In Issue 6, we told Ann Stentiford's
story. Through the various well-documented stages of the Poor
Law procedures under which a mother was compelled to name the
father of her illegitimate child, we know that the openly
acknowledged father of this Richard Stentiford was Francis
Of his early years, we know little else.
No Apprenticeship papers have yet been found for him so probably
he found work, starting at 6 or 7 as all children in this area
did. He went on to work on farms as a labourer throughout his
Conditions for the farm labourers of Devon
were never worse than in the late 1850s and 1860s. They lived in
appalling conditions, were forced to accept cider as part of
their already low wages so that they were habitually drunk, and
were denied education for their children. This became the time
of the greatest migration that the County has ever seen and most
village populations were halved between 1850 and 1880. The
coming of the railways made it easier to move around but the
abject poverty in which the poorest people were expected to live
made the movement necessary. It was said that most local
landowners housed their horses better than their farm labourers.
No wonder then, that four of the seven children of Richard and
Elizabeth left rural Devon behind them.
It is from their sons and daughters that
we can learn much about Richard and Elizabeth. It must have been
from the parents that the children learned to improve their lot
in life by using initiative, intelligence and adaptability. We
see their confident signatures on documents, showing signs of a
literacy denied to most of their peers. We note their employers
- a Rector, a Deputy Lord Lieutenant among them - and we get an
impression of some of the extras that they were able to bring to
the workplace like dependability and loyalty. Whatever Richard's
start in life, he and his wife don't seem to have let it touch the lives of their children.