John Symes Cuff & Family


Looking towards Wake Hill



  •  Handwritten 1858 Diary of William Speke’s tenant. 


  •  Johns's Farm & Family on a West Dowlish Farm. 



 Farmer Cuffs Diary


Daily diary entries were posted during 2020 on the Facebook page of Somerset Archives & Local Studies Facebook.  Thoughtful inclusion of photographic images of each original diary entry,  helpful as his handwriting sometimes difficult to decipher.  But it is John's account, in his own hand, of his day's happenings. These images we have used to create the transcription to appear, month by month. 

The archive staff at Taunton matched the day of the week through the year, adding typed comments, often humorous, in an easy-to-read format, with each daily post eagerly awaited.  The actual original document is held at the Taunton Heritage Centre. 


The oldest map available of Oxenford Farm


Oxenford Farm 1858.

The owner William Speke of Jordans at Ashill.  John Symes Cuff, tenant farmer, residing in the 17th century; Oxenford House.  The setting is a small hamlet, then part of West Dowlish [now Dowlish Wake] near Ilminster. 


Previous tenant farmers of Oxenford.

The surname Salisbury [Salsburie] is connected to Oxenford & Moolham in the 1500 & the 1600s.  Oxenford farm was owned by James Salisbury in 1766.  It was sold around 1792 to Speke Estates and Thomas Trout, who had been tenants, to James Salisbury beforehand.  [This is Thomas Trout [1766-1844]  [his wife Anne -nee Paul].  In 1832 it is their son John Trout [1791-1844] and his wife Mary [nee Paul],  resident at Oxenford House.


Oxenford House in 2006 - - Derek Harper



By 1841 & 1851 we have Peter Howard and his wife Ruth [nee Trout] also residing in Oxenford House.  The overall acreage is some 300, with this farmland shared amongst other tenant farmers.  Hence census returns show multiple farmers, others with, perhaps, a few dairy cows.  For instance, in the 1850s, Joshua Cuff is shown farming for Speke on Oxenford land. 


 Around the year 1852 and through to 1866, it is John Symes Cuff, the primary tenant. John was related through marriage to both previous Trout & Howard tenancy holders. John is also related to others of the Cuff/Cuffe family that are to be found in the records for Oxenford, earlier in the 1700s.  Such as Joshua Cuff, a landowner of Moolham & Oxenford land and Quarries, a Soap Boiler and a Gent.  This Joshua Cuffe was buried in 1810, in Moolham/West Dowlish Churchyard, along with two of his children [buried earlier 1792, 1796].


West Dowlish Churchyard also known as Oxenford or Moolham Churchyard



Background to John Symes Cuff/Cuffe Yeoman Farmer

John Symes Cuff was born in 1823 at Ilton, son of Robert and Sarah Trout.

His wife Susan Cuff, nee Susan Ostler.  They married at Barrington in 1852.

They had 5 children during their years in Oxenford,


Robert Edward Anstice Cuff    Born in 1854 


Oxenford 1840 Tythe Map


Annie Mary Cuff                       Born in 1855

John Henry Cuff                       Born in 1857

Sidney Herbert Cuff                 Born in 1859

Cordelia Susan Cuff                 Born in 1861

He refers to his youngest as 'Anstice' and explains this was the maiden name of Susan's mother.



John's Father,  Robert Cuff, 1796-1875 Born Ilton  Yeoman Farmer  

John's Mother, Sarah Trout, 1797-1887  Born in West Dowlish   

The family home; Burton Pynsent Farm, Curry Rivel.  Employing 5 men 5 women and 21 boys. 

His brother Thomas, a yeoman farmer, and brother Robert, a Surgeon.


Johns Symes Cuff's tenancy at Oxenford follows his time on the home farm at Burton Pynsent, he, the eldest son, 28 years old still living at home, before marrying and moving to Oxenford. 

 Stooking once necessary to dry the grain before storage

Owner of Dowlish Manor Estate, William Speke, aware of John's background, arranged for him to take on Oxenford Farm, with its 195 acres, employing 8 men, 3 women and 4 boys.  John was familiar with West Dowlish as his brother Robert Cuff married Sarah Trout, sister to Ruth Trout.  Furthermore, Ruth & Sarah sisters to John Trout and their father, farming at Cricket Malherbie. So help and advice nearby!


The diary only allows us that one year of his farming life.  Although it seems he was farming at Oxenford for a few years, from 1852 to 1866.

An helpful record for John Symes Cuff is the census of 1871.  They are in Hereford and John and Susan have gone on to have three more children. 

Emily Lucy Cuff                          Born in 1866

Thomas Gundry Ostler Cuff       Born in 1869

Sarah Elizabeth Cuff                  Born in 1870


His family has grown, and he has left West Dowlish and taken on another farm.  Moving from Oxenford to Howton Court farm, Kenderchurch, Pontrilas, Hereford.  Farmer of some 350 acres, employing 8 men, 4 women and 21 boys.  [1871 census]


However, it looks like things did not turn out too well; we find him in a Liquidation process with claims by creditors.  Reported in 1872, in The London Gazette, with a Liquidation by arrangement notice, of the affairs of John Symes Cuff.  His creditors requested to submit claims of debt.


Fields in Oxenford with Ilminster in the distance presents possible reasons why John Symes Cuff and other farmers might have suffered.  The agricultural scene of harvests, wet summers, grain prices, and increased importation of wheat, flour, meat, butter and cheese.  These changes are suggested due to transport avenues opening up; steamships & railways.


The circumstances and outcome of the legal case are unknown.  However, by 1881 John Symes Cuff is a Commercial Brewers Manager at No 70, Union Street, Barnet in Hereford.  Many of his like, farmers or labourers, leave the countryside for towns and cities.  Records report that in the ten years from 1871 to 1881 [census], some 92,250 agricultural labourers left for work in cities and towns.  These include the ploughboy, the dairyman, the farm servant and the shepherd.  Families were migrating to towns & cities to find employment.


Sadly aged 58, John died suddenly at Burton Pynsent, Curry Rivel, in 1882 and is buried at Curry Rivel.  His previous address prior to Curry Rivel was recorded as High Barnet, Hertfordshire. 


Present Day Oxenford House


The children of John Symes Cuffs appear to have chosen occupations other than farming;


Robert Edward Anstice Cuff, the youngest.  Travelled in 1883 to North Dakota, returned to England in 1884, and then with his new bride Annie, in1885, back to North Dakota, USA.  Having trained in England, he became Doctor R.E.A Cuffe, becoming the first medical doctor in the area [Beaulieu & Olga Cavalier County, North Dakota].  In the diary, his father talks of ‘dearest little Anstice’, with him attending Dowlish Wake day school, set up by Reverend Benjamin Speke and being taught by Mrs Parkes who was paid in advance 6 shilling per week for tuition.


Annie Mary Cuff  In 1891, Annie, a dressmaker, lived next door to brother John Henry in South Mimms, Middlesex.  John Henry Cuff, Mercantile & Commercial Clerk; Upholsterers company.


Sidney H Cuff in 1910, Alderman, [3 times] Mayor of Woolwich and president of the Chamber of Commerce.  And a company manager of S.H Cuff and Co, advertising & selling Bassinettes for 63 shillings.



The Diary, the original document, is at The archive centre in Taunton.

Catalogue no A/AGB/1.  The entry reads [Wilsons] diary, possibly belonging to a farm in Chard/Ilminster area 1858.

[Little Red Booklet -Dowlish Wake,  A Guide to St Andrews Church and the Village by Duncan Charmers, pages 22-28]

Online Newspaper records. The British Newspaper Archive. Find My Past, online subscription website

[The London Gazette, page 2927.  Dated June 25th, 1872.  The Bankruptcy act of 1869]

The Langport Herald - Nov 4th 1882 findmypast , Death of John Symes Cuff.

‘Doctor R.E.A Cuffe’ – entered by Truman Bratteli number 202669527

 [The Courier, Wednesday, March 23rd, 1920. Sale of Speke's Dowlish Manor Estate.