George Underdowne and Marie Harris are the root ancestors for this Devon Underdown line. Although the connection between them and my 6x great-grandfather (Thomas Underdown baptized 1674) is currently tenuous due to missing information, they are believed to be the official “granfer and grammer” from whom our story begins.
There is no baptism record for George, so it is assumed that he was born circa 1580, 20 years before his marriage. Marie may have been born in 1579 in Ashford to James and Marie Harries, but again we do not have proof at this stage.
The spelling of the 'Underdown' surname had, at this time, an 'e' on the end. This would be dropped in a few generations.
George married Marie Harris at the parish church in Ottery St Mary on the 23rd November 1601.
The reason George and Marie’s marriage was recorded was that in 1538, following the split with Rome, the vicar general Thomas Cromwell from the court of Henry VIII, ordered that every wedding, burial and baptism was to be recorded. A fine was to be levied for failure to comply, but many parishes ignored the order, believing it to be a forerunner of a new tax. The order was ignored so much that it was repeated in 1547 with an instruction that fine was to go to the relief of the poor. This idea fell down during the period between 1553 and 1558 when Queen Mary was on the throne, resulting in many gaps in the register. It did not properly resurrect itself until 1597, when parchment was use instead of paper and a second copy of the records had to be made and sent to the bishop. This was only four years before George and Marie’s marriage, and therefore we know of its existence, on the 23rd November 1601 in Ottery St Mary.
Ottery St Mary
Domesday records the Ottery hundred in 1086 as having "land for 46 ploughs" which equates to around 4600 acres of arable land, about half of which would be active in any one year. There was also substantial pasture, meadow, woodland and waste (common land). Ottery's (town) population at this time would have been around 250, and the parish as a whole stood at about 1000. This had doubled by the middle of the 14th century, after which the black death reduced it to pre conquest level, and population figures remained depressed until the late 18th century when the parish once again contained just over 2000 people. This means that that during George and Marie’s time, the population was probably approximately 1000 people.
The town lived by trade, particularly in wool and lace, but in the 16th century those industries declined, and the College was also lost in the dissolution, leaving Ottery as a quiet market town, keeping its head above water by providing goods and services to the parish's large agricultural hinterland. George’s occupation was labourer, probably working on one of the farms surrounding the area.
It was during George’s time in the town that the tradition of ‘barrel rolling’ began, and he may have been witness to it. On the 5th November 1605, Guy Fawkes had tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London, and the tradition of Guy Fawkes Day was begun. Ottery St Mary created a very unique method of celebrating the day, called the flaming tar barrels. The West Country has a history of torchlight processions and burning barrels and Ottery was only one of the many towns and villages following an annual tradition containing barrels which were rolled in the streets on November 5th each year. Somewhere along the line someone decided rolling was tame and carrying the lighted barrels of tar on your shoulders was far more appealing. This event is still celebrated in Ottery today and now Ottery is the only town in the country carrying full sized lighted tar barrels through the streets.
George and Marie Underdowne had five known children, all baptized in Ottery St Mary – Alice in 1602, Johan in 1604, Robert in 1606, Margaret in 1608 and Thomas in 1610.
Death of Daughter
George’s daughter Margaret was buried at Ottery St Mary on 15th December 1608. Her cause of death is unknown, but it appears it may have been an infectious condition that was then passed on to her father.
George died and was buried at Ottery St Mary on 15th January 1609, only one month after his daughter’s burial. He would have been aged approximately 40 years. The burial record is interesting in that it records his occupation as labourer.
Last child born posthumus
Wife Marie was pregnant at George’s death and he did not witness the birth of his last child, Thomas. The baptism record for his youngest son Thomas states ‘posthumus’ in brackets after George’s name, indicating that George was dead by the time.
Death of wife
No burial record for Marie has been located at this time.
|Alice Underdowne (1602-)|
|Johan Underdowne (1604)|
|Robert Underdowne (1606)|
|Margaret Underdowne (1608)|
|Thomas Underdowne (c1610-c1660)||1610 Devon, England, United Kingdom||1660||Sellinger Adam (1605-c1660)|