Origin of Morchard Bishop
Morchard’s name reflects its long history; originally called ‘Morchet’ from the Celtic words ‘mor’ [big/great] and ‘coed’ [wood]. Centuries later it was sold to the Bishop of Exeter giving rise to the name Morchet Episcopi, which became Bishop’s Morchard and relatively recently Morchard Bishop. The majority of the village remained under the ownership of the Bishop of Exeter until 1908 when Tatepath Farm, The London Inn (then known as the London Hotel), 49 houses/cottages and various parcels of land were auctioned off.
The earliest evidence of settlement
Excavations have revealed the earliest evidence of settlement in the area in the form of a Celtic site at Rudge, west of the village. Pottery from this site was found to be nearly 2,000 years old. Anglo-Saxons settled in the area after 661AD following their successful routing of the hill fort at nearby Posbury.
The Morchard landscape
Morchard is situated in the heart of Devon between Dartmoor and Exmoor , almost midway between the north and south coasts. It is surrounded by unspoilt hilly farmland comprised of a multitude of fields separated by ancient Devon banks.
Industry in Morchard
This division of the landscape originates from the C14 th and C15 th land enclosures that led to the creation of many small (primarily dairy) farms and small hamlets. This produced a class of landless labourers who were dependent on wages. Weaving developed later, bringing greater prosperity to the village by the late C18 th / early C19 th. The female members of households also undertook dress and lace making. By this time Morchard had developed a high degree of self-sufficiency evidenced by the wide variety of tradesmen who had developed in the village.
Decline of Industry
The woollen industry subsequently declined, mainly as a result of the loss of access to the continental markets because of hostilities with France . In addition, the mechanisation of the Honiton Lace industry drastically reduced the extent of local production. Added to this, a rapidly expanding population all led to increased ‘poor relief’, with many children being apprenticed to farms and also to the heads of wealthier families. The construction of new roads and the railway in the mid C19 th diverted traffic that previously travelled through the village on what was originally the Saxon route between Barnstaple and Exeter . These factors all contributed to a decline in the fortunes of the village.
The population of Morchard Bishop currently stands at around 1,000; a significant fall from the 1,854 recorded some 150 years previously in 1851. Both figures contrast markedly from the figure of 780 in 1961. The additional housing stock available in later years coupled with the lower population figures has caused a dramatic fall in the average number of people living in each household. In 1750 the average number of people living in each house was 8.9; this figure had fallen to 2.7 some 220 years later.
Like many local villages, Morchard has a rich architectural history reflecting the economic and social changes experienced since medieval times. The earliest surviving building in the parish is believed to be Rudge, situated in the south west of the parish. Despite appearing to be a fine C19 th house, Rudge actually dates to around 1380.