Friday, 6 April 2012


In the summer of 1984 Harold Fox, who was at that time a Senior Research Fellow of the University of Leicester, was on the shore at Starcross planning a lecture which became a paper which some seven years later became a book entitled, "The Evolution of the Fishing Village, Landscape and Society along the South Devon Coast, 1086 - 1550." (Leopard's Head Press, 2001.)

Many, if not most, of his examples of early activity come from the Estuary, particularly from Starcross,Kenton and Woodbury. His main thesis was, in a word, that the origins of permanent settlements on coast and estuary were often the consequence of the erection of 'cellars' or cabins set up by farmers who chose to build their houses well inland.

"Most of the rural settlements of Devon's coastal manors - typically small hamlets and isolated farms - were situated away from the shore and often out of sight of the sea. The reasons for this were probably fairly simple and basic: a desire to avoid the fiercest of winds and a need for security... Such considerations, and, in South Devon, rich farmland inland, drew rural settlements away from the coast. On the other hand, when and where fishing was a by-employment among farmers, fisheries in estuary or sea drew people towards the waters. The Devon solution to this tussle...was for farmers living inland to use cellar settlements, collections of storage huts on the beach which served as bases for their fishing operations."

Starcross gave him his best example of this evolution with farmer/fishers residing well inland but keeping their boats, nets and other tackle in sheds at the water's edge. In time, so the theory, the fishing village of Starcross evolved from these largely uninhabited buildings.

Professor Fox was a true scholar, able to study Latin texts and to interpret them. Sadly he died within weeks of his retirement in 2007. But so much work went into his monograph that he provides many answers to questions about the nature of the Estuary from the eleventh century to the sixteenth that are not to be found elsewhere .

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