William Stentiford's Lease

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The County of Devon has one of the largest and most complete collections of documents to be found in the United Kingdom. Many are housed in the Devon Record Office in Exeter and are easily accessible to the public. But the further back you go in time, the more important each document becomes as part of our collective National Archive and so, many early records are housed in the Public Record Office in London. Stentifords owe their chance to look back across the ages to one such document – penned in Latin on fine-quality parchment called vellum, a brief legal contract between William Stentiford and others has survived from nearly 600 years ago that pinpoints the origins of the family. On its own, the lease would have been of great value to us, but because it relates to land (and this being England) supporting evidence is to be found on maps.

A translation of the original document, can be found in “The Calendar of Tavistock” by R.N.Worth. The “Calendar” is a reference guide to all legal documents still extant, which relate to that ancient Borough. A reference to this document can also be found among the proceedings of the Devon and Cornwall History Society - Volume 14, Page 114.

By 1470, John Smerdon, Robert’s son and heir, had moved to London and in this year, he registered a quit claim, passing ownership of the head lease on the properties which had been assigned to John Gye, Thomas Nyoke and William Stentiford in 1464, to William Cadle, a mercer of Tavistock. We do not know the length of the original lease but 999 year leases are not uncommon in Devon, even today. In effect, Gye, Nyoke and Stentiford were nominally freeholders, liable to pay a small annual ground rent to the owner of the head lease on their property. It would have been very difficult for John Smerdon to collect these rents from London so he sold out for a lump sum to a local man. If any of the lessees failed to pay their ground rent each year, their lease would be broken and their property would revert to William Cadle or his heirs.

Images sourced from www.godecookery.com


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