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Belstone History  
The Nine Maidens stone circle are the earliest evidence of some form of human habitation near Belstone, being the remains of the outer wall of a Bronze Age burial chamber and there are many other erected granite stones on the nearby moor to indicate quite a large amount of human activity. But, of course, none of this early civilisation was documented.

There is some evidence that the Romans extended the Fosse Way road from Exeter to Launceston in Cornwall but the only proven remains are at DeBathe, on the South Tawton/North Tawton boundary. It has been claimed, however, that this road extended to Cornwall by way of Fatherford, in the north west of Belstone parish.

The first written indication, in the Domesday Book, is that of a small settlement of about 50 to 60 people, held by the Saxon, Osfer under Edward the Confessor which passed to Baldwin de Brionne (who built Okehampton Castle) after the Norman Conquest, along with 4 cattle, 40 sheep and 10 goats. There are several explanations of the derivation of the name, Belstone, ranging from Baal's Ton (the Phoenicians' sun god's hill), Belle's Ham (Belle's Enclosure) to Belle Stan (Bell Rock). Who knows? All we do know is that it was Bellestam in the Domesday Book.

The first recorded priest, William de Speccot was appointed to the village church, St. Mary the Virgin in 1260 although the evidence is that it pre existed this date. Parts of the present church date from the 14c and 15c, although the bulk of what we see today was restored in 1881. From at least the 13C, the villagers were granted Venville rights in exchange for paying rents to the Duchy of Cornwall who owned the Forest of Dartmoor. These rights covered 'all things that may do them good except vert (green oak) and venison'. In practice this meant tubary (turf), estover (rushes and bracken), piscary (fishing), shooting, swaling (burning), sand, gravel & stone, and, probably most important, pasturage. Some of these rights persist to the present day, now coming under the control of the Dartmoor Commoners Council (set up in 1965) and the Dartmoor National Park Authority.

It is in these rights that we can see the major industries of the area - farming, mining and woollen cloth. The earliest mention of a tinner in the village comes in the 15C. A copper mine had opened in 1823 and there was a granite works in the village from 1875. Weavers are first mentioned in 1524, the 'Serge Woollen Factory' in 1782 and Cleave Mill was reopened after a fire in 1810.

But it was agriculture that was the main occupation. From 50 acres under cultivation at the time of Domesday to about 800 acres, employing 97% of the Belstone families in 1811, farming was predominant. There are still about 725 farmed acres today but the trend has been towards fewer, larger farms employing far less workers. (From 18 farms, on average 45 acres to 5 farms, on average 148 acres). This has come about by hedge removal, machinery and changing farm practices. In 1841 60% of the land was under wheat, barley & oats, 5% was woodland, 1% orchards, the remainder was pasture and homesteads. On the moor, until about 1800, deer and ponies were predominant. After an agreement over
venville rents, cattle and sheep farming grew in popularity. A survey in 1921 claimed 1700 sheep, 425 bullocks and 100 horses for Belstone. I do not have figures for the present day, but household statistics point towards a changing and dropping population since the 1960s. In 1851, of the over 200 inhabitants, 52% were born in the parish and only 4% came from outside Devon. In 1901 this figure dropped to 38% with 17% outside the county. Now, only 15% of the inhabitants were born in the parish.

But then, just before the civil war, which saw Cromwell's soldiers march through the village, Belstone sent some of its own to help populate America. A Thomas Bliss and his family settled in Boston and Connecticut and there are some of their descendants today, proudly tracing their ancestry. With regard to the Norman inheritance, one side of Baldwin's family held it until 1420 when it passed to another branch of the family. In 1600, two thirds of the manor passed to the Rolle family and about 1750 the remaining third passed to the Rev. Joshua Hole. In 1887 Charles Woolcombe took control of the Rolle family holdings, which stayed with the family until Jack Reddaway bought it in 1990.

A rough précis from the excellent
"The Book of Belstone" Chris and Marion Walpole 2002