The History of King’s Tamerton is a series about the history of a hamlet in St. Budeaux, Plymouth, Devon. Earlier parts in the series focused on specific points in the hamlet’s pre-history, including:
- Part 1: Definitions of King’s Tamerton
- Part 2: Roman Origins
- Part 3: The Legend of Tamaris
- Part 4: Stone Age to Iron Age
- Part 5: Saxon Development
The last part in this series (Saxon Development) outlined the uneasy alliances and broken friendships of the period of the 800s. This was due to a clash of cultures, with the Saxons advancing further into the west-country, which was resented by the Dumnonian Celts. The situation was further confused with the addition of a third force: the Danes. It appears that the ‘West Welsh’ – primarily the Cornish – were able to ally with the Danes in order to fight back against the Saxons. Saxon monarch King Egbert put down a united rebellion in 838, with a climatic battle occurring at Hingston Down (20 miles north of King’s Tamerton).
The Saxons were dealt a larger blow in dealing with a Danish invasion in 876, in which the Danes occupied Exeter. However, as Sellman (1985, p.16) notes:
‘Fortunately the ships supporting them had mostly been destroyed by storm near Swanage, and the next summer they were obliged to leave again for Gloucester.’
King Alfred the Great defeated the Danes at Edington in 878, which provided ‘breathing space’ (states Sellman, p.17) for the Saxons to re-organise their defences throughout the kingdom, including Devon (including repairs to the Roman city walls in Exeter). Further Danish attacks in the 890s were ‘beaten off’.
However, the Danish came back to the region in the late 900s during the reign of King Ethelred. Sellman (p.17) describes the defeats suffered in Devon:
‘In 997 the Danes destroyed Tavistock Abbey and plundered inland until checked at Lydford; and in 1001 they ravaged the lower Teign, were beaten off at Exeter… Two years later Exeter was betrayed…and sacked.’
Within a handful of years a Danish king claimed the English throne: Cnut the Great. The kingdom was riven with further problems in the subsequent decades, leading up to the important events of 1066. Danish and Saxon influence was to be reduced with the arrival of a Norman duke from across the English Channel. The story of William the Conqueror and the impact of the Norman Conquest will be outlined in the next post.
All of these political events during the 800s-900s provide question marks regarding the status of King’s Tamerton. Before the Saxon advance into Devon the region around King’s Tamerton would have been under the political and social influence of the Dumnonians; however, this was reduced with the further advance of the Saxons. The events at Hingston Down in 838 suggest that the area around modern-day Plymouth may have been contested by the various factions, and as such, the people of this area may have held shifting loyalties.
King Athelstan’s creation of a clear boundary on the Tamar – between the Cornish and the Saxons in Devon – in 937 appears to have placed those in and around King’s Tamerton within the Saxon orbit of political control. Even the Cornish themselves were reduced to what Payton calls a ‘satellite status’, thereby confirming the control of the nascent, expanding English kingdom in the west-country.
So, it may be safe to assume that by the late 900s – when the Danes were attacking once more – the loyalties of those in west Devon were securely linked to that of the English kingdom. Rather than unite with the Danes, they would have surely been in favour of repelling them. Unfortunately, I have no firm answers to such speculation, but there are many interesting questions posted by those living on the Devon-Cornish border during these tumultuous centuries.
It may also be further speculated that King’s Tamerton itself – due to the wide views provided at the top of Plaistow Hill – may have been utilised in the defence of Danish attacks. In his book, Aspects of Devon History (1985), Sellman outlines the use of fire-signals in Devon, noting how:
‘The use of fire-signals to give warning of seaborne attack goes back at least to the final stage of the Roman period in Britain, and was part of the Saxon defensive against the Vikings’ (p.34).
As such, the geographic location of the hamlet provides questions – and possible answers – as to its purpose and its development during its pre-recorded history. As with the earlier theories – of King’s Tamerton hosting a Roman signal station, or perhaps the more fanciful legend of an ancient tin-trading settlement – this suggests that a settlement developed at King’s Tamerton due to its position and the advantages it provided of overlooking the Tamar River.
Payton, Philip (2004) Cornwall: A History. UK: Cornwall Editions.
Sellman, R.R. (1985) Aspects of Devon History. Devon: Devon Books.