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Our Common Ancestry

Updated: Feb 1

Updated January 18, 2022 with new or corrected information and new pictures.

Samuel & Sarah Prowse

Many of the members of The House of Prowse have a common set of ancestors: Samuel and Sarah Prowse of North Devon in the early part of the 19th century.

Map of Tawstock Parish, near Barnstaple

We're not sure of Samuel's exact birthdate. According to census and death records his birthdate may have been 1814, 1815, 1819, or 1820. All we know for certain is that he was baptised March 26, 1820 to John (1779 - 1837), a carpenter, and Ann (b. Mashford) Prowse (1778-1847) in North Huish, which is actually in the southern part of Devon close to Totnes. Samuel's eldest brother John (1805-1841) is buried on the path leading to the church.

The 1841 census lists Samuel's mother, now a widow, living with his sister Mary Ann Gulley in Ugborough, near North Huish, while Samuel, 20 and a mason, is a lodger with two other masons in the hamlet of Lake in the parish of Tawstock, near Barnstaple in the northern part of Devon.

1841 Census listing Samuel Prouse (bottom-right)

So in 1841 there were 3 masons living in the same house and perhaps working on the same project? The hamlet of Lake is part of he Bouchier-Wrey estate of Tawstock Court (the family were the Earls of Bath) and at one stage married into the family that owned Tapeley Park just 5 miles away in Westleigh. Tapeley had undergone major renovation works in the mid C19th and is now owned by the Christie family of Glyndebourne fame.

Sarah Thorne (1822-1869) hailed from Westleigh (confusingly born in the hamlet of Eastleigh). Sarah married Samuel November 1, 1848 at Barnstaple Parish Church. Their first child, Ann (1849-1929), was baptised in Westleigh. And so it was that the North Devon branch of the Prowse tree was established.

Copy of Marriage Registration for Sarah Thorne and Samuel Prowse

By 1851 the family was residing in Barnstaple proper, as the census of that year records the family residence as Azes Lane, Barnstaple. In June of that same year, their second child, Mary Jane (1851-1931) was born.

1851 Census listing Samuel, Sarah, and Ann

Next came Harriett Mashford (1852-1894) and then John Thorne (1854-1912) and Edwin John (1856-1911). These two brothers are, for most of us, our forbears, in fact, doubly so for some. Lastly came Elizabeth (1861-1880). All the children, save for Ann, were born in Barnstaple. An 1861 Census record could not be located.

Sarah died in 1869, cause unknown. As for Samuel and Sarah's first three children:

  • Ann married Richard Yeo - another well known Devon surname - in 1871;

  • 1875 saw Mary Jane marry Richard Richards Watt;

  • That same year Harriett married Charles Leworthy. Their wedding took place in South Molton, about 10 kilometers southeast of Barnstaple and another prominent location in the story of the Prowse name.

In December 1870 Samuel remarried, to Elizabeth A. Lewis. The 1871 census lists them residing at Alms Lane, Barnstaple, along with some of his children from his first marriage; soon to be married Ann (21), a needle worker; Mary Jane (19); John (17) and Edwin (14), both mason's labourers; and Elizabeth (9). Samuel's occupation is again, mason. Interestingly this Census lists his age as 57, which might put his birthdate in 1814.

1871 Census Listing Samuel, 2nd wife Elizabeth, and Children

Samuel and Elizabeth had three children together, all born in Barnstaple:

  • Maria Ann (1872-1935);

  • Edith Eliza (1874-1875);

  • and Elizabeth Susan (1877-?).

Little else is known currently about these three daughters. The 1881 census lists Samuel as a widower, still on Azes Lane. Living with him are daughters from his second marriage, Maria (9) and Elizabeth (4), as well as, a daughter from his first marriage, Harriett (28), who is married but her husband, Charles Leworthy is not listed. Samuel is listed as a mason employing 1 man and 1 boy. In this census Samuel is listed as 62, meaning he aged only five years in the ten years between census takings. If he indeed was 62, then his birth year would have been 1819, which makes more sense given his baptism date. Samuel passed June 16, 1886. His death record says he was 66 at the time, which puts the birthdate circa 1820.

1881 Census Listing Samuel Prowse

John Thorne & Susan Prowse

John Thorne married Susannah 'Susan' Popham (1847-1917) in Barnstaple 1878. John and Susan had six children, all born in Barnstaple:

  • Bessie Ellen (1879-1960). Bessie married James 'Jim' Webber (1883-1969) in 1905. They had four children including the youngest, Reginald.

  • Lilian Ann (1881-1885)

  • Richard Henry 'Harry' (1882-1951). Harry married Mary Elizabeth Hill, known as Polly, in Barnstaple 1909. They had one child, John Henry 'Jack' (1918-2011). Jack married Lilian Alice Thorne (1920-2006) in Barnstaple 1942. Jack and Lilian had four children, including their youngest, Malcolm Stephen (1952).

  • Edwin John 'Ted' (1885-1938).

  • Mary Jane (1885-1885)

  • Samuel John 'Jack' (1887-1931). See final section.

Edwin John & Clara Elizabeth Prowse

Edwin and Clara Prowse with 7 of their 9 children. Probably c. 1909.

Edwin John establishes the first connection to London. The 1871 census (he would have been 15 at the time) lists him as a mason's labourer, following in the footsteps of his father in Devon. Edwin does not seem to appear in the 1881 census but does show up in 1891 residing in St. Pancras, London, where, in June 1892, he marries Clara Elizabeth Barns (1868-1935) from the Marylebone area of London. Edwin and Clara have nine children over 15 years:

  • Elizabeth 'Bessie' Alice (1893-1993). Bessie marries William 'Will' Frederick Pooley in Camden, 1918. They have one child, Muriel Joy (1920-2017), who marries Arthur William James 'Bunnie' Upton in London, July 1943. Marea is born October 1945 in Witney, Oxfordshire and brother David in 1950 in Hertfordshire. The family emigrates to Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1963. Marea marries her SCUBA instructor, James 'Jim' Henry Prowse (1939), in Hamilton, April 1969. Marea and Jim eventually move to Nova Scotia, Canada where they still reside. Muriel joins them there before passing in early 2017.

  • Anne 'Annie' Margaret (1894-1975). Annie marries Frederick 'Harry' Davison (1892-1963) July 1919 in Haverstock, London. They have five children over 17 years: Jack Edwin (1920-1989); Frederick Harry III (1922-1990); Reginald (1924-1928); Maureen Ethel (1932-2012 m. Mattey); and Bryan Allan (1937-2020).

Christopher Hugh (1957) is the only son of Fred; Steven John (1951), David Alan (1952), and Ian Richard (1958) are the sons of Maureen; and Derri (1962 m. Kain) and Karen Ann (1964 m. Curtis) the daughters of Bryan.

  • Mildred Clara (1896-1978). See final section.

  • Maud 'Maudie' Sophia (1899-1990). Never married and no children.

  • Edwin Thorne and John Harry (1903 - 1904).

  • Doris Emily (1905-1951) Never married and no children.

  • Bertha Susan 'Susie' (1906-1985). Bertha was employed by an American officer and emigrated with the family to New York when the family returned to the United States. Susie married Alfred Trainor Manhattan 1933. They divorced and she remarried Joseph Marco Boccadoro (1910-1993) New Jersey 1949. Susie and Joseph had one daughter, Nancy Susan (1951). See blogs entitled 'A Prowse Maid in Manhattan' and 'Recollections from Nancy Susan Boccadoro'

  • Winnifred 'Winnie' Sarah (1908-1998). Winnie married Eric Stanley Lindblom (1911-1972) London 1935. They had two children, Stephen J. (1942) and Robert Eric (1945-2016).

Stephen has three children: Louise Jane (1959 m. Loder); Jenny Elizabeth (1971 m. Murphy), and Christopher Gareth (1975). Robert Eric had one child, Stephen Mark (1981).

Samuel John 'Jack' & Mildred Clara Prowse

As the story goes, Mildred was engaged to be married but her fiancée was killed in WWI. So how did she come to marry her 1st cousin, Jack?

Mildred's father Edwin had passed in 1911 causing significant financial hardship for her mother, Clara. In fact, the two youngest, Susie and Winnie were placed in an orphanage until Clara remarried Francis Charles Knight (1859-1932) in 1917. It seems Samuel might have been sent to London by his father to help out, remembering that all the children in the household were young women, mostly of school age.

Whatever the route, Mildred and Jack marry London 1920 and proceed to have six children:

  • Herbert John (1922-1983). Herbert marries Gertrude 'Mary' Hill (1923-2003). In another interconnection, Mary is the niece of Aunt Polly of Barnstaple, who married Malcolm's grandfather Harry. Herb and Mary have two boys, Michael John (1948-2012) and John Rex (1952).

    • Michael had two daughters with his first wife, Rosaria; Sarah Helen (1974) and Nicola Claire (1977), as well as a son James (1986) and daughter Claire Mary (1989) by his second wife Janice.

    • John and wife Jane have two sons, Nicholas John (1980) and Thomas James (1984).

    • Herbert also has a son, David Lawrence (1961) by a later relationship with Patricia Binder.

  • Margaret S. (1923-1960). By recollection, Margaret had an intellectual disability but also had an amazing ability for puzzles and cards.

  • Patricia Pamela (1925-2009). Pat marries William Michael Knock (1926-1971) in Dagenham, 1951. They had one child, Simon William (1961).

  • John Edwin (1926-1960).

  • Edwin Thorne Reginald (1928-2007). Edwin marries Doreen Beryl Hoppe (1933-2006) in Essex 1958. They have two daughters, Alison June (1963 m. Murphy) and Elaine M. (1965 m. Ingram).

  • Alfred William (1930-2003). Alf's second marriage, in 1960, is to Beatrice Houghton (1928). Bea and Alf have one daughter, Claire (1961 m. Betts).


Well, there you have it, almost all of us, whether more recently from the London area or other locales, are connected back to Samuel and Sarah Prowse of Devon. Most of us are 2nd cousins. Isn't that cool?

Ian Mattey

March 2021

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