Chapter One: Rural Idyll
It’s 1685 , in south Devon, near the Erme Estuary.
Richard Gardiner – oldest recorded member of the Gardiner family – was born, we don’t know where, or exactly when. Nothing is known about his family – or any details of Richard’s own life, apart from the year of his birth, the name of the woman he married, and at least some of his children’s names.
One thing is fairly clear, Richard did not come from Holbeton. There are no Gardiners christened in Holbeton before 1700, but plenty after. So did he come from nearby Modbury?
The English Civil war took place in the 1640s. Richard’s grandparents would probably have been children (but not necessarily, they could have been adults) – and quite possibly Richard’s Gt Grandparents would have been involved. Richard may well have been regaled with stories of the two battles that took place in Modbury during the civil War.
Nearby Plymouth had sided with the Parliamentarians and was besieged for almost four years by the Royalists. The last major attack by the Royalist was by Sir Richard Grenville leading thousands of soldiers towards Plymouth, but they were defeated.
The first battle in Modbury was a minor royalist victory on December 9, 1642, when a small Royalist force put to flight a smaller Parliamentarian force. The second Battle of Modbury occurred on February 21, 1643 when the Royalists forces, expecting an attack by Parliamentarian forces assembled at nearby Kingsbridge, had fortified the town. Outnumbered approximately four to one, and running short of ammunition, the royalists retreated. This victory was largely instrumental in the lifting of the Siege of Plymouth, and the driving of the encircling Royalist forces into Cornwall.
The civil war ended as a Parliamentary win, but monarchy was restored by King Charles II in 1649.
Modbury had also been particularly badly affected by the Black Death in the 17th century. The population in the town had been substantially reduced. But by late 1600s it had more or less disappeared, in fact not just locally, but from Europe as a whole
A further event that may have excited the locals was when William of Orange landed at Brixham in 1688, Plymouth became the first town in England to declare support for him. King William rewarded Plymouth for this in 1691 when he authorised work to begin on the first dock over to the west, on the banks of the Hamoaze. As this expanded through the 18th century, so too did the township around it, which was known as Plymouth Dock – eventually, East Stonehouse, where Richard’s Great Great grandson would find work, marry and live as a young man.
So Richard may have been born into relatively good times.
Richard was 19 when he married Joan Hooper , a girl from nearby Modbury. It is likely that Richard was living in Modbury , but Joan was from Holbeton.
Holbeton village is nine miles south east of Plymouth, described in the 19th century as " a large straggling village, on an eminence, set back a little from the beautiful wooded shores of the Erme estuary”, four miles from Modbury, “has in its parish 1120 souls, and 4623 acres of land, extending to Bigbury Bay, and including the hamlets of Mothecombe, Creacombe, and Ford, and many scattered farmhouses, &c. Lime is burnt here, and barges of 70 tons come up the estuary.”
Historically it formed part of Ermington Hundred. Just to the east is an Iron age enclosure or Hill fort known as Holbury
The banks of the Erme are lined with country houses, of which the most notable is Flete, in a large park, formerly the seat of Lord Mildmay.
Richard’s marriage took place in Holbeton on 15th of October 1704 – Joan was about 2 ½ months pregnant at the time.
The first child arrived at the end of April, christened on 2nd of May. Named Richard. Then a daughter, Ann, in early 1706, christened on 25th February.
There’s no record of kids from 1706 to 1709, but another son in 1710, christened on Christmas day in 1710 – named Richard, which suggests that the earlier Richard didn’t live long.
Christmas celebrations invented by the Victorians?
The last recorded child came along in 1713. Henry’s arrival brought about his mother’s demise. Christened Henry on 24th August, though the register reads “Henery”, and his mum was buried the following day on the 25th.
Richard, a widower at age 28, and with several kids, naturally, found a new wife and mother for his kids. Joan Scobel , also from Holbeton, christened 11th June 1691, was 6 years younger than Richard. She became his wife in 1719. Not before they had their first kid together though. Little Joan was born in Modbury, early in 1718 or 1719. Either way, her parents had not yet married. On 27th February she was Christened. The wedding took place in Holbeton on 24th July. Richard was 34. I have no idea what a wedding in 1719 was like, but if it was anything like a modern wedding, the kids would have been there, aged 6, 9, and 13. Joan in her best dress, possibly something with a lot of colours (?), Ann too, in her best clothes, the boys in suits – Sunday best. What other members of the family were there. Joan’s parents – William Shepherd and Agnes Scobel? Richard’s parents who’d have been around 60 by now, at least. Richard may have had siblings. Joan too. Friends?
Other Gardiners are recorded getting married – Samuel Gardiner married Deborah Rosedew in 1745 and Margaret Gardiner married Samuel Harvey – both during the 1700s, in Holbeton .
It looks very much as if Richard and Joan remained in Holbeton after marrying as that’s where all their kids were born/ christened from then on.
Margaret was born in 1725, christened on 30th July in Holbeton
John, in 1728 and Agnes in 1730 or 1731, christened on the 1st of January.
John was brought up with three sisters, one of them nearly a grown up herself.
By 1730 Richard, aged 45, had had at least 8 kids, the oldest of which were grown up.
After all that, he got no time to himself to enjoy his old age (if that was possible in those times) as he died aged 64, on the 27th of May 1749. Still in Holbeton, he was buried in the churchyard.
Young John, working as a labourer, maybe agricultural(?), married 3 months later – was he unable to marry while his father was still alive? On the 31st of August 1749 21 year old John got hitched to Bridget Barnes.
From 1752 till 1762, living in Holbeton, John and Bridget had at least 4 kids. Nicholas, Joseph, Richard and Ann. It can be supposed that these children had a wealth of cousins, uncles and aunts.
In 1762 John’s three sisters Margaret, Agnes, and Joan were in their late 30s – early 40’s and had probably married and had numerous kids.
At least one aunt – Joan – had married in Modbury and was still around in 1792, although by then living in Newton Ferrers. CHECK
John’s half siblings were between 49 and 57 – whereabouts still unknown.