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The Narracotts - Sextons of Stoke Gabriel since 1440?

The Paignton Observer of the 14th December, 1916, reported that the mortal remains of Mr James Narracott, Sexton of Stoke Gabriel, were laid to rest in the churchyard, amidst the grief and sorrow of the whole village. It was said that the deceased, who had been Sexton since 1880, was well known and respected.

James was the son of Robert and Susan Narracott. His father was a Stone Mason and it is likely that James would have followed a similiar calling when not involved in his church duties.

It was said that the Narracott family had held the post of Sexton for a period in excess of 400 years. It would appear that this is not historically correct although it cannot be doubted that such a post has been held by the family for several centuries.

Upon the death of James in 1880, he was suceeded to the post of Sexton, by his son also called James. An entry appeared in the Exeter Express and Echo on the 17th February, 1917 which stated:

"By the appointment of a son of the late Sexton of Stoke Gabriel, Nr. Totnes, the office is continued in the Narracott family, in which it has been since 1440."

The paper went on to say that such a statement had been published in a London paper, and apparently escaped unchallenged. The Echo doubted the accurancy of the statement. Readers were invited to supply evidence for or against.

As a result of the article, Mr. H. Tapley Soper of Exeter undertook research in order to find the answer. He concluded :-

"I have searched the early entries in the transcript of the Stoke Gabriel Register deposited at the Exeter City Library. This Register is one of the most complete in the country. It commences in 1583, but the earliest entry relating to the Narracott family appears in 1604, when Robert Norkote married Elizabeth Crappinge. After this date the name appears frequently appears. The following extracts will remove any doubt which may arise in reader's minds as to the relationship of Norkote to the modern form of Narracott, and provides an excellent, although in this case, conclusive example of the difficulties with which genealogists have to contend owing to the unstable state of orthography (correct spelling) of our ancestors.

BAPTISMS

1604 10th Feb.   Alexander, Son of Robert Narcott
1607 20th July   David, Son of Robert Narocott
1636 5th May    Matthew, Son of Ellexander and Iset Narracott
1639            Edward, Son of Alixander and Isate Narracott

BURIALS

1609            Robert Narakatt
1642            Drace, daughter of Alexander Narracott

From this information, it would appear that the name Narracott was unknown in Stoke Gabriel prior to 1604 when Robert, who was probably a stranger to the Parish, married Elizabeth Crappinge, probably a native of the village, and settled there. This appears to me dispose of the contention that 'the Office of Sexton has continued in the Narracott family since 1440', a statement which, if true, would be difficult to sunstantiate, owing to lack of documentary evidence for such a remote period.

The knowledge that the pedigree of this family can be traced in an unbroken line should be sufficient to sustain their pride in their beautiful village and old church."

As has been said, James on his death was suceeded by his son of the same name. This son held the post until 1935. The Paignton Observer records that a great many people from Stoke and the surrounding area attended the funeral to pay their last respects. The coffin was born by local villagers, Messrs A.R.Baker, J J Baker, T.P. Baker, E. Collings, J. Rowe and M. Gagg. The grave was lined with white and pink chysanthemums. Seventy beautiful tributes lay nearby. The flag on the church tower flew at half mast.

In conclusion, it would thus appear that not only have the Narracott family held the post of Sexton for many generations, but were also popular and respected by the inhabitants of Stoke Gabriel. As we approach the year 2000, the post remains proudly within the Narracott family.

N.P. Bonstow
December, 1999

Sources:

Paignton Observer
Express and Echo
Stoke Gabriel Parish Records
Narracott Family Tree
Notes of the Devonshire Association.

Brian Randell, 2 Dec 1999