My 3rd great grandmother Priscilla Chichester was born illegitimate on 22 Sep 1796 and christened on 16 Oct 1796 at Branscombe, Devon:

Priscilla Chichester, d. of Martha Noak [illeg.] (d. of Israel Noak, a reputable Farmer-tenant under John Stuckey, Esquire, living on Hole Farm & Martha his wife), reputed father Robert Chichester, of Old Cleave, Somerset

Robert Chichester married Martha Noake on 13 Apr 1797 at Branscombe, and they had four more children:

  • Jane was born in Old Cleeve, Somerset, according to the 1851, 1861, 1871 and 1881 Censuses. When she was born is not so certain, but her age given at each census indicates 1801 (1841), 1796 (1851), 1798 (1861), 1799 (1871) and 1799 (1881). Taking the ages of her siblings into account, I suspect Jane was born about 1798.
  • Giles was christened on 21 Jun 1801 at Broadwey, Dorset
  • Jared was christened on 20 Mar 1803 at Broadwey, Dorset
  • Thomas was perhaps the youngest but I have not yet found any evidence for when or where he was born. He died as a bachelor in 1838.

In 1804, Robert (and presumably his family) appears to have been leasing Chamberland’s Farm, at Wool, Dorset, from Thomas Sabine, which suggests he may have been a farmer or farm labourer.

As you can see on the map below the three known locations of their children's births are quite some distance apart (about 50 miles, as the crow flies, an much more by any roads).

Why might Robert have first been at Branscombe, and then why might he and Martha as a couple have migrated between Branscombe, Old Cleeve and Broadwey/Wool (before returning to Old Cleeve where they were buried at Leighland Chapel)?

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2 Answers 2


I grew up in that part of the world and can trace a remarkably similar migration pattern between Somerset and Dorset in my ancestors - particularly Gillingham, Wiveliscombe and Old Cleeve. Much of what I have learnt comes from local history handed down in the family and by visiting farming museums in Somerset (particularly this one in Glastonbury).

18th Century farming in the West Country employed a large number of semi-itinerant labourers. While tenant farmers clearly stayed on their tenancies, the labourers would move to where the work was, following an annual cycle.

There were, indeed still are, different forms of arable farm along with dairy on the moors and sheep on the hills. This meant that the peak workload, lambing, harvesting, ploughing, etc. took place at different times in different locations. Also, driving livestock to the larger markets such as Yeovil and Bridgwater was seasonal. Farmers would, and still do, take on casual labour at these times. Many labourers followed the work.

Most labourers would have a fixed home where they brought up their family but could be away from home for months at a time. Others would take their families with them. Most, it appears, would seek to settle as they got older and had more family responsibility. Taking a tenancy or more permanent work if they could find it.

All this provides the backdrop to movement of people around the counties. Resulting in children, some illegitimate, being born in various places.

You will be able to track down various books on the history of farming in Somerset and Dorset to go into this further if you wish.

  • Many thanks for providing your local knowledge. I'll keep an open mind to whether Broadwey was the base for Martha and their young family while Robert followed the work, before settling for a while at Wool and later returning to his father's farm at Old Cleeve.
    – PolyGeo
    Oct 7, 2015 at 21:36

I can partially answer my own question.

The reason for Martha and Robert being at Broadwey appears to be that three of Martha's siblings (John, Rachel and Ann), and later her mother (Martha nee Derriman) lived there.

It may be particularly relevant that her younger sister Rachel had two illegitimate children, in 1800 and 1801, christened at Broadwey so perhaps Martha and Robert moved there to provide her with family support.

What remains to explain is why Martha's parents (Israel and Martha) who were both baptized at Longburton, Dorset, came to be living at Branscombe, Devon at around 1796 which put their daughter Martha on a path to meet Robert Chichester (of Old Cleeve, Somerset). Israel was a yeoman and farmer-tenant so perhaps he and Robert came to be working the same or nearby land.

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