Morchard Bishop in the Eighteenth Century

By Bob Pope

The parish of Morchard Bishop is bounded to the east by the watershed of the south flowing Creedy River system and to the west by, what was in the eighteenth century, a marshy tributary of the north flowing Taw River system. The parish was bisected by the main turnpike road from Exeter to Barnstaple. The village of Morchard Bishop sat astride this road serving the parish and the travellers passing through it. The village was clustered round a triangular shaped green with the turnpike to Barnstaple following the west side. A road from the south end of the green provided access to the Parish Church of St Mary's. This road, known as "The Street", was lined with cottages on both sides. At the junction of The Street and the turnpike was, and still is, a coaching inn serving both the villagers and travellers.

Elsewhere within the parish were a number of hamlets with cottages clustered round one or more farms, the most notable being Oldborough, Frost, Knathorne, Middlecott, Rudge Arundell, Weeke and Rolstone. In addition there were many outlying farms and small holdings and at least two water mills at Wigham and Bugford.

The population of the Parish was about 2,000 in the early part of the century but then declined to about 1,700 by the beginning of the next century. These figures appear to be at variance with those given by the Rectors in their replies to the Visitation queries, many of the outlying farms having several families living there of which the Rector may not have been aware. The two main occupations of the inhabitants were agriculture and weaving.

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