HeritageGateway - Home
Site Map
Text size: A A A
You are here: Home > > > > Devon & Dartmoor HER Result
Devon & Dartmoor HERPrintable version | About Devon & Dartmoor HER | Visit Devon & Dartmoor HER online...

See important guidance on the use of this record.

If you have any comments or new information about this record, please email us.

HER Number:MDV14995
Name:Anglo Saxon Burh at Barnstaple


Barnstaple may be the site of an Anglo-Saxon burh mentioned in the 10th century.


Grid Reference:SS 555 333
Map Sheet:SS53SE
Admin AreaDevon
Civil ParishBarnstaple
DistrictNorth Devon
Ecclesiastical ParishBARNSTAPLE

Protected Status: none recorded

Other References/Statuses

  • Old DCC SMR Ref: SS53SE/213

Monument Type(s) and Dates

  • BURH (Saxon - 701 AD to 1065 AD (Between))

Full description

Cullen, B + Thompson, S, 09/2013, Joy Street, Green Lanes, Barnstaple, Evaluation, 3 (Report - Evaluation). SDV357185.

Documentary evidence implies that settlement at Barnstaple originated in the late Saxon period, with Beardastapol referenced in association with Pilturn (Pilton) as one of the four defended ‘burhs’ in the Burghal Hidage of AD 913. The strategic placement of the town, at the lowest bridging point of the navigable River Taw, provided links via the Bristol Channel with Wales, Bristol and Ireland, enabling its development as a significant trading centre. A mint was established in the town in the 10th century. The importance of the town in the late and early medieval periods is further attested in the Domesday Survey of 1086, which records a substantial settlement held by King Edward.

Griffith, F. M., 18/12/1985, DAP/FU, 1-6a (Aerial Photograph). SDV74027.

Lethaby, W. R., 1904-1905, The Conqueror's Castles in Devon, 179-81 (Article in Serial). SDV342523.

Oliver, B. W., 1930, Barnstaple Borough, 269-73 (Article in Serial). SDV342526.

A strong tradition has linked the name of the Saxon King Athelstan with the Borough of Barnstaple found in documents of the 14th century. It would appear that Pilton and Barnstaple are mentioned together in the Burghal Hidage because Pilton was the original British settlement. There is mention of a Danish attack on a fort in North Devon in 893 which may have been Barnstaple.

Alexander, J. J., 1941, Early Barons of Torrington and Barnstaple, 165 (Article in Serial). SDV74013.

The Honour of Barnstaple was given to Geoffrey, Bishop of Coutances, by the king after the conquest. Descents and history given.

Timms, S. C., 1976, The Devon Urban Survey, 1976. First Draft, 64-65, 72, 74 (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. Calculation of the length of the medieval town wall of Barnstaple is, however, longer than the 450 metres of defences documented for the Saxon burh of Pilton. If the burh was on the site of the medieval town it would appear that the Saxon defences enclosed a smaller area than the later town walls.

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

Miles, T. J., 1986, The Excavation of a Saxon Cemetery and Part of the Norman Castle at North walk, Barnstaple, 73 (Article in Serial). SDV73913.

A large Saxon cemetery was excavated in 1972-5 to the north of the later castle. Barnstaple developed as a Saxon town in the late 9th century and a mint was operating there by the 950s.

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

Griffith, F. M., 1988, Devon's Past. An Aerial View, 73 (Monograph). SDV64198.

Barnstaple was in existence as a defended burh well before the Norman conquest.

North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit, 1990, Archaeology in Barnstaple: 1984-90, 5-6 (Report - non-specific). SDV342524.

ASI Heritage Consultants, 2000, Leaderflush and Shapland Site, Barnstaple: Archaeological Assessment (Report - Assessment). SDV70999.

Watts, S., 23/01/2013, Barnstaple Burh (Personal Comment). SDV350873.

The exact location of the burh is unknown and the location of the map object is approximate. However, it is perhaps likely to have been in the vicinity of the later, Norman castle.

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 iin 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. 64-65, 72, 74.
SDV342523Article in Serial: Lethaby, W. R.. 1904-1905. The Conqueror's Castles in Devon. Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries. 3. Unknown. 179-81.
SDV342524Report - non-specific: North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit. 1990. Archaeology in Barnstaple: 1984-90. North Devon District Council Rescue Archaeology Unit Report. A4 Stapled + Digital. 5-6.
SDV342526Article in Serial: Oliver, B. W.. 1930. Barnstaple Borough. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 62. A5 Hardback. 269-73.
SDV350873Personal Comment: Watts, S.. 23/01/2013. Barnstaple Burh. Not Applicable.
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.
SDV356766Un-published: Markuson, K. W.. 1980. Barnstaple Survey. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV357185Report - Evaluation: Cullen, B + Thompson, S. 09/2013. Joy Street, Green Lanes, Barnstaple, Evaluation. Wessex Archaeology Report. 78942.03. Digital. 3.
SDV64198Monograph: Griffith, F. M.. 1988. Devon's Past. An Aerial View. Devon's Past. An Aerial View. Paperback Volume. 73.
SDV70999Report - Assessment: ASI Heritage Consultants. 2000. Leaderflush and Shapland Site, Barnstaple: Archaeological Assessment. ASI Heritage Consultants Report. A4 Stapled + Digital.
SDV73913Article in Serial: Miles, T. J.. 1986. The Excavation of a Saxon Cemetery and Part of the Norman Castle at North walk, Barnstaple. Proceedings of the Devon Archaeological Society. 44. Paperback Volume. 73.
SDV74013Article in Serial: Alexander, J. J.. 1941. Early Barons of Torrington and Barnstaple. Transactions of the Devonshire Association. 73. A5 Hardback. 165.
SDV74027Aerial Photograph: Griffith, F. M.. 18/12/1985. DAP/FU. Devon Aerial Photograph. Photograph (Paper). 1-6a.

Associated Monuments

MDV14994Related to: Anglo-Saxon Burh at Pilton, Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV106447Related to: Barnstaple (Monument)
MDV14292Related to: Barnstaple Medieval Town Defences (Monument)
MDV14597Related to: Saxon Cemetery at Barnstaple Castle (Monument)

Associated Finds: none recorded

Associated Events: none recorded

Date Last Edited:Feb 19 2015 9:17AM