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HER Number:MDV106447
Name:Barnstaple

Summary

Barnstaple is the oldest town in North Devon. It is first documented in the 10th century and was probably one of the four Saxon burhs founded by King Alfred in Devon in the late 9th century. Following the Norman Conquest, the Domesday Book of 1086 records that there were over 50 burgesses within the borough and 9 outside. Barnstaple remained the property of the king until the reign of Henry II when it had its first Lord of the Manor. A market and annual fair were in operation by 1274. Its development in the medieval period was mainly due to the growth of trade in wool and woollen materials; overseas trade was particularly important. The Great and Little Quays were constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries to service this trade which continued to expand to accommodate the export of wool and pottery and the importation of tobacco, wine and spices. The scale of overseas trade dropped in the late 18th century and Barnstaple became dependent upon a more local economy; its importance as a regional agricultural and marketing centre did not diminish.

Location

Grid Reference:SS 556 332
Map Sheet:SS53SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBarnstaple
DistrictNorth Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishBARNSTAPLE

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses: none recorded

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • SETTLEMENT (Established, Saxon - 701 AD to 1065 AD (Between))

Full description

Cullen, B + Thompson, S, 09/2013, Joy Street, Green Lanes, Barnstaple, Evaluation, 4, 5 (Report - Evaluation). SDV357185.

Elements of the medieval layout of the town are preserved in the existing street pattern. Barnstaple's proximity to water sources and trade routes facilitated the development of a highly profitable wool trade. A merchant Guild of St Nicholas, relating specifically to the wool trade, was founded in the 13th century and by 1303 had over 200 members. Following the gradual silting up of the river, the importance of Barnstaple as a port declined during the 17th century, although the town’s industrial success was maintained throughout the post-medieval period. In addition to the wool trade, the main industry in this period was pottery production, which was concentrated primarily in the region of Tuly Street.


Watts, S., 13/03/2014, Barnstaple Settlement (Personal Comment). SDV356366.

Please note that the location of the map object is arbitrary.


Timms, S. C., 1976, The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft, 64-69, 74-6, 85 (Report - Survey). SDV341346.

Barnstaple is the oldest town in North Devon. It is first documented in the 10th century and may have been one of the four Saxon burhs founded by King Alfred in Devon in the late 9th century. This burh is named as Pilton and the name has been applied to the settlement of medieval Pilton but there is no evidence to support this. Excavations in Barnstaple on the other hand have revealed evidence for Saxon occupation in the town and it is probable that the burh was located on the site of the medieval town. The tradition that Barnstaple received its first charter from King Athelstan in the first half of the 10th century have been proven false but nevertheless the transformation from burh to town began about this time. A mint was in operation soon after the middle of the 10th century and in 1018 Barnstaple is clearly identified as a town with its own borough officials. Excavations in Joy Street suggest that this street has its origins in the Saxon period and the manner in which the castle intrudes into one corner also suggests an earlier origin.
Although there are signs of a planned street layout there are two anomalies that have yet to be satisfactorily resolved. Firstly, the medieval High Street did not give direct access along a major route through the town and secondly there are several 'dog leg' junctions rather than direct cross roads.
At present there is little evidence for the town's development in the 12th century but extra-mural settlement is recorded outside the wall on the eastern edge of the town and by the later medieval period suburbs were developing along the three main routes leading into the town - Litchdon, vicarage and Bear Streets. By 1210 Barnstaple had a mayor and burgage rents are recorded in the first half of the 13th century. A market and annual fair were in operation by 1274. The tax assessment of 1332 establishes Barnstaple as the third most prosperous borough in the county, after Exeter and Sutton Prior (Plymouth). The town's wealth was based upon its position as a centre of shipping; it had its own custom's house, and for the manufacturing industries on which its overseas trade was supported. The main industry in the medieval period was the manufacture of woollen cloth and by the late 14th century Barnstaple was the most important trading centre outside Exeter.
In 1557 Barnstaple became an incorporated borough and a period of further growth and development is witnessed over the next century by the fact that the population nearly doubled between 1560 and 1640. This growth was probably centred around increased overseas trading. The survival of buildings such as Horwood's almshouses and monuments in the parish church demonstrate the existence of a wealthy merchant community in the 17th century. Activity in other industries was also on the increase; the pottery industry became particularly important and also played a prominent part in overseas trade. The scale of overseas trade dropped in the late 18th century and Barnstaple became dependent upon a more local economy; its importance as a regional agricultural and marketing centre did not diminish.
The particular archaeological significance of Barnstaple, however, lies in its Saxon origins and the extent of the Saxon occupation and the identification of the burh are considered to be important themes for future investigations in the town. Also of import are the medieval defences, the castle area and the area of the medieval suburbs.


Devon County Council, 1978, Archaeology in Devon: News of Recent Excavations (Leaflet). SDV354892.


Markuson, K. W., 1980, Barnstaple Survey (Un-published). SDV356766.


Youings, J., 1983, Barnstaple Local Public Inquiry. Devon Archaeological Statement. Appendix 5 (Un-published). SDV357964.


Morris, J., 1985, Domesday Book: Devon (Part One), 1.1, 3.3 (Monograph). SDV356768.

The King has the Borough of BARNSTAPLE. King Edward had it in lordship. 40 burgesses within the Borough, 9 outside the Borough. Between them they pay 40s by weight to the King, and 20s at face value to the Bishop of Coutances. 23 houses destroyed since the King has come to England.
The Bishop himself has in BARNSTAPLE 10 burgesses who pay 45d, 7 destroyed houses, 1/2 virgate of land, a mill which pays 20s and 20s from the customary dues of the King's burgesses.


Timms, S., 1987, The Archaeology of North Devon Towns, 2, 4 (Un-published). SDV354573.

The narrow frontages of some of the shops on High Street reflect the original medieval burgage plots.


Wessex Archaeology, 2011, Land to the West of Tews Lane, Bickington, Barnstaple, Devon: Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment, 6 (Report - Assessment). SDV352137.

Barnstaple received its charter from King Aethelstan in AD930 and a coin mint was established by the mid 10th century. By the end of the 11th century a Norman earthwork motte and bailey castle had been constructed in the western corner of the town. The medieval town layout is still visible in the street pattern today.


Pink, F., 2014, Devon Extensive Urban Survey Project. Rapid Assessment of Archaeological Interventions, 1 (Report - non-specific). SDV357343.

Barnstaple is located at the lowest crossing point of the River Taw. The names Beardastapol first appears on coins dated 979-1016. It was a market town during the early medieval period with a mint and is believed to have been granted borough status pre 979. The parish church of St. Peter was dedicated in 1318. Archaeological discoveries within the town include a Saxon cemetery, later covered by the later Norman castle, and numberous pottery assemblages dating to the medieval and post-medieval periods. Excavations have also revealed evidence for the town's medieval defences.


Devon Archaeological Society, Dec 1983, Barnstaple Local Public Inquiry. Statement in Relation to Objections to Planning Application (Report - non-specific). SDV355655.


Timms, S. C., Nov 1983, Barnstaple Local Public Inquiry. Proof Evidence, 13-17, Appendix 1 (Report - non-specific). SDV355652.

Barnstaple is one of five towns extablished in Devon prior to 1100AD. From its Saxon beginnings it became firmly established as a leading market town and borough in North Devon in the Middle Ages, a position it has retained ever since. The modern town plan derives directly from the Saxon/Medieval historic town plan. See report for further information.


Lewis, D., Sept 2011, Land at Larkbear, Barnstaple: Archaeological Desk-based Assessment, 19 (Report - Assessment). SDV352261.

Barnstaple was granted the status of burh during the reign of King Athelstan, with a charter giving the town the right to hold a market and a fair. Following the Norman Conquest, the Domesday Book of 1086 records that there were over 40 burhers and 9 outside, paying a total of 40 shillings to the king and 20 shillings to the Bishop of Courtances. Barnstaple remained the property of the king until the reign of Henry II when it had its first Lord of the Manor. Its development in the medieval period was mainly due to the growth of trade in wool and woollen materials. The Great and Little Quays were constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries to service this trade which continued to expand to accommodate the export of wool and pottery and the import of tobacco, wine and spices. The town continued to expand in the post-medieval period as did the transport infrastructure with the opening of the railway lines in the Victorian period.

Sources / Further Reading

SDV341346Report - Survey: Timms, S. C.. 1976. The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft. Devon Committee for Rescue Archaeology Report. A4 Unbound + Digital. 64-69, 74-6, 85.
SDV352137Report - Assessment: Wessex Archaeology. 2011. Land to the West of Tews Lane, Bickington, Barnstaple, Devon: Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment. Wessex Archaeology Report. 76470.01. A4 Stapled + Digital. 6.
SDV352261Report - Assessment: Lewis, D.. Sept 2011. Land at Larkbear, Barnstaple: Archaeological Desk-based Assessment. The Environmental Dimension Partnership (EDP). H_EDP1340_01. A4 Stapled + Digital. 19.
SDV354573Un-published: Timms, S.. 1987. The Archaeology of North Devon Towns. A4 Stapled + Digital. 2, 4.
SDV354892Leaflet: Devon County Council. 1978. Archaeology in Devon: News of Recent Excavations. A2 Folded + Digital.
Linked images:3
SDV355652Report - non-specific: Timms, S. C.. Nov 1983. Barnstaple Local Public Inquiry. Proof Evidence. Devon County Council. A4 Stapled + Digital. 13-17, Appendix 1.
SDV355655Report - non-specific: Devon Archaeological Society. Dec 1983. Barnstaple Local Public Inquiry. Statement in Relation to Objections to Planning Application. Devon Archaeological Society. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV356366Personal Comment: Watts, S.. 13/03/2014. Barnstaple Settlement.
SDV356766Un-published: Markuson, K. W.. 1980. Barnstaple Survey. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV356768Monograph: Morris, J.. 1985. Domesday Book: Devon (Part One). Domesday Book: Devon (Part One). 1. Hardback Volume. 1.1, 3.3.
SDV357185Report - Evaluation: Cullen, B + Thompson, S. 09/2013. Joy Street, Green Lanes, Barnstaple, Evaluation. Wessex Archaeology Report. 78942.03. Digital. 4, 5.
SDV357343Report - non-specific: Pink, F.. 2014. Devon Extensive Urban Survey Project. Rapid Assessment of Archaeological Interventions. AC Archaeology Report. ACD473/1/1. Digital. 1.
SDV357964Un-published: Youings, J.. 1983. Barnstaple Local Public Inquiry. Devon Archaeological Statement. Appendix 5. A4 Stapled + Digital.

Associated Monuments

MDV14592Parent of: Barnstaple Castle (Monument)
MDV14292Parent of: Barnstaple Medieval Town Defences (Monument)
MDV109905Parent of: Burgage Plots on High Street, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV12501Parent of: Medieval Settlement, Paiges Lane, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV76433Parent of: Settlement at 4-6 Joy Street, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV14995Related to: Anglo Saxon Burh at Barnstaple (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events

  • EDV1378 - Barnstaple Castle Car Park Scheme Archaeological Assessment

Date Last Edited:Mar 13 2015 3:25PM