Early History


Ashburton - from the Old English aesc-burna-tun = ash-stream-farmstead*
*Alternatives for farmstead are enclosure or village.

Ashburton has a long history, but quite how long is difficult to determine. The presence of camps and/or enclosures seems to point to early habitation of the area, but dating them is difficult and it is hard to draw any reliable conclusions about them.

Roman Period.
In 1841 the Western Times' Ashburton correspondent came across a well-preserved coin, about the size of a half crown. It bore the following inscription, in Roman capitals: 71. CLAVDIVIS CAESAR. AVG.
Western Times 20 February 1841 p3 col4

'The frequent finds of Roman coins in old cob walls, and in sinking foundations and wells, seem to point to a very early occupation of [Ashburton's] present site...'
P F S Amery, Sketch of Ashburton and the Woollen Trade, Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association, vol 8, Plymouth, 1876, p323

Amongst an exhibition of antiquities at the Ashburton Institute in 1884 was a silver denarius of Decius 250AD, from old buildings opposite Dr. Gervis' house*; 3 brass coins of Constantine, from the same buildings; 3 other brass coins and another Roman coin.
Totnes Weekly Times 13 December 1884, p4 col3
*In 1891 Walter S Gervis, MD and General Practitioner, was living in West Street, a few properties up from the Exeter Inn.
1891 census RG12, piece no. 1898, folio 34, p3

J S Amery said, in 1924, that there had been frequent discoveries of Roman coins, including those of Claudius and Decius. 'I know not of any other relics of Roman origin.'
J S Amery's Presidential address, Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association, vol 56, 1925, p46

A cruciform shaped strap fitting, late eighth or ninth century, has been found at Ashburton. It shows Scandanavian influence, and is possibly Irish-Norse.
Derek Gore, The Vikings in the West Country, Exeter, 2015, p113 Portable Antiquities Scheme ref. PAS-CORN-29D1E2

In 1876 a strip of parchment was deposited at the Albert Museum, Exeter. It was 'about 13 inches long by 3¾ inches wide, inscribed in clear and good Anglo-Saxon characters as follows:
This is Peading tunes landscaro thaer Aescburne utscyt...
...The writing has no date, but its character and style show it to be of the first half of the eleventh century; that is to say, about the reign of Edward the Confessor...
...literally "This is Peadington's land boundary of (or at) the Ashburn outfall." '
J B Davidson, Some Anglo-Saxon boundaries, now deposited at the Albert Museum, Exeter, Transactions of the Devonshire Association, vol 8 1876, p396ff

Land at Ashburton -
'aescburnan lande' - is mentioned in the will of Aelfwold, Bishop of Crediton circa 1000 (see Travelling under Gathering Together) and by the time of the Domesday Survey there is obviously quite a bit of activity in what is now our town. A hundred years after that, in the late 1100s, there is a reference to St Andrew's Church, so we can reliably say that the church in some form was in existence over 800 years ago.
Gradually more records appear, and we can start to say more about Ashburton. Thanks to Bishop Stapledon a market was granted in 1310 (for pages with more information see below), and the same bishop founded the St Lawrence Chapel in 1314. Ashburton was also a Stannary Town by the 1300s and had importance from that fact alone.
Markets and Fairs, under Gathering Together
The St Lawrence Chapel under Ashburton Schools
Quarries and Mines under Banks and Businesses

The sub-menus below begin with Dr Alan Lambourne's timeline of mediaeval Ashburton, which starts to disentangle some of the fact from the fiction about early Ashburton, distinguishing between records connected to the land, the town, St Andrew's Church and the St Lawrence Chapel. Pages follow on the Domesday Book entry and the eleven and twelve hundreds.