Since Lerwill Farm....

There has also been more than a hint that the Lerwills were caught up in The Wars of the Roses (were they at the Battle of Tewkesbury, 1471? This battle very much involved Devon troops), but proof remains elusive at this time. There is a further family tradition that states that the family were awarded property as a result of their help to one of the causes (but thought to be the House of Tudor), but proof of this is also elusive.

I regard the time of 1470/80 as being the time when the Lerwills "moved house", and that time is remarkably consistent with the war-like events taking place at that time. However, having emphasised the Wars of the Roses as being a clue to the Lerwills' move, I should record that after 1430, Devon experienced phenomenal exports of broad cloths compared with former years. Indicative of this is the considerable amount of church and bridge building that took place during the latter part of the 15th century, including the expansion of Chitlehampton Church. Could it be, therefore, that the family made substantial amounts from the sale of wool and it is something to do with that that caused their move? I am, personally, not very convinced by this argument. After all, if exports were going well, why leave?

A Combe Martin family tradition is that two (Lerwill) brothers arrived in Combe Martin (presumably from Chittlehampton) at a date unknown, but appears to have been in the later half of the 15th c. One of these is supposed to have died fairly soon after, as a result of a serious illness (perhaps smallpox or yellow fever). However, another Lerwill branch is known to have existed at Tawstock (near Chittlehapton) in the early part of the 16th c., indicating that perhaps the family split up on the earlier transfer (or loss) of their properties at Lerwill and Weston.

There is also evidence that a Lerwill family was present in London (Stepney and Holborn) by about the year 1600, and one of that family appears to have been in Cambridgeshire for a short while. I would think it likely that they got to London as a result of trade between North Devon and London.

The main line of the Lerwills became centred on Combe Martin without any doubt. There are deeds relating a John Lerwill to a property in Combe Martin (kept at the Devon County Records Office) that cover a period from about 1480 up until the mid 1500s, and a John Lerwill is known to have been a deputy reeve at Combe Martin in 1507, and again a John Lerwill is involved in an inquisition into rights of public access in 1531, when aged 83. The recording of the age in the last entry seems to indicate that all the John Lerwill references are to one and the same person. No other Combe Martin Lerwill references seem to exist before 1524..

An 83-year old in 1531 would therefore have been born ca. 1448 and I must assume that he was the one that survived the migration from Chittlehampton. When he made the journey is hard to say, but the above records seem to infer that he was in Combe Martin by about the year 1475, and this year would be about right from my estimate of when the property at Chittlehampton was given up.. By the manner of his inclusion in the records quoted above, there is no doubt that John Lerwill must have been a man of reasonable substance, and probably a yeoman (considered by some to have been the backbone of England). Certainly, some of his successors were reported as 'yeoman', so there is no reason to doubt that he was not also. An old English proverb was "it is better to be the head of the yeomanry than the tail of the gentry", and I suspect that our Lerwill ancestors learnt the wisdom of that statement. Apart from the possibility of lands being lost because of the family's property-related connection with the Courtenays, why did the Lerwills move specifically to Combe Martin? There is no answer at this point in time.

However, John Lerwill undoubtedly had at least two sons, and the family therefore continued to multiply until, by the middle of the 1500s, Lerwills could be found at nearby Kentisbury, and Ilfracombe, in addition to Combe Martin, as solid yeomen, and also at Arlington. In 1569, a Muster Roll for Devon includes two Lerwills who were required to turn out as archers should the need arise. In the 17th c., the family fanned out even further. It is noteworthy, however, that those members of the family that moved further afield also seem, in the main, to have become poorer.

Bartholomew L. at Arlington in the early 1600s, for example, was described as a 'husbandman', although there was not a lot of difference (in substance) between that status and that of a yeoman. Later, however, we find that one of Bartholomew's grand-son's became 'a chandler', indicating, perhaps, that there was not a lot going for small landholders in Arlington and that he may have been forced to going into a trade. Going on from this, the apparent connection of the Arlington branch to the Marwood family shows perhaps a further diminution, when we find members of the family earning a liiving as a 'blacksmith' and as a 'mariner'. This family suffered further economic reverses before some recovery took place, but it does not appear that any Lerwills of the main lines had to seek the help of the Poor Law.

During all these movements of the family further afield, the 'home base' of the family (in terms of the materially successful side of the family) continued to be a farming ( and mining?) fraternity at Combe Martin and then (also) at Kentisbury and East Down. The East Down family (at Maddocks Down farm) seem to have been rewarded in 1661 (immediately after the restoration of the Crown) with their property, probably as a result of being good supporters of the Crown (not that they got it free of charge, however). The family have been at this farm ever since..

In 1648, a certain Nicholas Leerewell of Trentishoe (east of Combe Martin) was declared as "delinquent and notorious" by the Roundheads. For him, this undoubtedly meant that his estate was sequestrated, but it is possible that he compounded with a local committee and escaped with a fine amounting to two years' value of his estate - perhaps as much as £1,500. It so happens that a Nicholas L. turned up in Pilton (nr. Barnstaple) in 1649, where he was married.

The Combe Martin family also continued to have flirtations with neighbouring Ilfracombe and Berry Narbour. It is said that one Combe Martin member went as far afield as Fowey to elope with his bride.

Until the 1800s, little changed in terms of where the Lerwills lived and their livelihoods, although a few Lerwills had (during the 18th c.) moved into Bristol and even Sussex (Lewes). The branches at Bristol and Lewes appear to have been Baptists, and the origin of these (as tradition has it) may well be to do with a stalwart (possibly John, shown as a Church Warden in 1749) who one day requested the Combe Martin vicar to "tone down his sermons", which were probably all fire and brimstone. This the vicar apparently failed to do, and this persuaded our Lerwill stalwart into leading his family into the Baptist church!

However, there were some earlier small migrations, including those into Somerset and London. One Lerwill to relocate overseas (forcibly, from what has been gleaned) was a Robert Larwill at Winkleigh, who, unfortunately, was shipped in chains for eight years hard labour in America. That was in 1726 when aged about 22. However, the first to migrate overseas may well have been a John Laurwell, who is noted as being in Virginia as an immigrant in 1637, just 17 years after the Pilgrim Fathers had made their historic voyage (Greer, Virginia Immigrants, 1623-1666). Unfortunately, I subsequently found out (through Cavaliers and Pioneers (Abstracts of Virginia Land Patents and Grants, 1623-1666), by Nugent) that the same John L. was to be "transported" with seven others to work on the property of Mr. Percival Campion. Although it does not specifically say so, it sounds as though he was sent out there because of some felony. However, there does seem to have been a strong Devon/Virginia link, as a mid-17th century Treasurer of Virginia is buried at Chittlehampton.

By the end of the 18th c., with enclosures, the rise of the Industrial Revolution, decline in farming after the Napoleonic Wars, rapidly increasing population and "America", a lot of movement began - not only in respect of Lerwills, of course, but for people all over Devon and the whole country. By the middle 1800s, Lerwills are then found in fields as far apart as Wales, Birmingham (England!) and the U.S.A. By the end of the 1800s, Portsmouth (from Birmingham), Sussex (another migration, from Devon), Canada (from Stafford) and Australia (from Birmingham) are added to the process of diaspora, and, in later years, a number of Lerwills from different branches went to find their fortune in South Africa. One mining family moved to Yorkshire and on through to Durham between 1930 and 1955

To-day, there are still Lerwill farmers in North Devon, the main farming families being at Verwill (east of Combe Martin), Waytown (Kentisbury), Maddocks Down (East Down) and North Molton. Even Ken Lerwill at Birmingham owned a dairy farm near South Molton for some years, quite close to Lerwill Farm! Ken left the day-to-day management of the farm, however, to another person, and in fact was unconscious of the existence of Lerwill Farm.

Now, Lerwills have spread all over England (mainly the broad Midlands and the South and South East) and Wales, but they are still comparatively small in number, the number of families possibly not exceeding 200.

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