the cobley family history
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It is from this tiny village that Uncle Tom Cobley, and friends, travelled to the famous Widecombe Fair, which lies about 15 miles due south, on an 18th century lad’s day out.

The village of Spreyton nestles among the green pastures to the north of Dartmoor. The population has changed very little over the years - 333 in 1801 to 291 in 1981.

The pastel painted thatched cottages lining the street reminded me of sugared almonds and there are references all around to Spreyton’s most famous inhabitant. There is ‘Tom Cobley Cottage’ and the ‘Tom Cobley Tavern’ and in the graveyard of Spreyton church lies Tom Cobley himself. An entry in the church register for Thomas Cobley who was buried on 11th January 1844 states that he is ‘ said to be the subject of the well known song.’

Certainly there were two Thomas Cobleys who were considerable land and property owners in Spreyton and nearby Colebrooke - the younger having inherited it from his great uncle and namesake.
Despite being one of 8 children, the Cobley name had died out in Spreyton by 1851, seven years after Uncle Tom’s death.

Hazel Lockhart © 2001


for information on the song "Widecombe Fair" click here

from White's Devonshire Directory, 1850

Spreyton is a village with several neat Houses, on a lofty eminence, about 8 miles E. by N. of Okehampton, and 17 miles W. by N. of Exeter. Its parish contains 3600 acres of land, and 404 inhabitants. The manor was held, for a long period, by the Talbots, whose heiress carried it in marriage to the Kelly family in the reign of Henry VI. It was sold to various freeholders during the last century, and now belongs to Messrs. W.H. Battishull, W.C. Cann, G.L. Gowin, Jno. Norris, Geo. Cann, the Rev. G. Hole, the Rev. R. Holland, and a few smaller owners. Fuidge House, the seat of J. Norris, Esq., is a neat cemented structure, and is pleasantly situated, as also is Barton, the seat of W. H. Battishull, Esq. The Church (St. Michael,) is a plain structure, with a handsome tower, containing five bells, and commanding extensive views in which 30 parish churches are seen. The font is of granite, with some rude figures carved upon it. The screen was removed about 70 years ago, except a few fragments in the clerk's seat. The chancel is of later date than the nave and aisles, and has upon its roof a long Latin inscription, recording that it was rebuilt by Richd. Talbot, in 1451. The church is approached by an avenue of fine trees, and near the entrance is a venerable oak, the decaying trunk of which measures 40 feet in girth at the bottom. The benefice is a discharged vicarage, valued in K.B. at £10. 5s. 8d., and in 1831 at £135. The Rev. Richd. Holland, M.A., is patron and incumbent, and has held the living since 1802. He has a good residence, and 82A. ofglebe. The small tithes were commuted in 1844 for £117. 10s. per annum, but the great tithes belong to the land owners, and were formerly appropriated to Tavistock Abbey. The poor parishioners have £3 a year, as the rent of a fourth part of Bush tenement, purchased with £45, given by unknown donors. They have also two annuities of 20s. each, left by Thos. Hoare and John Cann, but that left by the latter ceases in 1857.

Battishull Wm. Harrington, Esq. Barton
Battishull John, gent. Wick
Battishull John, surgeon
Cann Wm. C. gent. Northbeer
Dalve Henry, stone mason
Gowin Geo. Lambert, Esq.
Harvey John, carpenter
Holland Rev Richd., M.A. Vicarage
Honeychurch Wm. shopkeeper.
& carrier
Lavis Edward, schoolmaster
Martin Wm. butcher and victular.
The White Hart
Middlewick Joshua, shoemaker
Newton John, wheellwright. & My. shopkeeper
Norris John, Esq. Fudge House
Northcott Richd. sexton, &c.


Hill Samuel
Vigers Wm.

Cole John
Cole Wm.
Jackman Thos.
Martin Simon
Norris John, jun
Powlesland Saml.
Powlesland Wm.
Shopland Jas.
Vanstone John
Weeks John

Honeychurch Ts.
Vigers Saml.

From the Doomsday Book 1086

Osferth held it before 1066. It paid tax for 2 hides. Land for 12 ploughs. In lordship 2 ploughs; 3 slaves; 3 vigrates. 14 villagers and 10 smallholders with 6 ploughs and 1 hide an 1 vigrate.
meadow, 3 acres; pasture, 10 acres; woodland 1 league long and 2 furlongs wide. 11 cattle; 60 sheep; 35 goats.
Formerly 50s; now 60s


A plough team with its eight oxen and the plough itself. The measure of a carucate was originally the amount of land which such a team could plough in one day.

A villager of higher class than a Villager, with more land and obligations

A member of the peasant class with most land.

A peasant, usually with more land than a cottager but less than a villager.