Brief History of Black Torrington
Black Torrington's most historically colourful personality was the Rev. John Russell [aka Jack] [1795-1883],
the famed 'Hunting Parson' and Dog Breeder, synonymous with the Jack Russell Terrier.
Rector of Black Torrington from 1879 until his death in1883.
Anciently 'Torritone', Black Torrington village is within and lends its name to one of the once largest 'Hundreds' in Devon. It takes its name from the river Touridge " belike so named
of the water’s blackish colour" . The suffix 'ton' was attached to many ancient townships throughout in Britain derived from the 'Old English' word 'tun', from the Pro Germanic [Gmc]
term tunaz, tunan, meaning "enclosure, garden, field, yard; farm, manor; homestead, dwelling house or mansion" and later "a group of houses,".
The township itself lays 8 miles E of Holsworthy, its 19th/20th Century Registration District [1837-1974]. It was first Taxed during the reign of Edward the Confessor [1042-1066] and
was almost certainly established well prior the beginning of the 2nd Millennium.
At the time of the Domesday Book  the population Black Torrington recorded 57 households comprising villagers, sub-tenant farmers and slaves. The total population
could be conservatively estimated at around 400 when including women & children, a comparatively medium sized population in Devonshire where nearby Bradford [Bradeford]
recorded only 13 households and Holsworthy, seventy-five.
Click to enlarge
Courtesy of The National Archives [TNA] [3a]. Terminology: Online Etymology Dictionary .
'Black Torrington paid geld [tax] TRE [at the time of Edward the Confessor [reign 1042-1066]] for 2 hides [approx. 240 acres], less 1 virgate [approx 30 acres] of land.
There is land for 31 ploughs [In the Domesday the word implies a plough team with its eight oxen and the plough itself. The measure of a carucate was originally the amount of
land which such a team could plough in one day]. In demesne [land retained by the Lord of the Manor for his own use and management] are 6 ploughs, and 15 slaves [slaves
were unable to move home or work or change allegiance, to buy or to sell, without permission]; and 20 villans [Villagers 'villanus' Members of the peasant class with most land]
22 bordars [held a small amount of land by working on the land of the lordship], with 25 ploughs. There are 10 swineherds, and 20 acres of meadow, pasture 1 league
long and 1 league broad, (and) woodland 1 league long and half a league broad [League = Measurement of distance, twelve furlongs, or about 1½ miles].' ; 
At this time the Black Torrington Hundred was granted to Baldwin FitzGilbert 'Baldwin the Sheriff', a Norman nobleman who accompanied William Duke of Normandy during
the Conquest of England in 1066. He was granted 164 manors in Devon and appointed hereditary High Sheriff of Devonshire until his death in 1090 when the Title & Lands fell
to his eldest son Richard who died without issue. The Lands changed hands several times until Roger La Zouch was granted Blacktorynton during the reign of King John [1199-1216].
Several Families recorded at Black Torrington up until the 19th Century were descended from this latter family. Tristram Risdon writes in the early 17th Century;
"Roger la Zouch unto whom King John gave Blatorinton being the land of Joell de Mayn, which revolted from King John unto the French King. The King also have
unto him North molton and other lands in this shire. Many branches are sprouted out of this dry tree, for soe I take it the name doth signigy. The heire male of th’
eldest house contynewed unto Edward II tyme, and after by St. Maur was carried into the Lord Zouch that nowe ys, whoe is heir male as yeat enduring. Bamfild and
Stowell are also discended from the sayd Roger by St. Maur and also Fortescue of Pruteston. From anther younger house Mr. Davailes of Merland, by Fitzwarren is
discended. And from another younger house Carew and Corbet are discended by Talbot of Castell Ricard.".
The-Note Book of Tristram Risdon [written 1608-1628] E.Books Online.
The next surviving taxation record was recorded over two centuries later in the 1332 Devon Lay Subsidy Roll, listing the amount of tax paid comprising a 1/15 of assets,
in rural areas excluding those with assets under 10 shillings.
1332 LSR Blaketoriton Parishe [33 names]
Thomas de Waunford 2s
Walter de Couham 10d
William Penne 12d
Martin Broun 2s
Thomas De Cromhale 10d
Hugh atte Forde 12d
John atte Coue 12d
John Gellan 10d
William atte Trewe 8d
John atter Leye 8d
Adam de Bokeputte 8d
William le Zouche 12d
Robert de Middelcote 12d
Robert atte Crosse 10d
William Beaufitz 8d
Richard Chill 10d
Michael Bokkeberd 10d
Almeric fitz Waryn 12d
John de Gatesden 8d
Henry de Graddon 10d
Elias Glovyle 2s
Adam atte Forde 10d
Henry atte Heghen 12d
John Sutore 10d
John Frenche 10d
John Joel 8d
Henry Beaumond 12d
Richard atte Coue 8d
Henry de Midelcote 16d
John de Kynalonde 8d
John Whita 8d
John le Zouche 8d
William Goyle 8d
Very few of these Family Names were found in Black Torrington Records and indeed throughout Devon by the 16th Century. It is possible that many may have fallen victim
to the Historic Bubonic Plague, which ravaged England sixteen years later, 1348-1350. Exeter Memories [online] reports that by March 1349 fifty-seven clergy had died of
the Plague, with a further fifty-one the following month. Colyton lost four vicars in seven months and Bishop Grandisson of Exeter fled with his family to Chudleigh, alas
to no avail. Certainly these figures would mirror the magnitude of the effect in their individual parishes.
Devon also fell victim to two other significant plagues, 1546-7 and 1590 . However Parish Books in Black Torrington opening at the end of this period showed no significant
effect compared to subsequent years. The latter date again shows little effect in Black Torrington village where the number of burials actually dropped around this date:
1587-12; 1588-14; 1589-3; 1590-8; 1591-2 and 1592-9.
During the interim there are several online repositories, which reveal early Deeds, Documents, Feet of Fines etc. for individual citizens of Black Torrington during the 13th to
16th Century. There are several surviving Population Records for Black Torrington in the 16th Century including two further Lay Subsidy Rolls [LSR] and the 1569 Muster,
all similar in content to the 1332 LSR above. Access to these resources is listed below in Genealogical Resources.
The value of the Lay Subsidy Rolls in regard to Genealogical Research must ideally be compared with Parish Records as they did not record the names of the poor and some
Parishes are missing or incomplete.
Examples: The 1524 LSR for Black Torrington reveals 53 individuals comprising 45 Family Names with no Parish Records to compare.
The 1543 LSR recorded 57 individuals representing 41 Family Names, although the Parish Records beginning only three years later, reveal a further eight Family
Names recording issue from 1547-1555 not recorded on the 1543 LSR.
Similarly in the 1569 Militia Muster 41 individuals were recorded comprising 35 Family Names. However it recorded only 'able-bodied' men and the elderly were
obviously not listed.
Less than a century later the next population record was the 1641 Protestation Return, an oath of Loyalty to the King at the beginning of the Civil War to be read out
after Divine Service during Feb - March that year by the incumbent of each Parish throughout England, ultimately listing the sworn oaths of allegiance by all men over the
age of 18. Those who refused or were unable to take the oath for any reason were also bound to be recorded.
I, _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ do, in the presence of Almighty God, promise, vow, and protest to maintain, and defend as farr as lawfully I maye, with my Life, Power and Estate,
the true Reformed Protestant religion, expressed in the Doctrine of the Church of England, against all Popery and Popish Innovations, within this Realme, contrary to the
same Doctrine, and according to the duty of my Allegiance, His Majesties Royal Person, Honour and Estate, as alsoe the Power and Privileges of Parliament, the lawful
Rights and Liberties of the Subjects, and any person that maketh this Protestation, in whatsoever he shall do in the lawful Pursuance of the same: and to my power, and as
farr as lawfully I may, I will appose and by all good Ways and Means endeavour to bring to condign Punishment all such as shall, either by Force, Practice, Councels,
Plots, Conspiracies, or otherwise, doe any thing to the contrary of any thing in this present Protestation contained: and further, that I shall, in all just and honourable ways,
endeavour to preserve the Union and Peace betwixt the Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland: and neither for Hope, Feare, nor other Respect, shall relinquish
this Promise, Vow and Protestation.
Black Torrington village recorded 163 names [listed alphabetically].
AXWORTHIE: see far Right Panel
BATTIN: see far Right Panel
John Bicke, sen..
John Bickle (of East Chille).
John Bickle, jun..
John Bickle, Esq..
Robert Bickle, jun..
John Brand, sen.
John Brooke, sen..
John Brooke, jun..
William Browne, sen..
William Browne, jun..
John Burdon, sen..
John Burdon, jun..
COCKRAM: see far Right Panel
COHAM: see far Right Panel
COURTIER: see far Right Panel
Lewis Fylberte. [Gylberte?]
John Hesed, sen..
John Hesed, jun..
HEYSED: see far Right Panel
Rice Hopkins, jun..
Richard Hopkins, sen..
Humphrey Kinge, Esq..
Humphrey Kinge, jun..
Humphrey Loveis, gent..
John Oliver (of East Chill).
John Oliver, jun..
Robert Oliver (of East Chill).
Robert Oliver, sen..
Robert Oliver, jun..
Richard Paige, sen..
Richard Paige, jun..
John Parsons, jun..
PARSONS: see far Right Panel
Robert Rowcliffe, sen..
Robert Rowcliffe, jun..
John Smale, jun..
Robert Smale, sen..
Robert Smale, jun..
Robert Smale (of Leigh).
SMALE: see further below
Joseph Tanton, sen..
Joseph Tanton, jun..
WESTCOMBE: [see below]
John Westcombe, Glazier, of Colridge being here
at work has taken the protestation with us.
John Parsons the elder being sick of body
and afflicted in mind abhors popery in practice
and profession and therefore does desire further
time to consider the protestation until God shall
better enable him being thereunto required.
Oliver Axworthie sen. and Oliver Axworthie jun.
have not taken the protestation. We hear that they
are fled for debt.
The above names etc., in the same hand, the following
seven are signatures
John Courtier, Minister
Humphrey Smale, Churchwarden
William Cockram + Overseer*
Robert Hesed + Overseer*
George Smale, Overseer
Stephen Coham, Constable
William Battin, Constable
* The overseer George Smale appears to
have co-signed these two signatures.
The Protestation was kindly provided by David Hopper from the transcription by A. J. Howard published in 1973, which is available at the Devon Record Office.
Seven years later in 1648 a Petition was signed in several parishes throughout Devon. the following eighteen signatories were recorded in the village of Black Torrington.
For names in other nearby areas see 'A 17th Century Petition from North-West Devon' Transcribed by Brian Brassett: Genuki
Humpfry Smale; George Smale; John Braund; Stephen Coham; John Payye*; Richard Maunsell; Robert Smale; [Christopher Ellway*]; Peter Parpor*
Will Stenlake; John King; George Oliver; Lewis Burden; John Birkett*; William Battin; Thomas Oliver; Robert Ollvare*; Hugh Braund.
* Possible alternative surname variations: John Payge; Christopher Elbury; Peter Soper; John Bickell [Bickle] & Robert Oliver.
The subsequent Hearth Tax in 1674 is very fragmented and records only 69 legible names for the village of Black Torrington, 27 of whom were listed as paupers [exempt],
although in total 35 names are noted to be entirely illegible and many others listed are only partial fragments.
Several other online resources are available through Genuki, also containing Personal Names.
Devon Quarter Sessions [c.1754-c.1782] (Genuki) - Some citizens of Black Torrington listed.
The 18th Century Freeholders & several Protestation Returns for other area in Devon is available at: Freeholders: Friends of Devon Website
The Genuki Devon Wills Project: A full compliment of resources listed at Genuki for Devonshire is available below.
A century later in 1779 Rev. John Burgess, Rector of Black Torrington reports approximately 110 Families in the Parish: Episcopal Visitations (1779): Friends of Devon Website
By 1801[Census], Vision of Britain [online] shows 142 houses and 95% of the male population were employed in rural occupations.
Summary of early population records in Black Torrington detailed in various sections above.
These would have included families in the hamlets & farms surrounding the village;
Source Male Population Recorded
1332 [LSR] 57
1524 [LSR] 53
1543 [LSR] 57
1569 [Muster] 41
1641 [Protestation] 163
1674 [Hearth Tax] 119? [69 legible, plus at least 50 illegible]
1779 [J. Burgess] 110 [family units]
1801 [Census] 142 [dwellings]
Today the little rural village has a quaint charm, with St. Mary's Church its central feature and a small post office/shop. It also boasts an excellent school, sporting fields and popular pub.
Click to enlarge
Black Torrington Post Office/Store, kindly photographed by D. Hopper [June 2011]
The Church at Black Torrington is dedicated St Mary and has stood on the present site from before the 12th century although little
remains of the original structure. The present Vicar is the Reverend Kathy Roberts and the Parish Website provides an excellent historic account for the Church
of St. Mary.
Some Monumental Inscriptions carved in stone have survived within its walls: Benoni Bampfylde  [with Coat of Arms]; Jane, the wife of
John Wollacott ; Anthony Cornish of Totleigh ; Coham family, of Upcott, [1722, 1725, 1768, 1757 & 1785]; Rev. John Burgess, Rector
; Rev. John Pamleaze (Penleaze) [Rector] 1879. Genuki 
The Parish Records 1547-1879 [10 Volumes] are available on microfiche at the Devon Record Office. Baptisms & Marriages to 1837 are available online at the Morman Church
of Latter Day Saints Website [LDS Genealogy]. The current OPC Judy Adams [email above] offers free lookups for Burials with some Bishops Transcripts & banns [1547-1837] including any annotations not already
available online. Also see below Parish Record look-ups.
[left/Right] Images of St. Mary's Black Torrington kindly photographed and provided by D. Hopper [June 2011]. Click images to enlarge.