Introduction: Research Areas

3. Importance of urban centres

The patterns of population movement evident from the oath rolls could also be examined to study the links between the towns at which the oaths were administered and their rural hinterlands. The locations at which the oath was sworn can be placed into three groups. The first category in fact consists of the single most common place of swearing, namely the Castle in Exeter where 4,325 individuals took the oaths. The second group comprises other market towns, of which there were 19 accounting for 13,735 oath-takers.133 The final group of oath-taking venues can be categorised as small towns or large villages, of which there were 25 in total with 7,269 oath-takers. As noted above, Exeter drew oath-takers from all over the county and accounted for the longest distances travelled. The full extent of the relationship between other urban centres and the surrounding area is slightly obscured by the fact that the larger incorporated towns fell outside the jurisdiction of the county justices and so were not locations at which the oaths were administered to the wider population. However, the directions in which people travelled in order to swear the oaths may tell us something about the areas served by certain towns. The nature of the south-west economy, and the importance of the cloth trade ‘ensured a strong connection between town and countryside, given the strong rural roots of much cloth production’.134 Thus the parishes from which people travelled to different locations in order to swear could tell us more about the nature of these relationships.

Initial research into the places of residence of oath-takers in specific towns does not always reveal an equal distribution of people travelling from all parts of the surrounding area. For example, in the west of the county three main centres of oath-taking were the market towns of Holsworthy and Tavistock and the moderately large parish of Buckland Monachorum. Holsworthy drew the majority of its oath-takers from parishes within a radius of approximately 10 miles to the north, east, and south of the town, and as far as the western edge of the county including two parishes now in Cornwall.135 In contrast, the vast majority of the 799 men and women who swore the oaths in Tavistock came from parishes to the north of the town, no further north than Sourton to the east and Virginstowe to the west. Only a handful of oath-takers travelled from the area to the south of Tavistock. The reason for this appears to have been the availability of Buckland Monachorum as a location for taking the oaths. This large village attracted oath-takers from a more limited range of parishes, taking in most of the area to the west of Dartmoor and south of the River Tavy, and as far south as Sheepstor to the east and the parishes of St. Budeaux and Stoke Damerel to the south-west.136 Thus most of those who travelled to Buckland came from the band of parishes between Dartmoor and the Tamar, enclosed within the rivers Tavy and Plym.137

The case of Buckland Monachorum highlights the extent to which the local landscape influenced where people travelled to in order to swear the oaths. The straight line distance between Egg Buckland and Plympton St. Mary is shorter than that between Egg Buckland and Buckland Monachorum. However, only eight people made the former journey across the River Plym, compared to the 14 who took the latter trip to swear their oaths. Similarly Shaugh Prior is located at an approximately equal distance between Buckland and Plympton St. Mary, yet only 3 oath-takers crossed the Plym in order to travel to Buckland compared with the 23 who swore in Plympton. More detailed research would shed further light on the nature of links between local areas, and the physical characteristics that influenced people’s choice of location for swearing the oaths. This in turn would help to create a more detailed picture of the regional networks that existed in early Georgian Devon and the geographical horizons of eighteenth century Devonians. The extent of links between different parts of the county would have been influenced by factors such as distance, hospitality or otherwise of the landscape and the economic ties between towns and their rural hinterlands.

The fact that 18,060 oath-takers swore at market towns (including Exeter) is worthy of further comment. If it could be demonstrated that the oaths were administered on the same days that markets took place in Exeter and the other 19 market towns then this might provide evidence that people combined the oath-taking with a regular trip to market. However, based on available evidence of the days of the week on which markets were held at the 20 locations, there appears to have been no direct correlation between the days chosen to administer the oaths and the market day in that town.138 Thus of the 149 separate recorded oath-taking sessions only 18 took place at a market town on a known market day. This corresponds with 4,446 oath-takers or 17.6% of the total who swore. Thus whilst there may be some correlation between the locations from which people travelled in order to swear the oaths and the area served by a particular market town, it cannot be assumed that those who swore the oaths on market days were necessarily there to conduct other business as well. However, there may be some connection between regular economic activity and place of swearing and this is another area that would benefit from further study.

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  1. Market towns were identified on the basis of Jonathan Barry, ‘Towns and Processes of Urbanisation’, 421. [back]
  2. J. Barry, ‘South-West’ in Peter Clark (ed.), The Cambridge Urban History of Britain (vol. 2, Cambridge, 2000), 80. [back]
  3. North Petherwin and Werrington. A few individuals travelled from parishes further than ten miles away, the furthest being two inhabitants of Broadwoodkelly who made the journey to Holsworthy. [back]
  4. A few of those who swore at Buckland came from further away, with one person each travelling from Bradstone and Ugborough. [back]
  5. The exceptions being the 66 inhabitants of Bere Ferres who took the short journey across the Tavy, and 14 from Vaultersholme tithing in Maker parish (now in Cornwall). [back]
  6. Again, this evidence is based on Barry, ‘Towns and Processes of Urbanisation’, 421. [back]