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A court case in 1699 provides a fascinating insight into family life three hundred years ago. The prosecutor was one Henry Thorne and the principal defendants were the Bulled brother Amos and Robert. The original document is tedious to read and proves the point that a lawyer will not use one word when ten will do. No doubt even then they charged by the hour.

Henry Thorne is the Bulleds' brother-in-law. Amos and Robert are about 48 and 43 respectively when the story starts in 1690. Thorne owns a half-share ("moiety") in a farm called "Pixyweeke" in Kings Nympton, two or three miles from Romansleigh where the Bulleds live. He has leased the other half from three people who are living, but the lease will expire on their deaths. He has also leased a farm called "Hobbyhouse" in Mariansleigh. He lives in Pixyweeke with his wife and daughter, both called Susanna, and other children.


Hobby House Farm 2007

Hobby House Farm, Alswear, in the Parish of Mariansleigh - 2007

The only approach to the farm is via a steep, unmade track leading down from the escarpment just glimpsed above the buildings.

© Richard J. Brine


On 22 March 1690, Thorne had acquired from William Webber of Chulmleigh the moiety of Pixyweeke for a term of 99 years to commence on Thorne's death and end on the deaths of his wife and daughter. He owed £36 to Webber and another £3.. 16s.. 0p to various other people for repairing the premises, maintaining his children etc. He assigned this moiety for a period of 40 years from the date of his death to the Bulleds and George Tossell in exchange for settlement of the debts.

By 1 September "in the second year of the reign of William and Mary" (1690), Thorne is again in financial difficulty, owing a total of £184 to ten people including a miller and the Vicar of Burrington. He has failed to honour his bonds and we can imagine the pressure he is under. The Bulleds and Tossell agree to settle and/or take over these debts and the parties sign a Deed of Trust transferring the two properties to the Bulleds and Tossell for 40 years, or as long as Thorne shall live. They have the right to sell his goods and possessions as well as sell or rent the properties. They can recover their payments to Thorne's creditors from the rents etc., or sale proceeds:


"And likewise by the same deed and for the same consideration and purpose did grant bargaine and sell to the said George Tossell, Robert and this defendant Amos Bulled, their Executors and Administrators, all these his the complainant's good therein mentioned (viz.) two tableboards, two forms, seaven framed stools, eleaven pewter dishes, one Tinn Tankard, two brass potts, two brass pans and skillet, three brandirons, three pairs of pottcrooks, two potthangings, two chairs, three standing bedsteads, three feather beds, five feather bolsters, two little feather pillows and the Ruggs, coverlets, Blanketts and sheets commonly used with the said beds, two sheets, two Bedds and the coverletts and Blanketts therewith commonly used, one hogshead, eight Barrells, a parcell of vessell staves, a parcell of hoops, three mare, one Milch cow, three young bullocks, thirty sheep, six pigs, and the corne and hay in the Barne and Pallett att Pixyweeke aforesaid, one syder press or apple wring, and a pounding trough with a covenant for enjoyment therof, under a proviso nevertheless that if the said complainant, his executors and Administrators, should in a month's tyme next after the date of the same deed procure all the said Bonds to be lawfully cancelled and delivered upp, and in the meantime should defend and indemnifie the said George Tossell, Robert Bulled and Amos Bulled this defendant, that then the same deed was to be void."


Three weeks later, on 27 September, Thorne has failed to repay the Bulleds and Tossell, whereupon he signs over to them all the apples he has harvested and all his other goods and chattels not included in the original deed "except only two dry cows, a small sow pigg, which the complainant had from his motherlaw, the corne in Hobbyhouse barne, beare and syder and all his and his familyes apparell and his bookes and ready money." So he was all right for bread and a glass of beer or cider but otherwise they had him by his apples!

But his troubles were not over. More debts were due, including 15/- for corn and malt, so on 18 October he signed another deed authorising the Bulleds and Tossell to fell and keep or sell his trees on Pixyweeke.

Hobbyhouse and various goods were eventually sold to Richard Bawdon for £76, giving us an idea of the scale of Thorne's indebtedness.

On 25 March 1694, Pixyweeke, with the exception of four parcels of land, is rented to Peter Rule for 7 years at £15 per annum. Unfortunately, Rule cannot keep up with the rent and in November 1698 Amos Bulled goes to demand what is due: 


"Hee this defendant Amos in pursuance to a power to him referred in the Lease or Covenants made to the said Rule as aforesaid on the twentieth day after Lady Day last past, did repaire to the premises demised to the said Rule as aforesaid and then and there did demand the rent then due and in arrears from the said Rule. And the same being not then paid thoe this defendant tarryed there untill sun sett and there being then noe sufficient distresse whereby to levy the said rent in arrear, this defendant Amos did then cutt up a turfe in the premises demised to the said Rule and entered thereon and claymed the same." 


He sends in the bailiffs, later claiming that there were two bailiffs and a servant and that the distraint was peaceable, whereas in Thorne's version there were 12 or 13 bailiffs and it was violent. Amos says that Rule didn't have much and all he got was one little cow, eight . . .and one small . . .(both illegible). These animals were driven to the pound at Witheridge where their sale, with Rule's other goods, made a profit of £6..0s..9p, the costs having been £1..12s..4p. Thorne complains that they were sold for well under market value and that there was no need to drive the cattle to Witheridge, six or seven miles away, when there were other pounds nearby.

The Bulleds (Tossell having died soon after signing the 1690 deed) then let part of Pixyweeke to Thomas Nott for a year for £3, another part to John Furse, for a year at £.. 10s.. 0p and the remainder to Robert Tirkell for a year for £6.. 10s.. 0p.

In May 1699, claiming to have been unable to recoup the costs of settling Thorne's debts and to have been forced to borrow £40 from Richard Stevens of Buckland Brewer and £20 from Thomas Nott, the Bulleds assigned Pixyweeke to Stevens and Nott for 10 years, if Thorne should live that long. The deed provides that Stevens should receive 2/3rds of the profits and Nott 1/3rd and that they were " not to molest the said Robert and this defendant Amos Bulled on the bonds given for securing the same money." On 13 June Nott assigns his 1/3rd share to Stevens.

This is all too much for Thorne and in July he issues a Bill of Complaint addressed to the Right Hon. John, Lord Somers, Baron of Evesham, Lord High Chancellor of England. The substance of his complaint is that the Bulleds, Tossell's son and heir, Rule, Nott, Furse, Tirkell and others whose names are unknown to him, have formed a "confederacy" to defraud him of Pixyweeke, leaving him and his family destitute. He claims that the Bulleds, having become insolvent, abused the original trust, taking profits out of Pixyweeke to settle their own debts rather than those they had taken over from him etc. etc.

The outcome is unknown, but it is interesting to have this insight into financial matters before banking was widely established in England. Goldsmiths used to lend against gold and silver in the 17th century, but it is patently obvious that Thorne and Rule were more at the pewter and tin level. The Bank of England was founded in 1694 but there was no Barclays or NatWest in Kings Nympton to lend against property. Interesting also to note how property was divided into shares, leased and so on.


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