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Clovelly, and the Randell Family


Brian and David Randell

5 March 1998


The Randell family of Kidwelly in Carmarthenshire, from which we are both descended, originated with the arrival there in the late 1700s of a Capt. Francis Randell from Clovelly in Devon. Here we document the (unfortunately rather meagre) results of our extensive researches during the last few years into the Randell family and the Clovelly in which they lived [Note 1].

There is evidence that there were Randells in Clovelly from at least as far back as the late 16th Century, since a Margery Randle is listed in the 1581 Lay Subsidy tax records. There are close to a hundred Randell entries in the parish registers, spanning the period 1687-1793. [Note 2] However, by the end of the 18th Century it seems that there were no Randells left in Clovelly. (All the later members of this family so far traced are descendants of the Francis Randell who emigrated to Carmarthenshire. [Note 3])

The history of the picturesque little North Devon village of Clovelly, in the Hartland Hundred and about 11 miles from Bideford, has been documented, to a certain extent, in booklets by Bate [Bate 1952] and the Ruthvens [Ruthven 1968; Ruthven 1981] and in particular by Clement [Clement 1992] and Ellis [Ellis 1987] . However, no detailed account of the history of Clovelly during the 16th-18th centuries has been published - and not much primary material exists on which to base such an account, since:

"In 1789 . . . Clovelly Court, the old manor house of the owners of the parish lands and properties, burnt down. With it went many of the early records of the parish, both public and private. . . . Exactly what documents were lost, we have no means of knowing, except that it is admitted that many old deeds and records of properties went up in flames, but it is only later, when one puzzles over the absence of certain papers and records that conjecture arises as to their possible loss in this fire or perhaps a later fire in 1944." [Clement 1992]

An additional major impediment to our researches is the fire during World War II that destroyed almost all the Devon Probate Records. These included a number of 18th century, and earlier, Clovelly Randell wills which are known to have been proved at the Archdeaconry of Barnstaple. Unfortunately, no copies or summaries of any of these have been traced.

In these circumstances, the principal sources that we have made use of in an attempt to supplement the parish registers have been (i) the Bishop's Transcripts, which date from 1610, though less than a quarter of the pre-1686 BTs have survived, (ii) the large collection of Barnstaple and Bideford Port Books in the Public Record Office, (iii) an Account Book, now in the National Library of Wales, listing coal shipments from Pembrey in the early 1700s, (iv) the Admiralty Registers of Protection from Being Pressed (1770-1781), (v) the extant Clovelly Land Tax Assessments, and (vi) the book "Index of the Wills and Administrations relating to the County of Devon proved in the Court of the Archdeaconry of Barnstaple, 1563-1858 until destroyed by enemy action in 1942" [Beckerlegge 1950] . (As far as we can tell none of these further sources were used for any of the accounts of the history of Clovelly referenced above.) Other books and documents that we have drawn on for more general information about Clovelly are included in the list of references.

The fact that, between them, even the accounts by Clement and Ellis contain only one brief reference to members of the family [Note 4] would seem to imply that the Randells were not a very prominent family in Clovelly. However the Barnstaple and Bideford Port Books, in particular, do provide a lot of evidence about the voyages made by a number of the Clovelly Randells - indeed, there are far more entries than for any other name, so that it is evident that they were already a, or perhaps the, leading local family of ship's captains and owners.

Picturesque Clovelly

Clovelly is, of course, now famous as one of the most picturesque villages in England, and receives huge numbers of visitors each summer. As regards the origins of this fame, it has been stated by Devon's leading historian that:

". . . until the middle of the 19th cent. Clovelly remained quite unknown to the outside world. In 1855 Charles Kingsley, whose father was rector here 1830-36, published his Westward Ho!, in which Clovelly and the Carys figured much. Then Dickens wrote of it in A Message from the Sea (1860), and it became known." [Hoskins 1954]
In fact there were earlier writers who began the publicising of Clovelly's attractions (see Appendix 5), but no-one has provided a more evocative description of it than Charles Dickens, though he did not explicitly identify the village in which he set his story as Clovelly, instead calling it Steepways:
". . . the village was built sheer up the face of a steep and lofty cliff. There was no road in it, there was no wheeled vehicle in it, there was not a level yard in it. From the sea-beach to the cliff-top two irregular rows of white houses, placed opposite to one another, and twisting here and there, and there and here, rose, like the sides of a long succession of stages of crooked ladders, and you climbed up the village or you climbed down the village by the staves between, some six feet wide or so, and made of sharp irregular stones. The old pack-saddle, long ago laid aside in most parts of England, as one of the appendages of its infancy, flourished here intact. Strings of pack-horses and pack-donkeys toiled slowly up the staves of the ladders, bearing fish, and coal, and such other cargo as was unshipping at the pier from the dancing fleet of village boats, and from two or three little coasting traders. As the beasts of burden ascended laden, or descended light, they got so lost at intervals in the floating clouds of village smoke, that they seemed to dive down some of the village chimneys, and come to the surface again far off, high above the others. No two houses in the village were alike, in chimney, size, shape, door, window, gable, roof-tree, anything. The sides of the ladders were musical with water, running clear and bright. The staves were musical with the clattering feet of the pack-horses and pack-donkeys, and the voices of the fishermen urging them up, mingled with the voices of the fishermen's wives and their many children. The pier was musical with the wash of the sea, the creaking of capstans and windlasses, and the airy fluttering of little vanes and sails. The rough, sea-bleached boulders of which the pier was made, and the whiter boulders of the shore, were brown with drying nets. The red-brown cliffs, richly wooded to their extremest verge, had their softened and beautiful forms reflected in the bluest water, under the clear North Devon sky of a November day without a cloud. The village itself was so steeped in autumnal foliage, from the houses lying on the pier to the topmost round of the topmost ladder, that one might have fancied it was out a bird's-nesting, and was (as indeed it was) a wonderful climber." [Dickens 1892]
But our story starts several centuries earlier than this.

Elizabethan Clovelly

Queen Elizabeth's reign (1558-1603) was above all the age of Drake. Clovelly, though a small and relatively unimportant fishing port, had earlier been recorded as capable of producing and manning one or two naval vessels so perhaps was among the many Devon localities that were involved in England's maritime adventures. However, the main centres of naval activities were in South Devon, the home of Drake, Hawkins, Raleigh and other famous sea-dogs. The main exception was Sir Richard Grenville, who was lord of the manor of Bideford, and who manned his transatlantic expeditions to Carolina and Virginia mainly with Bideford seamen. [Hoskins 1954]

Bideford was also very much involved in the transatlantic fishing expeditions to the Newfoundland Banks in search of cod that started up at this time, though the Clovelly fishing vessels were perhaps to small for this trade. But the Clovelly fishermen, perhaps already including one or more Randells, were affected by the many 16th century French incursions up the Bristol channel - for example, according to [Oppenheim 1968] "Clovelly men recovered Lundy Island from a Frenchman de Val who in 1542 took toll of Bristol and local shipping until the Clovelly men recovered the island and drove him away".

In addition to its maritime activities, Devon was at this time becoming a particularly prosperous agricultural county [Stanes 1986] , probably already largely enclosed, and having many high hedges surrounding small fields, as is still the case today. Wool was a major product, and cloth-making a major industry, including it would seem in the general area of Clovelly, there having been water-powered fulling mills (used for felting and flattening woven cloth) in the neighbouring parish of Hartland as early as the end of the 13th century. Many farms were also involved with cider making, though in the 18th century Clovelly's cider was evidently not very well regarded (see Milles quotation below).

As regards the Randells, aside from the entry in the 1581 Lay Subsidy mentioned above, to date just one other 16th century reference to a Clovelly Randell has been found, namely the record of the will of John Randell having been proved in 1593. (This is the earliest of a number of references to wills by Randells of Clovelly that were unfortunately lost in the disastrous fire in Exeter during World War II - see Appendix 3.)

Clovelly had for many years been owned by the Cary family, who had taken possession of it in the 14th century. It was thanks to this family that during this period Clovelly began to take the form described nearly three centuries later by Dickens. According to Hoskins it was in:

". . . the late sixteenth century when the north Devon village of Clovelly was given a breakwater or quay by the squire, George Cary. Clovelly had been an obscure agricultural parish until this time, turning its back on the sea in which it had no interest. [Note 5] But all was changed by the building of the massive stone pier, which created the only safe harbour on this merciless coast between Appledore in Devon and Boscastle in Cornwall. In his will dated 9 August 1601, George Cary says:
'I have of late erected a pier or key in the sea and river of Severne upon the sea-shore, near low water of the said seas, within or near about one half mile of my said capital messuage of Clovelly, and also divers houses, cellars, warehouses, and other edifices, as well under as in the cliff and on the salt shores of Clovelly aforesaid, and also near above the cliff there, which standeth and hath cost me about £2,000 and which place was of none or very small benefit before my said exertions and buildings.'
It is rarely that we get such an authentic picture of the creation of a new village. Until this date Clovelly had merely been a parish of scattered farms and cottages on the plateau. The squire built cottages up the narrow valley on either side of a tumbling stream - the only practicable way down to the seashore - and fish-cellars and warehouses below the cliffs. The watercourse was later diverted into a cascade to fall into the sea elsewhere, and its dry bed converted into a series of terraces or broad steps paved with cobbles. The village scene as we know it was then complete." [Hoskins 1955]

However, though quite a lot of information is available about the Cary family's lineage [Powell 1870-75] and a little about the parish church and its rectors, [Clement 1992] very little else is known about Clovelly during this period, though one can conjecture that life there was hard and very dependent on the weather, being largely based on farming and fishing, and possibly smuggling.

Seventeenth Century Clovelly

A brief physical description of the village of Clovelly at the start of the century, perhaps the first produced after George Cary's great developments, was included by Tristram Risdon in the Devon topography he wrote during 1605-1630:

"CLOVELLY, where is a pile to resist the inrushing of the sea's violent breach, that ships and boats may with more safety harbour there, built by George Cary, esq. Here the cliffs are very steep; and the way right down to the quay, they call it Precipitate; therefore beaten with winding retches from the one side to the other, to make the descent more easy. Above the cliffs appear the banks and motes rudely cast up, called Clovelly Dikes." [Risdon 1970]
According to Westcote [Westcote 1845] , writing in 1630, Clovelly, along with Lynmouth, had by this time become noted for their herrings - "the king of fishes". By now, if not before, the Randells were a sea-faring family, though not necessarily engaged in fishing. The evidence of this is the record of the brief capture of a George Randell, described as a sailor from Clovelly, by a Spanish raiding party on Lundy Island in 1633:
"1633. July 30, Tresmere. 48. Sir Barnard Grenville and Ralph Byrd to Sec. Coke. Inclose copy of examinations concerning a great outrage committed by a spanish man-of-war of Biscay, who on the 16th instant landed eighty men on the island of Lundy, where, after some small resistance, they killed one man and bound the rest, and surprised and took the island, which they rifled and took thence all the best provisions they found worth carrying away, and so departed to sea again. The writers have advertised the ports of Devon and Cornwall that if the ship arrive there she may be stayed.
Inclose, 48.1. Separate examinations of William Skynner, of Kilkhampton, dyer, of George Rendall, of Clovelly, sailor, and of John Monday, of Portizick [Port Isaac], sailor, above-mentioned. The biscayner was a vessel of 150 tons with about 120 men, Christopher Meggor being captain. They had lately robbed a French bark. Mark Pollard was the name of the Lundy man killed. They at the same time robbed a pinnace of George Rendall which happened to be at Lundy, taking from him his money and all the provisions of his pinnace." [State Papers Domestic - Charles I]
This was a time of internal conflicts, as well as with the French. Despite the fact that the Scots were finally defeated at Dunbar in 1650 and the battle of Worcester occurred a year later, the final termination of the Civil War in England was when, at 2pm on the afternoon of 30th, January 1649 Charles Stuart, Charles I of England having donned an extra shirt so that he would not shiver and give the impression of fear, ascended the scaffold before the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall and was beheaded.

The conflict between the King and Parliament had been a long one commencing from the time of his ascension to the throne on 25th March 1625 and his marriage to Henrietta Marie, sister of King Louis XIII of France. Devon was deeply divided politically, with its towns mainly for parliament. When peace finally returned to England almost two hundred thousand lives had been lost from a population which probably numbered less than one and a half million males between sixteen and sixty, well over eighty thousand had been killed in the fighting and more than one hundred thousand had died from accidents and disease in the plague ridden towns.

"Few parishes in Devon can have escaped; the country was the scene of almost continuous destructive campaigning from September 1642 until April 1646. Throughout the war, troops were quartered in Devon, and commonly took 'free quarter' as they willed. Furthermore, parishes were asked to contribute monthly sums, 'martial rates', for the support of the various different armies in the county . . . Later the village people were so enraged and oppressed that they armed themselves . . . By 1645 these local bands, known as 'clubmen', were active all over Devon. They were villagers who took the law into their own hands, attempting to keep both sides away from their area." [Stanes 1986]

This then was the environment in which the Randells lived. They would have surely have been aware of and perhaps directly affected by the battles that had raged between the Royalists and the Roundheads at Stratton a mere twenty five miles away and at Great Torrington even nearer, and with the sieges of both Barnstaple and Bideford. (In January 1646 it was reported that a band of 'clubmen' from the parishes of Hartland, Woolfardisworthy, Parkham, Clovelly, Morwenstow and Kilkhampton numbered 700! [Cotton 1889] . And in this same year, Bideford was also struck by the Plague, attributed to infected wool imported from Spain, according to [Goaman 1968] .)

The war ended in 1646, but earlier, on 6th May 1641 in fact, during the passage of a Bill in Parliament for the Attainment of the Earl of Strafford, a form of Protestation had been drawn up which imposed an obligation that it should be signed by all Englishmen. In Clovelly, one Francis Randell complied with this order - his signature being witnessed by William Greenaway the local Curate - and perhaps was subsequently one of the 700 'clubmen'.

Details of this Francis Randell's birth and marriage have yet to be confirmed but it is reasonably certain that one of his sons was the James Randell who would have been born about 1630 and who married Elizabeth Meafer on 31st January 1650.

Following the pattern of the day the Christian name of their eldest son was that which was traditional to the family, Francis. In any event Francis Randell, who probably was born about 1651, married Bridgette Cole on 17th April 1681 (the year before the "Bideford Witches" were convicted and executed [Note 6]), and died on the 4th July 1705; what we take to be his will was proved on 26th July of that same year.

Francis and Bridgette had nine children including four sons who lived to maturity. Again the first three children seem to have been named after their immediate antecedents, in this case their Grandmother, Father and Grandfather, i.e. Elizabeth, Francis and James. (By modern day standards this is rather repetitive, but it greatly assists the researches of genealogists - who are eternally grateful for the habit.)

The four surviving sons, i.e. Francis, James, Arthur and Nicholas, all seem to have followed what we assume was by now a family tradition in responding to the call of the sea, all becoming master mariners. They were each in turn master of the BLESSING, probably having first served an apprenticeship with their father. The BLESSING would have been about 50 burthen tons and was actively engaged in the South Wales coal trade [Note 7]. Clovelly was administratively part of the port of Bideford, despite having its own little harbour, and there are extensive records in the Bideford Port Books of voyages over many years to Swansea, Neath and Bristol with either Francis, James or Arthur as master - see Appendix 4. (Incidentally, no evidence has yet been found of any of the Clovelly Randells being involved in any overseas trade, or in the fishing industry [Note 8].)

North Devon's coastal trade during the 17th and 18th centuries has in fact been described in the following terms.

"Barnstaple and Bideford, which were administratively connected with Exeter, imported colonial produce which figured in their coasting trade. Bideford, a "pleasant, clean, well-built town", was shipping coastwise tobacco to Swansea, Ilfracombe and Plymouth, and sugar and Newfoundland train oil to Bristol towards the end of the seventeenth century, though its chief cargo was earthenware to South Wales, Bristol and Gloucester. Other outward cargoes at that time were wine for Minehead and Bristol, salt and deals for the South Wales ports, and herrings, "taken at Clovelly", for Plymouth. The inward shipments were chiefly coal from South Wales, agricultural produce from Bridgewater, hilling-stones [i.e. roofing stones] from Padstow, and miscellaneous goods from Bristol. In the eighteenth century Bideford was importing more tobacco than any other port in England, except London, but this seems to have been distributed by land, for the most important coastwise cargo was then not tobacco, which did not figure at all, but tobacco pipe-clay. Thus from Christmas, 1736, to Christmas, 1737, Bideford shipped coastwise 926 tons 14 cwt, 2 qrs. 13 lb. of tobacco pipe-clay chiefly to Bristol, but also to Padstow, Bridgwater, Neath, Chester and Liverpool. The other outward shipments, which were insignificant in comparison, included earthenware and wood to Padstow, and earthenware, barley, wheat, calf-skins and brandy to Bristol. The inward cargoes, of which there were 133 in 1737 as against 28 outward, consisted of coal from South Wales and miscellaneous goods, including salt, sugar, glass bottles, tinplates, nails, iron, paper and haberdashery, from Bristol." [Willan 1938]

In fact there was also a busy trade in limestone from West Wales to Devon, whose farmers by this time were making much use of lime to counteract the naturally acidic soil in their fields. There were numerous limekilns on or near the coast, including at the harbour at Clovelly. Much limestone was quarried and shipped to these limekilns from places such as Llanmadoc on the Gower Peninsula, but the trade was free of duty, and was largely carried in different ships, so that it rarely features in official records, such as those of the coal and coasting trade.

Towards the end of the century came the drama of the Duke of Monmouth's rebellion, which came to a brutal conclusion at Sedgemoor in 1686. Many Devonians were involved in the rebellion and the final battle, but most came from East Devon, and quite what impact these events had on life in Clovelly is unclear. However:

"By 1688, 46 years had passed since swords were first drawn in the west in conflict . . . Two perilous, passionate and strenuous centuries had passed. Life in Devon in the future was to be safer, but much less eventful. Monmouth's rising was the last English rebellion, and also the last occasion on which Devonshire people were directly involved in deciding national history." [Stanes 1986]

Eighteenth Century Clovelly

Seven generations of the Carys had owned, and in the main lived at, Clovelly, from Robert Cary (c.1457-1540) to Robert Cary (1697-1724), who died childless. The estate was purchased soon afterwards by Zachary Hamlyn - so beginning an association with the Hamlyn name that lasted into the 20th century.

Cox's Magna Britannia says of the early 18th century harbour of Clovelly:

"Clovelly, an Harbour secur'd by Pier to resist the boisterous Waves, and safe- guard the Ship and Boats, erected by George Cary Esq; whose Family have had their Seat here from the time of Richard II when Sir John Cary bought the Manor of the Heirs of the Giffards, who were the most ancient Lords of it. 'Tis now the most noted Place in these Parts for the Herring Fishery." [Cox 1710]

This was the Clovelly where James Randell married Thomazin Pugsley on 20th January 1712. Their marriage lasted but 13 years but in that time they would seem to have had at least three children: Bridgette named after the Grandmother, Francis after the Grandfather and James after the father.

The lineage of concern to the present day Randell family, who have descended from the Francis Randell who settled in Wales in 1797, is his grandfather Francis Randell, who was born in Clovelly on 2nd October 1716 and Emlyn Mumford who he married on the 16th October 1739, Emlyn being the daughter of one Thomas Mumford, we presume the Thomas Mumford who was the Master of the ELIZABETH.

According to [Hoskins 1954] , Clovelly Court, the basis of the present manor house, was built by Zachary Hamlyn in about 1740 in Tudor style, though it was greatly altered after having been damaged by fire towards the end of the century. The estate passed to his great nephew James Hammett in 1758, who took the name Hamlyn, and later married Arabella Williams, an heiress from Edwinsford in Carmarthenshire, and became M.P. for Carmarthenshire from 1795 to 1809.

Francis and Emlyn Randell had at least two sons, and perhaps one daughter (Elizabeth, who married James Davy on the 26th November 1767). Sadly Emlyn Randell died just seven years after their marriage. Francis, born in 1744, lived only two years but the first son, born 17th May 1741, was named Thomas Mumford Randell after the father of Emlyn Mumford, and in due course continued the family tradition of becoming a master mariner. [Note 9]

The earliest significant descriptive account we have found of Clovelly, albeit one that concentrates mainly on its church, dates from just after this. It is in a manuscript now in the Bodleian Library that contains answers to a questionnaire sent out by Dean Milles, of Exeter, who was preparing to write a history of Devon. The section on Clovelly is as follows:

"Answers to the Queries for Clovelly:
- The true modern name of this Parish as above. In Ecton's Liber Valorum spelt Claveleigh.
- Its' length from East to West is three Miles, from North to South, three & an half.
- It is bounded by the sea, and the Parishes of Hartland, & Wolfardisworthy.
- Number of houses in it about one Hundred, & Thirty. The Baptisms, communibus Annis, are Twenty, the Burials fourteen.
- The Parish consisteth of one Manor called the Manor of Clovelly, possessed by the Cary Family at least five hundred years.
- Its' present Lord, who has enjoyed it since 1743, is Zachary Hamlyn of Lincoln's Inn Esqr.
- There is a good old Mansion House with a modern elegant Garden belonging to it.
- The Church is situated almost upon the Extremity of the North Part of the Parish, dedicated, (as is Supposed) to the Holy Ghost, the Wake being kept on Whitsun Monday. It is of an irregular Form, built with Stone, & covered with Slate. Its' length in the Clear is Fifty Feet, its' Breadth Thirty one.
- It is Fifty Miles from Exeter, & the next Market Town is Bideford.
- The Walls of the Chancel are covered with neat Monuments for illustrious Persons of the Cary Family. The Inscription of earliest Date as followeth: Robertus Carius Armiger Objit Anno Dom, 1506.
- The Height of the Tower, which is square, is built with large hewn stones is Fifty Feet. It hath in it three Bells.
- The Patron of the Church is Zachary Hamlyn Esqr.
- In Stephens's Monasticon is the following memorable Account of the sd. Church & its then Patron. "William Carey, by Apostolical Authority, & with Licence of King Richard the second, granted the eleventh year of his Reign, converted the Parish Church of Cloveley in Devonshire, which was of his own Advowson, into a Collegiate of seven Chaplains, one of them to be Warden, & built them Houses in the Rectory to live in, & granted them the Advowson of the said Church."
- No Chappels of Ease, nor any in Ruins.
- In a Village, called East Dyke, are pretty perfect Remains of (as by Tradition) a Danish Encampment, a View of which, together with the Key, described (as I think) in Moll's Geography, will be, to an Antiquarian, a morning's agreeable Entertainment.
- The Face of the Parish is partly hilly, partly level, but chiefly the latter, where is, generally, the coarsest & barrenest soil, the Culture, & Produce, of which, is much the same as in Hartland, & may admit of the same Description, excepting the Article of Cyder, which is made here, in a proportionably small quantity, & far from being remarkable for its Goodness.
- The remaining queries answered No, or None.
Answered by Mr Robins, Vicar of Clovelly". [Dean Milles c1755]

The Milles manuscript has never been published. However, a brief account of Clovelly did appear shortly afterwards in a 1759 gazetteer:

"Clovelly is a Harbour secur'd by a Pier, and the most noted in these Parts for the Herring Fishery, and for the Excellency of the Fish of that Species taken here. From it about 400 Horses are laden with that Fish on a Day, to the Value in a Season of above 1,500l. Here's also taken the best Cod in the World, tho' not in such Quantities as at Newfoundland." [Quoted in [Chope 1935] .]
Clovelly's fortunes were in fact very dependent on the very fickle herring shoals:
"In the year 1740, God was pleased to send us his blessing of a great fishery amongst us - after a failure of many years. This through his mercy continued in 1741. In the year 1742, the fish was small and poor, and in less quantities. In this year 1743, but an indifferent fishing. In this year 1744, worse than in the preceding. In this year 1745, still worse. In the year 1746, much worse." "In those days, many men from surrounding villages congregated in Clovelly for the fishing season, as the following information shows:- There were 46 burials between August 17th, 1742 and May 15th, 1743 - nine months! 28 have already died of smallpox, including a welsh lad, a stranger, a lad of Northam, a youth for Coombe Martin, and a showmaker from Stratton. John Dyer of Tamerton fell over the key in this fishing season. John Robbins, Rector" [Quoted from text that had been copied into an old Church magazine, in [Ellis 1987] .]
No details have been found of Clovelly's 18th century fishing fleet, which was presumably separate from the set of coasting vessels involved in the coal trade whose movements are recorded in the Port Books (and also in the records that we have found of Pembrey coal shipments). These books and records have enabled us to identify names of a large number of Randell-captained Clovelly ships during the period up to 1721, namely: AGNIS, BLESSING, ELIZABETH, ELIZABETH & JOAN, GRACE, HAPPY COUPLE, JOHN & AGNES, LAMB, MAYFLOWER, PROSPEROUS ENDEAVOUR, RECOVERY, SPEEDWELL and WILLIAM & JOHN. The Randells were evidently part of a closely-knit community of Clovelly mariners, since a number of Clovelly families that are linked to the Randells by marriage likewise had members in the coastal shipping trade during this period, namely Davy, Hele, Madge, Mumford, Pollard, and Warmington.

Relatively few relevant Port Books remain extant from the remainder of the 18th century. However, it is known, for example, that in 1747 a Nicholas Randell was master of the SUSANNA [Note 10], and that in 1771 the VENUS was captained both by a William Randell [Note 11] and by a Thomas Randell [Note 12].

A feature of the coal trade, as far as the Welsh ports was concerned, was the size of the vessels. Allowing that they would have had a draught of six or eight feet they were able to gain access to loading points near the collieries. This had obvious advantages and as a result villages and towns which one would not think of having been used for such purposes were regularly involved, such as Llangennech on the Lougher estuary with the nearby Morlais colliery, Neath, Pembrey, Kidwelly, Laugharne and Carmarthen.

The Randell family generally, including those who might not have lived in Clovelly but were possibly related, were extensively involved with this trade across the Bristol Channel,. and the many hazards that lurked there. Jasper Randell who had sailed the waters for many years was drowned on the Cefn Sidn sands and is buried in Pembrey. Thomas Mumford Snr. is thought to have suffered a similar fate and is buried in Kidwelly.

Thomas Mumford Randell married a Mary Whitfield on 23rd November 1767 at the Clovelly Parish Church, the banns having been read on the three previous Sundays - the 1st, 8th and 15th November, by the Rev. John Robbins. (During this period several Whitefields [Note 13] in Clovelly were ship's captains in the coasting trade.) He also married Elizabeth Randell to James Davy, another mariner, on 26th November 1767.

Thomas Mumford Randell is in all probability the Thomas Randell, master of the HAPPY COUPLE (of Clovelly?) which records show loaded stone coal or anthracite in Kidwelly in March 1767 [Note 14]. This is the first recorded association between the Clovelly Randells and the actual town in which their son was to take up permanent residence in 1797 - though, as mentioned earlier, a Jasper Randell, sailor, is recorded as having been buried in nearby Pembrey in 1718.

A Francis Randall, presumably the one we know to be a son of Thomas Mumford Randell and Mary Whitefield, and to have later moved to Carmarthenshire, was the master (but not owner) of the FRIEND'S DESIRE of Clovelly (registered Bideford No. 8/24.2.1787), a 84-ton brigantine. He joined the vessel at Plymouth 16th Aug. 1793 and probably remained with her until 16 Apr. 1794 when another master was taken on at Plymouth.

So far the only member of the Clovelly Randell family whose occupation is known to be other than that of mariner is one Michael Randell, whose entry in the 1780 Land Tax Assessment implies that he was one of the surprisingly large number (seven in 1780) of Excise officers who were based in Clovelly, under the command of John Berry, about whom there is the following passage in [Smith 1989]:

"In October 1804 the Barnstaple Collector had the following to say about smuggling in the area: 'We find that smuggling in general for some years has been increasing and is carried out at present on the coast of Devon and Cornwall to an alarming extent. . . The Principal Places of landing on this side of the Channel are Clovelly (a place notorious for smuggling), Combe Martin, Lee and Lynmouth within the port of Barnstaple . . ' In the same report the Collector 'deemed it necessary' to inform the Customs Board of 'the total incompetency of John Berry, Riding Officer at Clovelly, who was appointed to guard the coast from thence to Bude. He is exceedingly infirm being upwards of 70 years of age and we understand he has not been on horseback for 20 years past!' . . . The Collector mentioned Clovelly as a place notorious for smuggling and yet, search as one may, there are no recorded seizures in the vicinity until the early years of the 19th century. Its very isolation must have ensured its exclusivity as a favourite and safe landing place and it is favoured by being the only sheltered harbour along the coast - said to be the most dangerous and inhospitable stretch in the whole of the country. With riding officers of the calibre of Berry, Clovelly must have been a virtual 'free port' for most of the smuggling period. It seems likely that Benson [a notorious smuggler based on Lundy Island] used it as a regular landing place as it is but a short landfall from Lundy. Some of the caves off Hobby Drive, the splendid three mile walk that wends along the cliff tops, were said to have been stores for contraband cargoes. One cave to the east of the harbour still retains the name of 'Smugglers Cave'."

Attempts to trace further details of Michael Randell, and of the Clovelly Excise establishment, have to date not been successful. However the later Land Tax records do show that from 1789 to 1793 a Mrs Randell was occupier of two houses on North Hill, "Late Moores" and "Late Beers" (owner James Hamlyn), the tax on each being £0-3-6¾d. With these entries, together with that relating the burial of a Wilmot Randle, also in 1793, all records of Randell involvement in Clovelly come to an end. It has been suggested that some might have emigrated earlier to North America, in fact in the 17th century, to the Isles of Shoals (New Hampshire and Maine). There is evidence of links between the fishing communities of North Devon and the Isles of Shoals. Several Clovelly surnames, including Randall and Rendle, occur in various island records, and at least one immigrant to the islands from Clovelly has been positively identified, namely Edward Shapley (bap. Clovelly, 28 Apr 1692).

Presumably, for many centuries, Clovelly's main connections to the outside world had been by sea. However, Donne's 1765 Map of Devon shows a side road from Clovelly joining the main road between Hartland and Bideford. This presumably was the road used by the earliest traveller to have left a detailed account of a visit to Clovelly, John Swete. His extensive and enthusiastic description of the village of Clovelly at this time, accompanied by two delightful water-colour drawings of the harbour [Note 15], is to be found in one of the volumes of his unpublished manuscript now in the North Devon Record Office [Swete 1797]. Negotiations are in train over possible publication of this manuscript, so it has not been possible to obtain permission to quote here the full text of the several-page Clovelly section.

Swete in fact describes how he explored Clovelly, starting from Clovelly Court, attempting first to descend through the village on horseback, but rapidly deciding that it was far too steep for this. He had tea at the little Inn part way down the village street, and then descended to the shore. He states that "such a town is not I believe to be parallel'd in any part of Great Britain", and likens its hanging gardens to those of "Semiramis at Babylon". Down on the quayside, from where he describes the scene in some detail, and summarises it as "uncommonly delightfull". He then goes on to describe the sighting of a porpoise, and the villagers' great excitement at this for, as one of them explained to him, "the Herrings are on the coast; several have now been taken in the nets, and twas in pursuit of them that the Porpoise, which by tearing the net has escaped, has ventured to come in so near to the shore. - these are the first we have taken this year". Swete then discusses at length the Clovelly schoolmaster who, despite having lost both hands in a childhood accident, had trained himself to write, and paint, and even produce woodcarvings - see [Hillyer 1990] . He ends the Clovelly section of his diary with enthusiastic praise for the comforts of the Inn: "within whose humble roof I had met with more civility, and better accommodation, that had frequently been my lot, where the rooms had been more stately and the expenditure more exhorbitant".

From Swete's portrayal of Clovelly, one would never realise that this was a period of general commercial decline in Devon. The cloth-working and mining industries had largely disappeared and:

". . . due to the constant French wars and the loss of the American colonies . . . the centre of gravity of industry, and the trade that went with it, had passed to the north of England. Devon was no longer one of the richer English counties, as the new wealth was measured. For the ordinary man and woman, perhaps the most significant thing was that the population of the county nearly doubled. This, combined with slowly declining trade and industry, meant unemployment and low wages. . . " [Stanes 1986]

Moreover, as the century was ending, wars broke out against Revolutionary France, and there were bitter riots in a number of major Devon towns and rural areas - though not, as far as is known, in North Devon. Nevertheless, all these developments might have played a part in the decision by Francis Randell to leave his native Clovelly for a part of Wales where industry was starting to develop rapidly, and which he and his seafaring ancestors presumably knew quite well.

So, sometime during or before 1797, the year John Swete wrote the above account, he sailed across the channel, successfully avoiding its many hazards and tied up alongside the quay in Kidwelly.[Note 16] There, whether by sampling the golden nectar of its taverns, or by whatever means, he met and succumbed to the charms of a Welsh Maid, one Rebecca Thomas. It was ever thus.

After his move from Clovelly to Carmarthenshire, Francis founded a further sea-going dynasty there - he and a number of his descendants were ship's captains and ship-owners based mainly in Kidwelly, Pembrey and Llanelly well into the 19th century. (Over 400 of his descendants have been traced to date. However, that is another - much better documented - story.)


This investigation has been carried out with the assistance of a large number of people, especially Mr Harry Clement and Miss Sheila Ellis of Clovelly, Mr Robin Craig of Dover, and members of the staff of the Exeter and Barnstaple Record Offices.


[Banfield 1842] J. Banfield. A Guide to Ilfracombe, Lynton, Clovelly, and the Neighbouring Towns, Ilfracombe, J. Banfield, 1842.

[Bate 1952] S. Bate. Glimpses of Clovelly of Yesterday, Bideford, Gazette Printing, 1952, 24 pp.

[Beckerlegge 1950] J.J. Beckerlegge, (Ed.). Index of the Wills and Administrations relating to the County of Devon proved in the Court of the Archdeaconry of Barnstaple, 1563-1858, and preserved in the Probate Registry at Exeter until destroyed by enemy action in 1942., The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, 1950.

[Carlisle 1808] N. Carlisle. Topographical Dictionary of England (2 vols.), London, Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1808.

[Chope 1935] R.P. Chope, "Some Towns and Villages in Devonshire in 1759," The Devonian Year Book, pp.59, 1935.

[Clement 1992] H.C. Clement. Clovelly Church and Its People, Merlin Books, 40 East St, Braunton, Devon EX33 2EA, 1992, 95 pp.

[Cotton 1889] R.W. Cotton. Barnstaple and the Northern part of Devonshire during the great Civil War, Chilworth and London, Unwin Bros., 1889.

[Cox 1710] T. Cox. Magna Britannia or Topographical, Historical, Ecclesiastical and Natural History of Devonshire, Exeter, M. Nutt, 1710.

[Dean Milles c1755] Dean Milles. MSS (of a projected history of Devon), Oxford, MS. Top. Devon b. 1, fols, Bodleian Library, c1755.

[Dickens 1892] C. Dickens. "A Message from the Sea [1860]," in Christmas Stories from "Household Words" and "All the Year Round", pp. 86-101, London, Chapman and Hall, 1892.

[Ellis 1987] S. Ellis. Down a Cobbled Street: the story of Clovelly, Bideford, Badger Books, 1 Chinon Court, Lower Moor Way, Tiverton, Devon EX16 65S, 1987, 64p.

[Goaman 1968] M. Goaman. Old Bideford and District, Bristol, E.M. & A.G. Cox, 1968, 96 pp.

[Hillyer 1990] N. Hillyer, "A Handless Hatherleigh worthy: Thomas Roberts, 1771- 1848," Local History Magazine, March, 1990, pp.23-25.

[Hoskins 1954] W.G. Hoskins. Devon, A New Survey of England. London, Collins, 1954, 600 pp.

[Hoskins 1955] W.G. Hoskins. The Making of the English Landscape, Hodder & Staughton, 1955, 327 pp.

[Jones 1910] J. Jones, "Captain Jenkin Jones's Diary: Report of a tour in England and Wales in the year 1819," West Wales Historical Records, vol. 1, pp.97-50, 1910.

[Murray 1850] J. Murray. A Handbook for Travellers in Devon and Cornwall, J. Murray, 1850, 196 pp.

[Oppenheim 1968] M.M. Oppenheim. The Maritime History of Devon, Exeter, The University, 1968, 175 pp.

[Powell 1870-75] J.R. Powell, "Archaeological Notes on North Devon Parishes and Families (by "Marland")," North Devon Journal, 1870-75.

[Prince 1810] J. Prince. Worthies of Devon, London, 1810.

[Risdon 1970] T. Risdon. Chorographical Description, or Survey of the County of Devon [1811], Pilton Street, Barnstaple, Porcupine, 1970, 470 pp.

[Ruthven 1968] A. Ruthven. Clovelly, a guide book (12th Ed.), Grenville St., Bideford, Gazette Printing Service, 1968, 60 pp.

[Ruthven 1981] N. Ruthven. Clovelly and its Story, Barnstaple, Aycliffe Press, 1981, 48 pp.

[Smith 1989] G. Smith. Smuggling in the Bristol Channel 1700-1850, Newbury, Berkshire, Countryside Books, 1989, 176 p.

[Stanes 1986] R. Stanes. A History of Devon, Chichester, Phillimore, 1986, 128 pp.

[Swete 1797] J. Swete. Picturesque Sketches of Devon (vol. 13), Bound manuscript, 1797.

[Watkins 1883] J. Watkins. The History of Bideford, Bideford, 1883.

[Westcote 1845] T. Westcote. A view of Devonshire in MDCXXX with a pedigree of most of its gentry, Exeter, W. Roberts, 1845, 649 pp.

[Wickes 1992] M.J.L. Wickes. The Early Bishops' Transcripts and Church Registers of Clovelly in North Devon (1620-1730), Appledore, M.J.L. Wickes, 1992, 25 pp.

[Willan 1938] T.S. Willan. English Coasting Trade 1600-1750, Manchester Univ. Press, 1938.

[Williams 1804] T.H. Williams. Picturesque Excursions in Devonshire and Cornwall. Part 1: Devonshire, London, J. Murray, 1804, 108 pp.

Appendices and Notes

Brian Randell, 2 Sep 1999