Pre Roman and Roman Halberton

The first settlers

In 1983 the Tiverton Archaeological Group uncovered a fragment of a Lower Palaeolithic hand axe in a field just to the south of what is now Mid Devon Moorings on the Grand Western Canal. In roughly the same area at least three Lower Palaeolithic stone hand-axes have been found on the surface of a farm at Rowridge, Halberton. Each is approximately 3 1/2 inches long and two of the axes have a reverse S-shaped twist on the face. What is Lower Palaeolithic? It is more commonly known as the Stone Age, the period of time which encompasses all human existence up until 10,000 years ago. It is impossible to accurately date the Halberton hand axes. They might be incredibly old but they might be relatively recent.

The Bronze Age

In Exeter Museum, somewhere in the archaeology archive, is a flint axe. That axe dates back to the early Bronze Age (anything between 5,000 and 3,500 years ago) and was discovered at the top of a long garden behind a house on the north side of High Street, Halberton. When the net is cast more widely across the whole of what is now the parish of Halberton the number of discoveries dating back to the Bronze Age is, certainly for the uninitiated, perhaps something of a surprise.

The table below gives an indication of where such finds have been made in the parish, but be aware that artefacts are usually found when people go out looking for them so the fact that there have been no finds in some areas of the parish does not mean there are no Bronze Age relics there; it might only mean that no-one has found them yet. The second problem is that we only have hard evidence (in this case stuff made out of flint and stone) to go on. Whatever else may have been around during the Bronze Age (for example items made of wood, cloth etc) rotted away and disappeared millennia ago.

Rowridge FarmSeveral hundred flint artefacts including arrowheads, fabricators, knives, scrapers, axe and mace heads (now in Tiverton and Exeter museums)
High Street, HalbertonEarly Bronze Age flint axe
Hartnoll FarmFlints and chert and hundreds of flint and chert artefacts including scrapers, axes and arrowheads and 607 pieces of flint recovered in 1983
West of Five BridgesFlint and chert artefacts including arrowheads and scrapers (there is an outcrop of chert nearby)
Langland FarmFlints
Battens FarmFlint tools, scrapers, awl, blades
West of Exeter HillFlint waste, black flint knife
South of the Link RoadSeveral worked flints
East of Exeter HillFlints

Halberton as a parish didn’t exist in the Bronze Age. What little we know about those times only really starts to make sense if we cast the net even wider still and we don’t have to look very far to find all sorts of similar findings in nearby locations. Here are but three examples:

In December 2016 a trio of Bronze Age items was unearthed by Exmouth Detectorists at Burlescombe. They found a copper alloy bracelet fragment, a copper alloy palstave axe and a copper alloy casting jet, all dating back to between 1400-1300 B.C. The items were described by the British Museum as being in ‘consistently excellent condition’.

Also at Burlescombe archaeological excavations in 2005 at the Town Farm Quarry revealed the existence of two Bronze Age burnt mounds with timber-lined troughs and pits. Material from one of the burnt mounds was dated to 1590BC to 1490BC, the other 1530BC to 1430BC.

The valley of the River Lowman, around where it is crossed by the North Devon Link Road, is littered with evidence of Bronze Age society, including pits, ditches, burrows (burial mounds) and flint scatters.

So, we have ample proof that Bronze Age society was alive and well in this part of the world. The existence of flint scatter in any location means that people were living close by. There can be no doubt that 3,500 years ago people were living in the area that we know as Halberton parish.

Based on finds made elsewhere in the country we can safely assume that by the end of the Bronze Age (about 800BC) family groups would have lived in small roundhouses with thatched or turf roofs in the vicinity of where the flint scatters have been found. They would have cleared land to create small fields enclosed by thorn hedges or similar natural materials. Their domesticated livestock included cattle, sheep and goats. People travelled from place to place along tracks, mostly on foot, but horse riding was becoming more common and wheeled carts may have been in use (the oldest wheel found in Britain is about 3,300 years old). Measured in terms of sheer numbers of flints, the finds at Hartnoll and Rowridge Farms stand out. Was there a “flint factory” operating at those locations thousands of years before anyone thought of putting up a Business Centre and a bio-digester nearby?

The Iron Age

By 800BC, about 1,700 years after the Hittites discovered how to do it, the technique of smelting iron ore to make tools and weapons reached Britain. The way society organised itself started to change in response to a rising population and individual families joined with others to form tribal groups from which larger alliances or kingdoms were created. In Devon and Cornwall the dominant Dumnonii tribe emerged (the name probably translates to the ‘masters’ or ‘lords’).

The Dumnonii tribe constructed at least 73 hill forts in Devon. Although there are no hill forts in Halberton parish (because there are no suitable hills), there are a number close by. Cranmore Castle, south of Tiverton is the closest, others are at Cadbury Castle (west of Bickleigh), Bury Castle (at Bradninch) and Castle Close (about 2 ½ kilometres north west of Bolham).

We know that the inhabitants of the Blackdown Hills started smelting iron during the mid to late Iron Age. The method of manufacture was relatively simple and required two natural resources, wood and ironstone, both readily available in that area. A pit was dug, ironstone was removed from underneath the topsoil and then heated in a clay-lined pit or small chimney (a Bloomery) that was fired with charcoal to produce small quantities of metal. Iron working pits occur quite widely on the Blackdown Hills and in the Culm Valley there are several examples including one at Tedburrow Farm, about 1 kilometre west of Hemyock village.


Archaeological evidence confirms that the Romans were in the Halberton area (for example near the border with Sampford Peverell) and nearby (for example the two forts in Cullompton) but we cannot we be sure about the impact that they had on the local rural life as it had existed in the late Iron Age.

The traditional view of the Roman invasion (their leaders and armies arrived, took over, ran the country and introduced crude locals to a sophisticated way of life) is being undermined by archaeological evidence. It is now thought that most people, particularly so in the far south west, saw little change in their day to day life other than that they had to get on with it in a different political context. For most people the likelihood is that when the Romans arrived it was rather like any other change of Government; new public servants were appointed, new laws were introduced and (inevitably) someone fiddled around with the amount of tax that had to be paid. In return, a new currency arrived, roads were created or improved and as a result enterprising people found new markets for trade had opened up. Two discoveries in Halberton illustrate this.

The first is the arrival of what we can think of as the first version of the “Euro”; the Roman coins that have been unearthed in the parish.

The second is the road network. Post Hill (the old A373) may be on the approximate alignment of a Roman road between Tiverton and Halberton although as yet the evidence for this is slight, based mainly on place name evidence. There are some remarkably straight stretches on other local roads too, which might indicate something Roman going on. The possible line of a Roman road was referred to in a charter of 958 and Roman pottery was found at Spratford Bridge in 1993. The name Spratford derives from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘paved road’ and ‘ford’.