Down the centuries Morebath has remained essentially a sheep farming community. The first part of its name derives from the "moory" basin created by the Shuttern Brook as it flows through the village to join the Batherm at Bampton, and the second part from the mineral springs nearby. Around the village which grew up here, the Saxon settlers named their farms from the local landscape: Moor, Wood and Combe; Ashtown among its trees; Warmore the marshy place near a weir; Pool near a calm stretch of the Exe; Hayne where the land had been hedged; Layton sheltered in the lee; Holwell where there was a holy well; and Brockhole where badgers lived. The road from Lodfin Farm to Exebridge is a very ancient trackway from Wellington to Dulverton, and another track passes through the village towards Bury and on to the North Devon coast.
Early history records that King Harold who died at Hastings once owned Morebath, and that William The Conqueror took it over as a royal manor. Henry I gave it to a man called Britellus whose home, Britelscombe, is now Burston Farm. Later it was given to the monks of Barlynch a mile or two away: their estate headquarters, where they held the Manor Court for their tenants, is still called Court. When Henry Vii dissolved the priory, the estate went to lay landlords; monuments to some of them are in the parish church.
"The Voices of Morebath" - A commentary on life in Morebath in the 16th century
An account of life in Morebath in the 16th century can be read in The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Villageby Eamon Duffy. The book chronicles the coming of the English Reformation to a small village in sixteenth-century Devonshire. Duffy tells the story of Morebath through the eyes of its boisterous vicar, Sir Christopher Trychay, who kept exceptionally detailed records during his fifty-four year career in the village. His churchwarden's accounts are laden with personal commentary, providing a unique window into the lives of ordinary men and women during the years of the English Reformation, when the Church of England first broke away from the Catholic Church in Rome. The book begins with images of present-day Morebath and a fascinating account of the land, the people and the economy of the village during the sixteenth-century. Details about the collective religious life of Morebath, with deeply-rooted devotional practices centered on saints, the Parish church, and liturgy provide a broader context for the main story. When the Reformation came to Morebath in the 1540's, the villagers reluctantly moved towards Protestantism. Through the words of Trychay, Duffy traces how the people of Morebath struggled to reconcile their commitment to traditional faith with the new religious policies under Henry VIII and his children, a struggle that, at times, resulted in dramatic rebellion. The most striking aspect of this story is the active role played by the people of Morebath, who consistently made their own choices about the religious changes occurring in their world. We also see how the Reformation brought great change to the economic and social life of Morebath, as Elizabethan taxation and military policies began to shift the villagers' focus away from the parish church to more worldly matters.
Various records of Morebath in the 19th century
From A Topographical Dictionary of England (1848):
"MOREBATH (St. George), a parish, in the union of Tiverton, hundred of Bampton, Cullompton and N. divisions of Devon, 2¼ miles (N. by W.) from Bampton; containing 466 inhabitants. The parish comprises 3449a. 1r. 8p. Freestone of good quality for building, and also for the roads, is obtained. A fair is held on the last Monday in August. The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £7. 8. 9.; patron, T. L. Clarke, Esq.: the impropriate tithes have been commuted for £115, and the vicarial for £234; the glebe comprises 3½ acres. The church, erected in 1688, contains some neat monuments to the families of Bere and Sayer."
From White's Devonshire Directory (1850):
"MOREBATH, a small village on a bold southern declivity, 2 miles N. of Bampton, has in its parish 466 souls, and 3349A. of land, including the small village of Exbridge, which is partly in Somersetshire, near the confluence of the rivers Exe and Barle, where the hills rise in lofty elevations on the borders of the two counties. A cattle fair is held here on the Monday after August 24th. Montague Baker Bere, Esq., is lord of the manor, which was long held by Berlinch Abbey; but part of the parish belongs to John Bere, Esq., Henry Ball, Esq., and several smaller freeholders. The Church (St. George,) is an ancient structure, with a tower and five bells, and some remains of a window brought from Berlinch Abbey in the 16th century. It contains a Norman font, and several neat monuments. The vicarage, valued in K.B. at £7. 8s. 9d., and in 1831 at £200, is in the patronage of T.L. Clarke, Esq., and incumbency of the Rev. A.B. Hill, who has a good residence at the foot of a high cliff, and 5A. of glebe. . . . "
From The National Gazeteer of Great Btitain and Ireland (1868):
"MOREBATH, a parish in the hundred of Bampton, county Devon, 9 miles N. of Tiverton, its post town, and 2 N. of Bampton. The village, which is small, and wholly agricultural, is situated on the borders of Somersetshire, near the river Exe. The soil consists of clay on a substratum of freestone, which is quarried. The impropriate tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £115, and the vicarial for £234. The living is a vicarage* in the diocese of Exeter, value £195. The church, dedicated to St. George, is an ancient structure, with a square embattled tower containing five bells. The interior has a font and several monuments to the Bere and Sayer families. The parochial charities produce about £2 pee annum. There is a free school for both sexes endowed by John Brooke in 1688 with a rent-charge of £10."
Morebath railway stations in the 19th and 20th centuries
The village was formerly served by two railway stations. Morebath railway station (initially opened in 1873 as "Morebath and Bampton") on the Devon and Somerset Railway was actually nearer to Shillingford, and about a mile-and-a-half from Morebath itself. Morebath Junction Halt, which opened in 1928, was a single-platform halt set among fields in the valley beyond Ashtown Farm, and had no access road, though there was a footpath to it from Ashtown, which extended along the edge of fields to Chilpark on the B3190, close to the main part of the village. It was served by the Exe Valley Railway, as well as the Devon and Somerset line, and therefore had a better service than Morebath railway station: it was also much closer to Morebath village itself. Both stations closed in 1966.
Further information on the history parish can be found via the Local Studies Information Page of the Devon County Council website - www.devon.gov.uk