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Okehampton – on the edge of the moor
Okehampton has been greeting visitors for over 2000 years. Some were invaders rather than visitors! The area was initially settled in the bronze age, extensive evidence of which can still be found on the slopes of surrounding moorland.
Saxon rule came in the 7th century; the name 'Ocmundtune', meaning settlement by the Ockement, is first recorded in AD 980 as a place where slaves were freed at a cross-roads so they could choose their own destiny. The Saxon settlement was probably built up around the parish church, which still stands over half a mile from the modern town.
The Saxon lords were overthrown however, by Norman conquerors. Baldwin de Brion, the first Norman Sheriff established Okehampton Castle as the administration centre of his vast estates in Devon. These passed by marriage to the Courtenay family, who rebuilt the castle as a lavish but defended country retreat. Then, in 1538, Henry VIII seized the estate and had Henry; the 9th Parl, beheaded for conspiracy.
The town grew in importance during the Middle Ages, but the great castle never saw a shot fired in anger. Strangely, this remained the case even during the Civil War, where Okehampton was careful not to take sides. The forces of both the Royalists and Roundheads used the town as a garrison at some stage.
Visitors today can step back into the past with a visit to the substantial ruins of Okehampton Castle, which dramatically stand just a short distance from the Town Centre and is administered by English Heritage.
If ever there was an industrial "revolution", it was on Dartmoor during the Middle Ages! The technology; scale and political organisation of the tin industry was truly amazing. Trade in tin and wool created wealth, which led to the rebuilding of many local churches. Much of this history can be explored at the Museum of Dartmoor Life, where you'll find a variety of relics tracing the history of the moor and its people down the years.
The extraordinary tale of the 1549 Prayer Book Rebellion hails from these parts. Over 800 local villagers and Cornishmen were killed in the civil unrest. The final battle took place near Sampford Courtenay, a village just a few minutes drive from Okehampton.
Okehampton was a so-called "rotten borough", returning two members of parliament from the 1300's right up to 1832. Many well known names represented the town, such as Clive of India and William Pitt the Elder, despite having no connection with it, only a qualifying land holding.
Other famous visitors included John and Charles Wesley, who received a warm welcome from the Quakers at nearby Sticklepath. The famous white rock where John Wesley preached can still be seen.
Finally the 19th Century saw great improvements in communications, with better roads and in 1871 the coming of the railway, which resulted in many more visitors coming to see the town’s greatest heritage asset Dartmoor.
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