The lost Pursey wills

Wills are a valuable source of information for any family historian. Before 1858, the only official copies of wills were held with the records of the various church courts which proved them. Unfortunately, for those Purseys trying to trace their descent in Somerset and Devon, the news is not good.

The Exeter Probate Registry housed all the early wills proved in the Dioceses of Exeter (covering Devon and Cornwall) and Bath & Wells (Somerset). On the night of May 3, 1942 Exeter was bombed. The Probate Registry was burnt out and thus the probate records of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset were all destroyed.

All is not lost however. Some pre-war indexing of the collections was carried out and individuals in ‘calendars’. In the calendar of wills and administrations of the court of the archdeacon of Taunton, 1537-1799, the following individuals are listed:

Ann, widow, Taunton Magdalen, 1730
Christopher, Hilbishops, 1723
Christopher, Taunton Magdalen, 1732
Edward, Taunton Magdalen, 1752
John, Crewkerne, 1771
Sarah, Taunton Magdalen 1746
William, Stogumber, 1766


Pursley, (I believe Purssey) Dorcas, widow, Wilton, 1725
Persey, Elizabeth, Canington, 1678 (possible daughter of Edward above. Edward married Bridget Ford in Cannington, Somerset in May 1633.)
Percye, Elinora, Bridgwater, 1627
Percie, Elinore, Bridgwater, 1629

England Roger, Taunton Magdalen, 1685

Estate Duty Wills

Pursey Hannah 1819 Taunton St Mary Magdalen
Pursey William 1828 Walton
Pursey James 1840 Moorlinch

Thanks to a litigious Roger Pursey, we know the contents of the wills of the two Christophers above. Roger, son of the former and brother of the latter, took his brother’s wife Elizabeth and their children Christopher and Mellory to court in London in 1734. Records of the case lay out the two wills in detail.

Edward is of great interest as some believe he was a Percy – related to or a descendant of John, brother of Alan Percy of Beverley (who could have become the 12th Earl of Northumberland). It is thought John came to Taunton to be near his cousin Robert and his wife Emma Meade. (Robert was the son of gunpowder plotter Thomas Percy.) Edward was a carpenter.

John too, I believe was a carpenter,

William of Stogumber styled himself a Purssey. Married to Emlin Routley, his original will can be found at Somerset Heritage Centre.

Dorcas was the daughter of Margery Gilbert of Taunton St Mary Magdalene. Margery died in 1699. An abstract of Margery’s will appears in Somerset wills II by Olive M. Moger, Adrian J. Webb, published by Somerset Record Society, 2008

Roger England appears in this list as the husband of Anne Percy, daughter of Robert Percy and Emma above and granddaughter of Thomas, gunpowder plotter.


George Pur(s)sey, died Stogumber, 1790 (one of the sons of William above). His will was according to ‘in the possession of the Dorset field Club and preserved in the County Museum at Dorchester’. Apparently, these records eventually ended up in Exeter and were too destroyed.

I believe some of the above ‘missing’ wills may yet exist. For example, if a solicitor was involved in drawing it up, then it may be found nestling among unrelated papers in boxes filed with Somerset Heritage Centre.

Wills after 1858 are easier to locate as on 11 January 1858, the complicated ecclesiastical court system for proving wills was stopped. Jurisdiction for granting probates passed to the state, under the secular Court of Probate. Since then, all wills in England and Wales have been proved at the Principal Probate Registry at High Holborn, London or at District Probate Registries.