Speculation: Who was Stephen Vanstone?

Many Vanstone seekers will eventually trace their line back to the marriage of Stephen Vanstone and Mary Piper in 1626 in the small North Devon Parish of Buckland Filleigh. Who was this Stephen, where did he and his wife come from, and what was life like for them in the 17C ?
Many of points I make below are only speculative. Although  it was compulsary to keep Parish Registers from 1537, most of the early entries were kept on separate sheets which have been lost. With the exception of a few entries which survived in the Bishop’s Transcripts,  the Buckland Filleigh Parish Registers began in 1626.
Of the nearby Parishes, only Shebbear has 16C Records. One is therefore reliant on  Tax Lists and other Official Lists  on which to base one’s conjectures.
In the 1524 Subsidy List the name V/Fanstone is only found in the Black Torrington Hundred, with the wealthiest Fanstone recorded in the List being assessed on  £8  of goods in Tetcott. This was a reasonably prosperous man.
I see no reason to change the following notes on the origin of the name I compiled some time ago

The  Devon  Vanstones almost certainly had one locative origin. It is probable that the name came from the farm/hamlet of Fontson/Fonson in Warbstow N/Cornwall
(F &V were interchangeable in the early records of the name)
(The majority of small free tenants--an important section of the rural population & one to which the early Vanstones probably belonged--acquired surnames in the period 1250-1350).
For perhaps 3+ generations in the 13C & early 14C the “farmers” of Fanson in Warbstow would have been known as “John” de Fanson. Possibly after the Black Death of 1348/9 the family moved from Warbstow & settled in Tetcott less than 10 miles away.
(The Black Death wiped out up to half the population of Devon(see Hoskins) & there was almost no growth in population in the 15C-a period of economic stagnation.This explains why there were so few references to the name Vanstone in 1524 Subsidy despite the name having been in use for perhaps 200 years. However those families which survived the  Plague were in a stronger economic position than those in the early years of the 14C, for labour was scarce & many farms were left untenanted.)
It was at Tetcott that the Vanstone family first settled for in 1524 this was definitely the senior line. John G8 1524 was farming a reasonable acreage for the time. It is impossible to say without whether he was an owner or a tenant, but was most probably a tenant for most of his land. As the family remained in Tetcott for many generations however until at least the end of the 17C they possibly owned some land.
There were 3 references to the name John in the1524 Subsidy (see16C Lists) so certain Vanstones had moved from Tetcott to neighbouring parishes by the mid 16C
In the early 16C the Clawton & North Petherwin Vanstones were most probably tenant farmers with c50 acres, though John G1 in Ashwater was probably not farmer in his own right (He could also have been a young man not yet of age-the Subsidy records those of18+ whilst the age of majority was 21)
In the 1st half of the 16C the Vanstones were almost entirely confined to the Bl/Torrington Hundred(relatively near their origin inWarbstow? By 1600 there wereVanstone families in many more parishes & by the 1641 Protestation Return there were families in at least 12 parishes in 8 different Hundreds.

 I think Stephen came to Buckland Filleigh in the early 1620s. He may well have come to the Parish as a farm apprentice learning his trade. There were no Vanstone burials recorded in the Parish until his own in 1667, and no references to the name in the Parish Records prior to the 1626 marriage.  He was I believe a small farmer.   I think he came from Tetcott where there were two families  having children around the turn of the century with several missing entries. It is possible he came from Little Torrington as a George and Thomas Vanston were recorded there on the 1569 Muster Roll. However there was only one Vanstone entry on the 1581 Subsidy List – that of Richard in Tetcott. Any other Vanstones would have had wages or goods below £3 a year - they would have been labourers or craftsmen. I think Stephen came from a farming family as he  become a tenant of the Buckland Filleigh Fortescues and would have needed contacts to enable him to move into a “closed” Parish. The Settlement Laws were strict.

What of his wife Mary? In 1524 John Piper was one of Peters Marland’s wealthiest inhabitants. The family was only recorded in Peters Marland. In 1581 Walter Piper was one of the four wealthiest men in the Parish, but a younger son of his, James was taxed on land to the value of only £1 a year in Buckland Filleigh. The Piper family were in Buckland Filleigh for more than 200 years. The last of the units at West Heanton Farm was known as Piper’s West Heanton. I think it was James who cleared and cultivated this farm in the latter part of the 16C. Unfortunately it was not particularly fertile land being mainly moorland( see Book-section on Field names etc)
In 1603 Edward Piper married Frances Parnacott in Buckland Filleigh and Mary was their daughter born circa 1605. Stephen and Mary had only one known child, Stephen baptised just under a year after the marriage. Mary seems to have lived to a good age. There were 2 Mary Vanstone burials in March 1691( new calender ) one on March 2nd and one on March 24. One was Mary nee Piper and the other Mary nee Graddon her daughter in law.

So where was Stephen farming? Unfortunately Buckland Filleigh is missing from the Tax Lists of 1642  so at present there is no evidence of his relative prosperity. Did he assist his in-laws for a time at Piper’s West Heanton. This is unlikely as the farm could not have supported two +  families and Mary had two known brothers Richard and Edward who were listed in the 1641 Protestation Return with their father Edward. In 1674 under the list of those too poor to pay the Hearth Tax were Humphrey Piper with 1 hearth, and Edward Piper with 2 hearths. It is unusual for someone with 2 hearths to be on the Poor List as this depicted a farmhouse not a cottage. This means that this was almost certainly the farmhouse attached to Piper’s West Heanton.
(see book for position and explanation)
Stephen son of Stephen was living in a farmhouse with 2 hearths in 1674. I am convinced that this was the dwelling at Lower West Heanton.(see book).
( I remember the basic layout of the farmhouse clearly from the 1950s despite the many alterations) This was where I believe the sons of Stephen and Mary Graddon from whom so many of us descend were born and raised.
Sometime in the latter part of the 1680s  however,  for some reason Stephen and Mary left Lower West Heanton and moved into a cottage at Galmington which on the 1851 Census was named Vanstone’s Galmington in a piece of land called Vanstone’s meadow. In the latter part of the 1680s the Balkwill family  possibly moved into Lower West Heanton and were at one of the West Heanton dwellings until the 1840s.
However this is only speculation and perhaps Stephen remained at Lower West Heanton and another Vanstone gave their name to the cottage at Galmington. I can only be sure that by the middle of the 18C there were 4 Vanstone families in Buckland Filleigh and another family just across the Parish Boundary in Sheepwash ( see book) The Vanstones were certainly the most prolific of the Parish families.

Jane Taylor