The Vex of the Hext

I’ve often wondered where the Hext alias came from in the early Babbs of Doddiscombsleigh, Devon. There are at least 5 Babbs who also bear the alias Hext. The names appeared to be used interchangeably as surnames. So, I decided to research it further to see what I could find.

Two particular books aided in this research. The first is the same one where I recently located “John de Babb” in a family tree in the 1620 Visitation of Devon. On a whim I decided to look through it for information on the Hext family and found this record that takes us from 1620 back to about 1434 and I’ve included it below. I’ve superimposed available dates for a few of the people in the tree in an orange font to allow for context.

The earliest Hext in the tree is John Hext, who was born about 1434 in Kingeston (Kingston), Devon. By 1620 the family had moved to Cornwall in Trenarren, which lies along the southern coast of Cornwall.


Where is Kingston?

Kingston is a Manor in the town of Staverton, which itself is located in the South Hams District of Devon. Note that there is also a town by the name of Kingston in Devon, but it is NOT the one to which I refer.

When I plotted it on the map against the Babb locations in the area prior to 1650 I got this map:

Staverton Area Map cross-referenced with known Babb encampments prior to 1650.
–Courtesy Bing Maps

It is very easy to see that the Hext’s and the Babbs would be well acquainted given their proximity to Dartington Hall (Host Hotel of the 2011 Babb Reunion). To the Northwest we find Buckfastleigh, to the East is Berry Pomeroy and to the south is Totnes, home of Geoffrey Babb, the twice mayor of Totnes and a powerful owner of land and grist mills.

The Hexts in Kingston

The Hext family is deeply connected with Kingston in Staverton, South Hams, Devon. They occupied Kingston for hundreds of years. The earliest dates are during the Dark Ages and are unknown. The end date of their tenure at Kingston seems to be a bit controversial with competing accounts.

The exact dates appear to have account which would place their withdrawal (alienating) about 1600, but other records dispute this account showing that Kingston was the seat of the Barnhouse family since the reigns of King Edward I & II (1272-1327). Later the Barnhouse family married into the Rowe family who held the estate until roughly 1784 when John Rowe went bankrupt, and the estate passed on to Thomas Bradbridge.

The point of this diversion is to say that the Hext family alienated (Lost/Left) Kingston as early as 1272, never to regain control. However, they clearly still had lands and dealings in the area as the following court document demonstrates.

A court case shows John Hext suing John Roger, regarding a “tenement in the manor of Staverton and goods promised to complainant on his marriage with the defendant’s daughter and on the death or marriage of complainant himself.” The exact date isn’t revealed in this abstract record, but the range is from 1386-1558 (and is possibly 1505). Given the wide date range this could be any one of the 3 John Hext’s who inherited Kingston and possibly one before that should the date end up being on the early side of the timeframe. The original would be needed to determine the proper date and I can’t get to London this week to see it for myself. 😉

Another folio of documents currently lives in Archives and Cornish Studies Service containing Hext Deeds, family and Estate Papers for the Hext family. It dates from 1315-1950, so it could easily hold some of these keys we seek. They are both on my “to be researched” list.

This reveals that the Hext family was still in the area. However, with their fortunes failing they eventually closed up shop, pulled up roots and moved to Cornwall sometime before 1620. In the interim there is a marriage of sorts somewhere in the family that creates the Hext/Babb surname combination.

The Hext/Babbs

Now, switching to the Hext/Babbs of Doddiscombsleigh, their line picks up before 1481 with Wyllyam Hext, aka Wyllyam (William) Babb. His sons are John and Wyllham (William) and a number of subsequent generations only record these two names in the family unit.

Our Wyllyam was born before 1481, but no further info is known about his exact date. This would place him in the Hext tree as a brother of John Hext who married Jane Fortescue or their child. We can’t know for sure at this time. However, I do believe it is likely that he is the offspring of a female Hext who married a Babb. This makes the most sense given that the majority of the records are written with Hext as the Alias, not the main surname. Once again, anything is possible, but it is great food for thought.

It was during the 1620 visitation that the Babbs of Doddiscombsleigh applied for a set of Arms and were rejected with their evidence being insufficient. The Babb’s didn’t make the book, but the Hext’s did.

Sources: Kingston, Staverton – Wikipedia

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