By J.J. Beckerlegge

Transcribed by Pat Gillard, Paul Hockie, Marilyn and Pieter Koops, Pat Norton, Susan Page, John Pitts and Brian Randell

The Source (BECK)

Beckerlegge, J.J. (ed.). Index of the Wills and Administrations relating to the County of Devon proved in the Court of the Archdeaconry of Barnstaple, 1563-1858 (5 vols.). The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art (1950).

This is a set of volumes of bound typescripts, the only known copies of which are held at the Devon Heritage Centre, the North Devon Record Office (NDRO), the Westcountry Studies Library (WSL, now part of the Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter) and the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office (PWDRO). All the original wills proved in the Archdeaconry Court of Barnstaple were held at Exeter, and thus destroyed in 1942. So the 50000 entries in these five volumes serve only to convey the information that such and such a person did in fact leave a will or administration, now sadly lost. However, a good number of transcripts and abstracts of Barnstaple wills and administrations, prepared before the wartime destruction, can be found in other sources.

Note: A document at The North Devon Atheneum - Archdeacon's Court book, with list of Wills proved, 1573 - 1586, which dates from 1892, provides an alternative source for a small fraction of the entries in Beckerlegge. In this alternative source, in the case of administrations, the administrator's name is usually given, and for the majority of entries the value of the inventory is given.

Incidentally, the DWP transcription of Beckerlegge has been used to enable the production of a modern, edited and annotated version of Beckerlegge's 1950 original, namely:


Webb, Cliff (ed.). Wills in the Archdeaconry Court of Barnstaple. Index Library, vol. 128, The British Record Society (2013) [ISBN 13: 9780901505583].


DWP's editing process

In these volumes each entry occupies a separate line, blank indents (rather than "ditto" marks) being used to show when names are to be regarded as repeated from one line to the next. For our BECK items, which are scattered across DWP, such implied repeated names are inserted explicitly.

Beckerlegge provided lists of surname variants, both within entries for particular wills, and as separate entries. These lists have been turned into additional "See" and "See also" entries in the DWP index, the fact of their being additions being marked by the use of square brackets.

The Beckerlegge volumes have been found to include evident typing errors. On at least three occasions the surname typed at the top of a page (to indicate that the whole page consists of people of that surname) has been found to be incorrect. The compilers of our set of BECK items have tried to rectify these errors in cases where they are virtually certain what was actually intended.

Many of Beckerlegge's lines end with a code (or contraction). An anonymous Preface to Volume 1 contains the statement: "It is regretted that the key to contractions is incomplete". Indeed, the list that is provided omits the most frequently-used codes ('A', 'T', 'W'), and is merely:

ACT - Administration cum testamente
ACTA - Administration cum testamente annexe
ADBN - Administration de bonis non
ADM - Aetate, durante minore
CTA - Cum testamente annexe
I(nv) - Inventory
LA - Letters of Administration
Limited A - Limited Administration
TN - Testamente Nuncupative

The original codes are transcribed into the 'Reference' column, and an attempt is made to interpret them in the 'Type' column in terms of the standard codes used in the Devon Wills Project. Given the loss of all these probate records, this interpretation is of necessity rather uncertain. However there is little doubt that 'T' and 'W' have the meaning "Testament" and "Will", respectively - here both are interpreted in the 'Type' column as 'W'. Where no code has been provided by Beckerlegge, we have made the slightly rash assumption that the item concerns a will, and have inserted "[W?]" in the 'Type' column.


Locating the source and acquiring copies

As mentioned above, our source BECK merely shows the one-time existence of original wills and administrations that were all destroyed in 1942. So, there is nothing left to copy, sadly.