Barnstaple Devon Family History Guide

Barnstaple is an Ancient Parish and a market town in the county of Devon.

Other places in the parish include: Roundswell and Sticklepath.

Parish church: St. Peter and St.Paul

Parish registers begin:

  • Parish registers: 1538
  • Bishop’s Transcripts: 1596

Nonconformists include:

  • Baptist
  • Bible Christian Methodist
  • Christians
  • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
  • French Protestant
  • Independent/Congregational
  • Particular Baptist
  • Primitive Methodist
  • Roman Catholic
  • Society of Friends/Quaker
  • Wesleyan Methodist

Adjacent Parishes

  • Barnstaple Holy Trinity
  • Barnstaple St Mary Magdalene
  • Pilton

Historical Descriptions

The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales 1870

BARNSTAPLE, a town, a bay, a parish, a subdistrict, and a district, in Devon. The town is a seaport, a borough, and the capital of North Devon. It stands on the right hank of the river Taw, about 6 miles from its mouth, at an elbow of the North Devon railway, 9 miles NE of Bideford, and 39½ NW of Exeter. Its site is a pleasant valley, bounded by a semicircular range of hills, to which the river forms a chord; and its environs abound in charming spots, and command brilliant views over land and sea. Two of the best views are from the road to Bideford, and from Coddon hill, 623 feet high. The town was known to the ancient Britons as Tunge abertawe, to the Saxons as Berdenestaple; and it is now popularly called Barum. It formed part of a domain of the Saxon kings; was for some time a residence of Athelstane; and received from him various liberties and rights. An ancient castle stood at it, built by Athelstane, and strengthened after the Conquest; but is now represented only by a mound. The town fitted out three ships, in 1588, for the fleet raised to repel the Spanish Armada; and it took part with the Parliamentarians in the time of Charles I., and underwent some sharp events in the wars which followed. Three monastic edifices were erected at it, a Cluniac monastery, an Augustinian friary, and an hospital to the Holy Trinity; but are all extinct.

The town is well aligned, and one of the most agreeable in the county. A bridge of 16 arches, supposed to have been built in the 13th century, spans the river, and was widened in 1834. Queen Anne's Walk, on the quay, west of the bridge is a colonnade, upwards of 60 feet long, erected in the time of Queen Anne, adorned with a statue of that monarch, used originally as an exchange, and reconstructed by the corporation in 1798. The North Walk further west, is a promenade, by the side of the river, planted with trees. The market-place in High-street was enlarged, and a new and elegant town hall erected, in 1855, at a cost of upwards of £8,000. The corn-market is at the upper end; and a music hall is over it. The theatre, in Bontport-street, built in 1834, is small but very neat. The North Devon infirmary, at the foot of Litchdon-street, is a fine massive edifice. The borough jail is a substantial structure, with capacity for 10 male and 9 female prisoners. There are also a custom-house, a dispensary, a workhouse, five suites of almshouses, a free grammar school, a blue-coat school, a variety of day schools and benefactions, and a literary and scientific institution. The parish church, nearly in the centre of the town, is a spacious ancient structure, bearing many evidences of the hand of time; and has a curious timber spire, covered with lead, warped by the sun, and leaning to the south. Holy Trinity church, at the south end of the town, has a tower 133 feet high, and was built in 1843. St. Mary Magdalene church is a plain structure, erected in 1846. The Independent chapel is a very fine building. The Wesleyan chapel was rebuilt in 1869, and is in the decorated English style. The Roman Catholic chapel is a recent erection in very chaste style. There are three Baptist chapels, and a chapel for Bible Christians.

The town has a head post office, a railway station, three banking offices, and two chief inns; and it is the headquarters of the North Devon militia, and publishes three weekly newspapers. A weekly market is held on Friday; and a fair on the Wednesday after 19 Sept. The manufacture of woollens was formerly extensive, and is still carried on. Manufactures of bobbin-net, paper, pottery, leather, and malt also exist; and ship-building is prominent. The chief commerce is in exports of grain, wool, oak-bark, leather, and earthenware; and in imports of coal, fruit, wine, and foreign timber. The vessels belonged to the port and its sub-ports, at the beginning of 1868, were 62 small ones of aggregately 2,058 tons, and 31 large ones of aggregately 2,866 tons; and those which entered, in 1867, were 11 of aggregately 2,457 tons from the colonies and foreign countries, and 1,484 of aggregately 74,923 tons coastwise; and 236 of the latter were steamers. The customs, in 1867, were £7,447. The town was made a borough by Edward I.; sends two members to parliament; is governed by a mayor, six aldermen, and eighteen councillors; and is a seat of petty sessions and a polling-place. Its limits as a borough, both parliamentary and municipal, include all the parish of Barnstaple and parts of the parishes of Pilton and Bishops-Tawton. Electors in 1868, 763. Direct taxation, £4,959. Real property, £29,490. Pop. in 1851, 11,371; in 1861, 10,743. Houses, 2,186. Bishops Jewel and Gay were educated at the grammar school; and Dr. Parsons, the author of "Japhet," was a native.

The bay expands north and south at the mouth of the Taw; has there a dangerous bar; measures 15 miles across the entrance, from Morte point to Hartland point; lies much exposed to westerly winds; and includes, on the south side, Clovelly roadstead, with from 4 to 8 fathoms water. The navigation up from it to Barnstaple is through a narrow channel, with never more than 12 feet water. The parish, though not containing all the borough, extends beyond the town. Acres, 1,102. Rated roperty, £18,826. Pop., 8,127. Houses. 1,624. The living. is a vicarage in the diocese of Exeter. Value, £245. Patron, Lord Wharncliffe. Holy Trinity is a p. curacy, St. Mary Magdalene a vicarage; the former of the value of £120, in the patronage of the Bishop of Exeter; the latter of the value of £150, in the patronage of alternately the Crown and the Bishop of Exeter. The subdistrict comprises the parishes of Barnstaple, Swimbridge, Landkey, and Goodleigh. Acres, 12,711. Pop. 10,652. Houses. 2,167. The district comprehends also the subdistrict of Paracombe, containing the parishes of Paracombe, Highbray, Challacombe, Brendon, Countisbury, Lynton, Martinhoe, and Trentishoe, and part of the extra-parochial tract of Exmoor Forest; the subdistrict of Combmartin, containing the parishes of Combmartin, Kentisbury, Arlington, Loxhore, Bratton-Fleming, Stoke-Rivers, and Sherwill; the subdistrict of Ilfracombe, containing the parishes of Ilfracombe, Bittadon, Berryn-arbor, East Down, and West Down; the subdistrict of Brannton, containing the parishes of Brannton, Morthoe, Georgeham, Heanton-Punchardon, Marwood, Ashford, and Pilton; and the subdistrict of Bishops-Tawton, containing the parishes of Bishops-Tawton, Fremington, Instow, Westleigh, Newton-Tracey, Horwood, Tawstock, and Atherington. Acres, 149,729. Poor-rates in 1866, £18,117. Pop. in 1861, 36,293. Houses, 7,550. Marriages in 1866, 245; births, 1,128, of which 88 were illegitimate; deaths, 689, of which 182 were at ages under 5 years, and 39 at ages above 85 years. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60, 2,621; births, 10,413; deaths, 6,568. The places of worship in 1851 were 40 of the Church of England, with 11,568 sittings; 13 of Independents, with 2,761 s.; 15 of Baptists, with 2,334 s.; 1 of Quakers, with 45 s.; 14 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 2,753 s.; 10 of Bible Christians, with 1,554 s.; 3 of Brethren, with 180 s.; 4 undefined, with 1,120 s.; and 1 of Latter Day Saints, s. not reported. The schools in 1851 were 44 public day schools, with 2,620 scholars; 82 private day schools, with 1,692s.; and 64 Sunday schools, with 4,489 s.

Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales [Wilson, John M]. A. Fullarton & Co. N. d. c. [1870-72].

Parish Records

Barnstaple Parish Register 1538 to 1812 -

FreeREG - free


Census & Voter Lists

Birth, Marriage & Death


Immigration & Emigration

Directories & Member Lists

Court, Land, Wills & Financial

Pallot's Marriage Index, 1780-1837

FamilySearch - Free

Birth Marriage & Death Census Migration & Naturalization Military Probate & Court

England, Devon, Parish Registers, 1538-1912

England, Devon Bishop's Transcripts, 1558-1887

England, Devon and Cornwall Marriages, 1660-1912

International Genealogical Index

FamilySearch Catalog - Online Records


1939 Register - Find out what your ancestors were doing on the eve of WW2 by searching the 1939 Register on Findmypast

1911 British Census

1901 British Census

1891 British Census

1881 British Census

1871 British Census

1861 British Census

1851 British Census

1841 British Census

Boyd's Marriage Indexes, 1538-1850

Devon Baptisms

Devon Burials

Devon Marriages 1507 to 2002 - Discover your ancestor's name, marriage date, spouse's name, and parish

Devon Banns 1629 to 1918 - Discover your ancestor's name, banns dates, intended spouse's name, and parish.

Devon Registers & Records - This collection currently comprises one title: Parish Registers of Hemyock, 1635-1837.

Devon Social & Institutional Records - Find paupers and vagrants, apprentices, peddlers and tradesmen. Discover if they got married, were vaccinated against smallpox or got Christmas presents while their father was fighting WW1. More than two centuries of social history to find rare details of the lives of ordinary people.

Devon Wills Index, 1163-1999 - includes people who were either born or died in Devon. The collection includes information about 295,609 wills, proved across 30 courts. Free

Devon, Land Tax and Valuation Records

Devon, Parish Registers

Devon, Plymouth Prison Records 1832-1919 - Was your ancestor a prisoner or prison officer in Devon in the nineteenth or early twentieth century?

Devon, Port Books - Records of ships administered in the Devon ports of Appledore, Barnstaple, and Bideford between 1595-1705.

US Servicemen In North Devon, England 1943-1945


Below is a list of people that were declared bankrupt between 1820 and 1843 extracted from The Bankrupt Directory; George Elwick; London; Simpkin, Marshall and Co.; 1843.

Bartlett John, Barnstaple, Devonshire, woollen draper, Nov. 20, 1829.

Burch Charles. Barnstaple, Devonshire, auctioneer & innkeeper, Oct. 29, 1839.

Cooke John, Barnstaple, Devonshire, linen and woollen draper, Sept. 21, 1824.

Dunn William,­ Barnstaple, Devonshire, Currier, Feb. 17, 1843.

Halls John Avery, Barnstaple, grocer and draper, June 9, 1829.

Devon Newspapers available at Findmypast

Barnstaple Times and North Devon News

Bright's Intelligencer and Arrival List

Dartmouth & South Hams Chronicle

East & South Devon Advertiser

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette Daily Telegrams

Exeter Flying Post

Exmouth Journal

Express and Echo

Hartland and West Country Chronicle

North Devon Gazette

North Devon Journal

Plymouth and Devonport Weekly Journal and General Advertiser For Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset

Royal Devonport Telegraph, and Plymouth Chronicle

Sidmouth Journal and Directory

Tavistock Gazette

Tiverton Gazette (Mid-Devon Gazette)

Torbay Express and South Devon Echo

Torquay Directory and South Devon Journal

Torquay Times, and South Devon Advertiser

Totnes Weekly Times

Western Courier, West Of England Conservative, Plymouth and Devonport Advertiser

Western Daily Mercury

Western Morning News

Western Times

Devon Newspapers from  British Newspaper Archive

Fully searchable historical newspapers for the Devon area available at British Newspaper Archive.

Western Morning News

Western Times

Exeter and Plymouth Gazette

Express and Echo

Torbay Express and South Devon Echo

Torquay Directory and South Devon Journal

Torquay Times, and South Devon Advertiser


Vision of Britain historical maps


County: Devon
Civil Registration District: Barnstaple
Probate Court: Court of the Bishop (Consistory) of the Archdeaconry of Barnstaple
Diocese: Exeter
Rural Deanery: Barnstaple
Poor Law Union: Barnstaple
Hundred: Braunton
Province: Canterbury