Atherington

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Atherington Village

There is no mention of Stedifords or Stedefords in the Atherington Parish Registers before 1732. The registers themselves date back to 1532 yet there is not a single reference to these or any  similar names in that intervening period of two hundred years.

Atherington Village

 

This is a matter of great significance as we trace the movement of our ancestors across the countryside to the east of Sampford Courtenay. The evidence points to the fact that a single family, whose name continued to be variously spelt "Stediford" and "Stedeford" came to the village from elsewhere, put down roots and remained for a long period of time.

The very first Parish Register entry details the baptism of a baby called Ann, the daughter of  a William and Mary Stedeford, on 18 Mar 1732. From that time on, until the latter years of the 19th century, the descendents of this  family can be traced in an unbroken line in the annals of the village. The spelling of the name changes according to fancy as each fresh hand makes an entry in  the church registers; the "i" or the "e" are interchanged or sometimes omitted altogether, the "d" is sometimes doubled and there is even an occasional "Steddaford" but there they are,  a family in an unbroken line, traceable for more than one hundred and sixty years in one place - the tiny village of Atherington.

 

Atherington Church

Atherington Church

 

Professor Hoskins in his comprehensive study of  Devon has little to say about Atherington beyond it being high up, commanding magnificent views of the surrounding countryside and having an interesting church. 

But there must have been a better reason than living with a good view for William and Mary Stedeford to go there in the first place. For the answer, we must return once more to Devon's Wool Trade*. In the years before 1732, there had been enormous changes in the woollen industry in Devon as serge became its prime product. Instead of relying entirely on wool from Dartmoor sheep, a very lucrative import trade opened up, shipping in raw wool from Spain and from Ireland, and this trade centred on the booming port of Bideford. Shorter than Dartmoor wool, this imported wool was ideal for weaving the new fabric and the little villages surrounding Bideford attracted spinners and weavers from far and near. Trains of packhorses brought raw wool to the cottages and took away finished pieces to the markets in Bideford and Barnstaple - and Atherington became a centre for this cottage industry.

It was a short-lived prosperity. There were continual wars in the 18th century making it very difficult to trade overseas but the greatest disaster came with the arrival of mechanisation into the Yorkshire woollen trade, leading to mass production in factory conditions of high-quality cloth which could be sold for a fraction of the price of hand-woven pieces.

The grandchildren of William and Mary Stedeford  lived to see the Devon Wool Trade wiped out and the twilight years of the hand weaving industry which sustained Atherington and all the other villages in this part of Devon.

 

* See Issues 6  and 15 for more information about the Devon Wool Trade

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  Last modified:
30/09/2005