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Some early Devonshire Easterbrooks

Written by and © Ivor William John Werrey-Easterbrook (1919-1998). Compiled from information from Chancery Lane, London and then Kew when the records were moved. Reproduced by kind permission of his son, Stephen Werrey-Easterbrook.

The factual anecdotes in this document have been culled from a variety of sources, but, as is almost inevitable with this period of history (14th.-16th cent) I have indulged in a high degree of conjecture, although I hope that have managed to distinguish fact from fiction.I would be grateful to anyone who can correct my errors of assumption and very grateful to anyone who can add further factual information to this account. There seems little reason to doubt that the surname derived from a place name of Saxon origin. Realistically, it could have been from any stream named Est Brok in England, of which there are several recorded in the Saxon counties of Essex, Sussex and Wessex.


The cartulary of Canonsleigh Priory, an Augustinian nunnery from 1284, records a holding of 50 acres of land "in tota terra Byestebrok",and I believe this must have been the original home of the Devonshire family. O.S.Map 181 (080173) shows Eastbrook House, 1 mile east of Westleigh in the parish of Burlescombe.


At about this date, I calculate, Richard Yestebroke was born and received a religious education, emerging in 1375 as Magister indicating that he held a degree from a University. In some way he seems to have been associated with the Priory at Cowick, Exeter, and when, on the death of Sir John Giffard,(1375) the living at Okehampton became vacant, he was instituted as Vicar. The King (Edward III) was the official patron of the living, but, 'ratione guerre1 the advowson was granted to the Prior and Convent of Cowick. Richard was confirmed, jointly with Richard Snellard, to the benefices of Okehampton and Hatherleigh in 1376/77 and again in 1390/91.In 1381, Richard was licensed by Bishop Brantyngham to exhume the body of the child, Elizabeth Courtenay, presumably from the churchyard, for interment by her parents elsewhere.In 1410, a complaint was made by Sir Robert Chalons, Sheriff of Devon, to the Lord Chancellor, that Richard, together with his Chaplain Walter Manston and John Lemman, had assaulted one of his officers, Nicholas Barbour, in the town of Okehampton and stolen his papers. A John Lemman was, at this time Vicar of Barnstaple, and,if he was the man involved, it seems likely that this was a Church versus State conflict. But the Lemmans were an influential family in the town, having provided a number of Borough officers over many years, so that the dispute may have been Borough versus State.I have no record of the outcome. Richard died in 1413 and bequests were made in his will to Thomas Estebroke,to his Chaplain, John Werring, to Joan Hore, to Robert and Edith Wyke, to Joan and Matilda,(daughters of William Hore) and others.Executors were Thomas Estebroke and Walter is noteworthy that the name Hore reoccurs in association with a Yestebroke in Drewsteignton parish about 1380, when the Hore family became lords of the manor of Rushford in Chagford parish. There could also be a tenuous connection with the Wyke family of South Tawton. Most noteworthy, however, is the fact that the only Estebroke named in the will is Thomas, of whom more anon. Having regard to the subsequent spread of the family name round the vicinity of Okehampton, Hatherleigh, North Tawton,South Tawton,Drewsteignton and other parishes, it must be assumed that other members of Richard's family had followed him and made their own lives in the borough. The lay subsidy rolls of 1524 list some 20-30 names in the broader area.The successor to Richard as Vicar was John Newcombe, another family name which crops up again later in this history.


Sometime about this date Thomas Estebroke was born, probably in Exeter, and I am convinced that he was the illegitimate son of Richard, who was exiled to Okehampton as his punishment. Thomas must have been taken into the care of the Church and given a religious education, probably at the church grammar school which existed at that time. In 1382 a special dispensation was obtained from the Pope in relation to his defective birth, presumably so that he could be sent to a theological college, probably, at that date, at Oxford. He reappears in 1395 as 'Magister' appointed accolytus at St. Mary Major, Exeter, 1397 as Sub-deacon Priory of St. Nicholas, a Benedictine establishment, 1398 ordained Deacon, then 5/8/1400 instituted to Duloe parish in Cornwall as Chaplain under Rector Thomas Lanrake, and in 1406 was appointed Official Peculiar for Cornwall. He was probably not very happy among the pagans of that County, for in 1412 he resigned and was collated Dean of Crediton,much nearer his old stamping grounds. He seems to have been a very dissatisfied character for he resigned again in 1417 and was collated Sub-dean of the Cathedral Church in Exeter and appointed penitentiary. He was given a special commission as 'Examinator in Exeter Consistory Court' and complained to the Bishop about the living conditions in the mansion house, gardens and buildings.Thomas died in 1441 and there is no evidence that he may have broken his vows.


Inquisitions and Assessments for Feudal Dues record that Wm. Monk of Potheridge, Thomas Widecombe, Alfred Westcott and John Estbroke were tenants of three parts of the manor of Rushford in Chagford Parish.From subsequent information it seems certain that the part held by John lay in the north-east of the manor, between the Moretonhampstead to Whiddon Down road and the stream known as White Water, and comprised some 120 acres. It is, therefore, actually in the parish of Drewsteignton. A neighbouring farm called Withecombe has clear association with Thomas Widecombe. At the time of this record, the lords of the manor of Rushford were of the Hore family and remained so until 1726. The Estbrokes occupied the holding for the next 150 years or more. It seems possible that John was a relative of Richard, Vicar of Okehampton,and was settled on this land as a result of acquaintance with the Hore family mentioned in Richard's will, perhaps as incumbent of the chapel, which had been authorised for Rushford Manor in 1329, or,perhaps, as steward of the manor.


A John Eastbroke,but probably not the same John mentioned above, acknowledged satisfaction when Stephen Stonyng, labourer, and William Stonyng, husbandman, surrendered themselves at the Fleet prison after absconding from Moretonhampstead when prosecuted for trespass and damages of 10. It is not stated when this trespass occurred or how long the Stonyngs had been outlaws, but it is clear that the offence was committed in Moreton. So the John Eastbroke could have been the John, senior, who died 4/4/1562. The inference is that there was a John, junior, at that date though John, senior's heir was Robert. The location of the offence must have been the farms at Bowden or Cranbroke as these were the only properties held by Eastbrokes in Moreton and must have been acquired between 1428 and 1490. The lay subsidy rolls of 1524 record John and Henry Eastbroke as taxpayers in the parish.


Henry Estbroke was born of Thomas, probably in Drewsteignton, and clearly he would be too young to be the Henry mentioned above, though possibly related. Thomas died in 1538 and it is strange that an inquisition post mortem was not held until 1573 when Henry, the heir, was sixty years old. It suggests that, for some reason, Henry was required to prove his title to the property called Estbroke. The I.P.M.,conducted, by Edward Whiddon of the Chagford legal family, proves that he also inherited the tenancy of land at Hobhouse (a parcel of the hamlet of Castlehome) in Richard Arscott's manor of Drascombe, also in Drewsteignton and lay subsidy rolls indicate that he was still occupying these premises in 1581. I think it is noteworthy that jurors included William Hilman, Alexander and James Knapman, John Newcombe senior and John Newcombe junior and Barnaby Hore.


Robert Estbroke born of John. This must surely be a branch of the Rushford family and John must be the one whose name appears in the coinage returns for the Chagford stannary for June and September 1523, when he was taxed a total of 4s-10¾d, indicating that his tin was worth about £8-2-6d, hardly a fortune even in those days. His tin would probably have come from the production of the Shilston beam workings though whether he was a shareholder is doubtful because a John is included in the lay subsidy rolls for 1543 and he would not have been liable for tax if he had been classed as a tinner.


An I.P.M. on Sir John Shilston was held by Sir James Courtenay at Exeter at which Richard Estbroke was a witness as a tenant of the Manor of Shilston, which at that time, was held by Sir John Copplestone. Richard's tenancy must have been a holding at Notnoll (Nattenhall), which later passed to John of the previous note. Sir J. Shilston's heiress was Elizabeth Shilston, who was a minor and, in these circumstances, it is understood that the Lord of the Manor had the duty of selecting a suitable husband for her. Could this be the Elizabeth Shilston that Sir John Whiddon took for his second wife,thus acquiring all the Shilston properties and, if so,what favours was Sir John Copplestone seeking? An I.P.M. of Sir Wm. Shilston in 1542, after the marriage, tends to confirm this as the age of his heiress tallies.


Alexander Eastbrook was born j.n Morth Tawton, apparently the son of Richard of Nymet Nycoll, whose name appears as a substantial landholder in the L.S.R.'s of 1543, seemingly as a co-tenant with the Nycoll family.


At about this date, there would seem to have occurred a marriage between Easterbrooks and Shilstons, neighbours in Drewsteignton parish, as from this time onwards there are many references to Easterbrooks als Shilston and the reverse. The marriage would seem to have involved a Thomasine, but was she the Thomasina, widow, included in the L.S.R.'s of 1581 with a very small landholding in the parish? In 1582 a will was probated in the Archdeaconry Court of Exeter of Thomazine Shilston als Easterbrook which seems to relate. In 1577 Henry Easterbrook als Shilston was inducted as Vicar of Colebroke Parish, a living he held until his death in 1604. He could very well have been Thomasine's son, as also could Stephen Shilston als Easterbrook, who was sponsored by the Earl of Bath as Rector of Nymet Tracey Parish in 1601, a post he held until 1620. There was also a Thomas Easterbrook als Shilston, who died in Doddiscombleigh in 1605, a Henry, wwho married Elizabeth Bennett at Drewsteignton in 1600, and a Richard, who had a daughter, Anne, in 1609 and died in the same parish in 1612. Is it possible, I wonder, that Thomasine was an Easterbrook, who married John Shilston, who, under the patronage of Robert Alford, was made Rector of Nymet Tracey in 1571 and died in 1579? The continuing church connections seem significant. All this seems to have occurred at about the time of the loss of the Shilston estates to the Whiddons.


It seems probable that sometime before this date there was close association with a family called Staback (or Stabback) as the L.S.R.'s of that date include Henry Staback Estbroke and two other similar entries for Drewsteignton. Also a John Staback Estbroke of Moretonhampstead and a William of Cheriton Bishop.I have come to suspect that the Stabacks were a family of refugee dissenters from Europe, possibly Flemish weavers,(a later John Estbroke is recorded in Moreton as a weaver). In the L.S.R.'s of 1524 the Stabacks were taxed at triple the rate of other payers. I have mentioned this connection because I am convinced that association with this family was responsible for a change in the religious affiliations of later Easterbrooks and even possibly explains difficulties encountered in back tracing our own line.


Alexander Eastbrook of North Tawton married Agnes Nycoll,daughter of his father's co-tenant, John Nycoll, who died in 1572 or 1573. There was some dispute about John's will, and Alexander was a witness at an enquiry at Gt. Torrington before John Heron when his death-bed wishes were established. Alexander's father, Richard, died in 1574, but he does not seem to have inherited tenancy of the farm. His name appears again in the L.S.R.'s of 1581, but not as a landholder. He had daughters Joan (1560), Jane (1564), Isot (1566) and sons Richard (1568) and Simon (1571). There must be some doubt as to whether other children baptised in 1578, 1580 and 1583 and shown in a transcript of the North Tawton parish registers were his or a different Alexander's. The 1543 L.S.R.'s for N. Tawton include another substantial landowner, also Richard Eastbrook, who was probably the Richard of Stone, the adjoining'farm to Nymet Nycoll. He had assisted with repairs to N.Tawton church walls in 1562. Was it this Richard who moved to Wood in South Tawton about 1565? Richard of S.Tawton was presenter of the 1569 local muster roll and was, therefore, of some standing in the community and described as 'yeoman1. It was about this time that he was involved in a dispute with his neighbour, George Milford, of Wyggenton (Wickington) and the case went to Chancery. The outcome is not known but his name appears in the L.S.R.'s for 1581, when, together with Thos. Dunning, Robert Wonston and Bartholomew Oxenham, he was taxed at £3-3s, the largest amount on the S.Tawton roll and almost five times the amount charged to similarly assessed landholders. Could this have been because of some special feudal dues on their properties? Richard's name does not appear in the rolls for 1588 and the date of his death is not on record, but administration for a Richard Eastbrook was probated in 1594 at the Archdeaconry Court in Exeter and this date seems reasonable.


The John, of the 1522 entry, died this year and an I.P.M. was held in Exeter before Roger Prideaux. The deceased is referred to as John,senior, so one must assume there was also a John,junior, but the heir was Robert, therefore the elder son. Jurors at the hearing included John Wrey, William Knapman and John Newcombe, gents. Robert inherited the tenancies of Notnoll (now Nattonhall) of about 55 acres held of Christopher Coppleston of his manor of Shilston in Drewsteignton; also,Cranbroke and Bowden of about 75 acres held of the heirs of Sir William Courtenay of his manor of Moretonhampstead. In 1569 and 1570 Robert made representations to the courts that Henry Dowde was trying to deprive him of the holding in Moreton and William Newcombe doing the same in relation to Notnoll.Both accused denied the charges and it is pretty certain that Robert lost both tenancies as he next appears in Cheriton Bishop Parish accused (1570) of indebtedness to John Chambers of the same parish to whom he had promised payment in good white tin at Chagford for goods and services rendered. There is evidence in the records of complaints in Chancery that, in the late 16th. and early 17th. centuries, a family of Newcombes were systematically depriving landholders of 'deeds, muniments and ancient writings' presumably with the intention of making it difficult for them to prove their legal entitlement to a property. Were they a firm of rogue lawyers?


Robert Hill of Holcombe Burnell, yeoman, entered a complaint to the court that he and his servants had been set upon by a mob of eleven men including Robert and John (his son) Estbroke of Drewsteignton,( both yeomen), and their labourer William Home. The complaint, reply and replication seem to have gone to the Star Chamber, which suggests that this was a case of special interest, perhaps on the initiative of the Privy Council. In fact, the wording of Robert Hill's replication indicates that the defendants had, about a month earlier, been hauled before a Commission of Oyer and Terminer at Exeter Castle, and indicted for various offences. Was it Robert Hill who accused them at the enquiry and was this a revenge attack on him by a pretty lawless bunch? If so, then I would not be surprised to discover that Robert and John were committed to prison and it would explain the start of the disappearance of Estbrokes from Drewsteignton from about this date.


In Moretonhampstead, Christopher Easterbrook was born of John, who was probably a tenant of either Cranbroke or Bowden and a descendant from John Estbroke of Drewsteignton. It would seem that Christopher became a servant in the Staback household because in a tenancy agreement (1634) with Thomas Tuckfield relating to Ford in the parish of Cheriton Bishop he is referred to as groom. Records show that Baldwyn Staback and his wife, Ede, parents of William and Henry, held a messuage called Ford in South Cheriton and R.Williams (?) leased the premises to William Staback and Margaret Moxhaye for 90 years. Theare is no evidence that William and Margaret were married. Baldwyn died in 1593 and presumably the lease of Ford stayed with his son, William. There is evidence that he still held it in 1621 if not even later. Christopher Eastbrook apparently married Richord Staback, daughter of Elizabeth (widow), in 1632 as a result of fathering her child, Fortuce, in 1627. Fortuce died in 1633 and Richord about the same time because Christopher was then under obligation to marry Mary Beatham, the daughter of Roger Beatham of Nymet Tracey, which he must have done in 1634 or 35. A son, Roger, was born in 1635 and John in 1637.Christopher died in 1642, when, of course, his children were still very young and it would seem that they and his widow, Mary, continued to live with the Stabacks at Ford, (now called Forder), at least until 1660; when, in the Poll Tax returns they were listed, all three, as dependants or servants. It is thought that during this period the young children came under the religious influence of the Stabacks and embraced Protestantism, because, according to our Grandfather's researches, Roger married a Sarah in Cheriton Bishop, and although the marriage is said to have been recorded, they were buried without the rites and ceremonies of the established church. I have not been able to confirm this from any records.They are thought to be our direct ancestors, though there is a later missing link. That the breach with the established church carried on through the next few generations is thought to be evidenced by the fact that all three children, Richard, Mary and Anne, of John Easterbrook of Hittisleigh were baptised together at the parish church on 5/10/1729, just before Richard's marriage to Elinor Farmer in the same parish.

References and Sources

These references are as received from Stephen. The references are from original research and not all match the current records at Kew

1350 to 1413 has two main sources a book by William booth Eastabrook U.S.A 1891 " Eastabrook Genealogy" Appendix pages 331 to 333. also From The public records office Kew Early Chancery Proceedings book XVI 1485-1487 (case is 1413) Page 505 P.R.O C1.69.149 (30136) this document shows the complaint of Robert Chalons Knight Sheriff of Devon

Early Chancery Proceedings Book XV1 1485 to 1487 (case year 1413) Page 505 P.R.O ref- C1 69.149 (30136) Book XX111 1531 Vol 61 Inquisition Post Mortem Sir John Shilston Ref E 150/ 169 (23311)

Chancery Proceedings Eliz Ser 11.120.61 Transactions of the Devonshire Association 1901 Page 449

Chancery Proceedings Book LV 1553 - 1558 Ref C1. 1425.48 & C1.1521.41 Pages 162 and 338 Book 55 1485 - 1558 Ref Star Chamber Vol 10 Page 81STAC 2 . 17 . 324

Calendar of Proceedings in Chancery Elizabeth Book 11 H to R Page 81 Ref C2 Eliz H.24.15 (37522)

List of Inquisition Post Mortem Book XXV1 Ref C1 142 134 C1 142 64 C1 134 151

Star Chambers Proceedings Book X111 Philip & Mary 1485 to 1558 Year 1569 STAC 4.11.25 Page352

Chancery Proceedings series 11 1558-1579 C3-58-37 C3-40--95 C3-59-56

Inquisition Post Mortem Book 68 C142.275 (254) E150. 205 (11) Ward 7.14.8 Devon15 Elizabeth1573

Chancery Proceedings Book XX1V 1519-1621 (may 1591) Ref C3 . 223 . 60

Inquisition Post Mortem Book 76 1639-1640 C142 . 530 . 70 (Devon)

Kew Reference only C1/659 (39748) C1 / 639 (39748) a complaint to Thomas Wolsey Archbishop of York 1529-32 Devon Record Office Ref Z1.6.21 (date 1634)

The ref to Sir John Shilston I.M.P is PROB11/24

All these records contain Easterbrooks plus references taken from Lay Subsidy rolls. Parish records. Oaths of allegiance Poll tax returns I.G.I etc. etc Some of the reference numbers above were taken at Chancery Lane London when they moved to Kew the References may have changed.

Easterbrook Family History Last updated:site 2021-12-13 page 2020-06-14
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