John Stevens 1796 – 1876

My father John Stevens of Topsham was born in Seven Oaks in Kent.    His father was a small farmer and had a family of nine children.  When the ninth arrived John ran away from home with very little savings and just a change of clothes.  His threw up his stick at the cross roads determined to go whichever way it point, which was to London.  Near London he was hired for employment in a glass factory which he was passing, was successful and became a glass froster.  While here he married Anne Dodd, 20 years his senior, but she had a few hundred pounds.  On her instigation he took up a hotel type of public house somewhere in Westminster, which he ultimately sold for £1500.   He was entirely self-educated but was businesslike and very successful on the Stock Exchange, but being threatened with consumption was advised to leave London, and accordingly retired to Topsham before he was 37.  It is said that he wife was a Devon woman, in some way related to my great grandfather’s second wife.  He lived to be 83 and never did any work in Topsham.   He bought some property in Chapter Street with a nice garden and devoted himself to gardening, but being an energetic churchman he was made a churchwarden, also took part in other public offices connected with the parish; ‘had his nose in everything’ my mother used to say.  We had some funny skits of him discussing Parish affairs with other wardens etc.  At last he got into loggerheads with the curate and a picture of him with his hair on end and the curate on a tar barrel rather upset him.  About this time Mr Pollard a Trustee of the Unitarian Chapel invited him to hear Rev. Follet preach there.  ( Editor’s note Follet, John. Min 1797-1836, all at Topsham, Devon. D 5 Apr 1836 age 77 at Topsham) He was so extremely taken with the sermon that he enquired into the belief, got a lot of literature on the subject, and so agreed with it that he left the church and lived and died after that time (over thirty years) a staunch Unitarian.  He became a trustee of the chapel and held that office up to his death. He was of a rather fiery temper and loved a joke even if against himself.  He continued to take great interest in town affairs.  He was received in good houses and could hold his own well.

He married a second time, Mary Elliott, 35 year years his junior, sister of W.N. Elliott, alderman of Plymouth (Editor’s note William Nosworthy Elliott) .  I was his only child and I believe he never forgave me for being a girl. I stood in great awe of him as he was a very severe though a very just man.

He once refused a house because the man who wanted to will it to him had a daughter whom he had fallen out with.  My father told him that he would not have it; if his daughter had offended him her children had not, and he must leave it to them.  They quarrelled over it but in the end my father had his way.

Upon his death in 1877 he left to me 4 small houses in Topsham.  The income from this property was £40 per year, but the vicinity has since deteriorated.  The property was sold by auction Jul 14 1904.

John and Mary Stevens are buried in the non-consecrated ground No.55 on plan, at the cemetery situate in the Parish of Topsham Devon.

Editor’s Note John Stevens was born in 1796, his mother was Jane (or Jenny) Jeshope (or Jessup) probably born in Ightham, Kent in 1769.  His father was also John Stevens.  They married in Ightham, 31 May 1787.

John Stevens married Ann Dodd in London in 1821; she was certainly older than him but according to the 1851 she was born in 1791 in Dunchideock, Devon; however her death certificate in 1854 states she was 77.  Ann Dodd was related to the Nosworthy family who were closely related to his second wife.  In 1851 John and Ann are living in Topsham where he is described as a ‘proprietor of houses.’  Ann died in 1854 and John married a second time to Mary Elliott in 1858.  The name on Ann’s death certificate of the person present at her death is ‘Mary Elliott’ (this could be either John’s next wife or her mother).  Mary Elliott is  considerably younger than her husband, marrying when she is twenty-eight.  Her father is William Elliott, a decorator and glazier in Plymouth; her mother Mary Nosworthy, from a farming family of longstanding in Chagford, Devon.  Mary Elliott dies , widowed for some years, in 1889.  John and Mary have one child, Jane Elliott Stevens.


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