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The Purser family we are interested in is first recorded in 1381 when Jacob & wife Margaret Purser lived in the village of Wilshamstead a few miles to the south of Bedford City.

I say they are first recorded, what I should say is, the earliest person I can find. There are very few records going back this far and even less earlier. In this part of England the Peasants Revolt of 1380 and the Black Death of the mid 14th Century draw something of a veil over much of what went before.


Whilst there is great variation between one parish and the next, sadly a lot of records have been lost over the years. Frequently the loss was just neglect, as entire villages died of Plague, the Priests who attempted to minister to the sick were often the first to go. With there Priest dead, safeguarding the Parish Records was not exactly a priority for any still alive after.

Later in the century , in 1381 came Watt Tylor and his "peasants revolt".  Whilst many joined him there were others who greatly feared the consequences. To uneducated peasants the written word had a mystery of its own, particularly written names.  They reasoned that if after the revolt the soldiers came to punish them, they could only be punished if it was known who they were. They reasoned that so long and the Church Records were destroyed and their names were not written anywhere, then it would not be possible for the lords to punish therm.


At this time virtually no records were kept centrally that concerned ordinary people, so if the Parish records and Manorial Court rolls were destroyed, then there was no record of who lived or died. 

Even for the two centuries following these calamities the records are sparse to say the least.  Most of the information about these early times has been gleaned from other peoples family trees. Whilst they appear well researched and there is no reason to doubt their accuracy, I have no means of checking them.

Map of Bedfordshire showing the relevant parishes.  Click to enlarge.

As noted before, our Pursers are first found in the village of Wilshamstead and here they lived for the next five generations until John Purser (1500-1557) married and settled in the neighbouring parish of  Houghton Conquest. Two more generations passed with them living in Houghton Conquest then Lawrence Purser ( b1535) moved to Cople. Once again this appears to have happened when he married and needed a house of his own. The rest of the family presumably remained in Houghton Conquest, indeed other Pursers from this village come into the story later on.

After yet another two generations pass then John Purser (1602-1660) makes another move, this time to Oakley where the family stays until Georgian times.

On the face of it they seem quite mobile but in reality all of these villages lie in a very small area of Bedfordshire, some of them being neighbouring parishes. Also as each move leaves the bulk of the family behind, the family is getting larger and moving into more villages.

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