Eliza Yeo 1840 - 1917 of Morethoe, North Devon

This delightful piece on Eliza was written by Mr Ivor Gammon, a descendant of Eliza's, who has kindly given me permission to include it on the website. A shortened version of the biography is displayed in Morthoe Museum.

"One of the real characters of Morethoe. Born in 1840, Eliza Ashford was the second daughter of Samuel Ashford and his wife Mary, nee Watts.

Eliza married at sixteen to one John Yeo who was reputed to have been a fugitive from justice having killed a man in a cornfield in a pitchfork battle in a neighbouring county (country - Wales?) In those days, to escape from one county to another gave immunity from presecution. Imagine then, this sixteen year old bride betrothed to one who was possibly wanted by the law. However there was some fracas that forced him back to Morte and marry Eliza. They settled in a cottage at Warcombe Farm on the outskirts of Morte, after their wedding in St Mary's Church at Mortehoe on October 30th 1856, John aged 22 and Eliza just 16.

It is pretty certain that their early married life was spent in very sparce circumstances. In their Warcombe cottage, with no running water, oil lamps or just candles and only the bare necessities of life. It says something of Eliza's character that at sixteen she persevered in those early years having lost three infants, William, James and Elizabeth, eleven others to follow, who all grew to Maturity and most of them to a ripe old age. James and Elizabeth had been twins, both died in 1858 the year their oldest surviving brother, Thomas was born. Thomas married Frances Wakely and Dorcas Ann Fry, followed by Samuel who married Eliza Conibear, then Sarah Jane married Frederick Smith, Edith Ellen married William Tucker Watts, Rhoda married Frank Davis, Mary married George Ellis and George Gammon, George married Florence Pittard, Sidney married Caroline Ash, Alfred married Clara Ockenden, Bertha married Edward Carroll and Alice, the youngest married Edward Coles.

John, although he was noted in his youth to be a tough character, undoubtably met his match in Eliza. It was th considered opinion of their children that mother was the boss, with both working hard to survive. John obtained farm work and worked on the construction of Lee Golf Course. Later in the century on the railway track and on the New Woolacombe Road, he was an adapt rabbit trapper and vermin exterminator. Eliza was no less industrious, in between raising her many children in mostly two year intervals, she kept herself busy. Sometime after their early days at Warcombe, they moved into Morte Village in the then hamlet of North Morte, later incorporated into the village. They moved into a fair sized house and adjoining cottage to house their growing family.

They had either saved enough money or rented the property, they certainly owned it outright by the turn of the century. The house stood at the top of a steepish path that ran through Cot Field and the valley to Huscombe and Rockham beaches.

Eliza was not backward when it came to making money. Among other things she raised many baby ducklings fed on limpets brought up in sacks from the beach. A back breaking task in which I expect the children were conscripted. These limpets she then mixed with boiled stinging nettles. Once raised the ducklings would be sold on to Farmer Challacombe. She no doubt kept other poultry to help feed her large family, who must have known some hungry times in their youth. Eliza baked all her own bread and the older boys and the girls too were sent to the mill in Lee to fetch flour and barm. While waiting for the bread, Eliza would feed her brood on Tetty (Potato) cakes and fried dumplings. Food was a scarce commodity but it was said that Morte men could live off the shore, diets of Limpets, Winkles, Laver, prawns, shell fish, sea bass and mackerel caught around the coast. Some from the bench on Morte Point a noted place for fishermen. Vast quantities of Combe Herrings were brought to Morte, freshly caught late at night and sold at absurdly cheap prices. All would be salted down for future use, as with pigs which many people kept and salted . Nothing of a pig was wasted, from ears to trotters, brawn, hogs puddings, natlin, the lot, eaten eagerly including all the fat bacon, which I daresay Dr Atkins would have approved, certainly did no harm to the Yeo children. They would die for Hogs Puddings, fat bacon, fried bread and Laver.

When the tourists discovered Woolacombe and it became a growing popular resort, Eliza lost no time. She somehow acquired a pony & donkey and cart to convey visitors around Morte to Woolacombe Sands, which in those days was a very rough track. Eliza's sister Ellen Smith ran a refreshment tent on Barricane Beach, so both sisters fot in on the ground floor so to speak. Then Eliza turned her attention to taking in summer paying guests at Sea View as her family left and went into service. It was a fair venture. Guests would often go down to Rockham Beach and Eliza would trek down halfway to the stile and ring a loud bell to summon her guests to their meals. She would then hurry back to make sure the delights of her table awaited the returning visitors. Oil lamps to be trimmed, no washing machines, all water to be carried to bedrooms and guests waited on hand, foot and finger, making it a very hard life indeed.

When Eliza eventually retired she developed diabetes and more or less took to her bed, expecting those daughters that lived near to wait on her in her declining years. Eliza died in 1917 at the age of 77 years. John outlived her and died two years later. He left a sum of £400 in his will. In values today that would equate to a few thousand. John and Eliza left over 500 descendants to this day, some like them, having passed on. Others are spread worldwide, This is for them and all their future families, an idea of where they came from. Many of Eliza's children lived to their nineties and one daughter, Bertha, lived to be one hundred and one, A large number of Gammons, Yeos, Ashfords and Watts continue to live in the parish and they are all related to one another through Eliza. Two of her descendents, Nick Yeo, her great grandson and Peter Bradshaw, her great, great grandson worked on the conversion of this building during 1995"

In the 1871 Census, John and Eliza were living at North Quest Row, with their children, Thomas aged 12, Samuel aged 7, Sarah Jane aged 5, Edith Ellen aged 3 and Rhoda Eveline aged 1 year.In 1881 they had moved to 1, Seaview Cottages, and Thomas, Edith, Rhoda,plus Mary F aged 9, Frederick G aged 7, Sydney H aged 4, Alfred aged 2 and an infant (Bertha) aged 3 months.In 1891 John was a rabbit Trapper and living with his wife Eliza at North Morte Cottage, with Thomas, Rhoda, George (a carriage driver), Alfred, Bertha, Alice aged 8 and Maud a grand daughter aged 8 years.

Johnís father, Thomas Yeowas born 6 June 1813 in Ashford and married Grace Knill 6 April 1834 in Mortehoe.And Thomas's parents were Samuel Yeo (born 1774 at Swimbridge, Devon) and Elizabeth Widlake.

Background History

In 1841 Thomas and Grace were living at Slade, Ilfracombe, with children Mary aged 6, John aged 5, Elizabeth aged 3 and Thomas aged 1 and in 1851 they were residing at Furze Hill Cottage, Barnstaple, with children, John aged 13, Thomas aged 10, William aged 8, George aged 6, Samuel aged 4 and Isaac aged 2, all born at Ilfracombe Shortly after this Thomas & Grace moved to Briton Ferry in Glamorgan, Wales, where both Thomas & Grace are buried.†† John is the only one who returned to Devon, possibly because of some trouble there.Most of the rest of the family emigrated to Alleghenny, Pittsburgh or married and stayed in Wales.

In 1881 James was still living with his mother at 40 Mt Pleasant, Briton Ferry, Glamorgan, Wales Grace was described as a widow of a laboror in the Iron Works, and was aged 70 years, born in Ilfracombe.James was a Shingler in the Tinworks.Also living with Grace were her two granddaughters, Mary Elizabeth Normanton, aged 16, born in Briton Ferry and a scourer in the tinworks and Elizabeth Johns, aged 7, a scholar also born in Briton Ferry.

Children of Thomas Yeo and Grace Knill are:

  • Mary Yeo, born 1835 in Ilfracombe; died in Alleghenny, Pittsburgh.She married Mr Baker.
  • John Yeo, born 1836 in Ilfracombe; died 3 January 1919 in Mortehoe, Devon.He married Eliza Ashford October 1856 in Mortehoe; born 1840 in Mortehoe; died 1917 in Mortehoe, Devon.
  • Elizabeth Yeo, born 1838 in Ilfracombe.
  • Thomas Yeo, born 1840 in Ilfracombe.
  • William Yeo, born 1843 in Ilfracombe.
  • George Yeo, born 1845 in Ilfracombe.He married Kate.George appears in the 1920 census in Allegheny, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. living next door to his brother James.George was then a labourer in the steel works and aged 72 years old.He emigrated in 1870 and became an American citizen in 1877
  • Samuel Yeo, born 1847 in Ilfracombe.
  • Isaac Yeo, born 1849 in Ilfracombe; died in Alleghenny, Pittsburgh.
  • James Yeo, born 1856 in Ilfracombe; died in Alleghenny, Pittsburgh.He married MaryAnn; born in Wales. In 1920 James appears in the 1920 census in Allegheny, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. living next door to his brother George. He was then a clerk in the steel works.James emigrated around 1886 and became an American citizen in 1892.


Information for this branch came from Martin Bennett, The Cottage, 18, South Street, Newport, Barnstaple, North Devon, EX32 9DT His grandmother was Ivy Bertha who married William John Bennett. andfrom Mr Ivor Gammon, Admirals Lodge , Mortehoe, Woolacombe, North Devon, EX34 7EF. His mother was Mary, daughter of Eliza.


John's Line of Descent

  • 1 John Yeo 1515 -
  • .... +Elizabeth Fortescue
  • .. 2 Roger Yeo 1570 -
  • ......... +Catherine Smale
  • ...... 3 Bartholomew Yeo 1599/00 -
  • ............. +Agnes Rode
  • ........... 4 Roger Yeo 1639 -
  • ................. +Grace Gould
  • ............... 5 Bartholemew Yeo - 1750
  • ...................... +Margaret Acland
  • .................... 6 John Yeo 1701 - 1789
  • .......................... +Elizabeth Slowley
  • ........................ 7 William Yeo 1735/36 -
  • ............................... +Margaret Bendle
  • ............................. 8 Samuel Yeo 1774 - 1850
  • ................................... +Elizabeth Wedlake
  • ................................. 9 Thomas Yeo 1813 -
  • ........................................ +Grace Knill 1811 -
  • ...................................... 10 John Yeo 1836 - 1919
  • ............................................ +Eliza Ashford 1840 - 1917




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