Lay Subsidy 1332

Our best form of evidence for the early medieval farms comes from a tax return. In 1332 the Lay Subsidy tax affected everyone with personal wealth in the form of movable assets i.e. excluding land and buildings. A tax of 1/15th of all such wealth over 10 shillings was incurred and lists or rolls were drawn up to see who was liable. The names of 29 lay tax payers are recorded for the parish including the manor of Doccombe and the submanor of Howton.

Of the individual names, the majority – about 19 – are farmers and as this list probably relates only to those living outside the borough of Moreton. There were another 11 for Wary Barton manor in the parish. This indicates a population of perhaps 200-250 parishioners living and farming outside the town centre. They were already prospering relatively well for the area as Asburton had only 23 tax payers and Okehampton 25.

NAMETax in PenceModern Farm / Occupation
Adam Aluard12Aletaster?
William Bailiff8Steward on Lord’s land
Adam IlbardofClyford24Clifford
Henry Coruyset18Cossick?
WilliamofDoccomb12Great Doccombe
William TozerofHugheton8Howton
William Kenna20 
John Parleben15Spokesman?
Reginald Veysi15 
Richard Veysi8 
John Whita12Whiteabury?

Devonshire Lay Subsidy of 1332 for Moreton(hampstead)

Black Death

The Black Death killed approximately between a third and half the population nationally. We have no details for Moreton but know that the surrounding moorland areas were affected: the tin trade was brought to an almost complete standstill, and since Chagford, just 6 miles away, was one of the 4 stannary towns where tin was weighed and assayed, we can be certain that Moreton was affected too. If Moreton’s population fell by at least a third, then we can guess that in the 1330s the town had had a population of about 400-450 within its boundaries, as well as the 200-250 in outlying areas. The 400 or so survivors we know of from taxation records in the 1370s would have lived in a parish of deserted farms, neglected fields and animals starved to death.

For those who survived the plague, however, new opportunities presented themselves, especially from the nascent wool industry. Wide areas of land suitable for raising sheep were nearby, and while even vaster stretches of sheep-rearing land were available to those parishes which bordered Dartmoor, Moreton was a suitable point at which to process the fleeces. By the late fifteenth century woollen cloth was the staple industry of the town, and so it remained for the next three hundred years. There were fulling mills along the Wray brook at Millbrook on the Crediton Road (now Lime St.) and at Wrey on the road to South Bovey (now Bovey Tracey); weaving remained an important industry until the eighteenth century.

The weekly medieval market and annual fair, granted by King John in 1207 and fiercely opposed by Chagford but regranted several times since, came into its own. It was very probably money from the wool trade which paid for the rebuilding of the church tower in 1420, either directly, through tolls, or indirectly, through profits raised by the Courtenay family from the manor and borough. This trade and the elevated importance of the town resulted finally in the construction of the most important secular building in Moreton, St Andrews Hospital (now the Almshouses), where pilgrims and the sick could attend to their ‘spiritual cleanliness’ before venturing on their way, whether to an earthly or heavenly destination. The chapel of the hospital, according to Bishop Lacy’s register, was newly constructed in 1450.

(Wool shearing with hand shears – medieval techniques still being used on farms in the 1930’s)
(Mowing grass with a scythe – medieval techniques still being used on farms in the 1930’s)

The ‘Red Tide’

Harold Fox traced the ancient practice of transhumance – the movement of animals to and from the lowland pastures to the high moor during the spring and autumn. These movements are sometimes called the ‘red tide’ from the mass of red South or North Devon cattle on the move. On one of the routes found by Fox, each May livestock from the east from manors such as Kenton, crossed the Teign at Kingsteington on their way via Moreton(hampstead) to the open high moorland. On their way back in the autumn after fattening on the moorland pastures many red South Devon cattle would be sold at Moreton market.