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Date: 1558 to 1914
Location: Dulverton, Somerset, Englandmap
Surname/tag: Catford
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Four hundred and fifty years ago, a class of yeomen, or small-scale land owners and farmers, emerged from the out-dated and disintegrating feudal system in England. It is at about this time that the first references to the Catford family can be found in the historical documents of Devon and Somerset, and the family were a part of this yeomanry. Older references to the name Catford certainly exist in some other English documents,(1) but these refer to the manor of Catford in South London. There is no evidence to associate the family with the place in London. Rather, it seems likely that the name also arose in the West Country, independently. From the 1550’s, when church records were established by edict of Queen Elizabeth I, it is easy to trace the presence of Catfords in several parishes throughout an area along the Devon-Somerset border. The English county of Devon lies between Cornwall to the west and Somerset on the north-east side. Exmoor overlaps Devon and Somerset at the north coast. In particular, the village of Dulverton has a strong association with the Catford family. Indeed, the very first entry in the first register of Baptisms for Dulverton is for William Catford in 1558. The story of the Catfords is fundamentally one of a respectable family of yeomanry in Tudor times, with a degree of local prominence and responsibility in the sixteenth century, who have survived as successful farmers into the twentieth century. Their small dynasty rose and receded amongst the farming villages along the southern fringe of Exmoor. Along the way they were the holders of two manorial estates, one of which they emblazoned with a grandly styled Coat of Arms. The widespread rural depression in England in the mid-1800’s proved to be a major setback, and it was their immigration to Australia that gave renewed farming success. Now the South Australian branch of the family, pioneered by William and Jane Catford in 1848, is easily the largest in the world. From the time when William Catford studied at Oxford University in 1676,(2) and even before, various members of the family have diversified away from farming into medical, educational, scientific, legal and other pursuits, and this trend has accelerated in the present century. (i.e. the Twentieth Century). It is likely that the family took their name from whence they came. Around the valley of the River Exe, place names ending in ford are extremely common: Exford, Winsford, Brush¬ford, Oakford, to name a few. The rivers and streams in the area are characteristically wide and shallow with a solid stony bed, so they were easily crossed, or forded, at various locations, without the need to build bridges. These crossings would have become known to travellers, and were natural places for farms and settlements to arise. There is no village called Catford in Devon or Somerset, but there are three farms called Catford which survive to the present day. One of these farms was divided in the past into East Catford and West Catford farms. It is located in the parish of Huish Champflower in Somerset, about 13 km east of Dulverton,(3) and was the subject in 1547 of a bitter legal fight between the Catford and Marsh families. (4) Robert Catford maintained in his evidence that he had inherited the farm on the death of his father Robert, who had held the farm, “in his demesne as of fee, by inheritance from his ancestors”. Apparently the deeds somehow fell into the hands of a widow, Johane Marshe, and Robert was dispossessed. He claimed in his evidence that Johane took all the “issues and profits” from the farm, as well as living in the premises, and that she refused all requests to give them back.

Footnotes to above: (1) For example, Public Records Office, Calendars of Close Rolls, 1272-1279 p. 567; Edmund de Cateford held land in Surrey and/or Kent in 1279. Also the Calendar of Ancient Deeds (HMSO, London, 1900), Series A [Exchequer: Treasury of the Receipt], p.102; Adam and Robert de Cateford lived near Lewesham in London in 1257. Also PRO London, Calendar of Inquisitions (Post Mortem), Vol. X, p.265; John de Catford was a clerk in 1327. (2) Somerset & Dorset Notes and Queries, vol. 16 (1920) p.201, William matriculated to Trinity College, 25 Oct 1676 aged 16. (3) Ordnance Survey map, grid reference ST 0229 (4) PRO London, Chancery Proceedings, C1/1209/9

The details of how the case was resolved are not known, but the surviving legal documents show that the Marsh family had acquired the freehold by 1655 and then held the farm for two centuries.(5) This Catford Farm, in Huish, is adjacent to fordable streams. Of course, their precise paths will have changed over the last five hundred years, but presumably the river crossings were subject to the menace of wild cats and this gave the farm its name.(6) In the surrounding area, one of the important land owners was the Sydenham family (originally(7) from Sydenham Farm(8) near Bridgwater) who also became prominent in the Dulverton parish during the 1500’s. It is possible that the expansion of the Sydenham interests in Dulverton brought with it the migration of Catfords from the nearby parish of Huish Champflower, to Dulverton. A second Catford Farm can be found in Stogumber parish,(9) north of Huish Champflower.(10) It is likely that this is the place referred to by the court case in 1377(11) that indicted one Walter Kayll for “robberies at Catford and Stogumber”. This farm is again connected with the Sydenham family, being within a mile of their estate of Combe Sydenham, which dates from at least the 11th century.(12) In the Stogumber area, the earliest settlements were largely beside streams which crossed the valley floors, and they include names like Vexford, Coleford, Cottiford, Donniford and Togford. The third Catford Farm can be found further down the River Exe, about 16 km south of Huish (19 km south-east of Dulverton), near the village of Sampford Peverell in Devon.(13) This area also has an early history of Catford family presence. In 1524, a certain William Catyford was living at Sampford Peverell, as recorded by the Lay Subsidy Rolls.(14) In 1604, the family were the holders of the nearby manor of Hockworthy.(15) Their presence in the area continued whilst the nearby town of Tiverton became prosperous in the 1600’s due to trade in the woollen weave known as kersey.

Footnotes to above: (5) Victoria County History for Somerset, (OUP, 1985), ed. R.W. Dunning, vol. V, p.85, which cites the following references SRO DD/CCH/53/1; DD/PLE/59/67; PRO C142/(IPM HenryVII-ChasII)/532, no.235 (6) The Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names gives this derivation for the name of Catford in London, which, interestingly, is adjacent to a place called Sydenham. (7) Rev. J. Collinson, History of Somersetshire, Vol. 3 (Bath, 1791), p. 521 (this book is avail¬able in modern reprint). (8) Original 1 inch = 1 mile Ordnance Survey map, surveyed 1799-1811, Index No. 20, Sheet 75, reprinted as SBN 7153 4446 3 (David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1969). Sydenham Farm is 2 km north-east of Bridgwater. (9) Victoria County History for Somerset, vol. V, ibid., p.176 (10) Ordnance Survey reference ST 09 38. Catford also appears on the same OS sheet as ref. 8. (11) Public Records Office, London, Lists and Indexes (New Series) Vol. 81, Chancery Miscellanea Part IV (1972), Ref. CM bundle 77, File 7, No. 236 (C258/19,No.13), 50 Edward III (12) Victoria County History, vol.V, ibid., p.177 (13) Ordnance Survey reference ST 03 13 (14) Lay Subsidy for Devon. This was a list of laypersons, compiled for tax purposes. (15) The purchase is described in PRO London, Star Chamber Proceedings, STAC 8/90/25. From the 1500’s onwards, essentially two groups of Catford families appear in the records: one in Dulverton and the other connected to Sampford Peverell; the latter also extended their land holdings to the Bridgwater area, towards Bristol. It is difficult to be sure whether the two groups are connected by descent or just by name. On the one hand, there are only 19 km separating the two towns, and it is easy to imagine one of the early Catfords moving further afield and establishing his own base. On the other hand, it is reasonable that a minor place name such as Catford could be duplicated in the region, and that two separate families could therefore have adopted the surname.

It is remarkable that any reference to the Catford family name in official documents, such as copies of wills and Court proceedings held at the Public Records Office in London, can ultimately be traced to one of these families from two villages less than 20 km apart, on the Devon/Somerset border. In terms of the Australian connection, each branch (South Australian, Victorian and New South Wales) can ultimately be linked directly to Dulverton.


A visitor arriving in Dulverton today would find a small, close-knit community. They might well drive into the town over the Barle Bridge, for which they could in some small measure thank Robert Catford, who in 1593 left twentie shillinges in his will, for its maintenance . Continuing across the river towards the main street, the road passes a fruit and vegetable shop and a clothing shop on the right. From this double-fronted shop, Edwin Catford ran his draper’s business in the later years of last century . He lived in the adjacent Governor’s House , which still carries the same name on the front. A few doors further along is the former Lamb Inn public house, where William Catford was the licensee in 1871 . Opposite Edwin’s shop is the town house formerly known as Langdon’s which was tenanted in the 1700’s by Robert Catford after he had handed over to his son the farming on the lease at North Combe, on the outskirts of the town. The nearby town hall holds a list of the “ten Good Men of Dulverton” who were granted the right to hold regular town markets in Dulverton, by Royal decree issued by King Philip and Queen Mary in 1556 . The proceeds of the markets were put towards maintaining the general community amenities. Included among the Good Men is the same Robert Catford who made the bequest to support the bridge over the Barle. Continuing further through the town is Lady Street on the left. Hyla Catford, who died in the 1930’s and whose sons Pat and Jack were amongst the last Catfords to be baptized in Dulverton , used to live down this street. He took all of the photographs for a leading turn-of-the-century tourist guide to the town . Following this road out of town would lead to Ashway farm, which was associated with the Catfords in the 1500’s . But, back in the town, the main road continues ahead to the yard of All Saints’ Church, the traditional centre of the town’s religious life. Passing through the wooden arch into the picturesque churchyard, some of the first gravestones on the right are those of the Catfords of Northcombe Farm. From the back of the church, the steep path leading the couple of miles to Northcombe is known as Catford’s Lane. Thus, it can be seen that Dulverton and the Catfords have known each other well during most of the last four or five hundred years. Dulverton has held an important position in the local region for centuries. The town is the centre of the parish of Dulverton, in the county of Somerset, and lies just on the border with the adjacent county of Devon. Many of the dependent farms are actually in Devon. When the railways were built, in the 1800’s, Dulverton was confirmed as an important centre for tourism. It lies on the southern edge of the Royal Forest of Exmoor, a desolate and windswept oasis of untouched moorland much beloved of hikers and anglers, not to mention the deerhunters of the Royal Somerset and Dorset Stag Hounds. The Exmoor National Park authority has a base in Dulverton, and they distribute leaflets and books describing many walks near the town or on the moor, which are rewarding to explore. Out on the moor, gaudily branded sheep and small herds of diminutive Exmoor ponies graze freely, with no fences, and sometimes the sound of a cow bell breaks the silence. The noble red deer roam wild. It is a richly romantic setting, with a quiet charm. In literature, Exmoor is probably best known as the location for R.D. Blackmore’s novel Lorna Doone, set in the 1600’s when highwaymen roamed the bleak tracks across the moor and caused travellers much anxiety. At the beginning of the book, the young hero John Ridd is described travelling through Dulverton on his long coach trip from Tiverton, in the south, to his home on the north of the moor, near Oare. His journey would have taken him past the turnoff for the track up to North Combe Farm, where the Catford family was already firmly established. More recently, the town can claim two sons of some distinction. Sir George Williams, who founded the YMCA, was born at Ashway Farm in Dulverton, on 11 October 1821. He attended a school conducted by Mrs Timlett of High Street, Dulverton, and later went to Gloyn’s Grammar School in Tiverton. After an apprenticeship in Bridgwater, he was employed as a draper in the City of London and it was there that he formed the YMCA on 6 June 1844. He made donations to All Saints’ church, where he had been baptized, and to the Congregational church in the town. Another Dulverton success story was George Hall Peppin, born at Old Shute farm in 1800, who went on to achieve fame in Australia as a sheep breeder. He migrated to Victoria in the 1860’s with his family and after surviving a serious of serious setbacks with droughts and poor market prices, they established a successful sheep stud at Wanganella, 25 miles north of Deniliquin . Between 1861 and 1875 they developed the hardy Peppin merino line which is now linked to approximately 85% of all the merino sheep farmed in Australia. At their peak in 1875, the Peppins held 65,000 acres and ran 56,000 sheep. George Peppin is commemorated, as indeed is George Williams, in the stained glass windows of All Saints’ church in Dulverton.


The Catford family history up until the mid-1800’s was largely based on the eastern edge of Devon, overlapping Somerset, and on the southern edge of Exmoor. The details of their history, and even the decisions eventually leading to the immigration to Australia, were shaped in part by the landscape and by the social and economic history of the region. Exmoor itself is a table-land rising to over 1500 feet (450 metres), and has an annual rainfall of over 60 inches (1500 mm), compared to the Devon average of 40 inches. Devonshire is well known for its dairy produce, and has a long history of successful agriculture. The shape of the Devon landscape was changed drastically during the age of colonisation between 1150 and 1350 . The scale of the change has been compared26 to that caused by the advent of railways and motorized transport in the present century. New towns and farmland were established. Ground was cleared of granite, which was then used to build rubble walls alongside the roads, and to build farm buildings. Much of the work was done by free peasants, granted the charter to a piece of land by the Lord of their Manor. The younger sons of the free tenants, with no hope of inheritance, became commercial traders. Markets and free traders developed, and borough courts replaced traditional manorial courts run by the Lord of the Manor. At this time of prosperity, new industries became successful and, for example, Devon’s mines produced most of Europe’s tin. When successive waves of the Black Plague hit the area from 1348 to 1351, mortality was typically 50% in Devon, and the population was reduced to the levels of 300 years earlier. Land was left unoccupied for want of tenants. By 1475, the county had fairly well recovered and the 1500’s became a time of great rural prosperity. Many new farmhouses were built, or existing ones modernised, and many of these can still be seen today. The expansion was reinforced by the dissolution of the monasteries and the release of their land , which was the biggest transfer of land ownership since the Norman conquest. In parallel, the number of wage-earners also expanded, and started to account for a third or more of the population at this time. The golden age of farming extended well into the 1700’s. In 1794 there were “few great proprietors” of land, but “a great number of gentlemen of easy independent fortunes, who passe[d] their time chiefly on their own estates, and live[d] in great harmony with each other, and with the respectable yeomanry in their neighbourhood.” The Catford family appear to been amongst the “respectable yeomanry” of the area. From the early 1500’s, the tenant farmers often held their land with three-life leases. The initial payment was substantial, perhaps the equivalent of 12 years’ proceeds from the farm, followed by a small annual rental . However, it gave the tenants good security and a chance to reap the benefits of long-term developments and land improvements. The three lives of the tenancy were usually the lessee, his wife and the eldest son, but new lives could be added on payment of a fee, and the tenancies could be continued in this way for centuries. From the late 1500’s the system had been modified so that leases were arranged to run for the shorter of “three lives” or 99 years. Even with this change, by 1800 the lease system had put the availability of farms at a premium, and short term leases for 14 or 21 years started to take over. The Napoleonic Wars of 1793-1815 brought great prosperity to farmers, who were simul-taneously provided with a buoyant market (being called upon to supply the fleet and the army), and also protected from competition from French imports . After the boom came the collapse of corn prices and a slump in farm prices. The 1820’s were crisis years in farming, and especially for small holdings. Many farmers were driven into becoming labourers or shopkeepers. In the mid-1850’s, farm labourers were paid a pittance; the labourers’ wives were often required to work also, as a condition of employment, and the families even then could not afford meat . It was at this time that William Catford and his new wife Jane joined the growing numbers leaving Devon for better opportunities elsewhere. Migration from the area began to occur to the north of England, and also to the U.S. and to the Colonies. By the late 1870’s and 1880’s, agricultural depression had set in. Migration accelerated, encouraged by extensive advert¬ising by companies that had invested in the Colonies and required labour for them to grow and be profitable.


John Catford, who died in Dulverton on 17 February 1532, is the earliest Catford resident of Dulverton for which we have real information. He was a farmer and lived on the outskirts of the village, a couple of kilometres from the Church in the place known as Mountsey. In his Will he left most of his estate to his widow Jone (Joan), but he made provision for his daughter as follows: “To Jone Hyndan my daughter vi sponys of sylver, iii panns of brasse, pot of iii gallons, v platers and podyngers, vi sawcers and to Jone her daughter a bason; to Jone my daughter an oxe, a bullock of one yere hold; and a mare colte; and to every one of her chylder one shepe apyce.” He also left provision for the church of All Saints in Dulverton: “to Alhalows there, a shepe” as well as sheep also, for various saints. The town itself had an important bridge over the River Barle to maintain, and for this he left “The brydge, a shepe.” It is interesting to see the importance given to individual spoons, basins and livestock, and it is a reminder of the lifestyle that these people experienced. Another resident of Dulverton at around this time was Robert Catford, who died on 7 December of the same year, 1532. He also made various bequests to the Church, and he left the residue of his estate to his son, William. From these two wills, it is fair to say that the Catfords were farming in the Dulverton area from at least 1500. In fact there is an earlier reference to the family, probably, in the Lay Subsidy Rolls for Somerset in 1524. These Rolls are lists of residents, compiled for taxation purposes, and are available in variable degrees of completeness at irregular intervals through the 1500’s. Although the surname appears to be written as Caford, there are two Richard’s and a John included in the 1524 list for Dulverton . In 1550, the rolls are found to include Reignold Catford and William Aysheway Alias Catford. Another list for 1550 shows Raynolde, James and William Catforde, each described as a “husbandman”. In 1553 the rolls again list Raynold and William, together with Jacobus, and the surname is simply given as Catford in each case. The rolls for Dulverton in 1581 list William, John and Robert Catford. It may be noted that in the Devon tax rolls of 1524, William Catyford of Sampford Peveryll is listed. His presence implies that the family in Sampford Peverell is of at least a similar antiquity to the Dulverton branch. In the Subsidy Roll for 1545 he is listed as William Catford and in the 1582 roll he is joined by Richard Catford. It may also be noted that the Devon tax rolls for the Lay Subsidy of 1332 are available and there is a Simon atte Forde listed in Sampford Peverell. However, the atte Forde appellation can not be assumed to represent an early antecedent of the Catford Family since it appears quite commonly in other nearby areas at that time, and is much more likely a simple reflection of the local geography. The other Catfords that have been discovered in the early Lay Subsidy rolls are Robert Catyforde at Milverton in 1524/5 and Richard Catford at Exton in 1546, both parishes being quite near to Dulverton and Sampford Peverell. Another source of information about inhabitants in the 1500’s are the Muster lists, which show who, in each town and village, was required to bear arms in defence of the Realm. In the muster for Dulverton in 1569, Edward and Robert Catford were each listed. Edward was counted among the able men, and was down as a billman, whilst Robert was responsible for supplying armour, namely viii bows and viii sheafs of arrows . (A bill was like a scythe on a stick, sharpened on both sides). The leaders of the Dulverton militia were John Sydenham, esq., and Thomas Sydenham, gent. In the muster for Sampford Peverell in 1569 both Richard and William Catford are described as billman, whilst another William is required to supply i bow and i sheaf of arrows. The market charter for Dulverton in 1556 shows Robert Catford amongst the “ten good men”. Ref.45. In theTown charter for Dulverton, dated 25 April 1556, Robert Catford and others were granted the right to hold markets in order to raise money for maintenance of the town. The most prominent members of the family during the 1500’s were Robert Catford of Dulverton, who was born in 1518 and helped to obtain the town’s Royal Market Charter in 1556, and William Catford of Sampford Peverell who was born around 1540 and built up sufficient wealth to purchase the Manor house of Boomer in North Petherton for his son (see next section). The Dulverton market charter was awarded to ten “goodmen” of Dulverton in response to a plea of poverty from the town. An original copy of the charter, complete with the Royal seal, is kept at the Somerset Records Office and is reproduced here. The grant reads in part: “Know that by our special grace we concede to John Sydenham, Esq., John Toute, John Casse, Roger Chilcote, Robt. Vens, Robt. Catford, John Capper, William Howcombe, Nich. Trott, and Robt. Westerne, and others, inhabitants of the said town, their heirs and assigns, that they may have and hold, etc., a market every Saturday, all day, for the sale of cattle and other things; and that they may hold two fairs each year, - the first in the Feast of SS. Simon and Jude, and the other fair annually in the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul.” The profits of the markets and fairs were to be put to the good of the inhabitants. In case any present day Catford should feel the urge to arrange such a fair, it should be pointed out that the appropriate powers now rest with a newly constituted group. This group recently took over from the group of ten good men, which perpetuated itself successfully for hundreds of years according to the provisions of the charter, whereby they carried on until only two remained alive, and these two were then empowered to appoint ten others to replace them, from among the “most discreet and honest inhabitants.” Robert Catford seems to have been a respected figure in the area, although not always strictly a “good man”. He was called to testify on 12 June 1557 at court proceedings aimed at establishing the status of Upton, and in particular whether it was a manor in itself, separate from King’s Brompton. Upton is situated just to the east of Dulverton. Robert, described as a yeoman of Dulverton, was an authority because he was born three miles from Upton and had known the area for a long time. In a similar fashion, he was called as a witness on 9 March 1591 at age 82 “or thereabouts”, in a case concerning land dealings in the Manor of Exton. His copybook is blotted a little by the occasion when he was tried before the Swainmote Court of the Forest of Exmoor on 19 May 1559, accused along with five others of absconding with livestock that had been left by 16 other farmers to pasture on common land at Halscombe. Specifically, it was charged that together they “all Cattle Beasts and sheep there found wrongfully tooke, and them from the said grounds drove unto Hawkridge, and them there did impound, and in the pound did retaine by a long time.” Robert died on 10 December 1593, and the estate was significant enough for the Will to be proved in Canterbury . The major specific item was “all my sheepe which I have goying feeding or depasturinge uppon my ground called Ashwey”, plus Ashway itself, which was rented. This was left to his son-in-law John Catford, with half of it in trust to provide an annual income for his widow Johane, who inherited the residue of the estate. He also had money to be distributed: “to every one of my children sixe shillinges eighte pence; to every one of their children the same; to every one of their children again, the same; to every godchild twelve pence a peece”. Finally, as mentioned earlier, Robert left for the “mayntenance of Barrell bridge, twentie shillinges”. It was around about this time that the Catfords got mixed up with the local squires, the Sydenhams, in some riotous behaviour. Following a legal dispute in which he sued a friend of the Sydenhams for money owed, John Holwell of Dulverton fell out of favour with Sir George Sydenham. Subsequently, on the night of 22 September 1594, a group of 40 of George’s men, including John Catford, descended upon Holwell’s house ‘not having the feare of God before their eyes nor any dread or fear of your majesty’s Godly lawes and statutes made and provided for the due and severe punishment of Ryottes and suchlike misdemeanors but being led by the instigation of the deville’. They behaved ‘in very ryotous and warlike manner being weaponed with swords daggers jevelins gonnes pistolles and other unlawful weapons’ whilst the Holwells were ‘quietly in their beds’ and ‘were in God’s peace … not mynding nor intending any bodely harme or displeasure to any your majesty’s servants.’ This was just two years after similarly outrageous behaviour had already brought Dulverton to the attention of the Court of the Star Chamber in London and this other incident also probably involved John Catford. Roger Sydenham managed to incur the wrath of Humphrey Sydenham and must have wished it had never happened. Roger was a Ranger of the Forest of Exmoor, and as such it was his duty to charge Humphrey and his men with the illegal hunting of red deer. This hunting was pursued by groups of ten or twenty, armed with cross bows and arrows. Humphrey took exception to being charged and reacted in an original fashion, causing Roger as much embarrassment as possible at the nearby Skilgate church, where he was a churchwarden. Firstly Humphrey and his friends brewed 400 gallons of ale. They then arranged for official announcments to be made at the Sunday services in all the surrounding parishes, bidding the people to go to Skilgate church to buy and drink the ale. Soon after, since Humphrey was the Captain of a band of soldiers that were required to obey his order to muster, he arranged for them to assemble fully-armed in Skilgate and then insisted that they pay for ale and drink it. He later mustered 100 of his men in Dulverton, and required that they did the same. Finally, with his cohorts, he collected people from all over the area and, with careful timing, brought them to Skilgate during the service one Sunday. With the group’s arrival, a confederate planted amongst the congregation instructed the curate to end the Reading and to ring the church bells. The bagpipes were played to accompany the serving of a new batch of ale. The purpose of all this was to raise money, which was then used to fund a continuous stream of fabricated legal actions against Roger Sydenham and the others who were annoying Humphrey Sydenham! John Catford, Senior (as he was known) wrote his Will in Dulverton on 3 January 1627 and died in 1634 . He was most likely the son-in-law of Robert the “good man”. It is not quite clear how closely he was involved with the antics of the Sydenhams, as there were at least three John Catfords in Dulverton at that time. However, John Catford Senior’s widow Johane later married another Roger Sydenham, the son of Humphrey . In his Will, John Catford Senior left 100 pounds to his son Robert and 80 pounds to his son Nicholas. He also specified for Robert ‘a Silver Salt and halfe a dozen of silver spoones’ (formerly his grandfather’s), plus ‘the great chest that is in the Chamber within my Chamber that I doe lye’ and ‘a dishe performed not of the best neither yet of the worst’ and finally ‘the pann which I bought of John Briant’. Nicholas received ‘the pann which standeth at the higher end of the shelfe and a dishe performed not of the best neither of the worst’, whilst John’s son Ambrose was given ‘the Redd brasse panne which came from towne’, on the condition that when he died it was passed to Ambrose’s son. John’s daughters Johane Chilcott and Margaret each received ‘twelve pence’, and all Godchildren ‘six pence a peece’. The residue of the estate passed to Johane, his second wife, who then became an eligible widow.

In the eighteenth century, things seem to have proceeded relatively smoothly for the Catfords in Dulverton. Action in the courts was more typically of the local variety, such as when Robert Catford was reprimanded by the magistrates for “letting a large apple tree grow over the house of Mary Radford, being an injury to her house.” The inventory of the estate for William Catford of Dulverton, dated 6 April 1720 , gives a glimpse of the times. It includes the following amongst his most valuable possessions (assessed in pounds and shillings): 10 00 His wearing apparell 15 00 Four plough steers 18 00 Five cows and three calves 08 00 Four two year old bullocks 05 00 Four Yearlings 48 00 140 wethers and hogs 02 00 ‘one fatt pigg’ 15 00 corn in barn and corn in ground 02 00 a clock and case 01 00 one round table and six chairs 01 10 six brass pans For a total of £240/17/00. Land tax records for Dulverton are available from 1766 . These show that by 1766 Robert Catford had retired from the farm into the town, where he lived at his residence of Langdon’s in the High Street until 1797. George Catford then took over the lease until he died in 1825. (George was the grandfather of William Catford who emigrated to South Australia in 1848). After George died, the residence was sublet for a few years and then George’s son James lived there from 1830. Langdon’s is shown, for example, on Charles Chilcott’s map of Dulverton from 1820 . It is also shown on the Tithe map and Enclosure map produced in 1839 when local taxes were reorganised. George Catford, who died on 19 December 1825, was (as mentioned above) the ‘great-grandfather’ of the South Australian family. In his lifetime, he made several acquisitions of land that enabled his sons Robert, George and Thomas to establish their own farms . He held Northcombe until Robert took over in 1803. Robert continued there beyond 183961. Meanwhile, George also held Ashwick (1781-1814), Millbrook (1800-1819, followed by Robert who held it for 1820-1828), and Hinam. Hinam Farm, just outside the town and on a rise overlooking the River Barle, was in George’s name from 1792-1810, and then in the name of Thomas Catford (1811-1814). This is where Thomas and Jane Catford were living when their first children were born, the eldest brothers and sister of William (the ‘father’ of the South Australian family). In his Will , dated 16 July 1820, George Catford was described as a yeoman of Dulverton. He made provision for his family as follows (having already set his sons up as farmers). To his wife Elizabeth, he left a sum of £50 owed to him, plus £4 interest per year on capital of £300, plus the use of ‘one of the best beds’ and household furniture during her life. To his son George he left £80 and the bed that he ‘often used’. To son James, he left ‘the leasehold dwelling known as Langdon’s House in Dulverton’, on the condition that Elizabeth be allowed to live there also. If she prefered not to, then James had to pay £2/10/- per year in lieu, so long as she stayed unmarried. To his five daughters (Betty, wife of William Reed; Mary, wife of Robert Bryant; Martha, wife of John Davey; Mariah, wife of John Hepper; Christian, wife of Charles Hepper) George left £5 apiece. Everything else was ‘share and share alike’ to his sons and daughters Robert Catford, George, Thomas Catford, John Catford, Betty, Mary, Martha, Mariah and Christian. After the First World War, the only sign of Catfords on the streets of Dulverton was Hyla Catford’s family. Hyla was apparently the organist at the church, and was also the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. There are one or two of the older residents who remember him, and the family name. Otherwise, people have seen the name only on gravestones and the town charter. It is perhaps a matter of some surprise that there is virtually no trace of the Catford family name in the Devon/Somerset area now, outside of the churchyards. Doubtless there are many Catford descendants amongst the population, but none carry the Catford name. The presence of the Catfords as a farming family in the Dulverton area finally evaporated just before the first world war, when the lease for Northcombe farm came up for renegotiation . The property, which had been farmed by Catfords for generations, continued to be a part of the Hollam estate until it was sold in the 1990’s. Hollam has been owned by the Mildmay family (from Queen Camel in East Somerset) since about 1855. They acquired it when the owner Charlotte Beague married for the second time, her first husband having been killed in the Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854 . (Some of the deeds for Hollam and Northcombe are held at the county Records Office ). At the turn of the century, and until 1923, Hollam was owned by Charles Beague Mildmay, known as Captain Mildmay. A veteran of the South African War 1900-1901, he retired to Dulverton and lived the typical life of a country landowner.65 Perhaps we can assume that the Mildmay family, who still hold the adjacent Hollam Hall, were keenly awaiting the renewal of the lease, in economic times that had become quite different to those prevailing when the lease was previously negotiated. The details for this lease are not known but it was not unusual, in the preceding time, for leases to run for 99 years or more. For whatever reason, the new terms seem to have been impossible, and the Catfords moved in 1914. George Catford, born in 1871, moved his family from Dulverton to Ellicombe near the town of Minehead, on the Somerset coast at the eastern edge of Exmoor. He tried his hand at market gardening with mixed fortunes , coupled to a fruit and flower business conduct¬ed in Minehead and died in 1935. His sons George and John continued the business. George retired to 43 Quay St., Minehead and died in the 1980’s. He is survived in turn by his son, David George, who carries on the inheritance of the Dulverton Catfords in the area where the family originally thrived. Northcombe Farm in Dulverton, photographed in 1998 from the path leading down from Catford’s Lane. This farm had a long association with the family which finally ended in 1914.


The Catford family in Dulverton and in Sampford Peverell apparently managed to be respected citizens and to play a prominent role in their local affairs. In 1590, William Catford of Sampford Peverell had acquired sufficient affluence to purchase a Manor House and estate, where he settled his second son, Robert. The manor of Boomer was purchased , from the Bluett family of Holcombe Rogus (a village near to Sampford Peverell) and is located about 35 km north-east of there, in North Pether¬ton near Bridgwater. Robert’s descend¬ants flourished at Boomer for five generations, but it was not uneventful. Robert was trained in law, and his various dealings in land and mortgages seem to have led to an enormous number of legal actions of various types. In particular, he was widely accused of suspect practices when he purchased the Manor of Hockworthy, ad¬jacent to Sampford Peverell. Whatever the full story behind this purchase and other dealings, Robert’s brothers and children consolidated the status of Boomer, and when his grandson William rebuilt the Manor House in 1681 he embellished the outside with a Coat of Arms for Catford. In 1604, the Manor of Hockworthy was added to the Catford holdings . A prominent early history of Devonshire found that the history of the manor could not be traced out in detail, and “the first family that can be traced out by the register, as possessing the manor of Hockworthy, are the Catfords, who built the manor-house in 1653,” but it is now possible to say more. Robert acquired the manor in quite colourful circumstances from Henry Gifford, who had inherited it as a minor from his father Lawrence, and from his grandfather before that. Robert came to know Henry whilst he lodged at the Angel in “Grayes Inne Lane” in London. According to documents that Robert submitted70 to the powerful Court of Star Chamber, which investigated the matter, Henry did ‘much frequent ill companie and haunt tavernes and resorte unto bad places of bad reporte,’ and Robert ‘sought to reclayme him from these undue courses’ and did ‘earnestly persuade him from such evill fashioning’. Robert refused requests to lend Henry money. Henry asked Robert to ride to Somerset with him, and afterwards he lodged at Boomer. In August of 1604, Henry visited Robert, planning to go away to sea. He proposed to sell Hockworthy to him in order to raise the money. Robert claimed to have initially tried to talk Henry out of selling, but eventually the manor was sold for £300 to Robert and his heirs. Robert had to travel to London at that time, and left the appropriate funds in trust until he could investigate some doubts that he had over Henry’s right to make the sale. Indeed, his father William told him that Henry had already sold Hockworthy to someone else! When pressed, Henry said that the reason he was so keen to sell to Robert was because he was ‘beholdinge’ to him, and that ‘Robert Catford gave him so much for his saide land as anie man woulde gyve or more than he coulde have for yt of anie other.’ Robert paid in full by 22 September 1604. The matter didn’t stop there, and in a later dispute over land that was bought by Robert in nearby Wellington, Sir William Craford testified that Hockworthy was in fact worth in excess of £4000 when Robert obtained it from Henry Gifford, who had since died overseas . It was also reported that poor Henry ‘was putt to death in great paine’. The heirs of Henry Gifford brought suits against Robert70, the Attorney-General launched an investigation , and Robert was accused of using gifts of land to buy witnesses73. A whole host of related cases ensued, but Robert seems to have held out successfully. The manor-house built by the Catfords in Hockworthy was called Court-hall according to the historian Polwhele71 in 1797, who continues: “Hockworthy is healthy for cattle, as sheep, bullocks, and horses, and good for corn. There are some few woods for timber, which abound in oak, beech, and ash.” The common people call it Hockory, he says, but this is not widely the case today. The Catford’s tenure of the manor seems to have ended quite soon after 1653. Back at Boomer, Robert Catford married Avice Weaver in 1593, and they had five children. Described as a gent and an attorney at the common law, he acted as steward and managed estates owned by John Bluett of Holcombe Rogus in the manors of Milverton and North Petherton, between 1617 and 1627 during Bluett’s minority. Robert deputed his son Walter to do much of the work. He also held land in trust against mortgages that he had granted . The eldest son, Robert, succeeded after his father died in 1623 and managed to be ‘disclaimed’ at Bridgwater in the same year . That is, he was sanctioned for using a Coat of Arms to which he was not officially entitled, or perhaps simply for describing himself as a ‘noble’ without official authority. This can’t be held too much against him perhaps, as exactly the same thing had happened to his grandfather, then known as William of Hockworthy, in Tiverton three years earlier . Unfortunately, Robert died unmarried just two years later . He was succeeded by his brother William, who inherited not only the manor, but also all manner of legal suits pertaining to his father’s various land dealings. It seems that after his father Robert died, a number of those who had taken out mortgages with him claimed to have already paid back all of the debt, whereas William claimed to have inherited the ownership of the properties. William’s son Walter eventually inherited Boomer , followed by Walter’s son William. This last William was born in 1659 and in 1676 he matriculated to Trinity College, Oxford. He rebuilt the manor house in 1681, and incorporated a family coat of arms, embossed on the capitals of the lead water pipes. According to one published account68, William obtained a grant of arms for Catford at the Visitation of Somerset by the Heralds in 1672, as follows: “Gules, 3 bezants, on a chief engrailed as many cats’ faces of the field.” The interpretation of these Arms is as follows: Gules means red, and bezants are round gold coins, so the bottom two-thirds of the shield has three symmetrically arranged gold roundels on a red background. Engrailed means that the top third is separated off by a line constructed from a sequence of top halves of semicircles (with a series of points along the bottom), and symbolises a connection with the land. The cats’ faces (usually leopards) may be arranged and coloured as convenient. Unfortunately, the official records of the College of Heralds have no mention of this grant and the Arms that are described are not included in the official catalogue . Therefore, in fact, there is officially no Coat of Arms for Catford, despite the grandly crafted designs at Boomer. It seems that William succeeded, however, in convincing the family and maybe some of the locals that the Arms were genuine! William died in 1698 having had one son, William, who in turn had just one child William Hardy Catford. It is remarkable that each of the sons in the line of inheritance died fairly young, at 40 or 50 years old, whereas the Catfords that remained back in Dulverton and Sampford Peverell were replete with octogenarians. There is perhaps some argument to be made here, in favour of avoiding legal battles! William Hardy Catford fell on hard times financially, retired to Melbury Bubb (also known as Bubdown) in Dorset, and sold Boomer manor in 1761 . He died in 1765 and was succeeded by his daughter, Catherine Morley of Ilminster in Somerset . The rolls for Dulverton in 1581 list William, John and Robert Catford

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