This is a series about the history of the former hamlet of King’s Tamerton, in St. Budeaux, Plymouth, Devon. The first part outlined definitions of King’s Tamerton (what it is and what area it compromises), and the second part outlined its possible Roman origins. The third part delved into a suggested theory of its supposed links with the ancient settlement of Tamaris.
The previous posts have outlined the history of King’s Tamerton during the Roman period; a length of time that stretched across the first four centuries (from 43 AD to 410 AD). However, what of the history prior to the coming of the Romans?
Information relating specifically to King’s Tamerton beyond the coming of the Romans is non-existent. It is unlikely that there was any settlement in this area before this point, with the theory of it being the spot of the fabled location of Tamaris being highly speculative. However, there is evidence relating to the surrounding region of Devon that dates back thousands of years. Sellman (1985, p.7) notes how some of the ‘first traces of man in Devon are Old Stone Age tools’ found in Axminster, along with inhabitation in coastal caves; one such cave is located five miles south of King’s Tamerton: the Cattedown Caves.
The Stone Age itself stretched across millions of years, ending between 4,000 BC and 2,000 BC. It appears that not many people lived in Devon during this later period, with Sellman suggesting that ‘at its most flourishing there were probably under a hundred people in the county’ (p.7). He further explains:
‘Since they lived a nomad existence, and left behind them nothing but crude stones or bone tools, it is not surprising that their traces are rare’.
During final period of the Stone Age (the Neolithic era, dating from 10,000 BC onward) it appears that Dartmoor was settled by hunter-gathering peoples, with Wikipedia (2021) noting how ‘Dartmoor contains the remains of the oldest known buildings in England’. Because of its relatively untouched history, much evidence can be found on Dartmoor today; it is reckoned that there are 500 known Neolithic sites on the moor (such as burial mounds and stone circles, including the one at Hingston Hill near Burrator reservoir).
If we fast forward to the Iron Age (in the centuries prior to the Roman Conquest), it appears that many forts in Devon were constructed. Sellman (p.9) speculates that this was probably due to the area being the scene of invasions from outsiders. As noted in previous posts in this series, the location of King’s Tamerton would have been a well-suited spot for such a fort; however, no evidence exists of an Iron Age fort here, unlike the nearby Boringdon Camp. Sellman states how not all the Devon Iron Age population ‘lived in or near the forts’, explaining how ‘the commonest type of settlement was probably in undefended farmsteads, and remained so throughout the Roman period’ (p.10)
On the eve of the Roman invasion in 43 AD, the region of the south-west was less populated and more-backward in comparison to the rest of the south. The Dumnonii who ruled the region do not appear to have been as advanced as other tribes; for example, they did not have their currency. However, the mentions of Tamaris and the trading port of Mount Batten suggests that the Plymouth region itself was more advanced than the wilds of Dartmoor. Rowe (1848) believes that the contact that these locals had with traders made them ‘more civilized in their habits of life’, explaining further:
‘Hence we infer that the south of Devon, before the Roman era of our history, was inhabited by a numerous population; – that on the coast, at the mouths of the rivers flowing down from the hilly country, where the staple commodity of the island was raised, there would be smelting establishments, and ports for the shipment of the metal by foreign merchants; – that the maritime inhabitants, from their intercourse with these traders, became comparatively civilized, and probably adopted many foreign practices and opinions, whilst the dwellers of the interior retained their nomadic habits, and preserved their primitive superstitions, amidst the Forest wilds and rugged steeps of Dartmoor….’ (p.64).
We can only speculate as to those who lived in the area that is now called King’s Tamerton. As shown in the last post, Rowe’s theory is that it was the site of Tamaris. In which case, it was a community connecting to the wider world through trade. However, such a theory is incredibly unlikely and there is a complete lack of evidence to suggest that there was a settlement here prior to the arrival of the Romans.
But yet, the location itself – with its wide-ranging views – suggests that the area of King’s Tamerton and St. Budeaux could have been a settlement; in the Iron Age or perhaps even before. It could have been the site of a hill-fort, along with a location for farming and perhaps even fishing. Such words are fanciful, and so we can only say with certainty that a settlement in this area developed in the thousand years from the arrival of the Romans to the writing of the Domesday Book in 1086; this will be the focus of the next post in this series.
Rowe, Samuel (1848) A Perambulation of the Ancient & Royal Forest of Dartmoor, and the Venville Precincts, or a Topographical Survey of the Antiquities and Scenery. JB. Rowe & Hamilton. Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=zDwJAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA63&lpg=PA63&dq=%22king%27s+tamerton%22+history+%22roman%22&source=bl&ots=zKTK-Rhv6U&sig=ACfU3U2xzC_jM0Zz6t1x7TGJ5qonwwfKNw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjM7pnJrKnxAhWUEWMBHWqeCaQQ6AF6BAgKEAM#v=onepage&q&f=false (Accessed: 07 July 2021).
Sellman, R.R. (1985) Aspects of Devon History. Devon: Devon Books.
Wikipedia (2021) ‘History of Devon’. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Devon#:~:text=In%20the%20Neolithic%20era%2C%20from,oldest%20known%20buildings%20in%20England (Accessed: 12 August 2021).