The will of John Gorwyn the husbandman, 1651


   The earliest Gorwyn will to survive is that made in 16511 by “John Gorwyn or Gorwin”of Cheriton Bishop, described as “husbandman”, who died in 1652. As his widow Alice was paying church rates for Lambert after his death, he was almost certainly a descendant of the William Gorwyne who acquired Lambert, and probably the “John Gorwin alias Lampford” who was paying rent in the manor of Lampford in 1644 (see Chapter 3). His will indicates that he also owned Bradleigh and had leaseholds of two other small-to-medium size farms in Cheriton Bishop. “Husbandman” indicates something more humble than yeoman, let alone gentleman. But given the number of farms that he held (albeit some of them leasehold rather than freehold), John was clearly a man of substance. His widow, who was his residuary legatee, is probably the Alice Gorwyn who was the third richest taxpayer in Cheriton Bishop at the time of the 1660 poll-tax.


   John and his wife Alice had four sons and two daughters. He cut one son, William, off with 5s., probably because William was the eldest son and Lambert was entailed on him; or perhaps he had been given Lambert on his marriage. John left each of what were presumably his three younger sons a farm – Bradleigh in the parish of Crediton; Bowden in Cheriton Bishop; and Spirelake, another farm in Cheriton Bishop that has now disappeared.


   What happened next is not entirely clear. But by a hundred years after the death of John the husbandman, all four of his farms were in the hands of two men: John Lambert alias Gorwyn (1719-1765) who lived at Lambert and who also held the leasehold of Bowden; and John Gorwyn alias Lambert (c. 1720-1778) who lived at Bradleigh and who also held the leasehold of Spirelake. These two Johns are the ancestors of all today’s Lambert-Gorwyns and Gorwyns: John Lambert alias Gorwyn of Lambert (son of Richard Gorwyn) was the ancestor of all the Spreyton and Exeter Lamberts and Lambert Gorwyns (the hyphen only began to be used in the late 19th century); and John Gorwyn alias Lambert of Bradleigh (son of John Gorwyn) was the ancestor of the Bradleigh, Hittisleigh and Coxland Lambert Gorwyns.


    So many Gorwyns appear in the records in the hundred years after 1652 that it is impossible to work out definitely how these two men were related to John the husbandman, or indeed how they were related to each other. But it seems likely that their fathers were brothers and they were first cousins; and that they were direct descendants of John the husbandman and represented the only remaining male descendants of John’s four sons (a possible line of descent is suggested in Table 1).



Spirelake and John Gorwyn of London, cooper.


   It seems that the descendants of the son who inherited Spirelake gave out in the early 1700s, with the death of John Gorwyn, a cooper in London. Despite his London base, he owned the leasehold of Spirelake, which he let, the rent no doubt making a welcome addition to his income.  John the cooper is the first recorded member of the family definitely to leave Devon. He married Elizabeth Harris, probably a London girl, at St Katherine’s by the Tower in 1705. But he appears to have had no children, and when he died (in about 1716) he left Spirelake to his wife for her life and then to John, the son of his cousin John Gorwyn of Bowden in Cheriton Bishop, thus bringing Bowden and Spirelake back into the same ownership. It seems that Bradleigh also came into the possession of John of Bowden, no doubt because the branch of the family at Bradleigh had also given out.



The ownership of Lambert


   The male descendants of the William who inherited Lambert also seem to have given out at around the same time.  According to records in the National Archives2, William had six children, three sons and three daughters. On his death, his eldest son John inherited Lambert. John died without male issue and the property then went to his next brother William, almost certainly the “William Lambert alias Gorwyn” whose death is recorded in the Cheriton Bishop parish records in 1712. William had no children and the property then went to the youngest brother George, who died about four years later. 


   George bequeathed a 21-year leasehold of the property of Lambert to a friend called Robert Moalle or Moale.  But the freehold of the property was divided between his three married sisters (according to the custom of the time, property went to the eldest son and then each son in turn; if, however, there were only daughters, each daughter got an equal share in the property). Such a shared ownership was bound to lead to a row, and so it did. But in the end, as described in the next section, Lambert came firmly back into Gorwyn hands, namely those of Richard Gorwyn, probably another son of John of Bowden. It seems likely that a family arrangement was agreed by which the elder brother (John Gorwyn, b. 1691) inherited Bradleigh and Spirelake and the younger brother (Richard Gorwyn 1693-1764) inherited the interest in Lambert when it became vacant and also Bowden (see Table 1 for the probable relationship). There are reasonably good records of the descendants of the two branches from then on, and the following chapters deal first with Richard and his descendants, i.e. the branch that inherited Lambert (Chapter 6); and then with John and his descendants, i.e. the branch that inherited Bradleigh (Chapter 9).





1 National Archives. It is available online. There were a number of other Lambert Gorwyn wills in the archives, no doubt containing a lot of interesting information. Unfortunately, however, they were all in the archives of the Diocese of Exeter and were destroyed when the Luftwaffe bombed Exter during the Second world War. John the husdandman’s will only survived because he died during a brief period when, under the Commonwealth, all wills were proved centrally, so it went to London rather  than Exeter.


2 Stone v. Gorwyn, National Archives

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