Who was Thomas Plucknett ?

Over twenty years ago, my late father, Francis Victor Winchurch, an experienced Family Historian, was struggling to solve the mystery of just who Thomas Plucknett was.

Stories of the Plucknetts of Thorverton had been told through the generations. I have a treasured photograph of my great grandmother Alice PLUCKNETT Sternberg holding me as a toddler.


Alice was then almost ninety and her middle name carried Plucknetts to my generation and beyond. I still have her wooden travelling trunk, carefully restored by my brother some years ago, with the intials “A.P.S.” on its lid.

There is little doubt about the validity of the family line back from Alice, who was born in Bristol in 1856, the daughter of Elizabeth (nee Plucknett) Sternberg.

Elizabeth Plucknett was born in Exeter in 1829, the eldest daughter of Thomas Loaring Plucknett, baker of Thorverton.

Thomas Loaring Plucknett about 1875
Thomas Loaring Plucknett about 1875

and his first wife Harriet (nee Tootell)

Thomas Loaring Plucknett was the eldest son of Thomas Plucknett, born (according to the 1851 census) in Great Torrington. Thomas had a successful life in Thorverton. After joining the Royal Marines at the age of (about) fifteen in Plymouth in 1795, he became a drummer and was discharged (unfit) in 1802.

Thomas Plucknett, recruited into the Royal Marines on 22 June 1795 aged 15. Occupation- Labourer, Complexion – Fair, Eyes – Hazel, Hair – Dark brown. Discharged – Deemed unfit – 10 May 1802.

Thomas married Elizabeth Loaring (notice the continuity of Christian names) on 18 August 1800 and the couple settled in Thorverton, where the Loarings had lived for two generations.

Thomas and Elizabeth had two children in addition to Thomas Loaring, Sarah (1803) and James (1814)

Thomas was landlord of the Bell Inn in Thorverton and also a pig dealer. In addition he was active in both the Nonconformist and Anglican churches at various times and held property in the village.

There is, I understand, on the wall of the Exeter Inn, Thorverton, a list of the sittings allocated to parishioners in 1840. Thos Plucknett senior is listed as a pig dealer, while Thos Plucknett junior was a baker. Their families shared Pew No 41.

He died at the age of seventy eight in 1860 and is buried in Thorverton churchyard. His gravestone gives his date of death as 1 February 1860 and age at death as 75, although his death certificate , says 78. The latter is more likely.

This leads us to the “tricky bit”.

The only Thomas Plucknett birth record that fits, is an entry in Exeter St Sidwells for 24 February 1781 recording the birth of Thomas Plucknett BASE BORN (my capitals and emphasis) son of Margaret Plucknett.

That is it – no hint where Margaret was from and, of course no indication of the father’s name.

This birth occurred, of course, several decades before civil registration and birth certificates.

The next logical step for any family historian is to search parish records for a Margaret Plucknett who might fit in terms of age and proximity to Exeter.

There is really only one obvious candidate and that was and is Margaret Plucknett, then aged about thirty and from Great Torrington. My father and several other researchers noted this but discrepancies were soon obvious and the puzzle has, as far a I am aware, been left unsolved for the past twenty years.

A quick look at the archives reveals that there have been and still are Plucknetts in and around Great Torrington since about 1600. This is including records from Black Torrington, Sheepwash, Shebbear, Bideford, Ilfracombe, as well as Great Torrington itself.

At this point I should acknowledge the comparative ease of doing  genealogical research from the comfort of one’s own laptop, with increasingly comprehensive transcriptions and, more satisfyingly images, of parish and other records. I doubt that I would have had the patience to piece together this story if it had involved journeys  to distant registry offices.

Starting with supposition that Thomas’s belief that he was born in Great Torrington was correct, I looked firstly for a Thomas Plucknett born or baptised around 1778 to 1782. Thomas was unlikely to have been born after that and been accepted into the Royal Marines in 1795, although you never know !

Perhaps not surprisingly, I found no such record, but what I did find was the baptism in Great Torrington in January 1781 of Richard Plucknett


Add to this the Anglican Marriage of Richard Plucknett (father) and Margaret Perkin at Great Torrington on 19 Apr 1775 and the likelihood of this Margaret Plucknett being Thomas’s mother begins to recede.

Richard and Margaret also had a daughter, another Margaret Plucknett, born three years previously in 1778. It might be this Margaret who gave birth to Robert Plucknet ‘base born’ in Bideford in 1793.


Tragedy struck this family in several ways during the next few years.

In 1787 Margaret died. Her record confirms that her husband was Richard and still alive, but worse was to come.

Richard senior was convicted of the theft of oak planks at Exeter Assizes in 1791 and sentenced to transportation to Australia for fourteen years. He arrived in New South Wales in 1792, but I have failed to find any further news about him. I can only assume that he died in Australia. One online family tree gives his death date as 1794, but the Richard who died that year was sadly his son, Richard Plucknutt Junr (sic) at the age of thirteen.

There seems to be no Margaret Plucknett around in 1780 – 81 who is likely to have been the mother of Thomas.

BUT, I found a reference online to a burial of Margaret Plucknett in 1833 in Great Torrington at the age of 81, so born around 1751. A good fit. I have yet to find a Margaret Plucknet (ett) (ott) (utt) and variations, either married or unmarried who fits the bill.

One of the many interesting aspects of this mystery is the choice of the name Thomas for the baby, so I began to look for Plucknett daughters born around 1750 who had Thomas as a father and I found just one candidate. Grace Plucknett baptised in Great Torrington on 7 January 1751. Shortly after the birth of Thomas in January 1781, the banns were called beginning on the 25th of March for the marriage  of Grace Plucknett and Richard Cudmore. Since this was only a few weeks after the birth of Thomas, my theory is this:

Grace was the first, and it appears only child of Thomas Plucknett and Mary Rawleigh. They had married seven months before on 1 June 1750 in Great Torrington, when Thomas was twenty. Mary Plucknett was buried on 17 September 1751 when her daughter, Grace, was only eight months old. So Grace Plucknett was herself ‘conceived out of wedlock’ and probably only too aware of the stigma attached to that tag two hundred and thirty years ago.

I believe that Grace travelled from Great Torrington to Exeter for the birth of Thomas. She may have been helped by members of her late mother’s family, the Rawleighs, of whom there were several at that time in both Great Torrington and Exeter.

In some respects this story seems unlikely, but, in the absence of more information I leave it to posterity with the hope that more pieces of the jigsaw (perhaps DNA) will be found. At present there is no way of knowing if Richard Cudmore was my 5G Grandfather. What is more certain is that my family’s Plucknett line goes back to their arrival in North Devon around 1580 or earlier. Before that, the Somerset Villages of Haselbury Plucknett and Preston Plucknett suggest an origin for the anglicised version of the French ‘Plugenet’  To quote Wikipedia “Preston Plucknett is a suburb of Yeovil in Somerset, England. It was once a small village, and a separate civil parish until 1930, when it was absorbed into the neighbouring parishes of Yeovil, Brympton and West Coker.[1] It was listed in the Domesday Book of 1086 as “Preston” (Old English: preost tun, “priest farm/settlement”) when its lord was Ansger of Montacute (Alfward before 1066). In the 13th century, Alan de Plugenet was lord of the manor and added his surname to Preston.

See Wikipedia

Alan de Plugenet

If you read this account it points out that the second Alan de Plugenet died in 1319 without issue. It would seem likely that Plucknetts in more recent centuries were named after their village of origin, rather than because they were descendants of the Norman barons, as some have suggested.

The fate of Richard Plucknett and fellow transported convicts

I was shocked whilst researching this post by the astounding inhumanity meted out to men and women in the late 18th and early 19th century by courts throughout Britain and Ireland with regard to transportation to ‘the colonies’, for what were often relatively minor offences. It was bad enough to send Richard Plucknett to Australia for fourteen years for stealing wood, but the conditions of passage and the hard labour they were forced to do on arrival amounted to a de facto death sentence in many cases. Quoting Wikipedia again  ” Between 1788 and 1868, approximately 162,000 convicts were transported to the various Australian penal colonies by the British government.

Richard Plucknett is listed amongst the convicts who left Yarmouth Roads, Norfolk, in June 1791 on the East India Company ship Pitt He arrived in New South Wales in 1792. What became of him in Australia remains a mystery.

The 'Pitt' (circa 1787) near Dover returning from China 1787
The ‘Pitt’ (circa 1787) near Dover returning from China 1787

See Wikipedia

Convicts in Australia

John Winchurch

August 2015


Ann Brooks – later Shakespear – later Winchurch

The Four Stones on Clent Hills in Winter

Ann was my great great grandmother, born in Dudley in 1793, died in Aston, Birmingham in 1875.

Almost a hundred years after her death, in 1973, my father, Francis Victor Winchurch was in correspondence with a fellow genealogist researching Shakespeare families and noted that:
“The following entries appear to be relevant to my problem:”
Thomas Winchurch married Ann Shakespeare at Tipton on 25 March 1820. He was 33, she was 27.
Both of them had been married before, since Thomas appears in the register as widr, Ann as widw.

Baptism 10 Feb 1815 – Lucy d. of Joseph and Ann Shakespear (sic) of Netherton, Nailor
Burial 18 Aug 1816 – Lucy Shakespear, Dudley. 2 yrs.
Burial 11 Feb 1818 – Joseph Shakespear, Dudley. 31

He goes on to say that he has been unable to locate the marriage of Joseph and Ann.

So, who was Ann and when and where did she marry Joseph Shakespeare ?
Dad had clearly done a lot of searching without success, but fifteen years or so after he died I found something in the International Genealogical Index (which was published online by the Mormon church, but has now been superseded by a more general search engine):

Joseph Shakespear married Ann Brook at Clent on 24 Nov 1812

Could this be my great great grandmother at the age of nineteen? My first reaction was one of dismissal, since Clent is even now a small village about eight miles from Dudley, where Ann was born (she listed Dudley as her birthplace in several census returns) and a similar distance from Netherton and Rowley Regis.
It took me some time to solve the mystery and provide a reasonably convincing argument for the marriage being the one for which both I and my father before me had been searching.

It seems that until the early nineteenth century, Rowley Regis church was a chapel of ease belonging to the parish of Clent. The distance between the two (some six miles) gave rise to much inconvenience, particularly with the growth in the population of Rowley. They were separated by a Private Act of Parliament in 1841.
Until that time, the Vicar at Clent frequently insisted that Rowley parishioners went to St Leonard’s church at Clent for a marriage rather than going to Rowley himself to perform the service. Particularly during the incumbency of the Rev. Lyttelton Perry (1780 to 1817) a great number of Rowley people travelled to Clent to be married, presumably because the vicar preferred that couples should come to him at Clent than he should journey to Rowley. However, in 1841 an Act of Parliament was obtained severing Rowley Regis from Clent and creating it into a separate parish. The preamble to the Act states that the vicarage of Clent was six miles from Rowley and that while Clent was an agricultural parish with a population of 900, Rowley Regis was a mining district with a population of 10,000.

The marriage of Ann Brook and Joseph Shakespeare on 24 November 1812 was towards the end of the period when Lyttelton Perry was Vicar of Clent.
Perry, it seems, was not popular with many of his parishioners. Many entries in the Parish Registers were missing during his incumbency. Thankfully, some of these were retrieved from the copies known as the ‘Bishop’s transcripts’ held in Worcester. He followed his father John Perry as vicar of St Leonards from 1780-1817 and appears to have been particularly keen to improve his image for although he was baptised Littleton and used this spelling in his early years at Clent, he subsequently changed the spelling to Lyttelton, perhaps to create an impression of a connection with the Lyttelton family of Hagley Hall close by.
Hardly a man of the people !

Joseph Shakespear and Ann Brooks had their marriage banns called twice, first in 1810, when Ann was seventeen and Joseph twenty four :

entry 531: Joseph Shakespeare otpo Rowley Regis and Ann Brook ots 9,16. 23 Dec 1810.
otpo = of the parish of
ots = of the same (parish)

A marriage after the calling of banns must be solemnized within three months of the last occasion on which banns were called.
This would have put their earliest wedding date at 24 December 1810. It seems that it did not happen. One can only guess at the reason. Having to travel twelve miles on foot in the middle of winter might be a likely explanation.

St Leonards Church Clent in winter
Photo by kind permission of Jeremy on Flickr

In view of Ann’s age (seventeen) there might equally have been family opposition.

As a matter of interest there is a record of another Shakespear(e) Brook(s) calling of banns without a subsequent marriage in 1810

Benjamin Shakespeare otpo Rowley Regis and Mary Brook ots
entry 492: Banns 29April, 6 & 13 May

The second occasion on which Joseph and Ann’s banns were called was late in 1812

entry 632: Joseph Shakespear ba otpo Rowley Regis and Ann Brook wid ots 8, 15, 22 November 1812
They were married two days after the last calling on Tuesday 24 November 1812.

Joseph Shakespeare (signed Shakespear) ba, otp with Rowly Regis and Ann Brook (signed Brooks) wid, ots, by banns. Wit: Phoebe (X) Craddock, Louisa Perry.

These last entries raise a few interesting points.
I have not seen the originals, nor indeed photo copies, but am relying on the CD ROM transcripts produced by the Staffordshire Parish Registers Society. These contain more detail that the basic information on the Mormon website. In particular the fact that both Joseph and Ann are recorded as having signed their names rather than making a mark as many did in the Clent registers.
It is also puzzling that Ann Brook (who I believe was just nineteen in 1812) is recorded as a widow, whereas the same Ann Brook (presumably) was not thus recorded in 1810. The most likely explanation is the notoriously variability of Lyttelton Perry’s register entries. It does seem highly unlikely that seventeen year old Ann Brooks had become nineteen year old Ann Brooks (widow) within the space of two years.

Ann and Joseph’s daughter Lucy was christened at St Thomas, Dudley in February 1815 when Ann was still only twenty one.

Baptism 10 Feb 1815 – Lucy d. of Joseph and Ann Shakespear (sic) of Netherton, Nailor

The fact this and subsequent parish register entries are in Dudley and not Rowley (or Clent) perhaps gives credence to the idea that there had been family opposition to their marriage. This may have been the reason for the lack of a marriage ceremony following the calling of banns in 1810. There seems to be no further reference to Joseph or Ann in Clent Parish after 1812.

Sadly, Lucy died at the age of two and was buried in Dudley on 18 August 1816. Her father, Joseph survived her by only five months and was also buried in Dudley on 11 February 1818. There was a severe winter in Britain in 1814 and additionally, 1816 was known as the ‘year without a summer. Smallpox, diphtheria and typhus were common during these years, so it could have been disease, starvation, or a combination of both that led to their deaths. Life was very hard for poor people in the nineteenth century. Joseph was a nailor (or ‘nailer’). There is a rebuilt Nail Shop at the Black Country Museum in Dudley and as its website explains :

“Nail making was a well-established trade in the Black Country; at its peak around 1820 there were over 50,000 nailers at work in the area.
Principle centres were Sedgley, Gornal, the Lye, Halesowen, Oldhill and Dudley. It was essentially a cottage industry, the nailers worked for middlemen known as ‘foggers’, or as outworkers for larger firms.
Conditions tended to be harder than in the chain making industry with many more women and children employed.”
Ann was left childless and a widow probably continuing to work as a nail maker (but there is no record of that )

A brief note here about Ann’s possible origins. It is brief because these thin threads are all I have !
Ann (Nancy) Brooks was christened at St Thomas, Dudley on 25 Aug 1793, the daughter of John and Sarah Brooks. This is the only baptism entry for Dudley that fits with Ann’s birthplace and year.
John and Sarah might be the John Brookes and Sarah Troman who married in Halesowen on 9 January 1793.

Thomas Winchurch and Ann Shakespear may have known one another before 1819. It seems to be too much of a coincidence that Thomas’s first cousin, George Winchurch married Fanny Brookes within a year of and in the same church in Tipton as Thomas Winchurch and Ann (Brooks). Admittedly Fanny was born in Madeley Wood, Shropshire and Ann in Dudley, but the populations of the coal and iron areas of the Black country and the industrial centre of Ironbridge and surroundings appear to have been very fluid in terms of movement. Both had links with Abraham Darby (and successors) for example, who was born near Dudley and died at Madeley. Transport between the two would have been relatively easy (for the time) via the River Severn. I am also disregarding the difference between ‘Brookes’ and ‘Brooks’ as being typical variants. My suspicion is that Ann and Fanny were cousins, possibly first cousins like Thomas and George Winchurch. There is a further coincidence in that George and Fanny called their youngest daughter ‘Lucy’, the name of Ann’s dead child.
In any event Thomas Winchurch and Ann Shakespear were married in Tipton on 25 March 1820. It is likely that nine year old Sarah Winchurch, Thomas’s daughter from his first marriage was present because she seems to have been close to her father and stepmother throughout their lives.

Thomas Winchurch – Ann Shakespear
marriage certificate from Tipton

Interestingly, both Thomas and Ann made ‘marks’ rather than signing the marriage register. This may, however, have been the result of the curate John Howells either assuming that his parishioners could not sign their names or making the entries this way for speed.

On 20 June 1820 Hannah Winchurch daughter of Thomas and Ann was christened at St Thomas Dudley. (Note that there was less than three months between those two events ).

St James the Less (Birmingham) from Bishops Transcripts
Hannah d of Thomas and Ann Winchurch, Love Lane buried 30 Dec1821 1½ years

Sadly, Hannah was the second of Ann’s daughters to die as a toddler.
Sometime between June 1820 and December 1821, Thomas and Ann had moved to Birmingham, to Love Lane in Aston to be precise, which was the home at which their next five children were born. Thomas was a glass blower, like his father, Paul and glass making was spreading eastwards from Dudley to Birmingham. In all probability they travelled on a barge on the newly constructed canal system between the Black Country and Birmingham. The same means of transport also helped Birmingham and particularly Aston to grow into a busy centre of industry and technology away from the basics of mining and forging that had nurtured Dudley and it surroundings for centuries. Aston was the ‘Silicon Valley’ of the early nineteenth century. Metalworking of all kinds flourished in the town. Artefacts made in Aston included buckles for shoes, blades, pins, nails, screws, bolts and buttons. Some craftsmen made brass fittings such as handles for coffins. There were also many gunsmiths, leather workers and some locksmiths. In the late 18th century glass making boomed in Stourbridge, Brierley Hill, Birmingham and Aston and continued in those areas well into the twentieth century.
Thomas and Ann had five children born at Love Lane :

Thomas bapt 31 Dec 1821at St Philips Birmingham (must have died in infancy. Name reused, as was common)
Thomas bapt 30 Aug 1823 at St Philips Birmingham
Ann bapt 23 Jul 1825 at St Philips Birmingham
William bapt 2 Aug 1828 at St Philips Birmingham
(William) bapt 1 Jan 1830 at St Philips Birmingham

BUT that last entry is from the bishop’s transcripts and has to be wrong. Benjamin (my great grandfather) was born on 3 December 1829 (so the date fits for his christening) and the first William was still alive.

By the time of the 1841 census the family was living at 1 Lord Street and now consisted of:
Thomas Winchurch, 50, Glass Maker, Not in county, (ie not born in Warwickshire ..Dudley was in Worcestershire)
Ann Winchurch, 50 ,Not in county,
Thomas Winchurch,19, Glass Maker,WAR,
Ann Winchurch 15 WAR,
William Winchurch,13, WAR,
Benjamin Winchurch,11, WAR,

So, all the ages are approximately right. Ann senior’s date of birth as entered in documents such as censuses varied a lot through her lifetime but tellingly finished as eighty two on her death certificate in 1875, where her cause of death is listed as ‘old age’. This finally confirms her year of birth in Dudley as 1793.
Notice that the ‘second’ William has become Benjamin, aged 11 in 1841, which agrees with Benjamin’s birth date of  3 December 1829.

In the 1851 census they had moved to 3 Lord Street
ref. HO 107/2061
Aston 395/2/12
(note transcribed MINCHURCD by Find My Past – disputed twice by JW)
3 Lord Street Aston Birmingham

Thomas Winchurch Head 62 Glassmaker Warwickshire Warwick
Ann Winchurch Wife 47
Ann Winchurch Daughter 25 Dressmaker Birmingham
Benjamin Son 21 Glassblower Birmingham
Thomas Nephew 3 Birmingham

Thomas died on 27 February 1856 at the Cross Keys in Aston. Ann continued to run the pub after his death. There is a record of a robbery from the Birmingham Gazette: Saturday 29 September 1860:

On Monday night, the house of Mrs Winchurch, Cross Keys, Lower Windsor Street, was entered by forcing the cellar grating and several boxes of cigars, £5 in gold and silver and a till containing a small sum in farthings and postage stamps were stolen; four boxes of cigars and the till were afterwards found at a short distance from the house.’

Benjamin had his own personalised tankard with his name and the Cross Keys logo engraved on it.

Benjamin Winchurch’s tankard
Cross Keys 1860

ref RG9 Reel 3

Cross Keys 45 Upper Windsor Street

Ann Winchurch Head Wid 68 Lic Vic Worcs Dudley
Ann Winchurch Dau UM 34 Dressmaker Birmingham
Benjamin Winchurch Son UM 31 Glassmaker Birmingham
Caroline Wain Serv UM 17 House servant Derby

By the time of the 1871 census, Ann was living with her daughter, also named Ann, who had married William John Hicken in 1865 when she was forty.

1871 census
Front Of Brearley Street, Birmingham
HICKIN, Wm, Head, M 36 1835, Maltster, Warwickshire
HICKIN, Ann, Wife, F 40 1831, Warwickshire
WINCHURCH, Ann, Mother, F, 79, 1792, Licensed Victualler, Dudley, Worcestershire

Notice that she is still registered as a Licensed Victualler, but by this time a new landlord had taken over the Cross Keys. It is possible that ownership was still in the hands of the Winchurch family, but I have no evidence either way.

Ann died of  ‘old age’ Ladywood Birmingham on 19 April 1875, aged 82 – confirming her year of birth as 1793. Her daughter Ann Hicken was present at her death.

Ann and Thomas had at least sixteen grandchildren, one of whom was Percy Walter Winchurch, my grandfather. Percy often spoke of his Black Country roots. I believe that Ann Brooks was an important influence on the Winchurch family in terms of survival and prosperity.

Winter picture by Elizabeth Harper

Two hundred years after her long walks to and from Netherton to Clent  ‘in the bleak midwinter’, I salute her memory.

John Winchurch

November 2012