Bratton Clovelly is a picturesque parish in the Lifton Hundred of West Devon, brimming in history and a continuity that results in modern-day farms being traceable to medieval times. It is a sprawling rural parish centred on Bratton Village, with about 400 inhabitants maintaining a busy parish life to this day. The continuity of place is also reflected in the extensive records that have survived through the centuries for the people and properties of Bratton Clovelly, making it a treasure trove for local history and genealogical study
Bratton Clovelly was historically a parish of about 8,000 acres, situated 9 miles west of Okehampton, 10 miles east of Launceston and the River Tamar and 13 miles north of Tavistock. The landscape is one of green, rolling meadows, pastures and fields with the rugged Dartmoor looming in the east. The environment was radically changed in 1989 with the opening of the massive Roadford Reservoir that provides most of the freshwater supply to Southwest England but encroaches upon the western points of the parish.
At least since early medieval times, the parish was formed of two detached parts. The larger part of the parish to the east includes Bratton Village while the smaller part of the parish, separated by an area of Thrushelton parish, runs west to the River Wolf that feeds Roadford Reservoir. In 1885, a boundary change re-assigned the land and 63 inhabitants of the smaller part of Bratton Clovelly parish to Broadwoodwidger.
In Roman times, a fort was built at Broadbury on the northern edge of the parish, referred to as ‘Broadbury Castle’. Unfortunately, a farmer paid £14 in 1872 to have the remains levelled. Bratton is then mentioned in Anglo-Saxon times as a place of manumission, the freeing of slaves often by those professing their Christian faith. These manumissions frequently took place at crossroads and Bratton Clovelly has long been known as a place for travellers on such crossroads. By Domesday, three places in the parish are described including Bratton, Godescote which merged with the Bratton manor to become the separate western part of the parish, as well as Boasley situated on the eastern side of the parish.
By the fourteenth century, the parish name had evolved to Bratton Clovelly and a substantial number of manor rolls from 1377 to the seventeenth century promise to shed light on the medieval and Reformation periods. The first roll was translated long ago and, with the help of high quality digitisation by the Devon Record Office, I am in the process of having the remaining rolls translated over the next few years. The parish attracted a higher tax assessment than Okehampton in the fourteenth century but this area of Devon experienced population decline through the Middle Ages. The 1377 Manor Roll provides some evidence of the challenges faced when it reports that three workers were fined because they took excess pay against the 1351 Statute of Labourers which was intended to maintain wages at a level similar to those before the arrival of the Black Death. Fortunately, much is known about the ownership of Bratton manor during the medieval period from several sources, for example T. Whale’s excellent 1895 article, Manors of Bratton Clovelly.
Later times saw the continuation of the agricultural community. The parish remains vibrant today with farms that have stood for centuries. There are thirty listed buildings in the parish, including some with features dating back to medieval times.