S OME of the early Saxon towns were built on or
near the site of Roman cities and stations, as in the case of Exeter, Cirencester, Bath, &c. But generally speaking, the Roman cities, which we learn from Gildas had been most of them deserted by the Britons during the earlier Saxon invasions, and not reoccupied even when (at the time he wrote) those attacks had ceased, were left in their half ruinous condition, to become quarries for the builders of the next period, and then gradually to disappear under natural accumulations of earth and vegetation. The Saxons preferred building for themselves on other spots and on a different plan. "The fortress," says Mr. Kemble, " required by a simple agri- cultural people is not a massive pile, with towers and curtains, devised to resist the attacks of reckless soldiers, the assault of battering trains, the sap of skilful engineers, or the slow reduction of famine. A gentle hill, covered with a slight earthwork, or even a stout hedge, and capacious enough to receive all who require protection, suffices to repress the sudden invasions of marauding enemies, unfurnished with materials for a siege or provisions to carry on a blockade. Here and there such may have been found within the villages or on the border of the Mark, tenanted perhaps by the earl or noble, with his countess, and thus uniting the characters of the mansion and the fortress. Around such a dwelling were con- gregated the numerous poor and unfree settlers, who obtained a scanty and precarious living on the chieftain's land, as well as the idlers whom his luxury, his ambition, or his ostentation attracted to his vicinity. Here, too, may have been found the rude manu- facturers whose craft supplied the wants of the castellan and his comrades, who may gradually and by slow experience have dis- covered that the outlying owners also could sometimes offer a market for their productions, and who, as matter of favour, could obtain permission from the lord to exercise their skill on behalf of his neighbours. Similarly round the church or the cathedral must bodies of men have gathered, glad to obtain its protection, share its charities, and aid in ministering to its wants. (The growth of a city round a monastery is well instanced in the case of Bury St. Edmund's.) I hold it undeniable that these people could not feed themselves, and equally so that food would find its way to them ; that the neighbouring farmer —instead of confining his cultivation to the mere amount necessary for the support of his household or the discharge of the Royal dues —would on their account produce and accumulate a capital, through which ho could obtain from them articles of commerce and enjoyment which he had neither the leisure nor the skill to make. In this way we may trace the growth of barter, and the most important habit of resorting to fixed spots for commercial and social purposes. In this process the lord had himself a direct and paramount interest," as it indirectly swelled his wealth and importance. With the growth of commerce and the extension of outside relations independence of local influences would follow, and the power of the lord would gradually cease to be paramount. " The first settlers on a noble's land may have been unfree ; serfs and oppressed labourers from other estates may have been glad to take refuge among them, but in this unmixed state they did not long remain. There is no doubt that freemen gradually united with them under the lord's protection or in his alliance, that strangers sojourned among them in hope of profits from traffic, and hence that a race gradually grew up in whom the orig inal feelings of the several classes survived in a greatly modified form. To this, though generally so difficult to trace step by step, we owe the difference of the urban government in different cities ; distinctions in detail more frequent than is com- monly supposed, and which can be unhesitatingly referred to the earliest period of urban existence, if not in fact, at least in prin- ciple ; institutions representing in a shadowy manner the dif- ferent conditions under which they arose, and for the most part
separated in the strongest contrast from the ordinary feting pre- valent upon the land." The inhabitants of the towns which thus grew up formed themselves into guilds quite distinct from the trading (hose or hanse) guilds and from the guilds of crafts of later times, and "in each town taken together they formed a compact and substantial body, called in general the Burhwara, and sometimes' the Burghers' Club,' and it appears that as such they were in possession of real property as a corporate body." Where they could, they obtained a gerifa, or sheriff of their own, who took the name of portgerifa, or burhgerifa, portreeve, or burghreeve, who admin- istered justice or led the trainbands to the field. Hence arose the cities, counties of themselves. Thus strengthened, we find the burghers even in the case of the powerful Athelstan, treating with the King "as power to power, under their portreeves and Bishop, engaging indeed to follow his advice, if he have any to give which shall be for their advantage, but nevertheless constituting their own guildship or commune by their own authority, on a basis of mutual affiance and guarantee, as to themselves seemed good."
Most of the towns of any consideration in the West Country, as we have already said, were sea-ports or river-ports, and there- fore owed their origin to somewhat different causes from those described by Mr. Kemble in the passages we have just quoted ; but his account no doubt applies to the inland towns, and the sea- ports at least organized themselves in a very similar manner. Dorchester and Exeter we have already mentioned as towns of Roman origin or on the site of Roman stations. Bridport appears to have been a considerable place for those days in the reign of Edward the Confessor, containing then 120 houses subject to every service to the King and paying geld for five hides, and also a mint master, who paid to the King one mark of silver and 20 shillings on the change of coinage. The manor originally belonged to the Crown, and was for several ages held of it by the burgesses by fee- farm. Its prosperity chiefly arose from the hemp manufacture, the wild the neighbourhood producing that commodity largely. Lyme- Regis bad its origin in a charter granted in 774 by Cenwulf, King of the West Saxons, to the Church of Sherbourne of the land of one mansion near the west bank of the River Lim, and not far from the place where it falls into the sea, so that salt for the said church Should be boiled there, for the supplying of various wants. In Domesday Survey Lym is divided among three owners, the Bishop of Salisbury, Glastonbury Abbey, and William Belet, one of the King's servants. It then contained 14 " saltmen." It made no figure, however, till the reign of Edward I., who granted to it the liberties of a haven and borough. After this time it increased much, and in Edward III.'s reign furnished 4 ships and 62 mariners for the siege of Calais. After this, and during the reigns of Henry IV. and V., it was much impoverished by attack's from the French and other casualties. In Elizabeth's time it was scarcely reputed a seaport town or haven, and chiefly inhabited by fishermen. It, however, revived again, and at the close of the seventeenth century was again a considerable port, frequented by wealthy merchants, who built good houses. But the wars with the French from that time once more greatly reduced it, and it is now chiefly known as a watering-place. This may be taken as an example of the history of some of the smaller seaport towns. Oakhampton, on the north of Dartmoor, or Monk-Oakhampton, as it has been called from the time of Domesday Book, must have been founded by some church, but in the time of the Survey the manor belonged to Baldwin de Brion, lord of the barony of Oakhampton, who held it in demesne. Crediton, on the River Credy, in the north of the Vale of Exeter, was evidently a place of considerable importance in Saxon times, as no less than 12 Bishops had their seats there between the years 921 and 1049, when the see was removed to Exeter. It was also one of the principal seats of the woollen manufacture from its first introduc- tion into this country. The serge market was removed hence to Exeter in this reign of Queen Elizabeth, but the manufacture of serges continued to be extensive till after a great fire in 1743. " Very notable," says Risdon, " has been this town for her birth- Winifrid, surnamed Boniface," who became Archbishop of Metz. He converted many of the Hessians, Thuringians, and Frisians to Christianity," and was " canonized a saint." He was several times employed as Papal Legate, but was eventually mur- dered by the Frisians and buried in Fulda Abbey, which he had founded. He lived in the middle of the eighth century. Tiverton- Two-ford-town—so called from its situation between the rivers Exe and Loman, is built on the side of a gently sloping hill. It was only a village in Alfred's time, but had twelve tythings belonging to it, and was governed by a Portreeve. The whole hundred of Tiverton in the reign of Edward the Confessor was held of that King by his vassals. Under the Normans the honour was granted to the Rivers family, afterwards Earls of Devon. A con- siderable increase took place in its population on its Earl building a castle there and making it his residence. It was one of the first to establish a woollen manufacture. In 1500, on the cessation of the Wars of the Roses, this manufacture became very important in Devonshire. In the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth, Tiverton made a sudden stride, and doubled its population in thirty years, becoming then the principal place in Devonshire for the woollen manufacture. A pestilence and a great fire in 1598 checked it for a time, but in ten or twelve years it had so far recovered as to be called " the chief market town of the West and nurse of the country." Dartmouth is most remarkably situated, from the bay which the river forms at its mouth—the entrance of the Dart into it, and its exit into the sea appearing from many points closed up by the folding of the banks, which rise into high wooded hills, so as to make the bay resemble a lake, forming a natural roadstead for shipping. The place originally consisted of three distinct villages, Clifton, Dartmouth, and Hardness. It does not appear in Saxon times, but we mention it here, not only because it is more convenient to comprehend these towns of the West Country in one general view, but also because it illustrates a stage in the history of towns. The manor was granted by William the Con- queror to Judhael de Totnais, from whom it passed through two other families to the Tewksburys, merchants, and they released it to the use of the town in the fifteenth of Edward III. The Crown seems to have resumed it, and granted part of it about this time to Guy de Brion. In the reign of Edward IV. it belonged to the Crown, and was granted first to Neville, Lord Faulconbridge, and then to the Duke of Clarence. Again escheating to the Crown, it was given by Henry VIII. to the Carews, and again in Mary's reign forfeited to the Crown. Queen Elizabeth in the twenty-third of her reign granted it to three persons—Downing, Asheton, and Robert Peter, and from the two latter it came to the Corporation. In 1243 William de Cantilupe agreed with the burgesses of Dartmouth that a market should be held weekly on Wednesday and on other days, for which a fine was then paid. By a charter of Edward M.'s in 1342 to the burgesses of the three towns, the right was granted of choosing a Mayor, of holding pleas, &c. The lord of the town seems to have been jealous of these new rights, for in 1314 we find an agreement confirmed by the King that the Mayor should be sworn before the steward of Guy de Brion, and that they should hold pleas jointly. By the Subsidy roll of 1377 it appears• that there were then 506 persons in the town of Dartmouth above the age of fourteen exclusive of clergy and mendicants, who paid no poll-tax. It was a port for the woollen manufactures of Ash- burton, and in connection with what we have already said of the early tin trade it is significant that in the fourteenth of Richard II. the town obtained an Act of Parliament that no tin should be exported out of the realm but from the port of Dartmouth, but this Act was repealed in the Parliament of the next year. The fleet for the Holy Land is said to have assembled here in 1190, and Dartmouth contributed 31 ships and 757 mariners to Edward Ill's Calais expedition. The French attacked it, but were repulsed in 1404, but it was not till 1481 that Edward IV. agreed with the town for the building of a strong tower at the entrance of the har- bour to protect it. Plymouth, at the confluence of the Tamar and the Plym, is said to have borne the name of Tameorwerth, in the Saxon times, then to have been called after the Conquest South Town or Sutton, and in the reign of Edward I. Sutton Prior or Sutton Valletort, part of the town being then on the lands of the Prior of Plympton and part on those of the Valletort family. In Henry VI.'s reign, however, it was called Plym-mouth. Till the reign of Henry II. it was a mere fishing-place. In the reign of Henry III. great privileges were granted to the Prior of Plympton, and he henceforth became the real lord, of the place. Edward I. tried vainly to deprive him of his privileges, but a jury in 1313 confirmed them to him on payment to the Crown of a fine farm rent annually of 291. 6s. 8d. Among these privileges are enumerated leasing of houses as lord of the fee, having a manor view of frank-pledge, assize of bread and beer, a ducking-stool and pillory, and the right of fishery of the waters from the entrance of Catwater to the head of the river Plym. In Edward III.'s reign John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall, got the manor into his hands, and a sharp contest ensued with the Prior, but a special jury again decided in favour of the latter. By this time Plymouth had been much enlarged by the prudence of the Priors of Plympton, who granted building leases for small fines. The French now began to make attacks on it. They were repulsed at first, in 1338, by Hugh Courtenay, Earl of Devon, but they renewed their attacks in 1350, 1378, and 1400, and in the sixth of Henry IV. they landed and burnt upwards of 600 houses,
though they could not take the castle and the higher part of the town. From the effects of this catastrophe the town again dwindled down to the time of Henry VI. to a mere fishing-village. Then, however, the enterprise and judgment of the Prior of Plympton once more led to its rebuilding and enlargement, and it again became a flourishing port. In this reign also (about the year 1438) on petition from the inhabitants, the place was incorporated as Plymouth, and had the right to choose a Mayor and build a wall round it for protection. In the fourth of Edward IV. this charter was confirmed and enlarged, and on payment of a fee-farm rent to the Prior of Plympton of 411. and ten marks to the Prior of Bath, the lordship of the fee of the manor was vested in the Mayor and Commonalty of Plymouth,with the other privileges of the Prior of Plympton ; and on the dissolution of the monasteries Henry VIII. completely enfranchised the town, and granted fresh powers to it over the adjacent Church lands. In Queen Elizabeth's reign, through Sir Francis Drake, a new charter was granted to the Corporation defining its constitution more definitely; and the same naval hero at his own sole cost made a winding channel of nearly twenty-four miles in length, by which a stream of water was brought to the town from Dartmoor, wells being also erected by him at various parts for the benefit of the town. It suffered greatly from the plague in 1579 and 1581, the conta- gion being in the first instance communicated from a Smyrna ship. In 1588 a fleet of 120 sail assembled in Plymouth Sound, under the command of Lord Howard, and sailed thence to join the Exeter ships at Torbay, and then fight the Spanish Armada. Many natives of Plymouth, as well as the other western towns, served on board this fleet.
On the creeks opening into the most westward estuary on the south coast of Cornwall arc situated three rival towns, Truro, Penryn, and Falmouth, none of them of the very ear- liest date. Truro began its existence perhaps about a century after the Conquest, and at an early period possessed rights over the whole waters of the estuary and its creeks ; and in. Eliza- beth's time the Mayor still bore the title of Mayor of Falmouth as well. It may have been incorporated as early as between 1130 and 1140. It became with Penzance the principal coinage town for the tin districts of Cornwall, and the chief export town for the same. Elizabeth gave it a new charter. Penryn arose in the latter reigns of the Tudors, and was incorporated by James I. Its rise was viewed with great jealousy by Truro, as was that also of Falmouth after the year 1613. Penzance (formerly called Burriton) the most westerly town of England, only eleven miles from the Land's End, is first mentioned in 1332, when the right to hold a market in the town was granted to Alice de Lisle, lady of the manor of Alverton. It was incorporated in 1614. It is the great fishing town of the west. As the seat of a monastery and a convent, Bodmin belongs, if not to the British, to the very earliest Saxon period of Cornish history. It is a matter of dispute whether it was a see. In the year 1179 the burgesses paid a fine of 100 shillings for setting up a guild without license. Not many years afterwards they obtained a guild merchant from Richard, Earl of Cornwall, with exemption from toll throughout Cornwall. Edward I. and Edward III. confirmed this charter, and the latter added the privilege of buying and selling wool and other merchandise without tell throughout the Earldom. Barnstable— whose harbour is now blocked up with mud—is said to have been enfranchised by Athelstan, and was great in the reign of the Conqueror. The origin of Saxon Taunton with King mile we have already alluded to, and the accounts already given of the various origins of towns in the West Country will more or less apply to the remaining towns of importance within that area.