Benjamin DEVENISH (1574 - 1643)

Tailor & Master of the Dorchester Brewhouse

Compiled by Michael Russell OPC for Fordington May 2009 - Last updated March 2013


It is generally accepted by earlier historians that Benjamin DEVENISH was the son of Robert DEVENISH of Bradford Peverell a small village situated 3 miles north west of Dorchester (1 & 11). We know from transcriptions of the parish registers (2) that his father had married Benjamin's mother Elinor [Eleanor] CHURCHILL in Bradford Peverell on 15th June 1573 and he was born the following year being baptised in St Mary's church Bradford Peverel on 20 September 1574 (3) Although the present church of St Mary's is still set in the centre of the village with a lovely picturesque churchyard and a graceful slender spire, it dates from 1850 when it was rebuilt, the only survivor from the time of the baptism being two stained glass windows shown below.


15th Century Stained Glass in the North window of the Chancel
where Benjamin Devenish was baptised 20 September 1574

I have not been able to trace any siblings but I think this is because Robert & Elinor seem to have moved out of Bradford Peverell soon after Benjamin's birth, in all probability into Dorchester where many of the registers were destroyed in the great fire of 1613. As far as I can see there was only the one family in Bradford Peverell with the surname Devenish leading up to his birth, and the transcriptions done by the Rev RG Bartelot (2) include a number of entries which suggest that Benjamin's grandfather was Thomas DEVENISH a Clergyman. For the sake of clarity I have extracted these entries below and added comments where appropriate.

The first entry is taken from County Court Records for 28 January in the 33rd year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I [i.e. 1590] and this refers to a Thomas DEVENISH Clerk (i.e. as in Cleric) then aged 60 years and Robert his son then aged 34. Robert Devenish would appear to be Benjamin's father making him born in 1556 and seventeen when he married Elinor. It refers to Thomas and his son holding lands at Gasking [I assume Gascoyne] South Close by County Court judgement given on 1st October in the 3rd year of Elizabeth [i.e. 1560].

From the Church of England database (6) there is only one person with the name of Thomas DEVENISH [1530-1605] who became a priest. He was ordained in Salisbury Cathedral on 1st June 1561. I have not been able to trace a formal education at one of the Universities but church records show that he was posted as Curate to Charminster just two miles north west from the center of Dorchester and a mile West of Bradford Peverell by 27 May 1567 when he appears to have been the first incumbent. Nine years later on the 22 May 1576 he was also appointed curate for the chapel at Stratton, again the first recorded there. In the records of the Kings Remembrancer (5) mention is made in a deposition to the Commission in the year 1601/2 of a 'Sir Thomas Devenish Curate of Charminster & Stratton' but I have not so far been able to locate a knighthood or get access to the actual papers. Thomas however seems to have retained his position as curate until his death, recorded on the Clergy database on 6 Sept 1606 (6) but County Court records (2) show that Thomas Devenish's death was presented to the Court on the 13th February in the 3rd year of the reign of King James [i.e. 1605] when his eldest surviving son Laurence DEVENISH was admitted tenant. Laurence described as a Yeoman died in 1633 and his will is available from the National Archives (4). Several other entries relate to this family:-

A second entry for the same day (i.e. 28th January 1590) refers to Agnes DEVENISH then aged 50 also holding lands at South Close, Wardmead, Broadmead etc late in the tenancy of Thomas DEVENISH her father. The age of 50 seems incorrect and I wonder whether this was correctly transcribed

Again on the same day (28 January 1590) a third entry refers to the death of Mary DEVENISH the widow of Thomas Devenish's son William DEVENISH. He held land under a grant made on 10th April in the 1st year of the reign of Elizabeth [i.e. 1558] when Agnes DEVENISH the sister of William DEVENISH late husband of the said Mary DEVENISH was admitted tenant, heriot a grey horse. [Note a heriot is a tribute paid to a lord out of the belongings of a tenant who died, and often consisted of a live animal]. An earlier Court held on 15th September in the 31st year of the reign of Elizabeth [1588] is also relevant as it presented the death of her husband William DEVENISH. It refers to him holding by County Court Judgement 1st Oct 1560 a house etc opposite the house of Margaret CHURCHILL, heriot 90 sheep. His relict is mentioned as being Mary and the parish registers confirm their marriage in Bradford Peverell on 11 May 1579 when he married Marie YEATE and they were described as servants of Mr Nicholas MEGGS. Williams early demise and Robert having already married and left Bradford Peverell is obviously why Laurence inherited his fathers house.

It is clear from the above that some members of the large important and influential Churchill family lived in the house opposite to them and it is not therefore surprising to find Robert marrying Elionor CHURCHILL in 1573. It was probably the Churchill's that drew Robert to Dorchester, their main seat of power, and this was obviously how his son Benjamin met his wife.

Benjamin DEVENISH [1574-1643]

I have not so far been able to locate his marriage which would have been before 1610, but its clear from his will that he married one of John CHURCHILL's daughters'. The Churchill's were a family that had prospered in the 16th Century doing well out of former church lands after the Reformation. An ancestor also called John CHURCHILL, a clothier and an established figure in the town during Henry VIII's reign, was Bailiff in 1525 and again in 1540. In 1549 he acquired part of the property of the dissolved Hospital of St John. Some of it he sold, but on part of it he built a fine house at Colliton on the edge of town. Colliton and the nearby cottages in Colliton Row were eventually to be within the Parish of Holy Trinity but not the Borough an anomaly that was to cause endless litigation. Colliton House was still in the possession of the family in 1889 and still exists today partly occupied by the Colliton Club.

Colliton House Dorchester - Home of the Churchill Family


Photographs (Left) by Phillip Allingham ( & (Right) As it stands today March 2012 by Michael Russell FIPD

Enlargement of Plaque on the picture above
(close to the bricked up window)

According to the visitations in 1623 and 1677 the estate descended to William Churchill a gentleman of Dorset and then to his son & heir John Churchill of Dorchester (1568-1621) (and Muston in Piddlehinton) who married Elinor daughter of Sir John Miller of Little Bredy (Winterborne Came) in Dorset. John died 31st May 1621 in Dorchester leaving an heir William CHURCHILL of Muston Dorset who was still alive in 1623. The John Churchill (1603-1682) referred to by Benjamin Devenish as his brother-in-law is I believe the 4th of 9 sons and 4 daughters of John & Elinor. The Oxford Alumni shows him to have been educated at Queens college which he entered 10 Nov 1621 at the age of 18. After his BA in 1624 he studied at St Edmund's Hall in Oxford to obtain his MA in 1627. He entered the church and became Rector of Steeple in Dorset in 1637 which ties in with comments in David Underdown's book8 about Benjamin Devenish's and John Churchill's sons both being Ministers. We know from the visitation that the eldest daughter Anne was already married by 1623 to Lancelot Cooper of Faringdon in Devon so that leaves Edith, Jane or Sarah as possible candidates for his wife. The visitation of 1677 seems to suggest that Edith married into the Parr family and Jane into the Chappel family but no details are given against Sarah. It was also common for widows in wealthy families to remarry so her exact lineage still needs to be ascertained.

From his will (transcribed copy given below) we know that Benjamin and his wife lived at Colliton Road and from parish registers that he had at least five children
    (1) Benjamin Devenish (1611 - aft 1643) David Underdown (8) refers to one of his sons being an ordained minister and we know that his son the Rev. Benjamin Devenish was educated at St Johns College Oxford (9) where he matriculated 13 Nov 1629, aged 18 and was a scholar of Wadham Hall 1631-5. He was awarded his Bachelor of Arts degree on 4 Dec 1632 and his MA on the 6 Jul 1638. He clearly joined the church, being referred to as a "Clerk" in his fathers will, and church records show that he was ordained a deacon on 13th March 1636 in the chapel at Exeter Cathedral and went on to be awarded his priesthood there on 5th March 1637. Rose-Troup in her book about John White says that he is 'of Corfe Castle' and I can see that he signed the Protestation Returns in 1641 as curate of that parish (10). Unfortunately his following career in the Church has not so far (Feb 2012) been recorded on the Church of England database which is still under construction so I do not have details of the rest of his career.
    (2) Lawrence Devenish (c1614 - aft 1643) he married at St George's church in Fordington to Virtue CORBANE in 1634 and had a daughter they named Virtue baptised at Holy Trinity on 3rd May 1635; and a son he called Benjamin on 26th April 1640. Benjamin's Will however suggests that he had 3 children living in 1643.
    (3) Joseph Devenish (1616-1630) bap Holy Trinity 30th March 1616 and buried at Holy Trinity 18th May 1630
    (4) Ruth Devenish (1617-Aft 1643) bap Holy Trinity 15th Feb 1617/8 she married Richard COVETT, raised a family and was alive in 1643.
    (5) Elizabeth Devenish (1620) bap Holy Trinity 28th June 1620. The Will refers to a son-in-law John FOYLE who may be Elizabeth's husband?

Background and Career

David Underdown (8) describes his trade as being that of a 'tailor' but the biographical notes in William Whiteway's diary (11) states that he was also proprietor of an ale house in Dorchester called the 'Golden Falcon', in 1619. We also know that he was overseer of the poor for the Parish of Holy Trinity in 1616 and churchwarden four times during the 1620's.

In John White's vision of a new social order the careful management of funds raised for the hospital and other charitable purposes was of crucial importance if they were to succeed. The town's leaders were practical businessmen who did not like to see money lying idle yet in an age without banking facilities what else could they do with it in the interval between collection and expenditure? The traditional solution had been to lend unspent sums to wealthy townsmen charging quite high interest rates such as 8 or even 10%. At first the Hospital endowment was also held by individuals, but by 1622 there was some uneasiness about this. The solution was to build a municipal brewery in which surplus funds would be invested and which would also help to control the drink trade. In 17th Century Dorchester, like most other towns in England, water was unfit to drink and beer being sterilised and served in varying strengths was the staple beverage. It was drunk by everyone including children.

The Brewhouse was soon built in the Hospital grounds , 'of good sound timber' faced with stone, and finished by September 1622. They needed someone with experience to run it and the following January Benjamin Devenish was placed in charge, and referred to as the 'House Clerk' a position he held until 1640. He also had a maltster working for him and at least 1 other assistant, a man called Jonas Palfrey. In 1639 a new Maltster Joseph Michell was brought in from Salisbury where there was a similar enterprise. The Brewhouse quickly became a very successful institution and a detailed account of its importance in funding many of the charitable schemes of the day is given in 'Fire from Heaven' by David Underdown which is recommended.

Being in charge of such a key institution Benjamin Devenish was at the center of a caring puritan community and was closely involved with the Rev. John White's schemes. In 1624 for example he invested in the Dorchester Company, although he had little to do with the drive to establish a colony in New England apart from making his £20 investment which was lost in 1626 when the company folded. He was however closely concerned with civic matters in Dorchester and when there was a very bad harvest in 1630 which drove the price of grain beyond the reach of the poor the Privy Council had to act. Dennis Bond was instructed to buy 100 bushels of wheat from Ralph Perrin which was sold to the poor below market price, and controls placed on maltsters to help maintain supplies to the poor at affordable prices. Benjamin Devenish promised to supply ten quarters of barley from the Brewhouse and the Rector John White sold twenty quarters to the Corporation for distribution to the poor at a substantially reduced price.

There are few opportunities to discover personal details about people who lived as long ago as the 17th century and when we do it is often only the less commendable events that get recorded. There is one small incident in Sir Arthur Ashley the JP's Casebook (12) for 2nd September 1630 which concerns him. It appears that he was in Dorchester with a man called John Burd from Sutton Points a farmer and Jesper Churchill a cutter from London when they became involved in an altercation with a man called William Arney. Benjamin Devenish is described as a tippler which seems to be a reference to his occupation as being in charge of the Brewhouse rather than that he had been drinking. It was serious enough however for the constable to be called and for them to appear before Sir Arthur Ashley. He bound all three over to the next quarter sessions and recorded 'for striking William Arney with a stone and saying that he would kill him'. John Burd appears to have been the protagonist as he heads the list and was bound over against good behaviour for £40 and Jesper Churchill and Benjamin Devenish in the sum of £20 each. Nothing appears to have come of it however as they were not arraigned at the next quarter sessions. Before I leave this event Benjamin Devenish was brother-in-law to a Jasper Churchill another son of John & Elinor Churchill. Its possible that this was him although the Churchill's were a very rich family and I would have thought unlikely to be described in this way.

Benjamin died during the Civil War and his place as house clerk was taken by his former assistant Jonas Palfrey whose son James was head brewer. John Bushrod exercised general supervision of operations as steward. He wrote his Will on 8th Aug 1643 when he was very ill and was buried in the Parish of Holy Trinity on 12 Sep 1643. Because of the Civil War (1642-1651) his will was not proved until 26 June 1646.
Will of Benjamin Devonishe, the Elder of Dorchester - 8 August 1643

Probate granted 26 June 1646: PCC Twisse Quire 53-101 PROB Ref 11/196

In the Name of God Amen the eighth day of August Anno Domini one thousand six hundred forty three and in the nineteenth year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord Charles by the grace of God of England, Scotland, France and Ireland King defender of the faith I Benjamin DEVENISH the elder of Dorchester in the county of Dorset yeoman being made sick and weak of body but of sound and perfect remembrance revoking all former wills do make and ordain this my Last Will and Testament in manner and form following vitz:-

First: I commend and commit my soul into the hands of Almighty God my creator and heavenly father hoping through the merits of my Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus to receive eternal salvation and my body to be buried in Christian burial in the Parish Church Churchyard of Holy Trinity in Dorchester aforesaid in some convenient place at the discretion of my executors hereunder named:

Item: I give and bequeath unto my daughter Ruth COVETT and her children my home with the garden and backside in Colliton Road? west? Dorchester aforesaid to hold for as living? all the remainder & residue of my estate as is term therein yet to come and unexpired

Item: I give unto my said daughter and her children my nine yards of meadow ground be it more or less situate in Warde Mead under Dorchester aforesaid to hold live and increase all the residue of my estate and income therein yet to come and unexpired.

Item: I give unto my son Benjamin DEVENISH Clerk my signet gold ring

Item: I give unto the three children of my son Lawrence DEVENISH the several sums of ten pounds a piece of the money due unto me from my brother-in-law John CHURCHILL Esq the same to be paid them when they be fit to be bound apprentices and are bound apprentices or at their several ages of twenty one years which shall first and next happen and in the meantime the same to remain in the hands of my executrix she paying interest for the same after the receipt thereof

Item: I give out of the same money remaining in the hands of my said Brother-in-Law John CHURCHILL unto the three children now living of my son-in-law Richard COVETT and daughter Ruth COVETT the several sums of ten pounds a piece to be paid them when they they are fit to be bound apprenticed and are so bound or at the several ages of twenty one years which shall first and next happen And in the meantime the same to remain in the hands of my executrix

Item: I give unto my said daughter Ruth COVETT and her said children the residue of the money due unto me from my said Brother-in-Law John CHURCHILL the same to be equally divided between them. My intent and meaning nonetheless is that the several parts thereof intended unto the said children be paid unto the children of the said Ruth at the times when they are fit to be bound apprentices and are bound apprentices or at their several ages of twenty one years which shall first and next happen

Item: I give unto my said son Lawrence DEVENISH all my wearing apparel as well linen and woollen

Item: I give unto my said daughter Ruth COVETT my house commonly called 'the Ffoleon?' with the garden and backside thereunto belonging with the appurtenances situate and lying within the Parish of Holy Trinity in Dorchester aforesaid To hold after my decease for and during the term of the natural life of my said son Benjamin DEVENISH.

Item: I give my son-in-law John FFOYLE my silver beaker with my little silver bowl

All the residue of my goods and chattels whatsoever moveable and unmovable I give and bequeath to my said daughter Ruth COVETT whom I make and ordain the whole and sole executrix of this my Last Will and Testament.

And my said son Benjamin DEVENISH and Son-in-Law John FFOYLE to be my overseers to whom I give the several sums of four shillings a piece for their care and pains therein

In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and seal the date and year first above written Signed Benjamin DEVENISH Sealed signed and published to be the Last Will and Testament of the said Benjamin DEVENISH the date and year above written In the presence of Richard COVETT Signed Joseph WILSE ats [i.e. alias] MORY? signed Alicia WEECH ibid
Probate was granted in London to Ruth COVETT daughter of the deceased on 26th June 1646

Genealogical Notes and Sources

1. John White The Patriarch of Dorchester by Frances Rose-Troup published 1930 - Pages 102, 450

2. Parish Registers and other records of Bradford Peverell as transcribed by the Rev RG Bartelot (Vicar of Fordington) on CLDS Film 0908201

3. International Genealogical Index - Church of Latter Day Saints Parish Register Extraction Programme PO17231 (i.e. Not a member entry)

4. National Archives Will of Lawrence Devenish, Yeoman of Bradford Peverell, Dorset 31 May 1633 Prerogative Court of Canterbury and related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers Russell Quire Numbers: 1 - 57. I have not obtained a copy but notes by the Rev RG Bartelott suggest that bequests may have been made to his sister Jane BAGWELL, Nephew Robert BAGWELL, and John BAGWELL son of Robert BAGWELL & Thomas KINGE (Clerk).

5. National Archives Records of the Kings Remembrancer Ref E134/44&45Eliz/Mich8

6. CCED - The Clergy of the Church of England database is an online database of clergy of the Church of England between 1540 and 1835. This database is still being compiled Feb 2009 and may therefore contain only some of a persons appointments etc.

7. DV - The visitation of Dorset taken in the year 1623 Taken by Henry St George & Samson Lennard Edited by John Paul Rylands in the year 1885 published by the Harlein Society Volume xx. When these pedigrees were taken they were signed by the head of the family visited. Also the visitation for 1677 published in London in 1977. Mainly for the Churchill family.

8. FFH - Fire From Heaven Life in an English Town in the 17th Century by David Underdown published by Pimlico 1992; pages 114; 119; 133; 139; 220

9. OXA - Oxford University Alumni - register of students, graduates, and officers who attended Oxford University between 1500 and 1886. Original data: Foster, Joseph. Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886 and Alumni Oxonienses: The Members of the University of Oxford, 1500-1714. Oxford: Parker and Co., 1888-1892.

10. [OPC] On Line Parish Clerk website for Dorset Corfe Castle Parish Protestation Returns 1662-1664

11. WW - William Whiteway of Dorchester - His diary 1618-1635 based on notes compiled by Thomas D Murphy Dorset Record Society. pages 175/6

12. FAC - The Casebook of Sir Francis Ashley JP Recorder of Dorchester 1614-1635; Dorset Record Society 1981

13. MRD - Municipal Records of the Borough of Dorchester edited by Charles Herbert Mayo MA Vicar of Long Burton 1908 - pages 394; 525; 565; 597; 625; 668; 712; 714

14. Some variations in the spelling of the surname encountered:- Davenish; Devenish; Devenishe; Devonish; Devonishe; Devyneshe; Devenysshe - Also Benjaminus

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