Dartmoor proved an inhospitable and unwelcoming frontier for Roman culture. The present town only become a settlement distinct from the moor which overshadows it when the Saxons arrived around 700 AD. And what did the Saxons call it? Moor-tun: the settlement in the moor.
Dartmoor probably extended much further east than at present up to the present stretches of common at Pepperdon and Mardon, and probably further still, beyond Blackingstone Rock. Thus the first tun or farmstead from which Moreton is named was probably built in the 8th century and was so named from being surrounded by uncultivated moorland which was not cleared until later centuries.
The first appearance of Moreton in the written historical record is in Domesday Book, compiled in 1086. Below is an extract of the original in abbreviated medieval Latin.
The full entry for Moreton reads roughly in English as follows: ‘Moreton. A royal manor. At the time of King Edward the Confessor’s death (1066) it paid tax for 3 hides (units of roughly 80-120 acres). There is land for 20 ploughs. In lordship there are 3 ploughs and 6 serfs (unfree labourers) cultivating 1 hide; and 16 villeins (villagers) and 6 bordars (smallholders) with 8 ploughs cultivating 2 hides. There are 20 acres of meadow, 60 acres of pasture; the woodland is a league (3 miles) long and a furlong (220 yards) wide. There are 20 cattle and 130 sheep. It pays £12 in tax weighed and assayed, the same as it did when Baldwin acquired it. To the manor of Moreton belongs every third penny collected in the hundred of Teignbridge.’
Moreton[hampstead] was not the only Domesday manor which eventually formed part of the parish. A second, smaller manor was that of Wray, just to the south. The entry for Wray reads as follows:
‘Wray, Held by Godwin. At the time of King Edward the Confessor’s death it was held by Alstan, at which time it paid tax for 1 hide. There are 6 ploughs there, which is all that there is land for; there are 4 serfs, 11 villeins and 3 bordars. There are 8 acres of meadowland 5 acres of pasture. There are 8 cattle, 4r pigs and 30 sheep. It was formerly worth 60s; now it is worth 30s.’
Today the parish extends to nearly 8000 acres; in 1086, however, no more than 450 acres is accounted for Moreton manor in Domesday, and no more than about 150 acres for the manor of Wray. Thus less than 10% of the land was being farmed, the remainder being moorland, wilderness, steep hillside or overgrown waste. About a third of the farmed land or 150 acres was in ‘lordship’ on the Moreton manor i.e. a demesne or main farm (may have included the word Barton as it still does at Wray) managed by a steward or bailiff and worked for the sole benefit of the lord of the manor with labour of 6 serfs. Its location is uncertain but it has been speculated recently by Dr Ian Mortimer that it could have been around the present Long House on Ford St. and the later merger of the ‘haemestead’ or ‘homestead’ with the Moreton town settlement around Greenhill gave us the name Moretonhampstead sometime in the first half of the 15th century.
The remaining farmed land was made up of villein farms, usually around 50 to 60 acres, separated from the next neighbour by areas of uncleared woodlands. In Devon, a villein farm was usually allocated to each villein so there may have been up to 16 small outlying farms on the surrounding hillside, although brothers may have worked the same holding. The 6 bordars had smallholdings of less than about 5 acres and R. O. Heath suggested that they lived in a group of huts around the present-day Back Lane. All this meant that Moreton was already a place of local significances as can be seen from its receipt of a third of the income from taxes and fines collected by the Teignbridge hundred – the local unit of administration until the 1880s that also covered the parishes (modern names) of: Ashburton, Bickington, Bovey Tracey, Hennock, Highweek, Ideford, Ilsington, Kingsteignton, Lustleigh, Manaton, North Bovey and Teigngrace.