Portrait of Bampton, Devon, in the Eighteenth Century

By Tom McManamon

In shape, Devon is very roughly square, and it has a town near each of the four corners - Barnstaple, Plymouth, and Exeter are nowadays large towns or cities, but the one on the fourth corner was equally large and important in medieval times but, mainly due to the topography and the lack of a coastline, it stagnated in its growth. That town is Bampton. Because of its topography - it nestles in a lush valley with no navigable river - the population of the town seems to have hovered around the 1,300-1,400 mark in recent centuries - at the end of the eighteenth century there were 1,364 people in the town, in 279 houses. Currently there are a little over 1,500, but with the new housing which has been created in recent years (and still is being), a current count of the houses is not known.

In common with the rest of the country, Bampton had its share of major upheavals in earlier centuries with the likes of the Norman Invasion of 1066 and the religious Reformation of the sixteenth century, and it took decades for life to return to something approaching normality. Added to this was the Civil War. The Royalist forces were in Bampton looting and burning for some six days over the last days of September and into October 1645, during which the constable was murdered by a king's trooper. Probably the population was looking forward to a long period of peace and quiet, but as far as the eighteenth century is concerned it was not to be, although the disquiet was not of the magnitude of earlier times. The discontent mainly concerned the wool, cloth, and leather workers who made up the bulk of the non-agricultural population and who at times were feeling hard done by.

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