Speare Get Together in Exeter 2002

Together at Inwardleigh Church

Speare: A Much Extended Family


A review of the Speare Family Get-together

Exeter, 3rd & 4th April 2002



None of us knew quite what to expect on the day as we sat, somewhat apprehensively, in the empty meeting room of the Holiday Inn Express.  It was 9.30am and Thomas, Gilbert and I had carefully arranged the room to provide access to census and parish records, the newly-compiled ‘complete’ family tree (all 107 pages!), and various other documents of interest, and to register details of visitors not already known to us.  We wondered how many people would actually arrive.  By 11.30am we had little time to consider such niceties as we were all too busy dealing with the considerable number of Speares (and Spears) who were arriving in a continuous stream until mid afternoon.  Thomas’s media campaign had obviously been successful as many had heard about the event through local radio and newspaper articles.


Gilbert, Thomas & Paul

It quickly became apparent that the Speares are very interested in their ancestry and, at any one time,  there were many separate conversations taking place with tales of long-lost and distantly-remembered relatives, intrigues, and documents and mementos being produced.  Those, like myself, who had already undertaken significant research on their own Speare Family branches found that the connections became apparent and that we were, therefore, related.  We now have more cousins than ever seemed possible!

Paul Registers Chris Speare


Many areas of the country were represented, including York, Oxford, Bedford, Cheshire, Lancashire, Sussex and Kent, as well as Cornwall and Devon where the Speare family has a long history.  It was particularly gratifying to meet many of the Inwardleigh Speare's who were examining and discussing census and parish records with great enthusiasm.  The accolade for the greatest distance travelled must go to Cliff and Marcy Speare who braved jet-lag to represent Chicago, USA!

 A number of common family occupations, interests and skills began to appear.  Farming was, of course, evident throughout our known history and is still practised by some of our Devon cousins, but there were also frequent references to carpentry and shoe-making in different branches.  Music seems to feature highly, both as an occupation and an interest, and we met Ken and Bronwyn, the parents of the composer, Simon Speare.  I was also impressed, and particularly moved, to hear and read accounts of the heroic service during World War II, and tragic death of Wing Commander “Dickie” Speare.


The Exeter Express and Echo, who had already published an article about the forthcoming get-together, arrived to gather more details and to take a photograph of some of the party.  They produced a full-page feature on the event which was in next morning’s edition.



In the evening, over thirty people enjoyed a meal at the Barn Owl pub/restaurant, next door to the hotel, occupying a large proportion of the dining area.  This presented something of a challenge to the restaurant manager, despite advance booking, but his staff worked hard to accommodate us and successfully and efficiently delivered the correct meals.  Gilbert Speare and I delivered short speeches to acknowledge the special nature of the event, and we could not let the evening pass without putting Thomas ‘on the spot’ for a final few words.  On returning to the hotel, the whole party lined up for group photographs and then relaxed in the lounge/bar.  The e-mail fraternity among us was pleased finally to meet “Shirley Fantastic” (her e-mail tag), daughter of “Uncle Tom”, whose personality more than matched the pseudonym!


Thursday morning’s visit to Inwardleigh was attended by a party of around 12 people and will probably be remembered as a significant event by all those present.  Ethel Speare, the key holder for St Petroc’s Parish Church, kindly showed us around this ancient and well-kept building.  It was particularly evocative to imagine some of our 18th and 19th century ancestors being baptised in this font and married at this altar, bringing a sense of reality to the names in the parish records.  Everyone signed the visitors’ book, creating a list of Speare surnames!  This really seemed to be something of an historic occasion, which I acknowledged beneath our signatures. 


In the churchyard, the row of six 19th century Speare graves attracted considerable attention.  Thomas again confirmed his status as “Super Sleuth” (Exeter Express & Echo) by spotting the grave of Ralph and Grace Ward, parents of Sarah and Mary.  Because these two sisters married the brothers Richard and Samuel Speare, their parents are, in fact, direct ancestors to both the Inwardleigh Speares descended from Samuel and Sarah, and the visitors descended from Richard and Mary.  Fine detective work again, Thomas!


Roger, Christopher and I joined “Uncle Tom” (Richard Thomas Speare, 85) for a stroll through the end of the churchyard and across the lane, where we stood leaning on a gate overlooking the fields to Westwood Farm, which generations of Speare farmers had worked.  This was another one of those ‘moments’, which will stay with us, probably for life.

 View Across to Westwood

However, it was time to face the press again; on this occasion, the Okehampton Times, whose photographer captured a shot of our group in the church.  This was followed by coffee at Ethel’s cottage, previously the village school which Tom, his sister Sylvia, and even Val (Stanley and Ethel’s daughter) had attended as children.  There was a cheerful atmosphere, with lively conversation, and a feeling of being among an extended family.  Ethel’s comment that ‘Stanley would have really enjoyed all this’ was poignant, I thought.


Christopher’s wife, Gillian, suggested that it might be a good idea for us to present a gift to St Petroc’s Church - a vase, for instance - with the Speare name on it.  This was enthusiastically endorsed and Gill has kindly offered to look for suitable items for our comments.


Our morning at Inwardleigh brought to a close the first Speare Family Get-together.  We felt that it was a success on many levels - socially, historically and from a research perspective - and, furthermore, many of us came away with a greater sense of where our roots lay, a clear image of where our ancestors lived and worked for generations, and the feeling that we were part of a much extended family.

Paul Speare

After the meal at the Barn Owl