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The Origins of Barnstaple and Pilton: New Perspectives on Old Settlements


In a 2020 paper published in the Transactions of the Devonshire Association, Wendy Clarke has re-examined the Anglo-Saxon origins of Barnstaple and Pilton. The relationship between these close neighbours and their recorded Anglo-Saxon stronghold is unique and complex, with too little extant evidence to provide definitive answers to the settlements’ co-evolution. What one can do, however, is to use new data to edge closer to the truth. Here, existing documentary and archaeological records and topographical evidence have been re-evaluated using recent information from local burial sites in both Pilton and Barnstaple (including osteoarchaeology and radiocarbon dating). Interpretative analysis of local and national place-name etymology for Barnstaple also suggests that the town’s historic identity may have emerged through a putative site for the exercise of criminal justice.
Wendy would be the first to say that the complex and subtle relationship between historic Pilton and Barnstaple doesn’t make for super-light reading, so she advocates treating the article like a bar of chocolate – most easily consumed in bite-sized chunks!
Thanks to Wendy Clarke and particularly to The Devonshire Association for permission to upload thearticle to The Pilton Story. The paper will remain accessible here until the Devonshire Association digitizes its material, at which time this article will be replaced by a link to the Association’s site.
To assist in your understanding, we have also posted an extract from the First Edition 1890, 6” to the mile, Ordnance Survey Map showing Pilton and Barnstaple which can be seen by following this link:

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