(member 1878)

St. Merryn, Padstow and St. Eval


The ancestry of a large number of present day Withells and Withell descendants can be traced to one family who came from the St Merryn, Padstow area.


St Merryn crossroads courtesy of Malcolm McCarthy


Two articles have been published in the journal of the Cornwall Family History Society

PRIEST TO SHIPBUILDERS. A brief history of the surname in this area, Issue No. 122 December 2006

FOUND - THE LOST FAMILY of THOMAS WITHELL. How does one find what happened to Cornish Withells when one lives in Australia, particularly if the normal avenues of research have produced no result? Issue No. 123 March 2007

The earliest reference to Withiel as a byname in St Merryn was found in the register of Bishop Bronescombe which recorded the resignation of Master John de Withiel as the 'last Rector' on 2 July 1259. The acquisition and cataloguing of the archives of families such as the Earl of Edgecumb and the Prideaux Brune family, have established that by 1450, the surname was well established in the area as a hereditary surname. The Court Rolls of Padstow Manor have shown that beginning with Radolphus Wythiell in 1450, the surname continued to be represented in these parishes until at least 1890.

Unfortunately it has not been possible to establish relationships and build descendant charts for these early Withells, partly because of the destruction of records at Exeter in WWII. Eleven Withell wills from the St Merryn / Padstow families which were dated between 1557 and 1796 were lost.

These included :-

Wills are a primary source in establishing ancestry and although as stated there were earlier families in these parishes with the surname, the first family line for which we currently have provenance is that of Roger Wethel, born perhaps about 1630. . Although Roger and Katharine appear to be the progenitors of all present day Cornish Withells, for several generations there were not enough boys produced or survived for the line to start to expand.

ROGER WETHELL tanner, married Katharine Warann on 22 October 1656 in Padstow. This entry in the register was difficult to read and was not found initially because it had been transcribed as Mitchell. However the archivists at Cornwall Record Office have confirmed the spelling in the original Parish register as WETHELL and not MITCHELL.

When Roger died in 1693 the administration of his estate was granted to his widow Katherine Withiell and their two children, Martin Withiell Yeoman ( circa 1658) and Katherine Withiell spinster. As a Tanner, Roger was a man of some substance and the next two generations increased their wealth by marriage.

MARTIN WITHIEL of St Merryn Yeoman was married first to Mary Brewer who had inherited part of a property named New Park including the dwelling house, courtlage, land, and the part of the moor adjoining. Mary died and her surviving daughter married William Guy. However this property was apparently bequeathed in Martin's will of 1720 to his son Martin by his third marriage. The ownership was disputed by Mary's brother Stephen Brewer and was to be the subject of a court case.

Less than two years after the death of Mary Brewer, Martin married Mary Hicks, widow of Clere Hicks

This tombstone dated 1697, which was inscribed in memory of two of the children of Martin Withell Yeoman and Mary Hicks, is the oldest found for this family. Unfortunately in 1996 the long sides including the names were cut off during renovations to the churchyard. This photo is the only record of its original form.

Here lies the body of Mary which died 11th of February 1699, Also the body of Roger which died 18th. day of February 1699 both the children of Martin Withell of this Parish, Yeoman.

The third marriage of Martin Withiell Yeoman to Jane Leigh heiress of John Leigh gent. of Leigh Manor had taken place at Week St Mary in 1705. Jane was descended from Thomas Aleigh of High Leigh in Cheshire who had settled in Cornwall sometime before 1500. She was already 38 and was to have only one child, Martin.

There are also tombstones for Martin himself 1720 and his third wife Jane Withell 1726 which are no longer able to be viewed.The tombstone of Martin is in pieces.

Jane died in 1726 but her tombstone is under another tombstone at a corner of the church and also cannot be viewed. The details were recorded by a church member.

MARTIN WITHIEL of St Eval was baptised at St Merryn in 1705. Soon after the death of his mother Jane in 1726, Martin married Mary Dawbin, also an heiress, by license at St Stephens by Saltash. The ancestors of Mary Dawbin had held property in St Stephens by Saltash area from at least 1580.

Martin and Mary moved to St Eval where he and his half-sister Frances Mitchell were the leaseholders of the Great Tenement of Trevethan.

He and Mary had the following children baptized at St Eval.

Martin (1705) himself died in 1762 but Mary was to live until 1796. Even though they lived at St Eval they were buried at St Merryn where there are several tombstones.

The eldest son Martin (1733) was bypassed in his father's will and the youngest son John Withell then had sufficient property to assume the title of gent. John did not marry and died intestate when he was 37. His tombstone is also in St Merryn churchyard.

The property at St Eval was taken over by his mother Mary who also bypassed her son Martin in her will, leaving the estate to her spinster daughter Mary. Martin unsuccessfully contested the validity of his mother's will in the Courts. He was to be bypassed a third time when his sister made her favourite nephew- Martin Withell Shipwright- her heir.

MARTIN WITHELL of Padstow was baptised in 1733 at St Eval. He married Elizabeth Ivey at St. Merryn on 28 July 1763. Martin and Elizabeth produced nine surviving children including seven boys and were to become the Portal couple for all known Withells of Cornish extraction to have survived in the male line.

In about 1786 Martin (1733) and Elizabeth left Trevone and moved with their family into the township of Padstow. Of their nine children, only 6 were to have children of their own.

Sacred to the memory of Martin Withell who departed this life on the 15th. day of September 1833. Age 70yrs. Also near this tomb lies the body of Mary Withell, grandmother to the before named.

Also in memory of Mary her daughter who died at Padstow and was buried here.

Likewise the body of John Withell brother of the above said Martin Withell who died at St. Minver and was interred near this place.

Also underneath this stone lie the mortal remains of Phillipa, relict of the above mentioned Martin Withell who departed this life

This large slab in the doorway of St Merryn parish church commemorates several of the Withell family of the late 18th century


Although the children of Martin and Elizabeth remained in Cornwall, most of their families were to leave the county. The decline in mining and the agricultural depressions of the 1840s and the 1870s resulted in massive emigration from Cornwall. Withell and Withiel families moved to Swansea, Plymouth and London, Ireland, Canada USA and Australia, many finding work in the navy, shipyards or building trades.

Using each of these 9 children as a starting point we have currently recorded well over 1500 descendants.

This section is currently under review but if you have believe you may have a connection to this family, please contact me and I will be very pleased to answer.

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