Beginnings in Somerset

view of nailsea from east

Moorside, Backwell © Martin Bodman

The view is from Watercress Farm west towards Nailsea


I will begin this history in county Somerset, England, around the year 1614. I must state at the outset that while the persons named Perrin in this and the next three sections are clearly not fictional characters, their relationship to the Perrins considered subsequently is not wholly documented, and their inclusion here is clearly not rigorous genealogy. I can see Sharon Ashcraft wagging her finger at me to say this is not allowed. But as my brother John has stated, so long as we believe these people are our ancestors little else matters. For what is genealogy but objectified ancestor worship? Well, perhaps that is a overstatement, but the goal of genealogy is to discover and understand our past. Through these persons we can at least claim a relationship, and for the ancestry line I hope to develop here (while convincing the reader, through somewhat circumstantial evidence, that it is the correct line) there is ample information to allow such an understanding. So consider this my twenty-first century version of the nineteenth century historical biography.

It is necessary to develop a sense of place and time before proceeding, and I don't think there be a better way to achieve that than to refer to an original document. The year was 1614, the place Backwell parish, Bedminster with Hartcliffe Hundred, county of Somerset, England, and the new vicar, a John Humphries Jenkins, had seen it necessary to specify exactly what he expected from his congregation in the way of tithing. For tithing was essentially the tax levied on the congregation to fund his office and the other ecclesiastic duties of the parish :

A true and perfect Terrier of all the glebe lands, howsinge Backwell Vicaria and description of tythes belonging to the Vicaridge of Backwell Baise within the dioceses of Bath and Wells, and also the manner of payment of tythes accordinge to the custome of Backwell Baise aforesaid, taken upon oathe by Commission out of Chancery of divers ancient men which once lived in Backwell Baise and Backwell Sore.

Imprimis, the Vicaridge howse one hall and a parlour and a little butterye and entry and a chamber belonginge, a kitchinge on the west side and three chambers overhead, with a study adjoininge to the same, and one orchard on the south side of the howse and a little garden on the north side, and also one barne and a little splat of grounde walled rounde with two oxen shoote in a shoote grounde called Otefield belonginge to the Vicaridge of Backwell Baise.

Following this description of the vicarage and the basic tithe, the document proceeded to itemize, for any possible type of farm produce, what its tithe should be. Shown below is the most important item, the cow.

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Item, for the offeringes of every communicante in the tythinge of Backwell Baise two pence a peece payable at Ester followinge att the end of every yeare.

Item for cow . . . every parishioner of Backwell Baise aforesayde is due to pay a penny for every cowe or heyfor that gives milk to the Vicar att Ester att the end of every yeare in lieu of all tythes.

Item for the caulfes fallen in Backwell Baise every tenth for want of tenn, the nynth and for want of nyne, the eighth and for want of eight, the seaventh due and payable to the Vicar aforesayde, and the owner is to keep the tythinge caulfes untill they come to the age of seaven weeks ould, and the Vicar is to allow the breeder three haufe pence for the three odd caulfes to make upp the tenth, and if any caulfes fall within Backwell Baise under the number of seaven, then the owner is to pay to the Vicar one haufle penny a peece for the fall of every caulfs att Ester followinge (but if the owner selleth any under the number of seaven, then the tenth penny is due to the Vicar payable at Ester followinge) but if the owner killeth any under the number of seaven then the Vicar is to have the left shoulder to tythe.

Finally the document is signed

Per me
John Humfridus Jenkins, Vicarius ibidd.
Richd. Arthur, Churchwarden.
Thos. Perrin, Sideman.
John Webb. John Reade.
Richard Voakes. Robert Tovey.
Edmund Parsons. John.
Edwarde Bullocke. James Cole.
John Hillsey. Robt. Psons.
Roger X Wilmot. John X Psons.

While the document in itself is fascinating in the fine detail offered of rural life in England of that time, its significance here comes from its signing by a Thomas Perrin of Backwell. His birth in 1590 is the earliest certain material I have found for my Perrin lineage. Thomas referred to himself as a sideman of the church; the meaning of the word then was the same as now (e.g., Before forming their own groups, both Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock were sidemen for Miles Davis). Another signer, Master Edward Bullocke, will appear again at the end of this section.

North Somerset


North Somerset, 1646

Northern Somerset. From an atlas published by Johannes Janssonius, 1646

The old county of Somerset is situated just south of Wales and west of Bristol in southwestern England. The topography of the land consists of low hills interdigitated with flat land (moors) only slightly above sea level. To the north and west is the Bristol Channel, whose shape creates tidal bores second only to the Bay of Fundy in Canada. Twelve foot tides are not uncommon, and the low lying moorland around Clevedon and Kenne flooded easily in storms. Chelvey, at elevation 28 feet above sea level, was probably just spared flooding in the tsunami of January, 1606/7 which most certainly breached the sea walls to the west .

Contemporary News Sheet concerning the Tsunami in Bristol Channel, January, 1607

Contemporary News Sheet Concerning the Tsunami in Bristol Channel, January, 1607

So it is not surprising, as is seen on the map below, that settlements such as Wraxall and Backwell are slightly outside of the moor on higher ground. In these places there are manors and parishes which date back to Norman times (and probably before). More modern towns such as Nailsea owe their development to the mining of coal in the eighteenth century; Nailsea was originally part of the Wraxall parish and only in the eighteenth century had its "chapel" upgraded to parish church. Now Nailsea, population 20,000, is the largest town shown on the map above; it exists as both a model postwar planned town and a bedroom community to Bristol, which is on the extreme right border of the map above.

View north northwest from St. Andrews, Backwell

  Wraxall is visible across the valley on the right; Nailsea is on the left

I would like to provide a more detailed map of the region, realizing that with detail one sacrifices orientation. As in later sections, the picture below is merely a link to opening the full scale map in another window.

1815 north somerset

1815 British Ordinance Survey Map of North Somerset and Bristol

Post feudal rural English Society

In the times before and after the Norman conquest of England (1066) the social structure for the countryside was quite straightforward. There were lords (Saxon, then Danish, then Norman), and there were serfs. The Normans replaced the previous lords in Wraxall, Chelvey and Backwell with their own, and the subsequent owners of these manors are well chronicled . I would dare say the genealogy of the English nobility has been and remains a national obsession; as an American I will never understand the significance, even in the present day, of the English recognition of status due to hereditary class in society.

But if you weren't nobility, you didn't exist, at least until around 1550. By then 1) serfs were no longer legally tied to the land, and 2) by order of the King the parish churches were required to keep registries of births, marriages and deaths. The latter change occurred at the same time Henry VIII "nationalized" the Catholic church, forming the Church of England. However, the commoner still needed to rent land from a large landowner, and pay tithes to the parish, to survive.

By the seventeenth century further changes are evident. Rich peasants (known as yeomen) owned some of their own property, while continuing to rent from the nobility. Some, but not all, of the original manors were flourishing. A good example of a successful manor would be Wraxall. The George family had possessed this fief since the twelfth century. Specific mention should be made of Ferdinando George, who is credited with forming the Plymouth Company which, in 1607, attempted to start an American colony in Maine. Indeed, the George family owned Maine until 1677, selling it at that point to Massachusetts. Ferdinando's nephew, Robert George, was the lord of Wraxall until his death in 1636. He was succeeded by his brother, Samuel George, who married Jane Cotterell, daughter of John Cotterell (of Long Ashton) . While this seems to be a digression, these names will occur again soon.

Other manors were in flux. The small estate of Chelvey was sold by John Ashye to his brother-in-law Edward Tynte somewhere around 1620. Edward was the brother-in-law of Ferdinando George. The Tynte family is now known best in this region for their nineteenth century mansion in Wraxall, Tyntesfield. Meanwhile, in Backwell, the dynasty of the Rodney family (approximately 450 years) came to an end when the heir committed suicide in 1601. A protracted legal battle, confiscation of some of the estate by the King (the property of any person committing suicide reverted to the crown by law), and sale of significant portions of property probably kept this estate in relative anarchy and poverty for the next sixty years.

The big political event of these times, the English Civil War, will be discussed in the next section.

Perrin Parish Records in Backwell and Vicinity

I have had the opportunity to personally review the Backwell and Chelvey church registries, which are available on microfiche in Taunton at the Somerset Heritage Center. In addition, I have relied on those portions of the Nailsea and Wraxall parish records which have been transcribed and posted online, or else shared personally, by Mary Mason. A word about completeness: the records for these parishes vary in legibility. in Backwell only the records from 1580 to 1610, and then from 1620 to 1640, were readable by me. Even so I am not certain I have found all the recorded entries. Furthermore, the marriage registry for Backwell from 1644 to 1651 no longer exists. On the other hand Ms. Mason has offered on her internet site a very faithful rendering of what the transcripts actually say, without the prejudice I might have brought to my readings, so I have a lot of faith in her data.

All of the early wills of Somerset entrusted to the diocese of Bath were destroyed in 1942 by German bombing. However, most of the wills from England that I cite had been submitted to the Archbishop of Canterbury. This typically occurred when there was significant property in the estate.

The earliest Nailsea records

Mary Mason has kindly provided me with unposted records from Nailsea which suggest a very early presence for the Perrin family in that parish:

Location Date Event Names Reference
July 20, 1562
Edward to John Peryn
April 1, 1565
daughter to John Perrin
August, 1565
John to Thomas Perin
daughter to John Peryn

These records show a John Perrin (Peryn) as well as a Thomas Perin of John's generation, with a son named John. While I can guess that John and Thomas were brothers, I know nothing else of these two.

Edward Perrin of Backwell

Slightly later, an Edward Perrin is found in Backwell with two children, Thomas born in 1590 and John in 1595. Given the timing for these births, I think it is reasonable to believe that Edward is the son of John Perrin of Nailsea.

Location Date Event Names Reference
September 18, 1590
Thomas, son of Edward Perrin
April 14, 1595
John, son of Edward Perryn
December 22, 1623
Edward Perryn

William Perrin of Nailsea

This William is of uncertain ancestry; he could be the son of either John or Thomas Perrin of Nailsea.

The Nailsea church registry noted in two places that William was a warden of the church in 1601 . William Peryne, of Nailsea, yoeman wrote his will in 1613 . He mentioned his wife Margaret, along with sons William and John, and daughters Mary, Jane, and Ellen. Wife Margaret and William, Jr. received most of his property, including

the Tenement Lande Meadows and Pastures their belonginge which I bought of Sir Edward Georges Knight

Of the four named executors for William's will, one was Edward Perrin. It is my belief that Edward Perrin of Backwell was this William's brother.

The Nailsea parish records I believe document William's marriage, the baptisms of four of his children, the marriages of two of his daughters, and his burial (allowing for creative spelling and the inability to be certain what was written).

Location Date Event Names Reference
June 19, 1578
William Perrin & Margaret Whiting
October, 1589
Wm Pirren
January 22, 1597/98
John Perry
June 14, 1601
Mary daughter of William Perrin
May, 1604
Jane daughter of William Perry
March 20, 1613
William Perrin
February, 1616
John ?en??yet & Marie Perrin

Thomas, son of Edward, Backwell

The Backwell registry contains a lot of information regarding Thomas Perrin. There were seven children recorded. Of the first three, two died in infancy, with only Thomas surviving. All the available information implies that then there was a second wife, Joan, with four children: Anne, Dorothy, Samuel, and Edward.

Location Date Event Names Reference
June 18, 1621
Samuell, son of Thomas Perryn
July 15, 1621
Samuel, son of Thomas Perren
April 15, 1623
Edward, son of Thomas Perrin
February 27, 1623/4
Edward, son of Thomas Perryn
July 10, 1625
Thomas, son of Thomas Perrin
May 2, 1628
Katheren, wife of Thomas Perrin
July 19, 1631
Dorothy, daughter of Thomas Perren
November 1, 1633
Anne, daughter of Thomas Perren
November 22, 1635
Samuel, son of Thomas and Joane Perren
April 8,1637
Edward, son of Thomas and Joane Perren

On the northwest side of St. Andrews in Backwell there is a small tombstone among the newer, larger stones:

While not easy, the stone can be partially read. It refers to a Katheren, wife of Thomas Perrin, and was dated May 2, 1628. While I did not see the burial entry in the parish registry for her, others have ; the date fits well for the death of Thomas' first wife, and his remarriage one year later.

stone closeup

stone with text overlay

I would be pleased if anyone else can fill in the missing text on the stone. I apologize for the rendering; the dipthong "TH" is sometimes if not always composed as a single character which current type faces do not seem to contain.

After Katheren's death there was an entry in the Chelvey parish:

January 12, 1629
Thomas Perrin & Joan Blanch

That the groom was Thomas of Backwell seems likely since several of the later birth records for Thomas in the 1630s referred to Joan as well. Joan died before Thomas' will was written in 1650, and may be buried in Wraxall, where it was recorded:

March 24, 1646
wife of Thomas Perie of Backwell

Thomas was taxed in Backwell parish in the 1642 Subsidy assessment  of Backwell and Chelvey; he was the only Perrin mentioned in that parish.

John Perrin of Backwell

In comparison to Thomas, little is known about the John Perrin of Backwell. I think he was probably the other known son of Edward Perrin, but he may have been the son of William Perrin of Nailsea, or even someone else in the family.

Location Date Event Names Reference
July 20, 1628
John, son of John Perren
January 22, 1630/1
Judith, wife of John Perren

Other early records from Nailsea and Wraxall

From Mary Mason and other sources online I have other Perrin records from the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century, found in the registries from Backwell, Nailsea, Wraxall and Kenn; to see them click the icon to the right.

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There was also a Perrin presence in a parish further north, Portbury; these records have been transcribed by Mary Mason and are posted on her web site.

Other records concerning Thomas Perrin

Regarding Thomas Perrin himself there are two other significant records. The first is a document in the Bristol City Archives entitled :

an Account book of sums collected in the hundreds of Bedminster with Hartcliffe, and Portbury, county Somerset by Sir Ferdinando Gorges, Sir Robert Gorges, knts., Thomas Smith, Rice Davys and Richard Cole, esqs., Justices of the Peace for Somerset, towards the repair of St.Paul's Church, London

There follows twenty pages, one page per parish, which list names and pledges. The page for Wraxall can be seen here.

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The individual contributions ranged from a whopping one pound by Sir Robert George to six pence by more modest parishioners. (In comparison, no contribution in Backwell exceeded one shilling.) Each page was signed by three of the Justices. At the end of the document is the statement

of which we have made Thomas Perrin of Backwell Collector, the 18th day of February, Anno Dom. 1632 [1632/33].

So while Thomas Perrin did not write this document, he clearly was working for the local nobility.

The second document is a lease in 1640 by John Cottrell of Long Ashton, Gent. to Thomas Perrin of Backwell, yeoman, for £120 and an annual rent of 40 shillings ,

a water mill called Moore Mill with the orchard, garden, course of water and comons to the said tenement and mill belonging, sett and lying and being in Backwell ... as well as a further eleven and one-half acres of land, parts of which are described as adjoining the mill and the yooe .

To see the significance of this lease it is now necessary to examine the detail of the 1815 map.

Backwell and environs, from the 1815 maps

Detail from 1815 Ordnance Survey Map

The river named Land Yeo (unfortunate digression: Yeo is a generic name for river in this portion of England. It derives from the Saxon word "ae", which apparently has as a cognate the French word "eau", which now means "water".) can be seen near the top of the map flowing from right to left, with mills located in this map detail at Backwell Common and Wraxall. While not shown on this map, the borders of the Backwell parish only include an extremely short section of the Land Yeo at the site of The Old Mill. So this is quite important real estate. How John Cotterell got a hold of it is anyone's guess, but it may have slipped into the hands of the George family at some point, reverting to Cotterell as dowry. Finally, do note that while the mill is "leased", that is to say, Thomas Perrin did not own the mill or associated acreage as a result of the document, the terms are such that the annual rent is minimal compared to the purchase of the lease itself. I am not an economist, nor do I understand economic history, but I would say that this sort of an arrangement is one big step away from feudalism and toward modern property rights.

I now have a better picture of the area, which I took in 2018. I am on a footpath just above Wraxall, so it is in the foreground. The view is to the south towards Backwell on the other side of the valley. One can appreciate the E. J. Wyatt farm, with its large buildings, in midvalley just past and to the right of the copse of trees. It is precisely at the site labelled "The Old Mill" on the Ordnance map.

View from Wraxall directly south towards Backwell

Thomas Perrin's will

Thomas Perrin will from 1650

Will of Thomas Perrin, Yeoman, 1650

Thomas Perrin wrote his will in May, 1650, and it was proved in August of the same year. Like the wills in the next two sections, this one was filed with the Perogative Court of Canterbury, and therefore available from the U. K. National Archives . Below is my transcription, with an attempt to interpret some of the stranger words [in brackets].

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The nyne and twentieth day of May in the yeare of our Lord one thousand six hundred and fifty I Thomas Perrin of Portbury in the County of Somerset yeoman being weak of body but of sound and perfect memory praise be to god

Doe make and ordaine my last will and testament in manner and form following

There were a number of properties described in this will. There was a house in Moorside, which would locate it along the border of Backwell and Nailsea. I don't know if that would be the same as the Mill. There also was a house in Farliegh "called the Inn". Given that Farleigh now has only one inn, it seems probable that it is the same establishment which Thomas owned three hundred and fifty years ago. Certainly its name could be that old.

Georges inn, Farley

The George Inn, Farleigh

And there is one other parcel to be considered. This consisted (as well as I can read this) of one third of a rental which was in the hands of Ann the wife of Edward Bullock. To me this implies that 1) there was a lease which Thomas' father willed to his three children, and 2) this Ann was Thomas' sister. You may recall seeing the names of both Thomas Perrin and Edward Bullocke in the 1614 tithing treatise earlier in this section. Edward Bullock contributed one shilling to the St. Paul cathedral fund in 1632/3 mentioned above . While I only have baptismal records for two siblings, I am quite comfortable that Ann's record may be obscured or missing.

The will defined Thomas' family quite well. Thomas listed five children. Son Thomas was mentioned once, receiving only three pounds. His inclusion in the will makes it impossible for him to object to the paltry inheritance; I assume he received so little because he was the established older son. (We will see this sort of behavior again in a will later, in conjunction with John Perrin, Jr.) The other four children, given (probably in order of birth) in the will as Ann, Samuel, Edward and John. The Backwell baptismal registry had listed Thomas,Ann, Samuel and Edward. In that register there was also a Dorothy; she may have died (or married) as of 1650 resulting in her absence from ther will. Likewise, John was probably born after 1640, which would be a time period during which the registers are virtually unreadable.

Finally, the will described Thomas' current marital status. The mothers of Thomas' children, as named in the baptismal registers, were dead. Thomas had remaried Elizabeth, and he carefully stated that her properties remained with her and her children. There is a clue to Elizabeth's ancestry on the basis of the names of the will's executors, William Tucker (the elder) of Nailsea and John Fead of Backwell. While I have not found any information regarding John Fead in a cursory search, William Tucker died in 1656 and left a will . The signing of the will was witnessed in 1654 by Elizabeth Tucker, and proven in 1656 by his wife Joan. From the Nailsea records, available courtesy of Mary Mason's website from 1575 through 1625, it is known that William was born in either 1594 or 1595, and married Joan Whiting 13 February 1616/17. His father was probably William Tucker, died April, 1608, whose will  gave property to his children William and Elizabeth. The baptismal registry shows that Elizabeth was born in 1603. While there is no way to prove it, I can only guess that Thomas Perrin had married Elizabeth Tucker, sister of William Tucker shortly before his death, and that for some reason Elizabeth did not keep the Perrin name thereafter.


I can believe, on the information given above, that it is possible to dependably begin this family history with John Perrin in Nailsea, circa 1560. Thomas Perrin's father Edward, and William Perrin of Nailsea, were probably sons of this John. Given that both William in Nailsea and Thomas in Backwell wrote wills and had some prominence in their respective churches, I believe that their families had much more than a basic level of status.

The region in which these Perrins lived is mercifully small. The Nailsea, Wraxall, Backwell and Chelvey churches had no more than fifty families each, judging from the 1642 subsidy rolls. My impression is that at Thomas Perrin was in the top twenty percent of the population in terms of wealth for his parish. The status of William Perrin of Nailsea in the previous generation implies to me that this wealth was not new. I would be fascinated to know more about the relationship between this family and the local nobility.

Many have assumed that the Perrin family descended from French Huguenots. These Protestants emigrated from France to England to escape religious prosecution. However, the bulk of this emigration occurred after 1570. Since it is possible to trace the family back to 1560, I think it is safe to say that this Perrin family were not Huguenots. I would rather assume that the Perrin name here was Norman in origin, coming to England in the eleventh century.

In any case it will become quite clear that this Thomas Perrin is the father of the Perrins of Bristol, who are discussed in the next section of this narrative.