Just a few notes at the moment regarding my research into this name / families with it. I plan tol improve this page, split it into several and add maps and photos in time.

The spelling of the name

As with all surnames, different spellings have been used, the four main being Fogwell / Fogwill / Vogwell / Vogwill. Curiously (to me, anyway - maybe it could be explained by variations in the Devon accent) the use of an initial letter F or V can be divided East - West. Draw a N-S line just west of Buckfastleigh but east of Widecombe, and those falling to the east of it are generally spelt with an 'F', those to the west with a 'V' - though there are of course some exceptions both ways. My most recent direct ancestor to bear the name was a 3 x great grandmother, Elizabeth, and the name was spelt as Vogwell in the Parish Register recording her baptism (in 1805), and this also seems to be an ancient, possibly the oldest, spelling of the name so it the one I am using as the "main" spelling. I am now using this spelling for all on my tree except:
  • I have Fogwill relations in / from Slapton, unconnected on my tree to my Vogwell ancestors and relations. This name seems to have been pretty consistently spelt as Fogwill in the nineteenth century so I am sticking with the Fogwill spelling for this group.
  • One line of Vogwell descendants ended up with the name being spelt as Fogwell once surnames were fixed (they moved East of the line mentioned above!) - I have used this 'F' spelling for them.
Vogwell seemed reasonable for the remainder on my tree since either Vogwell was used for them at some stage, or e.g. it was for their parents but their life was short and they were both baptised and buried when a particular incumbent was using the Vogwill variation. Now I've traced some lines further forward to a time when the spelling was not variable, it does seem unreasonable to use for those for whom the name fixed at Vogwill. But for the moment I am - I fear if I don't I will not spot people in the index and end up adding them twice. Once I'm confidant I won't be doing much more recent research on the name I will endeavour to change those who are / were definitely Vogwills to this spelling. Usually recorded as one of the above, I've also come across Vogwall, Vugwell, Foggil and Voghill, Vogvell (in transcriptions - not seen original docs to verify). A wider range of variants is recorded on the vogwell.com website.

Origin of the name

Various suggestions have been made for the origin of the name. It has been suggested it is Dutch or otherwise from the Low Countries, but I am not convinced. I have seen nothing to suggest that this idea has not simply arisen due to it being somewhat foreign-sounding, and there being similar names on the continent. In her "Reminiscences", Marian Warriner notes the name as being said to be Dutch but provides no evidence. The author of the Buckfastleigh page on the vogwell.com website, J. Vogwill of Plymouth, claims a Low Country origin; this seems to be based partly on Christian names in the parish believed to be foreign but which appear to me to be Latin forms as often found in earlier PRs. The author of the Vogwell website believes Ogwell (as in East Ogwell and West Ogwell) to be the most likely origin. Again, I am not convinced. In "A Dictionary of English Place-Names" (1991) A. D. Mills indicates that Ogwell was Wogganwylle in 956 and Wogewille in 1086 (the Doomsday Book). Considering the continental Ws pronounced as Vs this might seem a likely origin, but looking at Old English place names beginning with W I can find plenty that now start with O or U, but none that have evolved to 'F' or 'V', which suggests the pronunication here did not go this way.

Vogwell in Manaton Parish

Personally, I favour the theory that the surname originates from Vogwell. In Manaton Parish (an adjacent parish to Widecombe) there is a Vogwell Down, Vogwell Farm and Vogwell Cottage. On first learning of this settlement (hamlet seems too grand a name for so small a place) my first thought was that there must have been members of the family living and farming here, or even owning these properties as landlord, after whom the name was given. However, in his 'Guide to Dartmoor' Crossing refers to Voghill being mentioned in a Saxon document in Exeter Cathedral Archives - and the location means there is no doubt that Voghill is the present Vogwell. The document is dealing with some boundaries in the neighbourhood, and after describing the line from Lustleigh to Withecombe Head, a boundary line was said to go "from thence to Lime Street, and so to Voghill Lake; and along that lake to Voghill's Head." Since surnames were not fixed in Saxon times, it seems that the family (or, possibly, families) were named after the location, not the location after a family. Where surnames derive from placenames they were often given after someone moved from the place. It was no use referring to "John of London" while he lived in the town, it would hardly distinguish him from all the other Johns in London, but once he was dwelling elsewhere it could be useful. With very small locations like Vogwell, though, I suspect the name, like those derived from features in the landscape that did not become place names, would have been applied to a family while they lived there. The family may have dwelt there for some generations after surnames came into use, hence it is not so surprising that most of the earliest references to Vogwells are from parishes close to Manaton.

The location

So what is the place like where I believe all of our Vogwell and Fogwell ancestors have roots? Vogwell Farm is at the foot of Vogwell Down and when a farmer was moving on to a larger farm in 1884 there was an auction which gives an idea of the type of land. The product to be auctioned was described thus: "the grass of 60 acres of young Seeds, Meadow and Pasture Land, in 9 lots, and the grazing of Vogwell Down, 48 acres, in one lot, to Christmas and Lady-day next. These lands grow an abundance of good summer keep, and will be quite fit to stock by day of sale." (notice, in the Western Times of 6th May, was dated 5th May and the auction was to be held on 15th.) I have a number of photos of the area, I hope to get them sorted and added here soon for the benefit of those for whom it is not so easy to visit.

Spread of Vogwell family

My direct ancestors

I have only managed to trace my line back to Widecombe in the Moor, where a 6 x great grandfather William Vogwell married my 6 x great grandmother, his second wife, in 1748 (his first marriage was in the same church just 3 years earlier). They, like their sons, subsequently lived in Whitchurch on the west edge of Dartmoor. I have found earlier references to Vogwells (etc.) in parishes close to Widecombe and not far from the place Vogwell, namely Gidleigh and Throwleigh. It is tempting to think that over some 400 years or so from the name originating my family had moved just from Vogwell to Gidleigh or Throwleigh and then on to Widecombe. And that may indeed be the case. But there were earlier Vogwells living close to Whitchurch, in particular a family in the first half of the eighteenth century in Buckland Monachorum, and the move from Widecombe may have been back to where the family already had links.

Other Vogwells

Other lines moved to Brixham, Plymouth, the South Hams and beyond. Looking at FMP on 17 May 2012 - far more marrs there hence no bapt or bur; however, many Plymouth and a few other W Devon records for the 1600s are on FMP so suggests few or none had yet moved west.


3 Fogwell marriages in Buckfastleigh 1609-1691 1 in Berry Pomeroy -1689 1 in Broadhempston - 1681 4 Vogwell marrs in Hatherleigh (n of Dartmoor) 1605-1647 1 Vogwall - Ashburton - 1634 3 Vugwell - Plymouth (St. Andrews) - 1640-1655 By 1750 - places include Plymouth, Exeter and Brixham, with some in Cornwall as well. The Vogwell website gives information about more of the places where Vogwells etc. have been found. As I write these notes in 2013 I expect that over the next few years all of the Parish Registers (and hopefully BTs as well) will be indexed and become available digitally and more will come to light, possibly filling some crucial gaps and enabling more of the families to be linked up. Some stayed longer on Dartmoor. The pressures created in the C19th by an expanding population, especially in Devon and Cornwall once mining declined, led to internal and external emigration. Vogwells moved to the north of England, and across the Atlantic to North America. Some of those that remained sought work in cities. Vogwells from Exeter, Cornwall and West Devon all ended up in Plymouth. The Eastern (i.e. Exeter) ones acquired the Western spelling of an initial V, and all the families liked the name William. Hence great care is needed attributing any news items to these families.

The Vogwells on my tree

I am not attempting to turn this into a 'one name study' with all the Vogwells / Fogwells I can find. I am, however, adding most of the Vogwells. With the earlier ones this is in the hope that I may see how they all fit together, and discover which are my ancestors. With the later ones it is so I know who was around besides those that are "my family" so I can see what assumptions it is or isn't safe to make. I have added the Fogwells that turned into Vogwells in Plymouth, so the full picture of Vogwells in Plymouth can be seen.

Snippets regarding Dartmoor Vogwells:

From the transcription of a Devon Quarter Sessions book: From the Easter Sessions, 1737 26th January, 1736, William Vogwill of Gidley [Gidleigh] Yeoman was convicted before William Oxenham, esq, for cursing and swearing six severall times - treble conviction. An online index to "Throwleigh: The story of a Dartmoor Village" (Emmie Varwell, 1928) includes an entry "Robert Martyn the younger of Gidley, only son and heir apparent of Robert Martyn the elder of Throwleigh, yeoman, and of Joan his wife, formerly called Joan Vogwell only child and Heir of William Vogwell heretofore of Gidleigh aforesaid, yeoman deceased, and Anna his wife of the said Robert Martyn the younger" (page 87-8) - possibly William Vogwell is the same as mentioned above (the libraries in which the book can be found include both Torbay and Plymouth as well as the SOG library). Varwell also wrote: "The Underhills of Gidleigh ... descend ... from the ancient family of Vogwell from whom they inherited much land at one time. Moortown (Gidleigh) .. is only a very small portion of the Vogwell estate, which is said to have comprised "Moore" (otherwise Moortown) Broadway, East Chapple, South Coombe, Murchington, Chagford Town (part of), Lamb Park, Tadeley Park, Metherell, Gidley Commons, Meldon etc."(p.87) The quotation referring to Joan, the wife of Robert Martyn appears to have been copied from Devon and Cornwall Note and Queries, Volume 11, part 1, p.133-4 (ed. John S. Amery; pub. J. G. Commin, 1921). Available on Google Books only in snippet view (at least in the UK) it is apparent that this is concerned with an income from Moortown Farm providing an income. Page 133 in DCNQ includes another mention of the Vogwell family: "The Moortown Farm, containing about 67 acres, is only a very small portion of the estate which descended to the Underhills and others from the Vogwell family in the XVII century. Alexander Vogwell, who owned a great part of Gidleigh during the Rebellion, and after, was a liberal benefactor to the Church. He bequeathed Forder Farm, comprising nearly 26 acres, for the upkeep of the fabtic of Gidleigh Church, and when Churchwarden in 1674, placed the fourth bell, which bears his name, in the Church Tower. In a Lease, dated 20th June, 9 George IInd, 1735, and executed by William Vogwell (son of Alexander), James Martyn, and Robert Martyn the elder, "in His Majesty's Court of Common Pleas, at Westminster, before His Majesty's Justices of the said Court," the Vogwell estate is said to have included "Moore, otherwise Moortown, Broadway, East Chapple, South Combe, Murchington, Chagford Town (?part of), Lamb Park, Tadely Park, Metherell, Gidley Comons, Meldon," etc. Another deed, dated 1766, "made in the five and twentieth year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord Kind George the Third, Defender of the Faith, &c., Between Robert Martyn the younger of Gidley ...., only son and Heir apparent of Robert Martyn the elder of Throwly yeoman, and of Joan his wife formerly called Joan Vogwell only child and Heir of William Vogwell heretofore of Gidley aforesaid, yeoman deceased, and Anna the wife of the said Robert Martyn the younger," is concerned with the Moortown Farm, out of the income of which an annuity of £12 was to be paid to the said Anna Martyn, wife of Robert, for the term of 90 years, "if she should live so long," or during the term of her natural life. Also provision was made that she should occupy certain rooms in the dwelling-house at "More, otherwise Moortown" undisturbed. The farm was apparently placed under the supervision of the two brothers of Anna, William and Oliver Langmead of Belston, who were to pay regularly the annuity. Mr. Lyle Bloxham is mentioned as being tenant of the farm at this time." How closely or distantly the Vogwells on this tree are related to the above Alexander and William Vogwell and Joan Martyn I have no idea.

Fictional Vogwell

Eden Phillpotts wrote a number of novels set on Dartmoor, giving many of the characters ancient surnames that can still be found on Dartmoor. One of the names he used was Vogwell. (source)

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