Above: Arlington Church, Sussex
Right: South Downs sheep
(The text that follows has been transcribed from A Digest of Mewett Family History published in April 1976 for the Mewett Family Reunion at Williamstown, South Australia, held on 16 April 1976. The text of the Digest was based on research by the late L. Robert (Bob) Mewett, formerly of Noradjuha, Victoria; it was prepared and edited by Alan Mewett. The Digest was dedicated to the memory of Samuel Mewett and his wife Martha Balcomb, pioneers of the family in Australia.)
The South Downs Of Sussex
Sussex is a county on the south coast of England. Near the coastline there is a range of hills, never higher than about 300 metres, known as the South Downs. They have been described as “bold smooth masses heaving themselves up to the skies, sometimes wooded, more often bare, but always creating an indefinable atmosphere of solitude and peace”. For centuries these hills have been grazed by flocks of sheep; the South Downs gave their name to the breed of sheep famous the world over.
The ancient Britons mined flintstone out of the South Downs chalk for their primitive tools. The Roman soldiers marched nearby to build a fortress at Pevensey and a villa at Eastbourne. The Saxon invaders settled along the coastal plain beneath the Downs and gave the county its name. William the Conqueror and his Norman army landed at Pevensey in full view of the Downs.
Today, ancient villages nestle into the Downs, each with its old church of flint and stone, some with traces of Saxon and Norman workmanship. Towards the eastern extremity of the South Downs are the villages of Alfriston, Arlington, Bishopstone and Willingdon. And this is where the recorded origins of the Mewett family are found.
In 1538 King Henry VIII ordered all parishes to keep a written record of baptisms, marriages and burials performed in the Churches of England. Before then there were virtually no records of any sort maintained in England; few people could read or write. Henry’s order meant that the church clerics were charged with the responsibility of writing in registers, entries giving dates and names of persons baptised, married and buried. Many parishes were slow in complying with the order; furthermore the registers were not always written up accurately or diligently. Some registers have since been lost or destroyed. It is from the existing registers that the first three hundred years of our story have been taken. Omissions and inaccuracies in these books have made the piecing together of the family history a challenging, sometimes frustrating, experience
16th CENTURY ORIGINS
The earliest entry of interest to us occurred during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I in 1567 when, on June 10, Joane Mewett (Mewet) was married to Richard Smythe in the parish church at Bishopstone, a village which shelters in a sunny hollow on the seaward side of the South Downs. It was the second marriage for Joane who had been married previously to Thomas Mewett (later deceased), and she had a son also named Thomas Mewett (see below). Before marriage, her maiden name had been Joanne Owton.
Several miles from Bishopstone is the village of Arlington, situated two miles north of the Downs on the Cuckmere River. It was here in 1592 that her son Thomas Mewett lay dying. On November 2 he made a Will naming his mother, Joane Smythe, as a beneficiary and appointing his uncle Richard Owton as a trustee; his son, also named Thomas, was named a beneficiary and his wife Joane as executrix. This information has been gleaned from the terms of Thomas’s Will which, translated into modern English, reads:
“To my son Thomas Mewett I leave 13 ewe sheep, 6 tag, and my great chest, to be delivered to my uncle, Richard Owton, of Bishopstone. If he wishes to sell them, the money he shall get for them shall be used to benefit Thomas towards his keep and upbringing till 14 years of age. Until the age of 21 he shall have the profit of the sheep, and after 21 he himself shall get the sheep or money. If Thomas departs out of this age before 21 then said sheep or money I give to my Uncle Owton’s children to be equally divided between them.
“I give to my mother Joane Smythe, 2 bushels of wheat, to be delivered there within four days after I die. Rest of money etc. to be used to pay my debts and funeral expenses. Any still remaining thereafter to go to Joane my wife whom I make my whole executrix. Also I ordain and make William Older of Lullington my overseer of this last Will and Testament. He is to get 6d. (sixpence) for his painstaking work.”
(This post should precede a previous one titled Origins in the 17th Century and posted on 5 July 2011.)