Finding a Section of the Roman Road
A couple of years ago, we were intrigued by an aerial photograph by Frances Griffith taken in 1983 showing a crop mark in fields near Straightway Head and believed to be caused by the remains of an old Roman Road called the Fosse way. The Romans built the Fosse Way shortly after they arrived in AD43. The road extended from Exeter to Lincoln, a distance of 230 miles, and marked the Western boundary of Roman rule in Iron Age Britain.
Near Whimple, the road follows the conventional straight line preferred by the Romans along the Rockbeare Straight until diverging from the old A30 as it bends right just after Hand and Pen. The Fosse way continues on to Straightway Head and from there goes toward the new A30 and on to Honiton. This route can be clearly explored on the Devon Environment Viewer.
We were keen to see if there was any visible evidence of the Fosse Way without actually going to the expense of hiring a plane so headed up to the area of Straightway Head on foot. Eventually, we realised we might have more luck if we looked along the line of the crop mark on the photograph. In an old shed on that line, the top soil had been removed and we found a variety of large pebbles, small pebbles, stone and shaped stones. The Romans would typically use local materials of this type. We showed what we had found to Devon Heritage archeologists who felt that there was a good chance this was an exposed section of the road and might bear some form of investigation of some form at a later date.
After the Romans left Britain in 410AD the roads were no longer maintained but were so well built, they continued in use for many centuries. The next major road building programme in Britain didn’t happen until the !8th century when the turnpikes were built, often following the routes of the Roman roads. When the Saxons arrived in Devon around 800AD, they almost certainly travelled along the Fosse Way. Their Old English prefixstrait or streat meaning ‘paved road’ was given to place names near a Roman road e.g. Straightway Head and Strete Ralegh.
Recently identified in the Heritage Centre: The Tithe Map and Apportionments 1841 for Whimple
Tithes were an annual local tax established in England by the Anglo
Saxons which decreed that one tenth of all produce on a piece of land
had to be paid to support the priest and parish church. Tithes were
typically paid in kind – for example, every tenth stock of corn or
equivalent of eggs, wool etc. would go to the church and tithe barns
were built to hold the produce.
However, receiving this tax in kind was seen as something of an
inconvenience until the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 when it was
decided that the tithe would instead be converted into an agreed
monetary payment. In order to decide how much tithe was owed on
each piece of tithe-able land, every parish in England and Wales was
surveyed. A detailed map was produced of each parish and each plot
numbered so that it could be identified in the accompanying reference
book called an Apportionment. This listed who owned the land, who
presently occupied it, the name of the land or field, what it was used for
and what it was judged to owe. Needless to say, these make fascinating
reading for anyone interested in local or family history. They are usually the earliest reliable source of what the parish looked like at the time. Anyone now living in a house built before 1841 should be able to find their house, discover who lived there at the time and if there was no house, what the land was used for.
Three copies of the maps and Apportionments were made. The original was kept by the Commissioners and these are now in the National Archives. One copy went to the local diocesan registry and those are now held in the Devon Records Office and one was sent to the parish church – which is presumably the one now held in the Heritage Centre.
The tithe map in the Heritage Centre is rather fragile so really can’t be studied until it is copied. However, lovely Devon Historic Environment has put the tithe maps and apportionments from the Records Office online and individual parishes can be searched for here.
Hopefully, studying the tithe map will enable us to bring you more information about the history of Whimple.
Similarly, if you spot something you think we should know about please get in touch.
Whimple Tithe Map: Centre of the Village