St Matthew's Secret

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The Slee Family ....

Researched in 1976
Gerald Devey (Exeter, Devon)
Max Slee (Adelaide, South Australia).
The following are extracts (with his kind permmision) from Max Slee's book printed in 1976

There were two distinct Slee families in Devon in the late 1400's, one family just north of Barnstaple in the neighbouring parishes of East Down and Shirwell, and the other at Coldridge near the centre of Devon. Over ensuing centuries the members of these families dispersed over most of Devon, although until the 1700's they tended to remain in clusters. These two major families apparently evolved independently of each other and were possibly not related. The origin of the surname is uncertain, being either (a) a nickname – sly, artful, sagacious, or (b) an occupational name – a slay maker made shuttles used in weaving, or (c) a place name – slea or sley being Old English for a grassy slope. This is a summary of the Slee family of Coldridge.

When Queen Elizabeth I came to the Throne in 1558 she had to find money to pay off the debts of her father and others of her family, so she had the grass lands ploughed up (perhaps the Parks of Coldridge). On 26th January, 1562 she sold `in fee simple to John Waldron of Tiverton and Robert Northcote the elder of Crediton, the rectory of Colridge, Devon, to hold in free socage Issues from all Saints last, the advowsons of the Vicarage reserved'.

An Indenture, tripartite, was made on 19th July, 1625,

"between Roger Slee of Tiverton, Merchant, son and heir of the said George Slee of the first part; William Slee of Uplowman, William Hame (son-in-law of George Slee), William Coleman (son-in-law of George Slee), William Spurway (son-in-law of George Slee), John Berry (son-in-law of George Slee), Robert Dayman, Peter Blundell (nephew of George Slee), Peter West, Peter Spurway, Thomas Bury, and three others, all of Tiverton, being nominated as (Trustees in the Indenture, of the second part, and Johane Slee, widdowe, Executrix of the last Will and Testament of George Slee, of the third part; wherein it is recited that she, by the advise of her overseers had purchased a plote of ground within the town of Tyverton neere adjoining to the dwelling house of the said George Slee, in Peter Street there, and hath erected and built uppon the same plote of ground six dwelling houses for six poore women to dwell in, etc."

She purchased no yearly rent or annuity, but made over to her son Roger Slee, £360 for the purpose of carrying out that part of the Testator’s Will. Roger Slee therefore conveyed to the said Trustees "herein appointed and before named, and their heirs, an estate of inheritance of and in the rectory sheafe and parsonage impropriate of Coldrige in the County of Devon with all and singular his rights, members, and appurtenances" of which the testator died seized, with a proviso that they should reconvey to the said Roger Slee the said Rectory and parsonage for three thousand years, reserving the annual rent of £20. The said rent was to be paid over by the Trustees to the Church-wardens and their successors and to be applied by them for the reparation of the almshouses and for the maintenance of the almswomen, etc.

It appears from an old trust deed, dated 5th March, 1647, that the trustees named in the deed of 1625 demised the said Rectory of Coldridge to Roger Slee, for the term of 3,000 years under the rent of £20, payable quarterly on the four most usual feasts of the year at the parish church of Tiverton.

According to a Covenant in the 1625 Indenture, upon payment of this rent Roger Slee or his heirs could re-enter and regain control of the Rectory of Coldridge and its lands at any time within the next 3,000 years. Owing no doubt to the neglect of the Trustees, no feoffment deed has been made since 1647 and the control of this Charity is now entirely within the hands of the churchwardens. Of the Covenant, no advantage has been taken, and the annuity is regularly paid by the Hon. Newton Fellowes, of Eggsford, who at present possesses the Rectory of Coldridge.

Roger Slee (ca.1490 - )
The Christian name of the earliest known Slee resident at Coldridge is uncertain, though it was probably Roger. He would have been born in Coldridge in about 1490. He married and had four known children:-
1. William Slee, born about 1525, died 1585. (see below for more)
2. Alice Slee, born about 1530, who married to Robert Waldron on 20-9-1556, issue unknown. Robert was possibly the son of John Waldron, later of Tiverton.
3. Thomas Slee, born about 1533, he was possibly a yeoman (farmer) and according to the Coldridge Churchwarden's accounts, in 1592 he was paid 2/10d for a bushel of rye, a pound of butter, and a cheese. He married (wife's name unknown) and had three known children; 1. Joane, baptised 25-4-1578, who married Paul Wheaton on 10-8-1597, issue unknown. 2. Agnes, baptised 21-2-1579, buried 2-3-1579. 3. Nathaniel, baptised 2-2-1589.
4. Margaret Slee, born about 1537, married Nicholas Shilston of Coldridge on 1-6-1567 – issue unknown.

William Slee (ca. 1525-1585)
Born in about 1525, William Slee married twice. By his first wife (name unknown) he had eight children. His first wife died between 1577 and 1581, and he remarried to his second wife, Grace, by whom he had his ninth child, Andrew (born 1582). William was probably a yeoman, and in 1556 he was paid by the Churchwardens for the cleaning and carriage of armour, for use by soldiers in the event of a Spanish attack, which was considered imminent in that period. He was also presumably literate, for in 1569, in company with Harry Dyer, he was paid by the Churchwarden for being Clerk of the Market at the Coldridge Cattle Fair, held annually on the first Tuesday in March. In 1605, his widow, Grace, was paid for hire of her horse which was used to fetch armour from Barnstaple. William died at Coldridge and was buried on 28-2-1585. His widow, Grace, was buried there on 23-9-1619. The nine children of William were;

1. GEORGE SLEE - (see below for more details) -Born in Coldridge in about 1555, the first son of William Slee,
George is one of the most notable members of the family. Spending his childhood in Coldridge, he moved to Tiverton in about 1575 where he began dealing in the cloth trade. He married on the 10th August, 1581 to Joan Chilcott, daughter of John Chilcott (also Comyns) and Eleanor (nee Blundell), of Tiverton. He became one of the wealthiest cloth merchants in Devon and made many charitable bequests. He died in Tiverton and was buried in St. Peters Church, Tiverton, under a noble slab of black marble which was deeply engraved with the following; `Hereunder lyeth buried the bodye of George Slee of Tyverton, Merchant, who departed this life the first of September, 1613...'. There follows a list of his donations to the poor of various places. His wife Joan died on the 13th June 1630, and in her Will she also left charitable bequests to the poor. George and Joan had seven children;

2. ELIZABETH SLEE - was baptised on 6th June, 1559 and married William Reade of Coldridge. She had several children including a daughter, Julian, who married a Mr. Brooke.
3. THOMASIN SLEE - was baptised on 2nd June, 1562 and married John Fletcher (also Dart) and had issue.
4. JOAN SLEE - was baptised on 22nd October, 1566 and married on 19th November, 1580 to Augustine Berry and had issue.
(see below for more) - was baptised on 3rd October, 1570 and lived in Coldridge. He married Joan Smith and had ten children, many of whom died from plague.
6. PAUL SLEE - was baptised on 22nd March, 1572, buried 13th February, 1573.
7. THOMAS SLEE - was baptised on 4th March, 1574, and married on 9th November, 1622 to Mary Luxton and had three known children. He was buried on 25th February, 1629. His children were:

1. George Slee - baptised 28th February, 1623, buried 25th May, 1669. He married and later settled at Lower Frost. By his wife, Jane, who died 21st June, 1704, he had ten children: 1. Mary, baptised 1648, married in 1670 to William Warren. 2. Thomasin, baptised 1650. 3. Jane, baptised 1652, married 1686 to Bartholomew Gibbins. 4. Joan, baptised 1654, married 1676 to Richard Hare. 5. Hester, baptised 1656, married 1678 to Thomas Ellworthy. 6. Susanna, baptised 1658, married 1676 to Thomas Stoneman. 7. George, baptised 1661. 8. Thomas, baptised 1664. 9. Bridget, baptised 1666, married 1689 to Thomas Packer. 10. Elizabeth, baptised 1668, died 1706 unmarried.
2. Roger Slee - baptised 1626.
3. Alice Slee - baptised 5th July, 1629, buried 7th November, 1629.
8. NICHOLAS SLEE - was baptised 30th August, 1577 and who married and is believed to have had issue - details unknown.
9. ANDREW SLEE - was baptised on 25th March, 1582 and buried on 13th December, 1582. Andrew was the only child of William by his second wife, Grace.

Augustine Slee (1570 – 1620)
Baptised on 3rd October, 1570, Augustine lived in Coldridge and married Joan Smith on the 29th July, 1591. His occupation is unknown and little detail could be found of him. He is mentioned as a beneficiary in the Will of his brother, George Slee of Tiverton. He was buried at Coldridge on 18th February, 1620. He is recorded as having made a Will, but like most old Devonshire Wills it was destroyed in May, 1942 as a result of an enemy air raid upon Exeter that destroyed the County Probate Office. The years 1620 and 1621 would have been a tragic period for the family, for in those years occurred the deaths of Augustine and five of his children. The cause of these deaths is unknown but presumably it was plague, which chiefly attacks persons between the ages of twenty to sixty. All but one of his children that died were over twenty years, and his younger children appear to have survived. Plague recurred sporadically in this period in degrees that ranged from local epidemics to
huge pandemics. The ten children of Augustine and Joan were:

1. MARY SLEE - baptised 30-10-1592.
2. PHILIPPA SLEE - baptised 27-11-1593, buried 1-10-1621.
3. GILES SLEE - baptised 23-4-1596, buried 6-10-1621.
4. WILLIAM SLEE - baptised 8-11-1599, buried 12-9-1621.
5. GRACE SLEE - baptised 19-3-1601, buried 12-11-1620.
6. ROGER SLEE (see below for more) - baptised 2-10-1605, who married Mary Cookerow.
7. WALTER SLEE - baptised 28-8-1608.
8. SUZANNE SLEE - baptised 10-6-1610.
9. JOHN SLEE - baptised 17-7-1612.
10. JOAN SLEE - baptised 13-7-1614, buried 26-10-1621.

Roger Slee (1605 – 1698)
Baptised on 2nd October, 1605 at Coldridge, Roger married late in life and had seven children that are known and possibly an eighth. His occupation is unknown, but presumably he was involved in agriculture. At the time of his death, aged over 90 years, his occupation was a gardener, probably market gardener. He married at Coldridge on 19th June, 1649 to Mary Cookerow, and he spent all his life in Coldridge. He died in 1698 and was buried on 20th October of that year. His wife Mary died 31st October, 1708. The eight children of Roger and Mary were:

1. GRACE SLEE - baptised 24-2-1649, buried 18-5-1650.
2. THOMAS SLEE - baptised 2-3-1650, who possibly married and had a son, Nicholas Slee who later lived at Halberton.
3. JOHN SLEE (see below for more) - baptised 5-10-1653.
4. AUGUSTIN SLEE - born 23-8-1655, buried 20-3-1670.
5. GEORGE SLEE - born 10-5-1658, he married Dinath (or Dinah) Fursdon at Coldridge on 4-3-1688, and later lived at Barnstaple and Zeal Monachorum. He was buried on 27-8-1716, and Dinath was buried at Coldridge on 14-2-1732. The couple had twelve children born between 1689 and 1711.
6. NICHOLAS SLEE - baptised 31-3-1663, buried 8-2-1664.
7. MARY SLEE - baptised 2-5-1667, she married at Coldridge on 6-2-1698 to Samuel Luxton.
8. AUGUSTINE SLEE - born in 1670/71, it is believed that he was the eighth child of Roger Slee. He married on 4-6-1694 to Mary Stevens of Okehampton.

John Slee (1653 – 1710)
Baptised on 5th October, 1653 at Coldridge, like his father he married late in life. His occupation is unknown. He married on 23rd December, 1707 to Grace Westerne and the couple had two sons. John died before his second son was born and he was buried on 17th May, 1710. Grace, who was apparently some years younger than John, remarried at Coldridge on 20th March, 1736 to William Bennett. The two sons of John and Grace were:

1. JOHN SLEE (see below for more) - baptised 3-5-1708.
2. ROGER SLEE - baptised 9-6-1710. Nothing further is known of him.

John Slee (1708 – 1768)
Baptised at Coldridge on 3rd May, 1708, he was deprived of his father whilst an infant. He spent the early part of his life in Coldridge until, presumably whilst young and unmarried, he left the town of his ancestors and moved to Sampford Peverell, a village near Tiverton. He married there, though no record can be found of the marriage. The first name of his wife was Elizabeth. John settled in Sampford Peverell in about 1725 and resided there the remainder of his life. Sampford Peverell is situated about five miles from Tiverton. John died there and was buried on 3rd May, 1768. He made a Will, but the record of the Administration of the Will was destroyed in Exeter in May, 1942 by enemy action. His wife, Elizabeth, was buried at Sampford Peverell on 24th January, 1781. The nine children of John and Elizabeth were all baptised at Sampford Peverell.


George Slee
that little boy from Coldridge
(ca. 1555- 1613)
Cloth Merchant

Born in Coldridge in about 1555, the first son of William Slee, George is one of the most notable members of the family. Spending his childhood in Coldridge, he moved to Tiverton in about 1575 where he began dealing in the cloth trade. Tiverton, about 18 miles from Coldridge, had by that time become famous for its woolen kerseys. Upon the death of his father in 1585, George no doubt received a good inheritance and with this capital he was able to become one of the most prosperous merchants of Tiverton. He married on the 10th August, 1581 to Joan Chilcott, daughter of John Chilcott (also Comyns) and Eleanor (nee Blundell), of Tiverton.

The Blundells and Chilcotts were prominent families and benefactors in Tiverton. Eleanore Blundell's brother, Peter Blundell, founded the famous Blundell's School in Tiverton. Built in 1604, Old Blundell's School is now the property of the National Trust, and externally the buildings remain almost unaltered. The triangular lawn in front of the school was the scene of the fight between Jan Ridd and Robin Snell in
Blackmore's classic novel, `Lorna Doone'. Samuel Wesley, elder brother of John Wesley the founder of Methodism, was a Headmaster at the school in the 18th Century.

In his Will, Peter Blundell left £1,000 to his niece Joan Slee, and £2,200 to George Slee and his children. George was one of the Executors of Peter Blundell’s Will and a feoffee to carry out the erection of the school. George Slee's brother-in-law, Robert Chilcott, founded the Chilcott School in St. Peter Street in 1611. Still standing, this building is now the Council Chamber of the Tiverton Rural District Council. George was engaged for most of his life in the business of manufacturing and exporting the kerseys of Tiverton to various places in both England and overseas, and importing wool and other materials necessary for the manufacture, by which he acquired a good fortune. Most of his exporting and importing was done by sea, via Exeter. In 1608, Tiverton was described by a contemporary writer as being thronged with rich clothiers, and the Monday Market as being famous for its Tiverton Kerseys.

THE GREAT HOUSE OF ST. GEORGE is a fine Jacobean mansion built in about 1605 on the eastern side of St. Peter Street as a home for George Slee and his family. The Great House is one of the historic buildings of Tiverton. A two-storey stone building with an attic, the front has mullion windows with relieving arches. The main
entrance, a round arched opening, enters into a screened passage that retains the original doors and paneling. The building is now the offices of the Tiverton Rural District Council.

SLEE'S ALMS HOUSES were founded by George Slee in 1610, and built in 1613 according to directions in his Will. This building adjoins the Great House of St. George. A stone building, it has a gallery access at the front, with leaded casement windows on the ground and first floor. Martin Dundford described the almshouses in his ‘Historical Memoirs’ in 1790; “usually called the Widow's Almshouses . . . they are six single rooms, three on each floor ... they also have galleries in front and ... are floored with timber. Behind are small herb gardens, but no chapel. They were built about the year 1613, since which time few alterations have been made besides common repairs. . .”

In his Will, George Slee bequeathed £500 for the erection of the almshouses and directed that they should be `for six poore aged woemen to dwell in'. The women, who had to be aged at least `three score years', were to be nominated by his wife Joan during her lifetime, and afterwards by the Tiverton Churchwardens. The six women, who had to be of honest name and fame, were paid 12 pence per week every Saturday for their maintenance. Over 350 years later, Slee's Almshouses are still serving their original purpose and are currently occupied (1976), though internally they have been considerably restored to suit modern standards.

George Slee was very involved in the activities of Tiverton. In a Brief dated 1612, King James I mentions George Slee as one of the persons authorised to deal with collections in various places to relieve the distress caused by a major fire in the town. In his Will, George Slee left numerous charitable bequests to the poor people of various places. His Will contained a total of 44 different bequests totalling in cash £4,120, as well as considerable personal and real property in the parishes of Tiverton, Coldridge, Uplowman, and Halberton. In modern terms, George Slee was a multi-millionaire.

He died in bed in his home on the 1st September, 1613, making a codicil to his Will some few hours before his death. Two of the minor bequests in his Will were forty shillings to the `grave and learned preacher' who conducted his funeral service, and to twenty poor elderly men of Tiverton a gown (or coat) worth 20 pence each, 12 pence in cash, and their dinner on the day of his burial. He was buried on the north side of the screen of the chancel of St. Peters Church, Tiverton, under a noble slab of black marble which was deeply engraved with the following; `Hereunder lyeth buried the bodye of George Slee of Tyverton, Merchant, who departed this life the first of September, 1613...'. There follows a list of his donations to the poor of various places. His wife Joan died on the 13th June 1630, and in her Will she also left charitable bequests to the poor. George and Joan had seven children;

1. Roger Slee - Born on 23rd June, 1582, Roger became a merchant clothier like his father. He resided in his father's home for many years. On 9th September, 1604, he was made a Freeman of Exeter, his fee for admission to that position being pardoned by the Mayor of Exeter. Being a Freeman entitled him to certain privileges. In the first Charter of Incorporation granted to the Borough of Tiverton in 1615 by King James I, Roger Slee is named as one of the first twelve assistants to the Capital Burgesses. The Charter included the right for Tiverton to hold two Fairs annually. In 1616, he was Churchwarden for the Clare portion of the parish. He was also a feoffee
in the Will of Peter Blundell. He married (wife's name unknown) and had four children;
1. Elizabeth Slee - it is believed she died in 1620, unmarried.
2. Joan Slee - Joan died in about 1612, unmarried.
3. Julian Slee - believed to have married Richard Drake in 1631, issue unknown.
4. George Slee - born in 1614, George spent most of his life in Coldridge. He married Margaret Tremayne of Chittlehampton in 1637 and had two known children. He died at Coldridge in 1689 and his wife died there in 1696. His known children were;
1. George Slee, born about 1643 – no record can be found of him either marrying or having children. It is possible he moved out of Devon. 2. Mary Slee, born 1640, married to George Kelly, of Coldridge. She died in 1706 - issue unknown.
2. Eleanor Slee - Born 30th January, 1584. On 3rd April, 1598, Eleanor was one of thirty-three persons burnt to death in the great fire in Tiverton which consumed 400 houses and several chapels, and destroyed £150,000 value in money, plate, and merchandise.
3. Julian Slee - Born 3rd October, 1590, she married in 1607 to John Berry of Tiverton. The couple had several children, the eldest being John Berry, born about 1608.
4. William Slee - Born 26th May, 1592. William matriculated through Oriel College, Oxford University, on 25th January, 1611, at the age of eighteen. In 1614 he was admitted as a student of the Inner Temple of the University. William married, and with his wife, Mary, he took over his father's estates in Uplowman parish, where he was to spend the remainder of his life. His father, in his Will, left him lands and tenements at Widhayes and St. John's Land in Uplowman parish, and a tenement at East Sollark in Halberton parish. In 1641 he was a signatory to the Devon Protestation Returns. He died at his home at Widhayes in October, 1647 (Will held by P.R.O.). William had no children.
5. George Slee - Born 16th December, 1595, died 15th May, 1597.
6. Eleanor Slee - Born 1st November, 1598 and married on 26th July, 1614 to Daniel Perryman. Had several children, details unknown.
7. Joane Slee - Born 8th July, 1601 and later resided with her brother William at Uplowman, and married on 16th April, 1619 to William Ham of Coliton. William Ham had formerly been employed by her father, George Slee, as his agent in London. The couple had two known children; John and William.

From White's Devonshire Directory of 1850
SLEE'S ALMSHOUSES, in Peter street, were founded in 1610, for six poor widows, or aged maidens, by George Slee, who left £500 for their erection and endowment. The endowment is a yearly rent charge of £20, out of the rectory of Coldridge, and from it each almswoman has 1s. per week. The churchwardens are the trustees, and the almswomen have each a further weekly allowance of 1s. from the dividends of £360 navy five per cent. stock, left by Mary Marshall, in 1803. The residue of these dividends is divided among the most necessitous poor parishioners, according to the donor's will.

Source: Internet Archive

" Here under lyeth buried the body of George [Slee of Tiverton, Merchant,
who departed this life the 1st of September, 1613, He gave by his will, to bo
distributed to the poorest people of Tiverton, 50£ ; to the parish church and
church-yard of Tiverton, 10£ ; to and for the building of an aims-house, for six
poor, aged, and honest vpomen, and to purchase rents for their maintenance, at
12d. the week to each of them, 500£; to fifty poor crafts-men, of good and honest,
fame, 100£; to the poorest, honest, and painfuUest labourers in Tiverton, 10£;
to the parish church of Coleridge, for the relief and keeping on work of the poor-
est people there, 10£ ; to the poor of the parish of Halberton, 40s; to the poor
of the parish of Uplowman, 40s. He left behind him living, two sons and three




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