----Being of interest to all and sundry----
an account of the presumed origin of the family named
Fellow of the RoyalCollege of physicians of Edinburgh
Retired consultant physician
Wing Commander Royal Air Force
Larkworthy of Larkworthy
The Visitations of the County of Devon in the year 1620
By Henry St George and Sampson Lennard
Edited by Frederick Thomas Godby BD FSA Fellow of ExeterCollegeOxford
(original Pedigree obtained from the records of The College of Antiquaries)
IN THOSE GORY DAYS OF GLORY when the king led his armies into battle it was essential that his illiterate soldiers should recognise their own group. Nowadays the military wear uniform but in bygone days it fell upon the king’s chief military officer, the Earl Marshal, to organise symbols, colours and clothing to distinguish friend from foe.
The Earl Marshal had deputies who were called Kings at Arms who in turn had deputies called Heralds who had assistants called Pursuivants.
As time passed and kings no longer led their armies and easily identified knights in armour no longer participated, the Heralds became responsible for state ceremonies and establishing the symbols and titles of the nobility and gentry – they were organised into the College of Arms by order of King Richard III in 1484.
Heralds were appointed to each region of the kingdom; it was their task to construct and record family trees (pedigrees) and to grant or refuse arms.
This turned into a nice little earner for the Heralds because they could charge fees for their services and awards.
BEGINNING IN THE 15th CENTURY HERALDS would travel (progress) to each part of the kingdom, set themselves up in a gentleman’s house or inn and invite local landowners and merchants to attend upon them and plead their case for elevation – those were pretty snobby days, persisting to modern times in England in the recent honours for cash scandals of various political parties.
These Heraldic Progressions became known as Visitations.
Family trees would be drawn up and Pedigrees produced. Depending on the pedigree, and perhaps more importantly the ability to pay, the Heralds would decide whether a particular person was of a sufficiently high status to bear arms.
Those who did not reach the standard (or have enough money) were required to sign a statement that he was “no gentleman” and he was forbidden to bear arms.
ALAS, THE LARKWORTHYS did not have a coat of arms (were non-armigerous) and we cannot claim to have descended from nobility or gentry. But William Larkeworthy de Larkworthy might have been a landowner of some substance because such persons often assumed airs by inserting a de before their place of origin.
On Google I found ‘Larkworthy Coat of Arms’ with the family motto ‘Perseverando’ By Persevering. However this was advertised on an American site in what is called the “Coat of Arms Store.” It is clearly a commercial enterprise and whether any part of what it purports to be is genuine is questionable.
THE LARKWORTHY PEDIGREE looks rather dull except for William Larkworthy, baptised 25 May 1686 at Ashwater named in the will of his brother Richard to have the sum of one shilling and no more. As a William Larkworthy myself I like to speculate that my namesake had some sparkle of character, more than brother Richard who, for some reason, sounds kind of stuffy to me.
The term ‘cut off with a shilling’ amounted to specifying that a person was specifically excluded from significant inheritance by the testator.
The origin of the surname
SURNAMES DID NOT BECOME NECESSARY until governments introduced taxation of individuals. Up to then people were known by their forenames and their occupations or where they lived or some personal characteristic. Put simply Thomas the miller would become Thomas Miller, John who lived by the river would become John River and Harold with white hair might become Harold Whitehead.
IN MID-DEVON THERE WAS A VILLAGE OR HAMLET KNOWN AS LARKWORTHY - one explanation for the name is that worthy is old English for an enclosed area and that in this enclosed area the locals netted larks – presumably the birds were sold as caged song-birds or maybe they ended up in the pot.
Thousands of villages disappeared in the 14th century with the clearances introduced to promote the rearing of sheep for the burgeoning wool trade which was making England prosperous. The Black Death of the 14th century caused the disappearance of hundreds more villages.
Some years ago I spent a summer afternoon in the leafy lanes of mid-Devon searching for two farms called Upper and Lower Larkworthy, I found neither but there is a Larkworthy farm in North Tawton which appears to be a care home and another in Petrockstowe which calls itself an organic farm.
What I did find was that there were lots of Larkworthy headstones in the graveyard of ShebbearChurch, the oldest being from the late eighteenth century.
Sorry, I haven’t been able to find any celebrity Larkworthys
POSSIBLY THE NEAREST TO CELEBRITY WAS ONE WITH THE SPLENDID NAME OF FALCONER LARKWORTHY (1837-1928). He was a son of Ambrose Larkworthy, surgeon of Weymouth, Dorset. Falconer was for many years the general manager of the National Bank of New Zealand. He had an exciting early life in the goldfields of Western Australia. His first wife died in childbirth and he married Elizabeth Clover who was related to Joseph Clover an early anaesthetist at University College Hospital, London (see my memoir: Sir Robert Liston story).
I remember when I was a doctor in the RAF being asked by Sir Kenneth Robson, registrar of the Royal College of Physicians, if I was related to a Dr Clover Larkworthy who had worked at St George’sHospital, London. I wasn’t familiar with the name but it might have arisen from the marriage of Falconer to Elizabeth Clover. I have recently found in British Medical Journal records of 1942 an obituary of Surgeon Commander Thomas Clover Larkworthy. He was killed in action on HMS Neptune in 1941. He was mentioned in despatches and he had worked at St George’s.
The Larkworthy diaspora
FROM THEIR ORIGIN IN MID-DEVON in maybe the 13th century it seems that some Larkworthys moved eastwards into Dorsetshire and some went as far as London.
There was a certain James Larkworthy mentioned (1759) in the records of the Old Bailey – The High Courts of London -- who was an early American Larkworthy migrant, not voluntary – he was sentenced to seven years in our American colonies for stealing – has to have been a minor theft, like a loaf of bread, anything bigger, like say a sheep, he would have hanged. The only other ‘criminal act’ mentioned is that of Richard Larkworthy who in 1668 was reported to the Bishop because he ‘put his hatte on his head during the catechism and sermon’ there is no mention of punishment, maybe a couple of days in the stocks.
Many Larkworthys moved a short distance south to Plymouth and a number emigrated to the United States of America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
About six months ago my brother, Leslie Foot Larkworthy, sent me an extract from ‘A Guide to Local History of The Holsworthy Area.’ By Revd. G D Melhuish rector of AshwaterParishChurch. [Holsworthy is a small market town in mid-Devon]
“There is a quotation, from an ancient deed of the Larkworthy family, given in a Herald’s visitation which runs as follows:- ‘Know, present and to come, that I, William de Hindeford and Alicia, my wife, and daughter of Osbert de Hindeford, render to Richard, son of Simon Larkworthy and his heirs half a furlong of land with its belongings in Larkworthy, to have and to hold to the said Richard and his heirs from us and our heirs.’ Date 1226
That appears to be the earliest mention of the name Larkworthy. Half a furlong is not a lot of land… measures 110 yards(about 105metres) long.
Janis Kirby of Ontario, Canada has sent me a copy of her research into the Larkworthy name. It is extensive but largely pedestrian. I have picked out a few points:
IN THE EARLY DAYS THERE WERE SEVERAL LARKWORTHYS DESCRIBED AS YEOMEN, signifying, up to the 15th century that they were minor nobility and could bear military arms, thereafter yeomen were small-time farmers.
In 1927 it might have been pleasant to meet Annie Jane Larkworthy, she was then described as, nurse, 5’7’’, fair complexion, light brown hair and blue eyes. There are no other mentions of the handsome features of the Larkworthys – I guess due to familial modesty – but there appears to be a contemporary stunner, another Jane, in New York who is very big in the fashion world.
A couple of Larkworthys died in the Plymouth cholera epidemic of 1849 – which carried off a total of 819 souls. There had been another epidemic of cholera in 1832 which resulted in 779 deaths; I can vouch that Plymouth water is now quite clean and potable; that is unless you bathe in the sea off Plymouth Hoe.
One Larkworthy was the landlord of the New Inn Shebbear, later renamed The Devil’s Stone, it was haunted but the ghost was friendly and, “encountered in an upstairs toilet”.
Finally, there is in British Columbia, Canada a place called Larkworthy Creek – said to be full of Bull Trout. Mary, great granddaughter of William Jordan Larkworthy, tells me that he came to Norton B.C. with the Hudson Bay Company in the late 1800s gold rush. He must have been a man of distinction; New Hazelton B.C. was almost named Larktown after him.
This is the extent of my knowledge of the history of LARKWORTHY – I would be very pleased to receive further information. My own journey through life to my eightieth year can be read in my memoir ‘ DOCTOR LARK – the benefits of a medical education’.