Morcombe Family
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"Cogito, ergo sum" (Latin: "I think, therefore I am", Descartes, 1650) is no help in proving the existence of ancestors. Taxes on the other hand.........

The most certain source for the existence of our family rests on lists of Englishmen who paid taxes to the sovereign after he had received approval from Parliament, and although our forbears were permanently poverty stricken, they paid up without demur when the tax collectors came knocking at their doors. The king then organized tax collection county by county by appointing one or more important persons to gather the taxes with his authority. Their method was to appoint several people who combined the roles of inspectors, collectors and clerks. For convenience of collection each county was divided into hundreds and each hundred contained a number of ecclesiastical parishes not very different from the distribution of parishes now.

Although tax collection started as early as the reign of Edward III in the 14th Century, only rolls for Dorset have survived and no Morcombes were found here. The rolls were written in Latin on membranes made from animal skins and then rolled, one copy being retained by the county and the other copy was submitted to the king together with the tax collected. Eventually, the rolls were put into the Public Record Office (PRO). I give the Dorset tax collection as an example although the same ones for Cornwall and Devon have not survived.

The Dorset lay subsidy rolls of 1327 and 1332 (1 Edward III, first year of his reign and 6 Edward III, 6th year) were granted to the sovereign by Parliament on the movable property of the English. It was done county by county; in 1327 the tax was levied at 1/20 th of the value of property and in 1332 it was charged at 1/15 th in rural areas and 1/10 th in urban areas. The taxes were levied by hundreds or liberties. The Chief Taxers for Dorset for both of these tax collections were John Peueril and Roger le Guldene. The movable property which was taxable consisted of horses, cattle, sheep, pigs, grain, hay, honey and other agricultural products. Poorer people were protected by not having to pay anything if their property did not amount to 10 shillings in value (tax sixpence). As mentioned, no Morcombes could be found in Dorset (unless they were so impoverished that they were excused from paying).

I was able to find the first lay subsidies for Cornwall when I visited the County Record Office at Truro in October 1991, and I can give similar particulars for Devon which were given to me by Mrs. Jane Taylor of Stockport who is interested in Morcombes from Devonshire. These taxes (Cornwall lay subsidies in the reign of Henry VIII by T.L.Stoate, 1985. CRO ref: SR 34) were levied by King Henry VIII.

Parliament sanctioned King Henry VIII to raise taxes in 1523, 1524 and 1525 on the value of goods and land so as to enable the King ``to assert his right to the title of King of Scotland and to continue the war against Scotland''. There were only two Morcombes who had to pay this tax in the year 1523. The 1524 and 1525 rolls have not survived. Both of these Morcombes came from the west of Cornwall towards the north side, from the parish of Mawgan in the hundred of Pydar, not very far from present day Newquay. They were:

  • Henry Morcumb assessed G5 (that is to say £5 worth of goods)
  • John Morcumb assessed G3

As a comparison, the same tax levied in Devon I found a lot more taxpaying Morcombes than in Cornwall (Devon lay subsidy rolls of 1524 and 1525 ).

William Morcombe Frithelstock Shebbear G2
Davy Morcombe Littleham Shebbear W1
Thomas Morcombe Parkham Shebbear G6
Richard Morcombe Parkham Shebbear W1
John Morcombe Parkham Shebbear W1
Sybly Morcombe Parkham Shebbear W1
Robert Morcombe Northam Shebbear W1
Robert Morcombe Meeth Shebbear G25
Robert Morcombe Dolton North Tawton G5
William Morcombe Ashreigney North Tawton G5
John Morcombe Ashreigney North Tawton W1

The hundred of North Tawton is North of Dartmoor not far from present Okehampton whereas the hundred of Shebbear is not far from Bideford and is thus nearer the north coast of Devon. These parishes are still identifiable today. The Robert Morcombe from Meeth was a rich man and may have been assessed for tax in Northam and Dolton if he owned farms there, but I have no way of finding out whether he was the same man. The interesting thing is that there are 11 names in Devon compared with only two in Cornwall. It looks as if this would be a fertile area for further family research, but most parish registers were started after this date, so that it would be difficult to find out where and when these Morcombes were born, married and buried.

Considering that the present day (1991) telephone directory for Cornwall and Devon lists no less than 78 Morcom and Morcombe names it is surprising to note that 66 come from Cornwall and only 12 from Devon. From these medieval subsidy rolls it would have seemed likely that the Devon Morcombes would have been in much greater numbers. Also 62 of the Cornish ones now spell their name Morcom and they also live reasonably near St. Austell, which is on the south coast of Cornwall, a long way from Mawgan near St Columb Major where the two 16th century Morcombes lived.

The other interesting speculation is whether these medieval Morcombes came from one family or whether there are two separate origins, one in Cornwall and the other in Devon. The two from the parish of Mawgan are surely one family. Before continuing with the fascinating subject of our taxpaying ancestors it seems timely to next look at the origin of the family name, and then return to that subject later.

Aids, subsidies and contributions granted to the Sovereign by Parliament. The Hearth Taxes (Cornwall CRO Hearth and Poll taxes 1660-1664, by T.L. Stoate) are considered to be the best indication available of the social conditions under which our ancestors lived. The possession of a hearth meant that the person concerned had his own home, be it ever so humble. Since it also includes exemption certificates for those too poor to pay the tax that indicates which of our ancestors were very poor.

Additionally, the returns had Certificates of Residence attached relating to those who were assessed in one place but who had meanwhile moved to another; thus providing valuable evidence of removals. Listed below are the Cornish taxpaying Morcombes:

Eliz Morcombe 1 ex (examinatur)
St ISSEY (next to MAWGAN) p146
John Morcombe 4 ret (one too many)
William Morcombe 2 ex (now John Hollman)
Thomas Morcome 3 ex
Henry Morcome 1 ex (now Lower Cocking)
Elizabeth Morcom  
Hercules Morcom  
James Morcom  
Crystian Morcom  

The Hearth Taxes started in the reign of Charles II whereas the Poll Tax was after the Civil War in the time of the Commonwealth (1666-67). From the list of the Cornish Morcombes who paid this tax it is interesting to note that they are all still clustered in parishes near to St.Columb Major. Then in the 140 years which had passed since Henry VIIIs first tax collection the number of Morcombe taxpayers had increased from 2 to 9. And lastly two of those country Morcombes, namely John in St. Issey and Thomas in St.Columb Minor were possessors of houses above the smallest having each to pay for having 3 hearths at least. I still have to unearth similar information for Devon. Comparison between the two counties will be very helpful.
























©2007 Peter H. Morcombe
Last update: 14-June-2007