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Shaugh Prior Parish Council

History and the Evolution of the Landscape

Where did the people live?

We know that the Domesday Book (1086) recorded a settlement called Escaga (meaning a rough coppice or woodland) and this Old English name gradually got changed over the years into Shaugh. This settlement must have given its name to the parish of Shaugh when it was first established sometime in the 300 years before Domesday.

A small wooden church might have been built here for the scattered residents of the area. There are other small settlements mentioned in the Domesday Book - the manor of Bristn'chesyana (Brixton Barton), Coltreston (Coldstone) and Fernehille (Fernhill). It would appear then, that the Angle Saxons settled in small hamlets scattered across the Southern part of the parish. It is quite possible that a detailed archaeological survey would lead to the discovery of more ancient hamlets which have long disappeared!

Did these mediaeval settlers show any interest in the moorland?

There is one group of farmers who were established on the moor by the 11th century. These were the warreners. Rabbits were brought to England by the Normans and were an important part of the mediaeval economy of this parish. Isolated sites well away from crops and vegetable plots had to be used! Trowlesworthy is the oldest warren recorded in Shaugh parish (the others are at Willings Wall and Hentor). The high walls, pillow mounds and dog kennels associated with these warrens are still clearly visible.

Other mediaeval farmers used the moorland selectively, probably because their right to use the area for farming was severely limited - from 1204 Dartmoor was a royal forest. This did not mean it was wooded. The term 'forest' was a legal term used to describe an area reserved by the king for hunting. However, between 1200 and 1348 the population grew fast in the parish - the search was on for new land to feed the inhabitants. In other parts of England where there was little room for expansion people faced hardship and later starvation. However, in parishes like Shaugh Prior, people once again looked to the moorland for a living. This time it was often as a last desperate choice as the soil was poor and there was still a chance of being fined for living in the forest (although this was relaxed during the 13th century). Perhaps Wotter, which is first referred to as Wodetor( in a survey in 1262) is an example of a hamlet which grew at this time of population pressure.

Finally there was another attraction on the moor. The tin industry which flourished on Dartmoor at this time was important in the Plym valley. Tin was extracted from the streams and rivers. Many of the hummocks we can still see along the banks of the river Plym are the waste tips left by these early miners. It was a very labour intensive activity and many people earned a living as tinners at this time.

The population of the moorland declined dramatically following the Black Death which hit England in 1348. Up to one third of the people in this country died over the next 30 years and many farms in the lowlands were left without tenants. Most surviving moorland farmers took the chance to move onto better land in the lowlands and the second major population boom in this area came to an sudden end........

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