The faces of history – Thomas Loaring Plucknett

Thomas Loaring Plucknett about 1875
Thomas Loaring Plucknett about 1875

Thomas Loaring Plucknett born in 1809 at Thorverton in Devon was my great great great grandfather. For those of you who have been following this series (thank you) he was the father of Lizzy Plucknett (the recipient of the Valentine’s Day poem and future bride of Francis George Sternberg).

I think it is my favourite ‘ancestor’ photo. Somehow the man’s strength of character and determination stand out over the years. It is also the oldest direct ancestor photograph that I possess, albeit a copy of the original.

My father spent a lot of time researching the Plucknetts and TLP in particular. This is an extract from a letter he wrote to a very helpful local historian in Devon in 1993.

…My gt.grandmother was Elizabeth Plucknett, baptised at St. Paul’s, Exeter…… Her grandfather, Thomas Plucknett married Elizabeth Loaring at St. Sidwell, Exeter, and, unusually for that time, the marriage register gives his occupation – Drummer in the Marines, Plymouth Division. I followed this up in Admiralty records, and found that he enrolled in 1796 and was discharged, unfit, in 1803, which was when he came to live in Thorverton. His baptism was given as 1791 (sic) at St. Sidwells. Presumably he settled in Thorverton because it was his wife’s home, but I have not yet done a great deal of work on the Loarings.
I was greatly puzzled for many years because I could not find his son, Thomas (Loaring) Plucknett in the 1861 census. Two attempts, with a 20 year interval, failed. Recently, without going into details, I found him in London……. Before he left Thorverton, his second daughter married a William Henry Clout, a butcher of Kennington. W. H Clout was also a witness at the marriages of the next two daughters, Sarah and Lucy in 1870 and 1871 (both at Clapham). He was evidently quite important in the family and I am wondering if he originally went to Devon to buy stock and later persuaded his father-in law that it would be a good move to go to London. This, of course, is only supposition and probably quite wrong.

Much as I respect my Dad’s research on the above and so many details of our family history, I can’t help feeling that he rather misinterpreted TLP being in London in the 1861 census. It seems to me that he was either staying close to the Clouts’ home in Bradley Terrace, Lambeth, or that TLP and his wife had a London base of their own – in other words he was only visiting London. I do think though, that his guess at W. H. Clout’s reason for visiting Thorverton  makes sense. The arrival of the railways in Victorian Britain saw the end of traditional cattle droving, with a rise in live meat and dairy transport to Smithfield and other markets in London.

He is described as what I think is a ‘Butterman (Master)’ in the 1861 census – the handwritten version is difficult to decipher and gave Dad trouble – but this would tie in with his description in 1878 as a ‘dairyman’. I think Dad was quite right about William Henry Clout’s influence though with regard to trading in London.

thomaslplucknettlambeth1861click to enlarge

He was living in Thorverton in 1871 and died there in 1880, at the age of 70.

Dad continues in the same letter –

The other matter that interests me is the mill. Edward Coombe married Thomas Plucknett’s daughter, at Thorverton, in 1823, and is described in the marriage licence bond as a miller. He ran the mill at Feniton until he died in 1840 and then his sons Thomas Loaring and James Coombe ran it successively. They had another brother, Edwin, and I am wondering if it was he who later took over Thorverton Mill. Thomas Plucknett’ younger son, James Summers Plucknett. was also a miller, first at Tipton St. Johns and then at Honiton.

My grandmother had a story that her grandfather (Thomas Loaring P) defended his mill with a pitchfork single-handed against anti-corn law rioters, but as he was never a miller this cannot be true. But I have found out that there were food riots in the Honiton area in the 1840s, so it could have been one of the other members of the family.

TLP's bread-baking ovens. Exposed during renovations at the Bury, Thorverton
TLP's bread-baking ovens. Exposed during renovations at the Bury, Thorverton

TLP was a forceful character, well illustrated by this extract from the Western Times, 01 Jun 1869.

“Thomas Plucknett, of Thorverton, was summoned by Mr T. Hutchings, lessee of the Cattle Market (at Exeter), with an assault. Complainant stated that on the 21st he was standing inside the market gate counting some sheep that were being driven in, when defendant came up with twelve pigs which he tried to mix up with the sheep. There are double gates, but one of these was locked at the time in order that complainant might count the sheep. Defendant then asked for the key of a gate at the higher end of the market, and on complainant refusing to let him have it he pushed the closed gate as hard as he could and knocked complainant violently. The defence was that as the pigs were likely to be hurt by a waggon passing at the time, defendant merely pushed the gate open to prevent the pigs being killed. The Bench said that this did not justify the assault and fined defendant £5 and expenses.”

TLP seems to have had a rather defiant nature all of his life. When he married Harriet Tootell in April 1829, they were both under 21 and therefore needed parents’ permission. Bearing in mind the fact that their daughter Lizzy was born in July 1829, it is easy to imagine that the teenage Thomas had left Thorverton and gone to the ‘big city’ of Exeter where life was less restrictive than that in a small village. His father Thomas was by this time well established in Thorveton and within a couple of years of his marriage, TLP was back establishing his bakery business in the Bury. Lizzy and her sister Emma left Thorverton at a young age and TLP seems to have tried his hand a several ventures from baking bread to cattle dealing.

In 1854,Thomas Kingdon (cider manufacturer) of Netherexe took Thomas Loaring Plucknett, baker, to court over the latter’s manuring (or not manuring)  two meadows he leased from the former and his seeding out (or not seeding out) an orchard. Through his solicitor, Plucknett insisted that he had manured and seeded out the land in accordance with the terms of his agreement in a proper husbandman-like manner.
The Judge’s decision seems to have been that he was guilty, but not by much. He awarded the plaintiff not the £10 demanded but merely 7s 1d.

He was not an exucutor of Thomas Plucknett’s final will made in 1860, shortly before his death and only a week after the death of his daughter, Sarah Coombe. The sole executor was James, TLP’s younger brother by five years and whilst all of Thomas’s three children, (or heirs), were beneficiaries, James had authority to make decisions about retention and disposal of property. This was perhaps  strange, since TLP was the eldest son.

Maybe, just maybe, Thomas senior did not trust the judgement and business acumen of his first-born.

Thomas senior’s will seems to have led to futher negotiation with TLP’s niece Elizabeth (née Coombe) and her husband John Beard, three years later in 1863 –

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

August 3rd 1863

In consideration of the sum of nineteen pounds sterling paid by me this day by Thomas Loaring Plucknett of No. 15 Bradley Terrace in the Parish of Lambeth, Surrey, I assign unto the said Thomas Loaring Plucknett my one twenty first share in the estate of the late Thomas Plucknett of Thorverton, Devon to which my Wife Elizabeth Beard is entitled under the will of the said Thomas Plucknett and hereby agree that all monies and proceeds to arise out of the sale of the said —- Leasehold and personal property being 1/21 st share thereof unto the said Thomas Loaring Plucknett and the said Thomas Loaring Plucknett hereby agrees to free the said John Beard from all or any liability that may arise in reference to the settlement of the said estate

John Beard
Elizabeth Beard
Thomas Plucknett
Solicitor’s signature.

The one twenty first share is interesting, since it presumably is calculated as one seventh of one third share. Edward Coombe and his wife (née Sarah Loaring Plucknett – TLP’s sister) had seven children, so they must all have lived beyond childhood (Edward died in 1840 – the year of his youngest son’s birth) and been living in 1863. This was an unusually high survival rate for a Victorian family.


The Bury (Berry in older documents) leads from the church, left to Bullen Street running vertically.

The Dolphin Hotel (now Thorverton Arms) is the long building at the T junction between The Bury and Bullen Street

The Church and churchyard where several of my ancestors – Loarings and Plucknetts – are buried is to the right and slightly below centre.

Plucknett graves in Thorverton churchyard
Plucknett graves in Thorverton churchyard

The small tombstone in the centre has the inscription:

Thomas Loaring Plucknett, late of Thorverton, born 9th Sep. 1809, died 22nd July 1880
also Emma, wife of the above, died 6th Oct. 1885 in her 74th year.

Harriet, Thomas’s first wife and my 3Ggrandmother, has her memorial on the stone next but one to the right, which is that of Thomas senr and Sarah (née Loaring)

Loaring tombstone reads - Sarah Loaring died July 3rd 1785 aged 36 also Nathaniel Loaring died June 27th 1806 aged 36 ……………………………. also Joseph Loaring died October 14th 1827 aged 51 also Thomas Loaring
Loaring tombstone reads - Sarah Loaring died July 3rd 1785 aged 36 also Nathaniel Loaring died June 27th 1806 aged 36 ……………………………. also Joseph Loaring died October 14th 1827 aged 51 also Thomas Loaring

Although Thomas Loaring P’s children were baptised in the Anglican church, he was not a docile parishioner. He objected to an increased church rate in 1865 (DWT 2 Jun): … The Vicar resisted the amendment proposed by a non-churchgoer (at which) “Mr Plucknett said he didn’t go to church because he had been turned out of his seat, and he wasn’t coming to church, for nobody could benefit or learn anything from the reverend gentleman (laughter)”.

The reference is to a new seating plan of 1864, from which his name is absent.

I am descended from TLP and his first wife Harriet (Tootell). Sadly, no photo of Harriet exists to my knowledge. TLP’s maternal grandmother was Sarah Tothill Summers, probably the daughter of Sarah Kellan and her first husband Thomas Tothill (on his death she married Simon Summers), It seems likely that Tootell is simply a variant of Tothill, so that Harriet had roots, or at least relatives in Thorverton. In fact there are  records of Tothills being baptised in the village church going back to around 1640.

So the Plucknetts, Loarings and Tothills were very much families of that part of Devon for two or three centuries.

Thomas Loaring Plucknett and his second wife Emma. The handwritten description is by Elizabeth Plucknett, TLP's daughter, Emma's stepdaughter.

His second marriage to Emma Babbage (whose photo is entitled ‘His Wife’ by Lizzy) produced two daughters, Sarah Babbage Plucknett (b1844), Lucy Harriet Plucknett (b1845)  and a son, Tom Babbage Plucknett (b1849)

Charlie Thomas Plucknett and Eva about1930
Charlie Thomas Plucknett and Eva about1930

Tom’s son, Charlie Thomas Plucknett married Eva Price and their daughters Dora and May were the last Plucknetts to live in Thorverton. The sisters ran the Dairy, Thorverton’s shop, which finally closed in 2007. May died in 1992 but Dora had almost reached her hundredth birthday when she died at Crediton in 2006.

Dora and May Plucknett, about 1914
Dora and May Plucknett, about 1914

My father met Dora Plucknett (his half second cousin once removed !)  in Thorverton in 1996, adding another ‘face’ to these pages of history.

Lucy Harriet’s descendants live in Australia from where both Dad and I have exchanged information with Helen Swaine.

Sarah Babbage Plucknett spent most of her life at East Molesey in Surrey – more details to follow from Rosemary Binnie as mentioned in her comment, below.

My thanks to Ian Stoyle of Thorverton for his help with so many details.

John Winchurch


12 thoughts on “The faces of history – Thomas Loaring Plucknett

  1. I enjoyed looking at your pages. If you ever need Loaring ancestry going back I have it (from Maurice Loaring: you may already know about him). There is a mill in Honiton that was operated by Loarings I think as far back as 1700s, on 1704 tax records William Loaring and Mary, refurbished as a private residence in 1986 by Ian Lange and Architect (?) of John Wood, Honiton. Thomas Loaring Plucknett is descended from them.

    All the best,
    David Loaring,
    Burlington, Ontario, Canada

  2. Thanks for your comment David and the subsequent information about our mutual ancestors in Devon. I will incorporate this in a new page soon.

  3. Found these pages really interesting as I did not know much about the Plucknetts except they were connected to the Berry Dairy. My gt grandmother was Sarah Babbage Plucknett, as you say she married in Clapham but the family lived all their married life in East Molesey, Surrey where her husband, William Crick was a postman and later an insurance man. I have a photo of William and Sarah with their two children if you are interested.

  4. Hi John,
    I have realy enjoyed reading about the Loarings and looking at the pictures, i only wish my mum was alive so she to could see part of her family history.
    Well done John and thank you
    from your very distant cousin

  5. very interesting, my late dad (thomas archibald loaring ) cousin of maurice mentioned by david in canada.
    i have a tree on and have also conected from WINSHAM, SOMERSET to australia where loarings have publised their tree on;line. tracing the past is facinating, we didn’t realize just how far the family had spread

  6. John, I live in St Ives Australia.My paternal grandmother was Sofina Plucknett(b1873the daughter of Elijah Plucknettb1835 Queen Camel Somerset the son of Frederick Plucknett & Sarah Martin. Elija arrived Australia 1857 & married Susan Jolliffe.
    Since I have retired I am doing the family history.Thank you for your website.

  7. Thank you Joy. I’m glad you have found the website useful. I would be interested to know more about Elijah when you have time ?

  8. John.
    ..Elijah had a land grant on arrival in Aust.His farm Stream Hill was on the South Coast.Susan was a midwife.They had five children Susannah,SarahJane,Ellen Elizabeth,
    .A brother James had a VinegarFactory in Bristol& when he came to Aust had a Coach Building firm in ChermsideBrisbane..Brothers Samual& George also came to Australia. Samuel’s son Edgar Ewart Plucknett, was awarded the Military Cross in 1918.Another brother Frederick lived in Bristol & was given an OBE in 1919 by the King for Military Service.
    A lot of information I have came from Donald
    Plucknett in Annandale America.He reseached
    The Plucknett Family back to 1066!


  9. John,In doing more research into family history, I have found that Elijah’s brother Frederick died 1895 aged 51 years in Queen Camel Somerset.

    The Frederick who lived in Bristol was Elijah’s brother James’s son Frederick. Elijah’s nephew. He married Lizzie Jane Morris and lived in Bristol.

    Another nephew James Vincent Plucknett came
    to Australia (he was Frederick’s brother) and he recieved a telegram informing him of his brother’s OBE in 1919.


  10. John
    I was very interested to read your page about Thomas Loaring Plucknett. TLP and his second wife, Emma Babbage are the great, great, great grandparents of me, Carol Hull (nee Osborne) and my 3 siblings (Daphne, Ralph and Thomas). We would be very interested in sharing and gathering any further information. We share the Plucknett – Crick line with Rosemary Binnie
    Best wishes

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