The Hunts of Bratton Fleming

6 generations of the Hunt family farmed at Chelfham, from 1687 through to the 1880's. The Hunt family was extremely complicated; even within this small village of Bratton Fleming there were many Hunts. The eldest sons were invariably called John, and there were at least 14 John Hunts; several Johns (5 of them) had wives called Elizabeth. Eight different John Hunts of Bratton Fleming made wills over the period 1668 to 1829.

The following pages will cover the known history of the Hunts of Chelfham, and, in less detail, of the Hunts of Haxton and of other local families related by marriage to the Chelfham Hunts.

A good deal of the story which follows comes from information in Whybrow's lengthy 'History of Bratton Fleming', housed in the North Devon Athenaeum. The Hunt family was clearly regarded as prominent. At one point Whybrow refers to a separate chapter on the Hunt genealogy, but this is missing; it may well be that he found it difficult to sort out.

Bratton Fleming was probably settled in about 700 AD, and was important by the time of the Conquest. The village lies on the western edge of Exmoor, six miles north-east of Barnstaple. The old route from Barnstaple left the Yeo valley near Chelfham, and passed by Chelfham farm, but the 'new' road to the north made Chelfham a quiet backwater. Chelfham's best known feature at one time was the massive Chelfham viaduct which carried the old Barnstaple-Lynton railway across the Yeo valley. This narrow-gauge railway was opened in 1898, but survived less than 40 years.

The Hunts in the seventeenth century

(note: No baptismal record have been discovered for the four John Hunts who we know lived in Bratton Fleming in the 17th century. However the relationships described in the following are consistent with references in the two lease documents (Chelfham-1687 and South Bear-1707), and the marriage settlement for Joan Hunt -1708.)

The earliest 'John Hunt' of Bratton Fleming that we can trace was probably born in about 1595. His son Humphrey was baptised in 1619 but no other members of his family are recorded. He was recorded as a 'Church Rate Payer' in 1628, sharing a 'Justment' levy of 1s 4d with Richard Allyne. The same document recorded a 'Barton Justment' for Chelfham, but there is no evidence of a connection with John Hunt at that time. In 1641 John and his son Humphrey were both signatories of the 'Protestation Return'. This John Hunt died in 1668, leaving a will; unfortunately this will, and all the later John Hunt wills except the last, were destroyed by the German bombing of Exeter, and only the indexes survive.

Humphrey Hunt was recorded in 1664 as a payer of 'Hearth Tax'. He paid on 3 hearths, an indication of his prosperity. We surmise that the next John Hunt (2) was his son. This John Hunt was the husband of Agnes and the father of John, Humphrey, William, Thomas and Joan. It is quite likely that he - or a close relation - was already farming at Haxton before 1687, when he leased Chelfham.

It seems that John Hunt(2) had an eldest son, John Hunt(3), probably born in the 1660s. He married Susanna Coates, and he is the son mentioned in the Chelfham lease (see below). He died in 1691, prior to the birth of his daughter Joan. His father, John Hunt(2) then chose to baptise another son with the name John. This was John Hunt(4), probably born in about 1691. He is the John Hunt the younger referred to in the Marriage settlement of Joan Hunt in 1708.

John Hunt(2) was an entrepreneur of his time; he increased his ownership of farms and lands around Bratton Fleming, and arranged for them to be divided between his sons. Haxton, Friendship, Middle Ridge and South Bear (or parts of them) all became Hunt properties, eventually moving from lease to ownership. Kipscombe also became a Hunt farm at some time before 1780.

Into the eighteenth century

In 1687 John Hunt(2) leased Chelfham (‘two parts in three’) from Sir Arthur Chichester. The lease (above) indicates that he was already occupying the property and he may have acquired it for his son, John Hunt(3), to farm. In 1707 there was another similar lease of property at South Bear, in Stoke Rivers -perhaps to set up his son William there . John Hunt(2) was then the nominal occupier of several farms, quite widely scattered around Bratton Fleming: Chelfham to the south-west, Haxton and South Bear to the south, Middle Ridge/Friendship to the north. On his death the farms were distributed between his sons. John Hunt(4) and his heirs farmed Chelfham; William Hunt and his son Richard farmed South Bear; land at Haxton, and in the Friendhip area went to Humphrey, and subsequently to Humphrey’s nephew John Hunt(6)

In the middle of the eighteenth century John and Elizabeth Hunt farmed at Chelfham and another John and Elizabeth Hunt farmed at Haxton.The two John Hunts(5 &6) were probably first cousins; both Johns were churchwardens; both died in the 1770s, and their widows, the two Elizabeth Hunts, continued as occupiers of their respective farms.

The Hunts of Chelfham occupied a prominent position in village society. At the top of the social hierarchy were the Lords of the Manor and aristocracy; next came the Yeomen farmers such as the Hunts; below this came the tradesmen, husbandmen and labourers. At Bratton Fleming, the Lord of the Manor (e.g. Sir Arthur Chichester) did not live in the parish, and hence the Yeomen farmers were the most important residents, running parish affairs. At church services these farmers and their families, would have occupied reserved pews at the front, with the tradesmen behind them and the labourers and poor at the back. At Bratton Fleming, the Hunts of Chelfham occupied Pew 1, no doubt the front pew, and this presumably reflected their status at the top of the pecking order.

This is no doubt the reason why many Hunt marriages were made with 'outsiders', and took place in other parishes. Marriages 200 years ago would have been 'arranged' to at least some degree, and the parents would have sought 'suitable' partners for their sons and daughters - partners from prosperous families, preferably with prospects of inheritance. Within Bratton Fleming there would have been few families, with eligible daughters, as prosperous as the Hunts. But farmers from a fairly wide area would have known each other, meeting at market, and this could have been a basis for 'arrangements' for sons and daughters who would themselves have little opportunity to meet regularly. Indeed customs may have changed little from those described by Henry Best in 1641 regarding the fashions of (well-to-do) country weddings, the steps being taken as follows:

1. The young man's father, or he himself, writes to the father of the maid to see if he shall be welcome in the house.
2. If the motion be thought well of, then the young man goeth perhaps twice to see how the maid standeth affected.
3. If he see that she be tractable, then the third time that he visiteth, he perhaps giveth her a ten shilling piece of gld.
4. They visit usually every three weeks or a month, usually for half a year from the first going to a conclusion.
5. The fathers meet to treat of a dower, and of a jointure or feoffment for the woman, and appoint the day of the marriage.

Hence John Hunt(5) married a Parracombe girl, Elizabeth Crang. John Hunt(7) married an Atherington girl, Elizabeth Paddon. Their son William married in Bratton Fleming, but his wife Hannah Maria Daniel was born in Loxhore where her father farmed. Her mother Betsey came from the Southcombe family whose origins were in East Buckland. All these families were prosperous farmers with disposable property (many of the men in these families left wills).

The Crangs farmed at Parracombe, north-east of Bratton Fleming; however Elizabeth seems to have had an uncle, Richard Crang junior, who farmed at Stoke Rivers according to a 1738 lease. Richard Crang senior, and John Crang both left wills. Elizabeth Crang's great-grandfather, Walter Lock, Yeoman, was a party to a number of leases during the period 1685 to 1704, 3 at Parracombe and one at Martinhoe.

The Kipscombe farm was probably acquired by the Hunts at this time. Kipscombe is on the Parracombe side of Bratton Fleming, and it could be that it was part of the marriage settlement.

For some years in the 1750s to 1770s there were two John Hunts whose lives were very similar; both had wives called Elizabeth; both were yeoman farmers, farming at Chelfham and Haxton respectively; both held the posts of Church-warden and of Surveyor of the Highways.

John Hunt was church-warden in 1752; this was more likely to have been John of Haxton as the older of the two. From 1770 to 1775 John of Chelfham held the post, and during this period many church papers survive. In 1770 John of Chelfham was a signatory of 'Acts of Vestrys', and John of Haxton also signed as an 'overseer'. From 1771 a series of papers relates to the replacement of the church bells, the worthies of Bratton Fleming desiring to replace the old peal of four bells by a peal of six. John Hunt of Chelfham seems to have been a strong supporter of this project. There was however strong local opposition since the £500 cost would have been borne by the ratepayers of the parish; because of this the bells were not replaced until 1789.

John of Haxton was Surveyor of the Highways in 1766, and John of Chelfham held this post in 1769. John Hunt (of Haxton?) was Overseer of the Poor in 1766, and John of Chelfham held this post in 1770. John of Haxton died in 1772, and John of Chelfham in 1779, both leaving wills, which like the others do not survive. Both left widows Elizabeth and sons John. The Chelfham Hunts may have had some financial difficulties from the time when John was dying; from 1778 the Chelfham church-rates were in arrears, and by 1783 a sum of £14 10s was owing.

The next documentary references to Chelfham are the Land Tax Assessments from 1780 onwards. They fail to distinguish between the Chelfham Hunts and the Haxton Hunts, but the conclusions are fairly evident. Elizabeth of Chelfham was the 'proprietor' not only of 'Chilpham', but also of North Land, and West Barton. Her son John (now aged 20) was 'proprietor' of Kipscombe, another farm which remained in the family for some time. Elizabeth of Haxton was the 'proprietor' of Haxton, Middle Ridge, Peaspark Chumhill Meadow, and 'occupier' of 'Joce's Haxton'.

The LTAs reveal that at some time between 1687 and 1780 the Hunts relinquished half of Chelfham, and their farm was now the smaller farm at Chelfham, the larger one being Chelfham Barton owned by Rev Pine.

Elizabeth Hunt remarried in 1784, to James Sciance; later Land Tax Assessments refer to James or Elizabeth Sciance, and later still to Widow Sciance. In 1785 her son John married Elizabeth Paddon of Atherington. The Paddons farmed at Atherington, many miles to the south of Bratton Fleming. In 1780, properties at 'Snows', 'Bridge' and 'Bridge End' were occupied by John Paddon, who may have been George Paddon's father. The 'Snows' property eventually passed into the hands of John Hunt in about 1820, being one of the properties left in his will.

Elizabeth Paddon's mother came from the Graddon family. John Graddon and William Graddon both left wills. Another John Graddon (of Chittlehampton) is mentioned in John Hunt's will.

By 1788 John was 'occupier' of Chelfham as well as 'proprietor' and 'occupier' of Kipscombe. At much the same time the Haxton properties passed into the name of Elizabeth of Haxton's son John.

By about 1809 all the Chelfham and Kipscombe properties were held by John Hunt of Chelfham, though Elizabeth Sciance lived until 1820. Two years later John of Haxton died and his wife Sarah inherited Haxton and 'Joces, Haxton'.

An event in Bratton Fleming in 1820 was the setting up of the Bratton Fleming Friendly Society, a death benefit society. The Chelfham Hunts and the Haxton Hunts were all signatories; the Society prospered and membership was to extend far beyond Bratton Fleming.

In 1828, John Hunt took steps to free his properties from their entailment at that time. His object was almost certainly to re-establish a new entailment, since it had become accepted that old entailments lapsed 21 years after the death of the last survivor of those beneficiaries living at the time of the original entailment. Freeing from entailment could be achieved by an artifice involving collusive legal action over a fictitious lease to a third party. The lease exists in the North Devon Record Office. One point which is confirmed by this lease is that the Chelfham property had been reduced to 'one-third of the Chelfham tenement' rather than the two-thirds of the 1687 lease. The dis-entailment was presumably completed leaving the way clear for John Hunt to re-entail the properties in his will.

John Hunt of Chelfham died in 1829 and his substantial memorial is in Bratton Fleming churchyard.

The will of this John Hunt survives; it is a long document of remarkable complexity intended to preserve Chelfham and Kipscombe for his heirs in perpetuity through carefully defined entailment; it did not succeed! It also refers to 'Snows tenement' and other unnamed properties at Atherington, a 'Freehold Little House called the Buttery', a piece of land taken out of North Park, a Dwelling House or Cottage and Blacksmith's shop. This reflected the position of the Hunts at the peak of their prosperity; life was already becoming harder for the small farmers.

John Hunt left many surviving children. William and Edward inherited Chelfham jointly after their mother's death in 1842, and the 1843 Tithe Assessment gives considerable detail on the meadows and orchards etc forming the Chelfham estates.

In 1844, William Hunt married Hannah Maria Daniel from another farming family and their first child William (Caroline Cawsey's father) was born in 1845.

Five of the Hunts, including William senior, and his brother John, were signatories of the 1840 Turnpike Petition. At that time there were 5 Hunt households in Bratton Fleming, totalling 21 people. These were the farmers at Chelfham, Kipscombe and Haxton, the innkeeper at the Chichester Arms, and the farmer/innkeeper at Friendship. In 1846 both William and Edward Hunt raised money through mortages on the Hunt properties and there were further mortgages in 1850 and 1859.

It is recorded that Pew 1 in Bratton Fleming church was assigned to the Hunts of Chelfham (1862). William senior died in 1866 leaving Hannah and William junior to continue farming at Chelfham.

In 1851 a member of William Hunt's household was Jane Lewis, termed 'Pauper / House Servant (idiotic) in the census return. She was still with the Hunts in 1861, but in 1863 the record of a Parish Meeting stated that " The girl, Jane Lewis, now with Mr Hunt, Chelham, to be transferred to Mr Brownscombe. Mr Brownscombe to receive 1/6d a week with her". Whybrow commented (though he had not apparently seen the census return) that Jane Lewis was 35, and that the nature of the transfer implies a sub-normal mentality.

William and Mary Ann Hunt

mary ann huntam Hunt junior married Mary Ann Richards in 1868. She was the daughter of John and Caroline Richards, farmers at Hakeford, Stoke Rivers, and she was the granddaughter of Mary Quance of Waytown Farm Shirwell.

The children of William and Mary Ann Hunt were Mary Louisa, Caroline Anna, William, Blanche, Florence and Charles.

Caroline Anna was born in 1871 and this card survives from Christmas 1871; it is inscribed

"Caroline Anna Hunt. A present from Aunt Martha. December 25th 1871"

cardMartha was undoubtedly Caroline's great-aunt, Martha Clarke, daughter of John and Betsey Daniel.

Caroline Hunt was admitted to Bratton Fleming school on 26th October 1875 when she was only 4 years old. A school photograph dated about 1876 includes Mary (second row, behind rightmost girl in white apron), and Caroline (second in, on left of front row).

At the back is John Henry Baker, Master. He had joined the school in 1875 at the age of 23 and remained for some 40 years. The girl at the back may be a pupil-teacher, perhaps Mary Elizabeth White. An odd feature of this photograph is the lady amongst the schoolchildren who is holding a baby. This is probably Mrs Sarah Baker, then aged 21.

We have two later photographs, a boys' group containing William Hunt and a girls' group containing Blanche and Florence. Both contain Mr Baker, and the latter also contains a lady who is almost certainly Sarah Baker, who is listed in the 1883 Trade Directory as 'Mistress' at the National School, John Baker being 'Master'.

In 1881, Caroline Hunt, then 9 years old, and a ‘scholar’, was lodging in Bratton Fleming village. Perhaps this was to avoid the long walk to school from Chelfham?

Whybrow gives many entertaining extracts from the Bratton Fleming school log-book 1863-1875. In 1875, at about the time when the Hunt children started their schooling, the Inspector reported:

"This school has improved in the numbers, in attendance, and in attainments. Arithmetic is much better than it was last year, but is still far from being perfect. Sewing and knitting are very fair. Singing is very fair. The special subjects Grammar and Analysis give evidence of careful preparation. The ventilation and warming of the room require immediate attention. Two full sets of reading books, and a sufficient supply of slates must be provided for each class. A new admission book is required"

The school log book itself is held in the North Devon Record Office (Ref 849 add 2/1). There are a few references to the Hunt children.

The 1883 report of the Diocesan Inspector read

The religious instruction is very efficiently conducted; the spirit prevailing in the school appears to be exceeedingly good, and the children, especially of the Head Class, have passed a highly commendable examination in spite of the drawback of the Master‘s illness. The school is classed as Very Good‘. Best papers: Eva Parkin, Caroline Hunt, Ida Webb, Cyrus Parkin, Charles Lavercombe.”

On 17th November 1884 an entry read

Have had to send William, Blanche and Florrie Hunt home from school this morning as there is a serious case of diptheria in their house .”

The log book refers to the prevalence of diptheria in the village - and four days later another pupil, Alfred Lavercombe, was struck off the school register having died of diptheria. It may well be that the case at the Hunts was William Hunt senior, leading to his early death.

The North Devon Journal has a few references to the Hunt's of Chelfham between 1850 and 1870. In 1852 'Mary Gibbs' stole apples from William Hunt's orchard. In 1861 there was a sale of farm stock. In 1868, William Richards, employee of William Hunt and probably Mary Ann's brother, fell from a cart.

William Hunt died young in 1886, and the Hunt family does not seem to have stayed much longer at Chelfham.

Mary Ann Hunt moved to 10 Grosvenor Street, Barnstaple, and in 1891 she was living there with William, Eva Blanche, Florence Helen, and Charles Thomas. William was by then a cabinet-maker.

To the right is a photograph of Mary Ann Hunt, together with her daughters Florence and Mary, and (in the hat) Mary Quance Dayman who was the granddaughter of Betsey Dayman and great-granddaughter of Mary Quance. The photograph was taken at Mary Ann Hunt’s home at Grosvenor Street, Barnstaple.

Also in 1891 the two eldest girls were lodging in Barnstaple. Mary Louisa was at 'Swiss Cottage', Sunflower Road, and was a dress-maker. Caroline was living at 41 Higher Maudlin Street, working as a domestic servant in the home of the 81 year old Sarah Rade. Higher Maudlin Street was just around the corner from Vicarage Street, where Thomas Cawsey was living with his uncle and aunt.

Mary Ann Hunt died in 1922 as the funeral card above shows.

All the Hunts of Chelfham left Bratton Fleming, and there are very few descendants; Charles seems to have had a son John, about whom nothing is known; apart from this no other descendants bear the Hunt name .

William Hunt junior (cabinet-maker in 1891) set up a furniture shop in Barnstaple High Street. He married (Beatrice) and their only child was a daughter Winifred who married Robert Denny; their children were Denise and Godric Denny. Winifred Denny is buried with the Hunts at Bratton Fleming, a memorial having been attached to the main Hunt tomb pictured earlier.

Charles joined the Gas Company.

Mary married James Southcombe, a Southern Railway worker; they lived in South-west London. Their only child was Evelyn, who married Cyril Spenser; they had no children.

Florence and Blanche remained single and lived in Barnstaple. Blanche was housekeeper to Charles late in their lives.