A History of the STEER Family of Bovey Tracey
Bovey Tracey Family Names.
Many of the family names of people now living in Bovey recur again and again in the Parish Church registers and the records of the Baptist Chapel in Hind Street. The internet has made access to many of these records relatively easy and it is possible to search them by surname, through the International Genealogical Index (IGI), an enormous data base compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) at https://familysearch.org/eng/Library/FHLC/frameset_fhlc.asp.
Bovey Tracey christenings are recorded from 1538 to 1837, marriages from 1539-1837; and Bovey Tracey Baptist Church baptisms from 1778 to 1837. It is also possible to search all Bovey Tracey IGI records by town name and surname through the Hugh Wallis index.
Another excellent source of data on old Bovey families is the Free BMD index.
After 1837, one of the most productive ways of garnering information about Bovey ancestors is through census data. The census for Bovey (and the rest of England) has been conducted every ten years from 1841, the most recently released set being results of the 1901 census. Most of the Bovey census data (excepting the 1901 census) are available on microfiche through the LDS Family History Centre nearest you.
Information on ancestors and relatives from the 1901 census can be purchased from the National Archives.
Other collections of Bovey census data are available on CDRom from a variety of sources (for example the complete 1851 census and 1881 census for Devon can be purchased inexpensively from the LDS) and extensive information about Bovey residents from the 1891 census can be found on the Web in GENUKI/Devon's 1891 Census page.
Further, the Devon Family History Society offers inexpensive books of baptism registers 1813-1840, marriage registers 1754-1812 and burial registers1813-1837. Details of the Bovey registers and their cost are on their website or can be obtained by contacting publications[at]devonfhs.org[dot]uk.
The major family history records repository for Bovey Tracey is Devon Archives and Local Studies at Exeter.
These resources can provide those searching for their roots in our ancient town with the trunk and branches of their family tree, but for those who wish to discover more about the old families who populated Bovey through the centuries, the real interest lies perhaps in uncovering some of the hard evidence about events and interrelationships that together constitute the leaves and the blossom on the tree's boughs. The Public Record Office A2A data base helps fill some of the gaps by providing a rich and detailed mine of information about Bovey Apprenticeship Indentures, Settlement and Bastardy Orders.
One of the most comprehensive early records of Bovey families is the Church Rate list for 1596. In it can be found a record, by surname, of the tax levied upon Bovey Tracey property owners over 400 years ago, for the upkeep of the Church and the poor of the parish. Among the family names listed are several that can still be found in Bovey today. These include: Wills, Wallyn, Moore, French, Pinsent, Harris, Voysey, Merdon (or Mardon), Saunders, Smyth, Tapper, Cleve, Gribble, Bowdon, Tancombe (Stancombe), Satterley, Wreyforde, Heale, Coysh, Jewell, Sture (Steer), Carpenter, Hellyer, Smerdon, Casely, Wotton, Manning, Wallis and Stoddon (Stadden), among others.
The Protestation Returns of 1642 provide a great many more examples of the old Bovey family names still found in the Town. Of these, all of the names listed above, with the addition of Beare, Cole, Crout, Commyns, Dadd, Daymen (Daymond), Edwards, Ellis, Heath, Heaward (Hayward), Hole, Lamble, Lange, Langworthy, Man (Mann), Norish, Perry, Pethybridge, Pooke, Pridham, Rowland, Sampson, Smale, Soper, Southcott, Trend, Triggs, Vinicombe and Woode will be easily recognizable as the names of neighbours or relatives, to many living in Bovey today.
The STEER family
Records indicate that the STEER family has lived in Bovey for well over 500 years. The surname itself is believed to be Anglo-Saxon in origin and derives from Sture or Stiur, meaning a young ox (Baring-Gould, 1910). In Devon, the name is fairly common in the South Hams, in and around Crediton, west through South Tawton, South Zeal and Okehampton and is found in the early records of several North Devon parishes. The earliest record of the name was as Ster, Stur or Stir in the Domesday Book, in a number of places throughout northern and southern England, although not in Devon (Kennedy, 2004).
The earliest recorded Steer's in Bovey were Robert Stuer or Steere alias Clarke (born about 1520) and his wife Tomsyn or Thomasin, and Joanna Sture (also recorded as Steere) alias Clarke, who married John Frenche in 1557. Robert and Tamsyn are named in the 1541 Lay Subsidy Roll for the parish and in 1544 Robert paid a property tax of £2. They seemed to have lived either at Crownley or at a place in the parish then called Stantor. He and Tamsyn had eight children whose surnames were recorded in the parish registers as Sture, Stewer, Steur and Steere, the spelling in those days being phonetic and varying at the whim of the priest or clerk who was the recorder. Over the next several centuries the name underwent several changes until it became standardised by about the 1720's as Steer throughout Devon.
Davie Steer appears as a small landowner on a 1641 map of Bovey properties held at the Heritage Trust Centre in Bovey. The five acres he farmed at West Bovey consisted of four fields situated in the Y-junction formed by the Haytor and Manaton roads, ie. the Lower Down area.
In 1642, the Protestation Returns for Bovey indicate that there were at that time nine male Steere's listed as heads of households. In 1861 and 1891 there were 10 Steer heads of households, many with very large families by today's standards. The 1901 census for Bovey reveals 32 male and18 female Steer's with clusters of the family at Newton Abbot, Plymouth and in the surrounding parishes.
Naming the Steer children in old Bovey was a rather unimaginative business. The male names recorded through the IGI and the several censuses are as follows; John (over 60 entries), Thomas (over 30 entries), William (over 30 entries), then in numerical descent to Joseph (over 20 entries), Jonas and George (over 10 entries), and less the 10 entries; Michael, Alfred, Charles, Edwin, Nicholas, and David, with a scattering of a few other names. For the females, Elizabeth (over 45 entries) Mary (over 30 entries), then, all below 10 entries; Alice, Ann(e), Sarah, Susan(nah), Jane, Martha, and Margaret with a small scattering of other Christian names.
Census data indicate that the majority of Bovey Steer's were either agricultural labourers or tradesmen; carpenters, cobblers, tailors and stonemasons. With the advent of the Potteries, several found employment as potters, kiln men and printers. The Public Records Office has preserved a copy of the 1845 will of Grace Steer of Indeo and the 1851 will of Thomas Steer, Blacksmith, of Bovey Tracey. They both seem to have been relatively well off.
Perhaps the jewel in the family crown and its black sheep was Joseph Steer (1776-1856) who with his brother Thomas, (mentioned in Lyson's Magna Britannia), were proprietors of the old Bovey Pottery at Indio. William Ellis, a contemporary, wrote of the Indio Pottery:
"The estate was purchased by Messrs Steer who were wealthy as they owned much property besides the Parish. The property was managed by Mr Tom Steer; and being a very enterprising businessman, it soon became in a thriving condition and prospered greatly as long as he lived, but thereafter (abt. 1801), owing to the bad mismanagement of his brother Joseph, it sank to insignificance" (Adams & Thomas, 1996, p. 35). In 1829 the Indio Pottery employed 40 operatives, and continued under Joseph Steer's management until its closure in 1836.
In 1805 he was involved in a dispute with Lord Courtenay, owner of a pottery at Bovey Heathfield, over water rights, and between that date and 1812 was in partnership with John Christophers as Joseph Steer and Company. The partnership was dissolved and from 1812, Joseph continued business alone.
Initially the Bailiff (or Steward) of Wifford, Joseph was by 1826 an Overseer of the Poor for the parish and by 1832 had styled himself Gentleman. He had in 1814 and 1817 been required to pay _2-18-0, and maintenance of two shilling and sixpence a week as "father of Elizabeth Rich's female bastard child". His will (also preserved at the PRO) left Bridge End Cottage in Bovey to Jane Ann Mead, daughter of his servant Elizabeth Pinsent and "born before her mother's marriage" with the provision that her mother "shall be entitled to reside, occupie (sic) or let and take the rent of the above house until Jane Ann Mead shall attain the age of 21 years".
Over the centuries few Steer's seem willingly to have left the town. Among the several who did, Joseph Steer was in 1869 a Trinity House Lighthouse keeper in Guernsey, in 1871 he, with his large family, was at the Start Lighthouse and in 1881 at the Menai Lighthouse off Anglesey.
The Parish marriage registers link the Steer family over the centuries with White, Taylor, Langworthy, Rackwood, Denley, Heward (Heyward), Rowland, Satterley, French, Tapper, Cruse, Wills, Coniam, Tapley, Gribble, Stonelake, Smale, Brown, Curnow, Manley, Christopher, Carpenter, Frost, Clampitt, Cox, Smith, Hart, Leaman, Yard, Lamble, Creed, Lavers, Sellers, Slee, Weeks, Caunter, Holmes, Davis, Coombes, Ridd and many more old Devon family names.
For readers interested in obtaining more information on the surname, there is an active Steer family name discussion group at STEER-L[at]rootsweb[dot]com.
- Adams, B. & Thomas, A. (1996). A potwork in Devonshire: The history and products of the Bovey Tracey potteries 1750-1836, Bovey Tracey: Sayce Publishing
- Baring-Gould, S. (1910). Family names and their story. London: Seeley & Co. Ltd.
- Kennedy, V. (Ed.). (2004). The Bovey Book. Bovey Tracey: Cottage Publishing.
STEER in the Parish Records
In 2003, Denis Cox of Totnes, who is related to the family, copied all the STEER entries he could find in the Bovey Tracey Parish Registers and Fursdon's Marriage Index, at that time held at the Devon Record Office at Rougemont in Exeter. His copy of the entries follows:
BOVEY TRACEY PARISH REGISTERS
1538 - 1837
|BAPTISMS - BOOK I|
|1538 - 1687|
|1540||CLARKE||Ciscella||d||Roberti & Tamsin|
|1542||3 Feb||STEWER||Alys||d||Roberti & Thomisin|
|1544||31 July||Alynats(?)||d||Robti & Tomsin|
|1546||14 Nov||STUER||Elin||d||Roberti & Tomsin|
|1549||24 May||STEWER als CLARK||Thomas||s||Robti|
|1564||3 Aug||CLARKE||Johnes||s||Rio. ac KaNiemis ux|
|(Nicole crossed out & Micole entered)|
|BAPTISMS - BOOK II|
|1688 - 1837|
|1697||19 April||STEERE||Jackion (?)||d||John|
|1711||15 April||STEERE||Jonas||s||Jonas & Jessior (?)|
|No records recorded between 1739 and 1746.|
|1791||07 Jan||STEER||William||s||William & Mary|
|1792||29 Jan||STEER||John||s||Nickolas & Elizabeth|
|1793||26 May||STEER||Joseph||s||David & Dorthy|
|1794||18 May||STEER||Mary Ann||d||Nickolas & Elizabeth|
|1805||05 May||STEER||Sarah||d||Nickolas & Elizabeth|
|1805||13 Oct||STEER||William WILLS a base child of Thomas STEER - Blacksmith.|
|1807||08 March||STEER||Benjamin||s||Nickolas & Elizabeth|
|1810||17 June||STEER||Charles||s||Nickolas & Elizabeth|
|1823||18 May||STEER||Thomas||s||John & Grace|
|1824||14 Nov||STEER||Joseph||s||William & Nancy|
|(b 18 Jan 1819)||(Blacksmith)|
|1824||14 Nov||STEER||Martha||d||William & Nancy|
|(b 03 Jan 1821)||(Blacksmith)|
|1824||14 Nov||STEER||William||s||William & Nancy|
|(b 06 Sept 1822)||(Blacksmith)|
|1824||14 Nov||STEER||Jonas||s||William & Nancy|
|1825||24 July||STEER||William||s||Thomas & Susan|
|1825||11 Dec||STEER||John Smith||s||John & Grace|
|(b 24 Nov 1825)||(Labourer)|
|1827||30 Dec||STEER||Grace||d||John & Grace|
|(Labourer of Little Bovey)|
|1828||23 March||STEER||Elizabeth||d||Thomas & Susanna|
|1830||14 Nov||STEER||Thomas||s||Thomas & Susanna|
|1831||03 April||STEER||Joseph||s||John & Grace|
|(Labourer of Little Bovey)|
|1832||22 April||STEER||Joseph||s||Joseph & Mary|
|1832||06 May||STEER||John||s||William & Nancy|
|(b 08 Dec 1827)||(Blacksmith)|
|1832||06 May||STEER||Elizabeth||d||William & Nancy|
|(b 04 Dec 1829)||(Blacksmith)|
|1832||06 May||STEER||Jane||d||William & Nancy|
|1833||18 Aug||STEER||Thomas||s||Thomas & Susanna|
|1834||06 July||STEER||Jonas||s||John & Grace|
|(Labourer of Teigngrace)|
|1834||24 Aug||STEER||Thomas||s||William & Ann|
|1834||14 Sept||STEER||Elizabeth||d||Benjaman & Mary|
|1835||07 Feb||STEER||Sarah||d||Joseph & Mary|
|(b 07 Jan 1834)||(Carpenter)|
|1835||07 Feb||STEER||Nickolas||s||Joseph & Mary|
|1836||18 Dec||STEER||Charles||s||William & Ann|
|1539 - 1837|
|1557||22 Nov||FRENCHE||Johes||STURE Joanna|
|(s of Christopher - Weaver)||(d of David STEERE)|
|Agreement 18 October 1656|
|1746||26 Oct||STEERE||William||GUMP or CRUMP||Elizabeth|
|(wit. - William Langley & Richard Brimbbombe)|
|(wit. - John Harvey & Philip Ellis)|
|(wit. - Thomas Tapley & Philip Ellis)|
|(By Lic. - wit. - John Lamble & Philip Ellis)|
|(wit. - Philip Ellis & John Bennet)|
|(wit. - John Leaman & James Drake)|
|(wit. - Nickolas Steer & James Drake)|
|(wit. - William Steer & James Drake)|
|(of St. Thomas, Exeter)|
|(wit. - Richard Soper & James Drake)|
|(wit. - Joseph Steer & John Potter)|
|(wit. - Thomas Hart & John Dymond)|
|(wit. - Jane Clampit & William Hamlin)|
|1818||8 March||BROWNING||William||STEER||Mary Ann|
|(Lic. With consent of parents - wit. - Mary Grant & Nicholas Steer)|
|(wit. - John Steer & Jonas Steer)|
|(wit. - John Coniam & Elizabeth Steer)|
|(wit. - James Brown & Elizabeth Brown)|
|(wit. - James Welsman & Elizabeth Frost)|
|(wit. - Thomas Prouse & Mary Ann Gites)|
|(wit. - John Steer & Harriet Wills)|
|(wit. - Joseph Steer & Elizabeth Brown)|
|(Labourer - Both of age)|
|(wit. - John Tapper & Susan Sampson)|
|End of Book.|
|NOTE - The entries in italics were recorded in "Fursdon's Marriage Index" for Bovey Tracey, but were not recorded in the handwritten copy or the Bovey Tracey Parish Records held at the Exeter Study Centre.|
|BURIALS - BOOK IV|
|1538 - 1689|
|1547||17 June||STURE||William||s of Robti & Tomsin|
|1594||18 Jan||STEERE||Johannes||s of Thomae|
|1595||5 May||STEERE||Blannake||w of Thomae|
|1598||16 April||STEARE||Johannes||s of Thomae|
|1600||5 Sep||STEERE||Philippas||s of Johannis|
|1601||10 April||STEERE||Alicia||w of Thomae|
|1602||4 March||STEERE||William||s of Thomae|
|1602||29 April||STEERE||Maria||d of Thomae|
|1603||25 Sep||CLARKE||Katherina Vidna|
|1616||24 April||STEERE||Alhcia||d of Thomae|
|1616||28 April||STEERE||Josephns||s of Thomae|
|1619||10 Dec||STEERE||Isotis||w of Johis|
|1641||11 Feb||STEERE||Maria ( widow )|
|1652||12 June||STEERE||Alicia||w of Johis||Thatcher|
|1654||7 Sep||STEERE||Elizabeth||d of Michael|
|1663||13 Aug||STEERE||Elizabeth||w of Gilbert|
|1664||11 March||STEERE||Michaell of Bradley|
|1665||3 july||STEERE||Andrew||s of William|
|1677||19 Aug||STEERE||Helena||w of John|
|1677||18 Oct||STEERE||Elizabeth||d of Michaell|
|1687||7 Oct||STEERE||John||Parish Clerk|
|BURIALS - BOOK V|
|1690 - 1837|
|1694||03 June||STEERE||Jane||d of Thomas|
|1703||26 Nov||STEER||Barbery||(nee SATTERLY)|
|Widow of John - m 14 August 1672|
|1712||25 Jan||STEERE||Elizabeth||Widow of Jonas|
|1732||01 Nov||STEERE||Rebekah||(nee SATTERLEY)|
|Wife of David - m 22 February 1690|
|No records recorded for 1766 and 1767.|
|1786||21 April||STEER||Nickolas (Paid)|
|1814||16 Jan||STEER||Sophia||90||(b 1724)|
|1815||18 July||STEER||Mary||54||(b 1761)|
|1821||09 Oct||STEER||William||60||(b 1761)|
|1826||24 July||STEER||Elizabeth||94||(b 1732)|
|1834||27 April||STEER||Susann||30||(b 1804)|
|1837||30 Aug||STEER||Susan||5||(b 1832)|
|1837||11 Oct||STEER||Sarah Jane||6||(b 1831)|
|End of Book.|