Bampton: A Potted History
There is much to say about the history of Bampton, and we will do our best to link it to evidence and clues which may be seen in the town today.
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Since the earliest, maybe stone-age times, Bampton has been the ideal site for a settlement. It is well sheltered in the valley, has the river Batherm running through it, and most importantly is on the intersection of important north-south and east-west routes: the former runs down the Exe valley from Watchet (originally the major port on the north coast) to Exeter, and the second from Taunton along the south side of Exmoor to Barnstaple.
However, the earliest known origins are the Saxons who reached this area in about 700 AD. Many clues to their occupancy lies in the place names such as Sparkhayne, Pipshayne, Benshayes, Petton, and Hayne, all Saxon in origin. Having settled they would have built an enclosure on high ground including a defensive mound, church, and cemetery. Traces of this enclosure can be seen within the later Norman bailey to the east of the town, and their fields, using a 'strip' system, can be seen to the discerning eye to the north-east of the mound, and many local hedges are the Saxon 'furrow' long, 625 feet (later to become standardised to the 'furlong' at 220 yards). Later the forest would be cleared on the lower ground where the present town now stands. Evidence of the Saxon origins may be seen today in the layout of the streets and building plots, and in the almost circular churchyard (a feature common to Saxon and pre-Christian religions). By the time of the Norman conquest in 1066 AD, the Saxons had built the equivalent of a manor house, a Mill, and a Barton (the lord of the manor's own food farm).
About 1067, in a spate of castle building by William the Conqueror, the motte and wooden bailey was built on what was then the northern edge of the town, fortifying the old Saxon defensive area. Since then the castle had quite a lengthy history.
St Michael's and All Angels church which we see today dates in part from the early twelfth century - but it replaced one which had been there earlier. There was also St Luke's Chapel built in the twelfth or early thirteenth century. Also find here a history of the Methodist Chapel (built 1862).
Two of the oldest buildings in Bampton (other than the church) are the old vicarage and the Swan. Part of the Old Vicarage seems to have been in existence in 1443, but has been modified and added to greatly over the centuries. Another old inn on the outskirts of Bampton is the Exeter Inn on the A396. This was built as a farmhouse in 1495.
Bampton had its part to play in the Civil War period. In 1645 it was burnt and looted! Very few buildings now standing in Bampton pre-date 1645. The reason for this is that in that year, Royalist and Parliamentary forces in the Civil War clashed, and the Royalists, who had marched from Tiverton Castle, spent four days burning the town. The Devon Clubmen had had their headquarters in Bampton: these citizens and landowners had formed groups armed with clubs, cudgels, and pitchforks, to attempt to defend their property, but to no avail.
In the 18th century, Bampton thrived because of the wool trade. It was at this time many of the old stone houses were built by wealthy merchants, perhaps the best being Leburn House in Luke Street. Much of the stone for the houses came from the local quarries, and mortar from the lime kilns.
Buildings of that era give Bampton much of the character which it has today. An indication of the wool trade is that by the early 1800's, over 14,000 sheep were sold at Bampton Fair (and an additional three-day fair was held at Whitsun). Later the Fair became famous for its pony sales.
The sheep and wool trade died during the 19th century, and the quarries provided most of the employment in Bampton. The stone has been used not only for building, but for roads, railways, and even aircraft runways.
The railway had a very large impact on Bampton during the 80 years of its existence. In spite of this, one has to look quite hard to see the traces it has left behind. The station finally closed in 1963.
It is not easy to compress 2000 years of Bampton's history into a small space! - but we hope this will give at least a background knowledge. See below for links to find out more. The button on the left links to miscellaneous facts (ok, trivia) which may be of interest.
A video following the Town Trail and covering some of Bampton's history can be viewed here.
Many of the place names in Bampton are linked to the history of the town - click here to find out more.
We also have a section concerning the old buildings in our conservation area.
A chronological list of Bampton's history can be found here.
For genealogists, we have now published a detailed list of the graves in St Michael's churchyard.
Bampton now has its own Heritage and Visitor Centre.
We are indebted to local historian Tom McManamon for much of the information given.
To find out more, we have set up links to old maps, books on local history, and historical information.
You can also email queries to: firstname.lastname@example.org