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One Man's History

These notes by a local historian were first published as a series of four articles in the "Devon & Exeter Gazette" during December-January 1931-2.  They are the platform from which many a budding Denbury researcher has first viewed the historical landscape.  Though certain details have been challenged by later research, they still contain mostly useful, well-written material.  Almost every account of Denbury written since, whether in book reference, magazine article or online presentation bears their stamp, often in the form of unacknowledged quotations or allusions.  They represent the first attempt to draw together a body of research material - the first history of Denbury.

Notes on Denbury


John G. Hall

Part 1

Denbury is a Devonshire parish and village, very pleasantly situated close under the prominent and finely shaped regional landmark of Denbury Down, and facing the rich landscape of the undulating pastoral and wooded eastern borderland of Dartmoor.  On the outskirts of the village, towards West Ogwell, is obtained a truly magnificent prospect of the great granitic Moor - its vast and impressive sweep from the conspicuous heights of Hay Tor and Rippon Tor on the north and miles south-westward across the valley of the Dart river, comprising the high stern and bare continuous line of moorland in Holne Moor, Dean Moor, and Brent Moor. Haytor View One need not even go out of the main village street to have a fine view of the loftily perched double rock-pile of Hay Tor, nine miles distant.  The place is about 19 miles S.W. of Exeter, and three miles S.W. of Newton Abbot, its railway station, (and connected therewith by the Devon General omnibus service), while one mile from the Newton-Totnes main road at Two Mile Oak, and midway between Newton and both Ashburton and Totnes, in the Archdeaconry of Totnes and Rural Deanery of Moreton and Diocese of Exeter.

The population in 1921 was 302.  For civil purposes this ecclesiastical parish is united with Tor Bryan, about two miles distant.  Denbury takes its name, says Baring-Gould, in his book on "Devon" from "a boss-like hill covered with earthworks, possibly a Celtic dinas." Den and bury (A.S.) mean respectively a deep-wooded valley and a fortified place (Blackliar's Dictionary of Place-names; Taylor's "Words and Places.") Denbury Camp is described ("Victoria History of the County of Devon," Ancient Earthworks, Vol. I) as half a mile S-W. of the village and as a hill fort of the B Class following the classification adopted by the Congress of Archaeological Societies and published in 1923:- "The entrenchments encircling the crown of this lofty igneous rock enclose nine acres one rood and one perch, and consist of an elliptical camp with an outer court on the west."  Within the central area are two large tumuli or mounds.

We are told (ibid) that Denbury was anciently known as Devenibyr and Devenibyrie, Denbury Camp "names which gave rise to a quite questionable supposition that this camp was of Danish origin."  Whether so called of the Danes encamping there, Risdon ("Survey of Devon") knew not.  The truth is that the camp was one of the hill forts of the Dumnonii, the ancient Celtic inhabitants of Devon.  Its height is 475 feet above sea level. According to Murray's "Handbook to Devon," it is regarded as the "Statio Deventia" of the ancient geographer of Ravenna.  Unfortunately for those interested in field archaeology, the hill-top is so completely and thickly covered with a plantation of trees and with underbrush as to almost entirely conceal the lines of this primitive British fortress.  It was scheduled as an ancient monument in 1923-4.


The manor of Denbury, in the reign of Edward the Confessor (A.D. 1042-66), belonged to Aldred, who may have been at first the Saxon priest of Denbury. King Edward But it is certain, as we know from an original biography of him, that he was a St Swithun Monk at Winchester, and afterwards Abbot of Tavistock, and in 1046 Bishop of Worcester ("qui primo Wintoniensis monacus deinde abbas Tavistokensis, postea factus est episcopus Wyornensis").  In 1061 he was translated from Worcester to York as Archbishop.  Aldred was a great statesman-prelate and a very celebrated man in early English political history, and whose memory Denbury has cause to hold in honour.  There is a good deal of biographical material concerning him in Canon Raine's collection of mediaeval prose and metrical annals or chronicles published in their Latin text in his "Historians of the Church of York and its Archbishops," three volumes.  Part I of Vol. II 1886 contains the life of Aldred, "De Aldredo," that is usually followed, written about mid-12th century, author anonymous, but supposed by Canon Raine to have been a member of the York Chapter.

We are told that Aldred was a great peace-maker, and to have been able to reconcile the bitterest enemies.  He persuaded King Edward to "in-law" Sweyn, or Sweyen, Earl Godwine's eldest son, and restore him to his earldom of Herefordshire after his exile for the seduction of Eadgifu, Abbess of Leominster, which he had forfeited thereby.  But one is surprised, says Professor Freeman, in his delightful history book "Old English History for Children," to find him exerting himself on behalf of one stained with such crimes as Sweyen's (who had also treacherously slain his cousin Bearn at Exmouth).  But the historian thinks he may have showed signs of repentance and amendment.

Aldred joined with Earl Harold and Earl Leofric in making peace in an English-Welsh war.  The old York chronicler tells that when Bishop of Worcester he was sent out on an embassy into Germany to the Emperor Henry III, and at Cologne received great honours from both the Emperor and the Archbishop of that See.  In 1058 he hallowed the monastic Church of St. Peter at Gloucester, which he had built, and was then in his large Diocese. After that he went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a thing "which no English Archbishop or Bishop had ever done before."  Soon after his return he was translated to the See of York, in 1061.

Papal Audience Aldred at first kept the Bishopric of Worcester, with the Archbishopric, which was uncanonical, but upon the responsibility of the King.  Edward is said to have made a grant of the Church of Worcester to the Archbishop upon account of the poverty of the See of York.  And it had been so held by three previous Archbishops of York - Oswald, Adulf, and Wulstan.  Aldred afterwards went to Rome to receive the pallium from Pope Nicholas II.  When the Archbishop and party got there, the Pope thought it not right that he should hold both Sees.  So, instead of getting the pallium, the Pope and Council "professed to deprive him," as Freeman says, "of his Bishopric of Worcester and to send him home altogether empty."


On their first return journey they were set upon by brigands and robbed, and then put back to Rome.  According to Professor Freeman, and probably on good Old English authority, Earl Tostig then "spoke out like a stout Englishman" to Pope Nicholas, who thereupon granted the pallium through fear of the Earl's threat - that the English people would not pay a penny into the Papal exchequer any more.  There is nothing of this, however, in the text of the Pope's dispensation to the Archbishop.  But his silence does not necessarily disprove the alleged fact.  It is, indeed, highly improbable that Pope Nicholas would have admitted in an official document that he had been coerced by Earl Tostig in granting the pallium.  Archbishop Aldred returned home with the pallium, gave up Worcester, but kept York.

It may be well to observe here that there is sound evidence in the history of the English Church during the Anglo-Saxon period, of Archbishops of Canterbury occupying their See and exercising their primatial jurisdiction without having this honorary badge of the pallium conferred upon them by the Bishop of Rome.  Aldred seems to have been allowed by King Edward, with whom he was in high favour, to select his successor at Worcester, and he wisely chose Wulfstan - afterwards St. Wulfstan - then Prior of the Cathedral Church of Worcester, and consecrated him.  Earl Harold was crowned King, in succession to Edward the Confessor, in 1066 (by Archbishop Aldred, and not Stigand, whose occupancy of the See of Canterbury was of doubtful legality.  And for the same reason Aldred crowned Duke William, the Norman, as King of England after Harold's tragic end, although as a patriotic Englishman he must have regarded him as a usurper of the throne.

Archbishop Aldred departed this life at York on September 11th, 1069, his body being interred in his Cathedral Church, then the old Saxon Minster.  He is said to have died of grief (valde tristis effectus), though he was also infirm, because of the threatened destruction of his See city and desolation of the surrounding country by the combined forces of the English and Danes at the great uprising in the North against the hated new Norman monarchy.  May he rest in peace!

Aldred was a great ecclesiastical builder, and also a disciplinary reformer of churches and monasteries under his jurisdiction.  He is eulogised for his architectural undertakings, and especially for his notable work at Beverley, as a devotee of his illustrious predecessor at York in the 8th century, St. John, the founder of monastic Beverley.  Aldred rebuilt at least one half of the Minster, and remodelled and endowed the Chapter.  In the "Encyclopaedia Britannica" (11th ed.) there is a very favourable estimate of Aldred, and also in Stephen's "History of the English Church."  In "Chamber's Encyclopaedia," however, he is unjustly stigmatised as a "greedy and self-seeking" Churchman.  With Aldred ended the Old English or Anglo-Saxon, succession of Archbishops of York.

End of Part 1

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