Wedmore Genealogy Pages
THE WESTOVER FAMILY.
And now the Journal must be put aside. One may regret that the last few leaves are gone, for they might have carried us on to the end of the Doctor's life, and shown us how Doctors die. As it is they stop short of that event by about 5 years, though there are a few entries that come within 2 years of it. One may also regret that the first 15 leaves are torn off, for possibly there might have been some entry in them bearing upon the Battle of Sedgemoor and the Bloody Assizes held after it. The Battle of Sedgemoor was fought on Monday, July 6, 1685. The very first entry in this Journal is this
Jan. 13, 1685/6. Redused a dislocation for William Counsell of Sand which he received with a fall from his feet on one of his thighe hames, ye bone came through the skin.
That is just 6 months after the battle. If the entry had been 6 months earlier, one might have thought that, perhaps, William Counsell got his fall running away and jumping over the rhines, with the King's troops close behind him. Immediately after the battle Judge Jefferies was sent down into the West of England to hold an assize and deal out punishment to those who had taken the Duke of Monmouth's side. This assize began at Winchester in August, 1685. From thence Jeffereys Went on to Lyme, Exeter, Taunton, Wells, and Bristol. The result was that 331 were executed and 849 transported, besides minor punishments. These two events, the Battle and the Bloody Assizes, belong especially to the Western Counties; Monmouth's army was chiefly composed of West Country men; the victims of the Bloody Assizes held by Judge Jeffereys were entirely West Country men; in the traditions, and Parish Registers, and other unprinted records of West Country villages, lie almost the only means of getting at the small details of these events; so it is the bounden duty of the Western Counties to rout out what they can. Here, in this Journal of Dr. Westover, we have a record that might have thrown some light on the Battle and on the Assizes, and that very nearly does so, but unfortunately just doesn't. However, I dare say, there are others, slumbering in old chests in cellars or attics, and not yet brought to light, which do. The first few leaves of Dr. Westover's Journal are indented with the marks of shot. I do not attribute those shot to the muskets of King James' troops, but rather to the pistols of mischievous boys of a later date.
There seems to be some sort of a tradition connecting the Westover's house with the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion. Two rebels are said to have been concealed there by the ladies of the house, but to have been found out and executed, and their heads fastened up on the Porch. It is certainly true that there were ladies in the house at the time. There was the Doctor's mother, widow of Surgeon John, and there was his sister Ann, then about 25 years old; they were there for certain ; possibly also his sister Hannah was there, if she were not already married to Thomas Poole of Westhay. It is curious also that the tradition got hold of somehow by Mr. Pooley and mentioned in his history of the Stone Crosses of Somerset, and already alluded to by me (Wed: Chron: Vol. I, p. 315) should have a doctor in it. These two traditions, together with the mysterious disappearance of Andrew Westover alluded to presently, have all got something in common, viz., a rebellious doctor; and seem to point to one and the same fact, whatever that fact may be. To them may also be added the fact that I have mentioned at p. 135, about the Doctor apparently not being patronized by the Clergy. These traditions need collecting and then examining and sifting, so that the impossible parts of them may be got rid of, and only the real facts remain. What one wants is to know the real facts.
When we part with the Journal, we must also part with the Doctor. There is nothing more to say of him than that he was buried here on Feb. 11, 1705/6, aged 62 years. His will is not at Wells.
He is succeeded in his property by his brother Henry. Henry was the 3rd son of Surgeon John, born in 1651. Andrew, the 2nd son, has disappeared. Whither? Apparently he is not alive, nor is he in Wedmore Churchyard. He is mentioned in his father's will, Feb. 1678/9, and in his mother's will, May 1685; he is mentioned a few times in the early pages of the Journal as helping the Doctor; and then within a year of the Bloody Assizes he is clean gone. And one naturally wonders whether he was among those who were executed or transported. Two Sweets, brothers of the Parish Clerk, disappear at about the same time; and one wonders whether they too were attracted by something in the Duke of Monmouth, and gave up their lives in his cause. Were they two of the men whom traditions show us hiding in the gouts? or were they the two men whom old Sally Leigh, as she was doing old Mr. Tonkin's washing about 70 years ago, told young John Tonkin that her husband's grandfather saw hung up on an elm at Comb batch? (Wed: Chron: Vol.1. p. 315.) Those two men had a name, and it must be found out. At any rate, whatever and wherever Andrew was, loyal or rebel, dead or alive, buried with Christian burial in a Churchyard or buried with the burial of a dog beneath where two roads cross, free in his native land or a convict in the Barbadoes, wherever he was, Henry succeeded to the Doctor's house and lands. I can say little about him. He had been living in Wedmore during his brother's life time, but I can't say in which house. In 1687 he is described as "de Burgo," i.e. of the Borough. He was not married here, so I can only say that his wife's Christian name was Hannah. Their children, born between 1685 and 1702, were Jane, Hannah, John, Mary, Mary, Rebecca, Ann, Ann, Joan, Henry. Of these, Mary, Rebecca and Ann seem to have been triplets, born at one birth; at any rate they were baptized on the same day in 1697, and buried on the same day in the following month. The others all died young, mostly in infancy, except Joan and John. Joan is mentioned in her mother's will, but I know not what became of her. John is Plain John, and succeeded his father. He also is mentioned in his mother's will; she leaves him one shilling! The wills and inventories both of Henry and of Hannah his wife will be found at the end of this article. He died in 1709, she in 1724/5. Their son, Henry, was buried exactly a week after his father, aged 6 years.
VI John VI, Plain John, only surviving son of the above-mentioned Henry, was born in 1690. His wife was Hannah Counsell. They were not married here, I cannot think why not. The Counsells were so numerous that it is very difficult to distinguish them one from another. She was probably a daughter of George Counsell of Stoughton. She was certainly a sister of John Counsell, who owned and occupied that good old 17th century house now called The Close and now owned by the Parsons family, and occupied by Mr. Edwin Wall, jun. He also owned most of the land that now goes with that farm. This marriage was the first link in a chain of causes that eventually brought this Counsell property and the Westover property into one. I can say nothing about Plain John, otherwise I should not have called him so. His children, born between 1718 and 1727, were John, Hannah, Mary, Mary, Jane, John. John, Mary, and Jane died in infancy. Hannah and Mary are mentioned in their father's will; Mary died in 1744, but Hannah disappears. John is Last John. Plain John was buried in 1729/30 and Hannah his widow in 1735. His will will be found at the end of this article.
VII. John VII, Last John. Bapt: Oct. 1719, Buried Nov. 1766. And that is all I can say about him. No wife or child of his comes into the Registers, so I suppose he died unmarried. No will of his is at Wells, so I suppose he died intestate. None of the Westovers that we have seen have been long-lived, and neither Plain John nor Last John saw 50 years. With Last John the Westovers come clean to an end as far as this parish is concerned. The Allerton branch went on for about 20 years longer. Their house at Allerton stands empty, and has stood so for many years. I see a representative of the name in the Bristol Directory for 1889 who may or may not be a descendant of one of these Johns,
And now, having traced their footsteps as far as we can, having reached the spot "where further there are none," we will just see what happened to their house and lands: because that remains, though they be gone. We have seen that the mother of Last John was a sister of John Counsell, who lived on his own estate within a stone's throw of Porch house: consequently Last John was first cousin to John Counsell's children. These children were (a) Jane, 1729 to 1766, died unmarried. (b) Dorcas, 1731 to 1758, married John Bartlet of Wells. (c) George, 1735 to 1769, died unmarried. (d) Hannah, 1737 to 1802, married William Singer of Croscombe. When Last John died in 1766, his heir and next of kin, as well as his next neighbour, was this George Counsell, whose father John was still living at the Close. John Counsell died in 1768, and so his only son George became possessed of the Close as well as of the Westover property which he had inherited 2 years before, And so these two properties came into one. George Counsell did not live to enjoy them very long. He died unmarried in 1769, and his only surviving sister, Hannah, was his heir. In 1770 she married William Singer, of Croscombe, stocking-maker. In the marriage settlement he is described as stocking-maker. But Hannah Counsell with her two properties brought in more than the stockings did; so he put them away and straightway became a gentleman, and is afterwards so described. They had an only child, Mary, who married Jeremiah Dewdney Parsons, who thus became possessed of these two properties in Wedmore. J. D. Parsons had one son, William Singer Parsons, and two daughters, Mary and Frances, The Counsell property, house and grounds, shorn of Speke Close and one or two other bits sold from time to time, still remains in the Parsons family, the present occupier being Mr. Edwin Wall, jun. The Westover property has been mostly sold, the house and some of the grounds being owned and occupied by Mr. Henry Hawkins.
Another house that was part of the Westover property that came to Mr. Singer by his marriage with Hannah Counsell was the old house about which I made a few remarks at p. 34 of this volume, and of which a very good illustration was given in the last number of the Wedmore Chronicle.
But how long that had been Westover property, whether it had been so in the time of Surgeon John and Doctor John, or whether it was got more recently, I cannot say at present. I find from old deeds that the old name of the lane that turns off at this house, and goes past Shortland to join the Mudgley Road, is Haines' Lane. It would be as well if this name were kept up. Roads want names as well as people; otherwise how can you distinguish one from another!
The first notice of Westover's Mill that I have seen is in Surgeon John's will, 1678. He there leaves it to his third son Henry. It has not been grinding within living memory. The extract from the Journal printed at p. 140 looks as if the Doctor took it down, though if it was his brother Henry's, I don't know how that could be. It is called "our mill" in the Journal; so, perhaps, they had it between them. One can still see the place where it stood. It is now called Mill batch, formerly Mill moot. It is described as being in the North field. I imagine that Quob lane was the boundary between North field and West field. In the old days of common arable fields, each village or hamlet had its three fields, called after three of the four points of the compass, North, South, East, or West, as the case might be; and each field was bounded by a way: these ways have in some cases since become stoned highways, and in some cases remain as they were, though arable land has become meadow, and open fields have become enclosed.
Porch house, where the Westovers lived, has been altered a good deal. The wing that runs from the Porch northwards has been added on in this century. Formerly there was a barn there. In the bedroom in the Porch is a fine old carved four-posted bed, which may well be one of the beds mentioned in Surgeon John's inventory. The style and date is what is called Jacobean, the same style and date as the pulpit in Wedmore Church. There are also in the house a sword and a rapier, and another weapon which I can neither name nor describe. It is something like one of the weapons carried by the Court Leet, when, on grand occasions, they march up the aisle of Wedmore Church. But what the date of these weapons is, and who may have handled or tasted them, I cannot say. The madhouse, with the date 1680 on the chimney, proclaims itself to be the work of the Doctor. If the Journal had begun a few years earlier than it does, we should have had the mason's name and his bill. A better bit of building could not be wished for. I expect that the Doctor was a man full of ideas and resources, and not cramped or hampered by servile obedience to the fashions of his day; I expect that Whatever he did he did well and yet in his own way, whether doctoring, farming or building. The only thing that he did not do well was spelling ; and that did not matter.
Who built the Porch itself? It bears no date upon it, but I think I can certainly prove that the Doctor built it. Where did he get his idea of a porch from? It was not the style of his day; and it was not an original style that his brain invented. It was a copy, and the original had been built just 200 years before, and stood just 8 miles off. We will look at this original for a moment.
The farming extracts from the Journal show that the Doctor owned or at any rate occupied and farmed land at Brent. Now, before the Reformation and the disestablishment of the monasteries, East Brent had belonged to Glastonbury Abbey. And Abbot Selwood, who was Abbot of Glastonbury from 1457 to 1492, built a fine Manor House there. This is a description of the house, which I translate from the Latin account written in 1515. It will be found tacked on to John of Glastonbury's Chronicle, ed: by Thomas Hearn, 1726, p. 321.
East Brent. There is there a certain manor house, conveniently and splendidly built by John Selwode the late abbot, contaning chapel, hall, dining room, rooms lofty and deep, buttery, cellar, pantry, kitchen, larder, and a house on the South side of the kitchen called Wodehouse, with rooms above called Gisten (Guest) Chambers, and various other rooms finely built, and with a splendid porch, with...and arms, and enclosed with serrated paling eight feet high, the site of which with the garden within the pales contains 1 acre. Also in the outer Court is a stable with a terrace walk and Hayhouse built by the same Abbot, the site of which with the aforesaid barton and pound contains 3 perches. Also on the North side of the said Manor house is an orchard containing 3 acres 1 perch, planted by the said Abbot with apple trees and pear trees of the best fruits, the fruit of which is worth in average years 40 shillings; and on the borders of the said orchard are trees, viz, elms and oaks of a wonderfrsl height and thickness, wherein herons are used to build their nests and bring up their young.
And the account of it goes on. But I have given enough for my purpose. This fine house was pulled down in 1708. So the Doctor might have seen it, and, we may add, must have seen it, he being a Brent farmer as well as a Wedmore doctor. And I think we may safely say that he got the idea of building a porch to his house from the porch, "porticus sumptuosus," mentioned in the above extract. Of course he had not got the wealth or resources of an abbot, and so his porch was not quite so "sumptuosus" as the one at Brent; but the idea of it came from there. The porch that we may look upon to-day is an imitation, a copy, a result, a child, of the porch that men looked upon 400 years ago, 300 years ago, and down to 200 years ago. This one is because that one was. Without that one had been, this one would not be. So things go on from age to age, going in one shape but staying in another, going in themselves, but staying in their consequences. Very likely there is not a single thing that ever has been that has not got something to-day that has proceeded from it. Very likely there is not a single thing to-day which is not the child of this, which was the child of that, which was the child of that, and so on back to the days of Adam. And when we look back a few centuries, and see the seed bearing its fruit, and the causes producing their consequences, what will strike us? Not, What a long time ago those past centuries and the people and things of them were! not, How far off they are! but rather, How near! still within sight and touch! still living and bearing fruit! They are not dead, nor scarcely even sleeping.
I have given rather a long extract describing the Abbot's house, because possibly the Porch is not the only thing that the Doctor copied. Possibly in the arrangements of his gardens and premises Mr. Hawkins may be able to see some other likeness to something that was at Brent. In connection with the oaks that the Abbot planted at Brent, it is curious that the first farming extract that I gave from the Journal showed the Doctor buying "wokes" from Cozen William Veale. Copying, as a rule, is not good; especially when the less copy from the greater, or when country doctors or country parsons copy from lordly Abbots. Let Abbots build like Abbots, and let doctors build like doctors. Let fine London ladies dress like fine London ladies, and let other people dress like other people. There is many a house would look better and be better than it is if its builder had been content to build a good specimen of a humbler kind instead of a bad cheap copy of a finer kind. There is many a dress would look better and be better than it is if its maker had made it good after its kind instead of bad after a finer kind. Better to be a good specimen of what you are than a bad imitation of what you aint. Better even to be a good genuine specimen of a bad thing that you are than a bad imitation of a good thing that you aint. Better to be bad butter than good butterine. Better to be sour milk than chalk and water. It is good to remember the wise old fable of the frog and ox. The young frog got on very well as long as it was content to be like a frog; but when it aimed to look like an ox, it-bust. There is a good deal of busting always going on, and, perhaps, that is the reason of some of it. These are two different evils that may proceed from copying. If one with small means copies from one with large means, either one does it exactly, and then one busts-or else, if one keeps within ones means, then one adulterates-one produces a sham which pretends to be what it is not. However, we certainly won't quarrel with Doctor Westover for building his porch. Though it is a copy from a greater, yet it is no sham; it is a good, picturesque, homely bit of building. He has given us a building utterly unlike a modern, priggish, "Marine Villa," and that is something to be very thankful for. So in saying all this I am not aiming at his house, or at any other house in the parish: but only at the general tendency of this day, and probably of every other day too.
But I have not yet quite done with the Abbot. In the farm yard of Porch house are two carved stone figures, now used as gate posts. They are more than life size, half-length, and one represents a King with a scroll. Whence they came, and how they got there, had long been a puzzle. The Somerset Archaeological Society came and looked at them in 1859, but could not throw any light upon them. There was a division of opinion as to whether they belonged to the 14th or to the 15th century. Not long ago I accidentally came upon a passage in a book that told whence they came. In 1731 there was published at Oxford the Chronicle of Walter Hemingford, edited by Thomas Hearne. To this there was tacked on, among other things, "An alphabetical list of the religious houses in Somersetshire, by John Strachey of Sutton Court." This John Strachey was the owner of property in Wedmore through his mother, who was a Hodges. He says:
East Brent was another large mannour house and cell to Glaston. This house was taken down in 1708 and the materials sold. There were many monuments of the Monks or Priors in the cloysters. I saw some lye about the churchyard covered with nettles and long grass, one of them at length a monk as his tonsure showed, another half length or bust. Doctor Westover of Blackford in Wedmore bought some of them, as I was informed, for statues in his gardens. p. 657.
The house there mentioned is of course the house of which I have given some description. And this extract shows clearly that not only did the Doctor bring from East Brent a light immaterial thing, like the idea of a Porch, which needed no oxen to haul it and no wain to contain it, but which his own brain could carry; but he also brought from thence a heavier and a material load in the shape of these carved stone figures. This settles the whence and the when of these figures. Mr. Strachey lived so near the Doctor's time, and was himself so closely connected with Wedmore, that one does not lightly suspect him of making a mistake. But I do not see how else to regard "Dr. Westover of Blackford." Possibly the Doctor had lived at Blackford before his father's death; or possibly there is some confusion with some other member of the family who lived at Blackford. The Doctor must have brought the figures here before 1708, as he died in 1706. With regard to the date of the figures, Colonel Bramble, looking at them not long ago and judging from the armour on one of them, declared that they might be from 1420 to 1460. And he was good enough to refer me to the passage in John of Glastonbury wherein Abbot Selwood's house is described. That passage seems to fix the date of them at 1460 or soon afterwards. So the 400 years of their existence have been equally divided into two parts: 200 years have been spent at Brent, 200 years here in Wedmore; 200 years in the position in which the builder placed them, 200 years in the transplanted position in which the doctor placed them. The Abbey which set them up knew them for not much more than 60 years. Within that time it was despoiled of all its possessions; and so the porch was entered by feet that were not monks' feet, and the apples and pears went down throats that were not monks' throats. One soweth and another reapeth.
On the death of Last John in 1766, or, perhaps, on the death of his cousin and successor, George Counsell, in 1769, Porch house and the land that went with it for the first time became the property of a non-resident owner, and so it became a farm, and a tenant farmer had to be found. The first tenant seems to have been John Banwell. To show how easy the publication of Parish Registers makes it in some cases to follow a man up or down the stream of time, I will trace this John Banwell's family backwards and forwards. (Last Easter, 1891, a middle aged person availed herself of the Easter holidays to come from a neighbouring county and have a look at her native place, and to show it to her little boy. She came and asked me if I could let her have her certificate of Baptism. I found it for her. After she was gone, it occurred to me to see how long her family had been connected with this place. In almost less time than it takes me to write it, I tracked her back 330 years ; I tracked her through eight successive generations from these latter years of Queen Victoria back to the early years of Queen Elizabeth. She was a daughter of George Venn who died about 3 years ago in America. He (1812) was the son of James, which (1775) was the son of Jeremiah, which (1739) was the son of James, which (1705) was the son of William, which (1677) was the son of Thomas, which (1636) was the son of John, which (1598) was the son of John, which (1563) was the son of ? . The dates in brackets are the dates of Baptism. I don't think there is much doubt as to the correctness of this. It will be noticed how even are the intervals between each generation; viz., 34 years, 37, 36, 34, 28, 39, 38, 35.)
In 1640, just when the Civil war was beginning to break out, there was living in Wedmore one Edmund Banwell. I don't think he was a native of this place, but had lately come into it, though I don't know where from. (Of course two or three centuries earlier still his family must have come from the place from which they take their name.) Between 1640 and 1650 Edmund Banwell and Alice his wife were bringing their children to be christened in Wedmore Church. Alice died in 1655, and Edmund married secondly Agnes Coombe, by whom he had a son, Edmond, born in 1661. (2) This Edmond II married Charity Badman in 1686, and died in 1727, leaving a son, Edmond, born in 1709. (3) This Edmond III married Jane Bunn in 1740 and died in 1780, leaving a son, John, born in 1741. (4) This John was he who came as the first tenant farmer into Porch House. He died in 1786 aged 45 years. (5) Amongst other children he left a son William, who married Mary Ducket in 1808 and died in 1863, aged 87 years. (6) Their son, Mr. John Banwell, now occupies one of the five houses mentioned at p. 89. This house, which comes into the illustration at p. 89, was built by Joseph Ducket in 1777. These six successive generations of Banwells cover the 250 years that separate us from the breaking out of the great civil war.
1. Edmund Banwell (died 1661.) & Agnes Coomb.
2. Edmund (d. 1727) & Charity Badman
3. Edmund (d. 1780) & Jane Bunn
4. John (d. 1786) & ?
5. William (d. 1862) & Mary Ducket
The last three generations have all occupied either Porch house or the house next to it. Where the first three generations lived I can't say. Probably not far off, as they are all described "of Wedmore." The coming of John Banwell as the first tenant farmer into Porch house was not the first connection between his family and the house. One of the extracts from the Journal (p. 128) has shown Edmond Banwell, No. 1, sawing timber for the Doctor.