A Short History of Moretonhampstead

Today the most common association with the name 'Moretonhampstead', or 'Moreton' as it is usually called, is the moor - Dartmoor - which rises to a height of two thousand feet within sight of the town. Such a close association has deep roots. Our medieval forebears might have looked up to the western horizon and seen only an inhospitable line of hills from which they could extract tin, and seen nothing of beauty, but the moor has always dominated the place which the town now occupies. Four thousand years ago the Bronze Age settlers who built the long field systems ('reaves') across the moor extended their hedge-topped stone walls to divide up parts of the parish of Moreton too. At Butterdon their works may still be seen, with the odd standing stone in their midst, as a subtle relic of their vanished culture. Their field system shows that they farmed at Cranbrook, where their Iron Age successors built a substantial hill fort, one of a series circling the moor. Later still Dartmoor proved an inhospitable and unwelcoming frontier for Roman culture, which disregarded the Moreton region as part of the moor. Only when the Saxons arrived did the place become a settlement distinct from the moor which overshadows it. And what did the Saxons call it? Moor-tun: the settlement in the moor.

The following pages are not concerned with the prehistory of the region but with the history - i.e. the recorded past - of the settlements which form the parish of Moretonhampstead. The twelve following webpages chronologically describe the development of the town. Partly this is to explain why the place we live in is as it is today. But also it is to allow us to see what it must have been like in those days, regardless of what happened later. We may never know how well or harshly the Saxons here were treated by the Norman invaders after 1066, nor how much hardship was caused by the terrible rains, famine and cattle murrain of 1315-1321, but by looking at the recorded records of our community and seeing the places where for many centuries people have worked, loved, eaten, starved, prayed, joked, laughed, fallen ill and died, we may have some sympathy for all our fellow Moretonians, the long-dead as much as the yet-to-be-born.

First section: 1. Saxon Origins

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