Our interest in Cornwood comes, as many OPC interests do, from our own family history and its connection with this part of Devon. We have found many generations of ancestors who lived, worked, raised families and were buried in the parish. As we have searched further we have found them, not surprisingly, interconnected with many other local families as well as with other individuals in neighbouring areas. Where they originally came from and where many have since gone constitutes the story that is still being assembled and written.

Shepheards in Cornwood
By W. Wayne Shepheard (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)

The history of my direct Shepheard ancestors in Cornwood, Devon can be traced, so far, back to my GGGGGGGG-Grandfather Nicholas Shepheard ( -1657) and ended when my GG Grandfather John Shepheard (1830-1901) took his family to Torquay, Devon sometime around 1875. It was in Torquay that one of John’s sons, my Great Grandfather James Shepheard (1865-1940), met and married a young lady by the name of Mary Elizabeth Pearson (1867-1891), originally from Warwickshire, and where my Grandfather James Pearson Shepheard (1891-1965) was born.

Mary, unfortunately, died when James Pearson was only an infant and his raising passed first to his Warwickshire grandparents, Charles (1828- ) and Susanna Pearson (1832- ), who lived in Leamington Spa, and later to his Uncle William John Shepheard (1855-1908) in Torquay. He left England in 1907 and emigrated to Alberta, Canada. His father James followed in 1912, living first with his son and later homesteading near a town called, curiously, Carnwood, Alberta. That’s the short story of how our Canadian line was established, but here is where I really want to describe our Cornwood, Devon family.

Information on the Shepheard family in Devon starts with Nicholas Shepheard ( -1657) and his wife, Margarett ( -1685) and ends eight generations later with my Grandfather James Pearson Shepheard. I am still looking for records showing from where Nicholas and Margarett originated. Early Cornwood parish baptism, marriage and burial documents were apparently destroyed in a fire in the parish clerk’s residence in the late 1600’s thus there are few records prior to 1685.

I did find a will for Nicholas published after he died in 1657. In it were named his eight living children. Baptism dates for two of his sons, John and William were gleaned from very limited Bishop’s records still in existence. The details of Nicholas’ will give the approximate ages and order of birth of his children.

From Nicholas’ third son, my GGGGGGG Grandfather Sampson (ca 1633-1685), developed the line that leads to me. Court records of a lawsuit brought by his brother William, concerning his will, add some details about his family and my GGGGGG Grandfather Nicholas (ca 1665-1756). It seems William contested the will that left everything to Sampson’s minor-aged son Nicholas. William lost the case!

The first we see of GGGGGG Grandfather Nicholas and his wife, Amy Prideaux ( -1751) in Cornwood is a marriage entry in 1709, written simply and briefly into the register of St. Michael’s All Angels Church. No other definitive information is given as to their parents, their place of birth or occupation.

From GGGGGG Grandfather Nicholas, my direct line actually flows through two of his sons: Nicholas (1716-1786) and Richard Shepheard (1726-1803). Nicholas, the son, had a daughter, Jane Treby Shepheard (1769-1851), who married her first cousin, John Shepheard (1768-1845), one of the sons of Richard.

GGGGG Richard married Mary Collins (1735-1797) in 1761 in Cornwood and it is there that they apparently resided throughout their life together.

GGGGG Grandfather Nicholas married Mary Barrett (1732-1802) in Ermington, in 1760. He was active in Cornwood parish and community and was the Church Warden for St. Michael’s All Angels when some of the bells in the church tower were installed. His name is engraved on those bells along with the manufacturer. He was also a property owner in Rook and may have acted as the local tax assessor and collector.

Nicholas’ and Mary’s son John Shepheard, my GGGG Grandfather, was a carpenter in the Cornwood area. He and his wife, Jane Treby lived in Cornwood until their deaths.
My next direct link is GGG Grandfather John Shepheard (1792-1870), son of John and Jane Treby, who was also a carpenter in the Cornwood and Plympton St. Mary areas. He married Ann Symons (1800-1882), also from Cornwood, in 1826. They lived in Underwood, part of Plympton St. Mary in their later years.

John and Ann also had a son named John (1830-1901), the GG Grandfather mentioned above, who eventually moved away from Cornwood. He married Mary Carpenter (1830-1890), of Cornwood, in 1855. In various censuses his occupation is given as coal agent, coal merchant, carrier and dairyman and they lived in a variety of places, including Stoke Dameral (part of Plymouth), Dinnaton, Ivybridge and Torquay.

Most of the above individuals, along with their spouses, were baptized in St. Michael’s Church. All were married there. And all are now buried in the cemetery beside the chapel, completing their journey through life and in Cornwood Parish. They raised their families in and around Cornwood Parish. Most of their children were also baptized and married by successive Vicars in St. Michael’s in Cornwood.

The family line is never simple of course. We also share ancestors with many other families, from Cornwood or nearby areas. Along the way, my Shepheard grandfathers married young ladies from, as mentioned, the Prideaux, Barrett, Collins, Symons and Carpenter lines, all of which families are, as a result, directly linked to me. Other Aunts, Uncles and cousins married into families with the names: Beale, Bidder, Chapple, Cleave, Ford, Edgecombe, Elliott, Gray, Hillson, Light, Mumford, Neals, Oliver, Parson, Penny, Rickard, Sanders, Saunders, Short, Vine and Watts. And those are just the ones I know about right now!

Some of these individuals came from distant areas. Many were part of well-established Cornwood families. From each of them, many more branches of our expanding family tree were created. At times, it’s hard to imagine that we do not share ties with most of the families that inhabited the Cornwood area over the decades.

Many of the parish records indicated the Shepheards had some education. Where they were required to sign their names, the majority did, and consistently spelled their last name the same as we do now. Headstones on the graves in St. Michael’s cemetery confirm the spelling. Most clerks, vicars and others recording information did not spell the surnames as did the individuals themselves though, thus the historical record has Shepherds, Shephards, Sheppards, and even Shiphards! In due course some even have changed the original spelling and adopted what was officially recorded.

Shepheard men worked at a variety of occupations although there were a large number of carpenters in my direct line. This might well be an hereditary trait, as we Shepheard men, as a rule, still like to build things. In the Cornwood area, the families were also farmers, husbandmen and masons, as well as agricultural and general labourers. Several were land-owners in the area. The occupations chosen certainly appear to have led to friendships and social interaction as we find that marriages were often among children of people working in similar trades.

Inevitably, I’m sure, work opportunities, maybe particularly for tradesmen, took people away from the area. Certainly the Shepheard families diminished in number over the years. By 1901, according to the census taken that year, only two people with the Shepheard surname and closely related to me, were left in Cornwood, Nicholas (1839- ), a widower and Richard (1829-1903), still shown as single at age 71, because of his infirmity (“dumb from childhood” according to the 1901 census).

Whether wanderlust or economics took the family members elsewhere is anyone’s guess at this point, but the era of the Shepheard family in the area seems to have ended by the beginning of the twentieth century.