John Stentiford and Elizabeth Pike

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We've visited Zeal Monachorum before. There was a brief visit in Issue 2 then we met James and Mehala Stentiford for the first time in Issue 4 after which Janet Hiscocks continued the story of this, her family, in Issue 14.

It's a straggling village with a centre of sorts. The parish meanders across some of the best farming country in Devon - rich, red clay soil known locally as "the red lands". Since there are other villages less than 2 miles away from the church in Zeal, it's very hard to know where one parish ends and another begins. It's even doubtful if the inhabitants themselves were always certain in which parish they lived - in bygone days, the chief landowners delineated their properties by ancient field boundaries and, irrespective of parish boundaries existing on paper, their holdings ran freely in - and out - of Zeal Monachorum, Bow (also known as Nymet Tracey), Broad Nymet (whose records are to be found in the Bow Parish Register),  and Down St. Mary. A single farm might have its labourer's cottages lying in different parishes - now how's that for a trap for the unwary family historian? 


From White's Directory of 1850:

"It was anciently called "Sele Monachorum" and had the latter part of its name from its being long held by the monastery of Buckfast, to which it was given by King Canute"

Zeal Monachorum Parish Church

Zeal Monachorum Parish Church


The middle years of the 18th century are critical for Stentiford historians interested in the families who migrated to the north of Dartmoor. One of the reasons why it is so difficult to trace the family accurately is to be found among the Zeal Parish Register entries for 1755. After recording the death of the Rector, there is a poignant note, probably written by one of the churchwardens, which says:

"This year a malignant fever raged much here and proved very fatal"

Most probably the illness which caused such chaos in the village was typhus which is caused by insanitary and crowded living conditions and can be spread by fleas. It seems certain that rapid burials were more important to the community than record-keeping and in any event, a new Rector would not have been appointed until the epidemic had died down. The very limited number of Christian names in use at this time makes the accurate tracing of an individual very, very difficult and, of course, two of Zeal's contiguous parishes - Bondleigh and North Tawton are not included in the IGI.

However, no IGI records whatsoever have been referred to during the compilation of this article so these findings will not necessarily agree with those shown on some Stentiford family trees.

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