Earliest Speake family in Shropshire :
In spite of extensive searches, there is no evidence of Speake/Speke families living there before the Lay Subsidy of 1525 records a William Speke of Westbury. The parish registers of the adjacent parish of Pontesbury indicate there were two families by 1550. A Probate is recorded for this William Speke in 1552, but unfortunately the Will itself has not survived. The Shropshire families became firmly established in the county, and were later one of the largest groups in England .
In Loppington, North Shropshire, there are several references to SPA(C)KE(S), including a William Spake recorded in the 1524 Lay Subsidy, and the Lichfield probate of 1538 for William Spacke is probably his. In 1538, Richard, son of Richard Spackes of Battlefield, near Shrewsbury was apprenticed in Bristol , but this branch appears to die out soon after.
|Speake Family Watling Street Church Stretton 1897
But where had the Shropshire Speakes come from ? One theory is that the Speke family moved to Westbury (on the Welsh border) at the time of the Union of England and Wales in 1525, which tried to bring peace to these border areas. For centuries the Welsh had invaded this part of England (known as the Welsh Marches) and stolen cattle, burned houses, and on occasions killed. In Westbury parish, the grazing grounds for cattle on the western (Welsh) side of the parish were unused in 1537 "..for that the country was then wild and many outlaws and thieves haunting amoung them, by whom their cattle were daily stollen and conveyed away off to the mountains".
Correspondance to the newly formed Council of the Marches , based at Ludlow in Shropshire in 1537 speaks of "..theftes, murders, rebellions, willful burning of houses and other scelerous dedes and abhomynable malifactes ... be so rooted and fyxed in the same people, that they be not like to sease onlesse some sharpe coreccion and punyshmente ... be provyded ".
One possibility is that the
Shropshire family migrated down from south Lancashire; they were
at Burton Wood as late as 1479, and some were in Flint
, North Wales in the late 1540's. Also we know the name occurred
further west in the Midlands in Coventry , for example; did
they migrate west to Shropshire ? This latter proposition is not
supported by any available evidence I have seen. Recent DNA tests
have shown that my branch of the Shropshire Speake family is not
related to the Thomas Speak of Downham Lancs. who emigrated to Maryland
USA ca. 1660. See the America pages of this website.
Another intriguing coincidence came to light this summer (21 years after I started this study !). The Dukes of Rutland (Manners family) mentioned earlier as the inheritors of Walter Espec's lands, came to own Haddon Hall in Derbyshire by marriage with an heiress of the Vernon family. The Vernons also owned lands in Shropshire , where some of the family had lived from at least 1436. In 1520 Humphrey and Thomas Vernon, younger sons of Sir Henry Vernon, knight of Haddon, Derbyshire and Tong, Shropshire (1445-1515) bought the manor of Westbury, Shropshire. It seems too much of a coincidence that this date and place corresponds with the first mention of the Speke/Speake family in Shropshire . This will be investigated further.
For several years I worked on the theory that the Shropshire Speakes could possibly have originated in Somerset , possibly the younger son of the landed family, or a branch of it. The Shropshire Speakes were financially prosperous, and literate from their earliest times in Shropshire . But although the Somerset Spekes are reasonably well documented in the period 1450-1525 for the eldest inheriting sons, the younger sons are infrequently mentioned. I have also looked for other landed families who might have had interests in both Somerset/Devon and also Shropshire , and could have provided the link between the two places, and an opportunity for a disinherited younger son to better himself. This investigation is continuing. DNA testing could be the definitive tool in this quest.
The Shropshire Speake family, from its first appearance at Westbury, was by the 1560's also established at Priestweston in Chirbury parish, also near the Welsh border. In the 1570's two cases of "Riotous Assembly" were brought against them in the Court of the Star Camber, Palace of Westminster , by more established families in the parish. By the early 17th century, they had successfully integrated into the local society with some links by marriage and service into the local gentry, and were at that time at their most prosperous, leaving PCC and Hereford Probates, and educating their sons at Shrewsbury School, then "..the best School in England ". This branch also migrated to Herefordshire, although this was a temporary sojourn.
One member of the Priestweston family, known as "John Speake of Mitton", moved at some time prior to 1591 to the parish of Fitz, near Shrewsbury . By the time the Chirbury branch had died out in the mid 17th century, descendants of this John Speake had grown into a large group at Fitz, Montford and neighbouring Shrewsbury , consistently naming their sons Humphrey or Henry, repeated through 8 generations.
During the Civil War, it would appear that many of the Shropshire Speakes were Royalist in their sympathies. They did not join with the other Monford parishioners in signing a declaration for Parliament in 1646. There is some evidence that they spent the worst years of the war in adjoining parishes.
One clergyman who seemed to be adaptable through the Civil War period and the Act of Uniformity was the Rev. Joseph Speake of Welshampton, Shropshire . He was a son of John of Mitton, and incumbent there from at least 1636 to 1674. In a religious census made by order of Parliament in 1655, he is described as "... the present incumbent, an auntient preachinge Minister his meanes woth £5 per annum". (He was aged 51 !)
Another large group was founded in 1697 at Eaton under Heywood, near Church Stretton by a Henry Speake "of uncertain dwelling". He was probably a member of the Herefordshire branch. This group, centered in a group of parishes beneath Wenlock Edge were to become numerically the most significant grouping of Shropshire Speake families in later years.