THE FROST FAMILY OF DEVONSHIRE

The compiler of this record was Eleanor, eldest daughter of Walter and Amy Frost

About the year A.D.1920 the Reverend Edwin S. Chalk, rector of Kentisbeare and a keen antiquarian, who was then engaged in writing the "History of Kentisbeare" for the Devonshire. Association, wrote to my father Walter Frost and asked if he could give any further information about the Frost family, as during the research necessitated by his work he had discovered that the history of the pariah and of that family was closely interwoven. My father sent him various family letters and papers, but little of this matter was used as it became necessary owing to expenses connected with publication to keep the "History" as short as possible. When Mr. Chalk died in 1932 his daughter said that he had intended latterly to write a history of our family as being one of exceptional interest with records of yeoman-ownership of land going back to the XVth century. I have not his sources of information, but to prevent further loss of what is already known I have decided to write the following short summary.

"Frost, according to Barnsley, is a Scandinavian name of rather unusual origin; it appears to have been used as a "given" name for a child born in an exceptional frost; there is a good deal to be said for this, but he gives no actual instance.(1)" There may be corroboration in the fact recorded by G.M. Trevelyan in his ‘History of England’ that Devon, formerly an isolated pocket of Celtic tribalism, was finally conquered by the Nordic invaders. This ‘given’ or ‘Christian’ name, as we should term it nowadays, apparently became the surname of the family when these were fixed about the year A.D.1300. Incidentally it is interesting to note that it is still a surname in the Scandinavian countries today. Commenting further Mr. Chalk says, "In about 99% of cases surnames are due to:-

  1. Trade when the ‘1e’ is incorporated.
  2. Place with the use of ‘de’
  3. Font

In one of the registers one of the Frosts is written Frost alias Swete, and this entry of Swete or Frost is most important. Sir Oswyn Murray, the great authority on ancient wills, gave it as his declared opinion that in many cases these aliases went back for generations possibly even to the fixing of surnames about the years 1300 - 1350 in some cases". In another place Sir Oswyn continues, "Double surnames connected by the word ‘alias’ are frequent in the XVIth and XVIIth centuries, and are occasionally found in the XVIIIth. The reasons are :-

  1. Nee - rare and usually legal
  2. An heiress’ name is preserved - rare
  3. Nicknames - common.
  4. Estate names - not unusual.
  5. Illegitimate - no case fully proved.

The usage was rather local: Frost alias Swete looks like No. iii."

Formerly there seems to have been only two chief families with the name of Frost, the one of Devonshire originally concentrated in the two parishes of Kentisbeare and Bradninch, and the other of Norfolk, now chiefly represented in Cheshire. Whether they were one family in early days must remain unknown without considerable research.

The Devonshire Frosts are of yeoman stock, and we are indebted to G.M. Trevelyan again for a description of Hugh Latimer's father as the type of yeoman of the true breed". We know at least that his leasehold farm, containing 200 acres arable, fed also 100 sheep and 30 milch cows besides the oxen for the plough, enabled him to employ six men besides women servants, to give his daughters portions of £50 apiece, and to send Hugh to school and ultimately to bishop’s bench and martyrs stake. It was such yeomen who bred the new England, a better England on the whole than that of mediaeval lord and villein." Of such yeomen the Kentisbeare records tell over the name of Frost, and these records, added to local tradition, give further knowledge of certain family characteristics persisting from generation to generation. They have been described as "a fine old family" held in high local esteem, They were active supporters of the Church, the registers showing the name fortythree times either as Warden or Treasurer during a period of three hundred and thirty years, i.e. four to every generation. Family tradition speaks of their love of music, and the Reverend E. S. Chalk writes, "I have heard that they were prominent in the music of the Church, but cannot at the moment give my reference ." It is worth noting also that the Frosts and their wives have always been literate (2), even when, as in Tudor and Stuart England, it was comparatively rare for people either to read or write.

Kentisbeare is a rich countryside of "moorland, wood, tillage, pastures, streams and bogs". At the time of the Domesday survey it comprised nine manors of which three, Chinnesfort (afterwards Kingsford), Aurra (Aller), and Frescic (France) later came into our possession. The Frosts held also homesteads and farms let to them on lives. They had practically the right of renewing for a male member of the family until the third life fell in. This, with the operation of a strict entail, kept them anchored, and on the same land for generations. On one occasion I asked Mr. Chalk what happened to the younger sons of these land-owning and land-renting families. He answered that "when families were long and there was little emigration there was nothing unusual in finding cousins in very different social classes". But in another letter he says, "we all have the illusion that our ancestors ‘stayed put’, but they did not, they moved about a good deal within a rather narrow range". However, this range tended to become wider with the march of time: Trevelyan tells us, "the great period of the yeomen free-holders and of compact estates was the Tudor and Stuart epoch - when large and small properties flourished side by side. The concentration of landownership was furthered by the English custom of primogeniture, which remained a social habit long after it had ceased to be a legal obligation. The country gentlemen in their wills provided only the eldest son with land, having previously sent his brothers out from the manor-house door to seek their fortunes as apprentices in trade or manufacture, in the liberal professions, or in overseas adventure. This custom greatly helped to build up English commerce and Empire....... All through the Eighteenth Century yeoman families were drifting to the towns, often to become the founders of the great business firms of Modern England. Often, too, they became large tenant-farmers, gaining more perhaps in wealth and importance than they lost in independence".

About the middle of the XVII century, or rather earlier, the Frost younger sons were beginning to move away from the family home and birthplace. Richard Frost a "Merchant of London" returned to Kentisbeare in 1627 to fetch his wife, Elizabeth French. In the XVIIIth century three grandsons of old Robert Frost of Halsbeare went to Norfolk, Virginia in America. (In this connection it is interesting to ask whether Robert Frost the American poet is a descendant of one of those three cousins -"Robert" being preeminently a Frost family name, there having been fifteen Robert Frosts baptised at Kentisbeare, in the last two hundred and fifty years. It is rare in other Devon families. Tests. E.S.C.).

Unfortunately the registers of Kentisbeare before 1696 are very fragmentary and we are therefore flung back on Wills, Parish Documents and Bishops’ Transcripts for any detailed knowledge previous to that date. The genealogical tree at the end of this paper was compiled from personal recollection by Walter Frost, his mother and his father’s cousin Diana Mortimore, nee Frost. Their combined memory reconstructed it to the John Frost who married Diana Leddon in 1734. The registers and Bishops’ Transcripts then take up the tale and carry the line back to 1660. To establish "the fine thread of pedigree" in the direct line prior to 1660 it would be necessary to examine ancient family Wills - this has not been done.

A.D.

1460. John Frost of Bradninch summons Richard Gegge in a plea of debt.

1491. Robert Frost, Rector (not vicar as now) of Bradninch. He was "instituted to that cure by Bishop Fox in his house outside the Bars of the New Temple in the suburbs of London on the 7th day of February, 1492, on the presentation of the Excellent Lady Margaret, Countess of Richmond & Derby, and mother of the most illustrious and to be feared Prince, Henry VIIth." Translated from the Register of Bishop Fox. The Countess of Richmond & Derby lived at Sampford Peveril, but she also owned the manor of Blackborough Boty in the parish of Kentisbeare. The latter had been granted to her by her son Henry VIIth. As the clergy were not allowed to marry between the reigns of King John A.D.1199 and King Edward VI A.D.1547, he would leave no issue unless he married as an old man. But he is almost certainly of the family over the name ‘Robert’. (see Rev. E.S. Chalk).

In this connection it is interesting to note that a Robert Frost was Rector of Blisland, near Bodmin in Cornwall from A.D.1489-1491. He was presented to his benefice by the Prince of Wales, afterwards Henry VIIIth, and instituted in A.D.1459. He resigned in A.D.1491. (see date of appointment at Bradninch.)

1540. John Frost of Bradninch pays a tax of ten shillings to King Henry VIlIth. A heavy tax at that time.

1571. John Frost of Kentisbeare. (Teste E.S.C.) There. is a "Mills" connection.

1593. The Bishop of Chester concerns himself in the affairs of the Mills at Bradninch. (There has been a suggestion that there is a link here between the Frosts of Bradninch and the Frosts of Chester.)

1627. Richard Frost, "Merchant of London", obtained a license in Exeter to Marry Elizabeth French, spinster of Kentisbeare.

1674. Mary Frost married one of the James family, later of Stenhall Manor, Uffculme: her dower chest is still in our possession.

Between this date and the next, A.D.1752, there are records of twenty-seven births and fourteen marriages in the family.

1752 John Frost married Diana Leddon and lived at Halsbeare. There is an old ballad written by a Diana Frost which tells of an occurrence that has now passed into a local legend. Halsbeare lay in a very secluded part of the country, and some. smugglers, hard driven by pursuers, took advantage of its isolation to hide several kegs of brandy in a pond on this property. This pursuit came to the ears of the Excise men who arrived with an order to search the house. John Frost, ignorant of what had taken place and indignant at the demand, stood at the door "with full-drawn sword" and refused to allow them to cross the threshold. Defeated, the men turned away, but saw the pond, dragged it, and the brandy was discovered.

John Frost "summoned was to Exeter,
Dear man, he lost the day,
Quite heavy the expenses were
The same he had to pay."

Old Ballad by D. Mortimore nee Frost.

However he refused to accept this verdict with its slur on his honour, and determined to take the case to London. This was a great undertaking in those days, and the case was long protracted and the costs heavy. Twice during the trial his daughter Eleanor rode to London to act as a witness. All that was movable at that well-stocked homestead - ricks, stock and implements - was sold to meet the costs: But John Frost had a high spirit. Eventually he won the day, his name was cleared, and as he rode homewards he caused the church bells to be rung in every Devonshire village through which he passed. Happy indeed was his return:-

"To Stoford water he arrives
Kentisbeare bells are rung,
And by the old inhabitants
A welcome song is sung.

He lived to see, the land restocked
The great barn richly filled,
He charged his sons and daughter too,
Ne’er to oppression yield.

In peace and plenty years rolled on;
In love they strove to live,
When’er a friend required help
To him they freely gave"

1753. Saw the birth of John, son of the above John and Diana. He married Joan Starke and lived for a time at "France" the Domesday manor of "Freschic." After his father’s death he lived at Halsbeare. In "The Burning of the Christmas Faggot", another of the family ballads by Diana Frost, we have a picture of the comfortable and rather feudal setting of a yeoman-landowner, which is very typical of old English country life at its best. The theme is the gathering of the family and their relations, their servants, and all those connected with the activities of a big farm, to celebrate the burning of the great ashen Christmas faggot.

"Over six feet in length,
Its girth was over five,<
To. place it on the big, bright dogs<
The men did not contrive".

"Cousins and friends cone flocking in", including the writer of the ballad, and then we hear also of "the waiting maid" with short tail gown", "the rosy-faced weeding woman", "the fustian-coated men", the carpenter, the tailor and the thatcher, a long list of those who "laboured on the ground", ending with "the leather breeches boys, with stockings of coarse yarn". The writer then describes the host and hostess:-

"My grandfather, dear, good old man
With such a jolly face,
Invites his guests to take their seats,
Then fills the carver’s place.

My grandmother with brown stuff gown,
Lace cap so white and neat,
Large silver buckles on her shoes -
She looks the Dame compleat"

1793. Robert, son of the above John & Joan, lived at Kingsford Manor. He is commemorated incidentally by "Horn Road" in Kentisbeare which passes through a large tract of country that he caused to be cleared and enclosed, and the horns of the last team of oxen used on the work were set up on a labourer's cottage, thus giving a name to what is still a quiet country road. He married Elizabeth Pitt, a cousin of the Pitt (3) of Oburnford, the family of the great Prime Minister. She was only eighteen at the time of the marriage, and on this account her husband was "somewhat condemned for marrying so young a wife". But she was very forceful and determined, with great intellectual and practical ability, and many years after her death it was probably these qualities that caused her to be still spoken of locally as "a great lady", The Pitts at that time owned large estates in the quiet country between Halberton and Cullompton, Oburnford being in the former parish. The ballads and tradition make it clear that the eighteenth century Frosts of the direct line all married women on considerable force of character; they were also of notable East Devonshire families. The Leddons were Naval Explorer., RN., Clerical and Tanners. The Starkes were well-known at that time but have since decayed. The name of Pitt will always be illustrious in English History.

1820. William, eldest son of the above Robert and Elizabeth was born. In 1856, when 36 years of age, he married Eleanor Perkins of Knowstone and lived at Coombe, in Bradninch, but he died only seven years later at the early age of forty-three. He had been churchwarden there for four years when he died. His widow with her four young children then moved to "Stockwell", an exceptionally charming small house in the parish of Silverton.

1850. Kingsford Manor burnt down.

1857. Walter, the eldest son of the above William and Eleanor was born at Coombe, Bradninch on May 7th, 1857. When only seven years old, a year after his father’s death, he was sent as a boarder to "Mr. Radfords", a private school near Kentisbeare where his mother would ride over on horseback to visit him two or three times a term. There is a description of this and a similar school in the History of Kentisbeare:- "The school for boys at Croyle was for long popular and justly respected. Mr. Dennis began the school in Kentisbeare in 1780. Parson Jack Russell sent his son there and it was said of him that he never touched a road but to cross it. when he cane to see his boy ...... In addition to this school was another in the village called "The Academy"; this was also partly a boarding school. It was kept by Joseph Radford and his sons. Families in those days were large and prices cut down to a point below safety. Holidays were brief but parents would not pay more than from £20 to £25 a year. French "Moosoos" were employed who used to puzzle the village; yet a very sound education was given, especially in writing. The boys seem to have been healthy, but at times hungry. All agreed that Mr. Radford was a humane man who did the best that he could for his boys."

When Walter Frost was only eleven years of age his uncle John Frost, who was an art dealer at Bristol, was much struck by his alertness and intelligence and offered to take him into his firm. His mother consented, although it was a difficult decision for her to make. At first he found city life difficult after the beauty and freedom of the country, but he quickly adapted himself and found compensation in the zeal and interest he brought to all he undertook. He learnt every side of the business, and his keen and ardent nature showed itself in always trying to beat his own record, even if it were only in the speed with which he could carry a message. He lived in a tall old Georgian house in Charlotte St. with his uncle, and in the evenings he attended classes at the University College, (later Bristol University.) When he was twenty-one his uncle died and with capital borrowed from his nether, and also by means of taking a partner, he bought the business. From the first he showed initiative and enterprise, and almost at once wished to establish a factory for making picture frames, which would have been the first of its kind in England, but his partner refused to co-operate and the idea had to be abandoned. In 1886 he decided to start publishing, and this was the corner stone of what eventually grew into a big and world-wide concern. In 1892, as trade was quiet in England, he went to America to discover possible opportunities there for further expansion, with the result that when he died in 1930 his enterprise shown in these two big ventures had built up what was described in a leading Art Journal as "the largest and most important art publishing firm in the world.

He was a well-known figure at "Christies", and a fine judge of a picture. He had a gift for detecting new talent and his praise was a powerful aid to reputation. More than one artist now well established owed his start in life to this early recognition and encouragement. With this capacity to appraise the aesthetic quality of an artist’s work went also a mastery of detail, and the knowledge and power to make quick decisions. He built up a big business and he was proud of it; he loved it too both as work and as hobby, for with its constant preoccupation with art it satisfied his inborn love of all that was "lovely and of good report".

Meanwhile his home life too was happy. In 1884 he had married Amy Clark, and had four daughters. He built a house at Almondsbury in Gloucestershire which had a wide and lovely view across the Severn estuary to the Welsh hills. While there he originated the idea of having a road that crossed "the common" through part of the village, brushed with tar to allay the dust nuisance. This experiment was noted and watched by the County Council who finally after a year or two adopted the plan themselves for all roads in the County of Gloucestershire wherever they passed through villages. From that small and individual beginning has sprung what is now a universal method of dealing with road surfaces.

The countryside also benefited from his belief that all who owned land should be careful to see it well planted with trees, and every autumn at Almondsbury saw a fairly extensive programme of tree planting being carried out. Many fine trees that now beautify that parish were planted by his direction, and with his unfailing eye for good "composition" have done much to add to the landscape.

The family love of music was strong in him and he delighted in a fine Cathedral service, and at one period of his life he found much happiness in playing the violincello. He was "a reader" also, and inculcated a love of books in his children by reading aloud to them when they were young.

He was a Burgess of the City of Bristol and took an active part both in raising money annually for the charities of the Dolphin Society and in administering those connected with the ancient church of St. Stephen.

To the end of his life he loved Devonshire , and would seek there, especially on Dartmoor, that peace in which he found renewed strength of body and soul.

Foreign travel, for its own sake, never appealed greatly to him and he only undertook it for business purposes or for the pleasure he found in the great picture galleries of Europe.

Had aliases been still the custom the ancient family one of "Swete" might well have been applied to him, for with immense force of character and energy he combined a charming and generous-hearted personality, and his genial ways endeared him to a wide circle both in his business and social life.

He is buried in Almondsbury Churchyard under a cross of Devonshire Granite and on it the words

"Dearly-loved."


  1. John & Diana Frost lived at Halsbeare.
  2. John & Joan Frost lived in France and afterwards at Halsbeare
  3. Referred to in the ballad. Had a son and daughter.
  4. Robert & Elisabeth Frost lived at Kingsford Manor.
  5. W.E. Frost, R.A.?
  6. These Frosts lived at Halsbeare.
  7. One of these was the Diana Frost (Mortimore) who wrote the ballads.
  8. These 3 frosts went to Norfolk, Virginia, and settled there.
  9. Married at Cullompton - buried at Bradninch.
  10. G.R. Pilkington of St. Helens, Lancashire.

Original Family tree as published in the document

Notes:

I was given this document in typewritten form plus hand additions of unknown origin several years ago by a cousin, who was researching our connection with the Frosts.

Since then, I have done some research myself and find that I am in disagreement with some of the early data shown in the family tree on the previous page. As it states in the document, the genealogical tree at the end of this paper was compiled from personal recollection by Walter Frost, his mother and his father’s cousin Diana Mortimore, nee Frost. Some of this is not borne out by data as follows:-

  1. Henry Frost was born 1656 (IGI)
  2. He married a lady called Mellony (surname unknown) in 1680 (IGI)
  3. He had 3 children: Joan (1682), John (bap. 15th October 1685) and another John (bap. 17th June 1688), (all from IGI).
  4. I therefore assume that John (1685) died before 1688.
  5. John Frost and Ruth Baker were married on 2nd February 1706 (Parish Register)
  6. They had children Ruth (b. 21st October 1706 - Parish Register), John (b. 26th May 1708 - Parish Register), Robert (1710), Elizabeth (1714), Joan (1718), Mary (1720) and Edmund (1723) - these last 5 being found on IGIs. It is to be noted that the tree in the paper gives a John being born in 1718 - should this be 1708? Only Joan Frost, daughter of John and Ruth was found in the Parish Register in 1718.
  7. John Frost married an Eleanor Harding on 6th January 1732. The forename of the lady is VERY difficult to read - I have assumed Eleanor from the baptisms of their children (Parish Register)
  8. They had children John (bap. 9th April 1734), William (bap. 3rd November 1737) and Ruth (bap. 8th April 1741) all data from the Parish Register. It is this John which I believe married Diana Leddon in 1752, and was ‘Farmer Jan’.

I believe the tree should therefore look like:-

Modified tree as I believe it should be

Also, the document contains a list of ten cross references. There are no marks in the document to indicate where these references should apply.

Norman Ford - 9 February, 1999
e-mail:
norman@normanford.wanadoo.co.uk
Web Page: http://normansgenealogy.mysite.wanadoo-members.co.uk


The following hand written notes were appended to the original document by an unknown person. I have no idea where they came from or (in most cases) their relevance to this document.
  1. "In fine Lord Hastings 'precis' illustrates to a remarkable extent how much the great history of this country is a history of its families" (Return to Source)
  2. This is known from ancient documents recording their signatures (Return to Source)
  3. In the Pitt connection it is interesting to record:- "The Churchills are old West Country stock of the lesser gentry, when they first emerge upon the scene of history with the original Winston…………. who, in a remote West Country manor, became the father of the most famous general in English History.
    Old Sir Winston's wife was a Drake - on her mother's side, a Villiers - and so the Churchills came by a streak of that blood which runs in the veins of Chatham and Pitt, as well as Marlborough.
    The present Sir Winston Churchill, like his kinsman Chatham etc…."
    From "The English Spirit" by A.L. Rowse. "The great Villiers connection in Lord Keynes' "Essays in Biography" (Return to Source)