Wedmore Genealogy Pages


In every place there are so many families, and each family has its family name or surname. Those surnames are now, but there was a time when they were not. The families of course always were, but not the family names. Probably 300 years ago they all were; probably 800 years none of them were. So that their coming into existence as surnames lies somewhere between 800 years ago and 300 years ago, i.e. between A.D. 1100 and 1600. Some came in nearer to the former date, some nearer to the latter. In fact the time when surnames were being formed corresponds pretty nearly to the time when the different parts of Wedmore Church were being built. The building of Wedmore Church lies between A.D. 1100 and 1600, or, to be more exact, between 1150 and 1550 some parts being built nearer to the former date and some parts nearer to the latter date. So that the same answer will do for two very different questions; viz.: When was Wedmore Church built? and, When were surnames formed? Neither question can be answered by a single date, because both the two operations were spread over 400 or 500 years, and over the same 400 or 500 years.

So the family and the family name or surname are two distinct things. The one goes back and must go back in every case to Adam, the other only goes back 800 years at the most, 300 years at the least. Every generation of every family, not only of a few favoured ones as people sometimes seem to think, but of every family in every part of the world, is a link in a chain; one end of that chain dangles unfinished in this 19th century, and link after link is being added to it as time runs on; the other end of that chain is fastened to the girdle that goes round the waist of our first father Adam, So every family has a continuous, unbroken history from Adam to now; and it ought to find it all out, if it can. No family has suddenly begun in this or that century, but each must go back to Adam. It can't begin anywhere else except at Adam. And it ought to find out, if it can, how and where it has been spending its time since the days of Adam until now, in what continents and in what countries, speaking what tongues, holding what faiths, and so on. When it can trace its own history and keep that history separate from the history of other families, then that history is called Family history. When it can't do that, but can only see its history bound up and entangled with the history of a great many other families, then that history is called National history. But the two things, family history and national history, are the same in kind. The difference between them is only the difference that there is between a slice of cake and a whole cake, or between a glass of wine and a whole bottle. Probably every family, or nearly so, if it took the trouble to use all the means of information, could manage to see more or less of its own history standing out separate and distinct from that of others for 300 years at least, and sometimes much more; but after a time, as the distance increases, the single slice is lost sight of, and then only the whole cake can be perceived. But the two things throw light upon each other. When you can see the single slice, it helps to show you what the whole is like; it is as it were a sample of the whole; and when you can see the whole it helps to show what the parts were like, because the whole is made up of its parts, and is what it is by reason of its parts.

Now the name of the family to which the next few pages are given is WESTOVER. And in making out what I have about this family, I do not pretend to have used one tenth of the existing sources of information. I have only used such as lie at my door or very close to it. (1) MSS. belonging to the Dean and Chapter of Wells which have been printed. (2) Wills in the Court of Probate at Wells. (3) Parish Registers of Wedmore. (4) an old MSS. journal of Dr. Westover still lying in the house where he lived, and for the loan of which I am greatly indebted to Mr. Henry Hawkins, the present owner and occupier of the Doctor's house and some of his grounds. The first thing is to see what its name tells you about its origin. Its name is one of those surnames which before they were surnames were already names of places. It was the name of a place first; it became the name of a family afterwards. The name of the place became also the name of a family, because some family owned it, or went from it to some other place. There is no village or town named Westover, but there are probably several hamlets or parts of towns so called. "Over" is from "ofer" the Saxon word for the shore of a sea or bank of a river; so Westover would be the name of a district that lay on the Western bank of a river. Bridgwater on the Parret has its Eastover; Ilchester on the Ivel has its Northover; Wells on a small nameless brook has its Southover; Langport on the Parret has its Westover. From Langport, or perhaps from some other Westover, a family came here. Whether they had got to be called Westover before they left that place, or whether they were first called "of Westover" by the people here among whom they settled down, I can't say. Neither can I say exactly when they came. They were already here in 1509 In that year the Dean of Wells leased certain lands to the Vicar, Churchwardens, and certain inhabitants of Wedmore for 99 years, upon condition of their finding a Chaplain to celebrate mass at the altar of St. Ann in Wedmore Church three times a week. I will go fully into this matter another day. I only mention it now because one of the inhabitants named in the lease was John Westover. This lease is partly printed by Mr. Reynolds in his History of Wells Cathedral, but he has misread the name and prints if "Weston," (p. 230). Mr. Green also misprints it as "Westoner." (Somerset Chantries; Som: Record Soc: II, p. 255.)

From the time of this John mentioned in the Church lease of 1509 to the death of another John in 1766 there was a steady, unbroken succession of John Westovers in this parish, with several other branches besides. They were at Stoughton and Allerton as well as in Wedmore. To avoid muddle and confusion I will give some of these Johns a number and a nickname, and then when I refer to any of them I shall know how to distinguish one from another. The reason of the nickname will be seen as we read on. John I, the one already mentioned, shall be Churchlease John. John II, probably his grandson or great-grandson, shall be Valiant John. John III, probably his son, shall be Commonwealth John. John IV, his son, shall be Surgeon John. John V, his son, shall be Doctor John. John VI, his nephew, shall be Plain John, because I can't think of any other name whereby to distinguish him. John VII, his son, shall be the Last John. These seven Johns, representing probably nine consecutive generations, cover about 300 years, reckoning from the birth of the first to the death of the last. They cover the time from Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses to George III and the American War of Independence. We have done with Churchlease John, and now we will go on to notice in succession Valiant John, Commonwealth John, Surgeon John, Doctor John, Plain John, and the Last John.

II. John II, Valiant John. In 1888 Mr. Emanuel Green brought out a little book of great local interest, called "The preparations in Somerset against the Spanish Armada." He gives, from MSS. papers in London, the names of all the Pykemen and Shot that were mustered from each Hundred in this County in 1586, when the Spanish Armada was getting fit, and the fear of what Spain might do filled every heart. This matter I shall go into more fully another day, and I only mention it now because among the Shot who joined the muster at Bridgwater from this Hundred of Bemstone to which we belong was John Westover. He may have been grandson or great grandson to Churchlease John. No doubt he was a valiant man, and would have shot hundreds of Spaniards if he had had the chance. But he never had it. The winds of God and the ships of England dispersed the mighty Spanish fleet, and the soldiers on dry land had nothing to do but to return each man to his home in peace. However, when we look up to the new West window in Wedmore Church, and see the line of English ships drawn up in battle array under the figure of Queen Elizabeth, we may imagine another line drawn up in the background, a line of sturdy figures and stout hearts; and even if the Spaniard could perchance have broken through the first line, he would have found it a hard matter to break through the second. John Westover was in this second line, so I call him Valiant John, or Armada John, if that is better.

III. John III, Commonwealth John. I am afraid that I can say nothing about him except that he died in 1652, which is the only reason why I call him Commonwealth John. He was probably a son of Valiant John.

IV. John IV, Surgeon John, son of Commonwealth John. I know nothing more of him than I can learn from the Parish Registers, from the inscription on his tombstone in Wedmore Church, and from his will and the inventory of his goods and chattells. From these I learn that he was baptized in Wedmore Church on March 15, 1616, married Joan Coles of this parish November 26, 1640, and was buried February 3, 1679. He was a surgeon or chyrugeon as it used to be written and is written on his tombstone. Who wrote the lines on his tombstone I can't say. They may have been original lines written expressly for him by some local poet and friend, or they may have been stock lines which had done duty for a good many others besides him. From the fact that there are more lines on two other tombstones of about the same date, (viz.: Prudence Buxton's, 1680, and Robert Pope's, 1690), one might infer that there was a local poet who wrote them all. The same poet may also have written the two lines in the Parish Register. (See Burials, 1658). Perhaps Doctor John, son of this Surgeon John, added poetry to his other accomplishments, and wrote them all. The stone is now in the south transept. Originally it was in the south aisle, near the south door.

This is the inscription:

Here resteth the body of John Westover Senior of this parish Chyrugion, who departed this life Jan.. 3O, 1678.

Is this that darke and dismal place
Of which death threatned me,
His strength my body now deface
Not to eternity.
Whilst in ye grave my body lye
Exalted is my soule,
Soe fixt in Christ with God on high
That nought can me controul.
Of death let this a warning be
Unto such as pass by,
Expect a sudden change to see,
Repent, for doctors dye.


Here also resteth the body of Joane his wife who departed this life April 18, 1692. And also John Westover their son Chyrurgion departed this life Feb. 25 in the 62nd year of his age, 1705.

He had 8 children born between 1641 and 1659, all therefore born during the civil war and the Commonwealth that followed it. Their names were Joan, John, Joan, Andrew, Henry, William, Hannah, Ann.

(a) Joan died in 1642, an infant. (b) John is the Doctor of whom more will be said presently. (c) Joan, baptized in January 1645, married in 1667 William Rowley of Wedmore, and died next year in giving birth to her son William. Young William was apprenticed to his uncle, Doctor John, and we shall see him again presently. (d) Andrew, baptized in July 1647, pulled out a tooth or two and helped his brother Doctor John in a mild sort of way, and then went off and I know not what became of him. (e) Henry, baptized in September, 1651, we shall see again presently. (f) William, baptized in December, 1653, died in July, 1660. (g) Hannah, baptized in December, 1655, married Thomas Poole of Westhay. (h) Ann, baptized in September, 1659, kept house for her brother Doctor John, till she married her cousin Edward Tincknell.

The wills of John and Joan his wife are in the Court of Probate at Wells, where I have taken copies of them; also the inventories of their goods and chattels. I print them with other Westover wills and inventories, and put them all together at the end of this article, so as not to interrupt the story.

It will be seen from the inventory of his goods and chattels that Surgeon John was a man of some substance. His cellar was well-filled, his kitchen was bright with a goodly array of pewter and brass, his yard was well filled with corn and hay, and, his grounds well stocked with cattle. Live animals to the value of £253, when meat was 2d. a pound, and the price of animals was accordingly, represents a goodly number.

These inventories will, I think, help to show us one great difference between things as they are now and things as they were once. Who now get the fruits of the soil out of it ? It is almost entirely the work of a single profession of men who are called farmers. Hardly anybody now touches the ground but them. They do that and nothing else; others do something else and don't do that. But formerly it was not so, or at any rate not to the same extent as now. Formerly nearly every one who lived in the country, whatever his profession might be, seems to have had a bit of land in his own hands, out of which, by good management or by bad, he got what he could. The surgeon, the doctor, the tradesman, the labouring man, men of all trades and all classes, had their lands or their rights in the common fields, and, to use a slovenly expression,they farmed them themselves. The result was that you had a larger number of people living in the country, with objects in which they were interested lying outside their own parlours, and compelled sometimes by their very duties to spend some part of their time under that best of all roofs, the roof of heaven. You had not, I expect, so many people hopelessly penned in and cooped up from morning to night every day of their lives, with never any occasion for the vigorous use of a single muscle. And you had not the country districts getting emptier and emptier, and those great sinks of filth which we call cities getting fuller and fuller. But there are some signs now to be seen of a tendency to a return to the former state of things where that former state is happier than the present state. Large unweildy properties and large unweildy farms have done the mischief, and large unweildy properties and large unweildy farms are both alike doomed. They have been tried and found wanting.

V. John V, Doctor John, the eldest son of Surgeon John and Joan his wife. His fathers having been settled here for 150 years at least, and, perhaps much more, his mother, a Coles, of an old Wedmore family, there could not have been much Langport blood left in him. This is the entry of his baptism:

April, 55, 1643. Johannes fihius Johannis et Joannae Westover de Wedmoore.

That entry suggested three remarks. (1) He was born just about 6 months after the beginning of the civil war in England, and was not quite 6 years old when Charles I was beheaded. (2) Mr. Law, Vicar of Wedmore at the time of his baptism, and in whose handwriting the entry is, always writes "Wedmoore." I suppose he pronounced it so. That is very unlike the local pronunciation, which is more like "Wedma." I have wondered whether that would show Mr. Law to be a north countryman. (3) The "de (of) Wedmore" shows whereabouts the Doctor was born. When the abode of people is stated exactly in the Registers, as it always was in Mr. Law's time, then "of Wedmore" only means one part of the parish, and that a comparatively small part. It does not mean in the Borough, for then they are called "de Borough" or "de Burgo." It does not mean in any of the hamlets, for then they are called "de Crickham" or whatever the hamlet might be. It means some part which is neither the Borough nor hamlet; that is to say, it means somewhere within that narrow belt of land that lies immediately round the Borough, outside of the Borough and between it and the hamlets. In some parts that belt is wider than others; in some parts it is scarcely wider than a new moon. In some parts of it there are more houses than others. But nowhere is it very wide, and nowhere are there many houses in it; so when a man is called "de (of) Wedmore," you know pretty nearly where to put him. This belt is widest and has most houses towards the west or south-west. In what is now called West end, and which has been called so, I think, for over 200 years, (see Bapt. Sept. 1563,) there stands now a group of five substantial houses. Three of these have been built within the last 130 years, and I do not know that any house occupied the site before them; viz., the Poplars, and the two houses severally occupied by Mr. Churchwarden Wall and Mr. John Banwell. But the other two are much older. One of these two, called Porch House, is the house where Surgeon John and Doctor John and Plain John and Last John all lived and died. Whether Churchlease John, Valiant John, and Commonwealth John had all lived there too I can't say. Probably there are documents in London which would show who first got that bit of property after the splitting up of the Dean of Wells' Manor at the Reformation. But London is an out of the way place, and so I have not been able to make it out. At any rate Surgeon John possessed it and lived there, and there Doctor John, his son, was born in 1643. Where the Doctor went to school, where he served his apprenticeship, where he first layed the foundations of his medical knowledge, I can't say. I suppose he went to some medical college to get himself qualified, and I suppose the records of that college would contain his name. But all these things are in London, and London, as I have already said, is such an out of the way place.

I must therefore, for lack of material at my door, skip over the first 42 years of his life, and start from the year 1685, the very year of the battle of Sedgemoor. The Doctor was then living in Porch house with his mother and sister Ann. His father had died in 1679. He was a bachelor, and remained so till his death in 1706.

In the house where he lived and died he left lying among other things an old journal. By some lucky accident that journal has survived all the changes and chances, all the cleanings and clearings, all the brooms and boys of 200 years, and lies there still. When one thinks of the perils that it has been exposed to for nearly 200 years, perils from fire and from damp, from kindness and from carelessness, from accidents and from attention, from being seen and from being unseen, from old occupants going out and from new occupants coming in, it is perfectly marvellous that it should have survived them all. However it has survived, and by the kindness of its present owner, Mr. Henry Hawkins, I have got it now before me, and will give some account of it and some extracts from it.

It is a long narrow book, 15.75 inches by 6.5. The pages, or rather leaves, two pages to a leaf, are numbered by the Doctor. The last leaf at present is 226, which would make 452 pages. The first 13 leaves have been torn off, and also the last few, I can't say how many. There are also a few leaves here and there gone from the middle. The book is a daily record, mostly in the Doctor's handwriting, of all those who sent for him or who came to him, of what ailed them, of what he did for them, and of what they paid him. In this book we have set down all the ailments, agues, distempers, distractions, dislocations, fractures, fevers, jaundices, melancholies, pains, swellings, stitches, itches, etc, which the people of this parish and neighbourhood suffered during 15 years; all the cordials, carminatives, decoctions, electuaries, dyet drinks, juleps, marmalades, opiates, pills, potions, sudorifics, cephallicals, pectorals, and stomachicals which they swallowed; all the blisters, plasters, poultices, and cataplasms which were applied to them, and all the teeth and all the fees which were extracted from them. I am only using words which I find in the journal. The actual receipts and prescriptions are often given, so if anybody is curious to try 17th century medicines, he can do so. One very common one, a marmalade of quinses, sounds too good to be a medicine at all. The Doctor's patients were from far and wide. There is not a town or village within 15 miles from which they did not come. In fact I think there are more mentioned as coming from other places than there are from Wedmore itself: and I have wondered whether it was that the health of Wedmore was so good that they needed not a physician, or whether it was that the proverb was fulfilled in him which says, A prophet is not without honour save in his own country and in his father's house.

But the Doctor was a bit of a Farmer as well as a Doctor; so the journal is a farmer's journal as well as a medical man's journal. And it is refreshing sometimes to turn from the yackes to the yackers, from tumours and jaundices to the fresh air of Goodmeads and Clements.

The journal, as I have said, covers 15 years. The first entry is dated Jan. 1685/6, the last entry is Feb. 1700/1, though there are a few postscripts to former entries added on as late as 1703. The last few leaves of the journal being gone, one cannot tell whether he continued in harness and kept up his interest in his patients and in his farm to the end, or whether between the busy day of life and the day of death there came an evening, either voluntary or compulsory, of rest and retirement. He was buried Feb. 11, 1705/6

The Journal and the Registers, according to the custom of the day, reckon the year to begin on March 25. So that what they would call Jan. or Feb. or March, 1705, we should call Jan. or Feb. or March 1706. To prevent misunderstanding, whenever I give an extract in which Jan., Feb., or March in any year is set down, I shall always print it thus: Jan. 1685/6 The top figure will be the year according to the old style of reckoning, the lower figure will be the year according to our style. The Doctor's spelling is not very correct according to modern ideas. "When I sould the ould cowe I tould him I ould have but fower pound." That is the sort of thing that occurs on every page. When one of his patients died in his house, he tells us that he paid Is. 6d. for the "sotivecate." But never mind. Fevers are not cured by good spelling, and broken limbs are not mended by correct grammar, so the Doctor did very well without those things. Amongst other peculiarities he always writes leg and pig as ledg and pidg. This seems to have been the usual way of proceeding. The sick person sends for or comes to the doctor and desires him "to do his best for him," an expression one hears sometimes now. "I don't believe but what Doctor A. has done his best for me," people often say now. When the Doctor has been asked to do his best, then comes the question of the fee. Sometimes, in bad cases, that is settled at first. So much is to be paid for the cure, "one moiety in hand," the other moiety when the patient is well. Sometimes it is left to the end. The patient pathetically asks what he MUST pay. The journal says, "I tould him that £4 (or whatever it was) ould give me satisfaction." A very common answer is, "I tould him I ould have but £4." That little word "but" occurs hundreds of times. Whether the Doctor really charged less than he need have done, less than "it was woth" as he says, or whether he only made himself think so, I can't say. But I certainly think that he was a good-natured man and not grasping. The debt is paid sometimes in money, sometimes in work or in kind; generally in driblets: part of it is often forgiven. Sometimes "I bated him a crown." All this, the sending for him or the coming to him, the remedies prescribed, the arrangements made, the fees charged, the amounts paid, are all entered in the Journal. As each debt is discharged it is crossed out, and the Doctor writes, Recd in full. The usual liquid measures are "a sack glass." The solid measures are "the quantity of a wood nut" or "of a nutmeg," or "as much as would lie on a small penny." And now for the extracts, which will show what the book is like better than any description of it. I will put the extracts under three headings, though in the book itself they are all mixed up together. (1) Out-patients. (2) In-patients. (3) The farm and all other matters. The numbering of the leaves is the Doctor's. I have added b where the extract is taken from the reverse of the leaf.

One more remark for the satisfaction of my conscience. I have a perfect horror of giving mere extracts from an old MSS. They ought to be printed in full or not at all. Printing extracts is like scooping the plums out of a cake. You neither eat the cake yourself nor let anybody else do so. Besides which you, perhaps, leave as many good fish in as you take out.

The excuses for doing so in this case are (1) the length of the Journal, (2) its being a medical journal there is a good deal of sameness in some of the entries, and also some of them not very edifying, (3) the extreme difficulty of always acting fully up to one's principles.


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