green, 2nd qr. 1869 in Wandsworth or last qr. 1872 in Wincanton. If so there may be dependents.


15.  The only data that I ever heard about our family in Devon was that James Spear ran away from Cullompton at about 16. I suspect that his connections with Devon relations after that were infrequent.