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Rupert Gettliffe

Rupert Gettliffe was a surgeon apothecary who resided in his estate in Colebrooke in the early 1760s.

He was born in 1719 in Bradbourne, Derbyshire, where his father was the parish priest and schoolmaster.

He joined the navy and served on HMS Captain in 1744 as a surgeon’s second mate.

In July 1746 he obtained a licence to marry Margaret Buxton, although it appears this marriage never took place. In September 1751 Rupert, “a bachelor of Ashburn in the County of Derby, surgeon” obtained a licence to marry Ann Bowles “spinster of St Leonard, Eastcheap”, in London. Again it is not clear whether this marriage took place. However in November 1753, aged 34, he did marry Miss Elizabeth Taylor of Ashbourne, Derbyshire in nearby Shirley.

The Taylors of Ashbourne

Elizabeth Taylor was 35 when she married Rupert Gettliffe. She had an older brother John, her four other siblings having died. Their parents were Thomas and Mary Taylor. He was a prominent and wealthy solicitor in Ashbourne, who had died in 1731. Elizabeth's brother John inherited most of his father’s property.

John Taylor was educated at Lichfield where he formed a life-long friendship with fellow pupil, the diarist and lexicographer Samuel Johnson. He studied at Christ Church, Oxford, but did not graduate until several years later.

In 1732 he married Elizabeth Webb and for a short time was a solicitor before entering the church. In 1740 he was appointed to the lucrative position of Rector to Market Bosworth (Leics), (it was suggested that money changed hands). He held several other church appointments, but continued to live in “The Mansion”, his family home in Ashbourne, where Dr Johnson was regularly entertained. He had the finest dairy herd in Debyshire, was a JP and had a reputation for not paying his bills.

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John Taylor’s wife died in 1745, and the following year he married Mary Tuckfield. Although she was born in London, her parents were prosperous wool merchants originating from Devon. Her half-brother John Tuckfield was MP for Exeter between 1745 and 1776 and was the donor of the site of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital in Southernhay and joint founder of that hospital. More on the Tuckfields.


Just before Rupert Gettliffe’s marriage in 1753 to Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth sued her brother for money she claimed was due to her from legacies – £1200 from her grandmother Dorothy Spalden, and another £600 from her parents and Francis Taylor. The case went to arbitration before John Gisborne of St Werburgh in Derbyshire.

He decided that John should repay his sister over £1800. Presumably he didn’t have the cash available, so it was suggested that he should instead hand over to her an estate he owned in Colebrooke, Devon, and arrange for her an annuity of £70 a year.

The estate was a “capital messuage, barton farm and demesne lands called Horwell, alias West Butsford, several messuages heretofore taken out of the moor called Wester Moore, other cottages near Colebrooke Church” (in all 22 dwellings). In 1712, Roger Tuckfield had purchased it using the three thousand pounds his first wife Elizabeth Dowdeswell had inherited from her father.

Then, in 1737, on the impending marriage of his elder daughter Catherine to George Mills,Tuckfield gave this estate away, half each to her and her then unmarried sister Mary. Rev Dr John Taylor had acquired this on his marriage to Mary Tuckfield, and that is how he came to possess a half share in the estate in Colebrooke.


So the Gettliffe’s were the freeholders of this estate from 1753, and no doubt enjoyed the rental income. They continued to live in Ashbourne until 1760 when they moved into one of their Colebrooke properties. Elizabeth Greenslade was his apprentice.


They only lived there a couple of years before moving back North to Cheadle in Staffordshire. In 1772 his business was up for sale. It is not clear what became of them thereafter.


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Rev Dr John Taylor’s wife Mary left him in 1765. He died in Ashbourne in 1788.

Roger Tuckfield’s wife Elizabeth died in 1714. The following year he married Elizabeth Northleigh of Peamore near Alphington.


The Colebrooke estates were acquired by William Rowe of Crediton and then were purchased by the Norrishes. Horwell Barton was farmed by Samuel Norrish from 1840 until his death in 1888.