The Hingston Story

Who were the Hingstons?

The Hingston family originated in the area of Devon known as the South Hams, which is the area that lies between the rivers Dart and Plym and south of Dartmoor. The evidence for this is largely based on the distribution of names. There is a farm, in the parish of Bigbury, between that village and Aveton Gifford (which is where my family come from), called Hingston, and it is believed that this is where the family name originated.

Devon in general, and the South Hams in particular, are characterised by family farms that mixed arable and pasture. The landscape does not lend itself to the large communal farms, with big fields divided into strips that were characteristic of much of mediaeval England, and there are relatively few stately homes and large estates. The local gentry would have been the owners of the larger farms; relatively few of which would have been larger than 100 acres. The feudal system did not really operate here, although old Anglo-Norman names, such as Fortescue, Courtenay, Giffard, Chichester and Damarell normally imply elevated status.

There are some records for Hingstons in Devon at the end of the fifteenth century (c. 1490), and by the time of the Lay Subsidy Rolls in 1543 there were Hingstons in seventeen different parishes from Plympton in the west to Dartmouth in the East. There were relatively wealthy Hingstons around East Allington, South Milton/South Huish/Malborough and Holbeton/Yealmpton; these are significant since richer people left more records than poorer ones, so our task of tracing them may be easier. Parish Registers did not really start until about 1600; very few of the oldest ones survive, and most Devon Wills were destroyed in the WW2, so it is very unlikely that we will ever be able to link all the families together. The records on this site are arranged into a series of descendancy trees that show how the name was passed down to later generations; we would like to end up with as many records as we can in one or other of these trees.

There appear to be two main Hingston lines for which we can construct extensive family lines. The largest is centred around Holbeton, Newton Ferrers and Yealmpton (to the west of the South Hams), and is listed here as Tree HD. It is claimed by some that the earliest members of this line were the original Lords of the Manor of Hingston, but it is not clear on what this claim is based. For that reason, a number of other sources have tried to link all the Hingstons to this line. Some members of this family were amongst the earliest to become Quakers, and there a number of published trees that refer to this family, most notably the work of Allen and Dymond, published in 1851. These Hingstons founded the Quaker Meeting House at Kingsbridge and also were very active members of the group at Key, or "Come-to-Good" in Cornwall; several were doctors. One branch of this family went to live in Tasmania, where there are many Hingstons, but there are now only a few descendants with the name in England.

The other line for which we have extensive evidence is the line centred around East Allington, Moreleigh, Halwell and Woodleigh, in the east of the South Hams. This line is referred to as Tree HH. There was a relatively wealthy family here in 1543 who were connected to families such as the Fortescues, who were the local nobility. There may well be links at this time to Tree HD; it is known that some Hingstons (possibly from Holbeton) married into the Fortescue family. There are major links from this family to Canada, and probable links to Hingston in the Mevagissey area of Cornwall; they are shown separately in Tree HL.

There was an extensive study of the Hingston family carried out at the end of the 19th century by a William Edward Hingston (WEH) (26. in Tree HN) who had been born in Ireland but moved to Buffalo in New York State, USA. He stumbled across a package of papers left by his grandfather regarding the family and set about trying to produce a history of the family. He clearly wrote to most of the living Hingstons he could find and obtained from them details of their families, and also contacted priests at various churches to obtain copies of the Hingston entries in their various registers. By about 1903 he was almost ready to write his book, and went as far as getting a printer's proof produced, but he was then taken ill. He gave part of his manuscript to Lavinia Hingston (known to her relatives as Aunt Vine) to type up ready for publication; we have a copy of that part of his work (called here the Vine tree) which relates primarily to Tree HH. By the end of 1905 WEH seems to have recovered, and set about writing to his correspondents, but sadly died in February 1906. In the absence of his notes, which he referred to as a Register, those letters he wrote in 1905 are our best hope of recovering his study; we have one such letter, which he sent to the Tasmanian Hingstons.

The Hingstons in Ireland are an interesting subset of the whole. What we know about them is listed in Tree HN. There is known to have been a Major James Hingston who served in the Cromwellian army in Ireland, and a James Hingston received land in the Williamite confiscations in 1688. It is not known whether these were the same person, or perhaps father and son. WEH believed that all the Irish Hingstons were descended from James, and he further believed that he was the son of John Hingston who was successively organist to Charles I, Oliver Cromwell and Charles II, which shows that he must have had political as well as musical skills. WEH further believed that John the organist was part of the Holbeton family, and hence linked to Tree HD, although the first reference to John is as a chorister at York Minster in 1618. There are a few Hingstons around Ipswich in East Anglia, and I have seen claims that these are also related to John the organist, but the dates I have seen don't make sense so are not reproduced here. The Suffolk Hingstons merit further study.

Amongst the descendants of the Irish Hingstons is Sir William Hales Hingston, an eminent surgeon in Montreal (HN#12). There is also a US family (listed in Tree HK), who spell the name as "Hinkston", descended from Col John Hinkson who was active in the exploration and settlement of Kentucky. That family supposedly had Irish ancestry but it is not clear how they fit in, if at all.

There are several other Hingston lines in Devon, and many other references in the parish registers that have not yet been tied in to either of the main lines. There is my own line, Tree HA, which is based around Aveton Gifford but has now been traced back to West Alvington. It is possible that this links in to the Quaker line in Kingsbridge, but it is equally possible that it links to the extensive, and largely unresearched, Hingston families around South Milton.

Tree HC in Aveton Gifford and Bigbury is possibly a completely independent line; the name Hugh appears frequently in this tree, and no other, and there are some very early references to that name. There are connections onwards from that family to Liverpool and Belfast.

Tree HF has been largely researched by Alf Hingston and goes back to a Joseph Hingston. born about 1682. Alf has found two suitable Joseph baptisms, one in Modbury and the other in Newton Ferrers. Both hint at a possible link to Tree HD. It is also possible that these are linked to a group of Hingstons near Teignmouth, further north in Devon, and these are known to link to Hingstons in Newfoundland.

There is almost certainly a link between tree HD and a group of Hingstons who settled in St Ives in Cornwall (Tree HM), several of whom used the name Malachi. A Lt. John Hingston from this line was killed on HMS Temeraire at the Battle of Trafalgar. Two members of this line had the name Francis; one did some writing in his spare time and another changed his name to Hingeston-Randolph.

There are two other Trees, HI (at Dartmouth) and HO (at Blackawton), which from their location are probably offshoots of Tree HH.

There are many other groups of Hingstons known in Devon who have not been tied into the existing trees, and I know of no one who is actively researching these lines - perhaps it will be a retirement project for me!

FreeBMD now provides an index to virtually all Birth, Marriage and Death Registers in England and Wales from 1837 to 1900. Those entries have now been extracted (although not listed here for copyright reasons), and it is clear that the Hingstons remained centred around South Devon, but that only about half of the entries are linked in to the trees listed on this web site. So we still have a long way to go!

31st July 2007. Chris Burgoyne