The History of Plympton


The history of Plympton is fairly long, and split into several sections as, Plympton consists of two Parishes which grew up fairly independently. However it is not greatly documented, with few records existing before the 18th Century.

An old drawing of the town

It was recorded as being in existence in the Doomsday Book.

Ancient Times

St Marys

St Maurice

Plympton as a Stannary town

During the War

Recent History

Ancient Times

There were many Celtic settlements in the area in prehistoric times, as can be found all over Dartmoor, which still has the highest concentration of ancient sites in Europe. One of these sites, Bury Down, (meaning "Earth Work on the Hill") gave it's name to Boringdon.

It was a simple Castle ring around 500 feet in Diameter, and had a great prominence in these times. It is still in existence, although not publicised at all, and can be found near the Car Park at Cann Woods. It is a protected site, and is the first existence of a village within Plympton St Marys

Meanwhile on the other side of Town, the present site of the Castle was also an Ancient Settlement. It is probably the earliest British settlement, there is evidence that the Damnonii threw up the first defences, and that the Romans fortified the position afterwards, as a station to their road nearby. the present Earthworks are probably English and have remained in a good state of preservation. They workings would have been a defence against the Danes who would sail right up to Plympton. The castle was of premier importance when a contingent was sent from the castle to repel the Danes at Wembury in 851.

Before the Norman invasion, the area was occupied by the Saxons, who although more warlike than the Celts in the past, the need for fighting diminished as they became more civilized, and they became reliant on farming. The various manors and holdings belonged to the Saxon free thanes, however this changed when the Normans invaded and imposed the Feudal system, which gave the Lord of the Manor the right to tax the serfs for using the land.

The Normans claimed nearly all the land as can be seen below

Manor Domesday Manor Saxon Owner After Conquest
Baccamoor Bachemora Elous Ralf
Beechwood Bichefor Alwy Robert Bastard
Boringdon or Colebrook Plintona Collegiate Church  
Challonsleigh Lega Alebric Ralf
Collaford Waleforda Alebric William
Hemmerdon Hainemardum Godo Walter
Holland Honeland Alebric Ralf de Pomeray
Langage Langehewis Sawin Leuric
Little Torridge Torix Alebric Ralf de Pomeroy
Loughtor or Newnham Park Lochetora Alebric Ralf de Pomeroy
Sparkwell Bicheforda Edret or Adret the Forester Edret or Adret the Forester
Toridge Tori Wado Rainald de Valletort
Woodford Odeforda Elmer Ralf de Pomeroy
Yealmston Alfemestone offers Rainald de Valletort

All of the Saxon names still exist today, as the farms did not change name, and the locals still used the old farm names. However it is interesting to note that the usage of the Saxon names for people has completely disappeared! It is also unknown how Edret managed to keep his lands, maybe he was one of the original turncoats!

The Priors of Plympton

The priors of Plympton were very powerful Abbots, who lived in the Priory which was situated behind the present St Mary's Church. They were great Land Owners, and were dated back to the 9th century, when the Saxons established the Monastery

King Egbert on Conquering West Wales in the 9th century, (as the area was known then), for his kingdom of Wessex, decided that he wanted to keep Plympton for himself, and it wasn't much later then the Priory was founded. There is great mystery over all the events that occurred at the priory, but one thing is for sure, it lasted until 1539 when Henry VIII's commissioners dissolved the Monastery.

However what is known about the Abbots is facisinating. They held great power over rural Devon, and were responsible for creating The Abbots Way, which is a footpath that ran from Plympton up to Princetown on Dartmoor and was used by the Monks to Inspect their lands there. The path still exists today, however development has destroyed the start of the path, it can still be followed for a long way on Dartmoor, and links up with the Two Moors way, which was also used by the Abbots.

The prior held many titles as right, such as Lord Mayor of Sutton, and could draw a tithe from most of the area covered by modern day Plymouth and parts of Exeter. These rights were unpopular with residents of these areas, and the Prior resisted the efforts of the people of Sutton to gain a charter. He eventually relented in 1439, which led to the town of Plymouth coming into existence

The Saxon Monastery was originally a college of secular canons, but was converted to an Augustinian priory by the Bishop of Exeter with the permission of Henry I. The original college were succeeded by an ornate Norman priory. Little is known of the buildings, but it is believed that there was a large tower present at one time, due to the prescense of Tower house, which is one of the dwellings that still remain to this day.

It was custom for important people to stay at the priory whilst on their way to France and Spain. Edward the Black Prince was entertained by the Prior in 1348

The modern day school called Old Priory is a direct reference to the Abbots, whilst all that remains of the priory is a doorway in St Mary's Church grounds

The Doomsday Book

Plympton was recorded in the Doomsday book, during the survey of lands conquered by Wlliam the Conqueror in 1068.

The entry of Plympton in the Doomsday book

THE KINGS LANDS (honour of Plympton)

PLINTONA (Plymholme, consisting of Plympton St Mary or Herdwick Manor, and Plympton St Maurice alias Plympton Earl, The Lordship of the same.)

The manor consisted of 2 hides, 2 virgates roughly 1686 acres, divided between the Lord and the Villagers equally, and valued at £13.10 shillings. The doomsday demense consisted of land for 2 ploughs, 160 acres of arable, 6 acres of meadow and 20 of pasture, the remaining acres were taken by the cattle and precincts

Once the Normans had settled Tin was mined in greater quantities on Dartmoor, and the Town started to flourish, with St Maurice becoming a very important trading port, whilst St Mary had to wait for the coming of rail to prosper better than St Maurice.

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