Friday, 17 July 2009

Okehampton / Ocmundtun: Place in Bernard Cornwell'sSaxon Series ****


Okehampton is a town and civil parish in Devon, England, at the northern edge of Dartmoor, on the River Okement. The border of the Dartmoor National Park is just south of the town.
Like many towns in the West Country, Okehampton grew on the Medieval wool trade. Notable buildings in the town include the 15th century chapel of St. James, and Okehampton Castle. There is the site of a Roman fort close to the Town at SX5996. The town is also home to the Museum of Dartmoor Life. Okehampton elected two members to the Unreformed House of Commons. The Reform Act 1832 abolished its representation as a rotten borough.
Map of Okehampton from 1946

The substantial army training camp on Dartmoor is reached via Okehampton, and is referred to as "Okehampton Camp". It is managed by the Defence Training Estate, and used by a variety of military units, predominantly the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines (CTCRM), Lympstone, Devon and many cadet training units. The Ten Tors event is run by the Army each year in early May from Okehampton Camp.
Okehampton's location at the edge of the moor means that it has always been a route centre. The A30 trunk road now bypasses the town. Okehampton railway station is on the former northerly rail route from Exeter to Plymouth via Tavistock. The line from Exeter remains open for freight traffic because of Meldon quarry, just to the west of Okehampton. In summer, and at weekends throughout the year, the Dartmoor Railway operates a heritage railway service between Okehampton and Meldon Quarry.
Okehampton is also characterized by the large number of smaller villages and towns that surround it. Notable examples are the villages of Folly Gate, a small picturesque village which lies in close proximity to the village of Inwardleigh and Abbeyford woods, Belstone, known for its location on the very outskirts of Dartmoor, and Sticklepath which runs in parallel fashion to the A30 dual carriageway.
In 1997 Devon County Council revived a passenger rail service from Exeter, on summer weekends only, in an attempt to reduce motor traffic to the national park. At other times the town is linked to Exeter and North Cornwall by increasingly infrequent bus services.
On February 6 2009, Okehampton was badly affected with significant amounts of snow, seeing 22in (55 cm) of it. Snow had been falling since second of February and had been building up since then. Okehampton received the highest amount of snowfall in England during the 2009 snow storm
Belstone is a village in Devon, England best known for the Nine Maidens stone circle.
It lies within the West Devon local government district.
There are several explanations of the derivation of its placename, including Baal's Ton (the hill of the Phoenician sun god Baal), Belle's Ham (Belle's enclosure) and Belle Stan (Bell Rock). In the Domesday Book the village is listed as Bellestam.
Early history
Nine Maidens
The Nine Maidens stone circle comprises the remains of the outer wall of a Bronze Age burial chamber. Along with other erected granite standing stones on the nearby moorland, it is the earliest evidence of human habitation near Belstone.
It is possible that Fatherford, in the north west of Belstone parish, was one stage in a Roman extension of the Fosse Way road from Exeter to Launceston.
The Domesday Book provides the first written record of Belstone, describing a small settlement of about 50 to 60 people. Domesday mentions that the village was held by the Saxon Osfer under Edward the Confessor, and passed to Baldwin de Brionne after the Norman Conquest, along with 4 cattle, 40 sheep and 10 goats. One side of Baldwin's family held Belstone until 1420, when it passed to another branch of the family. In 1600, two thirds of the manor passed to the Rolle family; in about 1750 the remaining third passed to the Rev. Joshua Hole. In 1887 Charles Woolcombe took control of the Rolle family holdings, which stayed with the family until Jack Reddaway bought them in 1990.
The first recorded priest, William de Speccot, was appointed to Belstone's church, dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, in 1260, but there is evidence that the parish church predates this. Parts of it date from the 14th century and 15th century, and much of it was restored in 1881.

Industry and agriculture
From at least the 13th century, villagers were granted Venville rights in exchange for paying rent to the Duchy of Cornwall, which owned the Forest of Dartmoor. These rights covered "all things that may do them good except vert (green oak) and venison". In practice this meant rights over turf, rushes, bracken, fishing, shooting, burning, sand, gravel, stone and, probably most importantly, pasture. Some of these rights still exist today, under the control of the Dartmoor Commoners Council (set up in 1965) and the Dartmoor National Park Authority.
From the Venville rights arose Belstone's major industries: farming, mining and woollen cloth. The earliest mention of a tinner in the village comes in the 15th century, while weavers are first mentioned in 1524, with a woolen factory opening in 1782. Cleave Mill was reopened after a fire in 1810; a copper mine opened in 1823; and there was a granite works in the village from 1875.
But agriculture was the most important industry and occupation. There were 50 acres (200,000 m²) under cultivation at the time of Domesday; by 1811 this had risen to 800 acres (3.2 km²), employing 97% of Belstone families. In 1841 60% of the land was used for wheat, barley and oats, 5% was woodland, 1% orchards, and the remainder was pasture and homesteads. But following an agreement over venville rents, cattle and sheep farming grew in popularity. A survey in 1921 found 1700 sheep, 425 bullocks and 100 horses in Belstone. There are still 725 acres (2.9 km²) farmed today, but hedge removal, modern machinery and changing farm practices mean that there are much fewer, much larger farms with far fewer workers. There are currently five farms with an average of 148 acres (599,000 m²) each.
Pilgrims to America
Shortly before the English Civil War, which saw Cromwell's soldiers march through the village, some of Belstone's residents left to help populate America. For example, Thomas Bliss and his family settled in Boston and Connecticut, where some of their descendants remain today.

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