Colyton Parish History Society

A Brief History of Colyton

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Pre-Roman Roman to Norman Middle-Ages 1550 to 1699 1700 to Present

Pre-Roman Colyton: Prehistoric men made fine flint hand-axes by exploiting the rich bands of black and grey flint in and around Colyton.
Bronze age hill forts and settlements  established at sites such as Blackbury Castle (500-400BC) and Woodbury Castle (450-100BC) indicate the type of defences around Colyton.
The nearest Bronze Age barrows are at Sidbury and Stockland. Coins dated 100-30BC were discovered near Axminster 6 miles from Colyton.

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Rivers, and the proximity of the sea played an important part in the history of Colyton. The rivers Axe and Coly meet 1 mile South of Colyton, (Coly is derived from Culli an old English word meaning narrow). The Axe flows into an estuary and a harbour, these would have been much closer to Colyton than they are today.  As a source of food and as a trading route, the sea was probably valuable to the early inhabitants of Colyton.
Pre-Roman Roman to Norman Middle-Ages 1550 to 1699 1700 to Present
Roman to Norman.
The RomansThe Romans
arrived and settled 1 miles south of Colyton.
Although this settlement formed almost the extreme of the Roman advance westwards, their roads show that Colyton was important strategically and commercially. The Fosse way started from alongside Colyton and stretched as far as Lincoln.  Roads also radiated from Colyton to Sidmouth, Lyme Regis and Exeter. Roman ships would be able to sail up the estuary to within almost a mile of Colyton.

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The Saxons.

When the Romans left, the arrival of Anglo and Hiberno Saxons brought about major social and economic changes. Colyton became a 'ton-ship' with local political and legal importance. In AD827 Colyton had a Saxon Parliament (the Witenagamot). During the period AD 800- 900 a beautifully carved Saxon cross was erected; the The Normans restored cross can be seen inside the church today.
The present circular pattern of the streets was a feature of Saxon townships.
The Normans. The Domesday book (AD1086) included Colyton as part of the West Saxon Royal Demesne. Colyton's church was remodelled and extended by the Normans during the period AD1090 to 1200.
Pre-Roman Roman to Norman Middle-Ages 1550 to 1699 1700 to Present

The Middle Ages
The sea port, once 1 mile from Colyton, was by now 3 miles away because the estuary had silted up over the centuries. Despite this disadvantage, Colyton became even more prosperous; trading probably in wool, leather, salt and silk.

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The richness, size and wealth of the additions to its Norman church exceeds what would be expected of such a small community. The tombs and memorials of the local dynasties, Pole, Yonge, and Courtney also indicate the presence of wealthy merchants and land owners. The huge West Window originated in the 14th century.
Pre-Roman Roman to Norman Middle-Ages 1550 to 1699 1700 to Present

1550 to 1699
Some thatched stone cottages and larger merchant's houses still survive from this era. The construction of the fine and rare octagonal lantern on top of the church tower indicates the wealth of Colyton during this period.
The Feoffees: Landowner Henry Courtney was beheaded by Henry VIII and his lands were confiscated. Local merchants and yeomen raised 1,000 marks and bargained with the Crown for the return of that portion of the estate which lay within Colyton. (1,000 marks was about 400 times the annual income of a successful merchant). The community regained the properties under a Deed of Enfeoffment on condition that an assembly of Feoffees ensured that all the income was spent on " good and commendable" uses for the community.

The Feoffees were inaugurated in 1546 and they established the first Grammar school in 1559. Later, they were responsible for channelling fresh water into the town and for forming the early fire service. They have been a registered charity for many years. See the web site at:

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for some years and to this day the Chamber of Feoffees meets regularly and works with the town council for the benefit of the community.
At an annual banquet the names of the original merchants and farmers who secured the Colyton lands from Henry VIII are read out and documents displayed.
The Civil War.Colyton, Rebel Town
The Colyton Parish registers contain many entries of soldiers killed in skirmishes in the Civil War of 1643. Colyton was the virtual battleground being situated between the Royalists at Colcombe Castle near Axminster and the Parliamentarians stationed at Stedcombe near Lyme Regis. 
Rebel Town. During the Monmouth rebellion of 1664, Colyton earned an entry in Chancery records as "the most rebellious town in Devon".
Please click the 'Rebel Town' button on the menu for more information about this topic.
Pre-Roman Roman to Norman Middle-Ages 1550 to 1699 1700 to Present

1700 to the Present
PopulationBy 1851 the population had increased to 2,504, a sizeable country town at that time. The population is a little more than that figure today.
Trades in 1838. The records of 1838 show a remarkable range of trades in the town; market traders, farmers, millers, butchers, bakers, shoemakers, coopers, curriers, druggist, a fishing rod maker, glove maker, tanner, gunsmith, linen drapers, foundry, maltsters, brewers, innkeepers, milliners, saddlers and harness makers, rope and twine maker, stone masons, surgeons, barbers, tin plate worker, watchmaker, wheelright.

Church and war memorial For details of the historic parish church click:-

Most are no longer operating in Colyton, but almost all the day-to-day requirements and services can still be bought in the towns thriving shops.
Several mills were powered by the fast flowing Coly, the millhouses still stand but the water wheels have since disintegrated.

The Church building. In 1904 the great West window of the church was restored. In 1933 a fire partly destroyed the church. Despite the hard times, the towns-people rallied round and the damaged part was rebuilt.

Restored Saxon Cross
During the rebuilding, parts of a Saxon cross were found built into the fabric of the tower. The Norman builders had broken the cross into blocks and used them to construct the tower.  The reconstructed cross is now exhibited inside the church.

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